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June 11, 2005

growing up is hard to do

Don Herzog: June 11, 2005

Yesterday a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee came to an abrupt halt.  The chair of the committee, F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R-WI), pounded his gavel and stormed out, while Democrats clamored to be recognized.  Democrats continued to argue and listen to testimony even though their microphones had been cut off.  C-SPAN2 continued their coverage for a while — what's a poor producer to do? — with a caption explaining what had happened.

The subject was reauthorizing the Patriot Act.  Sensenbrenner was peeved that Democrats were discussing the war on terror and Guantanamo Bay.  And he'd already been high-handed at the hearing.  When Mike Pence (R-IN) accused Amnesty International of endangering US soldiers, Sensenbrenner wouldn't let Amnesty's chair respond.

So much for government by discussion.  Sensenbrenner was in the news just ten years ago, for supporting a constitutional amendment to ban burning the flag.  It was just like Great Britain's ban on slandering the queen, he explained, "since we don't have a queen here."

Maybe he'd like us to have a king instead.  And here I thought the Senate was the aristocratic body.  Live and learn.

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» Sensenbrenner throws a hissyfit during PATRIOT act hearing from Dane101

[inline:1]Wisconsin's very own Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is the laughingstock of the blogosphere this weekend. At a hearing on the Patriot act Friday afternoon, Rep. Sensenbrenner became upset and pulled [Read More]

Tracked on Jun 12, 2005 12:27:11 AM

Comments

Posted by: Paul Velleman

I watched the C-SPAN rerun. It was depressing, frightening, and disgusting. But it was also revealing.

The way to discover truth, at least approximately (for who can know it absolutely?), is to be open to alternative theories and to all facts. Reasonable people may disagree (or what's the purpose of this blog?-- or of Congressional deliberation?) But the one action aimed most vitally at the core of a democracy is to shut off debate and to explicitly deny any interest in the facts

That way lies despotism.

Posted by: Paul Velleman | Jun 11, 2005 9:48:41 PM


Posted by: Mona

The subject was reauthorizing the Patriot Act. Sensenbrenner was peeved that Democrats were discussing the war on terror and Guantanamo Bay.

Well, what does Gitmo have to do with The Patriot Act?

Posted by: Mona | Jun 11, 2005 9:57:51 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Mona, it would be completely ordinary for committee members to make arguments of the following form: the Patriot Act has to be appraised as part of a larger package, that of how far we should be willing to bend the rule of law at home and in the legal limbo of Guantanamo, or how far we should be willing to chip away at civil liberties in the war against terrorism. Completely ordinary, and completely appropriate.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 11, 2005 10:08:13 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Oddly enough, the Washington Times reported that the Republicans “kept to strict time limits.”

They quoted Pence as saying “To suggest that in all of the world, the gulag of our times is not the death camps that are the natural progeny of the gulags of the Soviet empire that exist today in North Korea but that Guantanamo Bay is, that seems to me, as I said, anti-historical, irresponsible and the type of rhetoric that endangers American lives.” The Times report continued:

Mr. Pence said afterward that [AI witness] Mr. Pitts' answers did not defend comparing the U.S. record to the gulag. "I found it woefully inadequate," he said. "His response to 20 million murdered civilians in the gulag [was] he referred to one death under questionable circumstances at Guantanamo."

Hmmmmmm...

And the situation at Guantanamo (about which I strongly disapprove) directly relates to the expiring provisions of the Patriot Act (about which I disapprove even more strongly), which was the apparent subject of this "11th meeting the committee has held on the act since April" just how exactly?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 11, 2005 10:24:07 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Yes, Mr. Herzog, members of Congress are notorious for straying during committee meetings from the topic at hand to look at the “bigger picture,” which in practice can be just about anything the Chair is willing to tolerate. (After all, it isn’t as though there is anything like a “No Whataboutery” rule in Congress.) But surely it is at least as likely here that the minority Democratic members were attempting to do a little media manipulation and grandstanding themselves, isn’t it?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 11, 2005 10:31:52 PM


Posted by: Mona

the Patriot Act has to be appraised as part of a larger package, that of how far we should be willing to bend the rule of law at home and in the legal limbo of Guantanamo,

Uh-huh. The Patriot Act has to be so appraised.

Gitmo is a separate issue, unrelated to domestic efforts to locate and obstruct terrorists. If Sensenbrenner was unwilling to entertain endless demagoguery on the Gitmo issue, in that context, I don't blame him.

Domestic anti-terrorism measures is a serious issue, and Gitmo is unrelated. Sorry P. Velleman, but despotism is not at hand just because a congressman walks out on irrelevant discussion, fer god's sake.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 11, 2005 10:38:50 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

My, my, how partisan we're sounding. I'm sure that in part the Democrats were grandstanding. I'm sure the Republicans were, too. I'm sure that committees regularly run over their allotted time limits. I'm sure that chairs regularly lecture members, usually minority members for obvious reasons, about sticking to the official script. I'm sure I violently disagree with Amnesty's claim that Guantanamo is the new gulag. I'm sure Rep. Pence is free to express chagrin at the Amnesty chair. I just think the chair should permit the Amnesty chair to respond, and I think that ordinarily, despite all such points, the show lumbers on, one way or the other. Not this time.

My post is emphatically not a hurray-for-the-Democrats-damn-the-evil-Republicans post, and I'd really rather that the comments not obsess over that oh-so-tired riff.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 11, 2005 10:41:42 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Mona, come on, no fair, you've cut and pasted mine to make it sound like I am saying that

the Patriot Act has to be appraised as part of a larger package, that of how far we should be willing to bend the rule of law at home and in the legal limbo of Guantanamo,

But of course what I said is that it would be perfectly ordinary and perfectly reasonable for a Congressman to make that argument. And a congressman didn't just walk out -- that happens all the time, too, in committee meetings; friends of mine who have served as witnesses are baffled by how plain rude these guys can be -- but that the chair abruptly shut down the meeting.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 11, 2005 10:45:35 PM


Posted by: David Velleman

"Media manipulation and grandstanding"? Mr. Ridgely, you have just said that you yourself strongly disapprove of Guantanamo and the Patriot Act. Is it so difficult for you to believe that the Democrats share your concerns and have taken this opportunity to express them? Or do you assume that it impossible for Democrats to speak from any but self-interested motives? (Then again, maybe you were simply "grandstanding" above.)

"Just how exactly" does the situation at Guantanamo relate to the renewal of the Patriot act? Don already answered that question in his previous comment.

Amnesty's use of the word "gulag" is just a distraction from the real issue -- which is why Amnesty should not have used the word.


Posted by: David Velleman | Jun 11, 2005 10:47:37 PM


Posted by: Bret

I'd be sorely tempted not to let Amnesty International respond either. In addition to their questionable gulag comparisons, consider the following excerpts from their latest Annual Report:

We have documented that the use of torture and ill treatment is widespread and that the US government is a leading purveyor and practitioner of this odious human rights violation. [...]

Amnesty International calls on foreign governments to uphold their obligations under international law by investigating all senior US officials involved in the torture scandal. And if those investigations support prosecution, the governments should arrest any official who enters their territory and begin legal proceedings against them. The apparent high-level architects of torture should think twice before planning their next vacation to places like Acapulco or the French Riviera because they may find themselves under arrest as Augusto Pinochet famously did in London in 1998. [...]

Who might those senior officials be? Amnesty International explicitly names George Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, George Tenet, Alberto Gonzales, and many others. So Amnesty International is imploring foreign governments to investigate and then arrest the President of the United States and other top level government officials when they happen to set foot outside the United States. Even if one thinks that such actions are required by International law and universally accepted morality, it's really tough to take seriously an organization that encourages a set of actions that are so clearly unworkable in the real world.

Posted by: Bret | Jun 11, 2005 10:56:08 PM


Posted by: Mark Olson

Well, google (and teoma) failed me, but didn't some Senator discharge a firearm on the Senate floor in the 19th century during debate? That is beyond the pale. As Mona says, walking out because a discussion is off topic doesn't strike me as equivalent. Perhaps accusing Mr Sensenbrenner of considering crossing the Rubicon is just a tad ... inflamatory ... or is it just a exaggeration to up the hitcount?

As for Gitmo itself, I'd agree it's a bad idea. After all, shouldn't illegal combatants be summarily put against the wall and shot without ceremony as per Geneva convention. How else to encourage the opposition to follow any "rules of conduct" in combat? See for example Mr Redhunter's post on the topic.

Posted by: Mark Olson | Jun 11, 2005 10:59:11 PM


Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog wrote: "My post is emphatically not a hurray-for-the-Democrats-damn-the-evil-Republicans post..."

Really? I'm missing the point then. What is the purpose of this post?

Posted by: Bret | Jun 11, 2005 11:01:01 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

My, my, how partisan we're sounding.

Indeed.

... Not this time.

Nope. Hardly the first time, though. And frankly stupid of Sensenbrenner and even more stupid of his aide to turn off the mike. And true to form, speaking of oh-so-tired riffs, the Post jumped on the gaffe and made it the main focus of the story.

No one’s obsessing, Mr. Herzog. We’re just humming the refrain to an all too familiar melody.

Yes, Mr. Velleman, that must be what I'm doing. After all, it's well known how very, very difficult Democratic members of Congress have getting media organizations like the Washington Post, the New York Times, CBS, NBC, ABC, PBS and NPR to pay them any attention at all.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 11, 2005 11:05:41 PM


Posted by: Don Herzog

Mark Olson, I'll try again. A particular member did not walk out: that's unremarkable. The chair of the committee abruptly closed the meeting and cut off the microphones, with witnesses who'd been sitting patiently waiting to testify left in the lurch, and so on.

Bret, the purpose of the post is to propose yet again that democracy is government by discussion, that that requires reasonably civil (not bookish and boring) spaces for the clash of competing views, and to suggest that that is especially true in the legislature. The whole point of the committee and subcommittee scheme is that of division of labor: too many issues, too many ideas, too many speakers, for the whole chamber to take in. So the House is relying on the Judiciary committee for a thorough exploration of the Patriot Act. And that means that Sensenbrenner didn't just behave like a petulant child and insult the sitting witnesses; it means he also chipped away at a fiduciary obligation he has to the chamber as a whole. I'm glad the committee has had 11 other hearings, though the number alone is entirely uninteresting: those can be anything from brief and procedural to lengthy and detailed investigations on the merits. I have no complaint whatever about Rep. Pence denouncing Amnesty. I have no problems more generally when sitting Congressmen chew the living daylights out of unfortunate undersecretaries sent up for ritual sacrifice. I do have a problem when the chair doesn't get to respond, and I don't see why in the world that wouldn't bother you.

I'm baffled that you've been reading this blog as long as you have, and if you think that really what I'm about, or we're about, is doing our damnedest for the Democrats. There's a reason, an unstrategic reason, that in the post I linked to in this one I singled out Ann Coulter and Michael Moore for the same indictment on the same issue I explore here.

Posted by: Don Herzog | Jun 11, 2005 11:09:22 PM


Posted by: Mona

David V. writes: "Just how exactly" does the situation at Guantanamo relate to the renewal of the Patriot act? Don already answered that question in his previous comment.

Domestic efforts to ferret out terrorists have no legal relationship to the Geneva Conventions or Gitmo. Amnesty Int'l has forfeited credibility with its admission that the gulag thing was all about gaining media attention. I would be short with them, too. And what does Sensenbrenner's (wrong) postion about flag burning have to do with any of this?

Posted by: Mona | Jun 11, 2005 11:14:13 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Mr. Herzog, were scheduled witnesses indeed "left in the lurch"? Unlike Mr. (Paul) Velleman, I didn't watch the fiasco and am relying only on the two newspaper reports, but the Washington Times report claims that time limits were strictly adhered to "even cutting off witnesses who went over the time" and that Democrats asked for but were refused extra time.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 11, 2005 11:18:22 PM


Posted by: Mona

The chair of the committee abruptly closed the meeting and cut off the microphones, with witnesses who'd been sitting patiently waiting to testify left in the lurch, and so on.

Oh, boo-hoo. Amnesty has said we are running a gulag a la Stalin. Their leader clarified they said this only to get media attention.

So why listen to them on an unrelated issue like The Patriot Act?

Posted by: Mona | Jun 11, 2005 11:18:49 PM


Posted by: Bret

Don Herzog wrote: "...you think that really what I'm about, or we're about, is doing our damnedest for the Democrats."

Heavens no. The reason I tease that you're a milquetoast moderate, is that I don't think that, in general, you're particularly far left or particularly pro-Democrat. Indeed, you're sometimes to the right of me on some issues.

So are the events described in the Washington Post article that unusual? Do committee meeting generally not have time limits? Do chairman never end them before every last participant is ready to end discussions?

I read the Washington Post article and the events and actions therein just don't seem like that big a deal to me, though that could be because I just don't know the process all that well. So I assumed that your post's point was to bash republicans. Sorry if I was wrong.

Posted by: Bret | Jun 11, 2005 11:43:15 PM


Posted by: mtnmarty

Don:

I understand correctly it seems that you are concerned that a healthy civil society requires respect for the arguments of political or representative minorities.

I am interested in your view on how much the actions and attitude of the minority play in maintaining such a system.

For example, one position might be that the only duty of the minority is to oppose the majority in every way possible.

Another view might be that while a minority has a right to offer views opposing the majority, it has a duty to respect the legitimacy of the majority.

Posted by: mtnmarty | Jun 12, 2005 12:00:39 AM


Posted by: Mark Olson

Don,
Sorry, I ... like others ... didn't catch that it was ending the session and not just "walking" out. I can't get CNN from here, and I'll agree that it might be a little out of the ordinary. As others commented, Gitmo is basically off-topic ... if Mr Sensebrenner was having repeated difficulty keeping the disussion on-topic ending the session might have been (reasonable) strategy for keeping the discussion germane. Perhaps the thought is that next time, suggestions to stay on topic will be taken as not just a idle plea.

I don't think I accused you of shilling for the Dems. I was just wondering where the "King" references came from. I was suggesting that your connecting (possibly) overly aggressive procedural tactics with Julian apprehensions towards SQPR (SQPUSA?) might have been a little over the top.

Posted by: Mark Olson | Jun 12, 2005 12:04:48 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Yes, Mr. Herzog, and I have known a few Hill staffers in my time and watched more than one committee hearing, too.

And, no, I don’t think you, Mr. Herzog, are trying to do your damnedest for the Democrats, and it is true that the mere number of prior meetings means nothing but it is also true that much of the real work goes on before and after the formal committee hearings anyway. Moreover, interrupting or cutting off the testimony of witnesses, however rude, is hardly unprecedented.

And, yes, Mr. Velleman, (now that I’ve calmed down a bit) I do believe Democrats are capable of being genuinely concerned about Gitmo and the Patriot Act. And if Nancy Pelosi and her colleagues can drive a stake through the heart of the Patriot Act and kill it once and for all they will have my unqualified thanks and admiration. But I still think it is preposterous for anyone to suggest that they can’t find other more appropriate opportunities to be heard on the subject of Gitmo or that the press hasn’t been all over Gitmo and the Patriot Act.

While we’re on the topic of who here or there just might be grandstanding, AI’s apparently unretracted description of Gitmo as a gulag is rather more than “just a distraction from the real issue.” It is of a piece with the Newsweek report of Koran desecrations. If there is substantiated evidence that these things have occurred or are occurring, by all means they should be shouted from the rooftops so that such travesties can be stopped and, if possible, corrected. But reckless accusations and exaggerations from otherwise credible organizations can contribute to more death and destruction. Who wants that?

Look, as I said before, I’m relying only on the two reports. Arguably, AI (and the American Immigration Lawyers Association) did have something relevant to contribute to the specific issues regarding the various expiring provisions of the Patriot Act. I don’t know. I oppose rudeness and childish petulance, even in me. But this was nonetheless only one of many fora to air those issues, so I’m not in the least bit worried that Congress or the public will be deprived of vital information because of Sensenbrenner’s behavior. Are you? Really?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 12, 2005 12:06:49 AM


Posted by: D_Lee

The incident simply serves as another example of the callous way Republicans are using their majority to stifle dissent and marginalize the opposition. The details of the American case are just trivia. Those of us who believe that without discussion and dissent you don't have a democracy -- and are moving closer to tyranny -- are alarmed at the way the Republicans are behaving. Even a cursory knowledge of modern history should clue a sane person in to the subtle ways in which a majority party abuses their power and does lasting damage to democratic institutions.

The above poster is right that, to a degree, opposition parties must "respect" the majority party. But that doesn't mean they should give the majority party carte blanche to use their power in whatever way they want. The Republicans show little to no respect for the function that a minority, opposition party serves in a republic, so any respect that is shown to them is a courtesy that is, in my opinion, undeserved. Whether or not you think Guantanamo has something to do with the Patriot Act is your opinion, and nothing more. The minority party of the legislature (out of only two parties, mind you) believes the two ARE related, and it's their right, in a democratic system, to make their concerns heard in a committee hearing. For the chairman of a committee (should not the bar for acceptable behavior be set higher for him?) to unilaterally shut down a meeting because he doesn't want to discuss the issues that are brought up shows a lack of respect for basic democratic procedures. If you can't see that in this case, or see the pattern of such behavior among Republican congresspersons since their gaining the majority, then I'd say you are a prime suspect for holding partisan sympathies.

Posted by: D_Lee | Jun 12, 2005 12:49:59 AM


Posted by: Perseus

So we have the spectacle of a House committee chair of the majority party acting in a high-handed manner to prevent the minority party (and a witness) from grandstanding. This strikes me as a perfect of example of how democratic assemblies operate: they are ruled by faction, demagoguery, and passion (i.e. "a swinish multitude"). This is somehow news to a political science professor?

Posted by: Perseus | Jun 12, 2005 4:24:04 AM


Posted by: dave

>Well, google (and teoma) failed me, but didn't some Senator discharge a firearm on the Senate floor in the 19th century during debate?

Wouldn't surprise me, but I was able to find no reference either. However, there was that instance when a southern senator beat an abolitionist senator nearly to death with a cane, which you may be misremembering.

My feeling is that a good deal of the comity issues we're seeing are due to Democrats not understanding how to behave as a minority party, and Republicans not really understanding how to behave as a majority.

As a minority party in a democracy, there really are times you just have to take what looks to be disrespect, smile, and shut up. Parliamentary rules are pretty clear on that. Committee chairman really do have that much power over hearings, and must be free to use it if legislatures are to get any work done. Majority parties really do get to control the topic and length of discussion during session. If you don't like the topic strictures imposed, bring up your issues with the press outside of session. They'll be happy to talk to you.

Conversely, majority parties really do need to actively try not to look like they are using their majority powers in an undemocratic manner. Not to limit their use, but just to not be jerks about it. There must be a dozen procedural ways that Sensenbrenner could have brought his hearing back under control. Worse case, shut it down completely with an adjournment. He needs to learn the procedures, know them, and use them if he is to be effective in his post. Letting C-Span keep rolling tape on this circus was inexcusably shoddy.

Posted by: dave | Jun 12, 2005 8:21:04 AM


Posted by: Larry

Slow blog day, huh?

Politicians do grandstand for partisan gain -- sometimes by twisting televised committee meetings to serve their ends, sometimes by stalking out of such meetings. I know they don't write that in the civics textbook you appear to be paraphrasing, Don, but coming to such disillusionment is one of the sad things about actually "growing up". And when, after picking sides in such maneuvering, you're "baffled" -- shocked, shocked, no doubt -- that anyone might think you tainted by partisanship, I can only smile at your chutzpah. (The fact that somewhere else you may have chided Democrats or the left doesn't necessarily remove the taint, by the way -- it may simply indicate a less than 100% partisanship. Which is at least something, I'll admit.)

For Paul Velleman, though, I have to say, get a grip. If routine kerfuffles like this are enough to frighten you, you might want to stay away from the news altogether. (And -- also by the way -- has anyone else noticed how common it's become for the left to inform you about their frightened emotional state as a component of their argument? The argument from fear, I suppose we could call it.)

Posted by: Larry | Jun 12, 2005 9:12:03 AM


Posted by: johnt

I think the real worry here,seperate from a man who lays out a partisan post then tells you it's not partisan {they used to call things like that insanity],is that the Patriot Act may assume powers that the IRS has had for years. That really,really scares me. Those poor guys in Gitmo,they never would have been there had not their library records been scrutinized. Well at least our intelligent liberals have their priorities in order. Can't help wondering what happens if we get hit again on American soil. I do comfort myself in the foreknowledge that at least on this site you wont't see the left claiming Bush didn't do enough to protect us. At least for a week or two.I am puzzled by the Republicans behaved the way they did in the hearings,after all Amnesty Int'l only compared Bush,and by extension other Republicans,to Joe Stalin. On the other hand maybe they figured people who could make that kind of comparison had nothing to say,sort of like a guy who makes a sarcastic partisan post,then denies it's motive and content.

Posted by: johnt | Jun 12, 2005 10:11:54 AM


Posted by: Bret

From 1968 till 2004 either both the House and the Senate were very evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, or the House was under control of one party and the Senate the other, or at least the President was a member of the opposite party as that which controlled the congress. Before 1968, Congress and the President were Democrat.

Were the pre-1968 Congresses respectful of Republicans? I don't think so. I think what we're seeing here is completely expected. When there is an alignment of the Executive and the Legislative, this it what happens. It's just not surprising.

I also don't think this sort of thing puts our democracy in danger. Indeed, the people elected a Republican President and Republican majorities in Congress. Democracy would say "let them rule. They'll get their next report card in November 2006."

Posted by: Bret | Jun 12, 2005 11:12:45 AM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

I have now watched the entire hearing and encourage anyone with enough time to do so as well and make up his or her own mind. Here are my notes:

The hearing lasted one hour and fifty minutes. Several of the Democratic committee members who had requested it didn’t even attend the hearing. The Democrats chose the topic of the hearing. The ACLU testified four times in prior subcommittee meetings. Conyers acknowledged there had been “nine or ten” prior meetings discussing renewal of the Patriot Act provisions but argued that any allegations of civil rights abuses should be discussed whether relevant to the Patriot Act or not. The number of previous committee and subcommittee hearings on the Patriot Act was mentioned several times; at no time did anyone qualify that claim by noting that any of them were merely “brief and procedural.”

Witnesses’ prepared testimony was included in the hearing record and witnesses were given five minutes for oral testimony. They were not interrupted or challenged during this testimony. Two witnesses were permitted to briefly conclude their remarks after their time had expired. Deborah Pearlstein of Human Rights First (formerly Lawyers’ Committee for Human Rights) spoke almost exclusively about overseas military detention practices and alleged abuses. AI’s Pitts did speak directly to the specific Patriot Act provisions. Preliminary remarks and testimony took forty-five minutes. Committee members were then given five minutes each during which they could also ask questions and receive answers from witnesses. When Pitts was asked to produce a list of individuals who had suffered abuse as a result of investigation of library records he avoided agreeing.

At 1:06 into the hearing, Sensenbrenner first cut off a witness (Pearlstein) in mid-sentence, enforcing the time limitations. Presumably, any member could have effectively ceded his entire five minutes to any witness. At one point (1:14) James Zogby (Arab American Institute) acknowledged that alleged torture incidents had nothing to do with the Patriot Act.

Pence first spoke at 1:28. He took his entire five minutes, ending with a question whether Pitts was willing to retract or modify the AI claim that Gitmo was “a gulag in our time.” Pitts was in fact permitted to respond then and spoke for over a minute but did not directly address Pence’s question. Sensenbrenner stated the subject of DoD behavior was outside the scope of the Judiciary Committee. Conyers disagreed. Lee took over four and a half minutes to ask a series of questions of the witnesses. Despite running over the time limit, each witness was permitted a very brief remark and several proffered reports which were accepted into the record without objection. Conyers asked that each witness be given another minute to answer the questions. Sensenbrenner asked if there was an objection to the request. There was and the request was therefore denied.

At 1:48, Sensenbrenner stated (I now believe, having heard the entire session, correctly) that much of the comment by members and witnesses was irrelevant to the 16 Patriot Act provisions. He then adjourned the hearing, not recognizing attempts at raising objections. The mikes were turned off but were turned back on shortly thereafter. Nadler and Lee then made various short speeches, resulting in applause from those remaining in the room.

My overall impression now is that Sensenbrenner was civil and businesslike throughout the proceeding until the very end. Even then, all he did was exercise his prerogatives as chairman, as many chairmen of congressional committees have done in the past. For that matter, Pence was not uncivil to Pitts, who was given a brief opportunity to respond to Pence's comments about AI and gulags. Witnesses were not abused. If anything, it appears that there was ample opportunity provided to both witnesses and members to make their points and to answer questions, relevant or not. Admittedly, they may be required to do so by submitting written remarks after the fact. That may make for less media coverage, but it has nothing to do with whether Congress was being deprived of information.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 12, 2005 12:08:06 PM


Posted by: Mona

Here are my notes:

Thank you, Mr. Ridgely. I awoke this morning trembling in terror that Sensenbrenner had set the Republic to toppling. Don, don't scare me like that!

Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 1:20:27 PM


Posted by: Speculator

Suppose one's a historian treating this incident half a century from now. In what context would one situate it? One plausible and important candidate: the acceptance by the United States after September 11 of practices of torture. Acceptance sotto voce and by stealth, with a minimum of public acknowledgment. Ashamedly.
The historian would surely remark on the massive incompetence with which the policy was carried out (three dozen sources of information shut down). She may also take it to mark a coarsening and fraying of the fabric of freedom.
So here was an unusual occasion when, at a hearing instigated by a minority of the minority, this unfortunate turn of events was talked about in public--albeit on a Friday afternoon when members for good reason find it hard to attend, and when attention is minimal. But the airing was cut short by the action of the party in power based on a contentious legalism. (Putin always makes a legal case for his suppression of opposition.) Thus even a small exercise in acountability and reflection could not be tolerated by those in effect sponsoring the practices of torture.
The historian may conclude that we didn't want to know what we were up to, and that that's the deepest significance of this little dustup.

Posted by: Speculator | Jun 12, 2005 1:32:56 PM


Posted by: noah

Its really quite easy to just watch the thing yourself on C-SPAN streaming video...unfortunately it will cost you 2 hours.

To these admittedly partisan eyes the Democrats violated the House rules by first promising that the testimony would be relevant to the renewal of the Patriot Act when it obviously wasn't and Sensenbrenner finally said enough.

Posted by: noah | Jun 12, 2005 1:33:30 PM


Posted by: Sean

Apart from noting that Sensenbrenner did technically break the committee rules (although that is not unheard of), I just wanted to make a quick note on this whole discussion.

Left2right has done a good job discussing flamebait worthy issues without devolving into a flamewar. It makes this site a nice place to visit even though I haven't commented before. This thread certainly doesn't match up with those principles and I hope it is an exception.

Maybe the initial post by Don wasn't directed enough in what was going to be discussed. Maybe everybody needs to lay off the sarcasm when discussing issues important to the "other side." It's probably a little bit of both.

Posted by: Sean | Jun 12, 2005 1:46:11 PM


Posted by: noah

Oops, did not see Mr. Ridgely's scrupulously fair account of the hearing. I would be a bit harsh since I feel like the Democrats behaved badly...constantly interrupting Sensenbrenner with phony point of order claims, for example.

The liberals here probably would feel differently...illustrating once again the "gored ox" theory of government, law, neighborhood disputes, etc.

Posted by: noah | Jun 12, 2005 1:52:10 PM


Posted by: Mona

Oh my goodness noah, my nerves could not withstand watching that video. The U.S. is operating a gulag, and we have Putin (R-WI) in Congress stifling all discussion of torture and taking us down the road to despotism. I must turn from such despair-inducing events; I have not the character to face such horrors head on.

You know, I'd have sworn that torture vis-a-vis terror suspects has been discussed all over the Internet, even repeatedly on this blog, and that it has received mega-attention by the media. But yet, Putin (R-WI) will be recorded by 2555's equivalent of Howard Zinn as stifling all discussion of the subject one Friday afternoon, by claiming it was not on point to matters before the House Judiciary Committee.

I would not have known the times were so portentous and dangerous but for some of the comments here, and can only wish my innocence had not been violated.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 2:06:32 PM


Posted by: Mona

Sean: I understand your unhappiness with the tone of comments in this thread, and certainly my sarcasm meter has been jumping. But then again, it is not usual for moonbat-level comments to be posted here. (And I do not mean to include Don's original post in that category.)

When I do engage moonbats (or wingnuts on the right), ridicule just flows from my keyboard. But I share your preference that L2R remain characterized by respectful discourse, so I will /sarcasm.


Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 2:22:25 PM


Posted by: Perseus

After reading Mr. Ridgely's account of the hearing, I must say that Rep. Sensenbrenner's behavior was a bit churlish but hardly a serious threat to public debate in the republic, which is presumably why Prof. Herzog had to dig up a ten-year old quote about flag burning to make Sensenbrenner appear even more sinister. Prof. Herzog should be counting his lucky stars that the committee wasn't discussing resurrecting the Sedition Act.

Posted by: Perseus | Jun 12, 2005 2:38:03 PM


Posted by: Larry

Don Herzog, original post: Maybe he'd [Sensenbrenner]like us to have a king instead. And here I thought the Senate was the aristocratic body. Live and learn.

Sean: Maybe the initial post by Don wasn't directed enough in what was going to be discussed. Maybe everybody needs to lay off the sarcasm when discussing issues important to the "other side."

Mona: But I share your preference that L2R remain characterized by respectful discourse, so I will /sarcasm.

Oh, c'mon folks. Okay, I'm a fan of "respectful discourse" too. But I notice that neither Don nor too many of the other bloggers here have qualms about using a sharp, lively and sometimes provocative writing style, which clearly includes sarcasm (see first quote above). The important point, to my mind, is to have something to say beyond just the sarcasm -- i.e., to add some content or substance to the debate, without which you're merely taunting, and that gets boring in a hurry.

Perhaps the problem with this thread isn't so much that it wasn't "directed enough" at the start, but simply that -- despite some heroic efforts to bulk it up -- there just wasn't much substance there in the first place.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 12, 2005 2:55:40 PM


Posted by: D_Lee

Guantanamo Bay and the Patriot Act are related only in the minds of those of us who think civil rights are just as important for brown-skinned people who speak a different language as they are for Americans. The Democrats are trying to make their point in any way they can, because they feel an important moral issue is at stake. The fact that Republicans are systematically trying to take such issues off the table bothers a lot of Americans, believe it or not. (That is, plenty of Americans think morals have little to do with sex and more to do with inflicting suffering upon and robbing liberty from innocent people caught up in a "war".)

Nobody is arguing that Sensenbrenner's conduct is at the level of Putin, and the sarcastic slippery-slope fears expressed by the above poster are just silly. The point of the comparison is to show how those in power use and, possibly, abuse their power. Every nation is subject to it, every democracy is vulnerable to it, and responsible citizens should always be on the lookout for it, lest you realize what has happened too late.

As I said above, the particulars of this hearing aren't what's important. It's the principle involved, and the fact that it's just one example of a larger pattern - a pattern throughout history, as well as among our own Republican party as of late. If you think it's simply alarmist and off the wall to take issue with the Republicans' behavior, my question to you is, how much is too much? How much stifling of dissent is too much? How much issuing of propaganda made to look like journalism is too much? What amount of phony "science" cooked up to lend validity to pro-business legislation is too much?

"Democracy would say 'let them rule. They'll get their next report card in November 2006.'" How many citizens of this country do you think watch C-Span at all, let alone on a regular basis? Ours is not a crude majoritarian system where the minority party (again, mind you, of only two parties) has no rights; to the contrary, things are set up to prevent just the sort of ham-handed rule that the Republicans are engaging in. Most Americans are apathetic and ill-informed about politics, so when they elect their representatives they simply try to find someone who they believe shares their values and who will fight for those values once in office; no need to really pay attention to what they do once they're in. The Democrats would be doing a disservice to their constituents if they didn't bring up these issues. If they didn't take every opening they could to discuss things the Republicans decidedly don't want to discuss, the issues would never be addressed.

Posted by: D_Lee | Jun 12, 2005 3:28:14 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

Well, Mr. or Ms Lee, I have a cursory knowledge of history (some would say excessively cursory), and I see no evidence that the current Republican majority, for all its other enormities, has stifled dissent here or in general. (Do you feel stifled?) If anything, on too many other issues to recount, I think it is the minority party that has been engaged in a wildly successful campaign of self-marginalization, which is a great pity. Be that as it may, I have witnessed the same callous indifference or hostility to marginalized Republicans when the Democrats held both the White House and Congress and somehow the republic managed to survive.

As to the particular event, I again invite you to watch it yourself. There was an agenda, submitted by the Democrats and approved by the Republicans. Democrats called all the witnesses. It was one of many such meetings. The agenda was adhered to. One cannot argue that Democrats might be so busy as to want but not attend the hearing but that Republicans are required to give those who do attend unlimited time. That Sensenbrenner did not give them some additional time is unfortunate but hardly despotic or even an exercise in stifling dissent.

The first paragraph of your second posting reads as a strong endorsement of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, topple Hussein and attempt to spread “civil rights ... for brown-skinned people who speak a different language.” I couldn’t agree more.

Beyond that, I’m happy that you also agree with Lord Acton. Let’s give both the Republicans and the Democrats far less power in the first place and all sleep easier at night.

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 12, 2005 3:53:36 PM


Posted by: Mona

D. Lee claims:Nobody is arguing that Sensenbrenner's conduct is at the level of Putin,

Oh really? Then what is one to make of this moonbattery, from "Speculator's" comment:

But the airing was cut short by the action of the party in power based on a contentious legalism. (Putin always makes a legal case for his suppression of opposition.)

You continue: The Democrats would be doing a disservice to their constituents if they didn't bring up these issues. If they didn't take every opening they could to discuss things the Republicans decidedly don't want to discuss, the issues would never be addressed.

The Democrats would do better to stay on point regarding The Patriot Act when it is up for reauthorization, and address whether or not it aids us in locating and stopping domestic terrorists trained by Al Qaeda to kill Americans. Gitmo, torture, that should all be discussed, and it has been, not least being during the Gonzalez confirmation hearings.

But The Patriot Act is serious business, both in its potential threat to civil liberties, and in its (in my view) being necessary to save American lives from Islamic jihadists. If Democrats don't convince the American people they care about domestic security, they won't take back either the Executive or Legislative branch. Turning hearings about The Patriot Act into a forum to criticize Gitmo is not a way to assure the American people that they do care about domestic security.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 4:01:02 PM


Posted by: Sean

The Democrats would do better to stay on point regarding The Patriot Act when it is up for reauthorization, and address whether or not it aids us in locating and stopping domestic terrorists trained by Al Qaeda to kill Americans.(link to CNN)

Is there a connection between that investigation and the Patriot Act (specifically any of the sunsetting provisions)?

Posted by: Sean | Jun 12, 2005 4:30:41 PM


Posted by: Mona

Sean asks: Is there a connection between that investigation and the Patriot Act (specifically any of the sunsetting provisions)?

I don't know. And that's part of my point; we need for the federal govt to be doing this sort of thing, and hearings about The Patriot Act should focus on whether it -- TPA -- is necessary for them to do so. Initially I opposed TPA, but have cautiously come to endorse it in the absence of any documented abuses, coupled with an absence of terrorist attacks on American soil since 9/11.

The hearings on TPA should be exploring these issues.

Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 4:51:12 PM


Posted by: D_Lee

"But the airing was cut short by the action of the party in power based on a contentious legalism. (Putin always makes a legal case for his suppression of opposition.)"

The comment doesn't suggest Sensenbrenner's disrespect for the minority is at the same level as Putin, simply that they are two examples of the same phenomenon. The silly response suggested that someone said Sensenbrenner is "just as bad" as Putin, and that's not what was said. The point I take away is that the fact that legal justification is found for cutting off conversation has little bearing on whether such an act is good or bad for democracy.

The other side of this argument seems to be putting words into the mouths of those who take issue with the Republicans' behavior. It is the former who are entertaining ridiculous slippery slope scenarios. I'm not suggesting that the way this committee hearing turned out is a grave and direct threat to democracy as we know it. I'm saying it's just one example of a pattern shown by the Republicans.

"I see no evidence that the current Republican majority, for all its other enormities, has stifled dissent here or in general. (Do you feel stifled?)"

How about the herding of demostrators into a fenced-in pen so that the rulers won't have to be bothered by differing views? How about reprimanding established and well-respected reporters who ask questions that the rulers don't like by sending them to the back row, to be called on in the future only if they're lucky? How about the rulers' direct assault on the scientific community when its findings hinder the rulers' agenda? Or how about more subtle abuses of power like using taxpayer money to produce propaganda in support of the rulers' policies, rather than allowing open and honest debate on the issues?

The evidence is there. The Republican leadership's actions fly in the face of their pro-democracy rhetoric. They clearly do not respect basic principles like debate and deliberation. Where they are forced to allow such messy activities, they try to control the agenda to whatever extent they can. It is a majoritarian mentality and it is at odds with a healthy fear of tyranny. Those of us who realize how easily a democracy can slide into a tryanny will continue to take note of the ways in which the current rulers use their power, and will undoubtedly take issue with many of them. This is healthy and essential if pluralism and debate are to remain the foundations of our government, rather than mere platitudes.

As to your insulting (though obviously sarcastic) suggestion that I'm advocating paternalism, it is based on a definition of "civil rights" that I never espoused. I will say that one aspect of the bundle of "civil rights" that I would personally advocate would be freedom from being arrested and detained without evidence or charges by the rulers of your nation, simply because you might be a criminal. Put another way: if you believe domestic suspects should be considered innocent until proven guilty, that the onus of proof is on the accuser, and that human life is equally valuable regardless of the color of a person's skin or the language they speak, then you should see how the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay are related. To have different rules for people of a different nationality or ethnicity is to tacitly suggest that citizens of your own country have more civil rights than other people. In a word, that's chauvinism.

Of course, the way our rulers are getting around this is to muddy the issue even further and give the detainees a label: "enemy combatants". This distinction makes sense on a battlefield where there isn't time to make a case, nor judges or juries to decide guilt or innocence. But in this "war" on terror, there is clearly enough time to go through a standard judicial procedure. The rulers have simply unilaterally decided that such a procedure isn't warranted in this case. Those of us who think each human life is just as valuable as the next, regardless of nationality or race, don't just believe that the rulers don't have that right, but that it's morally wrong for them to do so.

Posted by: D_Lee | Jun 12, 2005 5:17:11 PM


Posted by: Larry

D.Lee: "But the airing was cut short by the action of the party in power based on a contentious legalism. (Putin always makes a legal case for his suppression of opposition.)"

The comment doesn't suggest Sensenbrenner's disrespect for the minority is at the same level as Putin, simply that they are two examples of the same phenomenon.

Sorry, D.Lee, but the comment does exactly suggest that Putin and Sensenbrenner are "on the same level", else why make the comparison? I don't see anybody on "this side" putting words into other people's mouths here -- I do see a willingness to call people on the wild and over-the-top words they've irresponsibly put into their own mouths, and which others then hope to deny with some quibble that would make even Clinton blush.

(Your laundry list of what-abouts, by the way, constitutes a vivid demonstration of why a committee chair might need to take action to keep a particular meeting focused.)

Posted by: Larry | Jun 12, 2005 6:05:32 PM


Posted by: D_Lee

"the comment does exactly suggest that Putin and Sensenbrenner are 'on the same level', else why make the comparison?"

No, it doesn't. Like I said, the difference is one of degree or severity.

"(Your laundry list of what-abouts, by the way, constitutes a vivid demonstration of why a committee chair might need to take action to keep a particular meeting focused.)"

Please enlighten me as to how.

Posted by: D_Lee | Jun 12, 2005 6:14:03 PM


Posted by: Larry

"No, it doesn't."

Yes, it does.

Posted by: Larry | Jun 12, 2005 6:19:05 PM


Posted by: Mona

Larry writes to D. Lee: (Your laundry list of what-abouts, by the way, constitutes a vivid demonstration of why a committee chair might need to take action to keep a particular meeting focused.)

Larry, I must part company with your views, and insist that Mr./Ms. Lee has alerted us to tyranny's approach. Lee tells us that Bush is guilty of this: How about reprimanding established and well-respected reporters who ask questions that the rulers don't like by sending them to the back row, to be called on in the future only if they're lucky?

Larry, Bush & Co. reprimanded reporters and sent them to the back of the press room! They won't call on them any more! (I don't know how Putin handles the press, but I'll bet it is damned similar!)

I had not realized things had come to this dreadful pass, and now understand why the Democrats had to hijack The Patriot Act hearings to take testimony about the Gitmo Gulag. It's for the reporters, Larry.

(I tried, I really did, to end the sarcasm. This thread just keeps bringing out the worst in me...)

Posted by: Mona | Jun 12, 2005 6:30:37 PM


Posted by: D.A. Ridgely

D Lee:

I also am concerned about moving demonstrators to remote locations, but I wasn’t aware that it was the role of journalists or “the scientific community” to engage in dissent. So, too, the use of tax funds to promote controversial policies is problematic and arguably an abuse of the public trust but it is not stifling dissent. I would ask you, therefore, what the Republicans (all of whom are, in my opinion, weasels until proven otherwise) have done to prohibit open and honest debate on the issues?

I admit the sarcasm (I caught it from Mona!) but I deny accusing you of paternalism. Few people short of the actually paranoid have a more sensitive tyrranyometer than I have, and I actually share some of your concerns. In my original comments I made a point of noting my opposition to both Gitmo and the Patriot Act. I am appalled by many of the measures that have been taken in the name and under the cover of security needs. However, whether Bush himself believes it, I believe in Bush’s stated policy of affirmatively pursuing freedom and democracy throughout the rest of the world, in most of which people do indeed have fewer civil rights than U.S. citizens. (I know, I know, you were talking about how our government regards them. I agree.) I don’t consider that paternalism whether you do or not.

Still, none of that gainsays the facts that (1) however interrelated, as a matter of legislative business Gitmo and the Patriot Act are separate issues, (2) Democrats and other opponents of either or both have a wealth of opportunities to make themselves heard on these issues and (3) the hearing that prompted this thread just didn’t live up to the intensity level of many of the concerns raises. Beside all of that, if as you state most Americans are apathetic and ill informed about politics anyway, what difference would it make if the hearing lasted for a month?

Posted by: D.A. Ridgely | Jun 12, 2005 7:25:19 PM


Posted by: D_Lee

I'll certainly admit I wandered from the topic of the committee hearing; I have a tendency to jump from specific examples to general principles. In this case I jumped to the general pattern of behavior the Republicans seem to be showing. As someone whose views lie to the left of center, I often find myself unwittingly defending the Democrats. Their behavior in this particular hearing may have been inappropriate. Hell, their behavior ever since the '04 election has probably been inappropriate. There are different ways of making your voice heard as a minority party and I certainly don't agree with many of the choices Democrats have made.

I didn't mean for my list to be one of examples of how the Republican leadership "stifles dissent," but rather of how they show a lack of respect for democratic principles in general. The right to dissent is only of the principles I was speaking of, the others being the necessity of a well-informed citizenry and the right to demonstrate freely.

Whether Sensenbrenner's behavior is a good example of this pattern, I don't know. I think it is, but I may be rushing to conclusions. As to what difference the length of the hearing makes if citizens are ill-informed, it doesn't. It's not the length of the procedure but the behavior of the minority during it. People who vote for Democrats trust that they'll "do their job" in D.C., even if those people don't pay attention. The Democrats' behavior may not have immediate electoral consequences if their constituents really aren't paying attention, but it may still be doing a disservice to those constituents, whether they realize it or not (how's that for paternalism?)

Again, none of this settles the question of whether the Democrats are, in fact, behaving appropriately. But this thread was about the Republicans' behavior, so that's what I'm talking about. There's a debate to be had over where to draw the line for the minority party's rights in congressional proceedings. But I have no faith in the Republicans to draw that line in the right place, based on their behavior to date.

Posted by: D_Lee | Jun 13, 2005 3:45:01 AM


Posted by: Speculator

Was Sensenbrenner's cutting off of discussion in conformity to the rules?
Arguably so. But surely in this instance the germaneness rule was selectively enforced and the minority no less plausibly argued that it was misapplied.
Is freedom of speech in the US vastly more robust than in Putin's Russia? Yes, of course.
Are the procedures of today's House in accord with fair and democratic principles? Well, as to the abuse of Conference Reports and omnibus bills, no. But as to giving a fair hearing to the opposition, generally yes.
Right-wrong aside, was it rather foolish of Sensenbrenner to cut the session short? Yes, because it greatly increased the attention paid it and because his action looks heavyhanded to many viewers.
Would it have been fairer and more democratic to give the opposing side a full hearing? Let them ramble on another hour or so? Was there any compelling reason of any sort to cut them off? I suspect the controlling reason was quite simple: Sensenbrenner had a plane to catch or some other such appointment.

Posted by: Speculator | Jun 13, 2005 1:24:07 PM


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