Friday, February 18, 2005


Columnist John Dendahl, in the Albuquerque Journal, today criticized Senator Jeff Bingaman for Bingaman’s vote against Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, and another vote. Apparently Senator Bingaman felt that Gonzales was evasive about his part in the Geneva Convention, torture controversy. Would you hire an Attorney General who advocated torture? That question was avoided, because Gonzales said that he is against torture, and has not advocated torture. He is shocked, shocked, by the conduct of renegade soldiers (fortunately only a few) disobeying orders and mistreating prisoners in Iraq. Case closed. Or is it.

What did Alberto Gonzales have to do with the 20-technique interrogation plan approved by Secretary Donald Rumsfeld? What are the 20 approved techniques? Has anyone seen them on the internet? Do they include techniques that some of us might see as torture even though Alberto Gonzales would see them as permissible techniques to be used against suspected terrorists? Do they include techniques that Gonzales and Rumsfeld would approve, but Dendahl would not?

Take water boarding, for example. Repeated near-drowning, to induce panic (a perfectly natural reaction). Is water boarding torture? Does Rumsfeld approve? Does Gonzales approve? Does Dendahl approve? Is it justified (that is, not so bad) by the fact that it is inflicted on some of our people in training to prepare them for such treatment by enemies? If it is torture, has anyone been prosecuted for it, and if not, why not? Ask the same questions about electric shocks to the appendages: is it torture? does Rumsfeld approve? does Gonzales approve? does Dendahl approve? Ask the same question about chaining naked suspect to concrete floor in fetal position in waste for 48 hours: which one approves?

In his column, Mr. Dendahl suggests that in his next reelection race, Senator Bingaman will have to answer for his anti-Gonzales vote. No problem there. New Mexico voters will care about how the United States is viewed by the civilized world, and these New Mexico voters will be embarrassed by the quibble over the definition of torture. They will want to know what are the 20-techniques, and will want to decide for themselves whether they are civilized practices. You can also be sure that the Senator’s opponent will be asked whether he or she has ever seen the 20-technique list, and whether such candidate would authorize the techniques in question. Meanwhile, Mr. Dendahl could do a great public service by seeking to have the 20-technique list made public.

It is conceivable (though not to me as yet) that torture can be justified in some cases, under safeguards, authorized by a general, say, in writing, under guidelines approved by the Secretary of Defense. Some technique may be morally acceptable under certain circumstances and safeguards, and yet be counter-productive. Yet we are now debating morals, not effectiveness. Is there conduct that we find so morally wrong that we forbid our representatives to use it (and forbid our representatives from ordering our soldiers to do it)? Of course. But where do we draw the line?

It is not right to secretly direct our soldiers to use the practice, torture, and then publicly say we do not use torture. Do not ask Attorney General Gonzales whether the Department of Justice, under his administration, allows torture. Ask him whether the Department allows water-boarding; electric shock to appendages; chained naked in fetal position with waste; as means to soften up suspected terrorists for interrogation.

The Geneva conventions forbid interrogation (!) of prisoners of war; but it seems to me we can justify treating terrorist suspects as other than prisoners of war, and other than accused criminals (who would be entitled to counsel, etc.); but we cannot justify treating those suspects as other than human beings. As Woody Allen says, with arms over head in defensive posture, "Human being here!" When we know whether the Department allows certain conduct, we can debate whether we will tolerate it, ratify it. Or do we have the right to know? With respect, Mr. Dendahl, we ask your opinion.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


Governor Richardson, I respectfully ask you to refrain from calling for the resignation of the Socorro judge. He owned up to aggravated DWI and received the usual and customary punishment for a citizen. In addition, he has asked for a leave of absence and has voluntarily entered a treatment facility for a month. John Wertheim, Democratic Party Chairman, also should withhold his demand for a resignation. Unless he is taking the position that every District Judge who is convicted of DWI should leave office. That is arbitrary and unreasonable.

Your request for resignation of the Judge rubs the wrong way, for several reasons. First thing that comes to mind is the Chief of the New Mexico State Police backing the officer who drove you 110 miles an hour down the same corridor (according to a report in the Albuquerque Journal, September, 2003.) Should the Chief step down? Should the officer who drove you step down? Which case of driving endangered more people?

Second, the Judicial Standards Commission is supposed to be an independent body, set up to regulate the judges. You have reportedly removed six of the eleven-member body and appointed your own members (all you had the power over). The terms of the commissioners appointed by the Governor are no longer staggered, for a period of years, to insure appointees from more than one Governor. The terms of the commissioners that the Governor appoints are now at your pleasure. That was declared legal by a 3-2 decision of the Supreme Court, but it is not in accordance with the spirit of the law.

Now, while your appointees take under consideration an issue of a Judge’s career, you publicly call for the Judge to resign (lose his job). You say, resign; but what do the six commissioners (jurors, in effect) who serve at your pleasure on the Judicial Standards Commission think of your demand? Are they intimidated? You removed six jurors of the eleven, appointed six of your choosing who serve at your pleasure (not only in this case), and now you publicly express an opinion about the Judge’s fitness to serve, while the jury is out.

The Socorro judge is an elected official. What happened to the rule that the judicial power shall be vested in the Senate (when sitting as a court of impeachment); and judges of the district court shall be liable to impeachment for crimes, misdemeanors and malfeasance in office [Article IV, Sec. 36, Constitution of New Mexico]?

If you do not want this Judge sitting if he is going to be drinking; then fit him with an ankle bracelet which will detect and report any alcohol in his blood stream. Let him wear that bracelet until he voluntarily retires, or the voters retire him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


It is hard for me to understand the strength of feeling of so many members of the public, in the case of Judges accused of DWI. Take the case of the Socorro District Judge. They want the Judge prosecuted, and as punishment, even before conviction, they want the Judge suspended. As punishment, they want the Judge removed from the bench, and some even want the Judge to lose his retirement benefits.

I do not know the Judge personally; but he must be qualified, as he is an attorney, was cleared by the Governor and the electorate; and will have to continue to be cleared by the electorate. [That is every six years, which is two too long.] Let the people of that judicial district decide whether the Judge should remain. Meanwhile, he should be prosecuted just like any other citizen, and if found guilty punished appropriately. What is not appropriate is removal from office, nor loss of a retirement benefit worth perhaps several hundred thousand dollars to himself and survivor. Those are truly Draconian measures.

The public outcry resulted in our local presiding District Court Judge’s resignation and many call for him to lose his retirement benefits. Why? Why should the punishment for cocaine possession and DWI be loss of judicial position of 25 years and loss of a retirement benefit worth hundreds of thousands to yourself and your family? Let the voters decide, at the next retention election. Same with Ms. Shirley Baca, PRC. What a clamor for her resignation for possession of a small amount of marijuana and the pipe. Which hypocrite wants to throw the first stone? Why not let her be prosecuted for the weed offense, be punished, and go about her business to face the voters next election?

In the case of Judges, it is especially important that the accused, even if convicted, not be run out of office. Judges are important, and they are essential in a limited government system.
We have the means at hand to keep the Judge from drinking, if that is the appropriate punishment, or preventive measure. Put an ankle bracelet on him which reads his blood alcohol level through his skin. These devices are in use and have been proven workable and tamper proof. Or put an interlock device on all of his motor vehicles, if the goal is to prevent drinking and driving.

Require the Judge to recuse himself in criminal cases involving DWI. Let justice be done. Surely what he did, if he is guilty, was very dangerous, to himself and to hundreds of innocent people on the highways between Socorro and Santa Fe. Same deal with the thousand and more accused of DWI whose cases were dismissed in the Albuquerque area last year without trial on the merits. I do not intend to minimize the seriousness of the scourge of DWI. But let us not take out our frustrations with the criminal justice system by doing another injustice.