Thursday, May 21, 2009

Supreme Court tosses "profiling" lawsuit

The Supreme Court served notice Monday that it would set a high bar for anyone seeking to hold top government officials liable for abuse suffered by prisoners held as part of the Bush administration's war on terrorism. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy spoke for a 5-4 majority in throwing out a lawsuit against former Atty. Gen. John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III that claimed the two ordered the roundup of hundreds of Muslim men after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"It should come as no surprise that a legitimate policy directing law enforcement to arrest and detain individuals because of their suspected link to the attacks would produce a disparate, incidental impact on Arab Muslims, even though the purpose of the policy was to target neither Arabs nor Muslims," Kennedy said. "The Sept. 11 attacks were perpetrated by 19 Arab Muslim hijackers who counted themselves members in good standing of Al Qaeda, an Islamic fundamentalist group."

The ruling could serve as a procedural barrier for lawsuits against former officials who have been sued by prisoners being held as "enemy combatants." The suit dismissed Monday alleged that Javaid Iqbal -- who worked as a cable television installer on Long Island, N.Y. -- was roughed up, strip-searched, shackled and locked in a maximum-security facility for months because he was a Pakistani Muslim. His case, the first involving the post-Sept. 11 detention of more than 700 men in the U.S. to get to the Supreme Court, described Ashcroft as the "principal architect" of the policy. None of those arrested was charged as a terrorist, although many pleaded guilty to immigration offenses.

In the decision, the high court shielded Ashcroft and Mueller from being sued because Iqbal could not show that the two personally ordered that he be mistreated.

Peter S. Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, said other former prisoners would "face an insoluble dilemma. They will need information to meet the heightened pleading requirement. But they won't be able to get it without discovery [the pretrial phase during which relevant facts must be disclosed], which today's ruling will preclude."

Several former detainees at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have sued top Pentagon officials, alleging they were subjected to abuse. Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his deputies face a lawsuit from Jose Padilla, a native New Yorker with ties to Al Qaeda who was arrested and held for 3 1/2 years in a military brig in South Carolina. Padilla was convicted in federal court of aiding terrorists, but he has sued on the grounds that he was subjected to abuse.

Hope R. Metcalf, a human rights lawyer who teaches at Yale Law School, sued on Padilla's behalf. "I think the court is heading down a dangerous path," she said. "They are creating unnecessary obstacles to just getting in the door. This is about being heard." She added, however, that Padilla's lawsuit contained enough detailed information that it should get past the initial barrier.

The Washington Legal Foundation applauded the court's decision. It is "particularly welcome because it ensures the ability of senior national security officials to perform their duties without the distraction" of answering to lawsuits, said Richard Samp, a lawyer for the group.

In fall 2001, after the attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, the Justice Department started a search for possible agents of Al Qaeda who could be hiding in the U.S. Ashcroft said natives of certain Muslim countries should be questioned and, if necessary, held on immigration charges. Iqbal was designated a person of "high interest" and spent several months locked in a maximum-security facility in Brooklyn. He pleaded guilty to working in the country illegally and was deported to Pakistan.

A federal judge in Brooklyn and the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan ruled that his case could go forward because he alleged specific violations of his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court disagreed Monday in Ashcroft vs. Iqbal. "We are impelled to give real content to the concept of qualified immunity for high-level officials who must be neither deterred nor detracted from the vigorous performance of their duties," Kennedy said. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined Kennedy to form the majority.

Although the ruling shields the highest officials at the Justice Department, it does not end the lawsuits against prison officials who were directly involved in holding and allegedly abusing Iqbal and other Muslim men.

Retiring Justice David H. Souter, speaking for the dissenters, said the suit against the top officials should have been allowed to go forward. "Iqbal contends that Ashcroft and Mueller were, at the very least, aware of the discriminatory detention policy and condoned it and perhaps even took part in devising it," he said. Based on such an allegation, he said, the plaintiff should be given a chance to prove his case.


British Mother banned from breastfeeding at poolside 'breached food and drink rules'

But publicity works its usual wonders. Unrepentant authorities suddenly go into reverse

A mother was told to stop breastfeeding because she was contravening a leisure centre's poolside food and drink ban. Laura Whotton began feeding her three-month-old son Joshua after they had a swim together, because he was hungry and starting to cry. Both had towels draped around them as they sat on a bench by the poolside. But a male lifeguard spotted them and marched over to question Mrs Whotton.

The mother of two said she had taken care to cover up and he had to ask her: 'Are you breastfeeding?' She was then told: 'You are in a public area, you can't breastfeed because there are children here.' The shocked mother explained she was entitled to 'by law' and told him she was not indecent and not offending anyone. She was offered a 'private room' to breastfeed Joshua but refused because she was keeping an eye on her four-year-old son Thomas, who was swimming in a nearby toddler's pool. When the lifeguard refused to back down, she decided to leave the leisure centre.

Mrs Whotton, 26, of Carrington in Nottingham, said: 'I felt really angry at being treated like that. 'I wasn't embarrassed because I didn't have anything on show. People in bikinis were showing more skin and breast than I was. 'It's the most natural thing in the world - and I was made to feel like I was doing something terrible. 'I've fed my baby on the bus and on a tram and in McDonald's. If he needs feeding I will do it.'

The incident happened on a Saturday afternoon earlier this month at the John Carroll Leisure Centre in Nottingham. Mrs Whotton, who is married to Craig, 26, a hire car driver, lodged a complaint with Nottingham City Council.

A spokesman for the local authority said: 'The council's policy is to enable mothers to breastfeed in all council centres, including leisure centres. The only exception to this rule at leisure centres is in the swimming pool and surrounding area, where, in the interests of safety and hygiene, there is a policy of no food or drink. This rule also covers breastfeeding, as it would the bottle feeding of a baby.'

Now the council has given her a 'full and open apology' and has 'reviewed and amended' its breastfeeding policy. Operations manager Lee Kimberley told her the lifeguard at the pool was 'acting in accordance-with current policy'. But he added: 'The manner in which it was done was not appropriate.'

Breastfeeding mothers are to get extra legal protection by the Equality Bill, which will become law next year if passed by Parliament. This will give them the right to breastfeed a child in any public place and protect them from being forced out of cafes and shops. It is being introduced after campaigners argued the rights were not clearly outlined or properly enforced under existing law.


Britain's antisemitic cultural Left at work

A row threatened to engulf the Edinburgh International Film Festival yesterday after it bowed to pressure from the director Ken Loach and returned a £300 grant it had received from the Israeli Embassy.

Sir Jeremy Isaacs, the former chief executive of Channel Four, accused the festival’s organisers of making “an appalling decision” and called on them to rescind it. Describing Loach’s intervention as an act of censorship, he said: “They must not allow someone who has no real position, no rock to stand on, to interfere with their programming.” The grant was intended to enable Tali Shalom Ezer, a graduate of Tel Aviv University, to travel to Scotland for a screening of her film, Surrogate.

After days of protest against the award from pro-Palestinian organisations, Loach, an outspoken opponent of Israel’s policies in Lebanon and Gaza, urged filmgoers on Monday to boycott Edinburgh. “The massacres and state terrorism in Gaza make this money unacceptable,” he said. “With regret, I must urge all who might consider visiting the festival to show their support for the Palestinian nation and stay away.”

The intervention brought an immediate capitulation from the organisers. In a statement the festival said it accepted that Loach spoke “on behalf of the film community, therefore we will be returning the funding issued by the Israeli Embassy”.

Sir Jeremy said that he was disgusted both by Loach’s actions and by the capitulation of the festival organisers. “Ken Loach has always been critical of censorship of his own work, albeit it was many years in the past. The idea that he should lend himself to the denial of a film-maker’s right to show her work is absolutely appalling,” he said. He was “equally horrified” that festival organisers should accept that Loach was speaking on behalf of all British film-makers.

Sir Jeremy worked closely with Loach in the 1980s when, as chief executive of Channel Four, he commissioned a number of controversial documentaries from him. One, A Question of Leadership, was made in 1981 but never broadcast, leading to accusations of political censorship from Loach. The irony of the director’s present position was all the more obvious, given the spirit of the Edinburgh festival, Sir Jeremy said. “It must be good for cinemagoers at an international film festival to see films by Jews, Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians, to the benefit of all,” he said. “I have admired the Edinburgh International Film Festival for many years and would like to think that this appalling decision will be rescinded.”

Loach’s acclaimed new film Looking for Eric has made him the toast of the Cannes Film Festival. It is, uncharacteristically, a comedy, although its lead character is an authentic Loach creation — a Mancunian postman who goes off in search of his idol, the footballer Eric Cantona.

Ezer’s film makes no reference to war or politics. It is a romance set in a sex-therapy clinic. It won the audience award at an international women’s film festival in Israel recently.

Lord Janner of Braunstone, a Labour peer and former chairman of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, said that he was disappointed by the festival’s decision. “By banning the Israeli Embassy from supporting a film-maker the festival is helping to exclude Israelis from British cultural life, something that is clearly unfair.”

Last night a spokesman for the EIFF said that although it had returned £300 to the Israeli Embassy, the festival itself would fund Ms Shalom-Ezer’s travel to Edinburgh out of its own budget.


Don't tell us how to bring up our children

Comment from Australia

My kids don't watch TV. Ever. Neither do yours. In fact, no one watches TV any more. That's because according to the experts, it's no longer called TV. It's a Non-Productive Sedentary Behaviour device, or NPSB. Doesn't really roll off the tongue does it?

But if the authors of the Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Guidelines for Early Childhood get their way, we'll stop thinking of TV as an innocent childhood pastime. Instead, we'll think of it as one of the great evils of our slacker modern society.

Looking through the guidelines for kinders and childcare centres, which are being considered by the Federal Government, there's a long list of nasties. Besides TV, high on the black list are parents who drive their kids to kinder or child care, use food as rewards or punishments, give their kids "sometimes" foods sometimes, and give them treats in their lunchboxes.

What rot. What parent doesn't slip a sweet treat into their child's lunchbox as a bribe to make them eat the healthy stuff? What parent doesn't rely on a six-pack of Wiggle yoghurt or a Chuppa Chup at the checkout to smooth a circuit of the local supermarket with an irritable toddler? What parent doesn't heave a sigh of relief when they turn on the TV at the end of a long day to give their three-year-old some time out or to get some work done? What parent doesn't drive rather than walk between home and kinder or child care because it's quicker and easier?

Don't get me wrong. The guidelines are medically and nutritionally sound and full of sensible, healthy suggestions for kinders and childcare centres. I hope the kinder and childcare centre my three-year-old attends follow most of the tips. But I do object to staff taking things one step further and "educating" me as a parent about how I bring up my kids. It's pretty much none of their business how much TV they watch, whether we have dessert, and what I put in my child's lunchbox.

Sure, staff can make information about healthy eating and physical activity available to parents, but I don't believe they have a role in "encouraging" or "discouraging" certain behaviour. In this case I think young mum and Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella is right: programs should aim for individuals at risk rather than setting all of us up to fail.

Maybe as a busy working mother with three young kids I'm a bit defensive about my food, entertainment and transport choices. Like most parents, I do the best I can, but the last thing I want is some helpful hints from strangers about how to bring up my kids. For instance, guidelines suggest parents can be "educated" about the benefits of walking part of the way between home and child care or kinder. Great idea, but it's not always practical. Although I live about half an hour's walk from my son's school and my daughter's kinder, I usually find myself driving them around because it's quicker and more convenient.

However, as a family we play lots of active games and spend lots of time running around the yard and the local park, so I wouldn't really welcome some suggestions about my decision to drive them during the week. Really, it's no one else's business. Sure, if there are kids who are clearly unhealthy or at risk, then education staff have a legal duty to take further steps, but why interfere when there's clearly no need? Why can't staff provide some information about healthy lifestyles, but stop short of judging us?

In any case, surely we're taking away all the spontaneity, the fun and the celebration of childhood. Walking into my child's daycare centre yesterday I was hit by the beautiful, sweet aroma of freshly baked chocolate chip biscuits. Our wonderful chef Rachel had baked them from scratch for the kids as a mid-morning treat, and it made the entire place feel homey and welcoming. But this would be frowned upon at many centres following the healthy eating guidelines to the letter. Similarly, our centre has yummy ice cream cakes for kids' birthdays - a much-loved tradition that does no one any harm.

Never has there been a greater gap between the realities of most families and the advice from the experts. No wonder many parents feel overwhelmed by the vast amount of articles, books and commentators telling them what to do. If experts set the bar too high, parents are just going to stop jumping.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of other countries. The only real difference, however, is how much power they have. In America, their power is limited by democracy. To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges. They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did: None. So look to the colleges to see what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way. It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, GUN WATCH, SOCIALIZED MEDICINE, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, DISSECTING LEFTISM, IMMIGRATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL and EYE ON BRITAIN. My Home Pages are here or here or here. Email me (John Ray) here. For readers in China or for times when is playing up, there is a mirror of this site here.


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