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Bush's Frankenstein judges

Court nominees would be funny -- if liberty wasn't at stake

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Across the Straits of Florida, on the tropical island of Cuba, there are some peculiar ideas about "justice." Terrorism is broadly defined -- from horrible acts of violence against civilians to simple dissent against the government. Often the latter is much more feared by the regime than the former.

Trials, such as they are, don't resemble a Perry Mason courtroom. Judges, prosecutors and most defense attorneys work for the government, and they eschew jurists' robes and barristers' suits in favor of martial uniforms.

If a military defense attorney does too good a job, his career hits the wall. If a civilian lawyer truly has a client's interest at heart, he could find himself in violation of secrecy and terrorism laws. Any disclosures by defendants to their attorneys must be relayed to the government -- or the lawyers may face terrorism charges.

There is no jury. Instead, a panel of military officers -- who are keenly aware that if they offend el jefe, they're history -- decides guilt or ... well, it's not likely anyone will ever be found innocent.

The death penalty is administered quickly, with little review. Proceedings of the secretive tribunals -- even identities of its victims -- are deeply buried in government vaults.

Oh, by the way, I forgot to mention. I'm not talking about Fidel Castro's Cuba. My attention is on George Bush's concentration camp at Guantanamo, where a death chamber is scheduled to be built and military tribunals will likely begin trials that would make the Founding Father gag with outrage.

For, you see, according to the Bush regime, the U.S. Constitution doesn't mean squat. The scariest example is what's planned for Gitmo, where, Bush claims, the rule of constitutional law doesn't apply. But ranking up there in the fright department are the Patriot and Son of Patriot laws -- which could make dissent, especially civil disobedience, "terrorist" acts. Being agin' Bush could get you stripped of your citizenship and sent to America's emerging gulag.

Unrestrained by the Bill of Rights' Fourth, Fifth and Sixth amendments, Bush has devised a legal system patterned after the worst of what goes on in a totalitarian society. Heck, Fidel is probably taking notes on how to "improve" his own chambers of horror.

If the idea of a police state makes you mad, here's a name that should evoke furious anger: William Pryor, who wants to be the type of federal judge Bush needs to turn America into an Orwellian nightmare.

But, before we delve into Pryor, let's do a 50-year flashback. At 8 p.m. on June 19, a macabre anniversary clicked past. Shortly after that moment in 1953, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg went to the electric chair at New York's Sing Sing.

Later disclosures, including the admission of perjury by one key witness, would tend to clear Ethel. Julius, while likely an atomic spy, was not guilty of the magnitude of the crimes attributed to him by trial Judge Irving Kaufman. For a start, there was no single secret for the A-bomb, as Kaufman claimed during sentencing.

More important, Kaufman blamed the Rosenbergs for 50,000 deaths in the Korean War. That claim seems ludicrous, and was. But in the McCarthy era witch hunts of the 1950s, an accusation was as good as a conviction -- much like with the Bush/John Ashcroft concept of justice.

The FBI would eventually reveal that Kaufman was an "activist" judge -- but not in the style about which conservatives like to bash liberal jurists. Rather, Kaufman saw his job as intensely political. He had a mission to accomplish, and it didn't include a fair trial. The judge conspired with prosecutors. Kaufman was anything but impartial -- much like the judges Bush and Ashcroft want sitting on the federal bench. In fact, Bill Pryor would have adored Judge Kaufman.

Let's get one thing straight. There is no liberal Democratic conspiracy to deny George Bush his right to appoint federal judges. There was a vast right-wing conspiracy to do just that sort of thing to Bill Clinton. The numbers tell the story. In his first 28 months in office, Bush has had 124 of 126 judicial nominees approved. That's a far higher average than Clinton ever achieved during his administration. Fifteen percent of all federal judges are now Bush appointees.

Clinton's appointments were routinely blocked by Republicans amid false allegations that the moderate nominees were really liberal extremists.

The records were clear: Clinton's picks weren't ideologues. Bush's are.

The Republicans have been fulminating over the Democratic filibusters to stop the federal court appointments of Washington lawyer Miguel Estrada and Texas Supreme Court Justice Priscilla Owen.

Pryor, who as Alabama's attorney general is doing a good job of reinforcing the image of that state as woefully backward, has been nominated to the federal 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Georgia, Florida and Alabama. He is likely to create the third filibuster.

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