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I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sen./Chairman Martinez protests the treatment of terrorist suspects . . . (by Vietnam)

(updated below)

Sen. Mel Martinez, the new Republican Party Chairman, sent around an e-mail this weekend praising himself for his intervention in the case of Cuc Foshee, a U.S. citizen who was just released from a Vietnamese prison. Last month, Foshee was convicted after a trial in Vietnam of a plot to overthrow the Vietnamese government ("terrorism" under Vietnamese law), which included planned bombings as well as using radio devices "to jam the airwaves of pro-government radio stations and broadcast their own message of uprising."

Martinez made Foshee's release a personal crusade, single-handedly obstructing the normalization of trade relations with Vietnam unless Foshee was released. To justify and celebrate his intervention in this case, Sen. Martinez claimed in his e-mail that Foshee was subjected to oppressive and unjust treatment by the Vietnamese government:

This week, Senator Martinez praised the return to the United States of Thuong Nguyen "Cuc" Foshee, a U.S. citizen residing in Orlando, Florida. Mrs. Foshee was arrested and imprisoned in Vietnam and for the first 14 months of her imprisonment, she was not formally charged nor allowed to seek legal counsel. . . .

Senator Martinez, U.S. Representative Ric Keller and State Department officials worked together to encourage the Vietnam government cooperated (sic) and Mrs. Foshee was allowed to return to the United States last Monday.

Behold the sheer savagery of the Communist Vietnamese regime -- arresting people and holding them for a full 14 months without formally charging them with a crime (but then giving them a full trial). Is it any wonder that Sen./Chairman Martinez was so outraged by this case?

On his Senate website, Martinez trumpets his heroic efforts to save Foshee from such Communist tyranny. Also on Sen. Martinez's site is this October 17 Press Release, issued on the day the President signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006, authorizing the U.S. President to detain "terrorist suspects" forever with no access to courts of any kind:

U.S. Senator Mel Martinez (R-FL) today applauded President Bush’s signing of S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006. . . .

Senator Martinez said: “We must remember the detainees this law affects are terrorists engaged in an ongoing war against the United States.

Sen. Martinez, like every Senator (other than Lincoln Chafee) in the Republican Party that he now chairs, voted in favor of the MCA. Martinez also voted against the proposed amendment to that bill which would have allowed terrorist suspects the right to challenge the accusations against them in court -- the very right given to Foshee by the Communist regime in Vietnam.

Unlike detainees in U.S. custody, Foshee actually had a right to a trial in Vietnam and was given one, and then convicted. And for the crime of trying to overthrow the government, she was given a sentence of only 15 months in prison (as opposed to the indefinite, potentially life-long imprisonment to which the U.S. subjects its detainees): "The charges carried punishments ranging from up to 12 years jail to execution, but prosecutors said their more lenient sentences reflected the fact the defendants had repented and had no previous criminal records."

Additionally, throughout her incarceration, "she had regular contact with the U.S. consul in Vietnam" (in contrast to U.S. detainees who are often held incommunicado for years and denied any contact with the outside world). And look at how the barbarian Communists mistreat the detainees in their custody:

She said her time over there was a "nightmare" starting Sept. 8, 2005, when police pulled her car over. . . . She was kept in a Hanoi detention center for a month in a small room with no windows. She slept on a concrete floor. "My backbone ached," she said.

She was given fresh water in the morning for coffee or noodles and steamed vegetables twice a day. Guards took her out periodically for interrogation. There was no torture, Foshee said, just endless questioning. "It strains your mind," she said.

Those inhumane communist animals. There is no doubt about Foshee's guilt at least with respect to some of the charges. As Times Online reports, at her trial she admitted that she broke the law:

Speaking in court today, Ms Cuc and her fellow defendants denied terrorism but admitted breaking Vietnamese laws. "I very much regret my participation in Nguyen Huu Chanh’s organisation," she said.

That organization, with which she plotted to overthrow the Vietnamese government, is run by an individual "wanted in Vietnam for allegedly plotting to bomb Vietnamese embassies" and who "was arrested in South Korea in April but was allowed to return to the US after the countries failed to agree to his extradition."

So why, then, has Sen. Martinez taken such an intense interest in securing the release of someone convicted of plotting to overthrow another government and who admitted to breaking the law -- to the point of obstructing an omnibus trade agreement with another country? The Orlando Sentinel offers one possibility -- it says that Foshee is a "Republican supporter," and the Times Online reports that:

Ms Cuc, better known in the US as Thuong Nguyen Foshee, has lived in Florida for decades after fleeing Vietnam in the 1960s. She has close ties with the Republican Party and her family describe her as a pro-democracy activist rather than a rebel against Vietnam's one-party government.

As this ex-military blogger notes, there is a substantial right-wing Vietnamese exile community in Orlando which (like the Cuban exile community in Miami does with Cuba) demands support for Vietnamese expatriates who work to overthrow the regime. This is what one of them said about the Foshee case:

To Orlando's Vietnamese, Foshee, who sat in a detention center for 14 months, is an example of how their native land continues to violate free speech and human rights.

"For a whole year, no one did anything for her," said Thien Le, who came to Orlando via Chicago, where he went to college. "She was in prison in Vietnam. Then, right when President Bush is going over there, Vietnam starts taking action."

And this is what Foshee said after being released:

I've been lost for 14 months," she said. "I have lived in this country for 40 years," Foshee said. "Today, I have a greater appreciation of the freedoms Americans enjoy. Life in America, it just doesn't compare to anywhere else."

Just compare the treatment which Foshee received from the Vietnamese government (and which has Sen./Chairman Martinez so upset) to the treatment which, say, Jose Padilla or Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri or Maher Arar received (and are still receiving) from the U.S. Government (treatment which Sen. Martinez not only defends but also voted just last month to legalize), and then ask yourself whether you would prefer to be a terrorist suspect in the U.S. or in Communist Vietnam. Is that a close call?

I used to find comparisons of the U.S. to Communist and other tyrannical regimes to be wildly hyperbolic and even offensive, a sign of irrational anti-American animus. And it is indisputably true that the U.S. still affords all sorts of liberties (beginning with free speech and the right to oppose the government) which many, if not most, governments around the world, certainly including Vietnam, do not. Still, as far as the treatment of "terrorist" suspects is concerned, what possible basis exists for objecting to those comparisons?

If anything, it's the non-waterboarding, trial-providing Vietnamese Communists who ought to find that comparison offensive. That is a painful truth to have to accept, but that is what it means to destroy the moral authority America had with regard to issues of human rights and liberty. It means that protests of this sort from the likes of GOP Sen./Chairman Mel Martinez cannot be voiced without, as Billmon put it, "triggering a global laughing fit."

If Sen./Chairman Martinez would like to see what real oppression and deprivation of human rights looks like, he can go to the southern part of his state where the criminal case of American citizen Jose Padilla -- held for 3 1/2 years incommunacado with no charges but much inhumane treatment-- appears to be falling apart in front of a Bush-appointed federal judge. Until then, there are few people less credible for speaking out against human rights abuses and infringements of liberty than the infinite-detention-supporting, torture-favoring Mel Martinez and the political party he now chairs.

UPDATE: I received an e-mail from what appears to be an American living in Vietnam who says that "You are right to argue that Martinez’s criticisms of Vietnam’s treatment of Foshee are hypocritical, given his support for detention without trial of terrorism suspects in the US. But to claim on the basis of Foshee’s case that terrorism suspects are treated better in Vietnam than in the US takes the case a bit further than the facts warrant."

He contends that the defendants here were not treated well until their case started receiving publicity and that their status as U.S. citizens, combined with the effects it could have on the trade agreement, meant that they received much better treatment than the average detainee charged by the Vietnamese government with subversion. Others in comments have made that point as well.

That point is fair enough (and likely true), but just to be clear: I didn't intend to compare the general behavior of the Vietnamese Government to the behavior of the U.S. government. I intended to compare only the Vietnamese Government's treatment of the detainees in this case (which Martinez complained about) to the treatment given to detainees by the U.S. (which Martinez supports and voted to legalize).

I have no doubt that the Vietnamese Government engages in all sorts of human rights abuses and infringements of liberties, and I said in the post that "it is indisputably true that the U.S. still affords all sorts of liberties (beginning with free speech and the right to oppose the government) which many, if not most, governments around the world, certainly including Vietnam, do not. "

Nonetheless, there are sentences here that can be construed to mean that I am arguing that the Vietnamese in general treat their detainees better than the Americans, and I agree that the facts of this case do not support that claim. The point here isn't to glorify the Vietnamese government, which is oppressive and tyrannical, but to demonstrate that Sen. Martinez has put himself in no position to complain.

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