Site Meter

Author: Jeffrey Kahn


There & Back Again: John Rizzo & Yuri Nosenko

John Rizzo gave thirty-four years of service as an attorney for the Central Intelligence Agency, serving with distinction under eleven directors and rising to acting general counsel.  Yuri Nosenko, who died in 2008, was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB, a Soviet defector, and suspected double agent.

RizzoNosenkoWhat do they have in common?  A late night, one-on-one, vodka-soaked discussion of Nosenko’s three years of unremitting torture by Rizzo’s employer. The torture produced nothing, neither confirmation that Nosenko was a Soviet mole nor confidence that he was not.  In his new memoir, Company Man, Rizzo asserts that this meeting left an indelible impression on him as a young lawyer. But just how did he put that experience to use when he evaluated the legality of the “Enhanced Interrogation Program” that landed on his desk in the CIA General Counsel’s office after 9/11?

His answer is not found in his memoir.  But he did give an answer last week, when I asked him this question at an outstanding symposium on the future of national security law held at Pepperdine Law School.  The conference was organized by Professor Greg McNeal ably assisted by 3L Shelby Doyle and her team of student editors at the Pepperdine Law Review.

Comrade Nosenko’s story, and Mr. Rizzo’s answer, follow after the break. Read More


“Would Winston Smith and Josef K. please return to the gate? Your flight is ready to depart.”

Yesterday the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit released its opinion in Latif v. Holder.  Ayman Latif is a U.S. Citizen and disabled Marine Corps veteran who lives in Egypt.  Airport officials in Cairo prevented him from boarding a plane to return to the United States, where he needed to attend a scheduled disability evaluation.  Latif sought help from the U.S. Embassy, but he alleges that months later, after lengthy FBI interviews and polygraph tests, American officials told him that he could fly to the United States only as a “one-time thing,” without any guarantee that he would be allowed to return to his wife and daughters in Egypt.  He refused the offer and his benefits as a disabled veteran were cut.

Latif filed suit, along with other citizens and lawful permanent residents in the U.S. and abroad who alleged similar treatment.  They all claimed that they were prevented from traveling because the United States Government  placed them on its No Fly List.  This unanimous court of appeals decision opens a door to judicial review that, until yesterday, the Government had succeeded in keeping tightly shut.  After the break, I’ll provide a brief review of the current system and then analyze how the Ninth Circuit’s opinion presents a substantial opportunity for change.

(Full Disclosure:  Readers might recall me as a past guest at Concurring Opinions.  My bio is here and my interest in this case comes from my work on a book to be published in December by the University of Michigan Press called Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists.) Read More


Happy New Year, Time to Go

The New Year has rung in and it is time for me to ring out.  I’ve enjoyed being a guest blogger again at Concurring Opinions very much.  Thanks to Danielle Citron for inviting me back.  It’s been great fun!


Russian Human Rights Council Recommends Quashing Khodorkovsky’s Conviction

Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev met Tuesday with Mikhail Fedotov, Chairman of Medvedev's Human Rights Council. The Khodorkovsky report was the first topic that Mr. Fedotov raised.

Just before Christmas, Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s Council on the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights recommended that the December 2010 conviction of Yukos-Oil-CEO-now-prisoner Mikhail Khodorkovsky be annulled.  That announcement (unfortunately, only available in Russian, but reported by the BBC, among others) coincides with massive street protests not seen in Russia since shortly before Christmas 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed. 

The Council’s recommendation was based on a 427-page report on Khodorkovsky’s conviction that the Council gave to President Medvedev.  The report contained the analysis of nine scholars that the Council selected last spring from Russia, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States.  I was the American contributor.  The report on the Council’s website is in Russian, but you can find an English-version of my portion of the document here

The Khodorkovsky case will be the focus of a “hot topics” panel on Friday morning, January 6, at 10:30 at the AALS Conference in Washington D.C.  How does the case relate to the recent protests in Russia?  What does it say about the rule of law in Russia and prospects for reform?  Come to the panel and find out!


When Worlds Collide: Russia, the Internet, and Nothing to Hide (or, Интернет в России)

Danielle Citron and Daniel Solove – whose guest I am here at CO – always offer great insights into the brave new world of cyber law.  I find their work fascinating and worth a careful read.  But readers tend to bring a bit of themselves to whatever they read, and I’m no exception.  That part of my scholarship that focuses on Russian law sometimes makes it hard for me to avoid thinking about the original model for Big Brother that George Orwell had in mind when I read about the latest anxieties about the state’s relationship to cyberspace.

So today I was not entirely surprised to learn that the recent mass protests in Russia have a cyber-angle to them beyond the emphasis in news reports on how protesters have used Facebook and flash mobs.  Two angles, actually, that readers might miss and that I thought worth sharing.  The protests, as many know, were catalyzed by elections to the lower house of the Russian parliament, the State Duma, which were held Sunday, December 4. 

The first one was reported yesterday by Mark Franchetti in Moscow for the The Sunday Times (UK):

The dirtiest election in the country’s post-Soviet era began with a cyber attack, unprecedented both in its scale and its efficacy, on several websites critical of the Kremlin.

It was launched 90 minutes before polling stations opened and ended 90 minutes after they closed.  Half a dozen sites were shut down completely.

According to security experts employed by one of those affected, the onslaught came from 200,000 hacked computers across the world.  Unbeknown to their users, they requested simultaneous access to the sites, which crashed under the weight of demand.

“This was a concerted, well-organized attack which was very expensive to sustain.  It’s not some lone hacker causing trouble – rather something far more sinister, almost certainly linked to the security services,”  said one web security exeprt.

United Russia, the country’s largest party, led by Putin, denied any involvement but suspicion fell on the state — especially the FSB, the former KGB.  The only common link between the targeted sites was that all had posted an interactive map detailing alleged pre-election violations reported by ordinary citizens.

The map, which listed 6,000 alleged violations, was created by Golos, Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, whose site was among those disabled.

The offices of Golos, which is funded partly by the United States and European Union, waere raided by prosecutors in the run-up to the polling.  The Kremlin claimed that the West was meddling and Putin, who served in the KGB for 16 years, compared Russian recipients of foreign money to Judas.

The second report comes from ITAR-TASS, a Russian state-owned news service.  A report on its wire service suggested that someone (and probably a lot more than one)  in the Russian Interior Ministry really ought to read some of Solove’s and Citron’s work.  According to ITAR-TASS:

Alexei Moshkov, head of the bureau of special technical activities under the Interior Ministry, suggested on Thursday the taking of measures against anonymity in the Internet.  In his opinion, “today social networks not only have some advantages, but also create a potential threat to the fundamentals of society.”  Some mass media organs linked his proposal with the growth of protest activity of Russians after the parliamentary elections, in which the Internet is playing an important role.

Major General Moshkov believes that stability of the fundamentals of society may be ensured by banning the publication of anonymous reports, The Novye Izvestia [a Moscow newspaper -- ed.] writes.  “One may get registered under his real name, may report his address and after that communicate with others.  An honest and law-abiding person does not have to hide.  Let me remind you that there is no censorship in the Internet.  The “K” Department will not search for anybody or arrest anybody for criticism,” he stated point-blank.

Not everybody in Russia seems to agree with the general.  His boss, for example, Rashid Nurgaliyev, the Minister of the Interior.  Another ITAR-TASS post (which I’ve only been able to find in Russian) states:

 Head of the MVD [the Interior Ministry -- ed.] Rashid Nurgaliyev expressed his negative attitude toward required registration of the names and surnames of Internet users.  He declared this in answering a question of news agency  journalists concerning “face-control” on the network.

“This is stupidity and no one is planning to introduce this,” said Nurgaliyev.

Well, maybe there’s a reader out there after all!


What if the Boy Who Cried Wolf Could Testify under a Pseudonym … as an Expert Witness on Canis Lupus?

What would the Daubert Hearing for "Shepherd X" look like?

“Major Lior” is the pseudonym for an Israeli Defense Force officer who testified in Dallas not long ago in what has been called the “largest terrorism financing investigation in American history.”  His name was pronounced “Major Lee-OR” at the trial.  Snarky commentators suggested that defense counsel should mispronounce his name to rhyme with “fire.”  After all, what defense counsel would not want to refer the jury to the testimony of a major liar?  But the joke exposed a real problem for the defense: how can you “attack a witness’s reputation for having a character for truthfulness or untruthfulness” under FRE 608 or engage in more typically frutiful areas of inquiry into credibility or expertise if — thanks to a court-sanctioned pseudonym — you don’t even know his name and must rely on your adversary for information in place of any investigative legwork of your own?

Last week, the Fifth Circuit handed down an important opinion upholding the convictions in that case.  The unanimous and enormous (172 page) opinion written by Judge Carolyn King (joined by Judges Emilio Garza and James Graves) received virtually no media attention.  That’s strange, considering that the convictions that the court upheld concerned an international conspiracy to fund Hamas and the defendants once ran the largest Muslim charity in the United States.

But the silence is stranger still when you consider the importance of the issue (one of many) before the court: Did the district court deprive the defendants of their rights to due process and to confront witnesses against them when it allowed two witnesses to testify using pseudonyms?  As far as I know, such a practice would be unusual but not entirely unprecedented were it to concern the typical fact witness.  Children, informers, and undercover agents are sometimes allowed various levels of shielding from the ordinary requirement of fully public testimony in a completely open court.  But these witnesses were far from ordinary.  Both were officers in the Israeli Defense Force.  “Major Lior” was a fact witness whose role was to authenticate documents obtained by the IDF during a military operation.  The other, “Avi,” testified as an expert witness, providing his opinion to the jury about the financial structure of Hamas.

After the break, I’ll give some background on the case and then explore the appellate court’s conclusion that this testimony worked no constitutional injury.  Given that the Supreme Court granted only 1.1% of the petitions for review last term, I doubt that the appeal will go any farther.  But I think it should and, though I certainly would give no quarter to Hamas or its allies, I think the use of these anonymous witnesses violated the defendants’ rights.

Read More


AALS “Hot Topics” Program: Russia’s “Dictatorship of Law”

I am glad to announce that the AALS Committee on Special Programs selected my proposal as a “Hot Topics” panel for the 2012 AALS Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. next month.  The program is called: “The Dictatorship of Law: The Khodorkovsky Case, Human Rights, and the Rule of Law in Russia.”  William Pomeranz, Deputy Director of the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, will chair a panel that includes Kim Lane Scheppele (the University of Pennsylvania and Princeton), Bruce Bean (Michigan State University), Christopher Bruner (Washington and Lee University), Alexei Trochev (Nazarbayev University) and me.  The program will begin at 10:30 on Friday morning, January 6. 

Below is a description of the panel, which will occur (as perhaps a “hot topic” should) between two central events on the Russian calendar: the surprising results of yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Russia and presidential elections scheduled for March 4 that (at least until yesterday) everyone was saying would be certain to return now Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to the presidency currently held by his protégé, Dmitrii Medvedev.

During his first campaign for President of Russia in February 2000, Vladimir Putin defined democracy as a “dictatorship of law.”  This was meant to signal a shift away from the perceived lawlessness of his immediate predecessor’s governance, and to feed the nostalgia for Soviet-era stability.  As Putin starts his gambit to return to the Russian presidency, this panel examines which half of that slogan will dominate the other.  Recent developments in the most well-known case in the courts of both Russia and the Council of Europe present an opportunity to do so at a pivotal moment not only in that case but for the future of the rule of law in Russia.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky was the CEO of the Yukos Oil Company and the richest man in Russia when in 2003 he and his business partner, Platon Lebedev, were arrested and charged with crimes connected to Yukos, Russia’s most profitable and well-known private corporation.  They were convicted of fraud, causing property damage by deceit or breach of trust, and tax evasion and sentenced to eight years in prison.  Yukos was seized and sold to state-controlled companies.  In December 2010, as their sentences drew to a close, Khodorkovsky and Lebedev were convicted by another court of embezzlement and money-laundering, charges arising out of the same time period and concerning the same corporate activities that were the basis for the first conviction.  On the eve of that verdict, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin informed a nationwide television audience that “a thief should sit in jail,” a reference to a well-known Soviet mini-series that would have been quite familiar to viewers (the quote continues: “… and people don’t care how I put him away.”).  In midsummer 2011, a Russian court upheld the verdict, extending the defendants’ sentences until 2016. 

A bit more on the tension this case embodies for Russian law and human rights after the break …

Read More


Pretext, the Rule of Law, and the Good Official

Justice Scalia, author of Whren v. United States and Ashcroft v. al-Kidd (used with permission,

How should citizens in a republic bound by the rule of law regard the pretextual use of law by state officials?  If the United States Supreme Court is any indicator of the answer in our own republic, we are pretty ambivalent about pretext. 

Sometimes we don’t care very much.  In its most well-known case on the subject, Whren v. United States (1996), the Court upheld the pretextual use of the traffic code (which was prolix enough to be violated sooner or later by just about any car on the road).  Whren’s car was stopped by a vice squad cop who had a hunch (but not probable cause to believe) that Whren had drugs in his car.  One lesson of this case is that you should always signal before making a turn.  Justice Scalia, writing for a unanimous Court, had another one: the police are free to do “under the guise of enforcing the traffic code what they would like to do for different reasons.”  In other words, a green light to pretextual traffic stops.

Sometimes, we care a great deal.  In Kelo v. City of New London (2005), the Supreme Court categorically rejected the idea that government officials may “be allowed to take property under the mere pretext of a public purpose, when [their] actual purpose was to bestow a private benefit.”  Likewise, interpreting Title VII in their concurrence in Ricci v. DeStefano (2009) (which concerned a city fire department), Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas highlighted the subjective component of liability in a civil suit for employment discrimination in a disparate-treatment case: the employer is liable if its facially legitimate reason for a decision turns out to be “just a pretext for discrimination.”  Justice Frankfurter long ago chastised the Court for sustaining a law “because Congress wrapped the legislation in the verbal cellophane of a revenue measure.”  The concept of limited and enumerated powers seems to suggest a general disapproval of pretext.

Does repeated pretextualism — whether one is making or enforcing the law — weaken the rule of law?  When tempted to use a law for an unintended purpose, how should the “good” official (read the adjective however you like) distinguish an innovative use from a destructive one?  My own motivation for this research stems from concern that using law to achieve an objective that the law was clearly unintended to achieve might do something destructive to the rule of law itself.  Maybe it does some harm to the official who wields power in that pretextual way, too, an official who may be the worst-placed government agent to exercise the sort of discretion that creative administration of the law demands.  Pretextualism may be habit-forming and, like cigarettes, unhealthy.

After the break, I’ll share my working definition of pretext and two cases separated by more than fifty years, but adopting the same pretextual technique to evade restrictions on government action.  One involves a Soviet spy whose case troubled the Supreme Court so much that the Court heard oral argument twice.  Surprisingly, that case foretold and influenced the “easy” Whren case.  The other involves a former college football player caught up in the current “War on Terror.”  That case, Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, was decided in May, also referencing Whren, but this time without such unanimity and with a lot more unease about pretext.

Read More


“The first thing we do, let’s [train] all the lawyers.”

David Segal has a front-page, above-the-fold article in today’s New York Times, What They Don’t Teach Law Students: Lawyering.  Segal blasts legal education for failing to produce prêt-à-porter lawyers sized to fit the needs of everyone from Skadden Arps to solo practitioners.  Segal also denies the value of “pure” research — law review articles and other scholarly output that do not satisfy his requirements for immediate application to daily practice.  Gerard Magliocca and Alex Guerrero already commented on one of his examples.  As with Dick the Butcher’s suggestion in Shakespeare’s Henry VI, Part 2, Segal’s article is wrong on both teaching and research.

First, teaching.  I think that when law schools succeed at their mission they do produce graduates with skills ready for use in any legal environment.  It’s just that developing the skill set that Segal prioritizes (such as his opening example: filing a certificate of merger with a secretary of state) is not the sole, let alone primary, goal of legal education.  Those form-filling and filing skills are important, but best honed by firms that daily engage in those specialized, localized, and technical operations.  Law schools, in contrast, have the advantage in teaching the general skills and knowledge that firms of all sizes (as well as government agencies and corporations) have neither the time, inclination, nor resources to perfect.  But these organizations desperately need these things in the lawyers they hire: critical thinking, professional standards, ethical judgment, and historical perspective (to name a few).

Unlike medical schools and engineering programs, law schools do not set out to create technicians.  (I suspect that the best medical and engineering institutions don’t have this goal either, but this is the common comparison.)  Law schools, especially, should produce graduates comfortably inclined to question the status quo, challenge assumed truths, and think about the long-term implications of their actions as members of a learned profession.  Over time, one hopes that their training will combine with experience to produce in them judgment about when each skill should take a leading role.  Lawyers with these skills are needed in any age, but especially one that produced such colossal fails ranging from Enron to government-sanctioned torture.

Second, research.  I also reject Segal’s essentially anti-intellectual critique of research.  Last spring, I was asked by a high-level Russian official to write a report on a verdict in a criminal case.  That report explored the many departures from Russia’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights to be found in that verdict, but it also raised serious questions about fundamental aspects of Russian law.  The report could hardly qualify as research readily useful to the day-to-day activities of a practitioner at the bar of any American state or the present Russian one.  Nevertheless, I found that the research that I conducted, the exercise of drafting my report, and the report itself generated useful starting points for several discussions in classes that I teach on American law.  Those conversations ranged from an aspect of the famous Chenery case in my Administrative Law class to an editing exercise in a seminar on counterterrorism.  Needless to say, I hope it also makes a positive impact in Russia when it is released next month.

Those teaching moments were hard to foresee at the outset of my research.  But anyone who values knowledge for its own sake would not be surprised by the serendipity my Russian law work produced in my American law classrooms.  That the report led to invitations to speak to groups at universities and thinktanks in the U.S., U.K., Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Belgium also suggests that what counts as valuable research might benefit from a less cramped definition than Segal and company provide.


Leo, J. Edgar, and Ruth

Hoover or DiCaprio?

Clint Eastwood’s biopic of J. Edgar Hoover opens nationwide tomorrow.  The New York Times’s Manohla Dargis liked it, and liked Leonardo DiCaprio in it.  So, if you can’t wait until the April release of Titanic 3D to get your Leo fix, this is your weekend.  Of course, J. Edgar is no Jack Dawson.  So you may need another reason to see the film.

Here’s one.  According to the Times review, the film begins with a voiceover by the title character: “Communism is not a political party — it is a disease.”  Strong words, but strongly felt by many back then (and a few even now).  And that’s a point worth remembering today as we continue to fight the sadly named “GWOT” — the Global War on Terror. 

Consider the year 1952, the midpoint of Hoover’s reign.  The Soviet Union had successfully tested three atomic bombs.  The Korean War was entering its third year, with hundreds of thousands of military and civilian casualties.  President Truman’s proclamation of a national emergency to fight the “world conquest by communist imperialism” led Congress to pass the Emergency Powers Continuation Act, extending the statutory duration of a wide variety of exceptional presidential powers.  Senator Joseph McCarthy had discovered communists infiltrating the United States Government.

Of course, Hoover wasn’t alone fighting communists.  Besides politicians like McCarthy, Hoover’s contemporary for much of his career was Ruth B. Shipley, the Chief of the State Department’s Passport Office.  (As it happens, Ruth’s older brother, A. Bruce Bielaski, preceded Hoover as the Director of the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor to the FBI.)  As I detail in a recent article in the Connecticut Law Review based on materials from the National Archives, Shipley controlled travel then with paper files and miles of file cabinets, but her method resonates with how we control travel today, using computerized terrorist watchlists.  Mrs. Shipley took second to no one in her zeal to keep communists and other subversives grounded.

Ruth B. Shipley, not Kate Winslet

In my forthcoming book, Mrs. Shipley’s Ghost: The Right to Travel and Terrorist Watchlists (University of Michigan Press, forthcoming 2012), I argue that Mrs. Shipley’s approach was just an analogue version of the digital No Fly List used today.  The legal and policy premises are exactly the same: some people are too dangerous to travel, but for various reasons can’t be charged with a crime or otherwise detained.  (The No Fly List is just one of many watchlists; for example, there is one for maritime travel, too.)  It is up to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center to craft the lists that contain their names, just as Mrs. Shipley’s Passport Office red-flagged (ironically enough) the passport applications of Americans deemed too dangerous to travel.  Your chance of obtaining redress against this system for claims of mistake or misjudgment are as slim today as they were back then, also for many of the same reasons.

A recurring criticism of my argument is that this historical analogy doesn’t work.  I’ll revisit the issue later this month (I’m about to fly — FBI-permitting — to the University of Connecticut School of Law to present my case there).  But for now, as a simple test, ask yourself whether the words of one of the country’s most successful Supreme Court lawyers describe your (and Leo’s) world or the world of Ruth and J. Edgar:

“In short, several officials gather secretly behind closed doors, peruse secret intelligence reports and purport to arrive at a fair judgment affecting not only the citizen’s right to travel but also his reputation and possibly his livelihood and financial well-being.”

The year was 1952.  The source is Eugene Gressman, The Undue Process of Passports, 127 New Republic 13, 14 (Sept. 8, 1952).