The Swarm

Mix it up with The Bee's editorial board.

December 19, 2012
Senators to 'Zero Dark Thirty' studio: Tell the truth on torture
Three leading U.S. senators decided to play movie critics today, urging the studio behind "Zero Dark Thirty" to make clear that torture didn't lead to Osama bin Laden.

As I wrote last week about this controversy, some who have seen the award-winning movie, which opened in Los Angeles and New York today and opens nationwide Jan. 11, say it leaves the impression that waterboarding of a detainee uncovered the name of bin Laden's courier, who eventually led the CIA to the al-Qaida leader's hideout in Pakistan.

They now include Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who along with Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California and Carl Levin of Michigan sent the unusual letter to the CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment

Based on their review of still-secret CIA documents, they write that the film is "grossly inaccurate" and that Sony has an obligation to tell moviegoers that the role of torture "is not based on the facts, but rather part of the film's fictional narrative."

The letter goes on to say, "We are fans of many of your movies, and we understand the special role that movies play in our lives, but the fundamental problem is that people who see 'Zero Dark Thirty' will believe that the events it portrays are facts. The film therefore has the potential to shape American public opinion in a disturbing and misleading manner. 

"The use of torture in the fight against terrorism did severe damage to America's values and standing that cannot be justified or expunged. It remains a stain on our national conscience. We cannot afford to go back to these dark times, and with the release of Zero Dark Thirty, the filmmakers and your production studio are perpetuating the myth that torture is effective. You have a social and moral obligation to get the facts right."
December 13, 2012
Torture report approved, but public may never see it
The Senate Intelligence Committee voted 9-6 along party lines today to approve an exhaustive report on the CIA's interrogations of terrorism suspects.

But there's no telling how many of the 6,000-plus pages the public will ever get to see.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat and the committee's chairwoman, promoted the document as one of the most sweeping oversight efforts ever by the U.S. Senate, if not the last word on torture during the war on terror.

"The report uncovers startling details about the CIA detention and interrogation program and raises critical questions about intelligence operations and oversight," she said in a statement.  

She said the report, which includes 20 findings and conclusions, is being sent to President Barack Obama and his national security team for their review. Only after they comment will the committee decide how much of the report can be declassified and whether to release any of it to the public.

Republicans boycotted the report, based on more than 6 million pages of CIA documents and other records, in part because they believed that review by intelligence agencies should have happened before it was approved.

One notable exception is GOP Sen. John McCain, who is joining some retired military officers and human rights groups in calling for the report's release. "It is indispensable to our success in this war that those we ask to fight it know that, in the discharge of their dangerous responsibilities to our country, they are never expected to forget that they are Americans, and the valiant defenders of a sacred idea of how nations should be governed and conduct their relations with others -- even our enemies," he said in a statement.

As I wrote about in an Editorial Notebook today, this whole topic has come to the fore again because of an award-winning movie that is about to come out on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. "Zero Dark Thirty" has left those who have seen it with the distinct impression that water boarding led to essential information to find the al-Qaida leader, who was killed at his Pakistan hideout in May 2011.

Feinstein says there is no evidence that torture helped lead to bin Laden.

"I also believe this report will settle the debate once and for all over whether our nation should ever employ coercive interrogation techniques such as those detailed in this report," she said in her statement today.

"I strongly believe that the creation of long-term, clandestine 'black sites' and the use of so-called 'enhanced-interrogation techniques' were terrible mistakes."
December 12, 2012
New Sacramento City Council promises unity, productivity
At least for one night, it was all sweetness and light for the new Sacramento City Council.

After newly-elected council members Steve Hansen and Allen Warren, re-elected council members Kevin McCarty and Bonnie Pannell and Mayor Kevin Johnson took the oath of office Tuesday evening, everyone on the council spoke about working hard and working together for the good of the city, particularly on jobs.

There was a sense of optimism as the local economy rebounds and as a half-cent sales tax hike generates money to start restoring budget cuts.     

"We've had enough of this darn recession," said Steve Cohn, now the senior member of the council. It's time, he said, for the city to reassert itself.   

"I'm really excited to see where we go," added Vice Mayor Angelique Ashby.

Johnson and several council members celebrated the diversity represented on the new council, which includes three African Americans as well as its first openly gay councilman in Hansen.

That diversity, the mayor said, makes Sacramento special -- a city that works for everyone.     

Dorothy Hill, a longtime community organizer in north Sacramento, added a note of reality and responsibility, reminding the new council: "Remember all of you, that seat is not you. It's about the people of Sacramento."

The Bee's editorial board called Tuesday for this new council to turn the page on the division and dysfunction that sometimes marred the past four years. If they can avoid the personal politics and be open-minded, council members have the chance to do some very good things for Sacramento.  

We'll see if the glad tidings last beyond the holiday season and the new council's honeymoon. 

December 6, 2012
Troy Nunley moves closer to becoming a federal judge
A local judge is one step closer to joining the federal district court centered in Sacramento, but we still don't know what the delay was all about.

On a voice vote today, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee approved the nomination of Troy L. Nunley for the Eastern District of California, which one of the biggest caseloads in the country.

As The Bee's editorial board pointed out last week, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the committee, didn't explain why he put off a vote on Nunley last week. He wasn't any more forthcoming at today's meeting.

Nunley, a former prosecutor, has been a Sacramento Superior Court judge since 2002. President Barack Obama nominated him in June and had his confirmation hearing in September.

His wait still isn't over. It's still unclear whether the full Senate will vote on Nunley during the lame-duck session, before a new Congress takes office in January. Often in recent years, the much longer delay has been between action by the Judiciary Committee and a vote on the Senate floor.   

Along with four other nominees approved by the Judiciary Committee and after two were confirmed by the Senate, that makes 20 nominees awaiting action by the Senate. A dozen, including five from California, would fill judgeships designated as emergencies.

Democrats and liberal advocacy groups are putting the blame on Republicans for obstructing the nominations.

"Those who contend that judicial confirmation votes during lame duck sessions do not take place are wrong," Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. "I urge them to reexamine the false premises for their contentions and I urge the Senate Republican leadership to reassess its damaging tactics. The new precedent they are creating is bad for the Senate, the fderal courts and, most importantly, for the American people."


About The Swarm

The Swarm is written by members of The Sacramento Bee's editorial board. They meet daily and are separate from the newsroom. Views included here are those of individual writers, and do not necessarily reflect those of a majority of the board or the positions expressed in The Bee's editorials.

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