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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Why not invoke the Logan Act to stop Carter?

At a news conference with German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier on Friday, US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice reacted to news that former President Jimmy Carter plans to meet with Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal in Damascus on Friday the 18th.
"I find it hard to understand what is going to be gained by having discussions with Hamas about peace when Hamas is, in fact, the impediment to peace," Rice told reporters in response to a question about the former president's plans. She did not, however, mention Carter by name.
But the United States has a law on the books that prevents private citizens from attempting to conduct foreign policy. That law - which dates back more than 200 years - is called the Logan Act. It is codified at codified at 18 U.S.C. ยง953:
Any citizen of the United States, wherever he may be, who, without authority of the United States, directly or indirectly commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign government or any officer or agent thereof, in relation to any disputes or controversies with the United States, or to defeat the measures of the United States, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

This section shall not abridge the right of a citizen to apply, himself or his agent, to any foreign government or the agents thereof for redress of any injury which he may have sustained from such government or any of its agents or subjects.
Carter somehow seems to have missed the fact that when he was summarily defeated in his run for re-election in 1980 by Ronald Reagan, he became a private citizen again. He is no longer President of the United States, and his status as a former President gives him no more right to conduct American foreign policy than say George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton or Carl in Jerusalem. So why doesn't the United States prosecute him under the Logan Act?

For starters, because the way the law reads, it seems that Carter could not be prosecuted until after he holds the meeting with Meshaal. Second, the law refers to a "foreign government or any officer or agent thereof." Does anyone really want to argue that Hamas is a 'foreign government?' I suppose you could make that argument on a de facto basis with respect to Gaza, but that might undercut the joint US-Israel position that Hamas' government in Gaza is 'illegal' and that the 'moderate' Fatah is still the rightful authority there.

But most importantly, there has never been a prosecution under the Logan Act in its entire history. As the article linked above notes, the Act has not been forgotten - it has just never been used in a prosecution - successful or otherwise. But it has been cited by the Courts. Would this be the time to threaten to use it against a former President of the United States? If I were in the State Department, I would at least raise the possibility. The 'Carter Center for Peace' may not want to spend all of next year's budget protecting its namesake from prosecution.


At 5:29 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl - good idea. But its never going to happen and the Arabists in the State Department see Carter's self-appointed mission as another tool to put pressure upon Israel to make more "roadmap" concessions.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

Call me cynical about Condi's reported "boiling" reaction.


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