While U.S. officials complain about Afghan corruption, a courageous Federal Judge continues to battle corruption within the Obama Administration. That amazing person is U.S. District Court Judge Lynn N. Hughes, who is assigned to the Southern District of Texas. Judge Hughes is a towering figure of honesty and integrity. He should be the next U.S. Ambassador to Kabul and the Taliban should insist that he preside over any peace negotiations as they should only deal with someone whose word they can trust. A small sampling of Judge Hughes’ court rulings are as follows:
On April 2, 2012, in the case of “USA v. $35,131.00 in U.S. Currency,” Civil Action No. H-11-2659, Judge Hughes declared that the seizure of funds from an Ethiopian/American couple by the Obama Administration was illegal. The airport seizure was the result of misconduct by several U.S. Customs agents who encouraged Kyle and Berekri Jones to guess as to how much money they were carrying, which guess turned out to be incorrect. Judge Hughes held that the Customs officials and the Obama Administration (which refused to correct this injustice) displayed “a lack of leadership” and a lack of “vigilance, integrity and professionalism.” He characterized the Customs officers involved as a gang of armed bullies and concluded that “our homeland will not be secured by these rascals.”
On May 26, 2011, in the case of “Scott Rainey v. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Civil Action No. H-11-1992 (May 26, 2011), Judge Hughes, in a colorful and brilliantly written opinion, issued a restraining order against the Obama Administration holding that the U.S. Government cannot dictate what can be included in a religious prayer. He rejected the Government’s claim that bureaucrats should decide what is a appropriate prayer, referring to them as “the grey mandarins of the national government.” Judge Hughes went on to state: “The Constitution does not confide to the government the authority to compel emptiness in a prayer.”
In re: Applications of the USA for Historical Cell Site Date, Misc. H—11-223, (November 11, 2011), Judge Hughes upheld his Magistrate’s finding that it was unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy for the U.S. Government to attempt to coerce, without a warrant, private cellular telephone companies to disclosure the locations of telephone calls.
On the surface, Judge Hughes appears to be an unconventional maverick, but that is not the case. Upon closer scrutiny, he is a mainstream judge, who stands out because his rulings are well drafted, well-reasoned, easy to understand and founded on principles of honor and principle. He puts his oath of office before his career. He understands that government misbehaving requires a strong response. Within Washington, D.C., such attributes are rare and far-between. To many in the Executive Branch, where ideals are secondary to career and advancement, strong ethical beliefs border on being incomprehensible. It is this lack of a moral compass by many political appointees and senior executives that has led to the misuse and squandering of billions in Afghan aid, the failure of the U.S. civilian surge, the mediocre results of the 2009 stimulus, the bloated Federal budget, the loss of confidence in the United States and the subsequent revival of the Taliban and its allies.
What is sad is that within an ethically run government, Judge Hughes’ rulings would be routine and expected. The fact that they are so surprising and so welcome and so amazing is that it is so rare to find such a forceful champion of justice in America. Luckily, Judge Hughes is not alone in his quest. A small group of like-minded judges are also doing their part. One of them is a fearless judge in Washington, D.C., named Ricardo M. Urbina. He uncovered and railed against misconduct by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and Justice Department prosecutors in his December 31, 2009 decision of “United States v. Slough,” which is reported at 677 F.Supp.2d 112. Another is U .S. Magistrate Judge Felix Reccio, who presides in Brownsville, Texas. This reporter has litigated before Judge Reccio and can personally attest to his excellent judicial qualities.
What is missing at the U.S. Embassy in Kabul and in U.S. Embassies around the world is the simple honesty and dedication to integrity that Judge Hughes has displayed. U.S. officials do not understand how vitally important it is for American ambassadors to always speak the truth and the whole truth, whether that truth be good or bad. If people living in foreign countries could actually rely on and trust what the local U.S. ambassador says, most scandals could be promptly managed, and most problems and disputes would be expeditiously avoided. One way to begin to restore U.S. credibility overseas would be to appoint Judge Hughes as U.S. Ambassador to Kabul. The war effort needs a plain speaking, hard charging and incorruptible figure to lead the process.
The Taliban should likewise be insisting on the appointment of Judge Hughes. One of the reasons why the Afghan peace process has stalled is likely that the Taliban do not trust the Americans to keep their word. They remember the Paris Peace talks between the U.S. and North Vietnam. North Vietnamese negotiator Le Duc Tho recounted that the Americans promised North Vietnam reconstruction aid and later reneged on it. That and other factors may have reignited the war, which led to an eventual North Vietnamese victory. The Taliban also remember that the U.S. cut a secret deal with the Shah of Iran and reneged on a deal to protect the Kurds. The Marsh Shia in Southern Iraq remember how they were betrayed by the U.S., as were the Somali people, who were abandoned by the U.S. after a Blackhawk helicopter was downed, as were the people of Lebanon after the Marine Barracks was destroyed, not to mention the people of Southwest Sahara, Tibet, Kashmir, Bahrain and Palestine, who are still waiting for their liberty.
One judges a government by its actions not its fancy speeches. President Obama needs more people like Judge Hughes in his government. He fails to understand that if he had people of such strong character working for him, his reelection this November would be assured. People in Afghanistan and in America do not want anything fancy from their governments, just simple honesty and common decency. That will produce a competent government that people will rally behind.
If U.S. ambassadors always speak the truth and the whole truth and demand the same from all those who work for them, that rare attribute will translate into global goodwill. No other nation will be able to boast of such a practice. If President Obama will not act, then in 2013 President Romney should consider for his ambassadors only those with this unquenchable thirst for honor. He should go beyond the Senior Foreign Service and into American communities to find those special people who can travel overseas and inspire all they meet. That does not require special abilities. In fact, it only requires that you always say what you mean, tell it straight and mean what you say. It is as simple as that.