No Comment — September 3, 2010, 3:38 pm

When Is Offering a Drink of Water a Crime?

Last August, I reported on the case of Walt Stanton, a graduate student at Claremont Theology School who, with a group called “No More Deaths,” deposited bottles of water at points in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge, an 18,000-acre area on the Arizona-Mexico border. Stanton and his group have no particular position on the illegal immigration issue—they just think that the immigrants shouldn’t die from dehydration. The Justice Department, however, saw the offer of a drink of water as a criminal act, and brought charges. In the absence of any clear criminal statute that would cover the situation, the prosecutors argued that Stanton’s act of Christian charity was in fact “criminal littering.” Under heavy pressure from the feds and a federal magistrate who made his intention to convict plain, Stanton agreed to 300 hours of community service in lieu of a prosecution.

As it turns out, Stanton should have stood his ground. Some of Stanton’s colleagues pushed the case and appealed their conviction. Now the Court of Appeals has handed down its less-than-astonishing decision: leaving purified water in sealed containers for human consumption is not “littering.” The convictions were overturned, and the Justice Department was given a smackdown.

One judge on the panel saw things differently: Jay Bybee. He argued that the statute, which prohibits “littering, disposing, or dumping in any manner of garbage, refuse sewage, sludge, earth, rocks, or other debris,” was actually intended to criminalize Samaritans who offer a drink to illegal immigrants. This is the same Jay Bybee who wrote a series of memoranda for the Bush Administration in which he concluded that a specific criminal prohibition–against torture–was so hopelessly vague and unclear as to be meaningless. He and his colleagues at the Office of Legal Counsel approved waterboarding, premised on the notion that the torture sessions would be limited by the number of bottles of water used to induce drowning. (CIA-procured waterbottles are now being examined by prosecutors in Poland and Lithuania investigating crimes committed at black sites on their soil.) So while Bybee concludes that simulated drowning of prisoners was perfectly lawful (a position repudiated even by the Bush Justice Department before it left), he concludes that leaving a bottle of water for a person stranded in a desert so as to forestall death is a crime.

Bybee’s impeachment and removal from office has been openly discussed in Congress for some time. An internal ethics review by the Justice Department concluded that he had engaged in serious professional misconduct and recommended referral for bar disciplinary action. The recommendation was, however, blocked in a political maneuver. Bybee is currently the only member of the federal judiciary who is himself the subject of a pending criminal investigation—now being pursued by two judges of Spain’s Audiencia Nacional looking into the torture of Spaniards held at Guantánamo, apparently using procedures that Bybee authorized. While the United States is refusing to cooperate with the criminal inquiry (violating its treaty obligations to Spain in the process), Bybee risks arrest if he ever leaves the country.

Share
Single Page

More from Scott Horton:

Conversation August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm

Lincoln’s Party

Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln

Conversation March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm

Burn Pits

Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.

Context, No Comment August 28, 2015, 12:16 pm

Beltway Secrecy

In five easy lessons

Get access to 165 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

CATEGORIES

THE CURRENT ISSUE

May 2017

American Duce

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

A Prayer’s Chance

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Bee-Brained

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Mothers

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Facing the Furies

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The New Climate

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content

FEATURED ON HARPERS.ORG

Article
Snowden’s Box·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Taylor Callery
Post
The Forty-Fifth President·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Philip Montgomery
Article
A Prayer’s Chance·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Photograph (detail) by Robin Hammond/NOOR
Article
Bee-Brained·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration (detail) by Eda Akaltun. Source photograph of Jairam Hathwar at the 2016 Scripps National Spelling Bee © Pete Marovich/UPI/Newscom
Article
My First Car·

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Mrs. B’s Baby Village Day Care was on a frontage road between a mattress wholesaler and a knife outlet. There were six or so babies as regulars and another one or two on weekends when their parents were passing through looking for work. They wouldn’t find work, of course, all the security positions were full, the timber and ore had all been taken under the active-stewardship program, and the closest new start-up industry was the geothermal field hundreds of miles away. Mrs. B didn’t even bother to write those babies’ names down in her book. It was fifteen dollars a day and they had to be in reasonable health. Even so the occasional mischievous illness would arise and empty the place out.

Illustration by Katherine Streeter

Percentage of Russians who believe the West is attempting “to weaken Russia with its economic advice”:

54

African elephants can distinguish the gender, age, and ethnicity of a human speaker from voice alone.

Three bodies were tossed from a low-flying plane in the Sinaloa state of Mexico.

Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!

HARPER’S FINEST

Who Goes Nazi?

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

By

"It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Nazi. By now, I think I know. I have gone through the experience many times—in Germany, in Austria, and in France. I have come to know the types: the born Nazis, the Nazis whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow-travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would become Nazis."

Subscribe Today