Tuesday, December 30, 2008

U.S. Arms Attack: Oppose Israeli War Crimes Against Gaza

Much of the world has shuddered in revulsion and protested loudly Israel's "all-out" air assault against Hamas in the teeming, crowded ghetto mini-state that is Gaza. Hundreds have been killed in the bombings, and over a thousand injured -- mostly women and children -- and the attack continues.

In the United States, the protest is muted, as U.S. politicians tout the "special relationship" of the U.S. with Israel. Using new U.S.-supplied "smart" bunker-buster bombs -- the GPS-guided GBU-39 missile, manufactured by Boeing and Lockheed Martin -- the Israelis have spent months planning the attack, which in its disproportionate "response" to crude missiles that Hamas forces have sent into Israel, constitutes a "war crime."

The GBU-39, whose 250-lb. size is touted "the next evolution of miniature munition weapons development," has already been deployed in Iraq by the U.S. Air Force. Last September, Congress authorized the sale of 1000 of these missiles to Israel.

Daily Kos readers, who have been subjected to weeks of banner advertising by the Aerospace Industries Association, should question the feasibility at this point of allowing this advertising to continue, as AIA is implicated in promoting just the kind of bombs (called SDBs, or Small Diameter Bombs) as the Israelis are using, i.e., the GBU-39 mentioned just above.

AIA describes itself as "implementing solutions to industry-wide issues related to national and homeland security, civil aviation, and space," and "the premier organization representing the U.S. aerospace, defense, and homeland security industry and its collective interests." Behind these high-sounding words lies the reality of their product, in the dead and mangled bodies of men, women and children in the ruins of Gaza.

From AIA's newsletter, The Supplier's Voice, May 2004 (alternate non-PDF link):
The U.S. Air Force recently selected AIA Associate Member Marotta Controls as part of The Boeing Company team for continued development of the Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) system for manned and unmanned aircraft....

The Small Diameter Bomb, 70 inches long and 7.5 inches wide, allows for an increased weapons load on each aircraft.
War Crimes and Deadly Cynical politics

Calling the Israeli attack a war crime is not just my opinion. That's the conclusion of Richard Falk, the special investigator for the UN High Commission for Refugees regarding Israeli actions in the Palestinian Territories. Falk, who is also professor emeritus of international law and practice at Princeton University, cites the Israelis' disproportionate military response, in this instance, and the targeting of the civilian population via the doctrine of collective responsibility viz. the population of Gaza for the rockets fired into Israel. The rockets have killed approximately a dozen Israelis over the last six years.

But this vicious shock-and-awe attack was not meant for retribution against "terrorists." As Tariq Ali pointed out in the Guardian:
The assault on Gaza, planned over six months and executed with perfect timing, was designed largely, as Neve Gordon has rightly observed, to help the incumbent parties triumph in the forthcoming Israeli elections. The dead Palestinians are little more than election fodder in a cynical contest between the right and the far right in Israel. Washington and its EU allies, perfectly aware that Gaza was about to be assaulted, as in the case of Lebanon in 2006, sit back and watch....

The moth-eaten Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt and Nato's favourite Islamists in Ankara failed to register even a symbolic protest by recalling their ambassadors from Israel. China and Russia did not convene a meeting of the UN security council to discuss the crisis.

Of course, it matters little to U.S. leaders and opinion makers that Hamas was democratically elected to their positions in Hamas, that they have been the inheritors of a situation in the Middle East where Palestinians have been increasingly marginalized and pushed off lands, squeezed into bantustans with the economic choke hold points held by Jerusalem. The recent Israeli blockade of Gaza was a humanitarian disaster:
...the bombs dropped on Gaza are only a variation in Israel's method of killing Palestinians. In recent months they died mostly silent deaths, the elderly and sick especially, deprived of food, cancer treatments and other medicines by an Israeli blockade that targeted 1.5 million people -- mostly refugees and children -- caged into the Gaza Strip. The orders of Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, to hold back medicine were just as lethal and illegal as those to send in the airplanes.

"Terrorism" and Repression

As Tariq Ali put it, "Western enthusiasm for democracy stops when those opposed to its policies are elected to office." Instead, the Israeli government labels Hamas terrorists, and declares anyone harboring them will suffer their fate.

Long ago, the Zionists who sought a homeland in Palestine, chased out of Europe by genocidal anti-semitism, were themselves branded terrorists by the Western powers, most infamously the Irgun, one of whose leaders, Menachem Begin, became a Prime Minister of Israel, despite his involvement in the 1946 terrorist bombing of Jerusalem's King David hotel, killing almost 100 people. But then, "terrorist" is really an epithet used to denounce your opponent and declare them outside the pale of ordinary treatment, whether that be the laws of war, or civilized codes regarding the treatment of prisoners or civilians in the zones of conflict.

The following is a good example of the sinister use of the word "terrorist," and just the kind of treatment Gaza civilians are getting. From the Jerusalem Post:
Sunday, Military Intelligence's Psychological Warfare Department broke into radio broadcasts in Gaza and warned Palestinian civilians not to cooperate with Hamas terrorist activity.

Palestinians reported that they received phone calls to their cellular phones and landlines from the IDF. The phone call, the Palestinians said, conveyed a recorded message ordering the immediate evacuation of homes that were next to Hamas infrastructure or being used by the terrorist organization.

On Sunday, head of the Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration Col. Moshe Levy was interviewed by several Arab news outlets during which he stressed that Israel was not against the Palestinian public in Gaza but was operating against Hamas.

Defense officials said Sunday that Israel would, however, not hesitate to target the homes of civilians who protected Hamas terrorists throughout the operation.

"We will go after every Hamas operative, no matter where he is," one official said. "We urge the Palestinians not to cooperate with terrorists."
If memory were to be invoked, was it not the doctrine of collective punishment and the epithet terrorist thrown at the citizens of the Czech village of Lidice, many of them children, brutally massacred, some shot, some gassed, for their "collective responsibility" for the "terrorist" attack that resulted in the death of Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office (which included the Gestapo and SD)? Whether the comparison be with Lidice or with the Nazi assault on the Warsaw Ghetto, the cynical and calculated attack by the Zionist state resembles those two in its viciousness. Some of the Israeli press have responded with condemnation, but in the U.S., it's business as usual: silence, tsk-tsking, and the ring of cash registers in the midnight plants of war armament factories.

A World System in Chaos
The Israeli government, along with the various Arab regimes, have used the Palestinian people as a political football for decades, while thousands of Palestinians have been dispossessed, or languish in refugee camps that date back decades. The Palestinian leadership has not done well by its own people, either, engaging in internecine warfare that has left it either increasingly politically isolated with little program for a road forward (Hamas), or nothing but a shill for U.S./EU interests (the rump of the PLO).

It was the tragedy of the Palestinian leadership to seek a nationalist alliance in a world where it could not find a powerful enough bloc partner to ensure its claims of statehood. The Palestinians are not the only nation to fail to achieve its own state, or be held in occupation for decades. Just ask the Turkish Kurds, or the Chechens, or the Sikhs, or a hundred other oppressed peoples; nor should we forget those historically defeated nations, banished to reservations, refugee camps, or outright exterminated by disease and "superior" firepower. The vaunted "most powerful nation in the world," we should not forget, was built up out of a war of extermination and isolation of its native tribes, and the sweat and life's blood of generations of black slaves.

Humankind is at a crossroads in its history. Will it continue to operate as a barbaric chaos of nation states, with prejudices, wars, sectarian massacres, while the big imperialist powers make billions off the guns, bombs, shells, rockets and mines with which they ply the various warring states? Or will human beings find their way forward to an organization of society that transcends current injustices?

These questions project far into the future, beyond the lifespans of anyone reading this. In the meantime, it is essential that we stand up to denounce crimes such as Israel's bombing attack on Gaza. There should be an immediate cease-fire. U.S. citizens should call for their government to stop sending arms and money to the Zionist state. And the appropriate international institutions and courts should consider war crimes charges against the leaders of Israel.

Of course, this is just as likely as the same thing happening to the leaders of the U.S., who have killed thousands of times more innocent civilians in their varied imperialist adventures, from Vietnam to Iraq.

I'll close with a story on the human cost of the Israeli attack published in today's Guardian:
An Israeli bomb struck the refugee camp's Imad Aqil mosque around midnight, destroying the building and collapsing several shops and a pharmacy nearby. The force of the blast was so massive it also brought down the Balousha family's house, which yesterday lay in ruins. The seven eldest girls were asleep together on mattresses in one bedroom and they bore the brunt of the explosion. Five were killed where they lay: Tahrir, 17, Ikram 15, Samer, 13, Dina, eight and Jawahar, four....

... Anwar, 40, sat in another house where a mourning tent had been set up. He was pale and still suffering from serious injuries to his head, his shoulder and his hands. But like many other patients in Gaza he had been made to leave an overcrowded hospital to make way for the dying. Yesterday his house was a pile of rubble: collapsed walls and the occasional piece of furniture exposed to the sky. He spoke bitterly of his daughters' deaths. "We are civilians. I don't belong to any faction, I don't support Fatah or Hamas, I'm just a Palestinian. They are punishing us all, civilians and militants. What is the guilt of the civilian?" Like many men in Gaza, Anwar has no job, and like all in the camp he relies on food handouts from the UN and other charity support to survive.

"If the dead here were Israelis, you would see the whole world condemning and responding. But why is no one condemning this action? Aren't we human beings?" he said. "We are living in our land, we didn't take it from the Israelis. We are fighting for our rights. One day we will get them back."
For a list of links to humanitarian groups trying to aid the suffering in Gaza, click here to go to a diary by droogie6655321 at Daily Kos.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Harold Pinter 1930-2008: "What happened to our moral sensibility?"

Harold Pinter died yesterday of cancer at age 78. He was one of the great playwrights of the twentieth century. In his plays, like The Homecoming, The Birthday Party, and Old Times, he caught the ambivalent and restless conflict, the striving for significant personal connection and the intricate by-play of emotion and memory, that lay at the heart of the human dilemma.

Pinter also was one of the great moral voices speaking for human justice and freedom the English-speaking world has seen in recent times. This is most evident in his final testament, his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received in 2005.

In this speech, Pinter railed against the collapse of morality explicit in the U.S. and British war against Iraq, and in the use of torture that exemplified the prosecution of their bogus "war on terror." He spoke the truth about the post-war history of the United States, the crimes and support for a myriad of right-wing, barbaric regimes, which "have only been superficially recorded, let alone documented, let alone acknowledged, let alone recognised as crimes at all."

His was a voice for human progress that will be terribly missed.

From his Nobel acceptance speech:
What has happened to our moral sensibility? Did we ever have any? What do these words mean? Do they refer to a term very rarely employed these days – conscience? A conscience to do not only with our own acts but to do with our shared responsibility in the acts of others? Is all this dead? Look at Guantanamo Bay. Hundreds of people detained without charge for over three years, with no legal representation or due process, technically detained forever. This totally illegitimate structure is maintained in defiance of the Geneva Convention. It is not only tolerated but hardly thought about by what's called the 'international community'. This criminal outrage is being committed by a country, which declares itself to be 'the leader of the free world'. Do we think about the inhabitants of Guantanamo Bay? What does the media say about them? They pop up occasionally – a small item on page six. They have been consigned to a no man's land from which indeed they may never return. At present many are on hunger strike, being force-fed, including British residents. No niceties in these force-feeding procedures. No sedative or anaesthetic. Just a tube stuck up your nose and into your throat. You vomit blood. This is torture. What has the British Foreign Secretary said about this? Nothing. What has the British Prime Minister said about this? Nothing. Why not? Because the United States has said: to criticise our conduct in Guantanamo Bay constitutes an unfriendly act. You're either with us or against us. So Blair shuts up.

The invasion of Iraq was a bandit act, an act of blatant state terrorism, demonstrating absolute contempt for the concept of international law. The invasion was an arbitrary military action inspired by a series of lies upon lies and gross manipulation of the media and therefore of the public; an act intended to consolidate American military and economic control of the Middle East masquerading – as a last resort – all other justifications having failed to justify themselves – as liberation. A formidable assertion of military force responsible for the death and mutilation of thousands and thousands of innocent people.

We have brought torture, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, innumerable acts of random murder, misery, degradation and death to the Iraqi people and call it 'bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East'.

How many people do you have to kill before you qualify to be described as a mass murderer and a war criminal? One hundred thousand? More than enough, I would have thought....

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.
Pinter's death is a sad holiday present for us all, unless it be that his words and his message be recalled to mind, and enter the popular consciousness as a trumpet call for civilized justice and an end to militarism and tyranny.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

ACLU Hit Hard by Madoff Scandal Fallout

The following is the text of a letter sent out by Alma Montclair, the ACLU's Director of Administration and Finance. The ACLU joins the list of a number of other fine non-profit organizations victimized by the collapse of certain charitable foundations in the wake of the Madoff ponzi scheme scandal, which bilked an untold number of clients out of approximately $50 billion dollars. The groups affected -- Physicians for Human Rights was another such crucial crusading organization -- desperately need your help.
Dear ACLU Supporter,

At the ACLU, we know that challenges to civil liberties can arrive from any quarter -- at any moment. And, we understand that, as America’s leading civil liberties organization, we’ve got to be fully prepared to respond.

As Director of Administration and Finance, it’s my job to make sure that that preparation includes prudently managing our organization’s resources. So, as you and other ACLU supporters expect, we’ve been carefully monitoring and responding to the severe financial crisis enveloping America and its impact on our ability to defend fundamental freedoms.

In the last couple of weeks, however, we’ve been hit hard in a way that no one could forecast. You have, no doubt, heard about the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scheme in which investors have been horribly defrauded of up to $50 billion. What you may not know is that two foundations that have been incredibly generous and longstanding supporters of our national security and reproductive freedom work have been victimized by the Madoff scandal -- forced to close their doors and terminate their grants.

That means that $850,000 in support we were counting on from these foundations in 2009 simply won’t exist. We’re dealing with that reality and remain committed to continuing our critical work in these areas. But, as you can imagine, the year-end donations of you and other ACLU supporters are now more important than ever.

Please help the ACLU meet critical civil liberties needs in early 2009. Please make a year-end donation now.

I have been lucky enough to work for the ACLU for the past 23 years. Every day, I see firsthand just how far your donations go and just how critical your support is to people who depend on the ACLU to help protect their rights. We’re there when no one else is willing or able to be -- and that’s because you’re there for us.

We know that times are tough for everyone, and, for that reason, we are even more appreciative of your support. With all we’re going through, we need you to be there for us now more than ever.

I can promise you this: Every dollar you send will be used carefully and effectively to support vitally important work defending people’s fundamental freedoms.

Thanks so much for all you’re doing.


Alma Montclair
Director of Administration and Finance

"Illusion and Evolution"

Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Jean-Paul Kneib (Laboratoire d’Astrophysique de Marseille) et al.
What's happening to the galaxies of cluster Abell 2667? On the upper left, a galaxy appears to be breaking up into small pieces, while on the far right, another galaxy appears to be stretched like taffy.

To start, most of the yellowish objects in the above image from the Hubble Space Telescope are galactic members of a massive cluster of galaxies known as Abell 2667. The distortion of the galaxy on the upper left is real. As the galaxy plows through the intercluster medium, gas is stripped out and condenses to form bright new knots of stars. This detailed image helps astronomers understand why so many galaxies today have so little gas.

The distortion of the galaxy on the far right, however, is an illusion. This nearly normal galaxy is actually far behind the massive galaxy cluster. Light from this galaxy is gravitationally lensed by Abell 2667, appearing much like a distant person would appear through a wine glass. Each distorted galaxy gives scientists important clues about how galaxies and clusters of galaxies evolve.
Text and photo courtesy of NASA, i.e., your taxpayer dollars. And H/T to possum, who unknowingly steered me to the NASA picture site.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Taxpayer Bailout $ Goes for Bonuses, Chauffeurs, Country Club Memberships

No, I shit you not. Associated Press reports that about $1.6 BILLION dollars have been paid out by bailed-out banks in salaries, bonuses and various fringe benefits. All this goes to prove that in America, if you are filthy rich and one of the financial elite, you have a license to rip off the public at will.
Benefits included cash bonuses, stock options, personal use of company jets and chauffeurs, home security, country club memberships and professional money management, the AP review of federal securities documents found.

The total amount given to nearly 600 executives would cover bailout costs for many of the 116 banks that have so far accepted tax dollars to boost their bottom lines.
AP gathered their information using Securities and Exchange Commission documents on 116 banks that have received nearly $200 BILLION dollars in the taxpayer robbery bailout pushed by both political parties last September. The kind of data they gathered would make any working U.S. citizen sick (and what the growing army of the unemployed might do or think upon seeing this, I shudder to imagine).
The average paid to each of the banks' top executives was $2.6 million in salary, bonuses and benefits.
Goldman Sachs, where Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, the overseer of the bailout, was recently Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, gave over a quarter of a BILLION dollars to their top five executives alone.

Merrill Lynch, which got $10 BILLION in bailout cash last October, gave its CEO, himself yet another former CEO of Goldman Sachs, $83 million in earnings last year.

You can't say that the bailout money was all going to lavish salaries and country club memberships and home security systems, there were practicalities to be considered, too, for the poor impoverished execs of our country's financial elite:
Wells Fargo of San Francisco, which took $25 billion in taxpayer bailout money, gave its top executives up to $20,000 each to pay personal financial planners.
And then there was Madoff...

Meanwhile, the SEC's broken oversight system (or system of corrupt payoffs?) led to the perpetuation of Bernard Madoff's now-notorious and now collapsed Ponzi scheme, which bilked investors out of $50 BILLION. Led to believe initially by the press that Madoff's clients were all the well-to-do, for whom the average American could wag their heads with schadenfreude, it now turns out that charitable foundations around the country were rocked by the collapse of Madoff's company.

One major loser was "the JEHT Foundation, a six-year-old New York City-based philanthropy focused on juvenile and criminal justice, human rights, and election reform." JEHT funded hundreds of advocates and non-profits, who are now struggling to survive. JEHT, which distributes tens of millions in grants each year, is now shutting down operations.

Nobel Prize-winning Physicians for Human Rights, who have been in the vanguard in fighting against torture and war crimes, had received over a million dollars in the past six years via JEHT grants, and now find themselves suddenly $175,000 short of funds for their 2009 Campaign Against Torture project.

Two foundations that funded various Jewish causes -- the Robert I. Lappin Foundation the Chais Family Foundation -- have totally shut down.

Even in ritzy Marin County, California, the nonprofit Commonweal group has lost its funding and is shutting down its juvenile justice program.

San Francisco attorney Jay Gould explained to the local paper there that those who lost money will have to compete for legal representation with those who profited from Madoff's Ponzi scheme over the years. The latter are clamoring for legal representation, too, fearful the feds will call back some of their winnings profits over the past several years. Gould elaborated:
"It's possible that anybody who takes on one client is conflicted out of taking on any other client because everybody is potentially adverse to one another," Gould said. "These little guys who call in that lost $2 million or $6 million or $10 million - I can't guarantee we're going to represent them."
U.S. capitalism has revealed itself to be one big clusterfuck. While the politicians and opinion makers rail over the Detroit automakers request for a few billion in loans, castigated as out-of-touch cheaters flying around in posh corporate jets, intent on milking the American public (and all the while the government says the unions will pay with BILLIONS in cutbacks to make Detroit "competitive"), Wall Street (including the firms that received BILLIONS in bailout cash) maintains "fleets of jets to carry executives to company events and sometimes personal trips."

A Nightmare From Which I'm Trying to Awake

How is it that this country hasn't descended into one giant jacquerie is beyond me. It is testimony to the huge superprofits that American capitalism has stolen or engendered over the years that it can blatantly waste billions, if not trillions, and still not yet be totally bankrupted. But no doubt we are getting very close, and bringing down the world economy with us in our steep descent. And then again, the economic tsunami that will accompany the shock of the trillion dollar bailout has not yet fully hit.

Where is all the money going? How is it being spent? Oh, it's secret, a matter of national security, and the Treasury Department won't account for all the money and how or where it's spent, not even to the Chairwoman of the Congressional oversight panel supposedly overseeing the humongous "bailout."

No wonder I'm having a repetitive dream these days. I'm being driven in a car on a curvy mountain road, when all of sudden there's a jerk and the car is directly and quickly driven right over the cliff. In my panic I look and I can't see the driver. My last thought is: who did this? Who steered me right over the cliff?

Unlike my unconscious and pathetic dreamer, we know who has been doing the driving and the steering. They work on Wall Street, inside the Beltway, in T.V. studios and Pentagon hallways. How much money is going to -- besides the wallets and expense accounts of the superrich -- secret military projects, to overseas dictators, covert operations? We may never know.

Wake up America, before the car definitively spins, and in one vertiginous fall, we are directed into a nightmarish void... if it is not too late already.

Petition for Special Prosecutor for War Crimes Goes Online

Bloggers at Docudharma have teamed up with democrats.com to release a petition calling for Obama's incoming Justice Department to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate the Bush Administration and bring indictments against appropriate individuals for war crimes, such as torture.

Below is the complete text of their call:
The Citizens Petition: Special Prosecutor for Bush War Crimes

Please go to Democrats.com and sign the petition!

With the recent admissions by Vice President Cheney and the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on detainee treatment, what we have known in the blogosphere for years has now....finally....made it into the mainstream. The Bush Administration planned, developed and carried out an organized torture program stretching from Gitmo to Iraq, Afghanistan and secret prisons around the world.

Despite their protestations and attempts to cover themselves with highly questionable legal opinions, this was and is a War Crime. Their politicization and corruption of the Department of Justice has stymied any investigation and left all efforts at accountability and justice to the new Obama Administrations DOJ, and specifically to AG Designate Holder.

Now, even the New York Times is....again, finally...calling for a Special Prosecutor to investigate these crimes.

However, as we also know well in the Blogosphere, this is far more than an issue of crime, punishment and justice as it should be. It is a political issue. A 'hot potato' political issue considering that any and all attempts at investigation and prosecution will undoubtedly (and erroneously) be described by the Republicans, the Right Wing press and pundits, and even some (complicit?) Democrats as a 'partisan witch hunt' and as 'criminalizing politics.' in other words, there are huge political costs at stake here. It would be much, much easier to 'move on' or 'not play the blame game' or point fingers to the past.'

The Obama Administration will face incredible pressure to sweep these War Crimes under the rug of history. We in the Blogosphere need to provide the counter-pressure. We do that by making our voices heard, and one way to do that is by each and everyone of us, the thousands if not millions of blog readers, adding our names to a petition. The petition will ultimately be submitted to AG Holder, as well as to Change.gov. However it can make a great impact on the 'public conversation' just by being everywhere in the Blogosphere as well.

Petition Badge
Get Badge

To that end, Docudharma and Democrats.com have teamed up to create, host, and distribute the following petition. The petition calls for Attorney General Designate Holder to, immediately upon being confirmed, appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute any and all officials of the Bush Administration for Torture and War Crimes.

The petition:
Dear Attorney General Designate Holder,

We the undersigned citizens of the United States hereby formally petition you to appoint a Special Prosecutor to investigate and prosecute any and all government officials who have participated in War Crimes.

These crimes are being euphemistically referred to as "abusive interrogation techniques" by such respected figures as Senator John McCain. These are euphemisms for torture. Torture is a War Crime. Waterboarding is a War Crime. The CIA has admitted waterboarding detainees. Recently, Vice President Cheney has brazenly admitted authorizing the program that lead to waterboarding, other forms of torture too numerous to list, and ultimately, the deaths by homicide of detainees.

As Major General Antonio Taguba, the Army general who led the investigation into prisoner abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison has stated:
"After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."
The Washington Post recently summarized the Senate Armed Services Committee Report on detainee treatment thusly:
A bipartisan panel of senators has concluded that former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and other top Bush administration officials bear direct responsibility for the harsh treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, and that their decisions led to more serious abuses in Iraq and elsewhere.
We the undersigned citizens demand a full and thorough investigation immediately upon your taking office. This investigation should be pursued no matter where it may lead and no matter what the political implications may be. To this end, we remind you that you work not on behalf of or for the President or the Congress, but for the People of the United States of America and for Justice itself.

The United States is a representative democracy. The actions of our government officials are done in the name of its citizens. War Crimes have been committed in our name. Torture has been done in our name. The only way to clear our name of War Crimes is to repudiate them through the aggressive prosecution of each and every person involved to the full extent of the law through the appointment of a Special Prosecutor.
We are urging everyone in the Blogosphere and beyond to get involved in this project...not just to sign the petition, but also to write diaries and blog posts in support of the effort. And also to display the linked badge (created by Edger) in your posts or on your sites. The easy to embed code for posting the badge can be found here.

Please feel free to contact us at admin@docudharma.com for more information or any technical assistance you may need.

If you wish to post this essay, or just the petition, on any site or your own blog, please mail us at admin@docudharma.com and we will send you the entire essay, complete with HTML code, to post wherever you wish. Please feel free to edit, within the parameters of keeping the original spirit and intent. We enthusiastically give full permission for such use!

And of course......Please go to Democrats.com and sign the petition!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Closing Guantanamo?

Today's Washington Post has an article reporting that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is telling the military to draw up a plan for the closing of Guantanamo, preparatory to any order to do so by soon-to-be president Barack Obama.

While the closing of Guantanamo would be welcome news, it may not be great news, depending on how the U.S. deals with the prisoners there, with their unconstitutional military commissions system, and the general policy of coercive interrogation and detention set up as a wide-spread gulag, including both traditional military and CIA prisons around the world (and even in the U.S., if you include a few Navy military brigs).

Hence this news leads me to say, so what? I'll wait to see what they devise. The Bush Administration took certain "high profile" prisoners out of CIA prisons, where they were tortured and sent them to... Guantanamo. Whether or not this was an improvement for the prisoners, which included so-called 9/11 "mastermind" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, I'll leave for them to say.

Already, the Post is acting as a conduit for the subtle preparation of public opinion for something unacceptable (emphasis added):
Any plan will probably address whether to also abolish the military commission system and, if so, what kind of legal framework can be substituted to put detainees on trial.
As I noted here in a posting on November 10, NO to Proposal for New Terrorist Courts, the Obama team (or some members of it) are considering the construction of some new kind of "terrorist" court.
The new courts appear to be the brainchild of Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe, who described them as "some sort of hybrid" legal system, involving military commissions that would "both be and appear to be fundamentally fair in light of the circumstances." Tribe says we'll just have to trust Obama on this, and give him "the benefit of the doubt"....

What struck me about Obama/Tribe's plan for a "hybrid legal system" was its similarity to the old proposal by soon-to-be-former Attorney General (and stooge) Michael Mukasey to establish "national security courts". Where Anthony Romero looks at the Moussaoui and Padilla prosecutions and sees the sufficient functioning of the current legal system, Mukasey, in an article published in the Wall Street Journal in August 2007, describes a situation where "current institutions and statutes are not well suited to even the limited task of supplementing what became, after Sept. 11, 2001, principally a military effort to combat Islamic terrorism."

Mukasey's argument for a new special kind of court in which to try "terrorists" sounds suspiciously like what is known thus far about the Obama/Tribe proposal.
There is already a legal framework to put detainees on trial -- the federal justice system. The quote from the Post at the beginning of this comment is another trial balloon. We must be vigilant as the old order intends to do everything it can to insinuate itself, or rather perpetuate itself, in this new administration. It's unclear to what degree Obama and his allies can counter this, or even have the will to do so.

The ACLU said at the time of the Tribe discussion:
The fact is, the government is going to have to bear the burden of proof. Can you try these individuals in a criminal court, or a military commission under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and come forward with the proof that will stand up in courts of law that are governed by the Constitution, and if it can't, you've got to release them. That's our system.
H/T Kula2316 at Daily Kos

Thursday, December 18, 2008

PHR: US Silent About Destruction of Mass Graves in Afghanistan

From a 12/11/08 story by Tom Lasseter at McClatchy Newspapers on the destruction of evidence of war crimes by a major U.S. ally in Afghanistan:
DASHT-E LEILI, Afghanistan — Seven years ago, a convoy of container trucks rumbled across northern Afghanistan loaded with a human cargo of suspected Taliban and al Qaida members who'd surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, an Afghan warlord and a key U.S. ally in ousting the Taliban regime.

When the trucks arrived at a prison in the town of Sheberghan, near Dostum's headquarters, they were filled with corpses. Most of the prisoners had suffocated, and others had been killed by bullets that Dostum's militiamen had fired into the metal containers.
Dostum's men dumped around 2000 corpses into mass graves. Someone came by with bulldozers earlier this year and moved many of these corpses to some other site unknown, leaving "gaping pits in the sands of the Dasht-e-Leili desert" where once mass graves had been. Lasseter continues:
NATO — which has command authority over a team of troops less than three miles from the grave site — the United Nations and the United States have been silent about the destruction of evidence of Dostum's alleged war crimes.
Why the silence? Lasseter says there is speculation that Dostum, an ally of the U.S., who worked with Special Forces and the CIA during the time of the prisoner killings, is getting a "free pass" from Washington. U.S. government sources plead ignorance, while some at the UN admit they've turned to look the other way. A UN spokesperson explained:
"It's a judgment call we constantly strive to get right, and this is not the only instance where the choices we have to make can be extraordinarily tough ones."
Physicians for Human Rights' International Forensic examined the site for the UN in 2002. No one has directly implicated U.S. forces in the original deaths, but Special Forces units were certainly operating in the area. From the 2002 Newsweek article, "The Death Convoy of Afghanistan":
Over the three days that the first convoys of dead were arriving at Sheberghan, Special Forces troops were in the area. There was also a separate, four-man U.S. intelligence team, in combat gear, at the prison doing first selections of Qaeda suspects for further questioning. According to Pelton, a swashbuckling freelancer who specializes in writing about dangerous places, Special Forces soldiers were mainly concerned about security at the prison. At the same time the containers of dead were arriving, many truckloads of living prisoners were also streaming in: On the evening of Dec. 1, for instance, a container arrived bearing the 86 survivors from Qala Jangi. One of them was John Walker Lindh. It was the 595 team's medic, Bill, who first treated Lindh. Pelton believed at the time, and still does, that the dead from container trucks numbered "40-some odd" and were mostly people who died of wounds suffered in the siege of Konduz. "When I was with 595, we went over this time and again," says Pelton. "What happened is that these people basically died because they were wounded." A senior Defense Department official, speaking to NEWSWEEK on background, said the Pentagon asked the commander of the Fifth Special Forces Group to look into the reports of container deaths. That commander, Col. John Mulholland, reported back that the A-team knew that numbers, perhaps even large numbers, of Taliban prisoners had died on the journey to Sheberghan. But the Special Forces believed that these deaths had occurred from wounds or disease.
PHR is asking NATO to use their forces to help Afghan forces in protecting the mass grave site, so that no more evidence is destroyed, and to assist U.S., UN, and Afghan investigators. They have a web page dedicated to the the Dasht-e-Leili War Crimes Investigation.

While I can't believe that NATO or U.S. forces will work strenuously to investigate war atrocities, especially as atrocities continue in the U.S.-backed military occupation of the country, and put zero faith in either NATO or the U.S.'s ability to conduct such an impartial investigation. One wonders if the silence of the actors who knew about these crimes, and of their cover-up, are not guilty as a result of war crimes themselves, i.e., covering up a war crime is a war crime.

While critical of PHR on this point, I can totally solidarize with their CEO Frank Donaghue's statement on the situation last Monday:
As PHR knows from our work in Bosnia, Rwanda, Central America and elsewhere, communities that have lost loved ones in mass killings — especially the mothers, siblings, and children of victims — have a right to the truth and to justice, including identification and return of remains. The demands of mothers and families demonstrating in the streets of Kabul over the last few days show that the Afghan people are demanding that those who have committed mass atrocities be held accountable. Peace and stability require truth and justice; it never pays to ignore mass graves and the atrocities associated with them.
An international investigatory commission, independent of any government, and staffed by human rights representatives and other trusted citizens, including what representatives from the victims' families, in all the countries involved, perhaps sponsored by the UN or the ICC, should be formed to prosecute these kinds of cases, as the governments involved are too compromised. In the meantime, the work of PHR's forensic department, and the organization as a whole, deserves your support.

Delusion of the Fury

Harry Partch - Delusion of the Fury, a Ritual of Dream & Delusion, Part 1
"STATEMENT : Words cannot proxy for the experience of knowing -- of seeing and hearing. The concept of this work inheres in the presence of the instruments on stage, the movements of musicians and chorus, the sounds they produce, the actuality of actors, of singers, of mimes, of lights; in fine, the actuality of truly integrated theater. These introductory pages consist largely of technical data. They contain no argument, no exposition. I feel that the only investigation that has genuine integrity is the seen and heard performance." -Harry Partch

Harry Partch - Delusion of the Fury, a Ritual of Dream & Delusion, Part 2

A Pleasant Musical Interlude

Haydn String Quartet op. 76/6 in E-flat (movement 1/4)

New York Times Joins Chorus for Torture Prosecutions

We can understand that Americans may be eager to put these dark chapters behind them, but it would be irresponsible for the nation and a new administration to ignore what has happened — and may still be happening in secret C.I.A. prisons that are not covered by the military’s current ban on activities like waterboarding.

A prosecutor should be appointed to consider criminal charges against top officials at the Pentagon and others involved in planning the abuse.
In an editorial today, The New York Times has joined with bloggers and the ACLU demanding that a prosecutor be appointed to determine charges against top Bush and Pentagon officials. They don't say if this should be from within the Justice Department or an independent prosecutor, though they do call for "an independent panel" to look further into the facts behind Bush's torture gulag.

Of course, for the cynical NYT, at the same time they call for prosecutions, they admit they don't believe Obama, with so much on his plate, will actually act upon their call: "we do not hold out real hope that Barack Obama, as president, will take such a politically fraught step."

Well, it's progress of a sort if the NYT believes that to be politically correct they must call for prosecutions. The crimes adumbrated in even the declassified portions of the Levin/McCain report are too telling. Something must be done, even from the standpoint of the Establishment.

While all the NYT has in mind is prattling, their call shows that public clamor is growing. We must not let the Times brand of cynicism derail this movement. Write your Congressperson and demand that George W. Bush and his administration and Pentagon cronies answer legally for the crimes against humanity they have committed.

An aside: the NYT also continue to push their silly story that the torture techniques taught at Guantanamo by the SERE psychologists were "based on illegal tortures devised by Chinese agents during the Korean War." Even the Senate report has backed down from the characterization and said SERE techniques were devised from Chinese "agents" only "in part." If you're trying to whip up racist hatred and political fear towards an adversary, like China, the truth is an important weapon.

For more information on where U.S. torture really originated, read my history of the subject: Nuts & Bolts -- How U.S. Organized Torture Program.

For the NYT editorial, H/T to Glenn Greenwald

Scott Horton has his own blog piece on the editorial, but he focuses on the pathetic coverage of the Senate investigations and report by the NYT.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Rachel Maddow Presses Carl Levin on Torture Indictments

Watch the clip and see what you think Sen. Levin is saying. My interpretation is that he will send all the material he and the Senate Armed Services Committee have gathered on the Bush administration's organization of torture and send it to incoming President Obama's Justice Department for possible prosecutions. In addition, Sen. Levin calls for an independent commission, with subpoena power, to investigate the role of the CIA, which remains obscure and mostly unexamined.

Pressed by Maddow, Sen. Levin said that the country to see what is revealed in such an investigation and let the issue of possible indictments flow from that.

Kudos to Rachel Maddow, the newest addition to the cable punditry set, who gave prominent time to the discussion of the SASC's recently released report on detainee abuse, and on the subject of possible prosecutions arising from the material in that document. Levin, as possibly befits someone in his position, was cagey, but I can't see much wrong with what he proposes.

The main question is what kind of politics and justice will flow out of the "change" administration of Barack Obama? Reading the tea leaves will make you dizzy, veering now to the right, and then back to the center -- rarely to the left.

I look forward to the upcoming battles. At least the issue is out there. Let's push it for all it's worth!

H/T to Scott Horton, who you should be reading everyday anyway!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Now They're Getting It: Andrew Sullivan Discovers Earlier Torture Timeline

Bloggers everywhere are getting everything they can squeeze out of Vice President Dick Cheney's interview with ABC television the other day. It's full of gems like the following from the America's own dark prince:
And I think those who allege that we've been involved in torture, or that somehow we violated the Constitution or laws with the terrorist surveillance program, simply don't know what they're talking about.
It's clear to even the often obtuse mainstream media that Cheney has essentially admitted in the interview to ordering torture.
"I was aware of the program, certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared," Cheney said...
You just want to spit in the man's face, throw a shoe at his head, or bring him up on several felony charges.

Andrew Sullivan's latest blog entry at The Atlantic, notes the legal vulnerability of the Bush/Cheney team in words this writer finds strangely familiar. Referencing the Senate report on detainee treatment, the declassified version of which was released last week, Sullivan writes:
The decision to torture individuals was made by Bush and Cheney before the CIA ever asked for legal cover for the torture they had been ordered to commit. The torture and abuse was planned before even the January 2002 presidential memo that authorized torture:
In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
It is important and gratifying to see the bigger names in the blogosphere pick up the import of the earlier torture timeline, and the legal exposure it brings to the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/CIA band of outlaw brothers. Gratifying in part because I noticed this last summer, and needled the Senate committee and the press in general about it:
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgartner about this issue during the hearings?
With the publicity coming from the likes of Andrew Sullivan, and the announced campaign by the ACLU to call for an independent prosecutor to look into this earlier timeline issue, along with the other crimes of the administration on torture and interrogation, can it be too much to hope that this revelation is building to a tipping point, compelling action by the incoming Obama team, or by the supine Congress? While other mainstream liberal bloggers, like Glenn Greenwald in his latest post, have failed to notice the earlier timeline and its significance, some of his main commenters at Salon.com have added the Dec. 2001 JPRA approach to their official timeline webpages.

So far, Sullivan's adherence to the earlier timeline narrative, and the illegal plot it describes, is the best news yet that this scandal will grow only bigger, and with it the calls for prosecution of officials at the highest level of government.

Here's how we could start: DoD's approach to JPRA in December 2001, seeking information on reverse-engineering abusive "exploitation" interrogation techniques is prosecutable at least, one would think, under the Conspiracy section of 18 USC 2430:
(a) Offense.— Whoever outside the United States commits or attempts to commit torture shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both, and if death results to any person from conduct prohibited by this subsection, shall be punished by death or imprisoned for any term of years or for life.
(b) Jurisdiction.— There is jurisdiction over the activity prohibited in subsection (a) if—
(1) the alleged offender is a national of the United States; or
(2) the alleged offender is present in the United States, irrespective of the nationality of the victim or alleged offender.
(c) Conspiracy.— A person who conspires to commit an offense under this section shall be subject to the same penalties (other than the penalty of death) as the penalties prescribed for the offense, the commission of which was the object of the conspiracy.
The Senate report gives us the evidence. We've got them cold now. The approach to JPRA was conspriacy to commit torture, and a clear violation of the torture statute. Why can't we begin the prosecutions based on this? Why can't we start now?

U.S.-Iraq: Release Muntadar al-Zaidi!

When Iraqi TV reporter Muntadar al-Zaidi stood up the other day and cursed Bush and threw his shoes, sharply, at the U.S. Commander-in-Chief (as Bush likes to reference himself) and his puppet Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, Iraqis and much of the Arab world thrilled to see someone challenge power directly to its face.

Sadly, this protest against the imperialist destruction of his country and deaths of over a million due to the American invasion will not transcend the symbolic. But meanwhile, news is filtering out, and now confirmed by the BBC, that Mr. al-Zaidi is being tortured while held in U.S. custody at Camp Cropper. He is reportedly being charged with assault against the Iraqi Prime Minister.

From the BBC report:
Muntadar al-Zaidi has allegedly suffered a broken arm, broken ribs and internal bleeding, his older brother, Dargham, told the BBC.

Mr Zaidi threw his shoes at Mr Bush at a news conference, calling him "a dog".

A spokesperson for the Iraqi military says the journalist is in good health and said the allegations were untrue....

Our correspondent says that the previously little-known journalist from the private Cairo-based al-Baghdadia TV has become a hero to many, not just in Iraq but across the Arab world, for what many saw as a fitting send-off for a deeply unpopular US president.

As he flung the shoes, Mr Zaidi shouted: "This is a goodbye kiss from the Iraqi people, dog"....

Mr Zaidi has previously been abducted by insurgents and held twice for questioning by US forces in Iraq.

In November 2007 he was kidnapped by a gang on his way to work in central Baghdad and released three days later without a ransom.

He said at the time that the kidnappers had beaten him until he lost consciousness, and used his necktie to blindfold him.

Mr Zaidi never learned the identity of his kidnappers, who questioned him about his work before letting him go.
The disgust with which millions in the world hold the aggressor Bush, who faked evidence for a war in Iraq, and then invaded the country, with the connivance of both political parties in the United States, and then proceeded to occupy the country by force, and torture thousands of its citizens, this disgust found its symbol in Muntadar's impulsive demonstration.

Whatever "crime" Muntadar has committed pales next to the crimes of Bush and the U.S. military in Iraq. Muntadar should be freed immediately, and if he was mistreated in custody, his abusers should be charged. The fact this will never happen only points out to the thousands of Arabs protesting in the streets the lie behind the pretense of "progress" in the Middle East. By "progress", the U.S. government means progress in mollifying its own population that things will get better, that the U.S. will withdraw... some day. (Even as the government sets certain dates, the generals "on the ground" are already denying any such withdrawal.)

Whoever is holding Muntadar al-Zaidi, in the name of justice, release him!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Scott Horton on the Still Classified Portions of Senate Report

Scott Horton, whose access to Washington insiders is astronomically greater than my own, looked at the new Levin/McCain report on U.S. Detainee Treatment, and offers some insight into what is not in the report. For one thing, this report contains only declassified material. According to Horton, "the full report is filled with classified information and therefore has been submitted to the Department of Defense with a request that the materials be declassified for release."

Horton maintains that the classified version of the report contains yet further "bombshells" about the reverse-engineering of SERE torture techniques.
And deep in its classified hold, the report looks into the use of psychotropic drugs which were, with Donald Rumsfeld’s approval, routinely administered to prisoners in order to facilitate their interrogation—in violation of international agreements and American criminal law.
It will be very interesting to get this formerly classified information into public hands, but the use of psychotropic drugs on prisoners has been previously revealed, and in fact has a long history, especially as researched and operationalized by the CIA. These are matters of written history.

Horton's article also includes a few vital points necessary for putting the Senate's report into context:
The report, even in its still-classified form, does not tell the whole story of what happened. It does not address the program administered by the CIA. And even with respect to the Department of Defense, the Committee and its investigators were effectively stonewalled by the United States Special Operations Command and its overlords in the Pentagon who failed to provide information about special rules of engagement introduced with the authority of Undersecretary of Defense Stephen Cambone that authorized the torture and mistreatment of prisoners held for intelligence interrogation in operations dating back to the earliest weeks of the “war on terror.”
If you know more, Scott, please tell us. A Google search on "special rules of engagement in Afghanistan" brought up almost nothing.

It is supposedly a truism that in Washington access to knowledge is akin to access to power. How much is being kept from the American people? How can anyone not believe that whatever has been revealed thus far is nothing more than the proverbial peak of an iceberg, and that under the surface of the surrounding waters lies an immense bulk of secrets and crimes, far greater than what we know or think we know?

This is what happens when you turn your government over to the secret forces of intelligence agencies and covert military programs. The breeding ground of such activities was World War II and the Korean War. It led to the genocidal war in Vietnam and Southeast Asia, and its tracks can be discerned in the death squads and disappearances and coups in Latin America, and throughout the Middle East, from Egypt to the steps of the Himalayas.

The fight to stop torture has a moral imperative all its own. But another important component of the fight is to reveal to the average citizen the true meaning and constitution of what the nation has become. It is almost impossible to believe, given how far the cancer has gone, that evils so entrenched can be extirpated sort of tremendously radical change. The forms of that change are yet obscure to us, as they lie in the future.

For us, the tasks now are to press for an end to the worst excesses, and press for a political action program without illusions.

Glenn Greenwald Calls for Independent Prosector for Torture Crimes

Friday, December 12, 2008

ACLU Calls for Independent Prosecutor After Senate Report on SERE Torture

I wish I'd seen this press release by the ACLU yesterday, because I would have incorporated it into my coverage of the release of the Senate Armed Services Committee Report -- an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody. This is especially so as the ACLU notes the same anomaly in the torture timeline that I do:
“The Senate Armed Services Committee’s conclusions confirmed what we have long known – the use of torture by the United States was not simply unrelated acts carried out by a few low-level officials, but rather a deliberate and systemic program established by our government’s highest ranking officials,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The ACLU applauds Chairman Levin and Ranking Member McCain for initiating this vital inquiry. The American people need to know if crimes were committed in the authorization and ordering of torture and abuse. Those individuals must be held responsible for the United States to be able to move forward and restore the rule of law"....

“The committee report makes clear the role of top White House and Defense Department officials in authorizing torture and abuse,” added Christopher Anders, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel. “It also includes a startling new fact, which is that a top Defense Department official was inquiring into methods of torture and abuse more than a month before President Bush ordered that the Geneva Conventions would not apply to the detainees. There is now a whole new question that an independent prosecutor should investigate on whether the president’s order taking away Geneva Conventions protections was part of a scheme to engage in illegal torture that was already being explored.” [Emphasis added]
The inquiry by a top DoD official "more than a month" before Bush scrapped Geneva for this "war on terror" prisoners can only be Richard Shiffrin's approach to JPRA in December 2001.

From my coverage of the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings last September:
But the one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task:
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
Really, my provenance on this issue goes back to last June, when I noticed something very odd in Baumgartner's statement to the committee:
While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgarten gave in his testimony. Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners....

But Baumgartner's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From his statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
My recollection of my first communication with OGC relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgarten about this issue during the hearings?
But by the second round of committee hearings, Sen. Levin had put the December 2001 request back into the timeline. I'd like to think I had something to do with that, but who knows? Almost no other commenter, made this point at the time, despite my public criticism of the press and blog coverage, the one exception being a front page article by smintheus at Daily Kos. Later, I confronted Sen. Levin himself with these questions during a "live blog" at FDL (thanks EW!). In any case, the cat is officially out of the bag now, and the issue has been joined by the ACLU, with growing support from other organizations soon to follow, I expect.

I'm very heartened to see this important element of the torture timeline picked up at last by one of our premier legal human rights and civil liberties organizations. It gives me hope that there will be sufficient political will in the society to take on the tremendous task of prosecuting the criminals in the Bush Administration and the military/CIA who had the arrogance to believe they could engage in torture with impunity by gaming the system and twisting all concept of law.

We all should support the ACLU's call for an independent prosecutor to investigate and then bring the appropriate charges.

Bravo, ACLU!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Senate Report Nails Rumsfeld, Sets Up War Crimes Trial

They may not have meant to do it, but the Senate Armed Services' Committee released a report by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain that gives us the best timeline to date on administration decisions to begin torturing detainees. The report, an Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody, also describes the means by which both the Pentagon and the CIA approached agencies within government, leading to the very top of the Bush Administration, and how the latter rushed in a series of presidential orders, and memos by the Office of Legal Counsel, to redefine torture law in order to provide legal cover for their blatant violation of the laws of war and those against torture.

The Washington Post article covering these developments, Report on Detainee Abuse Blames Top Bush Officials, is listed as the most viewed item of the day. And for good reason, for anyone who knows how to read such material can see the bombshell that resides within.

Those in the anti-torture community are fond of repeating the fact that torture is a jus cogens norm, that is:
"a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of States as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character." Link
But when it comes to the question of prosecuting Rumsfeld and others for the crime of torture, it's generally accepted (by the mainstream media and cable punditry) that the Bush Administration has created sufficient legal cover for themselves, and that we will have to look to international intervention, under the concept of universal jurisdiction, to prosecute these individuals.

But even by their own pathetic lights, the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld troika and their assistants failed to protect themselves, as their rush to cover their tracks came TWO MONTHS TOO LATE. They are still trying to keep certain documents secret, it seems, and we must demand they see the light of day, so we can proceed with the prosecutions. (By "we" I mean an Obama Justice Department.)

Here's the key paragraphs in the narrative of the report, at least when it comes to the most vulnerable part of their defense against prosecution. Keep in mind that Levin/McCain begin their narrative with the "Presidential Order [that] Opens the Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques."

On February 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with al Qaeda and concluding that Taliban detainees were not entitled to prisoner of war status or the legal protections afforded by the Third Geneva Convention. The President’s order closed off application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, to al Qaeda or Taliban detainees.
So, now they think they are covered against violations of the Geneva Convention. But they didn't think, or they forgot that they were seeking to break, or already breaking the Geneva Convention, and a host of other treaties and laws, at least as early as December 2001.

Again, from the report (emphasis added):
In December 2001, more than a month before the President signed his memorandum, the Department of Defense (DoD) General Counsel’s Office had already solicited information on detainee “exploitation” from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), an agency whose expertise was in training American personnel to withstand interrogation techniques considered illegal under the Geneva Conventions.
JPRA runs the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape, or SERE program, under which military personnel considered at risk of capture are "tortured" under controlled circumstances, with the aim of inoculating them against confessing or revealing secrets under pressure. The SERE program specialized in exposing its recruits to waterboarding, nudity, stress positions, degrading behavior, and sensory overload and sensory deprivation. It was slam everything but the kitchen sink against a person to make them break. During training there are doctors and psychologists around to keep these things from getting out of control. But some of these doctors or psychologists evidently thought they could use their knowledge of the program to "reverse-engineer" it and provide interrogation expertise to the military when asked.

And they were asked first in December 2001:
Given JPRA’s role and expertise, the request from the DoD General Counsel’s office was unusual. In fact, the Committee is not aware of any similar request prior to December 2001. But while it may have been the first, that was not the last time that a senior government official contacted JPRA for advice on using SERE methods offensively. In fact, the call from the DoD General Counsel’s office marked just the beginning of JPRA’s support of U.S. government interrogation efforts.
The subsequent contact between JPRA, SERE, SERE psychologists, the CIA, and Guantanamo personnel make up the bulk of the rest of the report, and is definitely worth pursuing, and very important in its own right. (In fact, I've written much on this previously during the Senate Committee hearings.) But right now I'm concentrating on the critical first approach.

After discussing the December 2001 contact between the Department of Defense and JPRA, the narrative jumps ahead to Spring 2002. The reason for the jump will soon be clear (emphasis added):
Beginning in the spring of 2002 and extending for the next two years, JPRA supported U.S. government efforts to interrogate detainees. During that same period, senior government officials solicited JPRA’s knowledge and its direct support for interrogations. While much of the information relating to JPRA’s offensive activities and the influence of SERE techniques on interrogation policies remains classified, unclassified information provides a window into the extent of those activities.

(U) JPRA’s Chief of Staff, Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Baumgartner testified that in late 2001 or early 2002, JPRA conducted briefings of Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) personnel on detainee resistance, techniques, and information on detainee exploitation.

(U) On April 16, 2002, Dr. Bruce Jessen, the senior SERE psychologist at JPRA, circulated a draft exploitation plan to JPRA Commander Colonel Randy Moulton and other senior officials at the agency. The contents of that plan remain classified but Dr. Jessen’s initiative is indicative of the interest of JPRA’s senior leadership in expanding the agency’s role.
We can quite clearly see the use of classification as a cover-up of culpability and probable war crimes. This is doubly true for the classification of any materials between December 2001 and February 7, 2002, the date of Bush's presidential order suspending Geneva rights, because ALL abuse and torture before that date has no cover that even the worst right-wing and pro-military wingnut could find a fig-leaf of bogus legal cover. And that's important because we don't want to win a formal argument about how international law covers Bush, Rumsfeld, et al.'s crimes, we want prosecutions, here, now, in this country. Frankly, I think there are more barriers to bringing charges abroad, for fear of confronting the United States, and we need to set an example for the world ourselves anyway, and try and undo the tremendous damage these individuals have done.

The report goes into succinct detail about the further descent into lawlessness by the administration, the military, and the CIA; how some fought back and tried to protest (military lawyers, CID investigators, etc.), but in the end the administration kept pushing their torture agenda, until the final paper reached Rumsfeld's desk:
With respect to GTMO’s October 11, 2002 request to use aggressive interrogation techniques, Mr. Haynes said that “there was a sense by the DoD Leadership that this decision was taking too long” and that Secretary Rumsfeld told his senior advisors “I need a recommendation.” On November 27, 2002, the Secretary got one. Notwithstanding the serious legal concerns raised by the military services, Mr. Haynes sent a one page memo to the Secretary, recommending that he approve all but three of the eighteen techniques in the GTMO request. Techniques such as stress positions, removal of clothing, use of phobias (such as fear of dogs), and deprivation of light and auditory stimuli were all recommended for approval....

(U) On December 2, 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld signed Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, adding a handwritten note that referred to limits proposed in the memo on the use of stress positions: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?”
In the next days and weeks I suppose (and hope) a lot more will be written on this. I have aimed this essay at what I feel is a key revelation in the Senate committee's investigation and report, one that can and should lead to the filing of charges against Donald Rumsfeld, William Haynes, and a number of others. Whether Bush can be prosecuted for his actions as president I leave to the legal minds to ponder.

Oddly, in the conclusions section of the report, the authors leave out the December 2001 solicitation to JPRA and return to a timeline wherein JPRA was approached in July 2002 for information on SERE techniques:
That solicitation, prompted by requests from Department of Defense General Counsel William J. Haynes II, reflected the view that abusive tactics similar to those used by our enemies should be considered for use against detainees in U.S. custody.
I don't know why the Committee would bury in their conclusions an aspect of the timeline that was especially culpable for the administration. Perhaps they felt that with the classification of certain documents they didn't have enough facts to back up their contentions. In that case it is even more essential to call for a declassification of all documents on the torture timeline, and the incoming Obama administration should make this a first priority, if their claims to government transparency are going to carry any weight.

In any case, there's plenty more in the report to keep any war crimes tribunal busy, and also assist those in writing a true history of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. I will close with this statement by the committee shooting down the myth that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the result of bad training or a few "rotten apples":
The abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib in late 2003 was not simply the result of a few soldiers acting on their own. Interrogation techniques such as stripping detainees of their clothes, placing them in stress positions, and using military working dogs to intimidate them appeared in Iraq only after they had been approved for use in Afghanistan and at GTMO. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s December 2, 2002 authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques and subsequent interrogation policies and plans approved by senior military and civilian officials conveyed the message that physical pressures and degradation were appropriate treatment for detainees in U.S. military custody. What followed was an erosion in standards dictating that detainees be treated humanely.
No kidding!

Onwards to a prosecution of the war criminals and return to civilized norms in the United States.

Also posted at Daily Kos

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PHR to Obama on the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Physicians for Human Rights has written a powerful letter to President-elect Obama, calling on "the incoming Obama administration to commit to fulfilling the promise of the entire Declaration and its expansive understanding of universal human rights." The letter notes that Obama's election represented a "triumph over prejudice and... a great stride in the long
march toward equality and dignity."

PHR's letter contains many important points on reestablishing human rights norms and recommitting to investing in global health, especially "women’s rights and health, and the health workforce needs of disease-burdened countries." But I was especially impressed on their section on torture, reprinted below:
Ensure that the prohibition against torture will be unambiguously enforced and that health professionals are no longer involved in interrogations.

Your administration should establish through an executive order a uniform standard that acknowledges international law prohibiting torture, namely Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention Against Torture. Such a standard should govern all U.S. agencies responsible for interrogating detainees, and must prohibit torture and all abusive techniques. The new standard should eliminate all loopholes that might allow torture, including the use of isolation, sleep deprivation, and sensory deprivation as contained in Appendix M of the 2006 U.S. Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collection (Army Field Manual 2-22.3). The U.S. must immediately disclose to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) the identity and whereabouts of all prisoners who either are or have been in U.S. custody since September 11, 2001. All detention sites must be made available for unscheduled and unrestricted monitoring by the ICRC.

Your administration should also establish an appropriate accountability mechanism, such as a non-partisan commission equipped with subpoena power, to expose and investigate evidence of torture and cruel treatment, and make recommendations on prosecutions for any crimes committed. The commission should have a specific subgroup to address abuses against detainees that involved participation of health professionals and violations of professional ethics. Detainees released from U.S. custody at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere must no longer be transferred to countries where, according to the State Department Human Rights Report, severe human rights abuses may occur.

Your administration should work with the American Psychological Association to implement its September 2008 referendum prohibiting the involvement of psychologists in illegal interrogations. The government must never engage health professionals to undertake interrogation-related activities that violate individuals’ human rights or professional ethics.

Administration officials must also ensure that those who experienced torture and cruel treatment while in U.S. custody have access to reparations, including an official apology, compensation, and appropriate care, including psycho-social services. Your administration should adopt a new policy for responding to hunger strikers at detention centers that complies with international standards of medical ethics, thereby abandoning the current policy of forcefeeding.

We urge your administration to return to the previous standard for detainee medical treatment, in place in prior to 2003, ensuring that their healthcare is parallel to that provided to U.S. soldiers.
I've highlighted the section on Appendix M of the Army Field Manual, as its inclusion dooms the document as any kind of satisfying or legitimate replacement for the CIA's torture techniques, even if does ban some of the more egregious SERE-like tortures, like waterboarding and stress positions.

The entire subject has taken on ominous overtones with the statements of House Intelligence Committee Chairman, Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas. As reported by Glenn Greenwald today, quoting GovernmentExecutive.com:
The House Intelligence Committee's top Democrat [Rep. Silvestre Reyes of Texas] said Tuesday he has recommended that President-elect Barack Obama keep the country's current national intelligence director and CIA chief in place for some time to ensure continuity in U.S. intelligence programs during the transition to a new administration. . . .

In an interview, Reyes said he believes that Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden should be kept in their posts. Reyes believes they should stay for at least six months, but said the time frame is ultimately a decision Obama must make....

Reyes, D-Texas, said he also recommended to Obama's transition team that some parts of the CIA's controversial alternative interrogation program should be allowed to continue. He declined to say what he specifically recommended, however. . . .

"There are those that believe that this particular issue has to be dealt with very carefully because there are beliefs that there are some options that need to be available," Reyes said.
So far there is very little to seem positive about when it comes to fundamentally changing U.S. torture policy. All the trial balloons are floating in the wrong direction, and things are being set up to turn to the supposedly moderate Army Field Manual as the "reasonable" substitute, the "best we can do." Except it includes techniques that are right out of Guantanamo, and constitute violations of international law, if not the U.S. War Crimes Act. The Pentagon, the DIA, the CIA, I don't know... someone is gaming the system on this, and no doubt hope the populace is so afraid about the crumbling economy that hardly anyone will notice.

PHR has long taken the front-line position in exposing the corrupted parts of the AFM, but once a meme gets established, it's difficult to change it. Other human rights and civil liberties groups are going to have to step up and put the pressure on. The military and intelligence agencies are twisting arms in D.C. If we don't fight back, and show public interest, then things will not change.

Hat-tips to jhutson and truong son traveler of Daily Kos

Human Rights First "End Torture Now" Letter Campaign to Obama

Human Rights First has set up a short, effective and simple way for you to register your opposition to U.S. torture. Click here and you will be taken to an automated webpage that allows you to write your own letter and send it to President-elect Obama. It just takes a few minutes. Why not do it now?
We Can End Torture Now

On the occasion of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we ask that you contact President-elect Obama's Transition Team.

Let them know that restoring America's place in the world as a nation that stands up for human rights must be a top priority, and that the new administration should act swiftly to fix U.S. interrogation and detention policies.

No torture. No exceptions.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"You're on Earth -- There's no cure for that!"

Scene from Endgame by Samuel Beckett - Rick Cluchey as Hamm
Hamm: Me to play.
(He takes out his handkerchief, unfolds it, holds it spread out before him.)
We're getting on.
You weep, and weep, for nothing, so as not to laugh, and little by little... you begin to grieve.
(He folds the handkerchief, puts it back in his pocket, raises his head.)
All those I might have helped.
The place was crawling with them.
(Pause. Violently.)
Use your head, can't you, use your head, you're on earth, there's no cure for that!
Get out of here and love one another! Lick your neighbor as yourself!
(Pause. Calmer.)
When it wasn't bread they wanted it was crumpets.
(Pause. Violently.)
Out of my sight and back to your petting parties!
All that, all that!
Not even a real dog!
The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.

Monday, December 8, 2008

NSA Calls for FOIA Reform; CIA Blocks Crucial JFK Docs

Jefferson Morley has an article up at the Washington Monthly asking readers to support the National Security Archive's call for President-elect Barack Obama to "issue a new executive order on FOIA creating a presumption of disclosure and a policy of releasing information without litigation." Sixty organizations have already signed NSA's request, including People for the American Way, Federation of American Scientists, Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Association of American Publishers.

Morley, a 15-year editor and staff writer at The Washington Post, and now National Editorial Director at the Center for Independent Media, has his own reasons for wanting access to records. He has been at the forefront of an effort to get the CIA to release records related to the assassination of John Kennedy. In particular, he and others want to see the "17 monthly reports that [George] Joannides was supposed to file about his secret operations in 1962-64," when he was "chief of the agency’s so-called 'psychological warfare' operations [which] aimed to bring about Castro’s overthrow."

The campaign to get the CIA to release the records, which according to the JFK Records Act should have been declassified, has been supported by both pro-conspiracy and pro-Warren Commission experts on the assassination, including Anthony Summers; Gerald Posner; Don DeLillo; the late Norman Mailer; Federal judge John Tunheim, who formerly chaired the Assassination Records Review Board; and former chief counsel of the House Select Committee on Assassinations, G. Robert Blakey.

According to an article by Morley at Salon.com a few years back:
According to declassified CIA records corroborated by interviews, Joannides secretly financed exiled Cuban agents who collected intelligence on Lee Harvey Oswald three months before Kennedy was killed. Fifteen years later, Joannides was called out of retirement by the CIA to serve as the agency's liaison to the House committee looking into Kennedy's assassination. While working with the committee, the spy withheld information about his own actions in 1963 from the congressional investigators he was supposed to be assisting. It wasn't until 2001, 38 years after Kennedy's death, that Joannides' support for the Cuban exiles, who clashed with Oswald and monitored him, came to light.

"[Joannides'] behavior was criminal," said Blakey, the former House committee counsel who was deceived by the CIA agent. "He obstructed our investigation."

"The agency is stonewalling," said Posner, whose bestselling book supported the Warren Commission's finding that Oswald, alone and unaided, killed Kennedy. "It's a perfect example of why the public has so little trust in the CIA's willingness to be truthful."
Joannides died in 1990, nine years after receiving the CIA’s Career Intelligence Medal for "exceptional achievement." His story is little known, and neither is the suit against the CIA for the records. Meanwhile, it's been a year since an appellate court demanded the CIA explain why it has not produced the records requested. The CIA has responded with arrogant silence. Another ruling on the case is at least a year away.

For many years, any informed speculation or research into the causes and facts behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy has been relegated to the dustbin of tomfoolery and tinfoil, considered the hobby-horse of conspiracy addicts and general paranoid nut-cases. This unfortunate situation has been furthered by both the population of narcissists and publicity-seekers who irresponsibly spread rumors and legend on the JFK assassination, and by the secrecy that still surrounds important elements of the case. The secrecy serves to undermine serious attempts to get to the truth. This is why Morley's suit against the CIA has been supported by all sides in the assassination "industry."

Anyone who has been knee-jerk resistant to any serious discussion of the JFK assassination has not been following the serious research being done on the case in the last fifteen years or so. One example is the work of a long-time Army intellgence officer and former executive assistant to the director of the National Security Agency (NSA -- yeah, that other NSA), John M. Newman, who wrote Oswald and the CIA, documenting Lee Harvey Oswald's ties to the intelligence community.

Most recently, Morley's book, Our Man in Mexico: Winston Scott and the Hidden History of the CIA, received favorable coverage at the well-known conspiracy rag, Harper's. From the Amazon product description:
Morley reveals the previously unknown scope of the agency's interest in Oswald in late 1963, identifying for the first time the code names of Scott's surveillance programs that monitored Oswald's movements. He shows that CIA headquarters cut Scott out of the loop of the agency's latest reporting on Oswald before Kennedy was killed. He documents why Scott came to reject a key finding of the Warren Report on the assassination and how his disillusionment with the agency came to worry his longtime friend James Jesus Angleton, legendary chief of CIA counterintelligence. Angleton not only covered up the agency's interest in Oswald but also, after Scott died, absconded with the only copies of his unpublished memoir.
The JFK assassination may never be "solved" -- indeed, Morley isn't seeking to solve it, he says -- but the truth about the involvement of the CIA, which was covered up at the time, and still to this day, speaks volumes about the real influence of the CIA in our country's affairs, and the price we pay when any governmental agency is able to run a rogue operation, unaccountable to any governmental agency.

In 1976, the New York Times wrote the following on its front page (no link -- I had to purchase the article -- emphasis is added):
Washington, Jan. 25 -- The House Select Committee on Intelligence has concluded following a year-long investigation that the Federal intelligence agencies, as they are currently constituted, operate in such secret ways that they are "beyond the scrutiny" of Congress, according to the panel's final report....

The expenditures of [intelligence] funds, the report said, were largely unchecked by Congress and even by the Office of Management and Budget.
The year was 1976. The House report was written by what is known today as the Pike Committee. It was contemporaneous with the famous Church Report from the Senate. The CIA protested making the Pike report public, and as a result, it was never officially published, or made available by the government. (Maybe someone could get Obama or Pelosi to finally release it!)

Please support the National Security Archive's call for President-elect Obama to make transparency and openness in government a top priority. From their action page:
The Obama administration can act quickly after taking office in January to reverse the secrecy trend of the last eight years and restore openness in the executive branch, according to a set of new proposals posted online... by the National Security Archive. More than 60 organizations joined the recommendations, which call on President-elect Obama to restore efficiency and openness to the Freedom of Information Act process, reform the classification system to reduce overclassification and facilitate greater declassification, and ensure that presidential records are handled in accordance with the law and Congress’ intent.
Also posted at Progressive Historians

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