Congressional No-Show at ‘Heart-Breaking’ Drone Survivor Hearing October 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Pakistan, War on Terror.
Tags: Alan Grayson, civilian casualties, congress, drone missile, drone wars, lauren mccauley, pakistan, pakistan drones, Rehman, robert greenwald, roger hollander
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Roger’s note: I posted on this subject yesterday, but I am repeating it here to underscore the blatant and callous disregard for human life (that is not white American) demonstrated by U.S. congressmen. Five of 435 showed up to listen to how the drone missiles they casually lob into civilian neighborhoods took the life of a mother/grandmother and injured two children. That represents 1.4% of the members of the House. And this family is just the tip of the drone’s murderous iceberg.
In “historic” briefing, Rehman family gives heartbreaking account of drone killing of 65-year-old grandmother… to five lawmakers
Despite being heralded as the first time in history that U.S. lawmakers would hear directly from the survivors of a U.S. drone strike, only five elected officials chose to attend the congressional briefing that took place Tuesday.
Pakistani schoolteacher Rafiq ur Rehman and his two children—9 year-old daughter Nabila and 13 year-old son Zubair—came to Washington, DC to give their account of a U.S. drone attack that killed Rafiq’s mother, Momina Bibi, and injured the two children in the remote tribal region of North Waziristan last October.
According to journalist Anjali Kamat, who was present and tweeting live during the hearing, the only lawmakers to attend the briefing organized by Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), were Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) and Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.).
Before the handful of reporters and scant lawmakers, however, Rafiq and his children gave dramatic testimony which reportedly caused the translator to break down into tears.
In her testimony, Nabila shared that she was picking okra with her grandmother when the U.S. missile struck and both children described how they used to play outside but are now too afraid.
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey.” –Zubair Rehman, 13-year-old drone victim
“I no longer love blue skies. In fact, I now prefer grey skies. Drones don’t fly when sky is grey,” said Zubair, whose leg was injured by shrapnel during the strike.
“My grandmother was nobody’s enemy,” he added.
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rafiq wrote in an open letter to President Barack Obama last week. “The media reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Several reported the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All reported that five militants were killed. Only one person was killed – a 65-year-old grandmother of nine.”
“But the United States and its citizens probably do not know this,” Rafiq continued. “No one ever asked us who was killed or injured that day. Not the United States or my own government. Nobody has come to investigate nor has anyone been held accountable.”
He concluded, “Quite simply, nobody seems to care.”
You can watch a recording of the briefing below and here:
The purpose of the briefing, Grayson told the Guardian, is “simply to get people to start to think through the implications of killing hundreds of people ordered by the president, or worse, unelected and unidentifiable bureaucrats within the Department of Defense without any declaration of war.”
The family was joined by their legal representative Jennifer Gibson of the UK human rights organization Reprieve. Their Islamabad-based lawyer, Shahzad Akbar, was also supposed to be present but was denied a visa by the US authorities—”a recurring problem,” according to Reprieve, “since he began representing civilian victims of drone strikes in 2011.”
“The onus is now on President Obama and his Administration to bring this war out of the shadows and to give answers,” said Gibson.
Also present was U.S. filmmaker Robert Greenwald, who first met Rafiq when he traveled to Pakistan to interview the drone strike victims for his documentary Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars. Before the briefing, Greenwald told the Guardian that he hoped the briefing “will begin the process of demanding investigation. Innocent people are being killed.”
The following clip from Unmanned was shown at Tuesday’s hearing:
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day” October 29, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Imperialism, Pakistan, War, War on Terror.
Tags: Alan Grayson, civilian casualties, Civilian death, congress, drone missiles, drone strikes, drones, hearing, News, pakistan, Politics News, Rafiq ur Rehman, roger hollander, waziristan
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Roger’s note: “This family went to remarkable lengths to share their story… the turnout at today’s briefing is shameful.” The brief turnout is not the only thing that is shameful about the use of drone missiles and the U.S. various military interventions around the globe.
Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 02:05 PM CST, http://www.salon.com
Drone victim family travel from Pakistan Capitol Hill to testify and only a handful of lawmakers show up
School teacher Rafiq ur Rehman traveled with his family from Pakistan’s beleaguered Waziristan region to tell Capitol Hill about a day in October 2012 when his 67-year-old mother way blown to pieces by U.S. drone fire. In the same strike, three of Rehman’s children, aged from five to 13, were injured.
Rehman, his 13-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter gave testimony on Capitol Hill Tuesday. The family, who were invited to Congress by Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fl., told their heart-wrenching story in front of a typically small briefing turnout; Grayson was joined by Reps. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, Rush Holt, John Conyers, and Rick Nolan. Grayson assured the family and the media present that this constitutes a good turnout. As my friend and journalist Ryan Devereaux, present at the briefing, noted via Twitter, “This family went to remarkable lengths to share their story… the turnout at today’s briefing is shameful.”
Rehman’s case was among the civilian tragedies noted in a recent report published by Amnesty International, which posited that a number of U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan constituted war crimes.
“Nobody has ever told me why my mother was targeted that day,” Rehman testified. He continued:
Some media outlets reported that the attack was on a car, but there is no road alongside my mother’s house. Others reported that the attack was on a house. But the missiles hit a nearby field, not a house. All of them reported that three, four, five militants were killed. But only one person was killed that day–Mammana Bibi, a grandmother and midwife who was preparing to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid… Not a militant, but my mother.
… My mother is not the first innocent victim of US drones he continued. Numerous families living in my community and the surrounding area have also lost loved ones, including women and children, in these strikes over the years. Dozens of people in my own tribe that I know are merely ordinary tribesman have been killed. They have suffered just like I have. I wish they had such an opportunity as well to come tell you their story. Until they can, I speak on their behalf as well. Drones are not the answer.
Tags: Afghanistan War, congress, mike prysner, Petraeus, roger hollander, shutdown, Taliban, veterans, veterans benefits, war profiteers
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An Iraq war veteran’s perspective
By Mike Prysner, VFP Board Member and former U.S. Army corporal and Iraq war veteran.
Let’s look at this debate and the shutdown for what it really is, and what the attitudes about the politicians involved teach us about their management of our lives.
For veterans and service members, the government shut down means the closing down of many essential services. The Veterans Benefits Administration will be unable to process education and rehabilitation benefits, which are critical to so many vets being able to pay their bills. The Board of Veterans’ Appeals will be unable to hold hearings, extending our already outrageous wait period even longer.
If the shutdown continues, the 3.6 million veterans who receive disability and compensation payments for wounds in service—many of whom completely rely on these paychecks to eat—will not be paid. “Thank you for your service”?
The Republicans, on their quest to attack all social programs, civil rights and social rights, are mad that 50 million people will have access to healthcare who didn’t before. This is their opportunity to rally their base against “big government” to pad their pockets from lobbyist friends and boost their anti-worker election strategy.
The Democratic Party is cool with the shutdown. Instead of fighting the right-wing assault that will affect millions, they’re excited to use this towards their election strategy, too, with new ammunition to paint the Republicans as causing hardship for the “middle class”—so they’re happy to wait it out. No rush for them.
So these Congressmen, who are mostly millionaires and work only around 135 days out of the year, playing a political chess game and in their rich-guy spat consider our lives fair game to throw on the table. Our lives and the lives of our families are expendable, to enrich the lives and careers of these rich politicians.
These same politicians gush endlessly over loving the troops and veterans, especially when it comes to justifying multi-billion-dollar contracts to defense corporations—like the recent 1.2 billion (yes, billion) dollar deal to buy 48 missiles for the United Arab Emirates. Seems like our tax money well spent, if you’re a Lockheed Martin CEO or a prince in the UAE. (NPR, Sept. 23, 2013)
At home and abroad, their careers more important than our lives
|U.S. troops are now dying and loosing
limbs patrolling areas the generals and
politicians knowwe will abandon.
Now the let’s look at how the politicians take this same attitude in the government shutdown to the war in Afghanistan. We’re about to mark its 12th year anniversary. The vast majority of Americans oppose it. But Congress has no qualms about approving funds to keep that war going endlessly.
Those same politicians know and acknowledge from their classified foreign policy briefings that the war in Afghanistan cannot be won. Just take it from the general who commanded the war (and the CIA), David Petraeus, when he thought nobody was listening: “You have to recognize also that I don’t think you win this war. … This is the kind of fight we’re in for our lives and probably our kids’ lives.”
They tell us we’re fighting and dying and killing to keep the Taliban from coming back to power. But that isn’t actually true. The U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban behind the scenes and begging them to join a national unity government (i.e., putting them in power).
But they also know and acknowledge that the Taliban, bolstered by a national, multi-dimensional resistance movement against the U.S./NATO occupation, don’t really care about the offers that include bowing to the U.S. military, because they’re committed to a long war and know, like the U.S. commanders, that they’ve created a no-win situation for the U.S. military effort.
The people of the United States do not support this ridiculous exercise and the politicians also know that the U.S. must withdraw from Afghanistan. But they don’t want to do it right away because none of them want to take responsibility for telling the truth and saying that the war is lost and that we need to leave immediately.
Neither the politicians nor the generals want to even suggest that they would tarnish the image of the U.S. military as the most invincible, powerful force ever known. They use that a lot, in their dealings with many other countries, as we know.
So they keep us there. They “end” the war in a “phased withdrawal” that lasts several years. That way they can maintain the myth that the U.S. is not retreating from the battlefield without “victory.” We die and get badly wounded just so they can save face. What makes this even more disgusting is that these politicians are mostly privileged millionaires who, except in the rarest case, never see their children go to war nor served themselves.
In the meantime, they get bought dinner at 5-star steakhouses with their defense contractor friends, going home to their families in big homes, with no worries about putting their rich-mans-club career in jeopardy. At that same time, we do something very different.
We kill the time losing legs on pointless patrols through fields we know will return to the hands of the people resisting in them; we spend the time getting blown apart by rockets in outposts we know will close down when it is politically convenient for those rich politicians.
While the generals and politicians order us to retreat in slow motion, to protect their image and the endless flow of cash to the defense industry, countless lives and limbs are sacrificed.
Like their current posturing match, they are also playing a political chess game in Afghanistan, in which our lives are expendable to suit theirs.
The government shutdown charade and the saving-face strategy in Afghanistan are both examples of how our “leaders” are incapable of managing our lives, and why we shouldn’t follow their ridiculous orders.
The Wizard of Oz is 70 years old. September 22, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Humor, Political Commentary.
Tags: congress, oz, political satire, roger hollander, u.s. congress, wizard of oz
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Tags: 9/11, barbara lee, congress, drone missiles, George Bush, hr 198, indifinite detention, perpetual war, war, warrantless surveillance
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|The email below is from Congresswoman Barbara Lee, a fearless progressive with an unparallelled record of doing what is right under the toughest of circumstances. She was the ONLY member of Congress to vote against giving George W. Bush a blank check for war in the wake of 9/11. She started a petition on org.credoaction.com, where activists can launch their own campaigns for progressive change. We strongly urge you to sign Representative Lee’s petition to repeal the overly broad resolution Congress passed in 2001 that gave President George Bush a blank check to wage war anywhere at any time, and that is still in effect today|
I started my own campaign on CREDO’s new site that allows activists to start their own petitions.
On September 14, 2001, I was the sole member of either house of Congress to vote against the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force. That misguided resolution is a blank check for war. It has been used to justify activities, such as warrantless surveillance, indefinite detention and the lethal use of drones, that fly in the face of our constitutional values. I am convinced that military engagement with no end in sight actually undermines our long-term national security.
This is not who we Americans think we are or who we want to be. This is why I have introduced legislation – HR 198 – that will reexamine and ultimately repeal the flawed blank-check Congressional authorization for the president to wage war anywhere at any time.
My bill already has more than a dozen congressional co-sponsors. But a public show of support for this effort is critical now as Congress is getting ready to consider whether to continue the blank check for the executive branch to wage endless war. That’s why I’m asking you to sign on as a citizen co-sponsor.
Thank you for your support.
Rep. Barbara Lee
Gitmo Groups Call Out Obama Over Political Cowardice April 30, 2013Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Health, Human Rights, Torture.
Tags: congress, Criminal Justice, detainee transfer, force feedin, force feeding, Guantanamo, guantanamo detainee, human rights, hunger strike, jacob chamberlain, jon queally, medical ethics, Obama, roger hollander, torture
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‘Congress has very little to do with it’: Following press conference, groups say Obama has only himself to blame for Guantanamo
U.S. President Barack Obama stated at a press conference on Tuesday that he would like to shut down the Guantanamo Bay prison but said that Congress was to blame for blockading any such action.
However, rights groups are calling Obama’s bluff, saying he actually does have the power to transfer detainees and put an end to the indefinite detention, solitary confinement, and torture inherent within the military prison—without the approval of Congress—and that he simply lacks the political courage to do so.
Obama stated Tuesday:
Now Congress determined that they would not let us close it and despite the fact that there are a number of the folks who are currently in Guantanamo who the courts have said could be returned to their country of origin or potentially a third country. . . . And so I’m going to — as I’ve said before, we’re — examine every option that we have administratively to try to deal with this issue. But ultimately, we’re also going to need some help from Congress.
In response, lawyers for Guantanamo detainees at the Center for Constitutional Rights stated, “We praise the president for re-affirming his commitment to closing the base but take issue with the impression he strives to give that it is largely up to Congress.”
Rather than waiting for Congress to make a move on Guantanamo, CCR reports Tuesday that Obama has the autonomy to take a number of actions:
- Congress is certainly responsible for imposing unprecedented restrictions on detainee transfers, but President Obama still has the power to transfer men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees, starting with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.
- Congress may have tied one hand behind his back, but he has tied the other: he should lift his self-imposed moratorium on transfers to Yemen regardless of a detainee’s status. It’s collective punishment based on citizenship, and needs to be reevaluated now.
- President Obama should appoint a senior government official to shepherd the process of closure, and should give that person sufficient authority to resolve inter-agency disputes.
- The President must demonstrate immediate, tangible progress toward the closure of Guantanamo or the men who are on hunger strike will die, and he will be ultimately responsible for their deaths.
Likewise, the ACLU affirmed Tuesday that Obama holds certain powers to release at least half of the Guantanamo detainees:
There are two things the president should do. One is to appoint a senior point person so that the administration’s Guantánamo closure policy is directed by the White House and not by Pentagon bureaucrats. The president can also order the secretary of defense to start certifying for transfer detainees who have been cleared, which is more than half the Guantánamo population.
Carlos Warner, an attorney representing 11 Guantanamo prisoners, said today:
I applaud President Obama’s remarks — he hasn’t mentioned Guantanamo in years — but the fact is that Congress has very little to do with it. NDAA as written allows the President to transfer individuals if it’s in the national security of the United States. The President’s statement made clear that Guantanamo negatively impacts our national security. The question is not whether the administration has the authority to transfer innocent men, but whether it has the political courage to do so.
And writing at the Lawfare Tuesday, Benjamin Wittes adds that Obama’s comments on Tuesday are a direct contradiction of his own self imposed policies. Wittes states:
The President’s comments are bewildering because his own policies give rise to the vast majority of the concerns about which he so earnestly delivered himself in these remarks.
Remember that Obama himself has imposed a moratorium on repatriating people to Yemen. And Obama himself has insisted that nearly 50 detainees cannot either be tried or transferred.Published on Tuesday, April 30, 2013 by Common Dreams
‘Torture Reinforcements’ Not ‘Medical Personnel’ Arrive to Combat Gitmo Hunger Strike
US Military Calls in ‘Force-Feeding Teams’ as Guantanamo Hunger Strike Continues
The US military has confirmed that at least 40 “medical personnel” have arrived at the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in order to expand a force-feeding operation designed to counter an ongoing hunger strike by more than 100 prisoners protesting their indefinite detention and ill treatment.
But because the procedure of “force-feeding” is widely held as a form of torture, critics of the practice may well view the medical teams as nothing more than ‘torture reinforcements’ as the number of those approved for the painful process continues to grow and their conditions deteriorate.
Military authorities repeatedly claim that force-feedings are somehow necessary, but experts are unequivocal when they declare that the procedure is torture.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission considers the practice of force-feeding—in which detainees are strapped to a restraining chair, have tubes pushed up their nostrils and liquids pumped down their throats—a clear form of torture. In addition, the World Medical Association prohibits its physicians from participating in force-feeding and the American Medical Association has just sent a letter to the Pentagon calling the practice an affront to accepted medical ethics.
One detainee, speaking recently through his lawyer David Remes, described the process by saying it felt a “razor blade [going] down through your nose and into your throat.”
In an interview with the Guardian, Remes discussed the treatment of those at Guantanamo as he pushed back against the US military’s claims that it is safeguarding the prisoners by torturing them. “It’s like the way you would treat an animal,” he said. Watch:
Despite testimony like this and the many objections by human rights advocates, reports indicate that at least 21 men have been approved for force feeding at the US prison.
As The Guardian reports:
Authorities said that the “influx” of medical reinforcements had been weeks in the planning. But the news will fuel speculation that the condition of hunger-striking prisoners at Guantánamo Bay is deteriorating. Shaker Aamer, the last British resident being kept at the centre, told his lawyer earlier this month that authorities will soon see fatalities as a result of the current action.
“I cannot give you numbers and names, but people are dying here,” said Aamer, who is refusing food.
The action is a protest against conditions at the centre, as well as the indefinite nature of the remaining prisoners’ confinement. Aamer has been cleared for release twice, but is still behind bars after 11 years. He has never been charged or faced trial but the US refuses to allow him to return to the UK, despite official protests by the British government.
Late last week, president of the American Medical Association, Dr. Jeremy Lazarus, sent a letter to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel in order to remind the Pentagon that the AMA’s long-held view is that force feeding is both an unethical and inhumane practic practice.
As Reuters report:
[The AMA letter] urged the defense secretary “to address any situation in which a physician may be asked to violate the ethical standards of his or her profession.”
Hagel had just returned from a trip to the Middle East and it was unclear whether he had seen the letter, said Pentagon spokesman Army Lieutenant Colonel Todd Breasseale.
Asked if military doctors had raised ethical concerns about being asked to perform force-feedings, Breasseale said, “I can tell you there have been no organized efforts, but I cannot speak for individual physicians.
Vince Warren, director of the Center for Constitutional Rights which represents many of the detainees, welcomed the AMA’s letter.
“In reaffirming its long-standing opposition to force feeding Guantanamo prisoners, the country’s most prominent medical association has delivered a stinging rebuke to the Obama administration’s wholly inadequate response to the hunger strik,” Warren said. “The administration cannot force feed its way out of this growing medical emergency.”
He added, “The only true solution is to resume transfers of prisoners and close Guantanamo.”
America’s Drones Are Homeward Bound July 17, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
Tags: Ann Wright, congress, drone, drone caucus, drone missiles, drone surveillance, Homeland Security, kill list, presidential assassination
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Americans have been protesting and getting arrested at U.S. drone bases and research institutions for years, and some members of Congress are starting to respond to the pressure.
But it’s not that drones are being used to extrajudicially execute people, including Americans, in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia that has U.S. lawmakers concerned. Rather it’s the possible and probable violation of Americans’ privacy in the United States by unlawful drone surveillance that has caught the attention of legislators.
Rep. Jeff Landry, R-La., says “there is distrust amongst the people who have come and discussed this issue with me about our government. It’s raising alarm with the American public.” Based on those discussions, Landry has placed a provision in a defense spending bill that would prohibit information gathered by drones without a warrant from being used as evidence in court.
Two other legislators, Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., and Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., introduced identical bills to bar any government agency from using a drone without a warrant to “gather evidence or other information pertaining to criminal conduct or conduct in violation of a regulation.”
No one in Congress, however, has introduced legislation requiring the government to provide to a neutral judge evidence of a criminal act committed by a person to be targeted for assassination by a drone, or allowing such a person the right to defend himself against the U.S. government’s allegations.
Under President Obama’s signature national security policy, being a young male in the tribal region of Pakistan is often sufficient evidence to warrant execution. The kill committee members from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense act as the prosecution, judge and jury for “low-level” targets. The president, consulting his “kill list,” makes the decision on “high-value” targets, including American citizens.
Weaponizing Drones in the United States
Acknowledging that drones have killed people in other countries, Rep. Rush Holt, D-N.J., placed a provision in another bill that would prohibit the Department of Homeland Security from arming its drones. (Homeland Security operates surveillance drones on the borders with Mexico and Canada.)
Holt may wish to extend the prohibition against arming drones to local law enforcement. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office in Texas used a Homeland Security grant to purchase a $300,000, 50-pound ShadowHawk helicopter drone that can be equipped with a 40 mm grenade launcher and a 12-gauge shotgun. When the sheriff’s office announced that the drone would be used by the county’s SWAT team, a spokesman said there were no plans to arm it but left open the possibility that deputies might decide to adapt the drone to fire tear gas canisters and rubber bullets.
The Drone Caucus Wants to Open Civilian Airspace
Getting their legislation passed by their colleagues in Congress will be an uphill battle for the above-mentioned lawmakers concerned about privacy and the need for search warrants.
As a result of intense lobbying by the drone industry, headed by two of the biggest manufacturers, General Atomics and Lockheed Martin, Congress formed the Unmanned Systems Caucus that now has 60 members. The group’s website states that its mission is “to educate members of Congress and the public on the strategic, tactical and scientific value of unmanned systems; actively support further development and acquisition of more systems; and to more effectively engage the civilian aviation community on unmanned system use and safety.”
The drone caucus successfully passed legislation this year that requires the Federal Aviation Administration to identify six places across the country by 2013 that will be used for testing how to safely fly drones in the same area as traditional planes. The regulator has until Sept. 30, 2015, to formulate a plan to integrate up to 30,000 drones into U.S. airspace.
The dedication of activists and the modest efforts of a few concerned members of Congress have so far failed to halt the flight of drones from the battlefield to our homeland.
Ann Wright is a 29 year US Army/Army Reserves veteran who retired as a Colonel and a former US diplomat who resigned in March, 2003 in opposition to the war on Iraq. She served in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia and Mongolia. In December, 2001 she was on the small team that reopened the US Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. She is the co-author of the book “Dissent: Voices of Conscience.” (www.voicesofconscience.com)
US Congress passes authoritarian anti-protest law March 3, 2012Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Tags: #occupy movement, anti-protest, civil liberties, congress, Criminal Justice, democracy, demonstrations, dhs, first amendment, Freedom of speech, Homeland Security, ndaa, occupy wall street, political protest, roger hollander, tom carter
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By Tom Carter 3 March 2012, World Socialist Web Site, www.wsws,org
A bill passed Monday in the US House of Representatives and Thursday in the Senate would make it a felony—a serious criminal offense punishable by lengthy terms of incarceration—to participate in many forms of protest associated with the Occupy Wall Street protests of last year. Several commentators have dubbed it the “anti-Occupy” law, but its implications are far broader.
The bill—H.R. 347, or the “Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011”—was passed by unanimous consent in the Senate, while only Ron Paul and two other Republicans voted against the bill in the House of Representatives (the bill passed 388-3). Not a single Democratic politician voted against the bill.
The virtually unanimous passage of H.R. 347 starkly exposes the fact that, despite all the posturing, the Democrats and the Republicans stand shoulder to shoulder with the corporate and financial oligarchy, which regarded last year’s popular protests against social inequality with a mixture of fear and hostility.
Among the central provisions of H.R. 347 is a section that would make it a criminal offense to “enter or remain in” an area designated as “restricted.”
The bill defines the areas that qualify as “restricted” in extremely vague and broad terms. Restricted areas can include “a building or grounds where the President or other person protected by the Secret Service is or will be temporarily visiting” and “a building or grounds so restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance.”
The Secret Service provides bodyguards not just to the US president, but to a broad layer of top figures in the political establishment, including presidential candidates and foreign dignitaries.
Even more sinister is the provision regarding events of “national significance.” What circumstances constitute events of “national significance” is left to the unbridled discretion of the Department of Homeland Security. The occasion for virtually any large protest could be designated by the Department of Homeland Security as an event of “national significance,” making any demonstrations in the vicinity illegal.
For certain, included among such events would be the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, which have been classified as National Special Security Events (NSSE), a category created under the Clinton administration. These conventions have been the occasion for protests that have been subjected to ever increasing police restrictions and repression. Under H.R. 347, future protests at such events could be outright criminalized.
The standard punishment under the new law is a fine and up to one year in prison. If a weapon or serious physical injury is involved, the penalty may be increased to up to ten years.
Also criminalized by the bill is conduct “that impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions” and “obstructs or impedes ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds.” These provisions, even more so than the provisions creating “restricted areas,” threaten to criminalize a broad range of protest activities that were previously perfectly legal.
In order to appreciate the unprecedented sweep of H.R. 347, it is necessary to consider a few examples:
A wide area around the next G-20 meeting or other global summit could be designated “restricted” by the Secret Service, such that any person who “enters” a that area can be subject to a fine and a year in jail under Section 1752(a)(1) (making it a felony to enter any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so).
Senator Rick Santorum, the ultra-right Republican presidential candidate, enjoys the protection of the Secret Service. Accordingly, a person who shouts “boo!” during a speech by Santorum could be subject to arrest and a year of imprisonment under Section 1752(a)(2) (making it a felony to “engag[e] in disorderly or disruptive conduct in” a restricted area).
Striking government workers who form a picket line near any event of “national significance” can be locked up under Section 1752(a)(3) (making it a crime to imped[e] ingress or egress to or from any restricted building or grounds).
Under the ancien regime in France, steps were taken to ensure that the “unwashed masses” were kept out of sight whenever a carriage containing an important aristocrat or church official was passing through. Similarly, H.R. 347 creates for the US president and other top officials a protest-free bubble or “no-free-speech zone” that follows them wherever they go, making sure the discontented multitude is kept out of the picture.
The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act is plainly in violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which was passed in 1791 in the aftermath of the American Revolution. The First Amendment provides: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech . . . or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” (The arrogance of the Democratic and Republican politicians is staggering—what part of “Congress shall make no law” do they not understand?)
H.R. 347 comes on the heels of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which was signed by President Obama into law on December 31, 2011. The NDAA gives the president the power to order the assassination and incarceration of any person—including a US citizen—anywhere in the world without charge or trial.
The passage of H.R. 347 has been the subject of a virtual blackout in the media. In light of the unprecedented nature of the bill, which would effectively overturn the First Amendment, this blackout cannot be innocent. The media silence therefore represents a conscious effort to keep the American population in the dark as to the government’s efforts to eviscerate the Bill of Rights.
The bill would vastly expand a previous law making it misdemeanor to trespass on the grounds of the White House. An earlier version of the bill would have made it a felony just to “conspire” to engage in any of the conduct described above. The bill now awaits President Obama’s signature before it becomes the law of the land.
What lies behind the unprecedented attack underway on the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is a growing understanding in the ruling class that the protests that took place around the world against social inequality in 2011 will inevitably re-emerge in more and more powerful forms in 2012 and beyond, as austerity measures and the crashing economy make the conditions of life more and more impossible for the working class. The virtually unanimous support in Congress H.R. 347, among Democrats as well as Republicans, reflects overriding sentiment within the ruling establishment for scrapping all existing democratic rights in favor of dictatorial methods of rule.
This sentiment was most directly expressed this week by Wyoming Republican legislator David Miller, who recently introduced a bill into the state legislature that would give the state the power, in an “emergency,” to create its own standing army through conscription, print its own currency, acquire military aircraft, suspend the legislature, and establish martial law. “Things happen quickly sometimes—look at Libya, look at Egypt, look at those situations,” Miller told the Star-Tribune in Casper, Wyoming. Repeating arguments employed by every military dictatorship over the past century, Miller declared, “We wouldn’t have time to meet as a Legislature or even in special session to do anything to respond.” Miller’s so-called “doomsday law” was defeated in the Wyoming legislature Tuesday by the narrow margin of 30-27.
Tags: anti-union, Colombia, colombia kiillings, colombia paramilitaries, colombia violence, congress, Free Trade, human rights, jim mcgovern, juan manuel santos, labor, labor killings, Latin America, libardo cardona, roger hollander, trade pacts, trade unionists, unions, vivian sequera
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Trade Pacts Move Forward, But Colombia Still UnSafe for Unionists
BOGOTA, Colombia — A new study challenges claims from the administration of President Barack Obama that Colombia is making important strides in bringing to justice killers of labor activists and so deserves U.S. congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade pact.
US President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on April 7, 2011. Yesterday Obama submitted three trade pacts to Congress despite continued concerns about their impact on the US economy and human rights violations in Colombia. (Reuters)
The Human Rights Watch study found “virtually no progress” in getting convictions for killings that have occurred in the past 4 1/2 years.
It counted just six convictions obtained by a special prosecutions unit from 195 slayings between January 2007 and May 2011, with nearly nine in 10 of the unit’s cases from that period in preliminary stages with no suspect formally identified.
Democrats in the U.S. Congress have long resisted bringing the Colombia trade pact to a vote, citing what they said is insufficient success in halting such killings.
The White House disagrees, and says Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-unionist violence.
US President Barack Obama sent long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress and pressed lawmakers to approve them “without delay.” Republicans endorse the bill overall and say it will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and support tens of thousands of jobs.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently said the trade agreements are “an integral part of the President’s plan to create jobs here at home.”
But in Colombia, the world’s most lethal country for labor organizing, the killings haven’t stopped. At least 38 trade unionists have been slain since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010, says Colombia’s National Labor School.
“A major reason for this ongoing violence has been the chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last Thursday to Colombian Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales that details the study’s findings.
Convictions have been obtained for less than 10 percent of the 2,886 trade unionists killed since 1986, and the rights group said it found “severe shortcomings” in the work of a special unit of Morales’ office established five years ago to solve the slayings. The letter says the unit has demonstrated “a routine failure to adequately investigate the motive” in labor killings as well as to “bring to justice all responsible parties.”
A chief finding: The 74 convictions achieved over the past year owe largely to plea bargains with members of illegal far-right militias who confessed to killings in exchange for leniency.
They did so under the so-called Justice and Peace law that gave paramilitary fighters reduced prison sentences of up to eight years in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing to crimes. That law expired at the end of 2006, the year the free trade pact was signed.
Only in a handful of cases did prosecutors pursue evidence that the paramilitaries who confessed acted on the orders of politicians, employers or others, Human Rights Watch says.
Prosecutors “made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists,” the letter states. “What is at stake is the justice system’s ability to act as an effective deterrent to anti-union violence.”
Of the more than 275 convictions handed down through May, 80 percent were against former members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The head of international affairs in the chief prosecutor’s office, Francisco Echeverri, told the AP that it has put 513 people in prison.
In nearly half of 50 recent convictions reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the judges cited “evidence pointing to the involvement of members of the security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses or co-workers.” Yet in only one of those cases was such an individual convicted.
In the case of a gym teacher and union activist killed in the northwestern town of San Rafael in 2002, one of the paramilitaries who confessed to the crime said it was committed at the request of the mayor, according to the judge’s decision.
The man who was mayor at the time and was re-elected in 2008, Edgar Eladio Giraldo, is not being formally investigated and has not been questioned about the killing, said Hernando Castaneda, chief of the special unit.
“I have no knowledge of that and did not know that I was involved in that,” Giraldo told The Associated Press by telephone when asked about the killing of Julio Ernesto Ceballos.
A spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Morales said Sunday that her boss had not yet yet seen the Human Rights Watch letter.
Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers said the study’s findings and the continued killings “prove what labor is telling the White House: The labor rights situation in Colombia is not improving, and passage of the FTA is not appropriate.”
A memo soon to be released by the AFL-CIO deems Colombia noncompliant with the “Labor Action Plan” Santos and Obama agreed to in April as a condition for White House approval of the free trade pact.
In the memo, shown to the AP, the labor federation finds neither “economic, political, or moral justification for rewarding Colombia with a free trade agreement.”
Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon said Friday when presented with the study’s findings that Colombia’s record prosecuting “perpetrators of violence” against labor activists “has improved significantly,” though she added that Colombian officials acknowledge more needs to be done.
Harmon also stressed that additional Colombian resources are being dedicated to the issue and that the U.S. government “is working intensively with them through training and support.”
Human Rights Watch acknowledged that annual trade unionists killings are only a quarter of what they were a decade ago. And it applauded some measures taken by Chief Prosecutor Morales, including her announcement that an additional 100 police investigators would be assigned to the special investigative unit.
But HRW regional director Jose Miguel Vivanco said “the challenge (Morales) is facing remains huge.”
A U.S. congressman who has met with various Colombian presidents on human rights issues, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn’t think enough has been done to reverse what he called a “dismal” record.
Said McGovern: “My worry is that if you approve the FTA at this particular point you remove all the pressure off the powers that be in Colombia to actually make a sincere, honest and concerted attempt to improve the situation.”
Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.
Tags: Boehner, congress, danny schechter, debt ceiling, debt criisis, debt crisis, Obama, roger hollander, tea party, Wall Street
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Oh, the gnashing of the teeth, Oh, the flamboyant tactics. Oh, all the breaking news excitement on cable news as the debt ceiling countdown saga went down to the wire with an intense political confrontation of a kind we haven’t seen before …
Or maybe we had—in the TARP debate and so-called Obamacare vote, to cite but two moments of high political drama. Once again, all the key players knew the outcome but wanted to keep us guessing because it served everyone’s interests.
For Boehner and the boys on the GOP side it was the great leadership test subplot. He would prove how tough he was, demonstrate his leadership mettle, get equal time with the president, and even look presidential. The orange tan was gone. His moment had in the sunlight had come as he roped the Tea party kids into the politically correct corral. The Congressman from Ohio was now a national force to be reckoned with,
Let’s not forget that he had become Wall Street’s butt boy, had been put on their financial slush fund, had many of the big money lobbyists on his side even as the financiers whined and complained about exaggerated threats to the world economy.
They made some noise but not too much. They well remember the wit and wisdom of ex-White House aide and now Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel about a crisis being a terrible opportunity to waste.
The Wall Street powercrats are high stakes poker players and this was one game they knew they would win in a political arena dependent on their beneficence.
At the same time, as the media compared the charade to the uncertainty of who would be chosen as this week’s Bachelorette reality TV Show. The Tea Party even got Charles Schumer and Jon Stewart going by reaching into the home video collections for sound bite from Ben Affleck’s flick, The Town, a bank robbery shoot em’ up set in Charlestown MA.
Only the pols on the hill had their eyes set on slightly bigger banks as they served bigger banksters.
Some analysts put their tactics down to “lunacy.” Others to irrationality but this gambit was far more rational than most commentators realized. It reminded me of Richard Nixon’s well-concocted madman strategy to make the Vietnamese think he was crazy enough to blow up their dykes or even drop the big one. It was a well-calculated fear tactic, a shrewd maneuver in a game of psychological warfare.
Paul Krugman understood what was going on, seconding my own analysis of the kamikaze tactics the right was using. He wrote what most of the media obfuscated about:
“The facts of the crisis over the debt ceiling aren’t complicated. Republicans have, in effect, taken America hostage, threatening to undermine the economy and disrupt the essential business of government unless they get policy concessions they would never have been able to enact through legislation. And Democrats – who would have been justified in rejecting this extortion altogether – have, in fact, gone a long way toward meeting those Republican demands.”
And, oh yes, the President had some big skin in the game. It gave him the posturing moment he needed to show how “balanced” he was, and how centrist he could become.
Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) argued that Obama talked left to move right, as the Washington Post explained:
Forget about “winning the future”–Barack Obama wants to win the center. That’s what the Washington Post is telling readers (7/25/11):
Obama ‘Big Deal’ on Debt a Gamble to Win the Center
Advisers think securing his plan would ensure general-election victory
The Post’s Zachary A. Goldfarb (who can’t be held responsible for the headline) explained that Obama was making Republicans an offer they couldn’t refuse….
“Obama’s political advisers have long believed that securing such an agreement would provide an enormous boost to his 2012 campaign, according to people familiar with White House thinking. In particular, they want to preserve and improve the president’s standing among independents.”
FAIR dipped into their own archive to reminds of us of an article from September 2009 which showed the President was under pressure even then to drop a focus on jobs to concentrate on the deficit.
In other words, this whole strategy is not new but years in the making:
“Parroting the Republican Party, corporate media have recently devoted much energy to deploring the federal deficit and chastising President Barack Obama for not focusing enough on balancing the budget. Very soon, media warn, either spending must be cut or taxes will need to be raised across the board—an argument that rests on the assumption that deficit reduction is, indeed, the top economic priority”
And, so, White House priorities shifted subtly to please the plutocrats and try to neutralize the Tea Party fanatics by co-opting their program the way Bill Clinton did in 1996, It was called “triangulation” then. Obama’s own supporters call it “betrayal” now; Obama’s pro-Wall Street economic team assured they wouldn’t give the men on The Street too much to worry about.
And so what happens now? The Republicans get their bill, unify their ranks even though it’s just more show and tell. As Reuters explains, its all a prelude to coming back to the bargaining table at the 11th hour to make a deal that both sides can use to political advantage.
Read this and as you do, read between the lines;
“The House of Representatives approved a Republican deficit plan on Friday that has no chance of becoming law but could pave the way for a last-ditch bid for bipartisan compromise to avert a crippling national default.”
This was the scenario—more akin to a Kabuki play than a real political fight. It’s more like professional wrestling of the kind they perform at the Capitol Arena not far from Capitol Hill.
The audience is hyped. The wrestlers pretend to hate each other, and arouse the crowd with acts of physical aggression. The match looks fierce, but, as everyone knows, it is fixed and scripted.
They musclemen throw each other around the ring, sometimes even gushing blood. The big bruisers denounce each other until it’s over to the count of 1-2-3; the bad guy always goes down.
The match ends, imagine that, just in time for a commercial break. Here it will end at the debt ceiling deadline. Each side will claim victory.
There is no ceiling on these political shenanigans. It’s just part of fast-paced game designed to keep the public on the sidelines and on the edge of uncertainly while the media keeps the politicians in the spotlight and excites the base in both parties,
In the end, the media will salute both sides for putting country above party. The only deficit here is one of political morality and honesty.
You tell me: am I too cynical, or is this the way what some call politricks has become?
Mediachannel’s News Dissector Danny Schechter investigates the origins of the economic crisis in his book Plunder: Investigating Our Economic Calamity and the Subprime Scandal (Cosimo Books via Amazon). Comments to email@example.com