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War Tribunal Finds Bush, Cheney Guilty of War Crimes May 13, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture, War on Terror.
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Published on Sunday, May 13, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal orders reparations be given to torture victims

- Common Dreams staff

Former US President George W Bush, his Vice-President Dick Cheney and six other members of his administration have been found guilty of war crimes by a tribunal in Malaysia.

Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal president judge Tan Sri Lamin Mohd Yunus (center) delivering the verdict yesterday. He is flanked by says reparations should be given to the complainant war crime victims. With him are Prof Salleh Buang (left) and Datuk Mohd Sa’ari Yusof. (Photo/Hasriyasyah Sabudin) Bush, Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and five of their legal advisers were tried in their absence and convicted on Saturday.

Victims of torture told a panel of five judges in Kuala Lumpur of their suffering at the hands of US soldiers and contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Among the evidence, Briton Moazzam Begg, an ex-Guantanamo detainee, said he was beaten, put in a hood and left in solitary confinement. Iraqi woman Jameelah Abbas Hameedi said she was stripped and humiliated in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

Transcripts of the five-day trial will be sent to the chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, the United Nations and the Security Council.

A member of the prosecution team, Professor Francis Boyle of Illinois University’s College of Law, said he was hopeful that Bush and his colleagues could soon find themselves facing similar trials elsewhere in the world.

The eight accused are Bush; former US Vice President Richard Cheney; former US Defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld; former Counsel to Bush, Alberto Gonzales; former General Counsel to the Vice President, David Addington; former General Counsel to the Defense Secretary, William Haynes II; former Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo.

Tribunal president judge Tan Sri Lamin Mohd Yunus said the eight accused were also individually and jointly liable for crimes of torture in accordance with Article 6 of the Nuremberg Charter. “The US is subject to customary international law and to the principles of the Nuremberg Charter and exceptional circumstances such as war, instability and public emergency cannot excuse torture.”

* * *

The Star (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) reports:

Bush Found Guilty of War Crimes

KUALA LUMPUR: The War Crimes Tribunal has convicted former US President George W. Bush and seven of his associates as war criminals for torture and inhumane treatment of war crime victims at US military facilities.

However, being a tribunal of conscience, the five-member panel chaired by tribunal president judge Lamin Mohd Yunus had no power to enforce or impose custodial sentence on the convicted eight.

“We find the witnesses, who were victims placed in detention illegally by the convicted persons and their government, are entitled to payment of reparations,” said Lamin at a public hearing held in an open court at the Kuala Lumpur Foundation to Crimi­na­lize War yesterday.

He added that the tribunal’s award of reparations would be submitted to the War Crimes Commission and recommended the victims to find a judiciary entity that could enforce the verdict.

The tribunal would also submit the finding and records of the proceedings to the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, the United Nations’ Security Council.

On Thursday, head of the prosecution Prof Gurdial Singh Nijar said Bush had issued an executive order to commit war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Five former Iraqi detainees, who were tortured while being detained in various prisons, including Guantanamo Bay, were called to give their testimonies before the Tribunal during the trial which started on May 7.

* * *

The Malaysia Sun reports:

[...] In a unanimous vote on Saturday the symbolic Malaysian war crimes tribunal, part of an initiative by former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, found the former US President guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Former Malaysian Premier Mahatir Mohamad said of Bush and others: “These are basically murderers and they kill on large scale.”Seven of his former political associates, including former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, were also found guilty of war crimes and torture.

Press TV has reported the court heard evidence from former detainees in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay of torture methods used by US soldiers in prisons run by the American forces.

One former inmate described how he had been subjected to electric shocks, beatings and sexual abuse over a number of months.

A high ranking former UN official, former UN Assistant Secretary General, Denis Halliday, who also attended the trial, later told Press TV that the UN had been too weak during the Bush administration to enforce the Geneva Conventions.

He said: “The UN is a weak body, corrupted by member states, who use the Security Council for their own interests. They don’t respect the charter. They don’t respect the international law. They don’t respect the Geneva Conventions… A redundant, possibly a dangerous, and certainly corrupted organization.”

Following the hearing, former Malaysian premier Mahatir said of Bush and others: “These are basically murderers and they kill on large scale.”

It was the second so-called war crimes tribunal in Malaysia.

The token court was first held in November 2011 during which Bush and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair were found guilty of committing “crimes against peace” during the Iraq war.

Obama and the Denial of Genocide March 15, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Genocide, Human Rights.
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Published on Monday, March 15, 2010 by Foreign Policy in Focus (FPIF)by Stephen Zunes

The Obama administration, citing its relations with Turkey, has pledged to block the passage in the full House of Representatives of a resolution passed this past Thursday by the Foreign Relations Committee acknowledging the 1915 genocide by the Ottoman Empire of a 1.5 million Armenians.  Even though the Obama administration previously refused to acknowledge and even worked to suppress well-documented evidence of recent war crimes by Israel, another key Middle Eastern ally, few believed that the administration would go as far as to effectively deny genocide.

Following the committee vote, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that “We are against this decision,” and pledged that the administration would “work very hard” to prevent the bill from coming to the floor.  Despite widespread support for the resolution by House Democrats, she expressed confidence that the administration would find a means of blocking the resolution, saying, “Now we believe that the U.S. Congress will not take any decision on this subject.”

As candidates, both Clinton and Barack Obama had pledged that their administrations would be the first to formally recognize the Armenian genocide. Clinton acknowledged that this was a reversal, but insisted that circumstances had “changed in very significant ways.” The State Department, however, has been unable to cite any new historical evidence that would counter the broad consensus that genocide had indeed taken place in the waning years of the Ottoman Empire. The official excuse is that it might harm an important rapprochement between Armenia and Turkey. However, there is no indication the Armenian government is at all concerned about potential negative fallout in their bilateral relations over a resolution passed by a legislative body in a third country. 

More likely, the concern is over not wanting to jeopardize the cooperation of Turkey, which borders Iran, in the forthcoming enhanced sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Back in 2007, a similar resolution acknowledging the Armenian genocide also passed through the House Foreign Relations Committee.  Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi promised that she would allow it to come for a vote. With 226 cosponsors – a clear majority of the House – there was little question it would pass.  However, in response to claims by the Bush White House and Republican congressional leaders that it would harm the “Global War on Terror,” Pelosi broke her promise and used her power as speaker to prevent a vote on the resolution. She will also certainly buckle under pressure from an administration of her own party.

The Historical Record

Between 1915 and 1918, under orders of the leadership of the Ottoman Empire, an estimated two million Armenians were forcibly removed from their homes in a region that had been part of the Armenian nation for more than 2,500 years. Three-quarters of them died as a result of execution, starvation, and related reasons.

According to Henry Morgenthau, U.S. ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during that period, “When the Turkish authorities gave the orders for these deportations, they were merely giving the death warrant to a whole race; they understood this well, and, in their conversations with me, they made no particular attempt to conceal the fact.” While issuing a “death warrant to a whole race” would normally be considered genocide by any definition, this apparently isn’t the view of the Obama administration.

The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, signed and ratified by the United States, officially defines genocide as any effort “to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such.” The earliest proponent of such an international convention was Raphael Lemkin, a Polish Jewish lawyer who originally coined the term “genocide” and identified the Armenian case as a definitive example.

Dozens of other governments – including Canada, France, Italy, and Russia – and several UN bodies, as well as 40 U.S. states, have formally recognized the Armenian genocide. The Obama administration does not, however, and is apparently determined to prevent Congress from doing so.

Congress has previously gone on record condemning Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for refusing to acknowledge the German genocide of the Jews.  Congress appears unwilling, however, to challenge Obama’s refusal to acknowledge the Ottoman genocide of the Armenians.  While awareness of anti-Semitism is fortunately widespread enough to marginalize those who refuse to acknowledge the Holocaust, tolerance for anti-Armenian bigotry appears strong enough that it’s still considered politically acceptable to deny their genocide.

The Turkey Factor

 Opponents of the measure argue that they’re worried about harming relations with Turkey, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire and an important U.S. ally. However, the United States has done much greater harm in its relations with Turkey through policies far more significant than a symbolic resolution acknowledging a tragic historical period. The United States clandestinely backed an attempted military coup by right-wing Turkish officers in 2003, arming Iraqi and Iranian Kurds with close ties to Kurdish rebels in Turkey who have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of Turkish citizens. The United States also invaded neighboring Iraq. As a result, the percentage of Turks who view the United States positively declined from 52 percent to only 9 percent.

Generations of Turks have been taught that there was no Ottoman genocide of the Armenians, but that there were scattered atrocities on both sides. Indeed, most Turks believe their country is being unfairly scapegoated, particularly when the United States refuses to label its treatment of American Indians as genocide or acknowledge more recent war crimes.  As a result, some argue that a more appropriate means of addressing the ongoing Turkish denial of historical reality would be through dialogue and some sort of re-education, avoiding the patently political device of a congressional resolution that would inevitably make Turks defensive.

Failure to acknowledge the genocide, however, is a tragic affront to the rapidly dwindling number of genocide survivors as well as their descendents.  It’s also a disservice to the many Turks who opposed the Ottoman Empire’s policies and tried to stop the genocide, as well as the growing number of Turks today who face imprisonment by their U.S.-backed regime for daring to publicly concede the crimes of their forebears. For example, Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish novelist who won the 2006 Nobel Prize for literature, was prosecuted and fled into exile to escape death threats after making a number of public references to the genocide.

Some opponents of the resolution argue that it is pointless for Congress to pass resolutions regarding historical events. Yet there were no such complaints regarding resolutions commemorating the Holocaust, nor are there normally complaints regarding the scores of dedicatory resolutions passed by Congress in recent years, ranging from commemorating the 65th anniversary of the death of the Polish musician and political leader Ignacy Jan Paderewski to noting the 150th anniversary of the first meeting of the Republican Party in Wisconsin.

The Obama administration insists that that this is a bad time to upset the Turkish government.  However, it was also considered a “bad time” to pass the resolution back in 2007, on the grounds that it not jeopardize U.S. access to Turkish bases as part of efforts to support the counter-insurgency war by U.S. occupation forces in Iraq. It was also considered a “bad time” when a similar resolution was put forward in 2000 because the United States was using its bases in Turkey to patrol the “no fly zones” in northern Iraq.  And it was also considered a “bad time” in 1985 and 1987, when similar resolutions were put forward because U.S. bases in Turkey were considered important listening posts for monitoring the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

For deniers of the Armenian genocide, it’s always a “bad time.”

While the passage of the resolution would certainly lead to strong diplomatic protests from Turkey, it is dubious that there would be much of a rupture between Ankara and Washington.  When President Ronald Reagan, a major backer of the right-wing military dictatorship then ruling Turkey, once used the term genocide in relation to Armenians, U.S.-Turkish relations did not suffer.

The Obama administration, like administrations before it, simply refuses to acknowledge that the Armenian genocide even took place.  As recently as the 1980s, the Bulletin of the Department of State claimed that “Because the historical record of the 1915 events in Asia Minor is ambiguous, the Department of State does not endorse allegations that the Turkish government committed genocide against the Armenian people.”  Even more recently, Paul Wolfowitz, who served as deputy secretary of defense in President George W. Bush, stated in 2002 that “one of the things that impress me about Turkish history is the way Turkey treats its own minorities.”

The operative clause of the resolution simply calls upon Obama “to ensure that the foreign policy of the United States reflects appropriate understanding and sensitivity concerning issues related to human rights, ethnic cleansing, and genocide documented in the United States record relating to the Armenian Genocide and the consequences of the failure to realize a just resolution.”  Therefore, if Obama really doesn’t want Congress to pass such a resolution, all he needs to do is make an executive order acknowledging the genocide.  Despite whatever excuses one wants to make, failure to do so amounts to genocide denial.

Genocide Denial

Given the indisputable record of the Armenian genocide, many of those who refuse to recognize Turkey’s genocide of Armenians, like those who refuse to recognize Germany’s genocide of European Jews, are motivated by ignorance and bigotry. The Middle East scholar most often cited by members of Congress as influencing their understanding of the region is the notorious genocide-denier Bernard Lewis, a fellow at Washington’s Institute of Turkish Studies.

Not every opponent of the current resolution explicitly denies that there was genocide. Some acknowledge that genocide indeed occurred, but have apparently been convinced that it’s detrimental to U.S. security to state this publicly. This is still inexcusable.  Such moral cowardice is no less reprehensible than refusing to acknowledge the Holocaust if it were believed that doing so might upset the German government, which also hosts critical U.S. bases.

Obama is not the first Democratic president to effectively deny the Armenian genocide. President Bill Clinton successfully persuaded House Speaker Dennis Hastert to suppress a similar bill, after it passed the Republican-led Foreign Relations Committee by a vote of 40-7 and was on its way to easy passage before the full House. President Jimmy Carter also suppressed a Senate effort led by Bob Dole, whose miraculous recovery from near-fatal wounds during World War II was overseen by an Armenian-American doctor who had survived the genocide.

Interestingly, neoconservatives – quick to defend crimes against humanity by the Bush administration, the Israeli government, and others – are opportunistically using Obama’s flip-flop on this issue as evidence of the moral laxity of Democrats on human rights. 

Adolf Hitler, responding to concerns about the legacy of his crimes, once asked, “Who, after all, is today speaking of the destruction of the Armenians?” Obama is sending a message to future tyrants that they can commit genocide without acknowledgement by the world’s most powerful country.

Indeed, refusing to recognize genocide and those responsible for it in a historical context makes it easier to deny genocide today.  In 1994, the Clinton also refused to use the word “genocide” in the midst of the Rwandan government’s massacres of over half that country’s Tutsi population, a decision that contributed to the delay in deploying international peacekeeping forces until after the slaughter of 800,000 people.   

As a result, the Obama administration’s position on the Armenian genocide isn’t simply about whether to commemorate a tragedy that took place 95 years ago. It’s about where we stand as a nation in facing up to the most horrible of crimes. It’s about whether we are willing to stand up for the truth in the face of lies. It’s about whether we see our nation as appeasing our strategic allies or upholding our longstanding principles.

© 2010 Foreign Policy in Focus

Stephen Zunes is Middle East editor for Foreign Policy In Focus. He is a professor of Politics at the University of San Francisco and the author of Tinderbox: U.S. Middle East Policy and the Roots of Terrorism (Common Courage Press, 2003.)

A New Report Questions ‘Suicides’ at Guantanamo December 7, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture, War.
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Published on Monday, December 7, 2009 by Salon.comby Glenn Greenwald

On the night of June 10, 2006, three Guantanamo detainees were found dead in their individual cells.  Without any autopsy or investigation, U.S. military officials proclaimed “suicide by hanging” as the cause of each death, and immediately sought to exploit the episode as proof of the evil of the detainees.  Admiral Harry Harris, the camp’s commander, said it showed “they have no regard for life” and that the suicides were “not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetric warfare aimed at us here at Guantanamo”; another official anonymously said that the suicides showed the victims were “committed jihadists [who] will do anything they can to advance their cause,” while another sneered that “it was a good PR move to draw attention.”Questions immediately arose about how it could be possible that three detainees kept in isolation and under constant and intense monitoring could have coordinated and then carried out group suicide without detection, particularly since the military claimed their bodies were not found for over two hours after their deaths.  But from the beginning, there was a clear attempt on the part of Guantanamo officials to prevent any outside investigation of this incident.  To allay the questions that quickly emerged, the military announced it would conduct a sweeping investigation and publicly release its finding, but it did not do so until more than two years later when — in August, 2008 — it released a heavily redacted reported purporting to confirm suicide by hanging as the cause.  Two of the three dead detainees were Saudis and one was Yemeni; they had been detained for years without charges; one of them was 17 years old at the time he was detained and 22 when he died; and they had participated in several of the hunger strikes at the camp to protest the brutality, torture and abuse to which they were routinely subjected.  Perversely, one of the three victims had been cleared for release earlier that month.

A major new report from Seton Hall University School of Law released this morning raises serious doubts about both the military’s version of events and the reliability of its investigation.  The Report details that the three men “died under questionable circumstances”; that “the investigation into their deaths resulted in more questions than answers”; and that “without a proper investigation, it is impossible to determine the circumstances of the three detainees’ deaths.”  The 54-page, heavily-documented Report raises numerous troubling questions, as illustrated by these (click images to enlarge):

There is one way that a meaningful investigation could be conducted into what happened to these three detainees:  a lawsuit filed in federal court by the parents of two of the detainees against various Bush officials for the torture and deaths of their sons — who had never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any wrongdoing (indeed, one had been cleared for release).  By itself, discovery in that lawsuit would shed critical light on what was done to these detainees and what caused their deaths.

The problem, however, is that the Obama DOJ has been using every Bush tactic — and inventing whole new ones — to block the lawsuit from proceeding.  As The Washington Independent‘s Daphne Eviatar detailed in October, “the Obama administration has surprisingly endorsed the same legal positions as its predecessor, insisting that there is no constitutional right to humane treatment by U.S. authorities outside the United States, and that victims of torture and abuse and their survivors have no right to compensation or even an acknowledgment of what occurred.”  As Eviatar wrote about the Obama position, which — among other things — invokes the Military Commissions Act to argue that Congress stripped federal courts of jurisdiction to hear even Constitutional claims from Gitmo detainees:

The Obama administration is insisting, however, that Congress had the power to eliminate judicial review of these claims. It also argues that the Defense Department officials are immune from suit, because, as the Bush Justice Department argued in previous cases, it wasn’t clear at the time that detainees had a right not to be tortured by U.S. officials at Guantanamo. They therefore have “qualified immunity” from suit.

But the Justice Department goes further than that. Under President Obama, the government is arguing not only that it wasn’t clear what rights detainees were entitled to back in 2006, but that even today the prisoners have no right to such basic constitutional protections as due process of law or the right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. The “Fifth and Eighth Amendments do not extend to Guantánamo Bay detainees,” writes the Justice Department in its brief.

And, the government argues, the courts should not imply a right to sue under the Constitution, in part because that could lead to “embarrassment of our government abroad.”

 

Ultimately, the Obama administration is arguing, victims of torture at a U.S.-run detention center abroad have no right to redress from the federal government. Only the military can take action in such cases, by disciplining military officers for abuse of prisoners.

In fact, the Brief filed by the Obama DOJ demanding dismissal of the case explicitly argues — in classic Bush/Cheney fashion — that merely allowing discovery in this case to determine what was done to these detainees would help the Terrorists kill us all:

All of this is depressingly consistent with multiple other cases in which the Obama DOJ is attempting aggressively to shield even the most illegal and allegedly discontinued Bush programs from judicial review.  Time and again, the most radical Bush claims of executive power, immunity and secrecy (ones Democrats and even Obama frequently condemned) are invoked to insist that federal courts have no right to adjudicate claims that the Government violated the Constitution and the law.  As Harper‘s Scott Horton documented over the weekend, a new filing by the Obama DOJ in defense of John Yoo is “seeking to make absolute the immunity granted Justice Department lawyers who counsel torture, disappearings, and other crimes against humanity.”  In other words, as we lecture the world about the need for them to apply the rule of law and hold war criminals accountable, we simultaneously proclaim about ourselves:

We can kidnap your sons from anywhere in the world, far away from any “battlefield,” ship them thousands of miles away to an island-prison, abuse and torture them mercilessly, and when we either drive them to suicide or kill them, you have no right to any legal remedy or even any recourse to find out what happened.  

As Horton writes, the claim that government officials enjoy a virtually impenetrable shield of immunity even in the commission of war crimes “has emerged as a sort of ignoble mantra for the Justice Department, uniting both the Bush and Obama administrations.”   Indeed, that is the common strain of virtually every act undertaken by the Obama DOJ with regard to our government’s war crimes and other felonies, from torture to renditions to illegal eavesdropping.

With revelations of serious, recent abuse at an ongoing “black site” prison in Afghanistan, serious questions have been raised about the extent to which detainee abuse has actually been curbed under Obama.  But there’s no question that the single greatest impediment to disclosure and accountability for past abuses is the Obama Justice Department, which has repeatedly gone far beyond the call of duty in its attempt to protect Bush war crimes and other illegal acts.  This new Seton Hall Report regarding these three detainees deaths illustrates not only how perverse and unjust, but also how futile, such efforts are.  War crimes never stay hidden, and the only question from the start was whether the Obama DOJ would be complicit in the attempt to shield them from disclosure.  That question has now been answered rather decisively.

UPDATE:  Scott Horton has an interview with Law Professor Mark Denbeaux, the primary author of the report, in which he elaborates on why the military’s claims and “investigation” are so suspect.

Copyright ©2009 Salon Media Group, Inc.

Glenn Greenwald was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator in New York. He is the author of the New York Times Bestselling book “How Would a Patriot Act?,” a critique of the Bush administration’s use of executive power, released in May 2006. His second book, “A Tragic Legacy“, examines the Bush legacy.

US Unveils Extended Bagram Prison November 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Published on Monday, November 16, 2009 by Al Jazeera English

Journalists have been allowed to inspect refurbished facilities at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan, the largest US military hub in the region and home to a controversial prison.

[A U.S. soldier talks to reporters in a cell block at a new detention centre at the U.S. Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul November 15, 2009. The new prison was built at a cost of $60 million and will replace an existing one located on the same base. (REUTERS/Jonathon Burch) ]
A U.S. soldier talks to reporters in a cell block at a new detention centre at the U.S. Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul November 15, 2009. The new prison was built at a cost of $60 million and will replace an existing one located on the same base. (REUTERS/Jonathon Burch)

Al Jazeera’s correspondent James Bays, who was among those who inspected the facilities on Sunday, said Bagram, unlike its Guantanamo counterpart, was clearly not going to be shut down soon.”The new prison wing cost some $60 million to build … and is meant to be part of a new era of openness and transparency,” Bays said.

“But we were not shown the detainees. Human-rights lawyers say that, while the environment for the prisoners may be changing, their legal situation is not … not having been charged. Nor has any civilian lawyer ever been allowed inside.”

Bays said the extended prison could hold up to 1,000 detainees, but was at present holding around 700 inmates, including 30 foreign prisoners.

Detainees ‘beaten’

Omar Dighayes, a former detainee at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, said the Bagram prison resembled a concentration camp.

“People were beaten, dragged, tortured in it. There were high places where guards stood with guns. It was a hard, difficult place,” he told Al Jazeera.

But he said he doubts the newly refurbished Bagram prison will improve conditions for its detainees, one of which includes his brother-in-law, whom Dighayes says was recently “badly beaten” inside Bagram.

“I don’t think it’s the facilities which make the difference, it’s the treatment of people inside.

“Everybody who worked in Bagram – from the American side – will tell you that the things I’m describing did happen. People from the military intelligence [and] people from the FBI have spoken about the barbaric treatment at this facility.”

But General Mark Martins, who runs detention operations at the airbase, said the US military was improving its treatment of detainees and had learnt many lessons since occupying the country in 2001.

“Detention, if not done properly, can actually harm the effort. We are a learning organisation … we believe transparency is certainly going to help the effort, and increase the credibility of the whole process,” Martins said.

‘Guantanamo’s evil twin’

However, Clara Gutteridge, an investigator of secret prisons and renditions from the human rights organisation, Reprieve, said Bagram is seen as “Guantanamo’s lesser-known evil twin”.

“All this talk about transparency, and the US government still won’t release a simple list of names of prisoners who are in Bagram,” she told Al Jazeera.

“None of them have had access to a lawyer … and that just seems very unfair.

“We at Reprieve see this as the next big fight after Guantanamo Bay.

“But one thing that the US government is saying is that Afghan prisoners in Afghanistan have less rights than any other prisoner which just seems absurd.”

Bagram Air Field is the largest US military hub in Afghanistan and is home to about 24,000 military personnel and civilian contractors.

Tens of millions of dollars continue to be spent on expanding and upgrading facilities – turning Bagram into a town spread over about 5,000 acres.

Base expansion

The air field part of the complex is already handling 400 tonnes of cargo and 1,000 passengers daily, according to Air Force spokesman Captain David Faggard.

It is continuing to grow to keep up with the requirements of an escalating war and troop increases.

Among new options being considered in Washington is regional commander General Stanley McChrystal’s request to bring an additional 40,000 troops to Afghanistan.But even with current troop levels – 65,000 US troops and about 40,000 from allied countries – Bagram already is bursting at the seams, our correspondent reported.

Plans are under way to build a new, $22m passenger terminal and a cargo yard costing $9m. To increase cargo capacity, a parking ramp supporting the world’s largest aircraft is to be completed in early 2010.

Bagram was previously a major Soviet base during Moscow’s 1979-89 occupation of Afghanistan, providing air support to Soviet and Afghan forces fighting the mujahidin.

Bagram lies in Parwan, a relatively quiet province. The Taliban is not believed to have a significant presence in the province.

But the base is susceptible to rocket and mortar attacks. In 2009, the Taliban launched more than a dozen attacks on the base, killing four and wounding at least 12, according to Colonel Mike Brady, a military spokesman.

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

© 2009 Aljazeera.net/english

Terror and torture May 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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abu-ghraib-matthew-langleyArtwork: Matthew Langley

Jim Miles

www.onlinejournal.com, May 1, 2009

The current media frenzy concerning Obama’s coming release of more information on U.S. torture between 2000 and 2005 is a political storm conveniently kept out of context.

There are two aspects to the context that are missing. First, this is not new information and well before current events erupted into the news, the case has been made all along that the Bush administration in general — Bush and Cheney, their political advisors and legal representatives — are all complicit in contravening the Geneva Conventions on torture and the treatment of prisoners of war. Secondly, terror and torture go hand in glove, the two are fully related and have been used by the U.S. and its proxies in many different contexts around the world — and are still doing so as Obama has put an end to torture at Guantanamo, but has not denied renditions to friendly torturers elsewhere.

The spin-doctors in the White House are no longer allowing the use of the term “war on terror” although the facts of the war have not changed. As the global war on whatever or the long war on whomever continues, the abuses associated with terror and torture will continue to spread.

The initiator of terror, of course, is the occupier of foreign territories creating the obvious wish on the part of the indigenous populations for the occupier to go home, currently involving most of the Middle East from Israel/Palestine through to Pakistan. This has happened throughout history, ancient and modern, from the Crusades and the Mongol hordes through the genocide of native populations in the Americas to the more modern terrors of a highly developed technological warfare that readily conquers “enemies” as defined by the political elites for a variety of reasons, from religious zealotry to political zealotry, frequently one and the same thing, seen most evidently in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. . . . and Pakistan?

Put in simpler terms, the U.S. uses terror, the U.S. uses torture, its allies and compatriots use terror, use torture, and as the U.S. expands its war frontiers further into Pakistan, so will the edges of terror and torture expand.

Power and control

Torture is ultimately about power and control. It ranges from the pure brutality of physical torture often described in many of the wars for suppression of indigenous control in Central America to the more ‘refined’ torture currently used to break down a prisoner’s psychological persona without leaving the physical scars of the less sophisticated forms of torture. Torture is used to create terror, to create a population that is subservient and easily controlled by the very fear of the terror that it spreads. In turn, as terror and torture strips away the thin layers of civilization that control man’s baser instincts, terror and torture become devices used by the combatants on both sides.

As the most powerful country in the world, the U.S. role in abrogating human rights and crimes against humanity have a powerful effect elsewhere in the world. “The actions of the United States have also made it more difficult to critize the violations of international law by other countries, most notably Israel.” What occurred at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Bagram airbase “bear more than a passing resemblance” with the “testimonies of Palestinians released from Israeli prisons.” [1]

As expressed shortly after Abu Ghraib, “the powerful often turn to torture in times of crisis not because it works but because it salves their fears and insecurities with the psychic balm of empowerment.” Even though torture does not do what it is purported to do, provide useful information, “a plea to torture one terrorist with a ticking bomb becomes the rationale for insecure leaders to win the right to torture someone, anyone, to assuage the uncertainties of rule and empower themselves for dominion.” [2]

Obama

I have no sympathy — and perhaps a seed of disdain — for Obama’s current problems on the political front with his inheritance of the Bush legacy of torture. If the world is to look forward with “hope” for “change” it needs to start at home. Simply releasing more information will provide neither hope nor change. If Obama wishes to be more than a man of wonderful sounding phrases, he will have to do what is correct by international law and arrange whatever is necessary under U.S. law to investigate and prosecute those involved with the torture — not just the low level people, those “following orders,” but the ones in the executive and legislative branches who formed the concept and provided the legal okay for it, contrary to international laws.

From readings of international law, Obama himself becomes guilty of torture as anyone who is complicit with aiding and abetting torture becomes guilty of the crime. If he refuses to act, then under international standards, Obama becomes guilty of the crime. Unfortunately the U.S. is one of the most contradictory countries when it comes to upholding laws, always telling others that they need to be transparent, open, democratic, but when it suits its own purposes it relies on ignoring, abrogating, or denying international law.

Guilty until proven innocent

Phillippe Sands’ work “Torture Team” examines one particular case related to Guantanamo and arrives at the clear conclusion that there is good case for prosecuting Bush, Cheney, Feith, Haynes, Gonzales, Yoo, Bybee and others from this case in itself. [3] Others included in this list are the medical workers, physicians and psychologists, who supported those actually applying the torture.

Within its own internal laws the U.S. has provided immunity from prosecution under the Military Commissions Act as it “Gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.” [4]

Sands adds, “Legislation creating such an immunity would allow the crime to be covered up: it was almost an admission that a crime had occurred.” [5] That immunity, however arguable under U.S. law, does not extend outside the U.S.: “Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, any country may prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by anyone anywhere.” [6]

Alfred McCoy in “A Question of Torture — CIA Interrogation From the Cold War to the War on Terror” examines the history of torture up to the days of Abu Ghraib. He starts by stating “five intertwined aspects of its perverse psychology,” the fifth of which needs to be restated strongly today: “ . . . a nation that sanctions torture in defiance of its democratic principles pays a terrible price. For nearly two millennia, the practice has been identified with tyrants and empires. For the past two centuries, its repudiation has been synonymous with the humanist ideals of the Enlightenment and democracy. When any modern state tortures even a few victims, the stigma compromises its majesty and corrupts its integrity. Its officials must spin an ever more complex web of lies that, in the end, weakens the bonds of trust and the rule of law that are the sine qua non of a democracy.” [7]

For Obama to avoid complicity, for Obama to not be seen as opposing basic human rights, for Obama to avoid being labelled an ineffective orator, he needs to act on the information that is at hand and proceed with some form of investigation that has the power it needs to fully complete its legal tasks. For the U.S. to not be seen as it has for the past decade as a country that trammels other people’s international rights, the people of the U.S., and their elected representatives, need to support that investigation.

Canadian complicity

Canada is a minor player on the world political scene, increasingly seen as nothing more than a U.S. puppet, a minion succouring favour, trying to be one of the big boys on the global stage by supporting the Bush doctrine, even after Bush is gone. The Canadian government under Harper has supported the U.S. in Afghanistan and currently on into Pakistan without considering the context of who started the great mujahideen warriors in the first place (the U.S. CIA and Pakistani ISI) and why they are now fighting them in Central Asia (gas, oil, containment of China and Russia).

This complicity extends to torture. The case of Maher Arar is a relatively well-known extradition case that the government aided in. More recently, now that Guantanamo is being shut down, a Canadian citizen Omar Khadr is being denied entry back into Canada even though the Federal Court has said it should be allowed. One of the government’s arguments is that Khadr needs to be processed through the U.S. legal system (hmm . . . see above) even though under international law he could be tried here in Canada. While Harper wishes to appear tough on terrorism, he is only making himself complicit in the illegal practices utilized by the U.S. at Guantanamo, soon perhaps to be sanctioned by Obama as well.

The Canadian pretender to the throne, whom I do not always agree with, appears to understand the situation more clearly than Harper. Michael Ignatieff states, . . . even in emergency, even if some liberties must be suspended, a constitutional state must remain answerable to the higher law, a set of standards that protect foundational commitments to the dignity of every person. [8]

Terror’s answer

Terror is an act of aggression. It is part and parcel of the nature of warfare, and is a particular conjoint of unilateral preemptive warfare. The answer to terror is twofold. First the initiating countries, those that are doing the invading, manipulating, coercive activities, need to stop. The second is that terror used in response to terror cannot be stopped by war, but needs to be stopped by international police work and the upholding of international law internally and internationally by all parties.

For Canada, hopefully, Harper will see the last of his controlling reign in the next election and equally hopefully, Ignatieff can stand up his own beliefs in human rights extending beyond state legalities. Obama needs to act in his own backyard and ignore his own state legalities of the Military Commissions Act, or terror will continue regardless of any war label applied to U.S. actions. If it cannot be contained and brought to justice in the U.S., it will not happen internationally.

[1] Byers, Michael. War Law — Understanding International Law and Armed Conflict. Douglas & McIntyre, Vancouver, 2005. p. 154.

[2] McCoy, Alfred W. A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror. Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York, 2006. p. 207.

[3] Sands, Phillippe. Torture Team — Deception, Cruelty and the Compromise of Law. Allen Lane (Penguin), 2008. See review at

[4] Anup Shah. “Military Commissions Act 2006—Unchecked Powers?Znet. October 02, 2006.

[5] Sands, ibid, p. 252.

[6] Byers, ibid, p. 143

[7] McCoy, ibid, p. 14.

[7] Ignatieff, Michael. The Lesser Evil — Political Ethics in an Age of Terror. Princeton University, 2004. p. 44.

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.

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The Spanish’s Judge vs. Bush’s Architects of Torture April 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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by Matthew Rothschild

Hallelujah, finally someone in authority is going after at least some of the Bushies who were the architects of the torture policies.

Tellingly, it’s not President Barack Obama or Attorney General Eric Holder.

In fact, it’s not anyone in the United States.

No, it’s the Spanish judge Baltasar Garzón, the same man who took down General Augusto Pinochet.

He’s drawn up a 98-page complaint (here’s a crude, computerized translation) against six former Bush Administration officials and has handed the complaint over to Spanish prosecutors.

The officials under investigation are:

Alberto Gonzales, who was White House counsel, and then Attorney General.

David Addington, Cheney’s chief of staff.

John Yoo, the Justice Department lawyer who wrote up some of the most infamous memos on torture.

Jay Bybee, who also drafted Justice Department policy on torture and amazingly is now an appellate court judge.

And William Haynes and Douglas Feith, who were high up in the Defense Department.

I’ve looked at the complaint, in rough translation as well as in its original Spanish, and it lays out, in detail, how these six individuals tried to “justify the unjustifiable” and legalize war crimes.

For instance, it cites a visit by Addington and Haynes to Guantanamo on September 25, 2002, where Addington ordered a lieutenant colonel to “do what needs to be done” in direct reference to obtaining information from a prisoners there.

It says that a memo Haynes drew up, and Rumsfeld approved, a list of “18 forms of torture.”

It says that the six people named were all lawyers and, malevolently used their legal skills “actively and decisively in the development, approval, and launching” of a dubious legal framework.

This framework denied “basic rights to a number of important prisoners,” it protected “people who participate in illegal activities and torture, and it was designed, “above all, to establish the absolute impunity for all officials, soldiers, doctors, and other staff” in Guantanamo.

Congratulations to Judge Garzón for refusing to accept impunity.

My only wish is that Judge Garzón would expand his list of targets to include not only the six mentioned above, but also Rumsfeld, Cheney, and yes, Bush, too.

Because they all were in on it.

Matthew Rothschild is the editor of The Progressive magazine.

Spanish Judge Accuses Six Top Bush Officials of Torture March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Legal moves may force Obama’s government into starting a new inquiry into abuses at Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib

by Julian Borger and Dale Fuchs

MADRID – Criminal proceedings have begun in Spain against six senior officials in the Bush administration for the use of torture against detainees in Guantánamo Bay. Baltasar Garzón, the counter-terrorism judge whose prosecution of General Augusto Pinochet led to his arrest in Britain in 1998, has referred the case to the chief prosecutor before deciding whether to proceed.

 

[A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seen in this photo from Aug. 28, 2007, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)]A Spanish court has agreed to consider opening a criminal case against six former Bush administration officials, including former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, seen in this photo from Aug. 28, 2007, over allegations they gave legal cover for torture at Guantanamo Bay, a lawyer in the case said. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The case is bound to threaten Spain’s relations with the new administration in Washington, but Gonzalo Boyé, one of the four lawyers who wrote the lawsuit, said the prosecutor would have little choice under Spanish law but to approve the prosecution. 

“The only route of escape the prosecutor might have is to ask whether there is ongoing process in the US against these people,” Boyé told the Observer. “This case will go ahead. It will be against the law not to go ahead.”

The officials named in the case include the most senior legal minds in the Bush administration. They are: Alberto Gonzales, a former White House counsel and attorney general; David Addington, former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff; Douglas Feith, who was under-secretary of defence; William Haynes, formerly the Pentagon’s general counsel; and John Yoo and Jay Bybee, who were both senior justice department legal advisers.

Court documents say that, without their legal advice in a series of internal administration memos, “it would have been impossible to structure a legal framework that supported what happened [in Guantánamo]“.

Boyé predicted that Garzón would issue subpoenas in the next two weeks, summoning the six former officials to present evidence: “If I were them, I would search for a good lawyer.”

If Garzón decided to go further and issued arrest warrants against the six, it would mean they would risk detention and extradition if they travelled outside the US. It would also present President Barack Obama with a serious dilemma. He would have either to open proceedings against the accused or tackle an extradition request from Spain.

Obama administration officials have confirmed that they believe torture was committed by American interrogators. The president has not ruled out a criminal inquiry, but has signalled he is reluctant to do so for political reasons.

“Obviously we’re going to be looking at past practices, and I don’t believe that anybody is above the law,” Obama said in January. “But my orientation’s going to be to move forward.”

Philippe Sands, whose book Torture Team first made the case against the Bush lawyers and which Boyé said was instrumental in formulating the Spanish case, said yesterday: “What this does is force the Obama administration to come to terms with the fact that torture has happened and to decide, sooner rather than later, whether it is going to criminally investigate. If it decides not to investigate, then inevitably the Garzón investigation, and no doubt many others, will be given the green light.”

Germany’s federal prosecutor was asked in November 2006 to pursue a case against Donald Rumsfeld, the former defence secretary, Gonzales and other officials for abuses committed in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. But the prosecutor declined on the grounds that the issue should be investigated in the US.

Legal observers say the Spanish lawsuit has a better chance of ending in charges. The high court, on which Garzón sits, has more leeway than the German prosecutor to seek “universal jurisdiction”.

The lawsuit also points to a direct link with Spain, as six Spaniards were held at Guantánamo and are argued to have suffered directly from the Bush administration’s departure from international law. Unlike the German lawsuit, the Spanish case is aimed at second-tier figures, advisers to Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld, with the aim of being less politically explosive.

The lawsuit claimed the six former aides “participated actively and decisively in the creation, approval and execution of a judicial framework that allowed for the deprivation of fundamental rights of a large number of prisoners, the implementation of new interrogation techniques including torture, the legal cover for the treatment of those prisoners, the protection of the people who participated in illegal tortures and, above all, the establishment of impunity for all the government workers, military personnel, doctors and others who participated in the detention centre at Guantánamo”.

“All the accused are members of what they themselves called the ‘war council’,” court documents allege. “This group met almost weekly either in Gonzales’s or Haynes’s offices.”

In a now notorious legal opinion signed in August 2002, Yoo and Bybee argued that torture occurred only when pain was inflicted “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death”.

Another key document cited in the Spanish case is a November 2002 “action memo” written by Haynes, in which he recommends that Rumsfeld give “blanket approval” to 15 forms of aggressive interrogation, including stress positions, isolation, hooding, 20-hour interrogations and nudity. Rumsfeld approved the document.

The 1984 UN Convention against Torture, signed and ratified by the US, requires states to investigate allegations of torture committed on their territory or by their nationals, or extradite them to stand trial elsewhere.

Last week, Britain’s attorney general, Lady Scotland, launched a criminal investigation into MI5 complicity in the torture of Binyam Mohamed, a British resident held in Guantánamo.

The Obama administration has so far avoided taking similar steps. But the possibility of US prosecutions was brought closer by a report by the Senate armed services committee at the end of last year, which found: “The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorised their use against detainees.”

None of the six former officials could be reached for comment yesterday. Meanwhile, Vijay Padmanabhan, a former state department lawyer, said the creation of the Guantánamo Bay detention camp was “one of the worst over-reactions of the Bush administration”.

Justice for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni People March 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa.
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Ken Saro Wiwa – Environmental and human rights activist, executed in 1995 

 

Justice for Ken Saro-Wiwa and the Ogoni People

On April 27, 2009 the Ogoni people of Nigeria will finally have their chance at justice when the families of famed activist Ken Saro-Wiwa and his colleagues, who were sentenced to death in a sham trial in Nigeria and hanged in 1995, will show that Royal Dutch Shell was at the very least complicit in their deaths and likely colluded with the Nigerian military to quell peaceful protests through murder, torture and destruction of villages. The plaintiffs’ attorneys will use a U.S. law on the books since 1789 called the Alien Tort Statute (ATS) that allows violations of international law to be tried in U.S. courts. Violations include extrajudicial execution; torture; crimes against humanity; cruel inhuman and degrading treatment; arbitrary arrest and detention; and violations of the rights to life, liberty, security of person, and freedom of expression and association.

 

Learn more about the events and background of Ogoni Struggle

 

Visit WiwavShell.org for more information about the legal charges and proceedings and tell a friend about the case!

 

JINN Needs Volunteers!

JINN is looking for volunteers for various tasks including:

  • Help with web 2.0 tools
  • Write and edit documents
  • Update JINN website (expereince with wordpress a plus!)
  • Edit audio and video clips
  • Flyer at events
  • Event publicity
  • Administrative tasks 

Contact Sarah at the JINN office for more information . JINN is located in San Francisco.  We can use your help in our office and remotely.

 

Upcoming Events

Featured Event:

 

Justice In Nigeria Now presents:

 

Delta Force, a Documentary by Glen Ellis about Ken Saro- Wiwa and the Struggle for the Ogoni People

 

Followed by a Panel Discussion about the upcoming case against Shell

 

April 15, 2009 

 

6pm – Wine and Beer Receptionshell04.jpg

7pm – Film Screening

8pm – Panel Discussion 

 

Artist Television Access

992 Valencia Street (at 21st)

San Francisco, CA 94110

(415)824-3890

ata@atasite.org

 

This is a benefit screening for Justice In Nigeria Now:  www.justiceinnigerianow.org

 

$10-$30 suggested donation (no one turned away for lack of funds)

   

 

 

On November 10, 1995, Nigerian environmental activist and internationally acclaimed non-violent resistance leader Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 of his Ogoni colleagues were executed by Nigeria’s brutal military dictatorship. This one hour documentary, tells the story of the rise of Saro-Wiwa and the Movement for Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP) and its violent suppression by the Nigerian military with the complicity of Shell Oil.

 

On April 27, 2009 relatives of Ken Saro-Wiwa and other MOSOP members will bring Shell to trial in New York for the company’s complicity in the death of the Ogoni 9. Join us at this benefit for Justice in Nigeria Now (JINN) to support JINN while socializing and learning about the Ogoni and the upcoming trial.

STOP AFRICOMafricomLogo.jpg

Wednesday, April 8

6:00 – 8:00 pm

La Pena Cultural Center
3105 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley – Map
 
Light snacks and refreshments available.
This is a free event, open to the public.
 
Association of Concerned, Africa Scholars (ACAS) & Priority Africa Network Present:

The new U.S. Military Command for Africa threatens to escalate the militarization of all aspects of U.S. policy towards Africa. Come learn what the Africa Command is all about, what’s at stake, and how we can stop it.
 
Watch Resist Africom’s 8 min  video

Multimedia presentations and speakers: Daniel Volman, Director African Security Research Project Dr. Amina Mama, Nigerian Distinguished Professor of Ethnic Studies, Mills College
 
Sponsoring organizations: Africa Action, American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), Black Alliance for Just Immigration (BAJI), Global Exchange, Justice In Nigeria Now (JINN), KPFA Radio’s Africa Today, War Times, Women of Color Resource Center (WCRC), United for Peace & Justice (UFPJ) Bay Area, Vukani Mawethu Choir
 
For tabling opportunities, contact Priority Africa Network at Tel: (510) 238 8080 ext. 309 or email us at PriorityAfrica@yahoo.com

Cheney’s Mission Accomplished March 17, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Juan Cole

www.juancole.com, March 17, 2009

 

Dick Cheney: “I guess my general sense of where we are with respect to Iraq and at the end of now, what, nearly six years, is that we’ve accomplished nearly everything we set out to do….”

What has Dick Cheney really accomplished in Iraq?

  • An estimated 4 million Iraqis, out of 27 million, have been displaced from their homes, that is, made homeless. Some 2.7 million are internally displaced inside Iraq. A couple hundred thousand are cooling their heels in Jordan. And perhaps a million are quickly running out of money and often living in squalid conditions in Syria. Cheney’s war has left about 15% of Iraqis homeless inside the country or abroad. That would be like 45 million American thrown out of their homes.

  • It is controversial how many Iraqis died as a result of the 2003 invasion and its aftermath. But it seems to me that a million extra dead, beyond what you would have expected from a year 2000 baseline, is entirely plausible. The toll is certainly in the hundreds of thousands. Cheney did not kill them all. The Lancet study suggested that the US was directly responsible for a third of all violent deaths since 2003. That would be as much as 300,000 that we killed. The rest, we only set in train their deaths by our invasion.
  • Baghdad has been turned from a mixed city, about half of its population Shiite and the other half Sunni in 2003, into a Shiite city where the Sunni population may be as little as ten to fifteen percent. From a Sunni point of view, Cheney’s war has resulted in a Shiite (and Iranian) take-over of the Iraqi capital, long a symbol of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialism.
  • In the Iraqi elections, Shiite fundamentalist parties closely allied with Iran came to power. The Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq, the leading party in parliament, was formed by Iraqi expatriates at the behest of Ayatollah Khomeini in 1982 in Tehran. The Islamic Mission (Da’wa) Party is the oldest ideological Shiite party working for an Islamic state. It helped form Hizbullah in Beirut in the early 1980s. It has supplied both prime ministers elected since 2005. Fundamentalist Shiites shaped the constitution, which forbids the civil legislature to pass legislation that contravenes Islamic law. Dissidents have accused the new Iraqi government of being an Iranian puppet.

    Arab-Kurdish violence is spiking in the north, endangering the Obama withdrawal plan and, indeed, the whole of Iraq, not to mention Syria, Turkey and Iran.

  • Hundreds of thousands of Iraqi women have been widowed by the war and its effects, leaving most without a means of support. Iraqi widows often lack access to clean water and electricity. Aljazeera English has video.

  • $32 billion were wasted on Iraq reconstruction, and most of it cannot even be traced. I repeat, Cheney gave away $32 bn. to anonymous cronies in such a way that we can’t even be sure who stole it, exactly. And you are angry at AIG about $400 mn. in bonuses! We are talking about $32 billion given out in brown paper bags.
  • Political power is being fragmented in Iraq with big spikes in the murder rate in some provinces that may reflect faction-fighting and vendettas in which the Iraqi military is loathe to get involved.
  • The Iraqi economy is devastated, and the new government’s bureaucracy and infighting have made it difficult to attract investors.
  • The Bush-Cheney invasion helped further destabilize the Eastern Mediterranean, setting in play Kurdish nationalism and terrifying Turkey.

    Cheney avoids mentioning all the human suffering he has caused, on a cosmic scale, and focuses on procedural matters like elections (which he confuses with democracy– given 2000 in this country, you can understand why). Or he lies, as when he says that Iran’s influence in Iraq has been blocked. Another lie is that there was that the US was fighting “al-Qaeda” in Iraq as opposed to just Iraqis. He and Bush even claim that they made Iraqi womens’ lives better.

    The real question is whether anyone will have the gumption to put Cheney on trial for treason and crimes against humanity.

  • A Real Criminal Investigation of Bush/Cheney; No Truth Commission! March 16, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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    By Martin Garbus, Huffington Post. Posted March 9, 2009.

    Judges and jurors, not politicians or unelected commission members, should determine whether Bush & Co. broke the law.

    It’s really quite simple. Truth and Reconciliation commissions, Congressional committees and blue ribbon commissions like the 9/11 Commission, are not deterrents to torture, illegal surveillance or lawyers on the Justice Department who attempted to justify the torture. They have a very limited function.

    But they don’t punish anyone; don’t deter anyone, don’t even put pressure on the people who committed the acts and cannot really get at the truth to determine responsibility. They do not bring the full force of America’s 230 years of law down on the offenders. They don’t truly help rein in the powers of future presidents or defense secretaries who want to do the same or similar acts the next time they react to what they see as an extraordinary crisis. And different presidents, Democrats and Republicans from Woodrow Wilson and the prosecutions during the Red Scare, to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the internment of 110,000 Japanese, Lyndon Johnson, lying about the Gulf of Tonkin and to dramatically increase troop strength, nearly always find crisis and overreact.

    Senator Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called at different times for either a Truth and Reconciliation commission or a Blue Ribbon commission. Neither is appropriate.

    The best truth and reconciliation model comes from the South African experience. In South Africa, these commissions were used to begin the healing after the brutality of apartheid. It grants the confessing wrongdoers immunity. It was for a different time and place.

    The Blue Ribbon commission gets attention and, along with Congressional committees, can get exposures and may help lead to better laws. But they create the danger of interfering and at times making impossible criminal trials of criminals. And they let criminals go unpunished.

    Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committees and a former U.S. Attorney, supporting Leahy’s call, said that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis, and “it is beside the point” if it endangers criminal prosecutions.

    We should go ahead with criminal prosecutions. It is the only way, through grand juries, subpoenas and trials, to get the facts and help America clean up some of its recent past.

    The American people, immersed as they are in the economic crisis, are angry about torture and other illegalities of the Bush administration and want those prosecutions.

    The February, 2009 USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 38 percent of Americans favor criminal prosecution of torturers, 38 percent for prosecution of those who used illegal surveillance, and 41 percent for those involved in the subversion of the Justice Department. Americans by a wide margin are in favor of criminal prosecutions than independent or Congressional panels. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe something must be done — we can’t walk away from the crimes against humanity committed in our name.

    The argument is made that criminal prosecutions area too difficult, too lengthy, too expensive, too political and will keep the country divided. But there have always been political expensive and difficult trials. We have had long, expensive, political trials for John Dean during Watergate, Eliot Abrams during Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby today and even Aaron Burr nearly two hundred years ago.

    Leahy argues against criminal prosecutions because “a failed attempt to prosecute for this conduct might be the worst result of all if it is seen as justifying dishonest actions.” But that’s true for every criminal prosecution — should murderers, John Ehrlichmann, Scooter Libby or Enron officials not be prosecuted because the possibility of an acquittal justifies their actions? If so, junk the criminal system.

    We can’t leave it to politicians. Many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are alleged to have known about the torture and surveillance programs and either approved or said nothing. Pelosi (who, interestingly, has called for criminal prosecutions) has consistently equivocated on what she knew and when she knew it. It’s unlikely Democrats on commissions, let alone Republicans, are going to pursue the inquiry to its final end. They will undermine Congressional Commissions, and blue ribbon Commissions, but they cannot so easily undermine criminal prosecutions.

    The criminal trials of the chief of the Bush defendants can certainly be shorter and probably less expensive than the Barry Bonds or Scooter Libby prosecution, and less purely political than Thomas Jefferson’s presidentially controlled prosecution of Aaron Burr.

    The Bush people violated some clear specific crimes. Failing to get wiretaps permission from the Federal Internal Security Courts is a felony. Representatives of the Justice Department, local police and federal agent who participated in break-ins or wiretaps without warrants, are guilty of clear and unambiguous federal crimes. Federal Agents who did illegal surveillance even when the Justice Department refused to sign off on its illegality can be found guilty. Violation of the Federal Anti-Torture Act, which has been on the books for years, bars citizens from committing torture abroad, is a felony.

    The War Crimes Act of 1996 is violated even if there is not what the Bush defendants would claim is “torture.” That act punishes those who act cruelly and inhumanely. Waterboarding, vicious dogs, and exposing detainees to temperature extremes could all be punished by a jury.

    Bush’s people, afraid of the applicability of the War Crimes Act, inserted a provision into a 2006 law that made the War Crimes Act retroactively ineffective. But Congress can change that now, that law can be used for prosecutions.

    The defense will claim, say opponents of criminal trials, that defendants relied on the now infamous August 1, 2002 legal opinion of the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, and his assistants justifying torture and the opinions on illegal surveillance creating fog and evasion and therefore, they will get off. And that all the lawyers did was give their albeit controversial opinions, a full defense. Jurors will get confused by legal experts who support the views of the Bush lawyers. It’s too complicated for a jury, we are told.

    But we have prosecuted lawyers, experts and those who rely on legal or accounting opinions in many cases. Kenneth Lay could refer to legal or accounting documents prepared to justify his case all day long and not be saved. The legal opinions rendered by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and David Addington are such transparent documents that an American jury of citizens is, at the very least entitled to have an opportunity to pass judgment on them. Even as lawyers within the Bush administration repudiated the opinions, the illegal practices went on. No jury would have difficulty in rejecting John Yoo’s memorandum that reject the basic tenets of an American democracy.

    Can a jury really decide the tough questions, such as whether Alberto Gonzales’ opinion, concluding the Geneva Convention Protections do not apply to prisoners of war captured for Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Of course. A jury can determine if the legal opinion was a facade to justify actions already taken — only the legal process with grand juries and subpoenas has any hope of piercing the wall of defense that will be used to block that inquiry. Those memos were not used to interpret the law — they were intentionally written to change the law. No Commission can hope to get facts behind these opinions as quickly as the Courts.

    Our criminal law has specific status that reach overseas to punish torturers. Section 2340A of our Federal Criminal Code makes it a crime for any person “outside the United States to commit or attempt to commit torture.” But, say the critics of criminal prosecution, torture is too vague a word for a prosecution. Not so. Judges and juries routinely define much vaguer terms – what does “reasonable doubt of guilt” or “reasonable doubt of guilt with a degree of moral certainty.” What does cruel and inhuman treatment mean? They are always past precedents to help us define these terms.

    Juries determine competency in cases interpreting wills and estates, and sanity in criminal cases, with the help of experts, whom they often barely understand.

    It is wrong to say that lower level officials, or lower level military personnel can get off by claiming they followed higher orders. They did what fellow soldiers did – they followed the morality culture created by their environment and superiors. That’s not a defense. When police officers in Los Angeles, Jackson, or New York beat prisoners, or deny them rights, most know they are violating the laws — they do it nonetheless. And they can be and often are prosecuted.

    At times CIA personnel and people within the White House knew with certainty they were acting illegally. When the CIA destroyed at least 92 interrogation tapes to cover up what was done to the detainees, they violated a specific court order that prohibited that destruction.

    I don’t have a religious faith in the majesty of the law. It is just the far best alternative.

    Is the criminal prosecutors and the process itself often flawed? Of course. At times, are the guilty declared innocent and the innocent declared guilty? Of course. Do conviction make it far less likely that torture will continue? Probably so. Will a string of successful prosecutions ensure that we will never have Americans participate in torture or illegal surveillance? Probably not. Does it make torture and illegal surveillance less likely? Yes.

    At the end of the day, I would rather have American jurors, bound by the Constitution and the law, make the decision rather than politicians or unelected blue ribbon commission members. I would rather have the judges, bound by precedent and law, determine what is, and is not legal.

    President Obama has said this is not the time to look back but to look forward. There was a claim that the need for bipartisanship argued against prosecution. But the illusion of bipartisanship, if it ever truly existed, has been broken.

    President Obama and the Congress should now name a Special Prosecutor.

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