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Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 69 Years Later August 7, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, History, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, War.
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Roger’s note: Defenders of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings allege that they saved the lives of untold thousands of American and Japanese soldiers who would have died in an invasion of Japan.  This, as a justification for the unleashing of atomic warfare and the massive civilian death and destruction, is highly questionable speculation.  Credible historians have concluded that Japan was already defeated and that the bombings were unnecessary to achieve surrender.  Some point to evidence that the bombings were a warning signal to the Soviet Union.

August 6, 1945 and not December 7, 1941 is truly the day that will go down in infamy.

 

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Hiroshima, Japan in the wake of the atomic bomb dropped by the U.S. on August 6, 1945. (Photo: flickr / cc)

“I hate war,” Koji Hosokawa told me as we stood next to the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima, Japan. The skeletal remains of the four-story building stand at the edge of the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park. The building was one of the few left standing when the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima at 8:15 a.m. on Aug. 6, 1945. Three days later, the U.S. dropped the second bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of civilians were killed—many instantly, and many more slowly from severe burns and what would come to be understood as radiation sickness.

The world watches in horror this summer as military conflicts rage, leaving destruction in their wake from Libya, to Gaza, to Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine. Never far from the dead and injured, nuclear-armed missiles stand by at the alert, waiting for the horrible moment when hubris, accident or inhumanity triggers the next nuclear attack. “I hate war,” Hosokawa reiterated. “War makes everyone crazy.”

Koji Hosokawa was 17 years old in 1945, and worked in the telephone exchange building, less than 2 miles from ground zero. “I miraculously survived,” he told me. His 13-year-old sister was not so fortunate: “She was … very close to the hypocenter, and she was exposed to the bomb there. And she was with a teacher and the students. In all, 228 people were there together with her.” They all died.

We walked through the park to the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. There, on display, were the images of death: the shadows of victims burned into the walls of buildings, the pictures of the fiery chaos that followed the bombing, and of the victims of radiation. Almost seven decades later, Hosokawa’s eyes tear up in the recollection. “My biggest sorrow in my life is that my younger sister died in the atomic bomb,” he said.

The day before my meeting with Koji Hosokawa, I sat down in Tokyo to interview Kenzaburo Oe, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was 10 years old in 1945. “When Japan experienced the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, this was a greater catastrophe than anything we had ever known,” he told me. “The feeling of having to survive this, go beyond this and renew from this, was great.”

Now nearing 80, Kenzaburo Oe thinks deeply about the connection between the atomic bombings and the disaster at Fukushima, the nuclear power plant meltdown that began when Japan was struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011. The Nobel laureate told the French newspaper Le Monde: “Hiroshima must be engraved in our memories: It’s a catastrophe even more dramatic than natural disasters, because it’s man-made. To repeat it, by showing the same disregard for human life in nuclear power stations, is the worst betrayal of the memory of the victims of Hiroshima.”

After the Fukushima disaster, Oe said, “all Japanese people were feeling a great regret … the atmosphere in Japan here was almost the same as following the bombing of Hiroshima at the end of the war. Because of this atmosphere, the government [in 2011], with the agreement of the Japanese people, pledged to totally get rid of or decommission the more than 50 nuclear power plants here in Japan.”

A-bomb survivors like Koji Hosokawa, writers like Kenzaburo Oe, and hundreds of thousands of others, now elderly, have lived through the dawn of the nuclear age in 1945 and seen its potential for devastation recently, at Fukushima. Nuclear-weapon arsenals and nuclear power plants each pose separate, horrific risks to humanity, yet the two are connected, with the byproducts of some power plants usable as material for nuclear warheads. Whether from an act of war, or an act of terrorism from a so-called loose nuke in the hands of a non-state actor, or from an uncontrolled meltdown at a nuclear power plant, nuclear disasters are massively destructive. Yet they are completely preventable. We need a new way of thinking, a new effort to eliminate nuclear weapons and shift to safe, renewable energy, worldwide.

As we were leaving the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Koji Hosokawa told me to stop. He looked me in the eye, and told me not to forget the victims: “People lived here. They lived here.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

The Egyptian Counterrevolution Will Not Be Televised June 27, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Egypt, Mining.
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Roger’s note: the Egyptian “elected” dictator, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, attended training sessions in the UK and the USA.  He is no doubt an “asset” of these two powerful paragons of Western democracy.  It only matters that he is pro-American, no matter how oppressive and tyrannical with respect to the Egyptian media and opposition.  If Obama says the Egyptian coup was not a coup, who is there to contradict him, as long as the US millions in military aid keep flowing.

“It is the flow of information, not the flow of military aid, that is essential to the functioning of a democratic society,” writes Amy Goodman. (Photo: cropped from Andy Carvin/cc/flickr)

Egypt sentenced three Al-Jazeera journalists this week to severe prison terms, in court proceedings that observers described as “farcical.” Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed were charged with fabricating news footage, and thus supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in a military coup a year ago and labeled a terrorist organization. Along with the three jailed journalists, three other foreign journalists were tried and convicted in absentia. Greste, who is Australian, and Fahmy, who is Canadian-Egyptian, received seven-year prison sentences. Baher Mohamed, who is Egyptian, was dealt a 10-year sentence, ostensibly because he had an empty shell casing in his possession, which is an item that many journalists covering conflicts pick up off the street as evidence. The prosecutors called that possession of ammunition. The harsh, six-month pretrial imprisonment, the absurd trial itself and now these sentences have generated global outrage. A movement is growing to demand clemency or release for these three journalists. But while the words of the Obama administration support their freedom, the U.S. government’s actions, primarily in pledging to resume military aid to Egypt, send the opposite message.

The three journalists who were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison are Al-Jazeera correspondent Sue Turton, along with Dominic Kane and Dutch journalist Rena Netjes. Speaking on the “Democracy Now!” news hour from Doha, Qatar, where Al-Jazeera is based, Turton told me: “The verdicts left us all here at Al-Jazeera quite stunned. We dared to believe that the verdict would be ‘not guilty,’ because we had sat and watched the court sessions over the past few months, and we’d seen absolutely no evidence that the prosecution had brought that proved in any way, shape or form the charges against us.”

Jailed journalist Greste has won awards for his work around the world for Reuters and the BBC prior to Al-Jazeera. Fahmy was working as Al-Jazeera’s Cairo bureau chief at the time of the trio’s Dec. 29, 2013, arrest. He has also worked for CNN, contributed to The New York Times and worked with “PBS NewsHour.” Margaret Warner, the chief foreign-affairs correspondent for “NewsHour,” worked with Fahmy while covering the Egyptian revolution in 2011 when her crew was attacked. She said of Fahmy’s efforts that day: “He absolutely saved our lives. I’m no legal expert, but I can tell you that Mohamed Fahmy struck me … as nothing more and nothing less than a professional journalist.”

In a letter sent to the newly elected President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, more than 75 journalists, including “Democracy Now!” correspondent Sharif Abdel Kouddous, who is himself Egyptian-American, wrote: “As journalists, we support the release of all of our Egyptian or international colleagues who may be imprisoned for doing what they believed to be their jobs.”

The Committee to Protect Journalists noted, “While the focus has been on the Al-Jazeera journalists, in fact Egypt is currently holding at least 14 journalists in prison, placing the country among the world’s worst repressors.” Amnesty International is calling on people around the world to appeal to President Sisi, writing: “All three men are prisoners of conscience, imprisoned solely for the peaceful exercise of their right to free expression. Egypt must immediately drop the charges against the three journalists and let them go free.”

Of course, not all voices calling for freedom are equal. When the sentences were handed down in court this week, Mohamed Fahmy shouted from his cage, “Where is John Kerry?” It was a very important question. The day before the verdict was issued, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was in Cairo, meeting with Sisi.

Egypt has long been one of the largest recipients of U.S. aid, averaging $1.5 billion-$2 billion per year since 1979. Since the coup d’etat last year, that aid has been halted, but the U.S. says it is resuming military aid. One of Kerry’s former colleagues in the Senate, Patrick Leahy, warned, “The harsh actions taken today against journalists is the latest descent toward despotism.” So how is it that the U.S. is restoring more than $500 million in military aid right now?

From his home in Australia, Peter Greste’s father, Juris Greste, said, “Journalism is not a crime,” echoing the sentiment that has gone global. In newsrooms the world over, from the BBC and the Toronto Star to Hong Kong, journalists and staff are posting photos of their mouths covered with tape, protesting Egypt’s oppression of the press. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry should take heed. A threat to the freedom of the press is a threat to the public’s right to know. It is the flow of information, not the flow of military aid, that is essential to the functioning of a democratic society.
Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Nuclear’s Demise, From Fukushima to Vermont August 31, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Energy, Environment, Japan, Nuclear weapons/power, Vermont.
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Fukushima showed us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of shutting it down

 

… And they did. (Photo: Greenpeace)Welcome to the nuclear renaissance.

Entergy Corp, one of the largest nuclear-power producers in the US, issued a surprise press release Tuesday, saying it plans “to close and decommission its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon, Vermont. The station is expected to cease power production after its current fuel cycle and move to safe shutdown in the fourth quarter of 2014.” Although the press release came from the corporation, it was years of people’s protests and state legislative action that forced its closure. At the same time that activists celebrate this key defeat of nuclear power, officials in Japan admitted that radioactive leaks from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear catastrophe are far worse than previously acknowledged.

“It took three years, but it was citizen pressure that got the state Senate to such a position”, nuclear-energy consultant Arnie Gundersen told me of Entergy’s announcement. He has coordinated projects at 70 nuclear plants around the country and now provides independent testimony on nuclear and radiation issues. He explained how the state of Vermont, in the first such action in the country, had banned the plant from operating beyond its original 40-year permit. Entergy was seeking a 20-year extension.

The legislature, in that 26-to-4 vote, said: ‘No, we’re not going to allow you to reapply. It’s over. You know, a deal’s a deal. We had a 40-year deal.’ Well, Entergy went to first the federal court here in Vermont and won, and then went to an appeals court in New York City and won again on the issue, as they framed it, that states have no authority to regulate safety.

Despite prevailing in the courts, Entergy bowed to public pressure.

Back in 2011, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who called Entergy “a company that we found we can’t trust”, said on “Democracy Now!“:

We’re the only state in the country that’s taken power into our own hands and said that, without an affirmative vote from the state legislature, the public service board cannot issue a certificate of public good to legally operate a plant for another 20 years. Now, the Senate has spoken … saying no, it’s not in Vermont’s best interest to run an aging, leaking nuclear-power plant. And we expect that our decision will be respected.

The nuclear-power industry is at a critical crossroads. The much-touted nuclear renaissance is collapsing, most notably in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, compounded by the global financial crisis. In a recent paper titled “Renaissance in Reverse”, Mark Cooper, senior fellow for economic analysis at the Vermont Law School, writes, “The problem for old nuclear reactors has become acute.” The costs to operate, and to repair, these plants have prompted operators to shutter five of the 104 operating power generating reactors in the US this year alone, leaving 99. Cooper has identified 30 more that he estimates will be shut down, because “the economics of old reactors are very dicey”.

The profound consequences of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power accident are still unfolding, as this week the Japanese Nuclear Regulatory Agency increased its assessment of the situation there to “level three”, or serious, on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale. The original accident in March 2011 was rated a “seven” on that scale, the highest, most severe, threat. The nuclear fuel rods there require constant cooling by water. The spent cooling water is highly radioactive. The Tokyo Electric Power Co, which ran Fukushima and which has been responsible for all the cleanup, has been storing the radioactive water in hastily-constructed water tanks, which are now leaking. Gundersen said:

The surveys of the area determined that the radiation coming from the ground was five times more in an hour than a normal person would get in a year. Radioactive water is leaking out of this plant as fast as it’s leaking in. So, you’ve got something on the order of 400 tons to maybe even as much as a thousand tons of water a day leaking off of the mountains around Fukushima into the basement of this plant. Well, the basement is highly radioactive because the containment has failed and radioactive material is leaking out from the nuclear core into the other buildings. That’s being exposed to this clean groundwater and making it extraordinarily radioactive. … And the problem is going to get worse.

 

The Fukushima disaster has been compared to the catastrophe in Chernobyl, where a nuclear plant exploded in 1986, making the surrounding region uninhabitable. The radiation is spilling out of Fukushima into an ever-growing radioactive plume in the Pacific Ocean.

Fukushima shows us the intolerable costs of nuclear power. The citizens of Vermont show us the benefits of just saying no.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Dead Man Walking, 20 Years On June 20, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
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Published on Thursday, June 20, 2013 by TruthDig.com 

  by  Amy Goodman

Thirty years ago, a Catholic nun working in a poor neighborhood of New Orleans was asked if she would be a pen pal to a death-row prisoner. Sister Helen Prejean agreed, forever changing her life, as well as the debate on capital punishment in this country.

Her experiences inspired her first book, “Dead Man Walking: An Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty in the United States,” which has just been republished on its 20th anniversary. She was a pen pal with Patrick Sonnier, a convicted murderer on death row in Louisiana’s notorious Angola prison. In her distinctive Southern accent, she told me of her first visit to Sonnier: “It was scary as all get-out. I had never been in a prison before. … I was scared to meet him personally. When I saw his face, it was so human, it blew me away. I got a realization then, no matter what he had done … he is worth more than the worst thing he ever did. And the journey began from there.”

Photo: michele molinari/cc/flickr

Sister Helen became Sonnier’s spiritual adviser, conversing with him as his execution approached. She spent his final hours with him, and witnessed his execution on April 5, 1984. She also was a spiritual advisor to another Angola death row prisoner, Robert Lee Willie, who was executed the same year. The book was made into a film, directed by Tim Robbins and starring Susan Sarandon as Prejean and Sean Penn as the character Matthew Poncelet, an amalgam of Sonnier and Williams. Sarandon won the Oscar for Best Actress, and the film’s success further intensified the national debate on the death penalty.

The United States is the only industrialized country in the world still using the death penalty. There are currently 3,125 people on death row in the U.S., although death-penalty opponents continue to make progress. Maryland is the most recent state to abolish capital punishment. After passage of the law, Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wrote: “Evidence shows that the death penalty is not a deterrent, it cannot be administered without racial bias, and it costs three times as much as life in prison without parole. What’s more, there is no way to reverse a mistake if an innocent person is put to death.”

Studies of the racial bias abound. The Death Penalty Information Center, citing a recent Louisiana Law Review study, reports that in Louisiana, the odds of a death sentence were 97 percent higher for crimes in which the victim was white than those where the victim was African-American. Nationally, 75 percent of the cases that resulted in an execution had white victims.

Although Colorado is not one of the states to abolish the death penalty, Gov. John Hickenlooper used his executive authority to grant a temporary reprieve to one of the three death-row prisoners there, saying, “It is a legitimate question whether we as a state should be taking lives.”

This week, Indiana released a former death-row prisoner. Paula Cooper was convicted for the 1985 murder of Ruth Pelke. Cooper was sentenced to death at the age of 16, and was, at the time, the youngest person on death row in this country. Pelke’s grandson, Bill Pelke, actively campaigned for clemency for her: “I became convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that my grandmother would have been appalled by the fact that this girl was on death row and there was so much hate and anger towards her.” He went on, “When Paula was taken off of death row in the fall of 1989, I thought, ‘Well, that’s it. She’s off of death row. My mission has been accomplished.’”

Nevertheless, Pelke joined a march from Florida’s death-row prison to Atlanta, on which he met Sister Helen Prejean. “After 17 days of walking down the highways with this nun, you get a real education about the death penalty. It was on that march with Sister Helen Prejean where I dedicated my life to the abolition of the death penalty,” he said. “As long as there’s any state in this world that’s killing their own citizens, I’m going to stand up and say that it’s wrong.”

Prejean said one of her greatest regrets was that she failed to reach out to the families of the murder victims while she was spiritual adviser to Sonnier and Willie. She went on to found Survive, an organization to support families of murder victims like Pelke. She wrapped up our conversation this week by saying: “I’ve accompanied six human beings and watched them be killed. I have a dedication to them to do this; I can’t walk away from this. I’m going to be doing this until I die.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2013 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

WikiLeaks’ New Release: The Kissinger Cables and Bradley Manning April 12, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, History, Wikileaks.
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WikiLeaks has released a new trove of documents, more than 1.7 million U.S. State Department cables dating from 1973-1976, which they have dubbed “The Kissinger Cables,” after Henry Kissinger, who in those years served as secretary of state and assistant to thepresident for national security affairs

.Henry Kissinger. (Flickr/Cliff CC-BY)

One cable includes a transcribed conversation where Kissinger displays remarkable candor: “Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that.”

While the illegal and the unconstitutional may be a laughing matter for Kissinger, who turns 90 next month, it is deadly serious for Pvt. Bradley Manning. After close to three years in prison, at least eight months of which in conditions described by U.N. special rapporteur on torture Juan Ernesto Mendez as “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” Manning recently addressed the court at Fort Meade: “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general, as well as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.”

These words of Manning’s were released anonymously, in the form of an audio recording made clandestinely, that we broadcast on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. This was Bradley Manning, in his own voice, in his own words, explaining his actions.

He testified about the helicopter gunship video that he released to WikiLeaks, which was later made public under the title “Collateral Murder.” In stark, grainy black-and-white, it shows the gunship kill 12 men in Baghdad on July 12, 2007, with audio of the helicopter crew mocking the victims, celebrating the senseless murder of the people below, two of whom were employees of the Reuters news agency.

Manning said: “The most alarming aspect of the video to me, however, was the seemingly delightful bloodlust the aerial weapons team. They dehumanized the individuals they were engaging and seemed to not value human life by referring to them as ‘dead bastards,’ and congratulating each other on the ability to kill in large numbers.”

Reuters had sought the video through a Freedom of Information request, but had been denied. So Manning delivered the video, along with hundreds of thousands of other classified electronic documents, through the anonymous, secure online submission procedure developed by WikiLeaks. Manning made the largest leak of classified documents in U.S. history, and changed the world.

The WikiLeaks team gathered at a rented house in Reykjavik, Iceland, to prepare the video for public release. Among those working was Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of the Icelandic parliament. She told me: “When I saw the video in February 2010, I was profoundly moved. I was moved to tears, like many people that watch it. But at the same time, I understood its significance and how it might be able to change our world and make it better.”

Jonsdottir co-founded the Icelandic Pirate Party, a genuine political party springing up in many, mostly European countries. A lifelong activist, she calls herself a “pixel pirate.”

The “Collateral Murder” video created a firestorm of press attention when it was first released. One of the soldiers on the ground was Ethan McCord, who rushed to the scene of the slaughter and helped save two children who had been injured in the attack. He suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. He recently penned a letter of support for Bradley Manning, writing: “The video released by WikiLeaks belongs in the public record. Covering up this incident is a matter deserving of criminal inquiry. Whoever revealed it is an American hero in my book.”

In the three years since “Collateral Murder” was released in April 2010, WikiLeaks has come under tremendous pressure. Manning faces life in prison or possibly even the death penalty. WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange spent a year and a half under house arrest in Britain, until he sought refuge in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, where he has remained since June 2012, fighting extradition to Sweden. He fears Sweden could then extradite him to the United States, where a secret grand jury may have already issued a sealed indictment against him. Private details from Jonsdottir’s Twitter and four other online accounts have been handed over to U.S. authorities.

WikiLeaks’ latest release, which includes documents already declassified but very difficult to search and obtain, is a testament to the ongoing need for WikiLeaks and similar groups. The revealed documents have sparked controversies around the world, even though they relate to the 1970s. If we had a uniform standard of justice, Nobel laureate Henry Kissinger would be the one on trial, and Bradley Manning would win the Nobel Peace Prize.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 1,100 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

Brennan and Kiriakou, Drones and Torture February 6, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Torture, War on Terror.
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Posted on Feb 6, 2013, http://www.truthdig.com

By Amy Goodman

John Brennan and John Kiriakou worked together years ago, but their careers have dramatically diverged. Brennan is now on track to head the CIA, while Kiriakou is headed off to prison. Each of their fates is tied to the so-called war on terror, which under President George W. Bush provoked worldwide condemnation. President Barack Obama rebranded the war on terror innocuously as “overseas contingency operations,” but, rather than retrench from the odious practices of his predecessor, Obama instead escalated. His promotion of Brennan, and his prosecution of Kiriakou, demonstrate how the recent excesses of U.S. presidential power are not transient aberrations, but the creation of a frightening new normal, where drone strikes, warrantless surveillance, assassination and indefinite detention are conducted with arrogance and impunity, shielded by secrecy and beyond the reach of law.

John Kiriakou spent 14 years at the CIA as an analyst and a case officer. In 2002, he led the team that found Abu Zubaydah, alleged to be a high-ranking member of al-Qaida. Kiriakou was the first to publicly confirm the use of waterboarding by the CIA, in a 2007 interview with ABC’s Brian Ross. He told Ross: “At the time, I felt that waterboarding was something that we needed to do. … I think I’ve changed my mind, and I think that waterboarding is probably something that we shouldn’t be in the business of doing.” Kiriakou says he found the “enhanced interrogation techniques” immoral, and declined to be trained to use them.

Since the interview, it has become known that Zubaydah was waterboarded at least 83 times, and that he provided no useful information as a result. He remains imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, without charge. Kiriakou will soon start serving his 30-month prison sentence, but not for disclosing anything about waterboarding. He pled guilty to disclosing the name of a former CIA interrogator to a journalist, with information that the interrogator himself had posted to a publicly available website.

Meanwhile, John Brennan, longtime counterterrorism advisor to Obama, is expected to receive Senate confirmation as the new director of central intelligence. I recently asked Kiriakou what he thought of Brennan:

“I’ve known John Brennan since 1990. I worked directly for John Brennan twice. I think that he is a terrible choice to lead the CIA. I think that it’s time for the CIA to move beyond the ugliness of the post-September 11th regime, and we need someone who is going to respect the Constitution and to not be bogged down by a legacy of torture. I think that President Obama’s appointment of John Brennan sends the wrong message to all Americans.”

Obama has once already considered Brennan for the top CIA job, back in 2008. Brennan withdrew his nomination then under a hail of criticism for supporting the Bush-era torture policies in his various top-level intelligence positions, including head of the National Counterterrorism Center.

What a difference four years makes. With the killing of Osama bin Laden notched in his belt, Obama seems immune from counterterror criticism. John Brennan is said to manage the notorious “kill list” of people that Obama believes he has the right to kill anytime, anywhere on the planet, as part of his “overseas contingency operations.” This includes the killing of U.S. citizens, without any charge, trial or due process whatsoever. Drone strikes are one way these assassinations are carried out. U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a drone strike, then, two weeks later, his 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, was killed the same way.

I asked Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell from 2002 to 2005, what he thought of Brennan. He told me: “What’s happening with drone strikes around the world right now is, in my opinion, as bad a development as many of the things we now condemn so readily, with 20/20 hindsight, in the George W. Bush administration. We are creating more enemies than we’re killing. We are doing things that violate international law. We are even killing American citizens without due process and have an attorney general who has said that due process does not necessarily include the legal process. Those are really scary words.”

While Kiriakou goes to prison for revealing a name, the U.K.-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism is launching a project called “Naming the Dead,” hoping “to identify as many as possible of those killed in U.S. covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.” The BIJ reports a “minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan.” John Brennan should be asked about each of them.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,000 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

Troy Davis’s Execution Will Be a Judicial Lynching September 18, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Racism.
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Despite evidence that he’s innocent, Troy Davis faces
execution on September 21. With a culture that cheers Rick Perry’s execution
record, what chance does he have?
September 16, 2011  |  Amy Goodman

Death brings cheers these days in America.

In the most
recent Republican presidential debate in Tampa, Florida
, when CNN’s Wolf
Blitzer asked, hypothetically, if a man who chose to carry no medical insurance,
then was stricken with a grave illness, should be left to die, cheers of “Yeah!”
filled the hall. When, in
the prior debate, Governor Rick Perry was asked
about his enthusiastic use
of the death penalty in Texas, the crowd erupted into sustained applause and
cheers. The reaction from the audience prompted debate moderator Brian Williams
of NBC News to follow up with the question, “What do you make of that dynamic
that just happened here, the mention of the execution of 234 people drew
applause?”

That “dynamic” is why challenging the death sentence to be carried out
against Troy Davis by the state of Georgia on
21 September is so important. Davis has been on Georgia’s death row for close to
20 years, after being convicted of killing off-duty police officer Mark MacPhail
in Savannah. Since his conviction, seven of the nine non-police witnesses have
recanted their testimony, alleging police coercion and intimidation in obtaining
the testimony. There is no physical evidence linking Davis to the murder.

Last March, the US
supreme court ruled
that Davis should receive an evidentiary hearing, to
make his case for innocence. Several witnesses have identified one of the
remaining witnesses who has not recanted, Sylvester “Redd” Coles, as the
shooter. US District Judge William T Moore Jr refused, on a technicality, to
allow the testimony of witnesses who claimed that, after Davis had been
convicted, Coles admitted to shooting MacPhail. In his August
court order, Moore summarised
, “Mr Davis is not innocent.”

One of the jurors, Brenda Forrest, disagrees. She told CNN
in 2009, recalling the trial of Davis
, “All of the witnesses – they were
able to ID him as the person who actually did it.” Since the seven witnesses
recanted, she says: “If I knew then what I know now, Troy Davis would not be on
death row. The verdict would be not guilty.”

Troy Davis has three major strikes against him. First, he is an African
American man. Second, he was charged with killing a white police officer. And
third, he is in Georgia.

More than a century ago, the legendary muckraking journalist Ida
B Wells
risked her life when she began reporting on the epidemic of
lynchings in the Deep South. She published Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All
its Phases in 1892 and followed up with The Red Record in 1895, detailing
hundreds of lynchings. She wrote:

“In Brooks County, Georgia, 23 December, while this Christian country was
preparing for Christmas celebration, seven Negroes were lynched in 24 hours
because they refused, or were unable to tell the whereabouts of a colored man
named Pike, who killed a white man … Georgia heads the list of lynching
states.”

The planned execution of Davis will not be at the hands of an unruly mob, but
in the sterile, fluorescently lit confines of Georgia diagnostic and
classification prison in Butts County, near the town of Jackson. The state
doesn’t intend to hang Troy Davis from a tree with a rope or a chain – to hang,
as Billie Holiday sang, like a strange fruit:

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the
root
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from
the poplar trees.”

The state of Georgia, unless its board of pardons and paroles intervenes,
will administer a lethal dose of pentobarbital. Georgia
is using this new execution drug
because the federal Drug Enforcement
Administration seized its supply of sodium thiopental last March, accusing the
state of illegally importing the poison.

“This is our justice system at its very worst,” said Ben Jealous, president
of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Amnesty International has called on the state board of pardons and paroles to
commute Davis’ sentence. “The board stayed Davis’ execution in 2007, stating
that capital punishment
was not an option when doubts about guilt remained,” said Larry Cox, executive
director of Amnesty International USA. “Since then, two more execution dates
have come and gone, and there is still little clarity, much less proof, that
Davis committed any crime. Amnesty International respectfully asks the board to
commute Davis’ sentence to life and prevent Georgia from making a catastrophic
mistake.”

It’s not just the human rights groups the
parole board should listen to. Pope Benedict XVI and Nobel peace prize laureates
President Jimmy Carter and South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, among others,
also have called for clemency. Or the board can listen to mobs who cheer for
death.

• Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column

War, Debt and the President August 3, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, War.
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Published on Wednesday, August 3, 2011 by TruthDig.com

  by  Amy Goodman

President Barack Obama touted his debt ceiling deal Tuesday, saying, “We can’t balance the budget on the backs of the very people who have borne the biggest brunt of this recession.” Yet that is what he and his coterie of Wall Street advisers have done.

In the affairs of nations, Alexander Hamilton wrote in January 1790, “loans in times of public danger, especially from foreign war, are found an indispensable resource.” It was his first report as secretary of the treasury to the new Congress of the United States. The country had borrowed to fight the Revolutionary War, and Hamilton proposed a system of public debt to pay those loans.

“President Obama’s debt ceiling deal is widely considered a historic defeat for progressives, a successful attack on the New Deal and Great Society achievements of the past century.” (photo: U.S. Army / Staff Sgt. Brendan Stephens)

The history of the U.S. national debt is inexorably tied to its many wars. The resolution this week of the so-called debt ceiling crisis is no different. Not only did a compliant Congress agree to fund President George W. Bush’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with emergency appropriations; it did so with borrowed money, raising the debt ceiling 10 times since 2001 without quibbling.

So how did the Pentagon fare in the current budget battle? It looks like it did fine. Not to be confused with the soldiers and veterans who have fought these wars.

“This year is the 50th anniversary of [Dwight] Eisenhower’s military-industrial complex speech,” William Hartung of the Center for International Policy told me while the Senate assembled to vote on the debt ceiling bill. Speaking of the late general turned Republican U.S. president, Hartung said: “He talked about the need for a balanced economy, for a healthy population. Essentially, he’s to the left of Barack Obama on these issues.”

Michael Hudson, president of the Institute for the Study of Long-Term Economic Trends, explained the history of the debt ceiling’s connection to war:

“It was put in in 1917 during World War I, and the idea was to prevent President Wilson from committing even more American troops and money to war. In every country of Europe—England, France—the parliamentary control over the budget was introduced to stop ambitious kings or rulers from waging wars. So the whole purpose was to limit a government’s ability to run into debt for war, because that was the only reason that governments ran into debt.”

The Budget Control Act of 2011 assures drastic cuts to the U.S. social safety net. Congress will appoint a committee of 12, dubbed the “Super Congress,” evenly split between Republicans and Democrats, to identify $1.2 trillion in cuts by Thanksgiving. If the committee fails to meet that goal, sweeping, mandatory, across-the-board cuts are mandated. Social services would get cut, but so would the Pentagon.

Or would it? The Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus opposed the bill. Congressional Black Caucus Chair Emanuel Cleaver called it “a sugarcoated Satan sandwich.” For fiscal years 2012 and 2013, the discretionary funding approved is split between “security” and “nonsecurity” categories. “Nonsecurity” categories like food programs, housing, Medicare and Medicaid (the basis of any genuine national security) will most likely be cut. But the “security” budget will get hit equally hard, which Democrats suggest would be an incentive for Republicans to cooperate with the process.

The security category includes “Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the intelligence community [and] international affairs.” This sets up a dynamic where hawks will be trying to cut as much as possible from the State Department’s diplomatic corps, and foreign aid, in order to favor their patrons at the Pentagon and in the weapons industry.

Hartung explained that the contractors, in addition to having the support of Speaker of the House John Boehner, “had Buck McKeon, the head of the House Armed Services Committee, whose biggest contributor is Lockheed Martin, who’s got big military facilities in his district, [and] Randy Forbes, whose district is near the Newport News Shipbuilding complex, which builds attack submarines and aircraft carriers. They used their influence to get people on the inside, their allies in the House, to push their agenda.”

President Obama’s debt ceiling deal is widely considered a historic defeat for progressives, a successful attack on the New Deal and Great Society achievements of the past century. Congresswoman Donna Edwards, D-Md., summed up the disappointment, in which half the Democrats in the House voted against their president, tweeting: “Nada from million/billionaires; corp tax loopholes aplenty; only sacrifice from the poor/middle class? Shared sacrifice, balance? Really?”

The Project on Government Oversight says of the “Super Congress” that “the creation of the committee doesn’t come with many requirements for transparency.” Who will be the watchdog? With the 2012 election coming up, promising to be the most expensive ever, expect the committee’s deficit-reduction proposal, due by Thanksgiving and subject to an up-or-down vote, to have very little to give thanks for.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

Single-Payer in Vermont, A State of Healthy Firsts May 26, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Vermont.
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Published on Thursday, May 26, 2011 by TruthDig.com

  by  Amy Goodman

Vermont is a land of proud firsts. This small, New England state was the first to join the 13 Colonies. Its constitution was the first to ban slavery. It was the first to establish the right to free education for all — public education.

Today, Vermont will boast another first: the first state in the nation to offer single-payer health care, which eliminates the costly insurance companies that many believe are the root cause of our spiraling health care costs. In a single-payer system, both private and public health care providers are allowed to operate, as they always have. But instead of the patient or the patient’s private health insurance company paying the bill, the state does.

It’s basically Medicare for all — just lower the age of eligibility to the day you’re born. The state, buying these health care services for the entire population, can negotiate favorable rates, and can eliminate the massive overhead that the for-profit insurers impose.

Vermont hired Harvard economist William Hsiao to come up with three alternatives to the current system. The single-payer system, Hsiao wrote, “will produce savings of 24.3 percent of total health expenditure between 2015 and 2024.”

An analysis by Don McCanne, M.D., of Physicians for a National Health Program, pointed out that “these plans would cover everyone without any increase in spending since the single-payer efficiencies would be enough to pay for those currently uninsured or under-insured. So this is the really good news — single payer works.”

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin explained to me his intention to sign the bill into law: “Here’s our challenge. Our premiums go up 10, 15, 20 percent a year. This is true in the rest of the country as well. They are killing small business. They’re killing middle-class Americans, who have been kicked in the teeth over the last several years. What our plan will do is create a single pool, get the insurance company profits, the pharmaceutical company profits, the other folks that are mining the system to make a lot of money on the backs of our illnesses, and ensure that we’re using those dollars to make Vermonters healthy.”

Speaking of healthy firsts, Vermont may become the first state to shutter a nuclear power plant. The Vermont Legislature is the first to empower itself with the right to determine its nuclear future, to put environmental policy in the hands of the people.

Another Vermont first was the legalization of same-sex civil unions. Then the state trumped itself and became the first legislature in the nation to legalize gay marriage. After being passed by the Vermont House and Senate, former Gov. Jim Douglas vetoed the bill. The next day, April 7, 2009, the House and the Senate overrode the governor’s veto, making the Vermont Freedom to Marry Act the law of the land.

Vermont has become an incubator for innovative public policy.

Canada’s single-payer health care system started as an experiment in one province, Saskatchewan. It was pushed through in the early 1960s by Saskatchewan’s premier, Tommy Douglas, considered by many to be the greatest Canadian. It was so successful, it was rapidly adopted by all of Canada. (Douglas is the grandfather of actor Kiefer Sutherland.)

Perhaps Vermont’s health care law will start a similar, national transformation. The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Just replace “group” with “state,” and you’ve got Vermont.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

U.S.-Backed Bloodshed Stains Bahrain’s Arab Spring April 13, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Wednesday, April 13, 2011 by TruthDig.com

by Amy Goodman

Three days after Hosni Mubarak resigned as the long-standing dictator in Egypt, people in the small Gulf state of Bahrain took to the streets, marching to their version of Tahrir, Pearl Square, in the capital city of Manama. Bahrain has been ruled by the same family, the House of Khalifa, since the 1780s—more than 220 years. Bahrainis were not demanding an end to the monarchy, but for more representation in their government.

One month into the uprising, Saudi Arabia sent military and police forces over the 16-mile causeway that connects the Saudi mainland to Bahrain, an island. Since then, the protesters, the press and human-rights organizations have suffered increasingly violent repression.

One courageous young Bahraini pro-democracy activist, Zainab al-Khawaja, has seen the brutality up close. To her horror, she watched her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, a prominent human-rights activist, be beaten and arrested. She described it to me from Manama:

“Security forces attacked my home. They came in without prior warning. They broke down the building door, and they broke down our apartment door, and instantly attacked my father, without giving him a chance to speak and without giving any reason for his arrest. They dragged my father down the stairs and started beating him in front of me. They beat him until he was unconscious. The last thing I heard my father say was that he couldn’t breathe. When I tried to intervene, when I tried to tell them, ‘Please to stop beating him. He will go with you voluntarily. You don’t need to beat him this way,’ they told me to shut up, basically, and they grabbed me … and dragged me up the stairs back into the apartment. By the time I had gotten out of the room again, the only trace of my father was his blood on the stairs.”

Human Rights Watch has called for the immediate release of al-Khawaja. Zainab’s husband and brother-in-law also have been arrested. Tweeting as “angryarabiya,” she has commenced a water-only fast in protest. She also has written a letter to President Barack Obama: “If anything happens to my father, my husband, my uncle, my brother-in-law, or to me, I hold you just as responsible as the AlKhalifa regime. Your support for this monarchy makes your government a partner in crime. I still have hope that you will realize that freedom and human rights mean as much to a Bahraini person as it does to an American.”

Obama condemned the Gadhafi government in his speech justifying the recent military attacks in Libya, saying: “Innocent people were targeted for killing. Hospitals and ambulances were attacked. Journalists were arrested.” Now that the same things are happening in Bahrain, Obama has little to say.

As with the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, the sentiment is nationalist, not religious. The country is 70 percent Shia, ruled by the Sunni minority. Nevertheless, a central rallying cry of the protests has been “Not Shia, Not Sunni: Bahraini.” This debunks the argument used by the Bahraini government that the current regime is the best bulwark against increased influence of Iran, a Shia country, in the oil-rich Gulf. Add to that Bahrain’s strategic role: It is where the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is based, tasked with protecting “U.S. interests” like the Strait of Hormuz and the Suez Canal, and supporting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Surely, U.S. interests include supporting democracy over despots.

Nabeel Rajab is the president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights—the organization formerly run by the recently abducted Abdulhadi al-Khawaja. Rajab is facing a possible military trial for publishing the photograph of a protester who died in custody. Rajab told me: “Hundreds of people are in jail for practicing their freedom of expression. People are tortured for expressing their freedom of expression. Thousands of people sacked from their jobs. … And all that, because one day, a month ago, almost half of the Bahraini population came out in the street demanding democracy and respect for human rights.”

Rajab noted that democracy in Bahrain would lead to democracy in neighboring Gulf dictatorships, especially Saudi Arabia, so most regional governments have a stake in crushing the protests. Saudi Arabia is well-positioned for the task, as the recent beneficiary of the largest arms deal in U.S. history. Despite the threats, Rajab was resolute: “As far as I’m breathing, as far as I’m alive, I am going to continue. I believe in change. I believe in democracy. I believe in human rights. I’m willing to give my life. I’m willing to give anything to achieve this goal.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

© 2011 Amy Goodman

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Amy Goodman

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 900 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

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