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We Are at War All Over The World May 17, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in War, War on Terror.
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 Dave Lefcourt, www.opednews.com, May 17, 2011

If there was any doubt left that we are at war all over the world, let that doubt be completely dispelled.

The specific reason: a classified executive order called, “AQN Ex Ord or Al Qaeda Network Executive Order , , signed by then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in early 2004.” [1]

The order allows “US Special Forces to move into denied areas or countries beyond the official battle zones of Iraq and Afghanistan.” [2]

What began under Bush Jr., “President Obama has reserved the right for US forces to operate lethally and unilaterally in any country around the globe in pursuit of alleged high-value terrorists,” [3] (this was obviously the executive order used by President Obama to take out Osama bin Laden in Pakistan).

To put it simply, we reserve the right to enter ANY country to go after anyone we want to. There are no issues of a nation’s sovereignty, the Geneva Convention on war or any other treaty or international agreement we may have previously entered into and signed. This is all superseded by the aforementioned executive order.

For all intents and purposes our diplomacy with other countries, the treaties and international agreements we previously entered into with all of them are in reality null and void. We have betrayed their trust with this executive order.

Sure we’ll continue the charade of being a respected member of the international community of nations and a country that abides by the rules of international law, but reality says otherwise.

We may even have a Constitution with its separation of powers which mandates separate and equal legislative and judicial branches along with the executive.

But the legislative branch (Congress) has relinquished and abdicated its powers to the executive and has become a mere impediment and sometimes inconvenience to the supreme powers now assumed by the executive. Meanwhile the Supreme Court has remained neutral regarding the respective powers of the executive and the Congress vis-à-vis the Constitution (thus effectively giving the executive a free hand to do as he pleases).

So though the assumption of power is clearly un-Constitutional and illegal, the executive has in reality become a dictatorship while the country retains the appearance and trappings of a representative democracy.

Like the Roman Republic before it some two thousand years ago which subsequently became the Roman Empire in fact (with the ascension of Julius Caesar as Emperor and the deference of the Roman Senate), our republic has in fact descended into an empire.

And with this reality of our imperial over-reach we should no longer wonder why much of the world mistrusts us or even hates us. We have brought this on ourselves.

We have created, through our policies most of the terrorism that exists in the world.

We the people have not been vigilant. Our passiveness and acquiescence has made us enablers to a government run amok that commits us to unnecessary and endless wars against a terrorism our government’s policies created.

We may deceive ourselves with our American “exceptionalism”, our sense of “entitlement” and the egocentric belief the world wants to be like us.

This a mirage, a fantasy and our ultimate illusion.

Yes Osama bin Laden is dead. We killed him, but lest we forget, he was creature of our own creation. He did not erupt spontaneously out of some nothingness.

Unfortunately we keep creating more of his kind with our endless wars and our “lethal and unilateral” operations in any country around the world.

[1] The Kill Team, by Jeremy Scahill, “The Nation”, May 23, 2011.

[2]   See footnote #1

[3]   See footnote #1

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The Corruption That Is Torture March 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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by George Hunsinger

No doubt can any longer exist that the United States has engaged in torture. Recently released chunks of a report by the International Commission of the Red Cross (ICRC) make it distressingly clear that our government has not only systematically tortured, but lied about it through barefaced denials: “We do not torture.” As journalist Mark Danner, who leaked the report, points out: “The ICRC is the guardian of the Geneva Conventions, and when it uses those words”—words like torture or cruel and degrading—”they have the force of law.” A strong prima facie case exists that war crimes of the worst order have been committed.

These crimes cannot be ignored without terrible consequences for our society. A Commission of Inquiry is now essential. The Commission, if it is to be effective, needs to be independent, nonpartisan and impartial. It needs to be composed of persons who are above the fray of politics and known for their ethical integrity. It needs the full cooperation of the executive branch. It probably also needs subpoena power. It should not grant blanket immunity, because its findings may well compel the Department of Justice to take action.

A Commission is no substitute for prosecution. The American people first deserve a full accounting of what has been done in their names. Yet without prosecution the future of the rule of law is in jeopardy. It would not be too much to say that the foundation of civilization is at stake, for torture is not just one issue among others. It is archetypal. It marks the clear bright line throughout history between civilization and barbarism, between dictatorship and constitutional government.

The time has come for our nation to engage in serious self-examination. The “secret” resort to torture has already corrupted our society. Once torture enters into a system, it is very hard to get it out. Torture always comes home. It does not remain confined to the remote corners of detention facilities in the war zone. It always returns to police stations, to state prisons, even to households. A young Presbyterian minister once told me that he had been trying to figure out all his life what had gone wrong with his father. Why was he always so violent and volatile at home? He eventually learned that in Vietnam his father had served in the Special Forces. After participating in the Phoenix Program involving CIA torture and assassinations, he was never the same.

Torture corrupts everything it touches. It corrupts the medical profession when, as Danner makes chillingly clear, torture doctors monitor the victim’s vital signs so that pain can be inflicted to the breaking point without death. It corrupts the psychological profession when torture psychologists help “reverse engineer” techniques of abuse and recommend which ones will be effective. It corrupts the legal profession when torture lawyers draft government memos in torture’s support and devise rationales for war crimes after the fact. It corrupts the media when craven journalists cannot call waterboarding by its proper name while consistently looking the other way. It corrupts the military by undermining the essentials of honor, professionalism and morale. It corrupts the “entertainment” industry by broadcasting forms of mass propaganda that glorify torturers, wonderfully transforming them from monsters into heroes. Not least, it corrupts our nation’s religious communities, who by their silence and needless ignorance become torture’s willing enablers.

As Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel insisted, while few may be guilty, all are responsible. We must all must take responsibility for our nation’s lapse from dignity into torture, from the rule of law into unspeakable crimes. At every level of our common life, we need a season of repentance and renewal. In 1863 Abraham Lincoln called our nation to repentance, to a confession of national sins. Now more than ever we need to do this again. The United States must never again allow itself to be driven by blinding fears and bitter resentments in responding to national tragedy. In a dangerous world torture only undermines our security, while also corrupting our souls.

George Hunsinger is the McCord Professor of Theology at Princeton Theological Seminary. He is the founder of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. http://www.nrcat.org/ Among his recent books is Torture Is a Moral Issue: Christians, Jews, Muslims and People of Conscience Speak Out (Eerdmans, 2008).

Do the Secret Bush Memos Amount to Treason? Top Constitutional Scholar Says Yes March 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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Legal expert Michael Ratner calls the legal arguments made in the infamous Yoo memos, “Fuhrer’s law.”

By Naomi Wolf, AlterNet. Posted March 25, 2009.

In early March, more shocking details emerged about George W. Bush legal counsel John Yoo’s memos outlining the destruction of the republic.

The memos lay the legal groundwork for the president to send the military to wage war against U.S. citizens; take them from their homes to Navy brigs without trial and keep them forever; close down the First Amendment; and invade whatever country he chooses without regard to any treaty or objection by Congress.

It was as if Milton’s Satan had a law degree and was establishing within the borders of the United States the architecture of hell.

I thought this was — and is — certainly one of the biggest stories of our lifetime, making the petty burglary of Watergate — which scandalized the nation — seem like playground antics. It is newsworthy too with the groundswell of support for prosecutions of Bush/Cheney crimes and recent actions such as Canadian attorneys mobilizing to arrest Bush if he visits their country.

The memos are a confession. The memos could not be clearer: This was the legal groundwork of an attempted coup. I expected massive front page headlines from the revelation that these memos exited. Almost nothing. I was shocked.

As a non-lawyer, was I completely off base in my reading of what this meant, I wondered? Was I hallucinating?

Astonished, I sought a reality check — and a formal legal read — from one of the nation’s top constitutional scholars (and most steadfast patriots), Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which has been at the forefront of defending the detainees and our own liberties.

Here is our conversation:

Naomi Wolf: Michael, can you explain to a layperson what the Yoo memos actually mean?’

Michael Ratner: What they mean is that your book looks moderate in respect to those issues now. This — what is in the memos — is law by fiat.

I call it “Fuhrer’s law.” What those memos lay out means the end of the system of checks and balances in this country. It means the end of the system in which the courts, legislature and executive each had a function and they could check each other.

What the memos set out is a system in which the president’s word is law, and Yoo is very clear about that: the president’s word is not only law according to these memos, but no law or constitutional right or treaty can restrict the president’s authority.

What Yoo says is that the president’s authority as commander in chief in the so-called war on terror is not bound by any law passed by Congress, any treaty, or the protections of free speech, due process and the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. The First, Fourth and Fifth amendments — gone.

What this actually means is that the president can order the military to operate in the U.S. and to operate without constitutional restrictions. They — the military —  can pick you or me up in the U.S. for any reason and without any legal process. They would not have any restrictions on entering your house to search it, or to seize you. They can put you into a brig without any due process or going to court. (That’s the Fourth and Fifth amendments.)

The military can disregard the Posse Comitatus law, which restricts the military from acting as police in the the United States. And the president can, in the name of wartime restrictions, limit free speech. There it is in black and white: we are looking at one-person rule without any checks and balances — a lawless state. Law by fiat.

Who has suspended the law this way in the past? It is like a Caesar’s law in Rome; a Mussolini’s law in Italy; a Fuhrer’s law in Germany; a Stalin’s law in the Soviet Union. It is right down the line. It is enforcing the will of the dictator through the military.

NW: The mainstream media have virtually ignored these revelations, though it seems to me this is the biggest news since Pearl Harbor.

MR: I think that’s right. We had a glimmering of the blueprint for some of this — when they picked up Jose Padilla, the military went to a prison and snatched an American citizen as if they had a perfect right to do so.

Now we can see that these memos laid the legal groundwork for such actions. We knew the military could do this to an individual. We did not know the plan was to eliminate First Amendment constitutional rights for the entire population.

NW: If Bush only wanted these powers in order to prosecute a war on terror, why does he need to suspend the First Amendment? Isn’t that the smoking gun of a larger intention toward the general population?

MR: Part of this plan was actually implemented: for instance, they tried to keep people like Padilla from getting to a magistrate. They engaged in the wiretapping, because according to these memos there was no Fourth Amendment.

They had to be planning some kind of a takeover of the United States to be saying they could simply abolish the First Amendment if the president believed it was necessary in the name of national security. It lays the groundwork for what could have been a massive military takeover of the United States.

Here they crept right up and actually implemented part of the plan, with Padilla, with the warrantless wiretapping. Yet they are saying in the White House and in Congress that it is looking backward to investigate the authors of these memos and those who instructed Yoo and others to write them.

But investigation and prosecutions are really looking forward — to say we need the deterrence of prosecution so this does not happen again.

NW: What about the deployment of three brigades in the U.S.? How should we read that?’

MR: With terrorism as less of a concern to many, but now with the economy in tatters there is a lot more militant activism in U.S. — the New School and NYU student takeovers, protests around the country and strikes are just the beginning. I think governments are now concerned over people’s activism, and people’s anger at their economic situation. I don’t think those brigades can be detached from the idea that there might well be a huge amount of direct-action protest in the U.S.

There could have also been a closer election that could have been stolen easily and then a huge protest. Those troops would have been used to enforce the will of the cabal stealing the election.

NW: As a layperson, I don’t fully understand what powers the memos actually manifest. Are they theoretical or not just theoretical? What power did the memos actually give Bush?

MR: They were probably, in fact almost for sure, written in cahoots with the administration — [Karl] Rove, [Dick] Cheney — to give them legal backing for what they planned or wanted to carry out.

What I assume happened here is people like Cheney or his aides go to the Office of Legal Counsel and say, “We are going to need legal backing, to give a face of legality to what we are doing and what we are planning.” When the president then signs a piece of paper that says, “OK, military, go get Jose Padilla,” these memos give that order a veneer of legality.

If you are familiar with the history of dictators, coups and fascism (as I know you are), they (the planners) prefer a veneer of legality. Hitler killed 6 million Jews with a veneer of legality — getting his dictatorial powers through the Reichstag and the courts.

These memos gave the Bush administration’s [lawless] practices the veneer of legality.

NW: So are you saying that these memos actually created a police state that we did not know about?

MR: If you look at police state as various strands of lawlessness, we knew about some of this lawlessness even before this latest set of memos.

But the memos revealed how massive the takeover of our democracy was to be — that this wasn’t just going to be a few individuals here or there who suffered the arrows of a police state.

These memos lay the groundwork for a massive military takeover of the United States in cahoots with the president. And if that’s not a coup d’etat then, nothing is.

NW: Can I ask something? I keep thinking about the notion of treason. In America now, people tend to read the definition of treason in the Constitution as if they are thinking of a Tokyo Rose or an American citizen acting as an agent for an enemy state — very much a World War II experience of the traitor to one’s country.

But I’ve been reading a lot of 16th and 17th century history, and it seems to me that the founders were thinking more along the lines of English treason of that era — small groups of Englishmen, usually nobility, who formed cabals and conspired with one another to buy or recruit militias to overthrow the crown or Parliament.

The notion that a group might conspire in secret to overthrow the government is not a wild, marginal concept, it is a substantial part of European, and especially British, Renaissance and Reformation-era history and would have been very much alive in the minds of the Enlightenment-era founders. (I just visited the Tower of London where this was so frequent a charge against groups of English subjects that there is a designated Traitor’s Gate.)

So clearly you don’t have to act on behalf of another state to commit treason. The Constitution defines it as levying war against the United States or giving aid and comfort to its enemies. It says nothing about the enemy having to be another state.

When the Constitution was drafted, the phrase “United States” barely referred to a singular country; it referred to a new federation of many united states. They imagined militias rising up against various states; it was not necessarily nation against nation.

Surely, when we have evidence Bush prepared the way to allow the military to imprison or shoot civilians in the various states and created law to put his own troops over the authority of the governors and the national guard of the various states, and when the military were sent to terrorize protesters in St. Paul, [Minn.], Bush was levying war in this sense against the united states?

Hasn’t Bush actually levied war against Minnesota? And if our leaders and military are sworn to protect and defend the Constitution, and there is clear evidence now that Bush and his cabal intended to do away with it, are they not our enemies and giving aid and comfort to our enemies? Again, “enemy” does not seem to me to be defined in the Constitution as another sovereign state.

MR: You are right. Treason need not involve another state. Aaron Burr was tried for treason. I do think that a plan to control the military, use it in the United States contrary to law and the Constitution and employ it to levy a war or takeover that eliminates the democratic institutions of the country constitutes treason, even if done under the president of the United States.

The authority given by these memos that could be used to raid every congressional office, raid and search every home, detain tens of thousands, would certainly fit a definition of treason.

This would be the president making war against the institutions of the United States.

Naomi Wolf is the author of Give Me Liberty (Simon and Schuster, 2008), the sequel to the New York Times best-seller The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot (Chelsea Green, 2007).

Seasonal Forgiveness Has a Limit. Bush and His Cronies Must Face a Reckoning. December 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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www.truthout.com, Christmas Day 2008

24 December 2008

by: Jonathan Freedland, The Guardian UK

Heinous crimes are now synonymous with this US administration. If it isn’t held to account, what does that say about us?

    ‘Tis the night before Christmas and the season of goodwill. The mood is forgiving. Our faces warm with mulled wine, our tummies full, we’re meant to slump in the armchair, look back on the year just gone and count our blessings – woozily agreeing to put our troubles behind us.

    As in families, so in the realm of public and international affairs. And this December that feels especially true. The “war on terror” that dominated much of the decade seems to be heading towards a kind of conclusion. George Bush will leave office in a matter of weeks and British troops will leave Iraq a few months later. The first, defining phase of the conflict that began on 9/11 – the war of Bush, Tony Blair and Osama bin Laden – is about to slip from the present to the past tense. Bush and Blair will be gone, with only Bin Laden still in post. The urge to move on is palpable.

    You can sense it in the valedictory interviews Bush and Dick Cheney are conducting on their way out. They’re looking to the verdict of history now, Cheney telling the Washington Times last week: “I myself am personally persuaded that this president and this administration will look very good 20 or 30 years down the road.” The once raging arguments of the current era are about to fade, the lead US protagonists heading off to their respective ranches in the west, the rights and wrongs of their decisions in office to be weighed not in the hot arena of politics, but in the cool seminar rooms of the academy.

    Not so fast.

    Yes, the new year would get off to a more soothing start if we could all agree to draw a line and move on. But it would be wrong. First, because we cannot hope to avoid repeating the errors of the last eight years unless they are subject to a full accounting. (It is for that reason Britain needs its own full, unconstrained inquiry into the Iraq war.) Second, because a crucial principle, one that goes to the very heart of the American creed, is at stake. And third, because this is not solely about the judgment of history. It may be about the judgment of the courts – specifically those charged with punishing war crimes.

    Less than a fortnight ago, in the news graveyard of a Friday afternoon, the armed services committee of the US Senate released a bipartisan report – with none other than John McCain as its co-author – into the American use of torture against those held in the war on terror. It dismissed entirely the notion that the horrors of Abu Ghraib could be put down to “a few bad apples”. Instead it laid bare, in forensic detail, the trail of memos and instructions that led directly to the then defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld.

    The report was the fruit of 18 months of work, involving some 70 interviews. Most of it is classified, but even the 29-page published summary makes horrifying reading. It shows how the most senior figures in the Bush administration discussed, and sought legal fig leaves for, practices that plainly amounted to torture. They were techniques devised in a training programme known as Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape or SERE, that aimed to teach elite American soldiers how to endure torture should they fall into the hands of pitiless enemies. The SERE techniques were partly modelled on the brutal methods used by the Chinese against US prisoners during the Korean war. Yet Rumsfeld ruled that these same techniques should be “reverse engineered”, so that Americans would learn not how to endure them – but how to inflict them. Which they then did, at Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib and beyond.

    The Senate report cites the memorandums requesting permission to use “stress positions, exploitation of detainee fears (such as fear of dogs), removal of clothing, hooding, deprivation of light and sound, and the so-called wet towel treatment or the waterboard”. We read of Mohamed al Kahtani – against whom all charges were dropped earlier this year – who was “deprived of adequate sleep for weeks on end, stripped naked, subjected to loud music, and made to wear a leash and perform dog tricks”. Approval for this kind of torture, hidden under the euphemism of “enhanced interrogation”, was sought from and granted at the highest level.

    And that doesn’t mean Rumsfeld. The report’s first conclusion is that, on “7 February 2002, President George W Bush made a written determination that Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions, which would have afforded minimum standards for humane treatment, did not apply to al-Qaida or Taliban detainees”. The result, it says, is that Bush “opened the door” to the use of a raft of techniques that the US had once branded barbaric and beyond the realm of human decency.

    For this Bush should surely be held to account. And yet there is no sign that he will, and precious little agitation that he should. A still smiling Cheney denies the Bush administration did anything wrong. Note this breathtaking exchange with Fox News at the weekend. He was asked: “If the president during war decides to do something to protect the country, is it legal?” Cheney’s answer: “General proposition, I’d say yes.”

    It takes a few seconds for the full horror of that remark to sink in. And then you remember where you last heard something like it. It was the now immortalised interview between David Frost and Richard Nixon. The disgraced ex-president was asked whether there were certain situations where the president can do something illegal, if he deems it in the national interest. Nixon’s reply: “Well, when the president does it, that means that it is not illegal.”

    It is no coincidence that Cheney began his career in the Nixon White House. He has the same Nixonian disregard for the US constitution, the same belief that executive power is absolute and unlimited – that those who wield it are above the law, domestic and international. It is the logic of dictatorship.

    But Nixon was forced from office, his vision of an unrestrained presidency rejected. If Bush and Cheney are allowed to retire quietly, America will have failed to reassert that bedrock principle of the republic: the rule of law.

    This is why there must be a reckoning. Bush will do all he can to avoid it: and it is wholly possible that one of his last acts as president will be to cover himself, his vice-president and all his henchmen with a blanket pardon. Even if that does not happen, Barack Obama is unlikely to want to spend precious capital pursuing his predecessor for war crimes.

    But other prosecutors elsewhere in the world should weigh their responsibilities. In the end, it was a lone Spanish magistrate, not a Chilean court, who ensured the arrest of Augusto Pinochet. A pleasing, if uncharitable, thought this Christmas, is that Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush will hesitate before making plans to travel abroad in 2009. Or indeed at any time – ever again.

Former President of Argentina to Be Charged With Crimes Against Humanity November 26, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Argentina, Latin America.
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November 24th 2008

www.thecuttingedgenews.com

History-Genocide - Jorge Rafael Videla

The former dictator of Argentina, General Jorge Rafael Videla Redondo, has been charged with ordering the deaths of 31 political prisoners when he led the governing military junta of the South American country in the 1970s. Judge Cristina Garzón de Lascano of Córdoba charged him with crimes against humanity perpetrated from 1976 to 1983.

The judge is to investigate the participation of Videla and other Argentine military authorities in human rights abuses and other crimes committed in police facilities and the San Martín prison in Córdoba, an area southwest of Buenos Aires in the foothills of the Andes. This is the first time that Videla has been charged in the Province of Córdoba for crimes against humanity.

In addition to Videla, another 20 persons have been charged and also facing fines and imprisonment. Among them are retired Army officers Vicente Meli, Mauricio Carlos Poncet, Raúl Eduardo Fierro, and Jorge González Navarro.

Videla and fellow junta member Admiral Eduardo Massera and Air Force Brigadier Orlando Ramón Agosti were both trained at the School of the Americas training facility organized by the U.S. Army in Panamá. In 1999 President Bill Clinton apologized to the people of Guatemala for the role the U.S. played in the repression of human rights in their country, as it was Argentina that provided military advisors to the governments of Guatemala and El Salvador during their civil wars in the 1970s when thousands of innocent persons, along with Marxist guerrillas, were killed by military and security forces.

Videla took power in 1976 in a coup d’etat that overthrew María Estela de Perón, wife of former dictator Juan Perón. He and other members of the ruling military junta began what came to be called the “dirty war,”a nationwide program of repression in which up to 30,000 persons “disappeared” or were killed by Argentine military and police forces. Videla, along with his supporters in government and the right wing of the Peronist movement, even silenced critics within the Argentine military and coordinated acts of repression in neighboring Chile, Uruguay, and Paraguay called “Plan Condor.” He continued in power until 1981.

Videla and other members of the junta and Argentine military eventually faced justice in 1985 when the democratically-elected government of President Raúl Alfonsín took power after Argentina’s disastrous invasion of the Falkland Islands. Discharged from the army, he received a life sentence for crimes against humanity. However, Videla was pardoned by President Saúl Menem of the Peronist Party in 1990. President Menem, himself a detainee of the junta’s lockups at one time, said that he wished to close this dark chapter in the history of Argentina. Videla remained at liberty until 1998 when he was convicted of another crime from the 1970s, the abduction of scores of babies born to mothers murdered in his jails, who were given to couples in the Argentine military and police forces for adoption.

Videla, 83 years old, is being held at the Campo de Mayo military installation on the outskirts of Buenos Aires. In October 2008 Judge Norberto Oyarbide ruled that Videla, after being held under house-arrest for a decade, must now serve prison time for his crimes and remanded him to military custody.

Martin Barillas edits http://www.speroforum.com. Eduardo Szklarz is based in Argentina and heads up the Cutting Edge South America desk.

Joining Forces to Close the SOA (School of the Americas) November 25, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Chile, Latin America.
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SOA Watch

November 25, 2008

http://www.soaw.org/presente/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=180&Itemid=74

In 1989 an 18-year old Chilean student was caught spray-painting a wall in Santiago with a message of protest against the dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet. He was thrown into a car, blindfolded, then taken to where he was beaten by over 20 police officers until he was black and blue. Several officers proceeded to simulate execution, then tortured him with water and electricity. Today, Pablo Ruiz considers himself lucky. His stay “only” lasted two years in prison, shortened by the end of Chile’s dictatorship in 1990. Three thousand other Chileans were not as lucky, losing their lives under the orders of SOA graduates who held top military leadership positions during Pinochet’s 17-year dictatorship.

Rebecca Kanner and Sister Maureen Newman have also known the lonely side of prison bars. Their path to prison, however, was self-directed. In some ways, they chose to go to prison precisely because Pablo was forced into prison, even though they had never met or even heard of Pablo. But, they did know that throughout Latin America were thousands who had suffered torture, disappearance and massacre at the hands of SOA graduates. Both decided to cross the line into Ft. Benning, Georgia, home of the SOA, to call attention to the human rights atrocities linked to graduates of the school. They realized that this action would probably take them to prison, but it would also bring public attention to the SOA.

Ten days ago, Pablo met Rebecca and Maureen for the first time in Santiago, Chile – some 6,000 miles from their respective homes in Ann Arbor and Seattle. Rebecca and Maureen were part of an SOA Watch delegation to Chile that included four other prisoners of conscience – Fr. Joe Mulligan, Judith Kelly, Sister Kathleen Desautels and Vera Leone, along with Theresa Cameranesi and myself. This visit was part of the SOAW’s Latin America initiative that seeks to engage governments and social movements in the countries that send troops to the school.  SOAW activists have visited 16 countries, leading to announcements of withdrawal from the SOA of five. The visit to Chile was key to this initiative, as Chile sent more students to the SOA in 2007 (195) than any other country except Colombia.

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former Prisoners of Conscience in Chile

Pablo spent weeks organizing the SOAW visit along with fellow members of the Kamarikun human rights organization. With no office or funds, but a passionate commitment to human rights, the members of Kamarikun set up a tent every week at the local market to talk with neighbors about their rights. The group includes many young members who came of age after the dictatorship and are concerned about repression under Chile’s current government, which they often call a “demodura” (a combination of Spanish terms for democracy and dictatorship). Kamarikun was the first group to raise public voices to call for Chile’s withdrawal from the SOA. According to Pablo, as long as Chileans remain at this school, the promise of nunca más  – never again –  remains elusive.

Nunca más refers to 17 years of brutal repression that began with the coup to overthrow Chile’s only socialist president, Salvador Allende.  The coup was directed by Army General Augusto Pinochet on September 11, 1973, and carried out with U.S. knowledge and approval. While Pinochet himself was not an SOA graduate, for years his sword hung in the office of SOA’s commandante.  Among Chilean SOA graduates are many of the top military commanders who oversaw the disappearance of 3,000 Chileans and the torture of tens of thousands of others.

Ramon Gonzalez, a tax official under Allende, was picked up the very afternoon of September 11, 1973. His daughter Carolina poignantly shared his story with us last week.  She was only 10 years old when military officers stormed their home and dragged away her father before he could say goodbye. He was taken to an island in the bitterly cold southern tip of Chile. Months later, the family learned of Gonzalez’s death via a TV bulletin that referred to him as a terrorist caught escaping. Years later, evidence linked two officers to what was actually a pre-meditated murder. One officer was sentenced to house arrest, the other to five months in prison. We realized, incredibly, that Rebecca’s prison sentence for crossing the line to Ft. Benning was longer than that of the military officer convicted of murdering Carolina’s father.

During our visit it became clear that impunity, along with fear, is a major tool still used in Chile to enforce a culture of silence. We also discovered that Pinochet’s legacy did not end when he handed over the helm in 1990. He continued as commander-in-chief of the armed forces for eight more years and then became a lifetime senator almost until his death in 2006.  The constitution he drafted at the beginning of the dictatorship remains in place today, albeit with modifications. It grants more power to a constitutional tribunal, that includes commanders of the different branches of the armed forces, than to the president. Indeed, Chile’s current president, Michelle Bachelet, was herself a victim of torture, as was her father – an army general who refused to accept the coup and died after being tortured. Most Chileans acknowledge her almost impossible task of curbing the military’s power.

Arguably more damaging is the economic model imposed by Pinochet. In an era when protest was impossible, Chileans became a living experiment for an economic model dreamed up by Milton Friedman and the “Chicago Boys.”  It privatized almost everything in Chile, including pensions and many roads. The model brought macro economic growth, but drove millions of Chileans into poverty. Chile continues to market an image of economic success to the outside world, but only a day on Santiago’s streets is enough to debunk this myth. We continually saw worker protests by day and street children by night. Teachers and lawyers told us that their wages don’t meet the daily demands of life; others told us that their academically stellar children dare not think of college.

Protest is increasingly criminalized and is usually met with police force, often as well with water tanks, rubber bullets and tear gas. We confirmed this as we tried to make our way to the Defense Ministry.  Our exit from the metro was blocked by a line of well-armed, masked policemen. We raced quickly through the noxious fumes of tear gas and slid across streets flooded by water tanks. The nonchalant gait of Chileans made us realize that this encounter was rather commonplace, as we continued to discover.

Our meeting was with the Defense Ministry’s second-in-command, who held the title of Sub Secretary of War in spite of the fact that Chile has not been at war for over a hundred years (though many feel that Chile began to wage a war against its own citizens in 1973 that hasn’t completely ended).  Two years earlier Fr. Roy Bourgeois and I had met in this same office with Defense Minister Vivienne Blanlot. She told us that while she agreed with us that the SOA had left a devastating legacy for Chile, the army had the prerogative to determine where they would study.

This kid-glove approach to the military by the government continues to hold, as we discovered at this meeting. It became clear that the Sub Secretary had far less information about the SOA than his military attaché, to whom he continually looked for answers.  We shared our concern that Chile had increased its numbers at the SOA in 2007. At the end of a long meeting, he indicated that 2008 would bring a marked reduction in numbers of Chilean students. We were pleased, but asked to see official word of this announcement.

One Chilean official who is convinced that zero is only acceptable number of Chilean students at the SOA, is Representative Tucapel Jiménez. A congressman who represents a modest district of Santiago, Jiménez’s father was a prominent labor leader who was beheaded under Pinochet’s regime. An unemployed carpenter was framed into signing a confession, then his suicide simulated. Years later, two military officers were found guilty of his father’s murder and that of the carpenter. Both were SOA graduates.

Representative Jiménez invited us to speak to the Congressional Human Rights Commission, of which he is a member. Members of the committee expressed surprise that the SOA remains open, thinking that WHINSEC – the new name given to the school by the Pentagon in 2001 – was a totally different place. Their concern deepened when we showed the list of 2007 graduates that SOAW receives as a response to their annual FOIA request. Each graduate’s name is blacked out, leaving only the country and course code visible. The secrecy was clearly contrary to the culture of respect for human rights that this committee was dedicated to creating in Chile.

A motion was passed by the Congressional Human Rights Commission to summon Chile’s Commander-in-Chief to testify to the committee about Chile’s continued participation at SOA, along with an invitation to the Defense Minister as well. The committee’s president declared this to TV cameras only minutes after our meeting ended.

Perhaps due to this public pressure, we received an email the next morning from the Defense Ministry with the announcement that Chile would only be sending 41 students to SOA in 2008. This would mark a dramatic drop from the 195 soldiers that were sent there in 2007 and sends a major sign of hope.

While Chile’s decision certainly isn’t as strong as the total withdrawal of troops from Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Venezuela, it is a move in the same direction. Latin American countries today are questioning their participation at the SOA, a relationship formed in times of dictatorship. Many are taking the bold step to say nunca más, in spite of potential diplomatic and economic consequences. Costa Rica has shown less backbone. Although President Óscar Arias himself confirmed Costa Rica’s withdrawal from SOA in May 2007, almost immediately afterwards the U.S. ambassador was pressuring them to reconsider. After months of silence, the Security Minister of Costa Rica reluctantly admitted to local human rights activists that they would be sending police to a limited scope of courses at SOA, mostly in the area of drug trafficking.  These activists think that this switch was brought about by economic and political pressure put on Costa Rica by the U.S.

On the very last meeting of a packed eight days, Pablo paused at a set of rusted prison bars taken from the same prison where he had lost two years of his youth. They were on display at the office of FACIS, a human rights organization that has aided thousands of political prisoners. Rebecca and Maureen reached through the bars from the other side, to grasp Pablo’s hands. In that embrace, the meaning of the whole visit, and the necessary strategy to close once and for all this school of assassins, became clear to me.

The School of the Americas is on our soil, financed by our pocketbooks, and run by our government. It is our responsibility to close it. The victims of this school live south of the Rio Grande. In order to close the SOA we must reach out, connect and join together with those who have suffered its consequences. Latin Americans are raising their voices, both as individuals and as nations. Monseñor Óscar  Romero said that we must be the voice of the voiceless. I think that today he would say that we should join our voices North and South to create a new harmony.  A harmony so powerful it can close the door on a school of assassins.

Franco Repression Ruled as a Crime Against Humanity October 17, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary.
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Federico Garcia Lorca

Federico García Lorca. Photograph: Roger Viollet/Rex Features

A Spanish judge yesterday ordered the grave of poet and playwright Federico García Lorca dug up as, for the first time, the repression unleashed by the dictator General Francisco Franco was formally declared a crime against humanity.

In a controversial reversal of Spain’s traditional refusal to seek out those responsible for the killings of Lorca and more than 100,000 other people, Judge Baltasar Garzón also asked investigators to provide him with information on Franco’s chief henchmen and generals. Franco and his chief collaborators, Garzón said, had been responsible for “mass killings, torture and the systematic, general and illegal detentions of political opponents”.

Death squads, military courts and other tribunals sent 114,000 people to their deaths during and after a three-year civil war in the 1930s that traumatised Spain for generations, according to the judge.

Several thousand lie in unmarked mass graves, despite the attempts of volunteers over the past eight years to disinter corpses and hand them over to relatives for reburial. The judge ordered the digging up of 19 such graves, including one on a hillside overlooking the southern city of Granada where Lorca is thought to have been shot in 1936. Lorca’s family do not want the poet exhumed, but recently promised not to oppose a petition from relatives of two men shot and buried alongside him for the grave to be dug up.

“I’m very pleased. I’ve been waiting 10 years for this,” said the granddaughter of one of them, Nieves Galindo.

Garzón requested formal proof that 35 generals and Francoist ministers are no longer alive. He also ordered the interior ministry to provide a list of those in charge of the pro-Francoist Falange movement up until 1951. It is doubtful, however, that any are still alive.

The judge explicitly said that his investigations included repression carried out until 1952, 17 years after Franco had won the civil war and established his dictatorship. Many Spaniards still find the period hard to talk about and some fear Garzón’s investigation will reopen old wounds.

The right has been critical of the judge and of a recent “historical memory” law to help Franco’s victims passed by the Socialist government of the prime minister, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero.

An unwritten “pact of forgetting” underpinned Spain’s rapid transition to democracy after Franco’s death in 1975.

Garzón’s critics claim that all civil war and Francoist repression is covered by a 1977 amnesty law and by rules which mean that most crimes lapse after 20 years. Garzón declared yesterday, however, that where a victim’s body had not been found a crime of kidnapping was still being committed and had not lapsed.

The attorney general’s office, which has opposed the judge’s investigation, is expected to appeal against the decision. It argues that international human rights laws do not apply to the civil war as Spain was not signed up to them at the time.

Garzón has previously investigated repression by military regimes in Latin America in the 1970s. In 1998 he ordered the arrest of General Augusto Pinochet of Chile while he was in London but failed to get him extradited to face trial in Spain.

Spanish courts have been criticised for investigating crimes committed by other dictatorships without ever looking at those carried out under Franco.

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