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Traitors (How Congress Profits from War) May 27, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, War.
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‘When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not fighting a “war on terror”, you’re getting fleeced by Congress and crooked private contractors who are opposed to any “exit strategy”‘.

By Christopher Rice
(about the author)// March 27, 2011

opednews.com

In his opening statement, Gates (before Congress on March 2nd 2011) fervently appealed for funds requested by Gen. David
Petraeus for equipment to protect troops in Afghanistan. The money has been held up because it would be taken from a
project benefiting a major contributor to the committee chairman, Bill Young, R-Fa.
“Mr. Chairman, our troops need this force-protection equipment, and they need it now,” Gates pleaded. “Every day that goes
by without this equipment, the lives of our troops are at greater risk.”
He urged action “today” on the funds, admonishing: “We should not put American lives at risk to protect specific programs
or contractors.”
Gates warned that the military would “face a crisis” if Congress continues to fund the government with short-term spending
resolutions, or if it enacts the spending bill recently passed by House Republicans. (L.A. Times 3/6/2011) Gates said it
would leave the military unable “to properly carry out its mission, maintain readiness and prepare for the future.”
But the members of Congress could not function at such a high level of thought.
Gates couldn’t get the lawmakers to agree to his urgent request to shift $1.2 billion in Pentagon funds to protect soldiers’ lives in Afghanistan. He asked for the money a month before, but Young’s committee hadn’t acted.
Because Young objects to the money being taken away from the Army’s Humvee program. Never mind that the Army has more
Humvees than it wants. They are manufactured by AM General – which happens to be Young’s third-largest campaign
contributor. Its executives have funneled him more than $80,000, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Gates told Young that his delay was putting lives at risk, but the gentlemen from AM General was unmoved.
WHY ARE WE STILL AT WAR? FOLLOW THE MONEY….
Republican and Democratic lawmakers invested $161.3 million in companies under contract with the DoD
When you’re the world’s sole superpower, and you’ve been bogged down for eight years by pismire adversaries who don’t have an air force or a navy or an army or even a defense budget, you’re not fighting a “war on terror”, you’re getting fleeced by Congress and crooked private contractors who are opposed to any “exit strategy”.
The State Department’s inspector general says bomb-sniffing dogs used in Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t being tested properly
and may not be able to detect explosives.
The inspector general said its review found that the companies hired to supply and train the dogs weren’t testing them for
the most commonly encountered explosives, increasing the chance of a dog missing a bomb in a vehicle or luggage. That puts
U.S. lives at risk. (The Sun 10/09/2010 AP)
The companies also used expired or contaminated materials for the scent tests.
Sources:
LA TIMES 3/6/2011 Dana Milbank “Congress earns low reputation”
The Sun 10/9/2010 AP “Bomb-sniffing dog tests fall short”

Obama’s Embrace of Bush Terrorism Policies is Celebrated as “Centrism” May 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Torture, Uncategorized.
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by Glenn Greenwald

I wonder how many people from across the political spectrum will have to point this out before Obama defenders will finally admit that it’s true.  From Harvard Law Professor and former Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith, systematically assessing Obama’s “terrorism” policies in The New Republic:

Many people think Cheney is scare-mongering and owes President Obama his support or at least his silence.  But there is a different problem with Cheney’s criticisms: his premise that the Obama administration has reversed Bush-era policies is largely wrong. The truth is closer to the opposite: The new administration has copied most of the Bush program, has expanded some of it, and has narrowed only a bit. Almost all of the Obama changes have been at the level of packaging, argumentation, symbol, and rhetoric. . . .

[A]t the end of the day, Obama practices will be much closer to late Bush practices than almost anyone expected in January 2009.

Most critically, Goldsmith expresses admiration for Obama’s rhetorical and symbolic changes — such as Obama’s emphasis on obtaining Congressional support for Bush’s  policies while highlighting his deep concern for “civil liberties” — because Goldsmith believes that Obama’s rhetoric vests Bush’s policies with more credibility, ensures more bipartisan and Congressional support for these policies, makes them more palatable to Democrats, and thus ensures that those policies will endure in a stronger and longer-lasting form:

The new president was a critic of Bush administration terrorism policies, a champion of civil liberties, and an opponent of the invasion of Iraq. His decision (after absorbing the classified intelligence and considering the various options) to continue core Bush terrorism policies is like Nixon going to China. . . .

If this analysis is right, then the former vice president is wrong to say that the new president is dismantling the Bush approach to terrorism. President Obama has not changed much of substance from the late Bush practices, and the changes he has made, including changes in presentation, are designed to fortify the bulk of the Bush program for the long-run. Viewed this way, President Obama is in the process of strengthening the presidency to fight terrorism.

What’s most striking about the denial of so many Obama supporters about all of this is that Obama officials haven’t really tried to hide it.  White House counsel Greg Craig told The New York Times‘ Charlie Savage back in February that Obama “is also mindful as president of the United States not to do anything that would undermine or weaken the institution of the presidency.”  It was in that same article where Savage — a favorite of Bush critics when Bush was president — warned that after the first week of Executive Orders, “the Obama administration is quietly signaling continued support for other major elements of its predecessor’s approach to fighting Al Qaeda.” 

Notably, Savage’s article was written almost three months ago, well before Obama’s announcement that he was adopting many of the most extreme Bush policies.  At the time of Savage’s February article, I wrote: “while believing that Savage’s article is of great value in sounding the right alarm bells, I think that he paints a slightly more pessimistic picture on the civil liberties front than is warranted by the evidence thus far (though only slightly).”  But as it turns out, it was Savage who was clearly right.  As Politico‘s Josh Gerstein recently wrote about Obama’s Terrorism policies:  “A few, like MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, have even hurled the left’s ultimate epithet — suggesting that Obama’s turning into George W. Bush.”

* * * * *

In his New Republic article today, Goldsmith reviews what he calls the “eleven essential elements” of “the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy” and documents how — with only a couple of minor exceptions — Obama has embraced all of them.  In those cases where Obama has purported to “change” these elements, those changes are almost all symbolic and ceremonial, and the few changes that have any substance to them (banning the already-empty CIA black sites and prohibiting no-longer-authorized torture techniques) are far less substantial than Obama officials purport.  None of Goldsmith’s analysis is grounded in the proposition that Obama hasn’t yet acted to change Bush policies, thus rendering a nonsequitur the response that “Obama needs more time; it’s only been 4 months.”  Goldsmith is describing affirmative steps Obama has already announced to adopt the core Bush “terrorism” policies.

Just consider some of Goldsmith’s examples:  Obama makes a melodramatic showing of ordering Guantanamo closed but then re-creates its systematic denial of detainee rights in Bagram, and “[l]ast month Secretary of Defense Gates hinted that up to 100 suspected terrorists would be detained without trial.”  Obama announces that all interrogations must comply with the Army Field Manual but then has his CIA Director announce that he will seek greater interrogation authority whenever it is needed and convenes a task force to determine which enhanced interrogation methods beyond the Field Manual should be authorized.  He railed against Bush’s Guantanamo military commissions but then preserved them with changes that are plainly cosmetic.

Obama has been at least as aggressive as Bush was in asserting radical secrecy doctrines in order to prevent courts from ruling on illegal torture and spying programs and to block victims from having a day in court.  He has continued and even “ramped up” so-called “targeted killings” in Pakistan and Afghanistan which, as Goldsmith puts it, “have predictably caused more collateral damage to innocent civilians.”  He has maintained not only Bush’s rendition policy but also the standard used to determine to which countries a suspect can be rendered, and has kept Bush’s domestic surveillance policies in place and unchanged.  Most of all, he has emphatically endorsed the Bush/Cheney paradigm that we are engaged in a “war” against Terrorists — with all of the accompanying presidential “war powers” — rather than the law enforcement challenge that John Kerry, among others, advocated.

* * * * *

What is, in my view, most noteworthy about all of this is how it gives the lie to the collective national claim that we learned our lesson and are now regretful about the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism.  Republicans are right about the fact that while it was Bush officials who led the way in implementing these radical and lawless policies, most of the country’s institutions — particularly the Democratic Party leadership and the media — acquiesced to it, endorsed it, and enabled it  And they still do.  

Nothing has produced as much media praise for Obama as his embrace of what Goldsmith calls the “essential elements” of “the Bush approach to counterterrorism policy.”   That’s because — contrary to the ceremonial displays of regret and denouncements of Bush — the dominant media view is this:  the Bush/Cheney approach to Terrorism was right; those policies are “centrist”; Obama is acting commendably by embracing them; most of the country wants those policies; and only the Far Left opposes the Bush/Cheney approach. 

Anyone who doubts that should consider this most extraordinary paragraph from Associated Press’ Liz Sidoti:

Increasingly, President Barack Obama and Democrats who run Congress are being pulled between the competing interests of party liberals and the rest of the country on Bush-era wartime matters of torture, detention and interrogation of suspected terrorists.

When it comes to torture and Bush’s Terrorism policies, it’s the Far Left (which opposes those things) versus “the rest of the country” (which favors them).  And she described Obama’s embrace of Bush’s policies as “governing from the center.”  Apparently, Bush/Cheney Terrorism policies are Centrist.  Who knew?  Her AP colleague Tom Raum said virtually the same thing today:

Internationally, Obama reversed course and is seeking to block the court-ordered release of detainee-abuse photos, revived military trials for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay and is markedly increasing the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan. . . .

Still, even though Obama may be irritating liberal purists on both national security and domestic policy, he has no real choice but to move toward the middle.

Adopting the Bush/Cheney approach to war and Terrorism is to “move toward the middle.”  That’s because only “liberal purists” oppose those policies.  The Washington Post‘s CIA spokesman David Ignatius (who I would choose if I had to identify one individual who most embodies the rot of the American political press) celebrated Obama’s recent embrace of Bush Terrorism policies as his “Sister Souljah moment” as he “polished his credentials as a centrist,” and then returned again to announce that “Obama put his responsibilities as commander in chief first — and his loyalty to fellow Democrats second.”

As Maureen Dowd pointed out in the non-plagiarized part of her column on Sunday, the reason Bush was able to do what he did is because “very few watchdogs – in the Democratic Party or the press – were pushing back against the Bush horde in 2002 and 2003, when magazines were gushing about W. and Cheney as conquering heroes.”  But all of this recent media commentary makes clear that media stars and Democratic leaders now are only pretending to find Bush/Cheney policies repugnant because Bush is now so unpopular and his policies were proven to be failures.  As a result, a new face is needed for those policies, but the belief in the rightness of those policies hasn’t changed.  They still consider Bush/Cheney policies “centrist” and responsible — only Leftist Purists oppose them — and thus heap praise on Obama for embracing them.  We’re still the same country we were in 2003.  Our media stars and political leaders from both parties still think the same way.  That’s why the more Obama embraces the Bush/Cheney approach, the more praise he gets for Centrism.

What is most damaging about all of this is exactly what Goldsmith celebrated:  that Obama’s political skills, combined with his status as a Democrat, is strengthening Bush/Cheney terrorism policies and solidifying them further.  For the last eight years, roughly half the country — Republicans, Bush followers — was trained to cheer for indefinite detention, presidential secrecy, military commissions, warrantless eavesdropping, denial of due process, a blind acceptance of any presidential assertion that these policies are necessary to Keep Us Safe, and the claim that only fringe Far Leftist Purists — civil liberties extremists — could possibly object to any of that. 

Now, much of the other half of the country, the one that once opposed those policies — Democrats, Obama supporters — are now reciting the same lines, adopting the same mentality, because doing so is necessary to justify what Obama is doing.   It’s hard to dispute the Right’s claim that Bush’s Terrorism approach is being vindicated by Obama’s embrace of its “essential elements.”  That’s what Goldsmith means when he says that Obama is making these policies stronger and more palatable, and it’s what media stars mean when they describe Bush/Cheney policies as Centrist:  now that it’s not just an unpopular Republican President but also a highly charismatic and popular Democratic President advocating and defending these core Bush/Cheney policies, they do become the political consensus of the United States.

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

Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In March 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Pakistan, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
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afghanistan-war

Roger Hollander, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, March 29, 2009

“Good morning. Today, I am announcing a comprehensive, new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“This marks the conclusion of a careful policy review that I ordered as soon as I took office. My Administration has heard from our military commanders and diplomats. We have consulted with the Afghan and Pakistani governments; with our partners and NATO allies; and with other donors and international organizations. And we have also worked closely with members of Congress here at home. Now, I’d like to speak clearly and candidly to the American people. “

These are the opening sentences in Barack Obama’s March 27 speech in which he announced the escalation of the U.S. occupation and agression in Afghanistan.  Note the list of people and institutions with whom the President consulted before coming to a decision about his policy: military commanders and diplomats, Afghan and Pakistani governments, partners and Nato allies, donors and international organizations, members of Congress.  There is one glaring omision: THE AMERICAN PEOPLE .  Not to mention world public opinion.  Note that Obama has a tendeny to speak down people rather than listen to them.  As with his excluding from consideration a single-payer national health plan, which is favored by a vast majority of Americans, for President Obama a peaceful and diplomatic solution in Afghanistan/Pakistan which for most Americans is a fervent hope, is “off the table.”

The lead in a Time Magazine article covering the speech suggested that George Bush must have left an old speech lying around in his desk.  

When Obama was criticized from the left prior to his inauguration for retaining the key members of the Bush team of militarists and war profiteers (Gates, Petraeusl, Mullen, Jones) and adding Hawks such as Hillary Clinton and Rahm Emmanuel, he countered by declaring that he would be making the decisions and not his advisors (Obama the Decider).  Well, if Obama ever was indeed a peacenik, he surely has since succumbed to the Stockholm Syndrome in a big way.

Yet More “Plus ça change…” You Can Believe In.

“There was a day when the world rightly called Americans honest even if crude; earning their living by hard work; telling the truth no matter whom it hurt; and going to war in what they believed a just cause after nothing else seemed possible.  Today we are lying, stealing and killing.  We call all this by finer names: Advertising, Free Enterprise, and National Defense.  But names in the end deceive no one; today we use science to help us deceive our fellows; we take wealth that we never earned and we are devoting all our energies to kill, maim and drive insane men, women, and children who dare refuse to do what we want done.  No nation threatens us.  We threaten the world.” (italics added)

These words could have been written today, but they weren’t.  They appeared forty one years ago in the Autobiography of the Afro-Aerican activist and historian, W.E.B. Du Bois.  Plus ça change… plus c’est la même chose.   I despair to say it, but our nation’s first Afro-American president is turning out to be a traitor to his heritage.

Question: is there any difference at all between the foreign policy of President Obama and his predecessor?  Only if you believe that the part’s of Obama’s speech on Afghanistan/Pakistan that spoke of investment in non-military programs constitute more than window-dressing.  I don’t.  I believe that with respect to the militaristic policies of peace candidate Barack Obama, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

 

 

 

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes ‘executive assassination ring’ March 12, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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By Eric Black | Published Wed, Mar 11 2009 11:17 am

Seymour Hersh

REUTERS/Fadi Al-AssaadJournalist Seymour Hersh speaking in Doha at an Al Jazeera forum on the media in 2007.

At a “Great Conversations” event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an “executive assassination ring.”

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn’t written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were “an honest response to a question” from the event’s moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and “not something I wanted to dwell about in public.”

Hersh didn’t take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be “effective…that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical.”

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled “America’s Constitutional Crisis,” looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government official who had experience with many of the crises.

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Vietnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: “And do they continue to happen to this day?”

Replied Hersh:

“Yuh. After 9/11, I haven’t written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven’t been called on it yet. That does happen.

“Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command — JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. …

“Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

“Under President Bush’s authority, they’ve been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That’s been going on, in the name of all of us.

“It’s complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It’s a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you’ve heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

“In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

“I’ve had people say to me — five years ago, I had one say: ‘What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don’t get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?’

“But they’re not gonna get before a committee.”

Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker. He has written often about JSOC, including, last July that:

“Under the Bush Administration’s interpretation of the law, clandestine military activities, unlike covert C.I.A. operations, do not need to be depicted in a Finding, because the President has a constitutional right to command combat forces in the field without congressional interference.”

(“Finding” refers to a special document that a president must issue, although not make public, to authorize covert CIA actions.)

Here is a tape of the full Mondale-Hersh-Jacobs colloquy, a little over an hour, without the audience Q and A. If you want to look for the Hersh statement quoted above, it’s about at the 7:30 mark.

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The rest of the evening was, as expected, full of worry and wisdom and quite a bit of Bush-bashing.

Jacobs walked the two elder statesmen through their experiences of:

  • The My Lai massacre, which Hersh first revealed publicly and which he last night called “the end of innocence about us and war.”
  • The Pentagon Papers case, which Mondale called the best example of the “government’s potential for vast public deception.”
  • Henry Kissinger’s secret dealings, mostly relating to the Vietnam War. (Hersh, who has written volumes about Kissinger, said that he will always believe that whereas ordinary people count sheep to fall asleep, Kissinger “has to count burned and maimed Cambodian babies.”)
  • The Church Committee investigation of CIA and FBI abuses, in which Mondale played a major role. (He talked about the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover not only spied on Martin Luther King but literally tried to drive him to suicide.)
  • The Iran Contra scandal. (Hersh said the Reagan administration came to office with a clear goal of finding a way to finance covert actions, such as the funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, without appropriations so that Congress wouldn’t know about them. Mondale noted that Reagan had signed a law barring further aid to the Contras, then participated in a scheme to keep the aid flowing. Hersh said that two key veterans of Iran-Contra, Dick Cheney and national security official Elliot Abrams, were reunited in the George W. Bush White House and decided that the key lesson from Iran-Contra was that too many people in the administration knew about it.)
  • And the Bush-Cheney years. (Said Hersh: “The contempt for Congress in the Bush-Cheney White House was extaordinary.” Said Mondale of his successor, Cheney, and his inner circle: “they ran a government within the government.” Hersh added: “Eight or nine neoconservatives took over our country.” Mondale said that the precedents of abuse of vice presidential power by Cheney would remain “like a loaded pistol that you leave on the dining room table.”)

Jacobs pressed both men on the question of whether the frequent abuses of power show that the Constitution fails, because these things keep happening, or whether it works, because these things keep coming to light.

Mondale stuck with the happy answer. “The system has come through again and again,” he said. Presidents always think they will get away with it, but eventually reporters like Hersh bring things to light, the public “starts smelling this stuff,” the courts and the Congress get involved. Presidents “always, in the long run, find out that the system is stronger than they are.”

Hersh seemed more troubled by the repetitions of the pattern. The “beautiful thing about our system” is that eventually we get new leaders, he said. “The evil twosome, Cheney and Bush, left,” Hersh said. But he also said “it’s really amazing to me that we manage to get such bad leadership, so consistently.”

And he added that both the press and the public let down their guard in the aftermath of 9/11.

“The major newspapers joined the [Bush] team,” Hersh said. Top editors passed the message to investigative reporters not to “pick holes” in what Bush was doing. Violations of the Bill of Rights happened in the plain sight of the public. It was not only tolerated, but Bush was re-elected.

And even Mondale admitted that one of his greatest successes, laws reforming the FBI and CIA in the aftermath of the Church Committee, were supposed to fix the problem so that “we would never have these problems again in the lifetime of anyone alive at the time, but of course we did.”

Your Friendly CIA at Work in Latin America February 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Ecuador, Bolivia, Ecuador, Latin America, Venezuela.
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ARGENTINA-US-VENEZUELA-ANTONINI-PROTEST

By Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

February 22, 2009

 

John Kennedy was a true cold-warrior, make no mistake about it.  But, like Barack Obama, he was a man of culture and class.  His brilliant creations – the Alliance for Progress (for Latin America) and the Peace Corps – were nothing more or nothing less than instruments to combat Communism in the Third World.  But they were designed to do so with finesse and sophistication and they carried high levels of intrinsic PR value.  Unfortunately for JFK, he inherited from his Republican predecessor, Dwight D. Eisenhower, advanced plans to invade Cuba.  Unable or unwilling (more likely the former, in my opinion) to abort the invasion, his Latin American strategy was all but destroyed by the Bay of Pigs fiasco.

 

Today’s “Cold War” goes by the name of the “War Against Terror.”  But the “enemy” is still whatever or whomever threatens U.S. geopolitical interests.  In Latin America today’s Cold Warriors feel menaced in particular by the governments of three of the five Andina nations: Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador, who are proponents of a progressive nationalism (which they call “socialism”) that directly challenges U.S. commercial and military influence.  With center-left governments also in power in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Uruguay and Nicaragua, United States sway in the sub-continent is at a low that has probably not been seen since its proclamation of the infamous Monroe Doctrine.  It’s only two reliable allies are the Calderón government Mexico, which most Mexicans believe stole the election, and the drug and paramilitary infested government of Alvaro Uribe in Colombia, a nation that has been armed to the teeth by the United States to combat (in the name of the phony war on drugs) a leftist insurgency that has its roots in events that took place in the 1950s.

 

This is what Obama has inherited.  Although he campaigned as a peace candidate, his selection of Clinton (State) and Gates (Defence), his missile attacks on Pakistan, and his troop build-up in Afghanistan indicates to us that he is a Cold Warrior at heart.  But, like Kennedy, his foreign policy rhetoric has been more of a conciliatory nature (from his inaugural address: “And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capital to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity …”).

 

He would be wise, therefore, to order Leon Panetta to rein in his CIA operations in Latin America – that is, assuming that a United States president has de facto power over its cantankerous and unwieldy espionage Leviathan. 

 

Virtually no one in Latin America believes that the CIA was not behind the failed coup d’etat attempt to unseat Hugo Chávez in 2002.  The result of that botched coup only served to bolster Chávez’ popularity both within Venezuela and throughout Latin America.  In Bolivia, working through the DEA and USAID contingents, its crude attempts to support the ultra-right violence against the government of Evo Morales backfired and contributed to Morales’ sweet victory in their constitutional referendum.

 

Today, there are signs that the CIA is at work in Ecuador.  Ecuadorian daily newspapers are packed with news about a potential scandal that could embarrass the leftist government of Rafael Correa (as in Venezuela and Bolivia, the corporate media are virtually unanimous in their opposition to the ruling leftist governments, which thrive on popular support nonetheless).  José Ignacio Chauvin, a former high level ministerial aide who served for three months in the Correa government, is under investigation by Ecuador’s National Police for friendship with alleged drug dealers (the Ostaiza brothers).  Chauvin, a member of an extreme leftist faction of Correa’s Alianza País party, also has acknowledged visits with the Colombian guerrilla leader, Raúl Reyes, prior to his assassination last year in Ecuadorian territory by the U.S. supported Colombian military, which resulted in severed ties between Ecuador and Colombia. 

 

This information provides lurid grist to the anti-Correa mill, over which the opposition has been salivating.  But Correa has shown himself to be a more than worthy adversary, and is well on to the counter-attack.  Last week his Chief of the National Police suspended three high level police officials suspected of turning over computerized information to the U.S. Embassy.  He also fired Manuel Silva, the Chief of Special Investigations in charge of the Chauvin investigation for failure to capture Chauvin in a timely manner, and he ordered the expulsion of U.S. Diplomat Armando Eslarza for meddling in Ecuadorian police affairs.  

 

This week Correa expelled Mark Sullivan, a Regional Affairs officer in the U.S. Embassy in Quito, accusing Sullivan of being the CIA’s Director of Operations for Ecuador and attempting to use the Chauvin affair and the media to destabilize his government.  In the aftermath of Colombia’s violation of Ecuadorian territory last March to murder Raúl Reyes and his comrades, Correa alleged that his National Police were thoroughly infiltrated by the CIA, and he vowed to rectify the situation if it cost him his presidency or his life.

 

None of this is hard proof that the CIA is at work to destabilize the Ecuadorian government, but given past history and the debacles in Venezuela and Bolivia, it is difficult to believe otherwise.

 

That such activity almost always turns out to be counter-productive, giving more support and legitimacy to the targeted governments both domestically and abroad doesn’t seem to bother their instigators.  Clandestine and overtly military operations seldom achieve the desired results (cf. Iraq and Afghanistan); and most “experts” counsel diplomacy and social development as alternatives.  But these latter strategies do not sell tanks, and guns, and bombs, and sophisticated aircraft and missiles – and many believe that is what it is all about.  

 

The question then is: will Obama stand up to the Super Spies, the Pentagon and the Military-Industrial Complex in compliance with his campaign rhetoric; or will his administration amount to business as usual in Latin America?

 

 

 

Will War Crimes Be Outed? December 19, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, George W. Bush, Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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78244074WM004_Supreme_Court(Photo: Jean-Marc Bouju / pdnonline.com)

www.truthout.org

17 December 2008

by: Jeremy Brecher and Brendan Smith, The Nation

As the officials of the Bush administration pack up in Washington and move into their posh suburban homes around the country, will they be able to rest easy, or will they be haunted by the fear that they will be held accountable for war crimes?

    There are many reasons to anticipate that the incoming Obama administration and the new Congress will let sleeping dogs lie. Attention to criminal acts by the former administration would probably anger Republicans, whose support Obama is hoping to win for his first priority, his economic program. Democratic Congressional leaders have known a great deal about Bush administration lawlessness, and in some cases have even given it their approval–making an unfettered review seem unlikely.

    Some of Obama’s own top appointees would undoubtedly receive scrutiny in an unconstrained investigation–Obama’s reappointed defense secretary Robert Gates, for example, has had responsibility not only for Guantánamo but also for the incarceration of tens of thousands of Iraqis in prisons in Iraq like Camp Bucca, which the Washington Post described in a headline as “a Prison Full of Innocent Men,” without even a procedure for determining their guilt or innocence–unquestionably a violation of the Geneva Conventions in and of itself.

    But the repose of the Cheneys, Bushes, Gonzaleses and Rumsfelds may not turn out to be so undisturbed. In his notorious torture memo, Alberto Gonzales warned about “prosecutors and independent counsels” who may in the future decide to pursue “unwarranted charges” based on the US War Crimes Act’s prohibition on violations of the Geneva Conventions. While no such charges are likely to be brought anytime soon, neither are they likely to vanish. In the short run, Obama and his team face inescapable questions about the legal culpability of the Bush administration. And in the long run, such charges are likely to grow only more unavoidable once the former officials of that administration have lost the authority to quash them.

    In April Obama said that if elected, he would have his attorney general initiate a prompt review of Bush-era action to distinguish between possible “genuine crimes” and “really bad policies.”

    “If crimes have been committed, they should be investigated,” Obama told the Philadelphia Daily News. He added, however, that “I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of Republicans as a partisan witch hunt, because I think we’ve got too many problems we’ve got to solve.”

    Obama’s nominee for attorney general, Eric Holder, speaking to the American Constitution Society in June, described Bush administration actions in terms that sound a whole lot more like “genuine crimes” than like “really bad policies”:

Our government authorized the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the use of procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution…. We owe the American people a reckoning.”

 

    A Reckoning?

    While attention has focused on whether, once president, Obama will move quickly to close Guantánamo, shut down secret prisons, halt rendition and ban torture, there’s a less visible struggle over whether and how to provide a reckoning for war crimes past.

    A growing body of legal opinion holds that Obama will have a duty to investigate war crimes allegations and, if they are found to have merit, to prosecute the perpetrators.

    In a December 3 Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, law professors Anthony D’Amato (the Leighton Professor at Northwestern University School of Law) and Jordan J. Paust (the Mike & Thersa Baker Professor at the Law Center of the University of Houston) ask whether president-elect Barack Obama will have “the duty to prosecute or extradite persons who are reasonably accused of having committed and abetted war crimes or crimes against humanity during the Bush administration’s admitted ‘program’ of ‘coercive interrogation’ and secret detention that was part of a ‘common, unifying’ plan to deny protections under the Geneva Conventions.”

    They answer, “Yes.”

    “Under the US Constitution, the president is expressly and unavoidably bound to faithfully execute the laws.” The 1949 Geneva Conventions “expressly and unavoidably requires that all parties search for perpetrators of grave breaches of the treaty” and bring them before their own courts for “effective penal sanctions” or, if they prefer, “hand such persons over for trial to another High Contracting Party.”

    The statement is particularly authoritative–and particularly striking–because Paust is also a former captain in the United States Army JAG Corps and member of the faculty at the Judge Advocate General’s School.

    Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights says that one of Barack Obama’s first acts as president should be to “instruct his attorney general to appoint an independent prosecutor to initiate a criminal investigation of former Bush Administration officials who gave the green light to torture.”

    Parallel to the legal community, members of Congress and president-elect Obama are trying to chart a strategy that avoids the appearance of seeking to punish Bush administration officials without appearing blatantly oblivious to their apparent war crimes. According to the AP’s Lara Jakes Jordan, “Two Obama advisors say there’s little–if any–chance that the incoming president’s Justice Department will go after anyone involved in authorizing or carrying out interrogations that provoked worldwide outrage.” Instead, “Obama is expected to create a panel modeled after the 9/11 Commission to study interrogations, including those using waterboarding and other tactics that critics call torture.”

    Asked if Bush administration officials would face prosecution for war crimes, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy flatly said, “In the United States, no,” but he does intend to continue to investigate Bush administration officials and their interrogation policies. “Personally, I would like to know exactly what happened. Torture is going to be a major issue.”

Continue the Cover-Up?

 

    President-elect Obama may well seek to delay taking a stand for or against such accountability actions. But he is likely to be confronted early in his administration by choices about whether to continue or terminate legal cover-up operations the Bush administration currently has under way.

    For example, the Bush administration has blocked the civil suit against US officials by Canadian Maher Arar for his “rendition” to Syria and his torture there by invoking the “state secrets” privilege. According to Christopher Anders, senior legislative counsel for the ACLU, they have appointed a prosecutor to investigate the destruction of videotapes of CIA interrogations, but the investigation is limited only to whether crimes were committed in relation to the destruction of the tapes–not whether what was being videotaped is a crime. The administration has refused to cooperate with the trial of twenty-six Americans, mostly CIA agents, who kidnapped a terrorism suspect in Milan and flew him to Egypt where, he says, he was tortured. And they have refused to provide secret documents to the British High Court in the case of Guantánamo detainee Binyam Mohamed that may demonstrate that US officials were complicit in his torture in Morocco.

    If the Obama administration continues the Bush administration’s efforts to prevent investigators from investigating and courts from hearing such cases, it will rapidly become part of the cover-up. If it begins to, at a minimum, stop obstructing such proceedings, the result could be a rapid crumbling of the wall of silence the Bush administration has tried so assiduously to build around its “war on terror.”

    A bipartisan report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee on December 11 will make it far more difficult to evade the responsibility of holding Bush administration officials legally accountable for war crimes. Released by Senators Carl Levin and John McCain after two years of investigation, the report concluded:

The abuse of detainees in US custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of ‘a few bad apples’ acting on their own…. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees…. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo Bay was a direct cause of detainee abuse there.

 

    In an interview published in the Detroit News, Senator Levin said he was not responsible for deciding whether officials should be prosecuted for authorizing torture, but he admitted that there is enough evidence that victims of abuse could file civil lawsuits against their assailants. Levin also suggested that the Obama administration “needs to look for ways in which people can be held accountable for their actions.”

    An Accountability Movement

    Outside the Beltway, a movement to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture and other war crimes after they leave office is gradually emerging. It received a boost when over a hundred lawyers and activists met in Andover, Massachusetts on September 20 at a conference entitled “Planning for the Prosecution of High Level American War Criminals.” The conference created an ongoing committee to coordinate accountability efforts. At the close, conference convener Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law noted more than twenty strategies and specific actions that had been proposed, ranging from the state felony prosecutions proposed by former district attroney Vincent Bugliosi to the international prosecutions pioneered by the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Rumsfeld cases; and from impeaching Bush appointees like Federal Judge Jay Bybee to public shaming of torture-tainted former officials like ohn Yew, now a professor at the University of California Law School.

    One of proposals discussed at the Andover conference was the creation of a citizens’ War Crimes Documentation Center, modeled on the special office set up by the Allied governments before the end of World War II to investigate and document Nazi war crimes. Such a center could be the nexus for research, education and coordination of a wide range of civil society forces in the US and abroad that are demanding accountability. It could bring together the extensive but scattered evidence already available, to compile a narrative of what actually happened in the Bush administration. It could help or pressure Congress to conduct investigations to fill in the blanks. It could pull together high-profile coalitions to campaign around the issue of accountability for specific crimes like torture. If Obama does initiate some kind of investigating commission, such a center could provide it with information and help hold it accountable.

    A Moral Education

    There are a myriad of reasons for urgently holding the Bush regime to account, ranging from preventing unchallenged executive action from setting new legal precedent to providing a compelling rationale for the immediate cessation of bombing civilians in the escalating Afghan war.

    But the issue raised by Bush administration war crimes is even larger than any person’s individual crimes. As Thomas Paine wrote in Common Sense, “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” The long history of aggressive war, illegal occupation, and torture, from the Philippines to Iraq, have given the American people a moral education that encourages us to countenance war crimes. If we allow those who initiated and justified the illegal conquest and occupation of Iraq and the use of torture at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo to go unsanctioned, we teach the world–and ourselves–a lesson about what’s OK and legal.

    As countries like Chile, Turkey and Argentina can attest, restoration of democracy, civic morality and the rule of law is often a slow but necessary process, requiring far more than simply voting a new party into office. It requires a wholesale rejection of impunity for the criminal acts of government officials. As Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL) put it, “We owe it to the American people and history to pursue the wrongdoing of this administration whether or not it helps us politically…. Our actions will properly define the Bush Administration in the eyes of history.”

    ———

    Jeremy Brecher is a historian whose books include Strike!, Globalization from Below, and, co-edited with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan/Holt). He has received five regional Emmy Awards for his documentary film work. He is a co-founder of WarCrimesWatch.org.

    Brendan Smith is a legal analyst whose books include Globalization From Below and, with Brendan Smith and Jill Cutler, of In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond (Metropolitan). He is current co-director of Global Labor Strategies and UCLA Law School’s Globalization and Labor Standards Project, and has worked previously for Congressman Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and a broad range of unions and grassroots groups. His commentary has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Nation, CBS News.com, YahooNews and the Baltimore Sun. Contact him at smithb28@gmail.com.

Ex-Generals to Urge Obama Action on Torture Issue December 3, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Human Rights, Iraq and Afghanistan.
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BOSNIA-GUANTANAMO/

 

 

photo
Nadja Dizdarevic, wife of a detainee ordered released last week from Guantanamo Bay prison. (Photo: Reuters)

by: Randall Mikkelsen, Reuters

 

 

    Washington – Barack Obama should act from the moment of his inauguration to restore a U.S. image battered by allegations of torturing terrorism suspects, said a group of retired military leaders planning to press their case with the president-elect’s transition team on Wednesday.

    “We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.

    Gunn and about a dozen other retired generals and admirals, who are scheduled to meet Obama’s team in Washington, said they plan to offer a list of anti-torture principles, including some that could be implemented immediately.

    They include making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S. interrogators. The manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices such as waterboarding – a form of simulated drowning widely condemned as torture.

    Other immediate steps Obama could take are revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on taking prisoners to a third country for harsh interrogations.

    “If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

    Obama has denounced waterboarding and other forms of harsh questioning allowed by secret orders.

    “Torture is how you create enemies, not how you defeat them,” he said in October 2007. He has also vowed to close the Guantanamo Bay prison for terrorism suspects, an international symbol of prisoner abuse.

    U.S. President George W. Bush has repeatedly denied condoning torture, but the denials have widely rung hollow among U.S. and international audiences. A Justice Department report this year found the White House ignored reports it received that FBI agents viewed some interrogations as “borderline torture.”

    Obama, Vice President-elect Joseph Biden and Sen. Hillary Clinton, Obama’s pick to be secretary of state, all met with the group of generals speaking out against torture during the Democratic presidential nomination race.

    The group also has worked with Obama’s defeated opponent in the presidential race, Republican Sen. John McCain, in passing anti-torture legislation in the past, and he can continue to play a vital role, the officers said.

    Some officers said they were comfortable with Obama’s decision to retain Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Retired Gen. Joseph Hoar, former head of the U.S. Central Command, said he was confident Gates was willing to carry out Obama’s agenda. He said Gates had done well since succeeding Donald Rumsfeld, who was blamed for fostering prisoner abuse.

    ——–

    Editing by Mohammad Zargham.

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