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Rights Group: Little Progress in Stemming Killings of Colombian Trade Unionists October 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Foreign Policy.
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Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Associated Press

Trade Pacts Move Forward, But Colombia Still UnSafe for Unionists

BOGOTA, Colombia — A new study challenges claims from the administration of President Barack Obama that Colombia is making important strides in bringing to justice killers of labor activists and so deserves U.S. congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade pact.

US President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on April 7, 2011. Yesterday Obama submitted three trade pacts to Congress despite continued concerns about their impact on the US economy and human rights violations in Colombia. (Reuters)

The Human Rights Watch study found “virtually no progress” in getting convictions for killings that have occurred in the past 4 1/2 years.

It counted just six convictions obtained by a special prosecutions unit from 195 slayings between January 2007 and May 2011, with nearly nine in 10 of the unit’s cases from that period in preliminary stages with no suspect formally identified.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have long resisted bringing the Colombia trade pact to a vote, citing what they said is insufficient success in halting such killings.

The White House disagrees, and says Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-unionist violence.

US President Barack Obama sent long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress and pressed lawmakers to approve them “without delay.” Republicans endorse the bill overall and say it will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and support tens of thousands of jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently said the trade agreements are “an integral part of the President’s plan to create jobs here at home.”

But in Colombia, the world’s most lethal country for labor organizing, the killings haven’t stopped. At least 38 trade unionists have been slain since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010, says Colombia’s National Labor School.

“A major reason for this ongoing violence has been the chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last Thursday to Colombian Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales that details the study’s findings.

Convictions have been obtained for less than 10 percent of the 2,886 trade unionists killed since 1986, and the rights group said it found “severe shortcomings” in the work of a special unit of Morales’ office established five years ago to solve the slayings. The letter says the unit has demonstrated “a routine failure to adequately investigate the motive” in labor killings as well as to “bring to justice all responsible parties.”

A chief finding: The 74 convictions achieved over the past year owe largely to plea bargains with members of illegal far-right militias who confessed to killings in exchange for leniency.

They did so under the so-called Justice and Peace law that gave paramilitary fighters reduced prison sentences of up to eight years in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing to crimes. That law expired at the end of 2006, the year the free trade pact was signed.

Only in a handful of cases did prosecutors pursue evidence that the paramilitaries who confessed acted on the orders of politicians, employers or others, Human Rights Watch says.

Prosecutors “made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists,” the letter states. “What is at stake is the justice system’s ability to act as an effective deterrent to anti-union violence.”

Of the more than 275 convictions handed down through May, 80 percent were against former members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The head of international affairs in the chief prosecutor’s office, Francisco Echeverri, told the AP that it has put 513 people in prison.

In nearly half of 50 recent convictions reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the judges cited “evidence pointing to the involvement of members of the security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses or co-workers.” Yet in only one of those cases was such an individual convicted.

In the case of a gym teacher and union activist killed in the northwestern town of San Rafael in 2002, one of the paramilitaries who confessed to the crime said it was committed at the request of the mayor, according to the judge’s decision.

The man who was mayor at the time and was re-elected in 2008, Edgar Eladio Giraldo, is not being formally investigated and has not been questioned about the killing, said Hernando Castaneda, chief of the special unit.

“I have no knowledge of that and did not know that I was involved in that,” Giraldo told The Associated Press by telephone when asked about the killing of Julio Ernesto Ceballos.

A spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Morales said Sunday that her boss had not yet yet seen the Human Rights Watch letter.

Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers said the study’s findings and the continued killings “prove what labor is telling the White House: The labor rights situation in Colombia is not improving, and passage of the FTA is not appropriate.”

A memo soon to be released by the AFL-CIO deems Colombia noncompliant with the “Labor Action Plan” Santos and Obama agreed to in April as a condition for White House approval of the free trade pact.

In the memo, shown to the AP, the labor federation finds neither “economic, political, or moral justification for rewarding Colombia with a free trade agreement.”

Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon said Friday when presented with the study’s findings that Colombia’s record prosecuting “perpetrators of violence” against labor activists “has improved significantly,” though she added that Colombian officials acknowledge more needs to be done.

Harmon also stressed that additional Colombian resources are being dedicated to the issue and that the U.S. government “is working intensively with them through training and support.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that annual trade unionists killings are only a quarter of what they were a decade ago. And it applauded some measures taken by Chief Prosecutor Morales, including her announcement that an additional 100 police investigators would be assigned to the special investigative unit.

But HRW regional director Jose Miguel Vivanco said “the challenge (Morales) is facing remains huge.”

A U.S. congressman who has met with various Colombian presidents on human rights issues, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn’t think enough has been done to reverse what he called a “dismal” record.

Said McGovern: “My worry is that if you approve the FTA at this particular point you remove all the pressure off the powers that be in Colombia to actually make a sincere, honest and concerted attempt to improve the situation.”

Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.

© 2011 Associated Press

The Day They Arrested President Roosevelt July 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, History, Honduras.
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FDR
US PRESIDENT FRANKLIN DELANA ROOSEVELT
 
 
zelaya
HONDURAN PRESIDENT MANUEL ZELAYA
 
Published on Saturday, July 18, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Robert Naiman

What a dark day for American democracy it was – February 5, 1937, the day they arrested President Roosevelt.

The pretext for this assault on democracy was President Roosevelt’s proposal of the Judiciary Reorganization Bill of 1937, which would have allowed President Roosevelt to appoint more members to the Supreme Court, which had blocked New Deal measures President Roosevelt had introduced to try to bring America out of the Great Depression. Supporters of the New Deal were particularly galled by the Supreme Court’s decision the previous year throwing out New York’s minimum wage law.

But some of President Roosevelt’s opponents in Congress (including many conservative Democrats), the Supreme Court, and the military claimed the proposed bill was an assault on the Constitution – even though the Constitution doesn’t say how many Supreme Court justices there should be, and Congress had changed the number of Supreme Court Justices many times in the past – and that Roosevelt’s move was a dangerous power grab. So dangerous, in fact, that Roosevelt’s proposal could not even be considered in Congress. Roosevelt’s opponents claimed that he had violated the Constitution by even suggesting the idea, and had to be removed from office immediately; that Roosevelt and his supporters were such a threat to the established order that due process had to be dispensed with — if Roosevelt were put in prison, maybe there would be riots.

Therefore, on the morning of February 5, soldiers under the command of General Smedley Butler arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, still in his pajamas.

With President Roosevelt out of the way, the Supreme Court overturned Washington State’s minimum wage law on March 9. On April 12, the Supreme Court threw out the National Labor Relations Act — which sought to guarantee the rights of workers to organize into “unions” so they could bargain collectively for higher wages and better working conditions. Finally, on May 24, the Supreme Court overturned the law establishing Roosevelt’s proposed “Social Security” system – a public pension scheme to guarantee some income to less privileged workers and their dependents in retirement and to the disabled. The New Deal was crushed.

Imagine how different America might be today, if President Roosevelt had been allowed to continue his term and the New Deal had been allowed to proceed. Maybe sixty per cent of our fellow Americans wouldn’t live in poverty, as they do today.

Some of the foregoing things didn’t happen in the United States, but some of them did. The Supreme Court really did overturn New York’s minimum wage law, and many feared that it would overturn Washington’s minimum wage law, the National Labor Relations Act, and Social Security. The Court narrowly upheld them — 5 to 4 — after Roosevelt introduced his proposed judicial reform, when one of the anti-New Deal justices switched sides. Roosevelt’s proposed judicial reform itself was decisively defeated in Congress, with strong Democratic opposition – many did say, including many Democrats, that it was an attack on the Constitution.

U.S. soldiers never arrested President Roosevelt and deported him to Canada, although General Smedley Butler did testify to Congress that he had been recruited by people claiming to represent corporate interests to lead a coup against President Roosevelt.

Honduran President Manuel Zelaya was deported by Honduran soldiers to Costa Rica on June 28 for the “crime” of proposing that Hondurans be allowed to consider a non-binding, advisory referendum on reforming their constitution.

US corporate interests — including textile and clothing importers that pay their Honduran workers poverty wages — recently sent a letter to President Obama asking for “business as usual” with the coup regime in Honduras, a letter the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation denounced as ‘disgusting.’

Today sixty per cent of Hondurans live in poverty. They deserve a better future — a future they may never see if this coup is allowed to stand.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress are starting to stand up against the coup. Rep. Bill Delahunt and Rep. Jim McGovern have introduced a resolution calling for President Zelaya to be returned to office. Ask your Representative to support this resolution. The Capitol switchboard is 202.224.3121; or you can send an email here.

The Obama Administration has many levers it can use to pressure the coup regime. The Los Angeles Times has called for the Administration to consider “imposing sanctions on individuals involved with the coup, such as canceling visas and freezing bank accounts.“. The Obama Administration is much more likely to exert more pressure on the coup regime if Members of Congress speak out against the coup – so call or write your Representative now.

Robert Naiman is Senior Policy Analyst at Just Foreign Policy.

School of the Americas (SOA Watch) May 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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SOA Watch News &   Updates
In this SOA Watch Email Newsletter:

  • Legislation to Suspend Operations at the School of the Americas and to Investigate its Connection to Human Rights Abuses in Latin America Introduced in Congress.
  • Colombian SOA Graduate Arrested for his Participation in Massacre
  • Believe Together: June 24th Interfaith Mobilization for Health Care for All
  • 24-Hour Vigil to End Torture on June 27, 2009 in Washington, DC
  • Father Larry Rosebaugh ¡Presente!

    Contact your Representative Now!New SOA/ WHINSEC Legislation Introduced in Congress!
    On May 21st, 2009, Representative Jim McGovern introduced HR 2567 in the House of Representatives with 42 original cosponsors! This new legislation would suspend operations at the SOA/ WHINSEC and investigate the association of torture and human rights abuses associated with the school.

    We need your help generating more cosponsors and support for HR 2567! Visit the Legislative Action Index on our website to learn more about how you can get involved and add your cosponsor as a supporter of this legislation. Use our Online Action to send an automatic email or fax to your Member of Congress or access our sample call script and the toll-free congressional switchboard phone number to make your views heard in Washington! You can also access the updated list of cosponsors at the bottom of the Legislative Action Index.

    If you haven’t already signed the petition to President Obama asking that he close the SOA/ WHINSEC by executive order, click here to sign the petition online!

    For more information, please contact the Legislative Coordinator of SOA Watch, Pam Bowman at pbowman@soaw.org or 202-234-3440.

    Click here to Send a Message to your Representative


    Colombian SOA Graduate Arrested for his Participation in Massacre
    Saturday 23 May 2009, by Prensa – Colectivo: A preventive measure of detention was issued against the former commander of the Palacé Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Jorge Alberto Amor Páez, by the specialized human rights prosecutor in the city of Calí, Juan Carlos Oliveros Corrales. This warrant confirmed Amor Páez’s participation in the massacre of 24 peasant farmers, which took place in the rural communities of Alaska, Tres Esquinas and La Habana, in the municipality of Buga in the department of Valle del Cauca, on October 10, 2001.

    Click here to read the full story


    Believe Together: June 24th Interfaith Mobilization for Health Care for All

    On June 24th, on Freedom Plaza in Washington D.C., national religious networks and chaplaincy organizations will sponsor an Interfaith Service of Witness and Prayer for Health Care for All, with echo events across the country, and with lobby visits to congressional offices on behalf of comprehensive health care reform. The event will draw attention to the moral message offered by every American faith tradition: quality, accessible, and affordable health care coverage for all, this year. Over 30 national faith-based organizations, including SOA-Watch, have endorsed this event, as have numerous regional and local religious entities. For more information, and to add the endorsement of your faith community, please visit the website: www.WeBelieveTogether.org


    24-Hour Vigil to End Torture

    For its 12th consecutive year, the Torture Abolition Survivor Support Coalition (TASSC) will hold a 24-Hour Vigil in Washington, DC, on Saturday, June 27, across from the White House. The Vigil will be attended by survivors of torture from around the world and supported by many friends and colleagues.

    Commemorating the U.N. International Day in Support Of Torture Victims and Survivors
    When: Saturday June 27, 2009
    Where: Lafayette Park, in front of the White House
    Organized by: TASSC International and Friends of TASSC


    Father Larry Rosebaugh ¡Presente!

    In sadness, we share that Fr. Larry Rosebaugh OMI was shot to death in Playa Grande, Guatemala on May 18th. He was a member of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He was killed by gunmen in an alleged carjacking while he and 4 other Oblates were on their way to a meeting. The gunmen escaped and did not take the van. One other Oblate, Fr. Jean Claude Nowama OMI was wounded, although not mortally.

    Larry Rosebaugh, along with Fr. Roy Bourgeois MM and Linda Ventimiglia carried out the first action at Fort Benning in 1983. After scaling a tree, they played one of Romero’s final sermons overlooking the barracks where the Salvadoran soldiers were training. Larry served 15 months in prison for the action. Many of us see this as the beginning of movement in the US.

    Since the 1960’s when Larry began protesting the Vietnam war he found him self in front of many judges and in numerous prisons for his protests against the School of the Americas, nuclear arms and war. In 1975, he was assigned to the missions in Brazil, where he spent 6 years. Returning to the US in 1981, he was a member of the Catholic Worker House community in New York City for 4 years, spent some time in El Salvador as a volunteer with Christian Volunteer Ministries, and, in 1993, was assigned to the Oblate mission in Guatemala, where he was serving when he was killed During his many years of ministry, Fr. Larry, often known as Fr. Lorenzo, was an advocate for peace and justice wherever he served. His autobiography, To Wisdom through Failure, was published in 2006. He spoke and read his new book at the 2006 November Vigil.

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    Backlash grows against Obama’s preventive detention proposal May 25, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Uncategorized.
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    Glenn Greenwald
    www.salon.com, May 25, 2009
    (updated below – Update, Update II )
    The backlash against President Obama’s extraordinary proposal for indefinite “preventive detention” — already widespread in the immediate aftermath of his speech — continues to grow.  On Friday, Sen. Russ Feingold sent a letter (.pdf) to Obama which, while praising some aspects of his speech, vowed to hold hearings on his detention proposal, and in the letter, Feingold rather emphatically highlighted the radical and dangerous aspects of Obama’s approach:

    My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.
    While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.  It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.
    You have discussed this possibility only in the context of the current detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet we must be aware of the precedent that such a system would establish. While the handling of these detainees by the Bush Administration was particularly egregious, from a legal as well as human rights perspective, these are unlikely to be the last suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security. Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.

    Feingold’s last point — that the more Obama embraces radical Bush/Cheney polices, the more entrenched they become as bipartisan consensus — is critically important, and extends to other policies as well, from the use of state secrets to block judicial review of executive branch lawbreaking, the concealment of evidence of government crimes, the veneration of “looking-forward political harmony” over the rule of law in cases of extreme government lawbreaking, and the denial of habeas corpus rights to individuals we abduct and transport to a war zone (such as Bagram).
    On Twitter on Friday, Rachel Maddow pointed to the civil liberties questionnaire from Charlie Savage which Obama answered during the Democratic primary and asked rhetorically:  “This is the same guy now proposing ‘prolonged detention’ without trial?”  The New York Times‘ William Glaberson wrote that Obama’s detention policy “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself”; observed that “in some countries, it is called ‘administrative detention,’ a designation with a slightly totalitarian ring”; and quoted the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner as pointing out that “holding detainees domestically under a new system of preventive detention would simply ‘move Guantánamo to a new location and give it a new name.'”  And on Meet the Press this Sunday, the same bizarre (though entirely understandable) pattern continued to assert itself whereby the hardest-core followers of George Bush can barely contain their admiration for Obama’s “counter-terrorism” policies (National Review‘s Rich Lowry:  “it’s kind of a funny debate because Obama has embraced the essentials of the Bush counterterrorism program. I think that program worked, I think it’s wise of him to do that and it, it reflects some admirable kind of flexibility and pragmatism”).
    It’s a bit difficult to claim that what Obama is proposing is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, given that his own White House Counsel just last February told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer that it would be “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.”  As acknowledged by two of the leading proponents of preventive detention — Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith and Obama’s Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal — the real purpose of preventive detention (contrary to what some are arguing) is not to classify and treat all detainees as “prisoners of war” (since some of them, by Obama’s own description, will get trials in real courts and others in military commissions), but rather, to give “the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates” (h/t EJ).  I defy anyone to re-read that description of what this “preventive detention” system does and then claim that what is being described is a “justice system” in any meaningful sense of that term.
    * * * * * 
    On Friday, I spoke with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner about these issues and the transcript is here.
     
    UPDATE:  In this morning’s New York Times, the aforementioned Charlie Savage examines Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court in the context of executive power, noting that while Obama has rejected some of the most extreme Bush legal theories, his embrace of many of the same policies — denial of habeas rights at Bagram, revised military commissions, preventive detention — places Obama on what Savage called “his own collision course with the court.”
    As Savage notes, Souter was a very reliable vote in favor of placing some limits on Bush’s executive power assertions (which were almost invariably 5-4 decisions against Bush).  Thus, replacing Souter with a justice who is more receptive to broad claims of executive power could shift the balance of the court on these questions.  
    Savage examines the record, which reveals that one leading candidate — Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood — has some very impressive past statements that demonstrate her recognition of the need to impose real limits on executive power, including what would appear to be her opposition to Obama’s just-announced plan for military commissions (“‘the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business,’ [Wood] wrote”).  By contrast, Obama’s Solicitor General — Elena Kagan — has, as Law Professor Darren Hutchinson also documents, repeatedly endorsed broad theories of executive power of the type that would fit in nicely with Bush’s OLC circa 2004.
    That Obama may be motivated to seek out a Justice with much more permissive views of executive power than those to which the Bush-41-appointed Souter subscribed — all in order to ensure that the Court approves of his “counter-terrorism” policies — simply underscores the irony of what Obama is doing in this area.
     
    UPDATE II:  When he introduced his proposal for preventive detention during  Thursday’s speech, Obama said he wants to “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime, that our efforts are consistent with all values and our Constitution.”  But as CQ reports today (h/t EJ), key members of his own party are baffled by how any such preventive detention system could ever possibly be consistent with the Constitution:

    President Obama may not get a lot of help from Congress in designing the detention system he says he wants: something that can hold people who haven’t committed any terrorists acts, but probably will, in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution.
    So far, congressional Democrats have no idea how he can do that — which pretty much leaves him with the burden of figuring it out himself. . . .
    The problem is, the congressional Democrats he’d consult on the issue don’t seem to have any suggestions for Obama on how to detain potentially dangerous people without violating the Constitution.
    “I don’t know,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who would be likely to be involved in any discussions between Obama and Congress. . . .
    Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts gave Obama “credit for taking the issue on in a straightforward way,” but said only that “I’d be interested to see what he’s proposing” on a constitutional system of preventive detention. “Maybe he’s a smarter man than I,” McGovern said, but “I can’t think of a system that fits within the Constitution” . . . .
    “That was one of the troubling moments in his speech, which was generally very strong on the rule of law,” said Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Either you have committed a crime, and we’re prosecuting you, or you haven’t. I know there’s no silver bullet, believe me, but I think he’s got some mixed messages.”

    If incarcerating people with no charges and no trial indefinitely — while making clear that the imprisonment will likely last decades — isn’t unconstitutional, then it’s hard to imagine what would be.
     
     

     

    Backlash grows against Obama’s preventive detention proposal May 25, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    add a comment

    Glenn Greenwald

    www.salon.com, May 25, 2009

    (updated below – Update II)

    The backlash against President Obama’s extraordinary proposal for indefinite “preventive detention” — already widespread in the immediate aftermath of his speech — continues to grow.  On Friday, Sen. Russ Feingold sent a letter (.pdf) to Obama which, while praising some aspects of his speech, vowed to hold hearings on his detention proposal, and in the letter, Feingold rather emphatically highlighted the radical and dangerous aspects of Obama’s approach:

    My primary concern, however, relates to your reference to the possibility of indefinite detention without trial for certain detainees. While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime, any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.

    While I recognize that your administration inherited detainees who, because of torture, other forms of coercive interrogations, or other problems related to their detention or the evidence against them, pose considerable challenges to prosecution, holding them indefinitely without trial is inconsistent with the respect for the rule of law that the rest of your speech so eloquently invoked. Indeed, such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.  It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.

    You have discussed this possibility only in the context of the current detainees at Guantanamo Bay, yet we must be aware of the precedent that such a system would establish. While the handling of these detainees by the Bush Administration was particularly egregious, from a legal as well as human rights perspective, these are unlikely to be the last suspected terrorists captured by the United States. Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful. And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not. There is a real risk, then, of establishing policies and legal precedents that rather than ridding our country of the burden of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, merely set the stage for future Guantanamos, whether on our shores or elsewhere, with disastrous consequences for our national security. Worse, those policies and legal precedents would be effectively enshrined as acceptable in our system of justice, having been established not by one, largely discredited administration, but by successive administrations of both parties with greatly contrasting positions on legal and constitutional issues.

    Feingold’s last point — that the more Obama embraces radical Bush/Cheney polices, the more entrenched they become as bipartisan consensus — is critically important, and extends to other policies as well, from the use of state secrets to block judicial review of executive branch lawbreaking, the concealment of evidence of government crimes, the veneration of “looking-forward political harmony” over the rule of law in cases of extreme government lawbreaking, and the denial of habeas corpus rights to individuals we abduct and transport to a war zone (such as Bagram).

    On Twitter on Friday, Rachel Maddow pointed to the civil liberties questionnaire from Charlie Savage which Obama answered during the Democratic primary and asked rhetorically:  “This is the same guy now proposing ‘prolonged detention’ without trial?”  The New York Times‘ William Glaberson wrote that Obama’s detention policy “would be a departure from the way this country sees itself”; observed that “in some countries, it is called ‘administrative detention,’ a designation with a slightly totalitarian ring”; and quoted the Center for Constitutional Rights’ Michael Ratner as pointing out that “holding detainees domestically under a new system of preventive detention would simply ‘move Guantánamo to a new location and give it a new name.'”  And on Meet the Press this Sunday, the same bizarre (though entirely understandable) pattern continued to assert itself whereby the hardest-core followers of George Bush can barely contain their admiration for Obama’s “counter-terrorism” policies (National Review‘s Rich Lowry:  “it’s kind of a funny debate because Obama has embraced the essentials of the Bush counterterrorism program. I think that program worked, I think it’s wise of him to do that and it, it reflects some admirable kind of flexibility and pragmatism”).

    It’s a bit difficult to claim that what Obama is proposing is nothing new, nothing out of the ordinary, given that his own White House Counsel just last February told The New Yorker‘s Jane Mayer that it would be “hard to imagine Barack Obama as the first President of the United States to introduce a preventive-detention law.”  As acknowledged by two of the leading proponents of preventive detention — Bush OLC lawyer Jack Goldsmith and Obama’s Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal — the real purpose of preventive detention (contrary to what some are arguing) is not to classify and treat all detainees as “prisoners of war” (since some of them, by Obama’s own description, will get trials in real courts and others in military commissions), but rather, to give “the government an overwhelming incentive to use trials only when it is certain to win convictions and long sentences, and to place the rest in whatever detention system it creates” (h/t EJ).  I defy anyone to re-read that description of what this “preventive detention” system does and then claim that what is being described is a “justice system” in any meaningful sense of that term.

    * * * * * 

    On Friday, I spoke with the ACLU’s Ben Wizner about these issues and the transcript is here.

     

    UPDATE:  In this morning’s New York Times, the aforementioned Charlie Savage examines Obama’s choice to replace David Souter on the Supreme Court in the context of executive power, noting that while Obama has rejected some of the most extreme Bush legal theories, his embrace of many of the same policies — denial of habeas rights at Bagram, revised military commissions, preventive detention — places Obama on what Savage called “his own collision course with the court.”

    As Savage notes, Souter was a very reliable vote in favor of placing some limits on Bush’s executive power assertions (which were almost invariably 5-4 decisions against Bush).  Thus, replacing Souter with a justice who is more receptive to broad claims of executive power could shift the balance of the court on these questions.  

    Savage examines the record, which reveals that one leading candidate — Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Diane Wood — has some very impressive past statements that demonstrate her recognition of the need to impose real limits on executive power, including what would appear to be her opposition to Obama’s just-announced plan for military commissions (“‘the principle is well established that extraordinary tribunals, such as military commissions, are not authorized to operate if the normal courts are open for business,’ [Wood] wrote”).  By contrast, Obama’s Solicitor General — Elena Kagan — has, as Law Professor Darren Hutchinson also documents, repeatedly endorsed broad theories of executive power of the type that would fit in nicely with Bush’s OLC circa 2004.

    That Obama may be motivated to seek out a Justice with much more permissive views of executive power than those to which the Bush-41-appointed Souter subscribed — all in order to ensure that the Court approves of his “counter-terrorism” policies — simply underscores the irony of what Obama is doing in this area.

     

    UPDATE II:  When he introduced his proposal for preventive detention during  Thursday’s speech, Obama said he wants to “work with Congress to develop an appropriate legal regime, that our efforts are consistent with all values and our Constitution.”  But as CQ reports today (h/t EJ), key members of his own party are baffled by how any such preventive detention system could ever possibly be consistent with the Constitution:

    President Obama may not get a lot of help from Congress in designing the detention system he says he wants: something that can hold people who haven’t committed any terrorists acts, but probably will, in a way that’s consistent with the Constitution.

    So far, congressional Democrats have no idea how he can do that — which pretty much leaves him with the burden of figuring it out himself. . . .

    The problem is, the congressional Democrats he’d consult on the issue don’t seem to have any suggestions for Obama on how to detain potentially dangerous people without violating the Constitution.

    “I don’t know,” said House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who would be likely to be involved in any discussions between Obama and Congress. . . .

    Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts gave Obama “credit for taking the issue on in a straightforward way,” but said only that “I’d be interested to see what he’s proposing” on a constitutional system of preventive detention. “Maybe he’s a smarter man than I,” McGovern said, but “I can’t think of a system that fits within the Constitution” . . . .

    “That was one of the troubling moments in his speech, which was generally very strong on the rule of law,” said Sarah Mendelson, director of the Human Rights and Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Either you have committed a crime, and we’re prosecuting you, or you haven’t. I know there’s no silver bullet, believe me, but I think he’s got some mixed messages.”

    If incarcerating people with no charges and no trial indefinitely — while making clear that the imprisonment will likely last decades — isn’t unconstitutional, then it’s hard to imagine what would be.

    How Many Democrats Will Stand Up to Obama’s Bloated Military Budget and $75 Billion More in War Spending? April 9, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    1 comment so far

    Obama wants billions more for the Iraq/Afghanistan wars on top of a US military budget that already surpasses Bush-era spending by $21 billion. Where is the resistance?

    by Jeremy Scahill

    Much of the media attention this week on President Obama’s new military budget has put forward a false narrative wherein Obama is somehow taking his socialist/pacifist sledgehammer to the Pentagon’s war machine and blasting it to smithereens. Republicans have charged that Obama is endangering the country’s security, while the Democratic leadership has hailed it as the dawn of a new era in responsible spending priorities. Part of this narrative portrays Defense Secretary Robert Gates as standing up to the war industry, particularly military contractors.

    The reality is that all of this is false.

    Here is an undeniable fact: Obama is substantially increasing US military spending, by at least $21 billion from Bush-era levels, including a significant ratcheting up of Afghanistan war spending, as well as more money for unmanned attack drones, which are increasingly being used in attacks on Pakistan. (David Swanson over at AfterDowningStreet.org does a great job of breaking down some of the media coverage of this issue across the political spectrum).

    Obama’s budget of $534 billion to the Department of Defense “represents roughly a 4-percent increase over the $513 billion allocated to the Pentagon in FY2009 under the Bush administration, and $6.7 billion more than the outgoing administration’s projections for FY 2010,” bragged Lawrence Korb, author of the Center for American Progress‘ report supporting Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan, in an article called, ” Obama’s Defense Budget Is on Target.”

    Obama and his neoliberal think tankers clearly didn’t think much of Rep. Barney Frank’s call earlier this year to cut military spending by 25% to pay for urgently needed social programs and economic aid to struggling Americans. “To accomplish his goals of expanding health care and other important quality of life services without ballooning the deficit,” Frank said, Obama needed to reduce military spending. “If we do not get military spending under control, we will not be able to respond to important domestic needs.” Well, not only is overall military spending on the rise, but Obama is about to ask for billions more for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in a “supplemental” spending bill, the type which were staples in Bush’s campaign to mask of the full military budget and total cost of the wars. Obama could seek the funding as early as Thursday.

    Now, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that we may actually see some spine coming from Congress in standing up to Obama’s request for this additional $75.5 billion in war funds. The WSJ characterized the situation as one of “raising tensions” between Obama and some lawmakers opposed to the wars. It should be noted off-the-bat that the Congresspeople speaking out are, predictably, members of the usual suspects club and the Democratic leadership is probably at this moment sharing cocktails in the backroom with McCain and McConnell, but, nonetheless, it is worth examining what is being said:

    “I can’t imagine any way I’d vote for it,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a California Democrat and leader in the 77-member congressional Progressive Caucus. It would be her first major break with this White House.Ms. Woolsey fears the president’s plan for Iraq would leave behind a big occupation force. She is also concerned about the planned escalation in Afghanistan. “I don’t think we should be going there,” she said.

    Similar sentiments echo across the House. Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) said he fears Afghanistan could become a quagmire. “I just have this sinking feeling that we’re getting deeper and deeper into a war that has no end,” he said.

    Rep. John Conyers (D., Mich.) dismissed Mr. Obama’s plans as “embarrassingly naive,” and suggested that the president is being led astray by those around him. “He’s the smartest man in American politics today,” Rep. Conyers said. “But he occasionally gets bad advice and makes mistakes. This is one of those instances.”

    Obama has vowed to break with the Bush-era tradition of seeking such supplementals to fund the war, saying that beginning in 2010 he will fund the wars as part of his overall budget. The anti-war caucus of Democrats is unlikely to have enough votes to block it given the increasingly overt pro-war nature of the Democratic leadership. And, as the WSJ notes, the funding bills are likely to pass “since many Republicans will support them.”

    An interesting point nestled half-way through the WSJ piece illustrates a point some antiwar activists have been making since Obama’s election-he is likely to win increased support from Democratic lawmakers for wars they may not have supported when Bush was in power:

    The president argues that Afghanistan has been neglected, allowing al Qaeda to regroup and exposing the U.S. to new dangers.Rep. John Larson (D., Conn.) suggests Democrats may be less inclined to joust with the current White House on the issue than they were with former President George W. Bush. “We have somebody that Democrats feel will level with them,” said Mr. Larson, the House’s fourth-ranking Democrat.

    This truly is one of the most important trends to watch with the Obama presidency, particularly as it relates to war policy. Obama is in a position to greatly advance the interests of empire, precisely because he is able to build much wider support for policies that are essentially a continuation of those implemented by Bush.

     

    Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

    State Department Should Investigate Environmental Abuses in Ecuador by Chevron, Say Congressmen Howard Berman and Jim McGovern December 23, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Ecuador, Environment, Human Rights, Latin America.
    Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
    2 comments

    chevron-pollution-shushufindi-ecuadorThe Pollution Chevron Left Behind…Shushufindi pit 38

    www.earthtimes.org

    Posted : Fri, 19 Dec 2008 15:31:58 GMT
    Author : DC-AMAZON-DEFENSE

    WASHINGTON – (Business Wire) The Chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee and the Co-Chair of the House Human Rights Commission have called for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to investigate why the State Department’s annual human rights report includes “countless” examples of abuses across the world but fails to mention the “detrimental impact” of environmental destruction in the Ecuadorian rainforest from the oil operations of Texaco, now owned by Chevron.

     

    In a letter to Rice, U.S. Congressmen Howard Berman and Jim McGovern wrote: “We are … deeply troubled by the fact that the Human Rights Report does not even begin to reflect the grave human rights situation in the region. When the 2007 Report states that ‘Although oil companies increased efforts to minimize the environmental and social impact of their oil projects in the Amazonian region, environmental damage, particularly deforestation, continued,’ it falls laughably short of factually documenting what it is legally mandated to do, which is to report on the ‘status of internally recognized human rights.’”

    Berman serves as Chair of the House Foreign Relations Committee, and McGovern is Co-Chair of the House Human Rights Commission. McGovern recently returned from a congressional trip to Ecuador’s rainforest to view the environmental impact of oil operations in a large area of rainforest where Texaco (now Chevron) built and operated hundreds of wells in the 1970s and 1980s.

    Chevron is currently a defendant in a civil suit in Ecuador where a court-appointed expert found damages could be as high as $27 billion. Plaintiffs say the toxic dumping by Texaco was 30 times larger than the oil spilled in the Exxon Valdez disaster and was done intentionally to lower production costs.

    In their letter, the congressmen asked Rice to answer several questions:

    • Why is there no mention of the high cancer rate and the significant numbers of deaths that occurred in the region?
    • Why does the Report not state that this is an issue going as far back as 1964 when U.S. companies first extracted oil?
    • Why does the Report give countless examples of ongoing human rights investigations, court cases, national human rights committee proceedings, but fails to mention the 15-year-old lawsuit against Chevron, which is now pending in Ecuador?

    The court-appointed expert in Ecuador determined that the contamination was largely the product of sub-standard practices used by Texaco from 1964 to 1990, when the company dumped more than 18 billion gallons of toxic waste over an area of rainforest roughly the size of Rhode Island. Chevron now owns Texaco and will bear any liability in the case, which is being tried in Ecuador at Chevron’s request.

    According to the expert, more than 1,000 people have died of cancer in the region because of the oil contamination and five indigenous groups are struggling to survive.

    A final court ruling on Chevron’s liability and damages is expected in 2009.

    A copy of the letter can be obtained at www.chevrontoxico.org at Featured Documents or by emailing the media contact above.

    About the Amazon Defense Coalition

    The Amazon Defense Coalition represents dozens of rainforest communities and five indigenous groups that inhabit Ecuador’s Northern Amazon region. The mission of the Coalition is to protect the environment and secure social justice through grass roots organizing, political advocacy, and litigation.

     

    Amazon Defense Coalition
    Karen Hinton, 703-798-3109
    Karen@hintoncommunications.com

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