Tags: civil liberties, human rights, incarceration, james ridgeway, jean casella, John McCain, prisoners, prisons, roger hollander, sensory deprivation, solitary confinement, torture
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Imagine a place filled with closed, windowless cells. Each cell may be so small that you can extend your arms and touch the side walls. It may contain a bunk of poured concrete, a toilet, perhaps a small table and stool. A few personal possessions – books, family photos – may be permitted, or they may not. The door to the cell is solid steel.Approximately 80,000 prisoners are held in solitary confinement, which has been labelled torture by the UN, in US prisons. (Photograph: Brennan Linsley/Pool/Reuters)
Three times a day, a food tray slides in through a slot in the door; when that happens you may briefly see a hand, or exchange a few words with a guard. It is your only human contact for the day. Five times a week, you are allowed an hour of solitary exercise in a concrete-walled yard about the same size as your cell. The yard is empty, but if you look straight up, you can catch a glimpse of sky.
Imagine that a quarter of the people who live in this place are mentally ill. Some have entered the cells with underlying psychiatric disabilities, while others have been driven mad by the confinement and isolation. Some of them scream in desperation all day and night. Others cut themselves, or smear their cells with feces. A number manage to commit suicide in their cells.
You may remain in this place for months, years, or even decades. The conditions in which you live have been denounced as torture by UN officials and by a host of human rights, civil liberties, and religious groups. And yet you remain where you are.
This place is located not in some distant authoritarian nation or secret black site abroad, but here on US soil. In fact, there are places like it in nearly every state in the union, within sight of our own cities and towns. On any given day in the United States, supermax prison and solitary confinement units hold at least 80,000 men, women, and children in conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation.
Most of them have committed nonviolent offenses against prison rules or have been categorically branded as “high risk”. A large and disproportionate percentage suffer from serious mental illness. Some of them are children. Condemned to solitary by prison officials, they spend 23 hours a day in their cells without work, rehabilitative programming, or human contact of any kind.
What remains to be seen is whether Congress will take further action to curb this failed and torturous practice.
These prisoners live out of sight of the public and the press. Their conditions have, with few exceptions, been condoned by the courts and ignored by elected officials. As a result, over the past three decades, the use and abuse of solitary confinement in US prisons has grown into one of the nation’s most pressing domestic human rights issues – yet it also remains one of the most invisible.
On Tuesday, for the first time, the US Congress has taken a look at these domestic black sites. The Senate judiciary subcommittee on the constitution, civil rights, and human rights held a hearing in which corrections officials, lawyers, and mental health experts – along with one lone survivor of prison isolation – testified to the “human rights, fiscal, and public safety consequences” of solitary confinement.
For evidence of humanitarian consequences, the senators need only turn to their colleague John McCain, who spent two years in solitary confinement as a prisoner of war in Vietnam (in a cell somewhat larger than those in most American supermaxes). “It’s an awful thing, solitary,” McCain later wrote. “It crushes your spirit and weakens your resistance more effectively than any other form of mistreatment.”
As for fiscal and public safety consequences, the subcommittee members can look to evidence-based research that keeping prisoners in solitary confinement costs two to three times more than keeping them in the general population, and is likely to increase both prison violence and recidivism. Or they can study the example of the few states – including Maine and Mississippi – that dramatically reduced the number of prisoners they keep in isolation, with positive results.
What remains to be seen is whether Congress will take further action to curb this failed and torturous practice. Given the political will, the subcommittee could begin by holding more hearings around the country, while its staff carries out an investigation that opens up to public scrutiny the tormented inner workings of supermax prisons and solitary confinement units.
An independent federal body with the absolute right to enter and report on prisons could go even further in exposing abusive conditions. Legislation could then force the creation and adoption of federal standards for the treatment of prisoners, which states would have to meet in order to receive federal funds.
All of this depends upon our elected leaders taking seriously the notion that all Americans – including prisoners – have an absolute right to immunity from torture by the state. That is likely to happen any time soon, but until it does, unimaginable things will keep taking place at black sites in our own backyards.
James Ridgeway is senior Washington correspondent for Mother Jones, and co-editor of Solitary Watch. James began his career as a contributor to the New Republic, Ramparts and the Wall Street Journal. Later, he was co-founder and editor of the political newsletters Mayday, Hard Times and the Elements.
Jean Casella is a freelance writer, editor and publishing consultant, and co-editor of Solitary Watch
Tags: ed becenti, First Nations, hopi, John McCain, jon kyl, native rights, navaho, roger hollander, sb 2109, water rights
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Ed Becenti in Native Condition. Discussion »
TUBA CITY, ARIZONA – Senators Jon Kyl, Arizona – R, and John McCain, Arizona – R, will be in Tuba City on Thursday, April 5, 2012, to persuade Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribal leaders to give up their peoples’ aboriginal and Treaty-guaranteed priority Water Rights by accepting a “Settlement Agreement” written to benefit some of the West’s most powerful mining and energy corporations.
Ed Becenti – Navajo
They are doing so by trying to persuade the Navajo Nation and Hopi leaders to support and endorse Senate Bill 2109.
Senate Bill 2109 45; the “Navajo-Hopi Little Colorado River Water Rights Settlement Act of 2012″ was introduced by Kyl and McCain on February 14, 2012, and is on a fast track to give Arizona corporations and water interests a “100 th birthday present” that will close the door forever on Navajo and Hopi food and water sovereignty, security and self-reliance.
S.2109 asks the Navajo and Hopi peoples to waive their priority Water Rights to the surface waters of the Little Colorado River “from time immemorial and thereafter, forever” in return for the shallow promise of uncertain federal appropriations to supply minimal amounts of drinking water to a handful of reservation communities.
The Bill – and the “Settlement Agreement” it ratifies – do not quantify Navajo and Hopi water rights – the foundation of all other southwestern Indian Water Rights settlements to date – thereby denying the Tribes the economic market value of their water rights, and forcing them into perpetual dependence on uncertain federal funding for any water projects.
Senators Kyl and McCain know well that without water, life is not possible. Yet, their Bill and the “Settlement Agreement” close the door forever to any possibility of irrigated agriculture and water conservation projects to heal and restore Navajo and Hopi watersheds (keeping sediment from filling downstream reservoirs) to grow high-value income and employment-producing livestock and crops for Navajo, Hopi and external markets; and to provide once again for healthy, diabetes – and obesity-free nutrition and active lifestyles for all future generations of Navajo and Hopi children.
Senators Kyl and McCain demand that the Navajo and Hopi people waive and give up all their rights to legal protection of injury to surface and ground water supply and quality in the past, present, and future – yet the Navajo and Hopi peoples do not even know the full extent and nature of the rights they are being pressured to waive because the details of the “Settlement Agreement” are not being shared with the public.
This is wrong.
Navajo and Hopi water and public health have already been damaged severely by past uranium and coal mining in and upstream of Navajo and Hopi communities. Senators Kyl and McCain are trying now to take away all rightful legal protections against the present and real danger of such contaminations occurring again.
S.2109 and the “Settlement Agreement” deny the Navajo and Hopi people the resources and means to assess comprehensive long-term water needs of every community, village, and watershed; and deny the resources and means to plan for, and develop sufficient domestic, municipal, industrial and agricultural “wet water” projects essential to the permanent well-being, prosperity and health of their homelands and children’s children. This is absolutely counter to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1908 Winter’s Doctrine that explicitly reserves and safeguards the water needed for that permanent well-being and prosperity.
S.2109 and the “Settlement Agreement” deny the Navajo and Hopi people the resources and means to bank their own waters, or to recharge their aquifers depleted and damaged by the mining and energy corporations that S.2109 benefits. S.2109 and the “Settlement Agreement” require Navajo and Hopi to give Peabody Coal Mining Company and the Salt River Project and other owners of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) tens of thousands of acre-feet of Navajo and Hopi water annually – without any compensation – and to force the extension of Peabody and NGS leases without Navajo and Hopi community input, or regard for past and continuing harmful impacts to public health, water supplies and water quality – as necessary pre-conditions to Navajo and Hopi receiving Congressional appropriations for minimal domestic water development.
This is coercive and wrong.
Ed Becenti, Navajo, has lived on the Navajo Reservation his entire life. He grew up on tradition and culture taught by his elders in the Navajo language. Mr. Becenti serves as a spokesperson Navajo people in the political environment challenging sensitive Native issues in local, state, and national government. Presently, protecting sacred tribal water rights has become personal priority for him; not only on behalf of Navajo people, but for the neighboring Hopi Nation. He resides in Window Rock, Arizona.
posted April 4, 2012 7:57 am edt
Would We Be Better Off If John McCain Were President? August 1, 2011Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, John McCain.
Tags: 2008 election, democratic party, domestic policy, Economic Crisis, economy, foreign policy, John McCain, obama administration, obama's wars, politics, presidency, Republican Party, roger hollander, war
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corporations behind them. A President McCain may have at least triggered a true
Democrats were united on one issue in the 2008 presidential election: the
absolute disaster that a John McCain victory would have produced.
And they were right. McCain as president would clearly have produced a long
string of catastrophes: He would probably have approved a failed troop surge in
Afghanistan, engaged in worldwide extrajudicial assassination, destabilized nuclear-armed
Pakistan, failed to bring Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu to the negotiating table, expanded prosecution of whistle-blowers, sought to
expand executive branch power, failed to close Guantanamo, failed to act on climate change, pushed both nuclear energy and opened new
areas to domestic oil drilling, failed to reform the financial sector enough to prevent another financial catastrophe, supported an extension of the
Bush tax cuts for the rich, presided over a growing divide between rich and poor, and failed to lower the jobless rate.
Nothing reveals the true state of American politics today more than the fact
that Democratic President Barack Obama has undertaken all of these actions, and
even more significantly, left the Democratic Party far weaker than it would have
been had McCain been elected. Few issues are more important than seeing behind
the screen of a myth-making mass media, and understanding what this demonstrates
about how power in America really works—and what needs to be done to change
First and foremost, McCain would have undoubtedly selected as treasury
secretary an individual nominated by Wall Street—which has a stranglehold on the
economy due to its enjoying 30 to 40 percent of all corporate profits. If he
didn’t select Tim Geithner, a reliable servant of financial interests whose
nomination might have allowed McCain to trumpet his “maverick” credentials,
whoever he did select would clearly have also moved to bail out the financial
institutions and allow them to water down needed financial reforms.
Ditto for the head of his National Economic Council. Although appointing
Larry Summers might have been a bit of a stretch, despite his yeoman work in destroying financial regulation—thus enriching
his old boss Robert Rubin and helping cause the Crash of 2008—McCain could
easily have found a Jack Kemp-like Republican “supply-sider” who would have
duplicated Summers’ signal achievement of expanding the deficit to the highest
levels since 1950 (though perhaps with a slightly higher percentage of tax cuts
than the Obama stimulus). The economy would have continued to sputter along,
with growth rates and joblessness levels little different from today’s, and
possibly even worse.
But McCain’s election would have produced a major political difference: It
would have increased Democratic clout in the House and Senate. First off, there
would have been no Tea Party, no “don’t raise the debt limit unless we gut the
poor,” no “death panel” myth, no “Obama Youth” nonsense. Although there would
have been plenty of criticism from the likes of Rush Limbaugh, the fact remains
that McCain, a Republican war hero, would never have excited the Tea Party
animus as did the “Secret-Muslim Kenyan-Born Big-Government Fascist White-Hating
Antichrist” Obama. Glenn Beck would have remained a crazed nonentity and been
dropped far sooner by Fox News than he was. And Vice President Sarah Palin,
despised by both McCain and his tough White House staff, would have been
deprived of any real power and likely tightly muzzled against criticizing
McCain’s relatively centrist (compared to her positions) policies.
Voters would almost certainly have increased Democratic control of the House
and Senate in 2010, since the Republicans would have been seen as responsible
for the weak U.S. economy. Democrats might even have achieved the long-desired
60 percent majority needed to kill the filibuster in one or both houses.
Democratic control of the House and Senate fostered by disastrous Republican
policies would have severely limited McCain’s ability (as occurred with George
W. Bush) to weaken Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment insurance
and other programs that aid those most in need. (Yes, domestic spending might
have been cut less if McCain had won.)
Had McCain proposed “health insurance reform,” because health insurers saw a
golden opportunity to increase their customer base and profits while retaining
their control, the Democrats would at least have passed a “public option” as
their price for support. And possible Health and Human Services Secretary Newt
Gingrich—placed in that position in a clever move to keep him away from economic
or foreign policy—might have even accelerated needed improvements in
computerizing patient records and other high-tech measures needed to cut health
care costs, actions that he touted in his book on the subject.
In foreign and military policy, McCain would surely have approved Gen. David
Petraeus’ “Afghanistan surge,” possibly increasing the number of U.S. troops
there by 40,000 instead of 33,500. But Gen. Stanley McChrystal would probably
have remained at the helm in Afghanistan, since he and his aides would never
have disparaged McCain to Rolling Stone. McChrystal
might have continued a “counterinsurgency” strategy, observing relatively strict
rules of engagement, unlike his successor, Petraeus, who tore up those rules and
has instead unleashed a brutal cycle of “counterterror” violence in southern
Afghanistan. (Yes, far fewer Afghan civilians might have died had McCain
McCain, like Obama, would probably have destabilized nuclear-armed Pakistan
and strengthened militant forces there by expanding drone strikes and pushing
the Pakistani military to launch disastrous offensives into tribal areas. And he
would have given as much support as has Obama to Israeli Prime Minister
Netanyahu’s opposition to a peace deal because he believes that present policies
of strangling Gaza, annexing East Jerusalem, expanding West Bank settlements and
walling off Palestinians are succeeding. (It is possible that a McCain secretary
of state might not have incited violence against unarmed American citizens—as
did Hillary Clinton when she stated that Israelis, who
killed nine unarmed members of the 2010 Gaza flotilla, “have the right to defend
themselves” against letter-carrying 2011 Gaza flotilla members.)
While McCain would have wanted to keep 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan
until 2014, he might have been forced to reduce their numbers, as has Obama. For
McCain would have faced a strengthened and emboldened Democratic Congress, which
might have seen electoral gold in responding to polls indicating the public had
turned against the Afghanistan War—as well as a far stronger peace movement
united against Republicans instead of divided as it now is between the desires
for peace and seeing an Obama win in 2012.
Most significantly, if McCain had won, not only would Democrats be looking at
a Democratic landslide in the 2012 presidential race, but the newly elected
Democratic president in 2013 might enjoy both a 60 percent or higher majority in
both houses and a clear public understanding that it was Republican policies
that had sunk the economy. He or she might thus be far better positioned to
enact substantive reforms than was Obama in 2008, or will Obama even if he is
re-elected in 2012.
Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in March 1933 after a 42-month
Depression blamed entirely on the Republicans. Although he had campaigned as a
moderate, objective conditions both convinced him of the need for fundamental
change—creating a safety net including Social Security, strict financial
regulation, programs to create jobs, etc.—and gave him the congressional
pluralities he needed to achieve them. A Democratic president taking office in
2013 after 12 years of disastrous Republican economic misrule might well have
been likewise pushed and enabled by objective events to create substantive
Furious debate rages among Obama’s Democratic critics today on why he has
largely governed on the big issues as John McCain would have done. Some believe
he retains his principles but has been forced to compromise by political
realities. Others are convinced he was a manipulative politico who lacked any
real convictions in the first place.
But there is a far more likely—and disturbing—possibility. Based on those who
knew him and his books, there is little reason to doubt that the
pre-presidential Obama was a college professor-type who shared the belief system
of his liberalish set: that ending climate change and reducing nuclear weapons
were worthy goals, that it was important to “reset” U.S. policy toward the
Muslim world, that torture and assassination were bad things, that
Canadian-style single-payer health insurance made sense, that whistle-blowing
and freedom of the press should be protected, Congress should have a say in
whether the executive puts the nation into war, and that government should
support community development and empowering poor communities.
Upon taking office, however, Obama—whatever his belief system at that
point—found that he was unable to accomplish these goals for one basic reason:
The president of the United States is far less powerful than media myth
portrays. Domestic power really is in the hands of economic elites and their
lobbyists, and foreign policy really is controlled by U.S. executive branch
national security managers and a “military-industrial complex.” If a president
supports their interests, as did Bush in invading Iraq, he or she can do a lot
of damage. But, absent a crisis, a president who opposes these elites—as Obama
discovered when he tried in the fall of 2009 to get the military to offer him an
alternative to an Afghanistan troop surge—is relatively powerless.
Whether a Ronald Reagan expanding government and running large deficits in
the 1980s despite his stated belief that government was the problem, or a Bill
Clinton imposing a neoliberal regime impoverishing hundreds of millions in the
Third World in the 1990s despite his rhetorical support for helping the poor,
anyone who becomes president has little choice but to serve the institutional
interests of a profoundly amoral and violent executive branch and the
corporations behind them.
The U.S. executive branch functions to promote its version of U.S. economic
and geopolitical interests abroad—including engaging in massive violence which
has killed, wounded or made homeless more than 21 million people in Indochina
and Iraq combined. And it functions at home to maximize the interests of the
corporations and individuals who fund political campaigns—today supported by a
U.S. Supreme Court whose politicized decision to expand corporations’ control
over elections has made a mockery of the very notion of “checks and balances.”
The executive branch’s power extends to the mass media, most of whose
journalists are dependent on executive information leaks and paychecks from
increasingly concentrated media corporations. They thus serve executive power
far more than they challenge it.
No one more demonstrates what happens to a human being who joins the
executive branch than Hillary Clinton, a former peace movement supporter whose
1969 Wellesley commencement address stated that “our prevailing, acquisitive, and
competitive corporate life is not the way of life for us. We’re searching for
more immediate, ecstatic and penetrating modes of living”; praised “a lot of the
New Left [that] harkens back to a lot of the old virtues”; and decried “the
hollow men of anger and bitterness, the bountiful ladies of righteous
degradation, all must be left to a bygone age.” Clinton the individual served on
the board of the Children’s Defense Fund, promoted helping the poor at home and
Third World women abroad and at one point was even often compared to Eleanor
Although her transformation began once she decided to try to become
president, it became most visible after she joined the executive branch as
secretary of state. The former peace advocate has now become a major advocate
for war-making, a scourge of whistle-blowers and a facilitator of Israeli
But while rich and powerful elites have always ruled in America, their power
has periodically been successfully challenged at times of national crisis: the
Civil War, the Progressive era, the Depression. America is clearly headed for
such a moment in the coming decade, as its economy continues to decline due to a
parasitic Wall Street, mounting debt, strong economic competitors, overspending
on the military, waste in the private health care sector and elites declaring
class war against a majority of Americans.
Naomi Klein has written penetratingly of Disaster Capitalism, which
occurs when financial and corporate elites benefit from the economic crises they
cause. But the reverse has also often proved true: a kind of “Disaster
Progressivism” often occurs when self-interested elites cause so much suffering
that policies favoring democracy and the majority become possible.
The United States will clearly face such a crisis in the coming decade. It is
understandable that many Americans will want to focus on re-electing Obama in
2012. Although Democrats and the country would have been better off if McCain
had won in 2008, this is not necessarily true if a Republican wins in
2012—especially if the GOP nominates Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann.
But however important the 2012 election, far more energy needs to be devoted
to building mass organizations that challenge elite power and develop the kinds
of policies—including massive investment in a “clean energy economic
revolution,” a carbon tax and other tough measures to stave off climate change,
regulating and breaking up the financial sector, cost-effective entitlements
like single-payer health insurance, and public financing of primary and general
elections—which alone can save America and its democracy in the painful decade
the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New Republic, and other
publications. He is the author of several books on the Indochina War.
Vietnam MIAs: Ghosts Return to Haunt McCain May 30, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in History, John McCain.
Tags: alexander cockburn, history, j.d.hayworth, john kerry, John McCain, kissinger, mias, north vietnam, pows, republicans, roger hollander, schanberg, senate, torture, vietnam, vietnam vets, Vietnam War
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Friday 28 May 2010
The ghosts that haunt Sen. John McCain are about 600 in number and right now, they are mustering for a final onslaught. McCain, one of America’s foremost Republicans and President Barack Obama’s opponent in 2008, is currently locked in a desperate bid for political survival in his home state of Arizona.
After 20 years of immunity from challenge from his fellow Republicans, he’s now involved in a close primary battle with J.D. Hayworth, a former congressman turned radio broadcaster who sports the tea party label. Hayworth says McCain is a fake Republican, soft on issues like immigration. The polls have been tightening, and if McCain got bludgeoned by some new disclosure, it could finish him off.
That very disclosure is now likely to burst over the head of McCain, the former Navy pilot who was held in a North Vietnamese prison for five years and returned to the U.S. as a war hero.
His nemesis is Sydney Schanberg, a former New York Times reporter who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia that formed the basis for the Oscar-winning movie “The Killing Fields.”
In recent years, Schanberg has worked relentlessly on one of the great mysteries of the Vietnam War, one that still causes hundreds of American families enduring pain. Did the U.S. government abandon American POWs in Vietnam?
By 1990, there were so many stories, sightings and intelligence reports of American POWs left behind in Vietnam after the war was over that pressure from Vietnam vets and the families of the MIAs (missing in action) prompted the formation of a special committee of the U.S. Senate to investigate. The chairman was John Kerry, a Navy man who had served in Vietnam. McCain, as a former POW, was its most pivotal member.
Down the years, Schanberg has pieced together the evidence, much of it covered up by the Senate committee. In 1993, an American historian unearthed in Soviet archives the record of a briefing of a Vietnamese general to the Soviet politbureau. The briefing took place in 1973, right before the final peace agreement between the U.S. and Hanoi.
What the Vietnamese general told the Russians was that his government was intent on getting war reparations, $3.25 billion in reconstruction money, pledged by the U.S. in peace negotiations headed on the U.S. side by Henry Kissinger. The general told the Russians that Hanoi would hold back a large number of POWs until the money arrived.
But Nixon and Kissinger had attached to the deal a codicil to the effect that the U.S. Congress would have to approve the reparations — which the two knew was an impossibility in the political atmosphere of the time. Thus they effectively sealed the POWs’ fate. Hanoi released 591 immediately, but held back around 600.
All of this was suppressed by the Kerry-McCain committee, with the complicity of the U.S. press, enamored of both McCain and Kerry. McCain was particularly vicious in mocking what he and his press allies suggested were the fantasies of MIA families and Vietnam vets.
Schanberg writes now that, “In a private briefing in 1992, high-level CIA officials told me that as the years passed and the ransom never came, it became more and more difficult for either government to admit that it knew from the start about the unacknowledged prisoners. Those prisoners had not only become useless as bargaining chips but also posed a risk to Hanoi’s desire to be accepted into the international community.
“The CIA officials said their intelligence indicated strongly that the remaining men — those who had not died from illness or hard labor or torture — were eventually executed.”
In the presidential campaign of 2008, as I reported for The First Post at the time, McCain faced accusations that in fact, as a POW, he had broken and cooperated with his North Vietnamese captors, who regarded McCain as a valuable prize because his father was a prominent U.S. admiral, at the time commander of all U.S. forces in the Pacific.
McCain Jr., so his accusers said, disclosed vital information and made broadcasts denouncing the U.S., which were then used by the Vietnamese to break other POWs.
The issue never became a big one in 2008 — but now it’s coming on back with a vengeance.
On May 26, the American Conservative, a monthly, released a special issue, “The Men our Media Forgot.” The U.S. media, pressured in any number of ways by successive U.S. governments to ridicule and suppress enquiries into the missing POWs, are the prime target, but McCain also bulks large in the American Conservative’s sights, since his present political crisis forms an excellent peg for Schanberg’s story. The calculation is evidently that this could be a huge boost to Hayworth.
In an article for the American Conservative titled “McCain and the POW Cover-Up,” Schanberg insinuates, without saying so directly, that the Pentagon blackmailed McCain to squelch the MIA hearings: “It’s not clear whether the taped confession McCain gave to his captors to avoid further torture has played a role in his postwar behavior in the Senate. That confession was played endlessly over the prison loudspeaker system at Hoa Lo — to try to break down other prisoners — and was broadcast over Hanoi’s state radio.
“Reportedly, he confessed to being a war criminal who had bombed civilian targets. The Pentagon has a copy of the confession but will not release it. Also, no outsider I know of has ever seen a non-redacted copy of the debriefing of McCain when he returned from captivity, which is classified but could be made public by McCain.”
Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime’s Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils,” available through http://www.counterpunch.com.
Copyright 2010 Creators.com
‘Los Suns’ Set Against Arizona’s Immigration Law May 6, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Human Rights, Immigration, Race, Racism, Sports.
Tags: amare stoudamire, Arizona, arizona racism, dave zirin, Immigration, immigration law, jan brewer, John McCain, los suns, nba, phoenix suns, Race, racial profiling, racism, roger hollander, sports, steve nash
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The Phoenix Suns basketball team takes a public stand against Arizona’s law that promotes racial profiling of immigrants
by Dave Zirin
A battle has been joined for the very soul of Arizona. On one side, there are the Minutemen, the craven state Republican lawmakers, Governor Jan Brewer, and the utterly unprincipled John McCain, all supporting SB 1070, a law that codifies racial profiling of immigrants in the state. On the other are the Sun Belt residents who protested on 1 May, the students who have engaged in walkouts, and the politicians and civic leaders calling for an economic boycott of their own state.
This battle has also been joined in the world of sport. On one side is Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks. Owned by state Republican moneyman Ken Kendrick, the team has drawn protestors to parks around the US. On the other side, we now have the NBA‘s Phoenix Suns. On Tuesday the news came forth that on Cinco de Mayo, the team would be wearing jerseys that say simply Los Suns. Team owner Robert Sarver said, after talking to the team, that this will be an act of sartorial solidarity against the bill. Their opponent, the San Antonio Spurs, have made clear that they support the gesture.
In a statement released by the team, Sarver said: “The frustration with the federal government’s failure to deal with the issue of illegal immigration resulted in passage of a flawed state law. However intended, the result of passing this law is that our basic principles of equal rights and protection under the law are being called into question, and Arizona’s already struggling economy will suffer even further setbacks at a time when the state can ill-afford them.”
He followed up the statement by saying to reporters: “I looked around our plane and looked at our players and the diversity in our organization. I thought we need to go on record that we honor our diversity in our team, in the NBA and we need to show support for that. As for the political part of that, that’s my statement. There are times you need to stand up and be heard. I respect people’s views on the other side but I just felt it was appropriate for me to stand up and make a statement.”
After Sarver spoke out, the team chimed in against the passage and signing of SB 1070. Two-time MVP point guard Steve Nash, who in 2003 became the first athlete to go on record against the Iraq war, said: “I think the law is very misguided. I think it is unfortunately to the detriment to our society and our civil liberties and I think it is very important for us to stand up for things we believe in. I think the law obviously can target opportunities for racial profiling. Things we don’t want to see and don’t need to see in 2010.”
All-Star power forward Amare Stoudamire, who has no political reputation, also chimed in saying: “It’s going to be great to wear Los Suns to let the Latin community know we’re behind them 100%.”
After the story broke, I spoke on the phone with NBA Players Association president Billy Hunter about the Suns audacious move. “It’s phenomenal,” he said. “This makes it clear to me that it’s a new era. It’s a new time. Athletes can tend to be apolitical and isolated from the issues that impact the general public. But now here come the Suns. I would have expected nothing less from Steve Nash who has been out front on a number of issues over the years. I also want to recognize Amare. I know how strident Amare can be and I’m really impressed to see him channel his intensity. It shows a tremendous growth and maturity on his part. And I have to applaud Bob Sarver because he is really taking a risk by putting himself out there. I commend them. I just think it’s super.” He said that the union would have their own statement out by the end of the week.
This kind of political intervention by a sports team is without precedent and now every athlete and every team has an opening to stand up and be heard. Because when it’s all said and done, this isn’t just a battle for the soul of Arizona. It’s a battle for the soul of the United States. Here come the Suns indeed.
© 2010 Guardian News and Media Limited
Dave Zirin is the author of Welcome to the Terrordome: the Pain Politics and Promise of Sports (Haymarket) and the newly published A People’s History of Sports in the United States (The New Press). and his writing has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Sports Illustrated.com, New York Newsday and The Progressive. He is the host of XM Radio’s Edge of Sports Radio. Contact him at email@example.com.
Those Authoritarian, Torture-Loving French March 18, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, detainees, fox, fox anchors, fox news, glenn greenwald, habeas corpus, indfinite detention, joe liembeman, John McCain, lindsey graham, Milgram, military commissions, roger hollander, Rush Limbaugh, terrorism, torture
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(Roger’s note: what Greenwald reports here is truly frightening. There is probably no more fundamental precept in criminal justice than habeas corpus. The idea that any individual, be it the President of the United States, has the right to put you in jail and throw away the key – that goes against the most precious safeguard we have. Toward the end of this article we see that McCain and Lieberman and Obama apparently are in the process of creating legislation that will do just that. The founding documents of the country reflected a healthy fear of governmental authority; the Bill of Rights, in particular, was created to grant protection against the misuse and arbitrary application of authority. The Bush and Obama administrations have taken giant steps toward obliterating these fundamental protections. These are ominous signs.)
French documentarians conducted an experiment where they created a faux game show — with all the typical studio trappings — and then instructed participants (who believed it was a real TV program) to administer electric shock to unseen contestants each time they answered questions incorrectly, with increasing potency for each wrong answer. Even as the unseen contestants (who were actors) screamed in agony and pleaded for mercy — and even once they went silent and were presumably dead — 81% of the participants continued to obey the instructions of the authority-figure/host and kept administering higher and higher levels of electric shock. The experiment was a replica of the one conducted in 1961 by Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram, where 65% of participants obeyed instructions from a designated authority figure to administer electric shock to unseen individuals, and never stopped obeying even as they heard excruciating screams and then silence. This new French experiment was designed to measure the added power of television to place people into submission to authority and induce them to administer torture.
None of this should be at all surprising to anyone who has observed, first, the American political and media class, and then large swaths of the American citizenry, enthusiastically embrace what was once the absolute taboo against torture, all because Government officials decreed that it was necessary to Stop the Terrorists. But I just watched an amazing discussion of this French experiment on Fox News. The Fox anchors — Bill Hemmer and Martha MacCallum — were shocked and outraged that these French people could be induced by the power of television to embrace torture.
Speaking as employees of the corporation that produced the highly influential, torture-glorifying 24, and on the channel that has churned out years worth of pro-torture “news” advocacy, the anchors were particularly astonished that television could play such a powerful role in influencing people’s views and getting them to acquiesce to such heinous acts. Ultimately, they speculated that perhaps it was something unique about the character and psychology of the French that made them so susceptible to external influences and so willing to submit to amoral authority, just like many of them submitted to and even supported the Nazis, they explained. I kept waiting for them to make the connection to America’s torture policies and Fox’s support for it — if only to explain to their own game show participants at home Fox News viewers why that was totally different — but it really seemed the connection just never occurred to them. They just prattled away — shocked, horrified and blissfully un-self-aware — about the evils of torture and mindless submission to authority and the role television plays in all of that.
Meanwhile, the bill recently introduced by Joe Lieberman and John McCain — the so-called “Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention and Prosecution Act” — now has 9 co-sponsors, including the newly elected Scott Brown. It’s probably the single most extremist, tyrannical and dangerous bill introduced in the Senate in the last several decades, far beyond the horrific, habeas-abolishing Military Commissions Act. It literally empowers the President to imprison anyone he wants in his sole discretion by simply decreeing them a Terrorist suspect — including American citizens arrested on U.S. soil. The bill requires that all such individuals be placed in military custody, and explicitly says that they “may be detained without criminal charges and without trial for the duration of hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners,” which everyone expects to last decades, at least. It’s basically a bill designed to formally authorize what the Bush administration did to American citizen Jose Padilla — arrest him on U.S. soil and imprison him for years in military custody with no charges.
This bill has produced barely a ripple of controversy, its two main sponsors will continue to be treated as Serious Centrists and feted on Sunday shows, and it’s hard to imagine any real resistance to its passage. Isn’t it shocking how easily led and authoritarian the French are?
UPDATE: Led by people like Rush Limbaugh, the American Right celebrated even the most extreme torture brutalities, such as those at Abu Ghraib, by embracing them as “a good time,” an “emotional release,” ”blowing off steam,” a “fraternity prank,” and S&M pornography. At least the contestants in the French show acquiesced to torture reluctantly and even with resistance, rather than with the demented pleasure, vicarious sensations of power, 24-type entertainment, and primal arousal which many disturbed individuals on the American Right derive from it. And, as always, no discussion of the American torture and detention regime is complete without noting that the vast majority subjected to its horrors was completely innocent.
As for the McCain/Lieberman atrocity, it’s been reported that the Obama White House (a) is actively negotiating with Lindsey Graham on a bill to provide for indefinite detention power and (b) has already designated numerous detainees to be held indefinitely with no charges of any kind. It remains to be seen what their (and, then, their supporters’) position on this bill will be.
© 2010 Salon.com
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.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, aclu, anti-terrorism, bagram, binyam mohamed, bush administration, cia interrogation, cia prisons, civil liberties, constitution, detainee abuse, geneva conventions, George Bush, glenn greenwald, Guantanamo, intelligence-sharing, John McCain, Karl Rove, military commissions, national security, nuremberg, obama civil liberties, obama promises, roger hollander, rule of law, stanley mcchyrstal, state secrets, torture, torture memos, torture tapes, torture videos, War Crimes
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Among progressives, Democrats, liberals, Obama supporters and the like, there seems to be some debate about the extent to which Obama deserves criticisms for what he has done thus far in the realm of civil liberties, restoration of Constitutional principles, and reversing the severe imbalance between “security” and liberties — major planks of his two-year-long campaign and among the most frequent weapons used to criticize the Bush presidency. On that topic, here is the first paragraph of this New York Times article this morning by David Sanger, summing everything up:
President Obama’s decisions this week to retain important elements of the Bush-era system for trying terrorism suspects and to block the release of pictures showing abuse of American-held prisoners abroad are the most graphic examples yet of how he has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.
Here’s how the NYT describes the article on its front page:
The opening paragraph of this Washington Post article today says much the same thing:
As a candidate for president, Barack Obama offered himself as a clear alternative to Bush-era anti-terrorism policies. Governing has proven muddier.
Both articles quote the hardest-core Bush supporters as heaping praise on Obama for what he has done in the area of “national security,” terrorism and civil liberties (“Pete Wehner, a member of Karl Rove’s staff in the Bush White House [and a current National Review writer] applauded several of Mr. Obama’s decisions this week”). Indeed, all week long, and even before that, the greatest enthusiasm for Obama’s decisions on so-called “terrorism policies” and civil liberties (with some important exceptions) has been found in the pages of The Weekly Standard and National Review.
Can anyone deny what the NYT and Post are pointing out today? This is what happened this week alone in the realm of Obama’s approach to “national security” and civil liberties:
Monday – Obama administration’s letter to Britian threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing if British courts reveal the details of how we tortured British resident Binyam Mohamed;
Wednesday – Announced he was reversing himself and would try to conceal photographic evidence showing widespread detainee abuse — despite the rulings from two separate courts (four federal judges unanimously) that the law compels their disclosure;
Friday - Unveiled his plan to preserve a modified system of military commissions for trying Guantanamo detainees, rather than using our extant-judicial processes for doing so.
It’s not the fault of civil libertarians that Obama did all of those things, just in this week alone. These are the very policies — along with things like the claimed power to abduct and imprison people indefinitely with no charges of any kind and the use of the “state secrets privilege” to deny torture and spying victims a day in court — that caused such extreme anger and criticisms toward the Bush presidency.
What would it say about a person who spent the last seven years vehemently criticizing those policies to suddenly decide that the same policies were perfectly fine or not particularly bothersome when Obama adopts them? How could that be justified? What should one say about a person who vehemently objected to X when Bush did it, but then suddenly found ways to defend or mitigate X when Obama does it? Just re-read that first paragraph from the NYT article today. What should a rational person say in response to what it describes?
It is absolutely true that there have been some important steps Obama has taken in the right direction that George Bush and John McCain would never have entertained, including banning interrogation techniques outside of the Army Field Manual, barring CIA secret prisons, guaranteeing International Red Cross access to all detainees, and releasing numerous Bush era OLC memos. He deserves praise for those decisions and has received it here. But other than the OLC memos, those steps all came in the very first week of his presidency in largely symbolic form. At the time, in the first week, I wrote that Obama’s first-week executive orders ”meet or actually exceed even the most optimistic expectations of civil libertarians for what he could or would do quickly,” but:
This is why the understandable enthusiasm (which I definitely share) over Obama’s pleasantly unexpected commitment in the first few hours of his presidency to take politically difficult steps in the civil liberties and accountability realms should be tempered somewhat. There is going to be very concerted pressure exerted on him by establishment guardians such as Hiatt (and the Brookings Institution, Jack Goldsmith and friends), to say nothing of hard-line factions within the intelligence community and its various allies, for Obama to take subsequent steps that would eviscerate much of this progress, that render these initial rollbacks largely empty, symbolic gestures. Whether these steps, impressive as they are, will be symbolic measures designed to placate certain factions, or whether they represent a genuine commitment on Obama’s part, remains to be seen. Much of it will depend on how much political pressure is exerted and from what sides.
Obama deserves real praise for devoting the first few days of his presidency to these vital steps — and doing so without there being much of a political benefit and with some real political risk. That’s genuinely encouraging. But ongoing vigilance is necessary, to counter-balance the Fred Hiatts, Brookings Institutions and other national security state fanatics, to ensure that these initial steps aren’t undermined.
Since that first week, Obama has engaged in one action after the next to preserve many of the key prongs, and the essential architecture, of the Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties. That’s just factually true. What’s the point of closing Guantanamo if we’re going to continue to keep people indefinitely in cages with no trial in Bagram, or if we simply transport a modified version of Guantanamo justice to the U.S.? How can a President who repeatedly promised vast transparency embrace the most extremist Bush/Cheney secrecy powers? How can a person who campaigned on the vow to end “Scooter Libby justice” and restore the rule of law take one extreme step after the next to shield from judicial scrutiny some of the most serious, brutal and highest-level crimes of the last eight years?
It’s certainly true that there are other issues besides civil liberties and national security policies that are important. The fact that he’s been horrible in these areas doesn’t mean he hasn’t been good in others. One can argue, if one likes, that these civil liberties issues don’t really matter (a representative of Center for American Progress joined with two conservatives to claim exactly that yesterday on CNN), or one can argue that all that matters is that we fix the banking crisis and implement a new health care policy. But I never heard any Bush critics — not one — say anything like that when these issues were front and center in the case against the Bush presidency.
Nobody who spent the last many years devoting themselves to opposing Bush/Cheney abuses of executive power and civil liberties wanted to have to do the same in an Obama presidency. If you doubt that, just look at how intense was the celebratory praise directed at Obama from those factions in the first week. But unless the opposition of the last eight years was really just a cynical means for opportunistically weakening and demonizing Republican opponents rather than opposing policies that one genuinely found dangerous and wrong, then the actions of Obama are leaving no other choice but to object and object strenuously. As the first paragraph of today’s NYT article put it, this week alone provided “the most graphic examples yet of how [Obama] has backtracked, in substantial if often nuanced ways, from the approach to national security that he preached as a candidate, and even from his first days in the Oval Office.” If nothing else, refraining from objecting will ensure that this continues further and further.
* * * * *
Yesterday morning, I was on WNYC’s The Takeway discussing (briefly) the issue of Obama’s military commissions and, more extensively, drug policy and decriminalization in Portugal. That can be heard here.
President Obama’s endorsements of Bush-Cheney antiterror policies are by now routine . . . . Mr. Obama deserves credit for accepting that the civilian courts are largely unsuited for the realities of the war on terror. He has now decided to preserve a tribunal process that will be identical in every material way to the one favored by Dick Cheney . . . Meanwhile, friends should keep certain newspaper editors away from sharp objects. Their champion has repudiated them once again.
Meanwhile, Law Professor Julian Ku notes that Obama Deputy Solicitor General Neal Katyal spent years arguing that military commissions generally (not merely Bush’s specific version) were oppressive and un-American (h/t). But now, thanks to Obama’s embrace of them, Katyal is going to have to defend Obama’s military commissions in court from challenge by the ACLU and other groups. At least Katyal has the excuse that defending exactly that which he spent years excoriating is his job. Obama supporters who are doing the same don’t have that excuse.
UPDATE II: Illustrating the irrationality that is used, Obama defenders are making the following two arguments to justify what he did on military commissions:
(1) Obama had no choice because he can’t obtain convictions of accused terrorists in civilian courts because so much of the evidence was obtained by Bush’s torture and thus can’t be used;
(2) Obama’s military commissions are better than Bush’s because Obama’s commissions won’t allow evidence obtained by torture.
Aren’t those two propositions completely contradictory? If Obama’s military commissions (like civilian courts and courts-martial) won’t allow evidence obtained via torture, then why can’t he use our normal court system to try accused terrorists?
Torture Smoking Gun? May 14, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture, Uncategorized.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, Abu Zubaydah, ali soufan, bagram, bush administration, bybee impeachment, cheney, cia videotapes, fbi interrogator, geneva conventions, Guantanamo, jay bybee, john durham, John McCain, jose padilla, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Nancy Pelosi, nuremburg, office of legal counsel, olc, Philip Zelikow, roger hollander, russ feingold, scott horton, sheldon whitehouse, steven bradbury, torture, torture techniques, torture videotapes, War Crimes, waterboarding, zelikow memo
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Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) opened a hearing on the Bush administration’s torture policy quoting Tallyrand: “The greatest danger in times of crisis comes from the zeal of those who are inexperienced.” Whitehouse promised to separate the “truth” from its “bodyguard of lies.” In doing so, the former federal prosecutor brought the shadowy world of intelligence into Room 226 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building. Former star FBI interrogator Ali Soufan, widely described as the bureau’s best and most effective interrogator working in the Arabic language, testified off-camera and behind a wooden partition. Concerned for his and his family’s security, he made the unusual demand a part of his agreement to appear and testify.
The effort to destroy the Zelikow memo is not just evidence of standard record-keeping practice; it may well spring from recognition that the memo might be used as evidence that the Bush administration was engaged in criminality.
The hearing produced two significant developments as well as a great deal of political rhetoric. Soufan’s testimony focused on the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. Throughout the history of the torture debate, the Bush administration has cited this as a triumph of its techniques. Sen. Whitehouse read Bush’s September 6, 2006, White House statement making one of these claims. Soufan, who was personally present through the process, called the Bush claims a “half-truth,” accurate as to the circumstances of Abu Zubaydah’s capture and detention, but not as to the claimed successes using highly coercive techniques. One of the Justice Department’s torture memos (from May 2005) contained a similar claim that actionable intelligence was obtained “once enhanced techniques were employed.” Soufan termed this a lie. He also noted that successful interrogations of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Jose Padilla, which gained useful intelligence, occurred before the introduction of the Bush program and therefore couldn’t be claimed as success stories for it. In his remarks, Soufan sharply repudiated the harsh techniques he observed. “These techniques… are ineffective, slow, and unreliable and, as a result, harmful to our efforts to defeat al Qaeda,” he said. He also downplayed claims that there was a dispute between the FBI and CIA about the use of the Bush techniques. CIA interrogators agreed with his assessment, he noted.
Philip Zelikow, a lawyer and history professor who had served as a counselor to Condoleezza Rice at the State Department, testified that the Justice Department had thwarted legislation sponsored by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) that prohibited cruel, inhuman, and degrading techniques on detainees. He noted that McCain and other sponsors understood the legislation as a prohibition on waterboarding and other harsh techniques, but through legal sleight of hand, Steven Bradbury, then head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, had nevertheless found that the legislation was ineffective to make the expected changes. Zelikow recorded his opposition to this view in his own memo, which he disseminated widely within the Bush administration. It was made clear to him that his memo was not appreciated, and, moreover, an effort was made to collect and destroy copies of the memo. One copy has now been identified in the records of the State Department, he noted. Its declassification and release are anticipated shortly.
The story surrounding the efforts to corral and destroy the Zelikow memo is more than a curious vignette. Lawyers studying the issue of criminal liability of the memo writers are focused on evidence of mens rea-a state of mind that reflects recognition of criminal wrongdoing. The effort to destroy the memo is not just evidence of standard record-keeping practice; it may well spring from recognition that the memo might be used as evidence that the Bush administration was engaged in criminality.
Republicans called two legal experts to offer opinions but no fact witnesses. This raised the question of whether they have a CIA interrogator who is ready or willing to make a case to support Cheney’s claims about the efficacy of torture.
In opening remarks, Sen. Russ Feingold (D-WI) leveled a direct attack on former Vice President Dick Cheney, saying he was “misleading the American people” with claims that Bush-era techniques had been effective. “Nothing I have seen-including the two documents to which former Vice President Cheney has repeatedly referred-indicates that the torture techniques… were necessary,” Feingold said. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) entered the debate insisting the hearing was “not really fair to” the Bush administration. “I don’t know whether this is actually pursuing the nobility of the law or a political stunt,” he said. Graham offered a grilling of the former lead FBI interrogator, insisting that his view was “not the whole picture.” However, Graham stumbled during the hearing, citing a debunked and now-retracted statement by former CIA agent John Kiriakou about the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah and was corrected by the witness for his mistake.
Graham was the only Republican to attend the hearing as a questioner, and the Republican side offered no fact witnesses of their own. Soufan’s and Zelikow’s presentations weren’t refuted or weakened. For now the Republican pushback on the torture issue consists of attacks on the credibility of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi-what she knew and when she was told about the Bush administration techniques. Yet that issue has not caught fire and remains distant from the heart of the controversy. The Senate hearing set the stage for the release of the Justice Department’s ethics report conducted while Bush was still in office. Zelikow called for a special investigation during his testimony and disclosed that evening on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show that the special prosecutor appointed under Bush to probe the destruction of CIA videotapes of torture, John Durham, has expanded to cover the CIA’s failure to provide information to the 9/11 Commission about torture. Sen. Whitehouse has declared that he would chair new hearings featuring the Bush administration lawyers after the release of the Justice Department ethics report. Then the focus will fall on the possible impeachment of former OLC chief Jay Bybee, now a federal appeals judge, and bar discipline of other lawyers. The issue continues to build regardless of what the Obama White House wishes.
Anatomy of Bush’s Torture ‘Paradigm’ April 16, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
Tags: Abu Ghraib, against all enemies, al-Qaeda, Alberto Gonzales, andrew card, anti-torture, carl levin, Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, david addington, detainee abuse, Dick Cheney, doj, donald rumsfeld, enhanced interrogation, eric holder, executive order, geneva conventions, George Bush, george tenet, habaes corpus, human rights, human rights violations, international red cross, iraq detaines, jack goldsmith, james schlesinger, John Ashcroft, John McCain, John Walker Lindh, john yoo, justice department, military commissions, office legal counsel, olc, prisoners of war, radack, ray mcgovern, ricardo sanchez, richard clarke, richard myers, roger hollander, senate armed services, special prosecutor, steven bradbury, suspected terrorists, Taliban, torture, torture memos, torture techniques, waterboarding, william j. haynes
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www.consortiumnewscom, April 14, 2009
The prose of the recently leaked report of the International Committee of the Red Cross on torture seems colorless. It is at the same time obscene — almost pornographic.
The 41-page ICRC report depicts scenes of prisoners forced to remain naked for long periods, sometimes in the presence of women, often with their hands shackled over their heads in “stress positions” as they are left to soil themselves.
The report’s images of sadism also include prisoners slammed against walls, locked in tiny boxes, and strapped to a bench and subjected to the drowning sensation of waterboarding.
How could it be that we Americans tolerate the kind of leaders who would subject others to systematic torture — yes, that’s what the official report of the international body charged with monitoring the Geneva agreements on the treatment of prisoners concludes — torture.
Over the past week I have been asked to explain how this could have happened; who authorized the torture in our name? The Red Cross report lacks the earmarks of rogues or “rotten apples” at the bottom of some barrel.
This is what I have been telling those who ask:
Rather than Harry Truman’s famous motto on his Oval Office desk, “The Buck Stops Here,” this was a case of “The Buck Starts Here.” President George W. Bush set the tone and created the framework, with strong support from Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
The first hints of what was in store came from the President himself in the White House bunker late on Sept. 11, 2001, at a meeting with his closest national security advisers after his TV address to the nation about the terrorist attacks that morning.
The vengeful bunker mentality prevailing at that meeting comes through clearly in the report of one of the participants, Richard Clarke in his book, Against All Enemies. Describing the President as confident, determined, forceful, Clarke provides the following account of what President Bush said:
“We are at war.… Nothing else matters. … Any barriers in your way, they’re gone.”
When, later in the discussion, Secretary Rumsfeld noted that international law allowed the use of force only to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush nearly bit his head off.
“No,” the President yelled in the narrow conference room, “I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.”
‘Taking the Gloves Off’
In the weeks that followed, the air in Washington hung heavy with demons of retribution. Afghanistan was invaded in October 2001, and during a prisoner uprising on Nov. 25, a CIA officer was killed there.
A young American citizen, John Walker Lindh, was discovered among the prisoners in the area. There was not the slightest evidence that Lindh had anything to do with the killing.
But documents show that U.S. Joint Special Operations troops were told that the office of the Defense Secretary’s counsel (William J. Haynes II, was Pentagon general counsel at the time) had authorized an Army intelligence officer “to take the gloves off and ask whatever he wanted” of Lindh.
Despite urgent intervention by Justice Department ethics attorney Jesselyn Radack, Lindh was not properly read his rights. Instead, the FBI agent on the scene ad-libbed in an offhand way, “You have the right to an attorney. But there are no attorneys here in Afghanistan.”
Lindh had been seriously wounded in the leg. Despite that, U.S. troops put a hood over him, stripped him naked, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, and threatened him with death.
Parts of his humiliating ordeal were captured on film (a practice that became tragically familiar with the photos of Abu Ghraib).
In her book, Canary in the Coalmine: Blowing the Whistle in the Case of John Walker Lindh, attorney Radack comments that official documents pertaining to this case provide “the earliest known evidence that the Bush Administration was willing to push the envelope on how far it could go to extract information from suspected terrorists.”
(Because she protested, Radack was fired as Justice Department legal ethics advisor, put under criminal investigation, and even added to the “no-fly” list.)
End-Run Around Geneva
But the Bush administration was just getting started.
On Jan. 18, 2002, White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales advised the President that the Justice Department had issued a formal legal opinion concluding that the Geneva Convention III on the Treatment of Prisoners of War (GPW) does not apply with respect to al Qaeda.
Gonzales added that he understood that Bush had “decided that GPW does not apply and, accordingly, that al Qaeda and Taliban detainees are not prisoners of war under the GPW.”
On Jan. 19, 2002, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld told combat commanders that the President had “determined that al-Qaeda and Taliban individuals under the control of the Department of Defense are not entitled to prisoner of war status for purposes of the Geneva Conventions of 1949.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell asked the President to reconsider his decision and to conclude, instead, that the GPW does apply to both al Qaeda and the Taliban. But Powell’s protest was couched in bureaucratic politeness, rather than in anger and outrage. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Cowardice in the Time of Torture.”]
The next step took the form of the fateful memorandum of Jan. 25, 2002, signed by Alberto Gonzales but drafted by counsel to the Vice President David Addington. That memo outlined for the President “the ramifications of your decision and the Secretary’s [Powell’s] request for reconsideration.”
It described a “new paradigm” that, the writers claimed “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners, and renders quaint some of its provisions.”
Gonzales and Addington urged the President to disregard Powell’s misgivings and move ahead. But they cloaked their argument in lawyerly language that obscured what was to come.
The lawyers argued that it was “appropriate” and “consistent with military necessity” to waive Geneva regarding the treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban detainees, but they inserted assurances that the prisoners would be treated “humanely” and “in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
Brushing aside Powell’s objections, President Bush adopted the Gonzales/Addington language and signed a memorandum to that effect on Feb. 7, 2002. The memo went to Vice President Cheney, Secretary of State Powell, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Chief of Staff to the President Andrew Card, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs Condoleezza Rice, and Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Richard Myers.
The memo amounted to an executive order, although it was not labeled as such. In it, the President alludes fulsomely to Justice Department opinions and recommendations, as well as “facts” supplied by the Defense Department.
Bush then takes clear responsibility for the decision to spurn Geneva: “I determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al Qaeda or Taliban detainees. … I determine that Taliban detainees … do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva … and that al Qaeda detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.”
The Feb. 7, 2002, memo bears the Orwellian title “Humane Treatment of al Qaeda and Taliban Detainees.” In it, Bush lifts verbatim the language from the Gonzales/Addington memo of Jan. 25, 2002, and makes it his own.
Bush claimed, for example, “the war against terrorism ushers in a new paradigm [that] requires new thinking in the law of war.”
Bush then tries to square a circle, directing (twice in the two-page memo) that “detainees be treated humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of GPW.”
The smoking-gun memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, was released to the media, together with other documents, by Gonzales on June 22, 2004, but it did not receive the attention it deserved until recently.
On Dec. 11, 2008, Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, and Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, released, without dissent, the summary of their committee’s report on the abuse of detainees.
The report’s first subhead was: Presidential Order Opens Door to Considering Aggressive Techniques, and the first words of the first sentence of the first paragraph were, “On Feb. 7, 2002, President Bush signed a memorandum stating…”
Referring to the “President’s order,” the first paragraph adds that “the decision to replace well-established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees.”
“Conclusion Number One” of the Senate Armed Services Committee report states: “Following the President’s determination [of Feb. 7, 2002], techniques such as waterboarding, nudity, and stress positions … were authorized for use in interrogations of detainees in U.S. custody.”
Once Bush had opened the door with his Feb. 7, 2002, memo, other actions followed to implement the President’s “new paradigm.”
White House lawyers worked with Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo of the Office of Legal Counsel to develop constitutional theories about expansive presidential powers that effectively let Bush operate beyond the law.
The OLC traditionally is the office that tells presidents the limits of their constitutional authorities. However, in this case, Yoo collaborated with Gonzales, Addington and other White House lawyers in hammering out arguments that the administration could use to implement harsh interrogations of al Qaeda suspects.
On Aug. 1, 2002, Yoo and his OLC superior, Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee, issued an opinion that so narrowly defined “torture” that it cleared the way for a variety of “enhanced interrogation techniques,” including waterboarding, which creates a near-drowning experience.
As the legal framework for Bush’s torture policies took shape, senior officers and lower-level participants in the interrogations understood that the basis for the newly permitted harsh tactics stemmed from a presidential decision.
In a report on Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses, former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger indicated that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the top commander in Iraq, instituted a “dozen interrogation methods beyond” the Army’s standard practice under the Geneva Convention.
Sanchez said he based his decision on “the President’s memorandum,” which he said allowed for “additional, tougher measures” against detainees, according to the Schlesinger report.
An FBI e-mail of May 22, 2004, from a senior FBI agent in Iraq stated that President Bush had signed an Executive Order approving the use of military dogs, sleep deprivation and other tactics to intimidate Iraqi detainees.
The FBI official sought guidance in confronting an unwelcome dilemma. He asked if FBI personnel in Iraq were required to report the U.S. military’s harsh interrogation of detainees when such treatment violated Bureau standards but fit within the guidelines of a presidential Executive Order.
In sum, abundant evidence indicates that the torture techniques applied in the jail cells and interrogation chambers — the “alternative set of procedures” about which Bush boasted publicly on Sept. 6, 2006 — resulted directly from Bush’s Feb. 7, 2002, memo and implementing actions by his administration.
Interrogators also were egged on by comments from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld regarding the “tough” treatments they favored.
One fig leaf left covering the otherwise exposed role of Bush and his top aides remains the clever inclusion of the word “humane” in the memo that made possible what the International Committee of the Red Cross condemned as “inhuman” treatment of terror suspects in U.S. custody.
There’s also the-Justice-Department-told-me-it-was-legal excuse, though the evidence is now clear that the Bush administration essentially stage-managed the Yoo-Bybee opinions.
For instance, when the Yoo-Bybee opinions were withdrawn by Bybee’s OLC successor, Assistant Attorney General Jack Goldsmith, Addington and other administration officials successfully pressured Goldsmith to resign and then welcomed a new OLC chief, Steven Bradbury, who reinstated the key opinions in May 2005.
And – as the evidence built of illegal torture in 2006 – the Bush administration pushed the “Military Commissions Act” through the Republican-controlled Congress with phrasing that granted a degree of retroactive immunity.
The law states that “no person may invoke the Geneva Conventions or any protocols thereto in any habeas corpus or other civil action or proceeding to which the United States, or a current or former officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces, or other agent of the United States is a party as a source of rights in any court of the United States or its States or territories.”
That provision was interpreted as a broad amnesty for U.S. officials, including President Bush and other senior executives who may have authorized torture, murder or other violations of human rights.
The law also granted Bush the authority “to interpret the meaning and the application of the Geneva Conventions.” [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Shame on Us All.”]
However, there remain legal questions about whether the law’s language would prevent prosecutions under pre-existing anti-torture laws.
The sudden appearance of the damning report by the International Committee of the Red Cross, initially given to the CIA’s acting general counsel on Feb. 14, 2007, greatly complicates any rotten-apples-at-the-bottom-of-the-barrel-type disingenuousness.
In a departure from the usual diplomatic parlance, the ICRC minces not a word in referring to those who authorized torture. In the report itself, the Red Cross calls on current U.S. authorities “to punish the perpetrators, where appropriate, to prevent such abuses from happening again.”
What do you suppose is holding Attorney General Eric Holder back from appointing an independent prosecutor to investigate, with a view toward rubbing out, once and for all, this shameful stain on our collective conscience?
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. An Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 years, he now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.
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