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Humanity Is Drowning In Washington’s Criminality August 14, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Democracy, Whistle-blowing, Wikileaks.
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Roger’s note: before reading this article, please not that the author is not Noam Chomsky or Ralph Nader, but rather a former official in the Reagan administration and writer for the Wall Street Journal.  

 

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By (about the author)

OpEdNews Op Eds 8/13/2013 at 16:06:54
Americans will soon be locked into an unaccountable police state unless US Representatives and Senators find the courage to ask questions and to sanction the executive branch officials who break the law, violate the Constitution, withhold information from Congress, and give false information about their crimes against law, the Constitution, the American people and those in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.  Congress needs to use the impeachment power that the Constitution provides and cease being subservient to the lawless executive branch. The US faces no threat that justifies the lawlessness and abuse of police powers that characterize the executive branch in the 21st century.

Impeachment is the most important power of Congress. Impeachment is what protects the citizens, the Constitution, and the other branches of government from abuse by the executive branch. If the power to remove abusive executive branch officials is not used, the power ceases to exist. An unused power is like a dead letter law. Its authority disappears. By acquiescing to executive branch lawlessness, Congress has allowed the executive branch to place itself above law and to escape accountability for its violations of law and the Constitution.
National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper blatantly lied to Congress and remains in office. Keith B. Alexander, Director of the National Security Agency, has also misled Congress, and he remains in office.  Attorney General Holder avoids telling Congress the truth on just about every subject, and he also remains in office.  The same can be said for President Obama, one of the great deceivers of our time, who is so adverse to truth that truth seldom finds its way out of his mouth.
If an American citizen lies to a federal investigator, even if not under oath, the citizen can be arrested, prosecuted, and sent to prison.  Yet, these same federal personnel can lie to Congress and to citizens with impunity. Whatever the American political system is, it has nothing whatsoever to do with accountable government. In Amerika no one is accountable but citizens, who are accountable not only to law but also to unaccountable charges for which no evidence is required.
Congress has the power to impeach any presidential appointee as well as the president.  In the 1970s Congress was going to impeach President Richard Nixon simply because he lied about when he learned of the Watergate burglary. To avoid impeachment, Nixon resigned. In the 1990s, the House impeached President Bill Clinton for lying about his sexual affair with a White House intern. The Senate failed to convict, no doubt as many had sexual affairs of their own and didn’t want to be held accountable themselves.
In the 1970s when I was on the Senate staff, corporate lobbyists would send attractive women to seduce Senators so that the interest groups could blackmail the Senators to do their bidding. Don’t be surprised if the NSA has adopted this corporate practice.
The improprieties of Nixon and Clinton were minor, indeed of little consequence, when compared to the crimes of George W. Bush and Obama, their vice presidents, and the bulk of their presidential appointees. Yet, impeachment is “off the table,” as Nancy Pelosi infamously declared. Why do Californian voters send a person to Congress who refuses to protect them from an  unaccountable executive branch? Who does Nancy Pelosi serve? Certainly not the people of California. Most certainly not the US Constitution. Pelosi is in total violation of her oath of office. Will Californians re-elect her yet again? Little wonder America is failing.
The question demanding to be asked is: What is the purpose of the domestic surveillance of all Americans? This is surveillance out of all proportion to the alleged terrorist threat. The US Constitution is being ignored and domestic law violated. Why?  Does the US government have an undeclared agenda for which the “terrorist threat” is a cover?
What is this agenda? Whose agenda is more important than the US Constitution and the accountability of government to law? No citizen is secure unless government is accountable to the Constitution and to law. It is an absurd idea that any American is more threatened by terrorism than by unaccountable government that can execute them, torture them, and throw them in prison for life without due process or any accountability whatsoever. Under Bush/Obama, the US has returned to the unaccountable power of caesars, czars, and autocrats.
In the famous play, “A Man For All Seasons,” Sir Thomas More, Chancellor of England, asks: So, you would have me to cut down the law in order to chase after devils? And what will we do, with the law cut down, when the devil turns on us?
This is the most important legal question ever asked, and it is seldom asked today,  not in our law schools, not by our bar associations, and most certainly not by the Justice (sic) Department or US Attorneys.
American conservatives regard civil liberties as mere excuses for liberal judges to coddle criminals and terrorists. Never expect a conservative Republican, or more than two or three of them, to defend your civil liberty. Republicans simply do not believe in civil liberty. Democrats cannot conceive that Obama — the first black president in office, a member of an oppressed minority — would not defend civil liberty. This combination of disinterest and denial is why the US has become a police state.
Civil liberty has few friends in government, the political parties, law schools, bar associations, or the federal judiciary. Consequently, no citizen is secure. Recently, a housewife researched online for pressure cookers looking for the best deal. Her husband was searching for a backpack. The result was that a fully armed SWAT team appeared at the door demanding to search the premises and to have questions answered.
I am always amazed when someone says: “I haven’t done anything wrong. I have nothing to fear.” If you have nothing to fear from the government, why did the Founding Fathers put the protections in the Constitution that Bush and Obama have stripped out?

Unlike the Founding Fathers who designed our government to protect the citizens, the American sheeple trust the government to their own demise.
Glenn Greenwald recently explained how the mass of data that is being accumulated on every American is being mined for any signs of non-terrorist-related criminal behavior. As such warrantless searches are illegal evidence in a criminal trial, the authorities disguise the illegal way in which the evidence is obtained in order to secure conviction based on illegally obtained evidence.
In other words, the use of the surveillance justified by the “war on terror” has already spread into prosecutions of ordinary criminals where it has corrupted legal safeguards and the integrity, if any, of the criminal court system, prosecutors and judges.
This is just one of the many ways in which you have much to fear, whether you think you are doing anything wrong or not. You can be framed for crimes based on inferences drawn from your Internet activity and jokes with friends on social media. Jurors made paranoid by the “terrorist threat” will convict you.
We should be very suspicious of the motive behind the universal spying on US citizens. The authorities are aware that the terrorist threat does not justify the unconstitutional and illegal spying. There have been hardly any real terrorist events in the US, which is why the FBI has to find clueless people around whom to organize an FBI orchestrated plot in order to keep the “terrorist threat” alive in the public’s mind. At last count, there have been 150 “sting operations” in which the FBI recruits people, who are out of touch with reality, to engage in a well-paid FBI designed plot. Once the dupes agree, they are arrested as terrorists and the plot revealed, always with the accompanying statement that the public was never in any danger as the FBI was in control.
When 99 percent of all terrorism is organized by the FBI, why do we need NSA spying on every communication of every American and on people in the rest of the world?
Terrorism seldom comes from outside. The source almost always is the government in power. The Czarist secret police set off bombs in order to blame and arrest labor agitators. The Nazis burned down the Reichstag in order to decimate the communists and assume unaccountable power in the name of “public safety.” An alleged terrorist threat is a way of using fear to block popular objection to the exercise of arbitrary government power.
In order to be “safe from terrorists,” the US population, with few objections, has accepted the demise of their civil liberties, such as habeas corpus, which reaches back centuries to Magna Carta as a constraint on government power.  How, then, are they safe from their government?  Americans today are in the same position as the English prior to the Great Charter of 1215. Americans are no longer protected by law and the Constitution from government tyranny.
The reason the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution was to make citizens safe from their government. If citizens allow the government to take away the Constitution, they might be safe from foreign terrorists, but they are no longer safe from their government.
Who do you think has more power over you, foreign terrorists or “your” government?
Washington defines all resistance to its imperialism and tyranny as “terrorism.” Thus, Americans who defend the environment, who defend wildlife, who defend civil liberties and human rights, who protest Washington’s wars and robbery of the people on behalf of special interests, all become “domestic extremists,” the term Homeland Security has substituted for “terrorist.” Those who are out of step with Washington and the powerful private interests that exploit us, other peoples, and the earth for their profits and power fall into the wrong side of Bush’s black and white division of the world: “you are for us or against us.”
In the United States independent thought is on the verge of being criminalized as are constitutionally guaranteed protests and the freedom of the press. The constitutional principle of freedom of speech is being redefined as treason, as aiding an undefined enemy, and as seeking to overthrow the government by casting aspersions on its motives and revealing its secret misdeeds. The power-mad inhabitants of Washington have brought the US so close to Gestapo Germany and Stalinist Russia that it is no longer funny. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult to see the difference.
The neoconservatives have declared that Americans are the “exceptional” and “indispensable people.” Yet, the civil liberties of Americans have declined the more “exceptional” and “indispensable” that Americans become. We are now so exceptional and indispensable that we no longer have any rights.
And neither does the rest of the world. Neoconservatism has created a new dangerous American nationalism.  Neoconservatives have given Washington a monopoly on right and endowed its military aggressions with a morality that supersedes the Geneva Conventions and human rights. Washington, justified by its “exceptionalism,” has the right to attack populations in countries with which Washington is not at war, such as Pakistan and Yemen. Washington is using the cover of its “exceptionalism” to murder people in many countries. Hitler tried to market the exceptionalism of the German people, but he lacked Washington’s Madison Avenue skills.
Washington is always morally right, whatever it does, and those who report its crimes are traitors who, stripped of their coddling by civil liberties, are locked away and abused until they confess to their crimes against the state. Anyone who tells the truth, such as Bradley Manning, Julian Assange, and Edward Snowden, are branded enemies of the state and are ruthlessly persecuted.
How does the “indispensable, exceptional nation” have a diplomatic policy? How can a neoconized State Department be based on anything except coercion?  It can’t. That is why Washington produces nothing but war and threats of war.
Wherever a person looks, whatever a person hears, it is Washington’s threat — “we are going to bomb you into the stone age” if you don’t do what we want and agree to what we require. We are going to impose “sanctions,” Washington’s euphemism for embargoes, and starve your women and children to death, permit no medical supplies, ban you from the international payments system unless you relent and consent to being Washington’s puppet, and ban you from posting your news broadcasts on the Internet.
This is the face that Washington presents to the world: the hard, mean face of a tyrant.
Washington’s power will survive a bit longer, because there are still politicians in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America and in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the NGOs in Russia, who are paid off by the almighty dollar. In exchange for Washington’s money, they endorse Washington’s immorality and murderous destruction of law and life.
But the dollar is being destroyed by Quantitative Easing, and the domestic US economy is being destroyed by jobs offshoring.
Rome was powerful until the Germans ceased to believe it. Then the rotten edifice collapsed. Washington faces sooner or later the same fate. An inhumane, illegal, unconstitutional regime based on violence alone, devoid of all morality and all human compassion, is not acceptable to China, Russia, India, Iran, and Brazil, or to readers of this column.
The evil that is Washington cannot last forever. The criminals might destroy the world in nuclear war, but the lawlessness and lack of humanity in Washington, which murders more people as I write, is no longer acceptable to the rest of the world, not even to its European puppet states, despite the leaders being on Washington’s payroll.
Gorbachev is correct. The collapse of the Soviet Union was a debacle for the entire world. It transformed the US from the “city upon the hill,” the “beacon for humanity,” into an aggressive militarist state. Consequently, Amerika has become despised by everyone who has a moral conscience and a sense of justice.

http://www.paulcraigroberts.org/

Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente’s Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available here:  http://www.amazon.com/Failure-Capitalism-Economic-Dissolution-ebook/dp/B00BLPJNWE/ref=sr_1_17?ie=UTF8&qid=1362095594&sr=8-17&keywords=paul+craig+roberts

Obama and “Pre-Emptive Capitulation” as a Modality of Democratic Governance July 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama.
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(Roger’s note: this article bemoans Barack Obama’s betrayal of his promise to generate genuine change; I for one do not feel betrayed becuase I never believed in him in the first place — full disclosure, I voted for Obama and do not regret it as McCain/Palin would have spelled disaster on a far greater scale.  In positing Obama’s failure to confront the Republican Party, Calhoun does not go deep enough in his analysis.  However, in showing how a progressive president congressional majorities cannot achieve a progressive agenda while at the same time Republican presidents achieve reactionary agendas with Democratic congresses, he does suggest the crux of the problem: the United States is for all intents and purposes a one-party quasi-dictatorship.  Republicrat.  Democratican.  Call it what you will.  It is not the Republicans that Obama lacks the guts or  imagination to confront, rather the military and the corporate Behemoth, the military-industrial complex against which Dwight Eisenhower warned us in his historic farewell address.)

Herbert Calhoun

www.opednews.com, July 4, 2009

 

Given that Obama is up against ideologica opponents

that fight to the death and play dirty in defense of their own (almost always
bad) ideas, one wonders what Obama hopes to accomplish with his Rodney King like
“can’t we all just get along” approach to getting his progressive agenda
through. Does he really think he can finesse his way around this minefield of conservative
pit bulls (sacrificing those who voted for him in the process), with this sweet
talk of empty bipartisanism? Has he not learned that the republicans do not
“play the game of bipartisanism” fairly; that is, unless it means that they can
“flip” progressive ideas? They will eat the part of his body that Jessie Jackson
was going to cut off, for breakfast, and then laugh all the way to the next
election cycle, unless he gets busy using those same parts to push
through the meaty ideas of those who gave him a mandate.

-

This is serious business; time to cut deeply into and roll
back the regressive conservative agenda of the last twenty-four years, rather
than giving us (the ones who got him elected), the gravy and the crumbs trimmed
from around the edges (like the limp-wristed credit card protection bill. Please,
give me a frigging break?).

We want some “progressive meat,” not just the carcass of the
old Conservative centrist Bill Clinton programs and ideas. This pussyfooting
around the edges has got to stop and soon, or else this “Obama run train to
Washington” is going to be short-lived: derailed in the mid-term election.
Obama had better “start dancing with the one who brung him,” or else he is
headed to the “graveyard of one-term Presidency land” and lack of my vote is
going to be one of the many progressive nails in his coffin.

-

I would like to remind him that although I am a black man
who followed his career while he was a “community organizer” in the Altgeld
ghetto community in South Chicago, and who has reviewed both of his books on
Amazon.com, through the years, I am frankly still not all that impressed with
his results. I voted for him not because he is black, or edited the Harvard Law
Review; or just to see a black family in the White House, but because, I
thought he would put his foot on the accelerator and get progressive ideas
enacted quickly, and for no other reason. Unless he begins to show some
fighting spirit, some moxie, in the next election cycle I’ll vote against him and
all those limp-wristed Congressional democrats like Nancy Pelosi in a heartbeat,
and gladly send them all packing. Unless they get busy doing the business of
those who got them elected, their political capital is going to dry up like the
Sahara Desert.

-

So far, even with a mandate and a filibuster proof Congress, all Obama has shown us is a lot of-
“TV style” totally devoid of progressive substance. I am frankly tired
of seeing him on the TV. -(And
don’t send me any more of those emails asking for more money and touting these
milquetoast centrist ideas: I am not a centrist; I am a progressive!). I’d
rather see you twisting a few Republicans arms in the back rooms, and a lot less
of this empty media show. In short, so far Obama looks like, acts like, and
quacks like a “good old Bill Clinton Republican,” “a good ol’ boy, pre-emptively
giving up his progressive bona fides behind the scenes.- And giving us lots of TV style smiles,
and sweet talk. -Lets have more
grimaces and a little rough talk; that way, we know you are working for our
causes.

-

Do we need to remind Obama that when the Republicans were in
office (with Bill Clinton’s help), even without a mandate and a filibuster
proof Congress, they aggressively pursued every one of their bad ideas? And got
most of them through a democratic Congress? To wit: All of them went to work on
the number one “global Republican project:” dismantling FDR New Deal social safety
net. Ronald Reagan, GWH Bush, the not too bright, GW Bush, Jr, and even with the
centrist Bill Clinton’s help, together, all but supplanted FDR’s programs with
the new existing playing field: the over-arching capitalist model of economic insecurity.
Now, that is what we have as the new playing field. That is the “given.” That
is the new ground zero.

So, Obama begins his presidency on Ronald Reagan’s playing
field, but with a bulletproof Congress. And what does he do? Forgets about the
big ideas and proceeds to preemptively capitulate on the number one progressive
idea, single payer healthcare system; gives us a weak-kneed credit card bill
instead; a watered down energy bill that even GW would be proud of, and more
importantly, has not shown us that he is willing to fight the republicans
toe-toe for any of the progressive programs that are important to the people
who elected him. -We are now wedded
to a worse version of the private Healthcare system than the one we already
have. What about the campaign promises of lower cost for everyone and to getting
everyone covered? -[Barack, your
slip is showing...]

-

-

And as an aside, Obama, of course, since he can’t even
openly acknowledge or be seen championing mainstream progressive causes, would
not be caught dead pushing any overt black causes. I suppose that dealing with
black concerns, like the inner social city meltdown, the public schools, etc.,
are either completely out of the question, or, are so far down the Obama agenda
that we are not likely to see them until a second term, if at all.

This pre-emptive capitulation is for the birds, and if it
does not stop soon, I am going to personally lead a group to picket the White
house to further dramatize how weak-kneed the Obama team really is. I never
thought I would be the one to say this but what we really need is a democrat,
with GW’s like moxie of full speed ahead, working a progressive agenda. Barack
Obama, ugh!

Retired Foreign Service Officer and past Manager of Political and Military Affairs at the US Department of State. For a brief time an Assistant Professor of International Relations at the University of Denver and the University of Washington at (more…)
 

Torture Smoking Gun? May 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture, Uncategorized.
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by Scott Horton

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.

Scott Horton, a senior fellow at The Nation Institute, lectures at Columbia Law School. 

The Massive Expansion of America’s “Hard Left” May 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Glenn Greenwald



Jesse Ventura was on CNN with Larry King last night and this exchange occurred, illustrating how simple, clear and definitively non-partisan is the case for investigations and prosecutions for those who ordered torture (video below):



VENTURA:  I don’t watch much TV. This year’s reading, I covered Bush’s life. I covered Guantanamo and a few other subjects.


And I’m very disturbed about it.


I’m bothered over Guantanamo because it seems we’ve created our own Hanoi Hilton. We can live with that?  I have a problem.


I will criticize President Obama on this level; it’s a good thing I’m not president because I would prosecute every person that was involved in that torture. I would prosecute the people that did it. I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.


KING: You were a Navy SEAL.


VENTURA: That’s right. I was water boarded, so I know — at SERE School, Survival Escape Resistance Evasion. It was a required school you had to go to prior to going into the combat zone, which in my era was Vietnam. All of us had to go there. We were all, in essence — every one of us was waterboarded. It is torture.


KING: What was it like?


VENTURA:  It’s drowning. It gives you the complete sensation that you are drowning. It is no good, because you — I’ll put it to you this way, you give me a waterboard, Dick Cheney and one hour, and I’ll have him confess to the Sharon Tate murders.


Let’s just repeat that:  “I would prosecute the people that ordered it. Because torture is against the law.”  That is the crux of the case for investigations and prosecutions.  That’s it.  Can anyone find a “liberal” or ideological argument anywhere in what Ventura said?  It’s about as far from a partisan or “leftist” idea as one can get.  Yet our establishment media has succeeded (as Digby recently argued) in converting this view into a “Hard Left,” “liberal” or “partisan” argument because that’s the only prism through which they can understand anything, and that’s their time-honored instrument for demonizing any idea that threatens their institutional prerogatives and orthodoxies (only the Hard Left favors this).


Ventura himself, like the argument he’s advocating, is also about as far from being a “leftist” or partisan as it gets.  He was elected Governor of Minnesota by running as the ultimate non-partisan, as a poorly-funded independent who defeated both the GOP and Democratic establishment candidates on a largely libertarian platform and on what he called “fiscal conservatism,” including large tax rebates.   Unlike the establishment-revering, prosecution-opposing pundits who are the true partisans — loyal spokespeople who fiercely defend Beltway culture and legal immunity for political elites above all else — Ventura is doing nothing more than expressing definitively independent and non-ideological political principles, ones that were quite obviously ingrained in him over the course of decades as an American and a veteran:  torture is wrong in all cases; it is illegal; and those who do it should therefore be prosecuted.


Former aide to Condoleezza Rice and former 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow yesterday became the latest to join Ventura by calling for investigations into torture, telling Laura Rozen:  “When there is this kind of collective failure, we need to learn from what happened.”  Gen. Barry McCaffrey two weeks ago pointed out that numerous detainees were “murdered” in U.S. custody — which is unquestionably true — and called for criminal investigations of the top-level political officials who sanctioned torture.  Gen. Antonio Taguba previously stated that “there is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes.  The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.”  Colin Powell’s former Chief of Staff, retired U.S. Army Col. Larry Wilkerson, this month endorsed both investigations and prosecutions for Bush officials who broke the law.  Bush 41 ambassador Thomas Pickering and Reagan-appointed FBI Director William Sessions wrote in The Washington Post that an independent investigation was a pre-requisite to moving beyond the torture era.  Ronald Reagan vehemently insisted that torture is inexcusable in all cases — no exceptions — and that those who do it must be prosecuted.


These are the people — Gen. McCaffrey, Gen. Taguba, Col. Wilkerson, Philip Zelikow, Jesse Ventura, Ambassador Pickering, Director Sessions — that our little David Ignatiuses deceitfully dismiss as “liberal score-settlers” and that our David Broders and Jon Barrys accuse of lying by masking their Hard Left thirst for partisan vengeance with false pretenses about a belief in the rule of law and contrived disgust at torture.   Our media stars have a script from which they mindlessly read — anyone who believes that political leaders should be held accountable for serious crimes must be a member of the “Hard Left” when the lawbreaking political leaders in question are Republicans — and they recite it over and over no much how evidence piles up in front of their noses proving how untrue it is.


Our media stars accuse everyone with any actual beliefs — and especially any beliefs that deviate from Beltway establishment orthodoxy — of being motivated by ugly “partisan” impulses because that’s the only way they are capable of seeing the world.  It’s the ultimate act of projection.  That’s how the most non-ideological and non-partisan principles (e.g.: government leaders who commit serious crimes should be held accountable; torture is wrong; Presidents shouldn’t eavesdrop on Americans without warrants where the law makes doing so a felony) are transformed into partisan, “ideological” views of the Hard Left, even when they are plainly nothing of the sort.  As commenter DCLaw1 wrote in explaining the media’s sudden obsession this week with whether Nancy Pelosi was briefed on the CIA’s interrogation program even though that issue has been known for years:



I want to point out that the main reason, if not the only reason, for this overwhelming media view is because the only lens through which they can see this issue – like every issue – is the Republican/Democrat or conservative/liberal lens. When one’s entire point of reference for even issues of egregious lawbreaking goes no further than fixating obsessively over the identity of the people and parties to the “controversy” and the issue’s putative effect on partisan politics, whether a leader of one party was informed of the crimes of the other takes on a meaning perversely greater than the evil of the underlying conduct itself.


Our establishment media simply cannot get beyond this stultifyingly narrow framework. It is pathological. Additionally, this staunch avoidance of anything approaching a substantive assessment of the actual illegal conduct, in favor of a petty fixation on the partisan “helps or harms” game, helps only the “side” that has committed the crimes and wrongdoing. No wonder our discourse is so unbelievably misshapen.


Few things better illustrate how warped our political discourse is than the media’s claim that advocating investigations and prosecutions for political lawbreakers who commit serious crimes, who torture, who illegally spy on Americans with no warrants, is the province of partisans on the “Hard Left,” even when people who are as far away from that as possible prominently advocate exactly that.


* * * * *


Beltway mavens are eager to declare that the torture controversy is ending, but these crimes are far too significant to sweep under the rug, no matter how unified the political and media establishments are in that effort.  In addition to the Ventura interview and the Zelikow call for investigations yesterday, here are some headlines just from the last 24 hours:


Interrogation Probe Should Include Congressional Leaders, Hoyer Says


US lawmakers to hear from Bush ‘torture’ dissenter


Top US Democrat under fire over ‘torture’ briefings


US lawmaker: Public needs all facts on alleged torture


Ire Over a Columnist, an Author of Torture Memos


Speaker Under Fire on Torture (“With a series of torture investigations already in the works . . . the issue simply isn’t going away“).


It’s difficult to avoid the conclusion that the President’s apparent contemplation of reversing himself on whether to release 60 new photographs showing brutal American abuse of detainees (outside of Abu Ghraib) is part of an effort to tamp down what is still, quite obviously, the growing political pressure not to simply “move beyond” the serious crimes that were committed.


* * * * *


The call for prosecutions from the newest member of America’s rapidly growing Hard Left:



 


 




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.

Stop the Single Payer Shut-out! May 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Health.
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by Ralph Nader

Among the giant taboos afflicting Congress these days is the proposal to create a single payer health insurance system (often called full Medicare for everyone).

How can this be? Don’t the elected politicians represent the people? Don’t they always have their finger to the wind?

Well, single payer is only supported by a majority of the American people, physicians and nurses. They like the idea of public funding and private delivery. They like the free choice of doctors and hospitals that many are now denied by the HMOs.

There are also great administrative efficiencies when single player displaces the health insurance industry with its claims-denying, benefit-restricting, bureaucratically-heavy profiteering. According to leading researchers in this area, Dr. David Himmelstein and Dr. Stephanie Woolhandler, single payer will save $350 billion annually.

Yet, on Capitol Hill and at the White House there are no meetings, briefings, hearings, and consultations about kinds of health care reforms that reform the basic price inflation, indifference to prevention, and discrimination of health insurers.

There is no place at the table for single payer advocates in the view of the Congressional leaders who set the agenda and muzzle dissenters.

Last month at a breakfast meeting with reporters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) responded to a question about health care with these revealing and exasperating words: “Over and over again, we hear single payer, single payer, single payer. Well, it’s not going to be a single payer.”

Thus spake Speaker Pelosi, the Representative from Aetna? Never mind that 75 members of her party have signed onto H.R. 676-the Conyers single payer legislation. Never mind that in her San Francisco district, probably three out of four people want single payer. And never mind that over 20,000 people die every year, according to the Institute of Medicine, because they cannot afford health insurance.

What is more remarkable is that many more than the 75 members of the House privately believe single payer is the best option. Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, and Nancy Pelosi are among them. But they all say, single payer “is not practical” so it’s off the table.

What gives here? The Democrats have the procedures to pass any kind of health reform this year, including single payer. President Obama could sign it into law.

But “it’s not practical” because these politicians fear the insurance and pharmaceutical industries-and seek their campaign contributions-more than they fear the American people. It comes down to the corporations, who have no votes, are organized to the teeth and the people are not.

So, when Senator Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and a large recipient of health insurance and drug company donations, held a public roundtable discussion on May 5, fifteen witnesses were preparing to deliver their statements. Not one of them was championing single payer.

As Senator Baucus started his introductory remarks, something happened. One by one, eight people in the audience, most of them physicians and lawyers, stood up to politely but insistently protest the absence of a single payer presentation.

One by one, the police came, took them out of the hearing room, arrested and handcuffed them. The charge was “disruption of Congress”-a misdemeanor.
They call themselves the “Baucus Eight”. Immediately, over the internet and on C-Span, public radio, and the Associated Press, the news spread around the country. You can see the video on singlepayeraction.org.

To the many groups and individuals who have labored for single payer for decades, the Baucus Eight’s protest seemed like an epiphany.

Dr. Quentin Young, a veteran leader for single payer and a founder of Physicians for a National Health Program (PNHP) e-mailed his reaction: “For our part, when the history of this period is written, we believe your action may well be noted as the turning point from a painful, defensive position to a more appropriate offensive position vis-à-vis Senator Baucus and his health industry co-conspirators.”

Webster’s dictionary defines “taboo” as “a prohibition against touching, saying, or doing something for fear of a mysterious superhuman force.” For both Democrats and Republicans in Congress it is a fear of a very omnipresent supercorporate force.

However, moral and evidential courage is coming. On May 12, 2009, Senator Baucus is having another roundtable discussion with thirteen more witnesses, including those from the business lobbies and their consultants. Word has it that the Senator is about to invite a leading single payer advocate to sit at the table.

Here come the people! Join this historic drive to have our country join the community of western, and some third-world, nations by adopting a state of the art single payer system.

Visit singlepayeraction.org and break the taboo in your region.

Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer, and author. His most recent book is The Seventeen Traditions.

If the US Does It, It’s Not Torture May 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Media, Torture.
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The NYT’s Definition of Blinding American Exceptionalism

by Glenn Greenwald

There’s been a major editorial breach at The New York Times today, in this obituary of an American fighter pilot who was captured by the Chinese:

Harold E. Fischer Jr., an American Flier Tortured in a Chinese Prison, Dies at 83. . . .

From April 1953 through May 1955, Colonel Fischer – then an Air Force captain – was held at a prison outside Mukden, Manchuria. For most of that time, he was kept in a dark, damp cell with no bed and no opening except a slot in the door through which a bowl of food could be pushed. Much of the time he was handcuffed. Hour after hour, a high-frequency whistle pierced the air.

After a short mock trial in Beijing on May 24, 1955, Captain Fischer and the other pilots – Lt. Col. Edwin L. Heller, First Lt. Lyle W. Cameron and First Lt. Roland W. Parks – were found guilty of violating Chinese territory by flying across the border while on missions over North Korea. Under duress, Captain Fischer had falsely confessed to participating in germ warfare.

So that’s torture now?  To use the prevailing American mindset:  a room that doesn’t meet the standards of a Hilton and some whistling in the background is torture?  My neighbor whistles all the time; does that mean he’s torturing me?  It’s not as though Fischer had his eyes poked out by hot irons or was placed in a coffin-like box with bugs or was handcuffed to the ceiling.

Also, using the editorial standards of America’s journalistic institutions — as explained recently by the NYT Public Editor — shouldn’t this be called “torture” rather than torture — or “harsh tactics some critics decry as torture”?  Why are the much less brutal methods used by the Chinese on Fischer called torture by the NYT, whereas much harsher methods used by Americans do not merit that term?  Here we find what is clearly the single most predominant fact shaping our political and media discourse:  everything is different, and better, when we do it.  In fact, it is that exact mentality that was and continues to be the primary justification for our torture regime and so much else that we do.

Along those same lines, I learned from reading The New York Times this week (via The New Yorker‘s Amy Davidson) that Iraq is suffering a very serious problem.  Tragically, that country is struggling with what the Times calls a “culture of impunity.” What this means is that politically connected Iraqis who clearly broke the law are nonetheless not being prosecuted because of their political influence!  Even worse, protests the NYT, there have been “cases dismissed in the past few years as a result of a government amnesty and a law dating to 1971 that allows ministers to grant immunity to subordinates accused of corruption.”  And the best part?  This:  “The United States is pressing the Iraqi government to repeal that law.”  

Thankfully, we’re teaching the Iraqis what it means to be a “nation of laws.”  We Americans know how terrible it is to have a system where the politically powerful are permitted to break the law and not be held accountable.  A country which does things like that can fall into such a state of moral depravity that they would actually allow people to do things like this and get away with it.  Who could imagine living in a place like that?

* * * * *

One related point:  I’m truly amazed to watch the eruption of “controversy” today over the fact that Nancy Pelosi was briefed in 2002 on various aspects of the CIA’s interrogation program, as though (a) this is some sort of new revelation and (b) it has any bearing on whether there should be investigations and prosecutions into Bush crimes.  As many of us have long pointed out, the extent to which Democratic leaders in Congress were complicit in Bush lawbreaking — including torture — is a major issue that needs resolution, and is almost certainly a key reason why there have been no investigations thus far.  There are real disputes still about what these Democrats were and were not told — how complete the briefings were, the extent to which they obfuscated rather than illuminated what the CIA was doing — though they were obviously told enough to have warranted further action on their part, to say the least.

But what’s the point of all of this?  Secretly telling Nancy Pelosi that you’re committing crimes doesn’t mean that you have the right to do so.  And the profound failures of the other institutions that are supposed to check executive lawbreaking during the Bush era — principally Congress and the “opposition party” — is a vital issue that demands serious examination.  This dispute over what Pelosi (and Jay Rockefeller and others) knew highlights, rather than negates, the need for a meaningful investigation into what took place.

UPDATE:  Andrew Sullivan has related thoughts about this obituary.

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.

Disclosure of ‘Secrets’ in the ’70s Didn’t Destroy the Nation April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, Torture.
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by Amy Goodman

President Barack Obama promised “more transparent … more creative” government. His release of the torture memos, and the Pentagon’s expected release of more photos of detainee abuse, is a step in the right direction. Yet he assured the CIA that he will not prosecute those who followed the instructions to torture from the Bush administration. Congress might not agree with this leniency, with prominent senators calling for investigations.Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, just released a 262-page report titled “Inquiry Into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody.” Levin said the report “represents a condemnation of both the Bush administration’s interrogation policies and of senior administration officials who attempted to shift the blame for abuse … to low-ranking soldiers. Claims … that detainee abuses could be chalked up to the unauthorized acts of a ‘few bad apples’ were simply false.” Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., also are proposing investigations.

The Senate interest in investigation has backers in the U.S. House, from Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee John Conyers, D-Mich., who told The Huffington Post recently, “We’re coming after these guys.”

Amrit Singh, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Pentagon’s photos “provide visual proof that prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel was not aberrational but widespread, reaching far beyond the walls of Abu Ghraib. Their disclosure is critical for helping the public understand the scope and scale of prisoner abuse as well as for holding senior officials accountable for authorizing or permitting such abuse.” The ACLU also won a ruling to obtain documents relating to the CIA’s destruction of 92 videotapes of harsh interrogations. The tapes are gone, supposedly, but notes about the content of the tapes remain, and a federal judge has ordered their release.

In December 2002, when the Bush torture program was well under way, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld signed off on a series of harsh interrogation techniques described in a memo written by William Hayes II (one of the “Bush Six” being investigated by Spanish Judge Baltasar Garzon). At the bottom of the memo, under his signature, Rumsfeld scrawled: “I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?” Rumsfeld zealously classified information in his years in government.

A similar crisis confronted the U.S. public in the mid-1970s. While the Watergate scandal was unfolding, widespread evidence was mounting of illegal government activity, including domestic spying and the infiltration and disruption of legal political groups, mostly anti-war groups, in a broad-based, secret government crackdown on dissent. In response, the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations With Respect to Intelligence Activities was formed. It came to be known as the Church Committee, named after its chairman, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church. The Church Committee documented and exposed extraordinary activities on the CIA and FBI, such as CIA efforts to assassinate foreign leaders, and the FBI’s COINTELPRO (counterintelligence) program, which extensively spied on prominent leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

It is not only the practices that are similar, but the people. Frederick A.O. Schwarz Jr., general counsel to the Church Committee, noted two people who were active in the Ford White House and attempted to block the committee’s work: “Rumsfeld and then [Dick] Cheney were people who felt that nothing should be known about these secret operations, and there should be as much disruption as possible.”

Church’s widow, Bethine Church, now 86, continues to be very politically active in Idaho. She was so active in Washington in the 1970s that she was known as “Idaho’s third senator.” She said there needs to be a similar investigation today: “When you think of all the things that the Church Committee tried to straighten out and when you think of the terrific secrecy that Cheney and all of these people dealt with, they were always secretive about everything, and they didn’t want anything known. I think people have to know what went on. And that’s why I think an independent committee [is needed], outside of the Congress, that just looked at the whole problem and everything that happened.”

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on 700 stations in North America. She was awarded the 2008 Right Livelihood Award, dubbed the “Alternative Nobel” prize, and received the award in the Swedish Parliament in December.

What if Instead of the Nuremberg Trials There Was Only a Truth Commission? April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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by Jeremy Scahill

Representatives John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler are officially asking Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint an independent Special Prosecutor “to investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute” participants in the Bush-era US torture system. “A Special Counsel is the most appropriate way to handle this matter,” Nadler said. “It would remove from the process any question that the investigation was subject to political pressure, and it would preempt any perceptions of conflict of interest within the Justice Department, which produced the torture memos.” But, as Politico reports, “Holder is likely to reject that request – his boss, the president, has indicated he doesn’t see the need for such a prosecutor.” The Democratic Leadership, particularly Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Diane Feinstein have pushed for secret, closed-door hearings in the Senate Intelligence Committee. Other Democrats, like Patrick Leahy, advocate establishing a Truth Commission, though that is not gaining any momentum. The fact remains that some powerful Democrats knew that the torture was happening and didn’t make a public peep in opposition.

This week, Lawrence Wilkerson, the former chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell came out in favor of prosecutions of “the decision-makers and their closest advisors (particularly the ones among the latter who may, on their own, have twisted the dagger a little deeper in Caesar’s prostrate body – Rumsfeld and Feith for instance). Appoint a special prosecutor such as Fitzgerald, armed to the teeth, and give him or her carte blanche. Play the treatment of any intermediaries – that is, between the grunts on the ground and the Oval – as the law allows and the results demand.”

Wilkerson, though, understands Washington. “Is there the political will to carry either of these recommendations to meaningful consequences?” he wrote to the Huffington Post. “No, and there won’t be.”

As of now, Conyers and Nadler aren’t exactly looking for over-flow space for their meetings on how to get criminal prosecutions going.

Officially joining the anti-accountability camp this week was The Washington Post‘s David Broder who wrote this gem in defense of the Bush administration: “The memos on torture represented a deliberate, and internally well-debated, policy decision, made in the proper places – the White House, the intelligence agencies and the Justice Department – by the proper officials.” (For a great response to this, check out Scott Horton). Broder is urging Obama to “stick to his guns” in standing up to pressure “to change his mind about closing the books on the ‘torture’ policies of the past.” Don’t you love how Broder puts torture in quotes? I really wonder how Broder would describe it if he was waterboarded (and survived). Can’t you just imagine him making the little quote motion with his hands? Broder’s Washington Post column was titled “Stop Scapegoating: Obama Should Stand Against Prosecutions:”

[Obama was] right to declare that there should be no prosecution of those who carried out what had been the policy of the United States government. And he was right when he sent out his chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, to declare that the same amnesty should apply to the lawyers and bureaucrats who devised and justified the Bush administration practices.But now Obama is being lobbied by politicians and voters who want something more – the humiliation and/or punishment of those responsible for the policies of the past. They are looking for individual scalps – or, at least, careers and reputations.

Their argument is that without identifying and punishing the perpetrators, there can be no accountability – and therefore no deterrent lesson for future administrations. It is a plausible-sounding rationale, but it cloaks an unworthy desire for vengeance.

Obama has opposed even the blandest form of investigation, a so-called truth commission, and has shown himself willing to confront this kind of populist anger.

Thank goodness we have a president who opposes “even the blandest form of investigation”-how uncouth such savagery would prove to be. While the elite Washington press corp works hard to make sure things don’t get too uncomfortable at the wine and cheese cocktail parties, some liberal journalists are also making the case against a special prosecutor (or at least the immediate appointment of one). Last week it was Elizabeth de la Vega, who made an interesting case for waiting to prosecute while evidence is gathered:

We must have a prosecution eventually, but we are not legally required to publicly initiate it now and we should not, as justifiable as it is. I’m not concerned about political fallout. What’s good or bad for either party has no legitimate place in this calculus. My sole consideration is litigation strategy: I want us to succeed.

This week it is Mother Jones Washington editor David Corn, who comes out in favor of a congressional investigation “that placed a premium on public disclosure” or “an independent commission.” Corn describes how he recently warned a Congressmember who supports the appointment of a Special Prosecutor, “That’s not necessarily a good idea.” Corn talks about how a coalition of groups from the Center for Constitutional Rights and the ACLU to Democrats.com and MoveOn.org have all petitioned for a prosecutor:

These liberals all want to see alleged Bush administration wrongdoing exposed. But there’s one problem with a special prosecutor: it’s not his job to expose wrongdoing. A special prosecutor does dig up facts-but only in order to prosecute a possible crime. His mission is not to shine light on misdeeds, unless it is part of a prosecution. In many cases, a prosecutor’s investigation does not produce any prosecutions. Sometimes, it leads only to a limited prosecution.That’s what happened with Patrick Fitzgerald. He could not share with the public all that he had discovered about the involvement of Bush, Cheney, Karl Rove, and other officials in the CIA leak case… A special prosecutor, it turns out, is a rather imperfect vehicle for revealing the full truth.

[...]

Prosecuting government officials for providing legal opinions that greenlighted waterboarding and the like would pose its own legal challenges. Could a government prosecutor indict the government lawyers who composed and signed the torture memos for aiding and abetting torture without indicting the government employees who actually committed the torture? (President Barack Obama has pledged that the interrogators will not be pursued.) And could a prosecutor win cases in which his targets would obviously argue that they were providing what they believed was good-faith legal advice, even if it turned out that their advice was wrong?… Several lawyers I’ve consulted have said that a criminal case against the authors of these memos would be no slam dunk. One possible scenario is that a special prosecutor would investigate, find out that sordid maneuvering occurred at the highest levels of the Bush-Cheney administration, and then conclude that he or she did not have a strong enough legal case to warrant criminal indictments and trials.

The bottom line: Anyone who wants the full truth to come out about the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of these interrogation practices cannot count on a special prosecutor.

Corn’s advice to that unnamed Democratic Congressmember wasn’t exactly well received by lawyers who have been pushing for prosecutions. Perhaps the most passionate advocate for the appointment of an independent Special Prosecutor right now is Michael Ratner, the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“To argue that we should not have prosecutions because it won’t bring out all the facts when taken to its logical conclusion would mean never prosecuting any official no matter the seriousness of the crimes,” Ratner told me. “Right now is not the time to be backing off on prosecutions. Why are prosecutions of torturers ok for other non-western countries but not for the US?  Prosecution is necessary to deter torture in the future and send a message to ourselves and the rest of the world that the  seven or eight year torture program was unlawful and must not happen again. The purpose of prosecutions is to investigate and get convictions so that officials in the future will not again dispense with the prohibition on torture.”

Constitutional Law expert Scott Horton says that the problems with a Special Prosecutor Corn lays out are “correct, but he makes the latent assumption that it’s either/or.  That’s absurd.  Obviously it should be both a commission and one or more prosecutors as crimes are identified.”

Jameel Jaffer, one of the leading ACLU attorneys responsible for getting the torture memos released by the Obama administration, agrees with Horton. “I don’t think we should have to choose between a criminal investigation and a congressional inquiry,” Jaffer told me. “A congressional committee could examine the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative reform to prevent gross human rights abuses by future administrations. At the same time, a Justice Department investigation could investigate issues of criminal responsibility. One shouldn’t foreclose the other.”

Jaffer adds, “It might be a different story if we thought that Congress would need to offer immunity in exchange for testimony.  But many of the key players – including John Yoo, George Tenet, and Dick Cheney – have made clear that they have no qualms about talking publicly about their actions (Yoo and Tenet have both written books, and Cheney is writing one now).”

The bottom line, Ratner argues, is that “prosecutions will bring out facts.” He cites the example of the Nuremberg Tribunals:

What if we had had a truth commission and no prosecutions?  Right now we have many means of getting the facts: FOIA, congressional investigations such as the Senate Armed Services Report, former interrogators, document releases by the Executive. There are plenty of ways to get information even if it does not all come out in prosecutions. Many of the calls to not prosecute are by those, particularly inside the beltway, who cannot imagine Bush, Cheney et al. in the dock or by those who accept the argument that the torture conspirators were trying their best. This is not a time to hold back on the demand that is required by law and fact: appoint a special prosecutor.

David Swanson, who for years has pushed for prosecutions of Bush administration officials, was one of the organizers of the petitions calling for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. “My top priority is not ‘truth,'” he said. “My top priority is changing the current truth, which is that we don’t have the nerve and decency to enforce our laws against powerful people.”

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.

Are leading Democrats Afraid of a Special Prosecutor to Investigate Torture? April 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Jeremy Scahill

There are not exactly throngs of Democratic Congressmembers beating down the doors of the Justice Department demanding that Attorney General Eric Holder appoint a special Independent Prosecutor to investigate torture and other crimes. And now it seems that whatever Congress does in the near term won’t even be open to the public. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said this week that he prefers that the Senate Intelligence Committee hold private hearings. The chair of the committee, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, has asked the White House not to take any action until this private affair is concluded. She estimates that will take 6-8 months.

“I think it would be very unwise, from my perspective, to start having commissions, boards, tribunals, until we find out what the facts are,” Reid said Wednesday. “I don’t know a better way of getting the facts than through the intelligence committee.” It is hard to imagine other Democrats bucking Reid on this and there is certainly no guarantee that the committee will release an unclassified report when it concludes its private inquiry. While Representative John Conyers says he will hold hearings, that is not the same as the independent criminal investigation this situation warrants.

Then there is the deeply flawed plan coming from the other influential camp in the Democratic leadership. The alternative being offered is not an independent special prosecutor, but rather a more politically palatable counter-proposal for creating a bi-partisan commission. This is a very problematic approach (as I have pointed out) for various reasons, including the possibility of immunity offers and a sidelining of actual prosecutions. Michael Ratner from the Center for Constitutional Rights has also advocated against this, saying this week it will lead to a “whitewash:”

We have reached a critical political moment on this issue. Obama has been forced or pushed to open the door to prosecutions, an opening I thought would take much longer to achieve. If there was ever a time to push that door open wider and demand a special prosecutor it is now. We have documented and open admissions of criminality. We have Cheney and Hayden admitting what they approved these techniques; and Cheney saying he would approve waterboarding again. We have the Senate Armed Services Report detailing how the torture program was authored and approved by our highest officials in the White House and employed in Guantanamo, Iraq and Afghanistan. And we have thousands of pages of proof. There is public outrage about the torture program and the media in the U.S. and the world are covered with the U.S. misdeeds.So at this moment, instead of human rights groups getting together and calling for a special prosecutor what do they do? Call for a commission. What this call does and it must be said strongly is take the pressure off what is the growing public push for prosecutions and deflects it into a commission. Outrage that could actually lead to prosecutions is now focused away and into a commission. Think if this list of human rights groups had demanded prosecutions. We would be closer and not farther from the goal.

There are some powerful Democrats who certainly would not want an independent public investigation, particularly those who served on the House and Senate Intelligence Committees when Bush was in power and torture was being ordered and authorized. That’s because in the aftermath of 9/11, some in Congress were briefed on the torture methods in real time and either were silent or, in some cases, supported these brutal tactics or, as some have suggested, possibly encouraged them to be expanded.

While Republicans are flailing to find ways of defending all of this torture and attempting to discredit or marginalize those who speak out against it, it is interesting to note the Op-ed Thursday in The Wall Street Journal by Reprentative Pete Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called “Congress Knew About the Interrogations.” In the piece where Hoekstra parrots the Dick Cheney blah-blah-blah about torture working, he manages to make an important point:

[M]embers of Congress from both parties have been fully aware of them since the program began in 2002. We believed it was something that had to be done in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to keep our nation safe. After many long and contentious debates, Congress repeatedly approved and funded this program on a bipartisan basis in both Republican and Democratic Congresses.

Hoekstra cites the internal memo written last week by Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, to his staff in which Blair said “[h]igh value information came from interrogations in which those methods were used and provided a deeper understanding of the al Qa’ida organization that was attacking this country.” (This was the memo that was originally released to the public with that sentence conveniently ommitted).

Hoekstra writes:

Members of Congress calling for an investigation of the enhanced interrogation program should remember that such an investigation can’t be a selective review of information, or solely focus on the lawyers who wrote the memos, or the low-level employees who carried out this program. I have asked Mr. Blair to provide me with a list of the dates, locations and names of all members of Congress who attended briefings on enhanced interrogation techniques.

House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) added to this mix by saying that he had seen a partial list of Congressmembers “who were briefed on these interrogation methods and not a word was raised at the time, not one word.”

Among those on the House Intelligence Committee at the time was current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She has said, “we were not, I repeat, we were not told that waterboarding or other enhanced methods were used.”

“What they did tell us is that they had some legislative counsel … but not that they would. And that further, further the point was that if and when they would be used they would brief Congress at that time.”

But contrary to Pelosi’s assertion, The Washington Post reported that Pelosi and other Democrats were “given a virtual tour of the CIA’s overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk:”

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.

“The briefer was specifically asked if the methods were tough enough,” said a U.S. official who witnessed the exchange.

Major Scandal Erupts involving Rep. Jane Harman, Alberto Gonzales and AIPAC April 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice.
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by Glenn Greenwald

Other obligations prevent me from writing until later today — and I intend to focus on Rahm Emanuel’s war-crimes-protecting proclamation that Obama’s desire for immunity extends beyond CIA officers perpetrating torture to the “policy makers” who ordered it (watch today as the hardest-core Obama loyalists start explaining how the UN doesn’t matter, international treaties are irrelevant, and war criminals need not be held accountable) — but, until then, I wanted to highlight this extremely important and well-reported story from CQ‘s Jeff Stein, which involves allegations of major corruption and serious criminal activity on the part of Democratic Rep. Jane Harman.  Here’s one crucial prong of the story:

Rep. Jane Harman , the California Democrat with a longtime involvement in intelligence issues, was overheard on an NSA wiretap telling a suspected Israeli agent that she would lobby the Justice Department reduce espionage-related charges against two officials of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the most powerful pro-Israel organization in Washington.

Harman was recorded saying she would “waddle into” the AIPAC case “if you think it’ll make a difference,” according to two former senior national security officials familiar with the NSA transcript.

In exchange for Harman’s help, the sources said, the suspected Israeli agent pledged to help lobby Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., then-House minority leader, to appoint Harman chair of the Intelligence Committee after the 2006 elections, which the Democrats were heavily favored to win.

Seemingly wary of what she had just agreed to, according to an official who read the NSA transcript, Harman hung up after saying, “This conversation doesn’t exist.”

That’s not even the most significant part.  Back in October, 2006, Time reported that the DOJ and FBI were investigating whether Harman and AIPAC  “violated the law in a scheme to get Harman reappointed as the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee” and “the probe also involves whether, in exchange for the help from AIPAC, Harman agreed to help try to persuade the Administration to go lighter on the AIPAC officials caught up in the ongoing investigation.”  So that part has been known since 2006.

Stein adds today that Harman was captured on an NSA wiretap conspiring with an Israeli agent to apply pressure on DOJ officials to scale back the AIPAC prosecution.  But the real the crux of Stein’s scoop is that then-Attorney General Alberto Gonazles intervened to kill the criminal investigation into Harman — even though DOJ lawyers had concluded that she committed crimes — because top Bush officials wanted Harman’s credibility to be preserved so that she could publicly defend the Bush administration’s illegal warrantless eavesdropping program:

[C]ontrary to reports that the Harman investigation was dropped for “lack of evidence,” it was Alberto R. Gonzales, President Bush’s top counsel and then attorney general, who intervened to stop the Harman probe.

Why? Because, according to three top former national security officials, Gonzales wanted Harman to be able to help defend the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about break in The New York Times and engulf the White House. . . .

Justice Department attorneys in the intelligence and public corruption units who read the transcripts decided that Harman had committed a “completed crime,” a legal term meaning that there was evidence that she had attempted to complete it, three former officials said. . . .

Then-CIA Director Porter J. Goss reviewed the Harman transcript and signed off on the Justice Department’s FISA application. . . . Goss, a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, deemed the matter particularly urgent because of Harman’s rank as the panel’s top Democrat.

But that’s when, according to knowledgeable officials, Attorney General Gonzales intervened.

According to two officials privy to the events, Gonzales said he “needed Jane” to help support the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, which was about to be exposed by the New York Times.

Harman, he told Goss, had helped persuade the newspaper to hold the wiretap story before, on the eve of the 2004 elections. And although it was too late to stop the Times from publishing now, she could be counted on again to help defend the program

He was right.

On Dec. 21, 2005, in the midst of a firestorm of criticism about the wiretaps, Harman issued a statement defending the operation and slamming the Times, saying, “I believe it essential to U.S. national security, and that its disclosure has damaged critical intelligence capabilities.”

And thanks to grateful Bush administration officials, the investigation of Harman was effectively dead.

Indeed, as I’ve noted many times, Jane Harman, in the wake of the NSA scandal, became probably the most crucial defender of the Bush warrantless eavesdropping program, using her status as “the ranking Democratic on the House intelligence committee” to repeatedly praise the NSA program as “essential to U.S. national security” and “both necessary and legal.”  She even went on Meet the Press to defend the program along with GOP Sen. Pat Roberts and Rep. Pete Hoekstra, and she even strongly suggested that the whistleblowers who exposed the lawbreaking and perhaps even the New York Times (but not Bush officials) should be criminally investigated, saying she “deplored the leak,” that “it is tragic that a lot of our capability is now across the pages of the newspapers,” and that the whistleblowers were “despicable.”  And Eric Lichtblau himself described how Harman, in 2004, attempted very aggressively to convince him not to write about the NSA program.

Stein’s entire story should be read.  It’s a model of excellent reporting, as it relies on numerous sources with first-hand knowledge of the NSA transcripts (and what sweet justice it would be if Harman’s guilt were established by government eavesdropping).  It should be noted that Harman has issued a general denial of wrongdoing (but does not appear to deny that she had the discussion Stein reports), and the sources in Stein’s story are anonymous (though because they’re disclosing classified information and exposing government wrongdoing, it’s a classic case of when anonymity is justifiable; and note Stein’s efforts to provide as much information as possible about his sources and why they are anonymous).  

There are many questions that the story raises — Josh Marshall notes just some of those vital questions here — and Harman’s guilt therefore shouldn’t be assumed.  But obviously, given all the very serious issues this story raises — involving what seem to be credible allegations of very serious wrongdoing by a key member of Congress, the former Attorney General and one of the most powerful lobbying organizations in the country — full-scale investigations are needed, to put it mildly.

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