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Disappearing Truth in Honduras: Commissions Cover Up Demands for New Constitution April 13, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Democracy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Written by Annie Bird   
Tuesday, 13 April 2010 09:23
 

golpe de estado Honduras

Though the June 28, 2009 coup in Honduras caught the world’s attention, outside of Honduras little was said about the objective of the coup; to stop the proposal for a new constitution in Honduras. The terrible repression that followed the coup has also prompted international response, but the political proposal of victims of the repression has been made invisible.

The coup is now in its final phase, a phase that cannot be consolidated; the “disappearance” of the proposal for a new constitution. A two pronged strategy is being employed. On one hand, the creation of the appearance, without the actual reality, of national reconciliation processes, such as a ‘truth commission’ which for lack of participation of the human rights victims, among other problems, does not meet international standards for a truth commission. On the other hand, escalating violence and repression continues against the non violent resistance movement, which continues to demand a new constitution and does not recognize the Pepe Lobo government, like many nations of the world since the elections he “won” did not fulfill most indicators for democratic elections. This phase in the coup is the most dangerous and prolonged.

While the US and Canadian governments, corporate lobbyists in Washington and even WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America), a Washington based human rights NGO, assist the Honduran government in creating the illusion of “reconciliation,” death squads assassinate journalists, teachers and unionists.

The Frente and the Proposal

In Honduras, a massive and inspiring social movement has arisen, generating what University of California historian Dana Frank describes as “the most important moment in Honduran history, even more important than the immense general strike of 1954, from which all modern Honduran history flows.”

In the months prior to the coup, a massive alliance of most sectors of Honduran society, labor unions, students, indigenous organizations, women’s organizations, campesino organizations, LGBT organizations, and others came together to promote a proposal to draft a new constitution with broad civic participation. They proposed that a national opinion poll, which was to be held June 28, the day of coup. The poll was to ask Honduran citizens whether or not a national poll should be held during the November 2009 national and presidential elections.  This initiative called the “fourth ballot box,” would have asked Hondurans if they want to convoke a constituent assembly.  The proposal never claimed to create a legal obligation for the state; it simply sought to prove that most Hondurans wished to convoke a constituent assembly.

In the days following the coup, previously unorganized Hondurans came together with the “fourth ballot box” movement to form the Frente Popular Nacional contra el Golpe.  As people across the country repeat, by overthrowing the president, the power structures in Honduras “removed the blindfolds” of the population and the people mobilized massively.  Constant protests, at times of over half a million people, have occurred for over eight months. After the “new” government was installed January 27, 2010, the Frente changed its name to the Frente Nacional de Resistencia Popular.  In practically every rural village, town, urban neighborhood there is a local committee, which then has representatives in committees in each of Honduras’ eighteen departments, which in turn have representation in the national committee.

A New Constitution and the April 20, 2010 National March

The objective of the Frente is to convoke a national constituent assembly with representatives from all sectors of Honduran society to write a new constitution for the nation.  Currently, they hope to achieve this through participation in the 2013 national elections. The Frente has convoked a national march on April 20 to initiate the campaign to collect signatures on a petition that supports convoking a national constitutional assembly.  They expect to gather a minimum of 2 million signatures, over half of the adult population of Honduras and twice as many people as allegedly voted for Pepe Lobo in the fraudulent November 2009 elections.

The current constitution, the latest of sixteen, was written by a constituent assembly convoked during a military dictatorship, approved by congress and adopted during a military dictatorship.  There was no national debate in regards to its content.  Over the past three decades it has become evident to Hondurans that this constitution does not adequately protect the rights of the majority of the population.

Military Coup to Stop the New Constitution

The possibility of changing the framework of government which has allowed a small sector of Hondurans, and their international business partners, to control the nation shook up the power structure to the degree that it brazenly carried out the most egregious violation of a peoples fundamental political rights, a military coup, on June 28, 2009. The strong arm of the shadowy military and economic forces that have retained the power they consolidated through massive human rights violations in the 1970s and 1980s reappeared briefly in the public eye.

Today, the death squad killings of Frente activists brings up horrific memories of massacres, torture, and forced disappearances from a generation ago that resulted in over 400,000 deaths across Central America.  The authors of those crimes are still active and powerful today, thriving in the space the “democratic” government of Honduras, and the “international community” provide them.

When Zelaya proposed the controversial poll that prompted the military coup, he was simply properly acting as president in response to the request of a broad based social movement who demanded a constitutional assembly. Had the “fourth ballot box” poll taken place during the November elections, and the population had asked for a constitutional assembly, a new president would already have been elected to take over the presidency on January 27, 2010, and the Congress would have had the option to approve, or not, the proposal for a constitutional assembly.

Zelaya was not thrown out of power because there was any basis upon which to believe he intended to extend his presidency, he was overthrown because he was fulfilling his duty as a president in allowing a massive, grassroots political movement to take part in politics through legal mechanisms.

Consolidating the Coup

Initially the coup generated the international reaction it deserved.  Never in history had a military coup been condemned by the General Assembly of the United Nations and the Organization of American States.  Virtually every country in the world refused to recognize the coup regime nominally presided by Roberto Micheletti. However the initial diplomatic reaction was followed by de facto recognition.  The US treasury allowed Honduras to access the foreign reserves on deposit in Washington that the Zelaya government had struggled three years to amass, providing them with ample resources to finance the eight months of diplomatic stand off.   The US sent covert messages of support to the Honduran military by continuing the training of Honduran officers in the US.  The US refused to classify the as coup a “military” coup, in spite of all reasonable legal analysis (including the State Departments own lawyers), so that it would not have to suspend aid.  The World Bank nominally suspended disbursements of loans but made exceptions for key programs in the interest of economically and politically powerful coup supporters.

The US State Department immediately set about attempting to normalize relations with Honduras, lobbying the neighboring countries, maintaining constant communication with coup authors in Honduras while freezing out Zelaya and completely ignoring the existence of the Frente.

The challenge of the Frente and of Zelaya became keeping the massive rejection of the coup visible, both inside of Honduras and internationally.  Alternative media and the internet played an incredibly important role, as did a series of actions and mobilizations, including Zelaya’s dramatic September 22, 2009 return to Honduras and into the Brazilian Embassy. The culmination of the coup consolidation effort was the recognition by the US of the November 2009 presidential elections, and the US State Departments international lobbying campaign for recognition of the newly ‘elected’ government of Pepe Lobo, even though the elections defied every standard that must be met to be called free and fair elections.

Making the Frente Invisible

On January 27, 2010, Pepe Lobo was sworn in as president of Honduras while over half a million people protested by marching to the national airport to wave goodbye to President Manuel Zelaya.  The only Honduran television station that reported the true magnitude of the protest rented a helicopter to fly over the march, but was prevented from taking off.

While there is no doubt that President Zelaya was, and is, an important symbol for the Frente, it is key to understand that he does not represent the Frente, and the Frente does not consist of his “followers” or ”supporters.”  The international press, and the press controlled by the coup supporting regime in Honduras, consistently refers to the massive movement as Zelaya supporters.  This has the effect of invisiblizing the existence of the Frente as a clear, organized and representative political entity, distinct from Zelaya.

In the same way, as the same media outlets consistently and intentionally distort and reduce the massive movement for the new constitution to be an attempt by Zelaya to extend his stay in power, the proposal for a new constitution is invisibilized, disappeared.

This massive political mobilization threatens the consolidation of the coup.  While outside of Honduras, the Frente is ignored, an intentional political action to neutralize their impact, inside of Honduras they cannot be ignored, for they are the majority of Hondurans. So the Honduran state has resorted to invoking fear –state terrorism- in the population as a mechanism of social control and to literally kill the proposal for a new constitution.

They Are Afraid of Us Because We Are Not Afraid

A refrain of the Honduran resistance has been “They are afraid of us because we are not afraid.”   Invoking fear in the population is a longstanding tool for squashing movements for political change. The massive social violence produced by organized crime activity in the region is the organic outgrowth of the death squad networks of the 1970s and 1980s, and has served many purposes including maintaining a high level of immobilizing fear in the population.  It is also easy to redirect that violence against political organizers when necessary.

A fundamental precept of non violent social change movements is that by refusing to submit the injustices of illegitimate structures that maintain power through violence, those powers are forced to either escalate violence to maintain control, and thus demonstrate their illegitimacy, or cave into the will of the majority. For this reason the security of the Frente directly corresponds to the degree to which the Honduran government can engage in repression and still retain a degree of legitimacy.

Hondurans have been very savvy and capable in avoiding an armed or violent response to the coup and the provocations of the anti-democratic forces.  They know that an armed resistance movement would provide justification for even greater repression and even more pervasive de-legitimization of their political demands.

The response to their non violent stance has been attempts to invent a violent movement in Honduras.  While the Honduran press invokes language of ‘terrorism’ and guerrilla movements, lobbyists in Washington argue that the demand for a new constitution is a Cuban-Venezuelan ploy and that Venezuela is building up ties with the Hezbollah.

Government of National “Reconciliation”

When Pepe Lobo was sworn in as President, he immediately advanced in two fronts, consolidating and strengthening the repressive military, police and paramilitary forces while creating the appearance of a “national reconciliation” process. The Government of “National Reconciliation” provides the legitimacy or political cover needed for the acts of repression with which they hope to extinguish the Frente.

The cabinet level positions related to the justice system and policing were given to hard liners with a history of human rights abuses, such as Minister of Government Oscar Alvarez, who held the same position under the president that preceded Zelaya, Ricardo Maduro.  The cabinet positions on economic policy were given to the private sector supporters of the coup, whose grip on Honduran resources the Frente hopes to break through the creation of a new constitution. Three of the cabinet positions for social programs were given to figures associated with the “left,” though two of those have for many years been distanced from the social movement and one, Cesar Ham of the UD political party, has been completely ostracized by the Frente for accepting the political appointment.

The creation of the image of a ‘government of national reconciliation’ when in reality there is no real dialog or reconciliation with the vast majority of Hondurans who are the active base of the Frente, while backing hard line violent repression, is the strategy for consolidating the coup and “disappearing” the Frente.

Rejecting a Truth Commission!

The Truth Commission (TC) proposed in the failed San Jose-Tegucigalpa Accords is part of the “national reconciliation” process, and it has been rejected by both the Frente and the Human Rights Platform, a coordinating body comprised of all six of the principal human rights organizations in Honduras.

It is not easy to say “No” to something called a truth commission; it looks like the dissenting party may have something to hide. But, in the case of Honduras, what is being proposed cannot legitimately be called a truth commission.

Over the past couple decades a series of truth commissions have taken place around the world, and some general characteristics have emerged that define truth commissions. Generally truth commissions are established to investigate past acts of violence or repression, post-conflict after the worst violence has ended. Truth commissions examine a series of events and violations, not a single event.  They normally work with, or at the request of, victims of violations. The proposal in Honduras fits none of these characteristics; it is not a truth commission.

Those who constructed the truth commission in Honduras, principally the US State Department and the Pepe Lobo government, never sought the opinion of the principal victims of rights violations that have occurred – the general population and, specifically, people who are members of the peaceful, pro-democracy Frente. The truth commission in Honduras is being convoked in the middle of an ongoing conflict, in the midst of grave human rights violations. At best, the Commission appears to be a platform for one sided political negotiation.  At worst it is a vehicle to hijack a constitutional reform process that once again does not have the participation of population of Hondurans.

Observers have analyzed, based on statements by the Lobo government and the US State Department, that constitutional reforms may be among the recommendations of the “Truth Commission.”

Washington Chapter of the “Reconciliation” Government

Truth commissions are almost irresistible to the international human rights community, and the severe nature of the human rights abuses occurring provide a strong motivation to look for a quick solution to the ‘crisis.’ Unfortunately quick solutions will not help, they will not stop the violence, instead they will help consolidate the impunity that generates some of the highest levels of social violence in the world.

In the US, on Capitol Hill, the Frente has been invisibilized. Meanwhile, WOLA (Washington Office on Latin America) – a think tank created in the 1980s to support human rights organizations in Latin America, and a group thought to be the voice in Washington of the human rights community – gave testimony in a House of Representatives hearing on Honduras of the International Relations Sub Committee on the Western Hemispheres, in which they requested that the US back the Honduran truth commission. WOLA also voiced support for police and military aid.  They did not once mention the existence of the Frente. The opinions they have voiced to Congress are in line with other actions WOLA has been taking since the coup.

The next project appears to be a meeting WOLA is convoking in Washington between Honduran “civil society,” the Honduran government, international human rights organizations and embassies in Washington; it is scheduled to take place April 14. What appears to be the Washington chapter of the “Government of National Reconciliation” – in reality the disappearance of the truth – is sad and damaging; it helps to legitimize a government engaged in massive human rights violations.

The Frente in Honduras is massive and united.  Whatever NGO shows up to the WOLA convoked meeting will undoubtedly be a small group representing nothing more then the international funders that support it.  What the event might succeed in doing is creating the false image in the “international community” or “human rights world” that a neutral middle ground exists.  The only agenda this serves is putting the Frente at greater risk.

A Moment of Truth and Justice

Honduras will have its moment of truth with justice, but right now is not the time for a truth commission, a truth commission is not the proper mechanism to mediate a complex conflict or to diffuse a political struggle; the role of a truth commission is to evaluate the conflict in retrospect.

Better international observation of human rights abuses is called for.  Building mechanisms to confront impunity, rather then cementing into place the mechanisms that enforce it, is necessary, and is something the international community can contribute to only in coordination with the victims of violations.

Political interventions that invisibilize the victims of human rights and their political position does them no service, and will not stop the abuses, they will compound them.

Annie Bird is co-director of Rights Action, a US and Canada based not-for-profit organization that supports community development and environmental and human rights defense work in Honduras (as well as Guatemala, and elsewhere).

For more information: annie@rightsaction.org This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , 1-202-680-3002

Waterboarding the Rule of Law April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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 rule-of-law-david-bromley

by: Steve Weissman, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Asked what he thought of Western civilization, the nonviolent Mahatma Gandhi famously replied, “I think it would be a good idea.” Unless millions of Americans now demand better, we can say the same of “the rule of law.” What a good idea it would have been, but – like the tooth fairy – it will not exist, not when competing priorities get in the way. The balancing – and trimming – is well on its way.

    Should a special prosecutor hold Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld accountable for violating the law against torture when they specifically authorized waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions and sexual humiliation of detainees? “No one is above the law,” President Obama repeatedly tells us. But, prosecuting Bush & Co. would tear the country apart, the Republican chorus chimes in. And it would create a precedent for prosecuting future presidents whose policies we might not like, just as in a banana republic.

    Should Congress or a truth commission investigate torture and other war crimes so they will never happen again? Better not, the White House tells us. The country needs to look ahead and not to the past, and the administration needs to focus on fixing the economy and creating a universal health care system.

    Should Congress impeach former Deputy Attorney General Jay Bybee, now a federal appeals court judge, for giving his superiors the legal arguments they wanted to justify the torture they had already decided upon? Absolutely not, his defenders insist. Lawyers must feel free to give officials their best legal advice, and officials must feel free to get the legal advice they need.

    None of these alternative priorities are trivial. America should never criminalize differences over lawful policies. Obama and his administration should focus on ending the economic crisis and fulfilling his campaign promises. And senior officials should feel free to consult with government lawyers. But all these priorities must remain within legal limits, and none of them justify giving a pass to those who commit criminal acts, no matter how high their office. Either we uphold the rule of law or we make political priorities paramount. We cannot have it both ways, and we should stop pretending that we can.

    The stakes here go far beyond whether or not we torture our enemies, our suspected enemies and then our own people, though these are obviously life-and-death concerns. What should scare us even more is whether or not we maintain even the façade of democracy.

    In overriding the Geneva Conventions, other treaty obligations and American laws banning torture, the Bush administration explicitly claimed that the president could do whatever he thought necessary to full his constitutional obligation to defend the country. He was the decider in chief, and neither Congress nor the courts could overrule his decision. As Jay Bybee’s torture memo put it, “the President enjoys complete discretion in the exercise of his Commander-in-Chief authority and in conducting operations against hostile forces.”

    Right-wing legal ideologues call this view of sweeping and unchecked presidential power “a strong unified presidency.” Those who believe in it would turn our chief executive into an elected monarch, and some proponents would even grant him or her the right to call off elections in time of crisis, real or contrived. Following this grandiose view, President Bush usurped powers that the Constitution does not permit, and his administration used those powers to commit other crimes, from torture to invading Iraq on a pack of lies. Do we prosecute Bush’s power grab as a criminal violation of the Constitution? Or, do we accept a crime bordering on treason as just another policy decision with which we may or may not disagree?

    Either way, we set a precedent. Prosecute Bush, Cheney, Rice and Rumsfeld and we confirm that every future leader must operate within the rule of law. Give them a pass and their successors will feel free to rule as they will. The choice is clear, if only Americans have the courage to pursue it. My guess is that we do not, and that we will soon come to rue it.

»


A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France.

Correcting America’s Dark Chapter of Torture April 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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‘There’s a disturbing parallel between the way the posse and al-Qaida went about justifying their mutually indefensible deeds. The Quran specifically forbids the killing of women and children. It declares in one of the Quran’s most humanistic passages that “anyone who murders one innocent person shall be treated as if he murdered all of humanity.” No Muslim cleric worth his turban would have sanctioned 9/11, designed exclusively to murder innocent people by way of suicide bombing. So Osama bin Laden shopped around for a rationale. He found it in the twisted sophistry of branding suicide bombers as martyrs, and innocents as infidels. Then he got himself an obscure cleric to sign off on the rationale. He had his secret memos, too.”

by Pierre Tristam

There’s a bomb of a contradiction at the heart of what’s passing for a debate on the torture regime of the past eight years. President Barack Obama calls those years of secret prisons and “enhanced interrogation techniques” a “dark and painful chapter in our history.” That’s not just a suggestion of something amiss. It’s an admission and an indictment of wrongs, in terms that have been applied to atrocities like war crimes and slavery. The secret Bush administration memos Obama released — the black book of those years, translating Soviet torture methods into “corrective” and “coercive techniques” like sleep deprivation, simulated drowning, beatings, starvation, hanging from hooks — prove the point.

Little of it is new information. Obama is merely documenting what’s been coming to light in newspaper reports, books and a graphic Red Cross report for the past several years. And he’s not doing it of his own initiative. We have the American Civil Liberties Union to thank for forcing his hand. Still, he’s removed all doubts about what Jane Mayer, in “The Dark Side” (Doubleday, 2008) summed up: “The Bush administration invoked the fear flowing from the attacks on September 11 to institute a policy of deliberate cruelty that would have been unthinkable on September 10. President (George W.) Bush, Vice President (Dick) Cheney and a small handful of trusted advisers sought and obtained dubious legal opinions enabling them to circumvent American laws and traditions. In the name of protecting national security, the executive branch sanctioned coerced confessions, extrajudicial detention, and other violations of individuals’ liberties that had been prohibited since the country’s founding.”

“Dark and painful chapter” isn’t an exaggeration. Nor would be a truth commission, a tribunal, punishment for the perpetrators — not as retribution, but as correction. And not to appease the rest of the world or even rehabilitate America’s image in the world’s eyes. World opinion doesn’t define who we are. American principles do, for our sake. Yet the response to that dark and painful chapter is turning into its own crime.

Sen. Patrick Leahy’s “commission of inquiry” would stop at an inquiry and grant all participants immunity. Obama wants to look forward, not back, because “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” But justice is all about squaring proper blame with past and proven crimes. Otherwise, might as well release the 2.4 million people in American prisons and jails, most of whose crimes were victimless, non-violent or less heinous than torturers’.

CIA Director Leon E. Panetta opposed so much as the release of the memos, claiming it set a dangerous precedent for the disclosure of intelligence sources and methods. But sources of intelligence aren’t being revealed. Methods of torture are. Keeping them secret would only safeguard them for use in the future. And to date, not a single name of actual torturers (“interrogators,” as the preferred euphemism goes) has been released. Only the names of a posse of Bush administration staffers and lawyers tasked with finagling legality out of indefensible practices have: David Addington, John Yoo, Jay Bybee, Steven Bradbury.

There’s a disturbing parallel between the way the posse and al-Qaida went about justifying their mutually indefensible deeds. The Quran specifically forbids the killing of women and children. It declares in one of the Quran’s most humanistic passages that “anyone who murders one innocent person shall be treated as if he murdered all of humanity.” No Muslim cleric worth his turban would have sanctioned 9/11, designed exclusively to murder innocent people by way of suicide bombing. So Osama bin Laden shopped around for a rationale. He found it in the twisted sophistry of branding suicide bombers as martyrs, and innocents as infidels. Then he got himself an obscure cleric to sign off on the rationale. He had his secret memos, too.

Should interrogators and the lawyers of a rogue administration be punished? They were just following orders. That, anyway, is the Nuremberg defense — despicable then, despicable today. In Israel, the country most justifiably outraged by the Nuremberg defense, soldiers may disobey orders they personally consider illegal or unconscionable. Some lawyers and interrogators, we now know, heroically did just that during the Bush regime, and paid the price. Others didn’t. Following orders is no defense. Nor is “moving on.”

But if there’s a bomb of a contradiction at the heart of this debate, there’s also an elephant: George W. Bush. His name is hardly mentioned in all these stories of shame and torture. It’s all about the lawyers, the process, the exigencies of the moment. But it isn’t. The decisions were his. “I am the decider,” as he put it. And so he was. This “dark and painful chapter” began with him. His orders for secret memos. His orders to torture. It should end with him.

Tristam is a News-Journal editorial writer. Reach him at ptristam@att.net or through his personal Web site at www.pierretristam.com .

Leahy: Truth Commission Dead; Law School Dean Rocks Radio on Torture April 5, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Economic Crisis, Torture.
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Ralph Lopez 

www.opednews.com, April 5, 2009

Moving more out of step with progressive Vermonters all the time, Senator Pat Leahy announced at a meeting with constituents that his Truth Commission is off.

My friend and logger Ed Dickau writes:

[The] senator is a hypocrite and a back peddling coward and opportunistic sell out. He could have been a servant of this nation and its Constitution; instead he chose to enjoy a measure of good press, progressive and liberal support, turned around and asked for campaign contributions for his “Good Acts” and then dumped us in the sewer of DC politics, bleeding, with a knife in our backs.

The Green Mountain State has been at the forefront of movements to hold Bush administration officials accountable for torture, lying us into the Iraq War, subverting the Constitution, and other crimes. A 2007 CBS poll showed two-thirds of Vermonters for impeaching Bush. At Matt Stoller’s Opens Left 2010 Senate Primary Watch a commenter affirms the grumblings about Leahy:

let’s please primary Leahy no matter what happens. His performance as ranking Dem on the judiciary committee during the Roberts and esp. the Alito hearings was dismal. Utterly Dismal. As ranking member, he should have had a game plan for Alito, esp after seeing the stealth type campaign that swept Roberts in. Now we have two more Scalias. Sure, it would have been a tough, uphill battle, but it would have been worth it and the buck stops at Leahy. Lousy strategy (i.e. none) lousy examination during hearings (I listened) and just downright lousy performance.

The news is not all bad however. Law School Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Justice Jackson prosecution project, which seeks to file a complaint against Bush administration officials for torture this spring, has taken to the airwaves and is tearing them up. This interview with WMPG FM’s Michael Cutting in Portland, Maine is a strong indication that this is not going away, as politicians from Obama on right and on down would like it to. You can’t hang men who are innocent, who you know are innocent, by the arms from the ceiling and torture them in the name of the American people. This interview is a MUST LISTEN.  (To get Velvel on the radio/TV in your town contact neimpeach-AT-gmail-DOT-com)

Matt Stoller wrote last October:

I’m going to assume that the Senate, as the most conservative institution on our Federal level, will be a major breeze to the right in terms of health care, trade agreements, civil liberties, economic justice, etc. Let’s then examine the playing field for 2010; the environment for 2010 is unpredictable and probably chaotic, with a sharp recession on its way and a credit crisis here now.

I’m particularly interested in possible primaries to the Democrats, the party that the lobbyists are going to fete repeatedly and intensely in 2009 and 2010, much to our chagrin. I’m sure there will be retirements, but here’s the list of Democrats up for reelection:

Bayh, Evan – (D – IN)
Boxer, Barbara- (D – CA)
Dodd, Christopher J.- (D – CT)
Dorgan, Byron L.- (D – ND)
Feingold, Russell D.- (D – WI)
Inouye, Daniel K.- (D – HI)
Leahy, Patrick J.- (D – VT)
Lincoln, Blanche L.- (D – AR)
Mikulski, Barbara A.- (D – MD)
Murray, Patty- (D – WA)
Reid, Harry- (D – NV)
Salazar, Ken- (D – CO)
Schumer, Charles E.- (D – NY)

The economic crisis is likely to soften up incumbents as only an economic crisis can, as Americans previously fat and happy keep raiding food pantries and losing homes. Anger and political involvement always increase when a threshold of greed, beyond what is normal and expected of our ruling classes, is crossed, and Americans wake up from the disbelief of staring at nest eggs which are now empty. Yep, that’s good and empty alright. A lifetime of work. And those guys who are getting bailed out, their idea of pain is having to buy a smaller offshore villa.

When it sinks in that a mere $114 million to senators and lobbyists bought $300 billion in TARP funds for banks and financial institutions who made bad bets, a 260,000 PERCENT return on investment, American Idol will no longer keep the rabble diverted and entertained, especially if they have to shut off the cable to buy food. Meanwhile, the top one-percenters in income who by themselves get 1/3 of the pie, go bargain hunting in the stock market, with the bailouts you are paying for. Sucks, doesn’t it?

Even Donald Trump admits he has lost plenty of net worth, but sunnily gloats:

“We’re going up. We’re buying things we couldn’t have dreamed of buying two years ago. And we have a lot of cash.”

The way the pie is now divided and how it got there is neatly summarized in these two charts, from the Too Much Newsletter on Excess and Inequality:


 

Ronald Reagan was only the first part of the build-up in the action which continued under Clinton and the Bushes until the grand finale – now – when they steal the last of your childrens’ inheritance and disappear to places like Monaco and off-shore havens like “The Colony.” Too Much reported just last September:

several top Wall Streeters purchased villas in The Colony, a new Caribbean luxury project touted as Jamaica’s “most expensive gated oceanfront development on record.” The villas run up to $7 million each and carry a $72,000 annual fee that gives owners 60 days of butler, chef, and maid service.

When you own a third of the whole American pie, that kind of money is no problem. And this is who is getting your bail-out money.

It sure isn’t going to the schmucks getting laid off at these institutions. It sure isn’t going toward a 2-year voucher for any worker training you choose, help with your mortgage, and jobs programs. That’s because you aren’t the one who gave $114 million in campaign money to fewer than 100 men and women, especially those sitting on banking and finance committees and sub-committees.

You ain’t seen nothing yet. The economy is hemorrhaging jobs like the blood of an accident victim in the head trauma unit, and we haven’t even had a terror attack produced by the blown job in Afghanistan yet. Or the Chinese calling in their debt.

Primary challenges to senators like Leahy are hard to come by in ordinary times, but the next two years will be anything but ordinary times. The following is posted on behalf of Charlotte Dennett, one of the Vermonters reporting on Leahy’s Truth Commission wimp-out.

Leahy’s Truth Commission Hits the Skids

Those of you following the prosecution trail will be interested to know that Patrick Leahy’s Truth Commission is a no-go. I was in a meeting with Leahy and 4 other Vermonters on Monday when he broke the news to us. We had asked for the meeting to learn why he supported a Truth Commission over the appointment of a special prosecutor. Halfway through the allotted 30 minute meeting (with him taking up much of the time explaining why he was not generally opposed to prosecution, since he had been a DA for 8 years and had the highest conviction rate in Vermont) he told us that his Truth Commission had failed to get the broad support it needed in Congress , and since he couldn’t get one Republican to come behind the plan, “it’s not going to happen.”

It was a sobering exchange. The meeting had begun with our expressing serious concerns about ongoing dangers to our democracy, with the trend going to executive power while damaging our constitution. “We are a nation of laws,” said Dan DeWalt, who had helped organize 36 Vermont towns to vote for Impeachment of Bush on town meeting day. ” If we have a system of justice, why not let it take its course? It seems to many Americans that the rich and powerful don’t have the same system of justice, and they’re getting away with torture, murder, fraud, and Ponzi schemes.”

By the end of the meeting, we were beginning to wonder whether anything at all was going to done – by Congress, by Attorney General Holder, by President Obama — to hold the Bush team accountable for its crimes.

Leahy own aversion to appointing a special prosecutor appeared to be more practical than philosophical.

“We don’t want another Abu Ghraib,” he said. “You know, ‘Boy did we get those privates and corporals. So many up on high will never get touched. Its like the war on drugs – lets get those black kids on cocaine.” So its not that he had a problem with prosecutions per se. “I just worry that the prosecutions will be done only on middle-level people.”

Well then, what would happen to the higher ups? Leahy had said, on previous occasions, that the purpose of his Truth Commission was to grant immunity to those willing to testify – presumably middle level people – and we could infer from that that they, in turn, would spill the beans on their superiors. If any of the witnesses lied under oath or were less than thorough in their answers, he had told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow a month ago, they could be prosecuted for perjury. But that still left the destiny of high government officials uncertain.

Leahy had hinted to Maddow that if officials refused to honor subpoenas, they, too could be prosecuted. But in the real world, as Monday’s news suggests, the people most responsible for the crimes will continue to get off free.

We should at least be content, Leahy said, with his success in forcing former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez’s resignation.

After Leahy left the meeting, his aide, Chuck Ross, assured our group that there was no one more devoted to protecting the Constitution than Leahy. “He has been persistent in the face of obfuscation. He got rid of Gonzalez. I would challenge you to find someone who has done more to defend the Constitution.”

Then Ross let out a memorable one-liner. “He’s all you’ve got.”

What?  Leahy’s all we got to protect the Constitution? And we have to accept Gonzalez’s resignation as the only punishment for years of gutting the rule of law? It took about five minutes for all this to sink in. Then fellow Vermonter John Nirenberg spoke, I think, for all of us. “If he’s the only guy, this is not a healthy situation.”

It is, perhaps, no coincidence, that the same time Leahy downplayed the Truth Commission, Congressional aides were quoted by reporter Jason Leopold of Consortium News that “the focus has shifted to the economy and that pressure for a special prosecutor to bring criminal charges over the Bush administration’s past actions could become a distraction to that focus.” Leahy’s aide Ross had said the same thing. Everyone was focusing on the economy.

So now, it seems, the wrecked economy – complements of the Bush Administration — is becoming the excuse for Congressional inaction after eight years of unremitting malfeasance. This is serious, folks. Appointing a Special Prosecutor had been the top issue on President Obama’s website when he took office. Either he’s not listening any more, or his supporters are “moving forward, not backward,” just as he prefers – and his right flank (the CIA, the neocons, and everyone else who has something to hide) desperately want.. It remains to be seen if his huge base can get through to him on this issue, now that he occupies the White House. If they cannot, then the failure to hold even a Truth Commission, let alone prosecutions, signals a return to the same old way of doing things. Deterrence be damned.


Charlotte Dennett is a lawyer and investigative journalist. She ran for Attorney General in Vermont on a pledge to prosecute George W. Bush using state criminal statutes

LAWRENCE VELVEL, DEAN OF THE MASSACHUSETTS SCHOOL OF LAW, ON TORTURE, WMPG FM, PORTLAND, MAINE, MUST LISTEN. (To get Velvel on the radio/TV in your town contact neimpeach-AT-gmail-DOT-com)

Coming Soon: Declassified Bush-Era Torture Memos March 22, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture.
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by Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball

Over objections from the U.S. intelligence community, the White House is moving to declassify-and publicly release-three internal memos that will lay out, for the first time, details of the “enhanced” interrogation techniques approved by the Bush administration for use against “high value” Qaeda detainees. The memos, written by Justice Department lawyers in May 2005, provide the legal rationale for waterboarding, head slapping and other rough tactics used by the CIA. One senior Obama official, who like others interviewed for this story requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity, said the memos were “ugly” and could embarrass the CIA. Other officials predicted they would fuel demands for a “truth commission” on torture.

 

[Stress Test: The content of the memos could embarrass the CIA and amplify calls for a 'truth commission' (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)]Stress Test: The content of the memos could embarrass the CIA and amplify calls for a ‘truth commission’ (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Because of an executive order signed by President Obama on Jan. 22 banning such aggressive tactics, deputies to Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. concluded there was no longer any reason to keep the interrogation memos classified. But current and former intel officials pushed back, arguing that any public release might still compromise “sources and methods.” According to the administration official, ex-CIA director Michael Hayden was “furious” about the prospect of disclosure and tried to intervene directly with Obama officials. But the White House has sided with Holder. Faced with a court deadline in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit regarding the memos filed by the ACLU, Justice lawyers asked for a two-week extension “because the memoranda are being reviewed for possible release.” (White House, Justice and CIA spokesmen all declined to comment.) 

The debate about torture ramped up again last week with an account in the New York Review of Books about a secret International Red Cross report that was delivered to the CIA in February 2007. The report, according to journalist Mark Danner, quotes detainees describing, often in gruesome detail, how they were locked in coffin-size boxes; swung by towels around their necks into plywood walls; and forced to stand naked for days while their arms were shackled above their heads.

“I now know we were not fully and completely briefed on the CIA program,” Senate Intelligence Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein told NEWSWEEK. A U.S. official disputed the charge, claiming that members of Congress received more than 30 briefings over the life of the CIA program and that Congressional intel panels had seen the Red Cross report. But the CIA insisted that the report be treated as if it had higher than top-secret classification, precluding any public discussion of its contents. That’s why declassification of the memos is significant, administration officials say: it would remove, at long last, the veil of secrecy about how detainees in the war on terror were actually treated.

A Real Criminal Investigation of Bush/Cheney; No Truth Commission! March 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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By Martin Garbus, Huffington Post. Posted March 9, 2009.

Judges and jurors, not politicians or unelected commission members, should determine whether Bush & Co. broke the law.

It’s really quite simple. Truth and Reconciliation commissions, Congressional committees and blue ribbon commissions like the 9/11 Commission, are not deterrents to torture, illegal surveillance or lawyers on the Justice Department who attempted to justify the torture. They have a very limited function.

But they don’t punish anyone; don’t deter anyone, don’t even put pressure on the people who committed the acts and cannot really get at the truth to determine responsibility. They do not bring the full force of America’s 230 years of law down on the offenders. They don’t truly help rein in the powers of future presidents or defense secretaries who want to do the same or similar acts the next time they react to what they see as an extraordinary crisis. And different presidents, Democrats and Republicans from Woodrow Wilson and the prosecutions during the Red Scare, to Franklin D. Roosevelt and the internment of 110,000 Japanese, Lyndon Johnson, lying about the Gulf of Tonkin and to dramatically increase troop strength, nearly always find crisis and overreact.

Senator Patrick Leahy, the Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has called at different times for either a Truth and Reconciliation commission or a Blue Ribbon commission. Neither is appropriate.

The best truth and reconciliation model comes from the South African experience. In South Africa, these commissions were used to begin the healing after the brutality of apartheid. It grants the confessing wrongdoers immunity. It was for a different time and place.

The Blue Ribbon commission gets attention and, along with Congressional committees, can get exposures and may help lead to better laws. But they create the danger of interfering and at times making impossible criminal trials of criminals. And they let criminals go unpunished.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of both the Judiciary Committee and Intelligence Committees and a former U.S. Attorney, supporting Leahy’s call, said that a torture commission might need the power to immunize witnesses on a case-by-case basis, and “it is beside the point” if it endangers criminal prosecutions.

We should go ahead with criminal prosecutions. It is the only way, through grand juries, subpoenas and trials, to get the facts and help America clean up some of its recent past.

The American people, immersed as they are in the economic crisis, are angry about torture and other illegalities of the Bush administration and want those prosecutions.

The February, 2009 USA Today/Gallup Poll shows 38 percent of Americans favor criminal prosecution of torturers, 38 percent for prosecution of those who used illegal surveillance, and 41 percent for those involved in the subversion of the Justice Department. Americans by a wide margin are in favor of criminal prosecutions than independent or Congressional panels. Seventy-five percent of Americans believe something must be done — we can’t walk away from the crimes against humanity committed in our name.

The argument is made that criminal prosecutions area too difficult, too lengthy, too expensive, too political and will keep the country divided. But there have always been political expensive and difficult trials. We have had long, expensive, political trials for John Dean during Watergate, Eliot Abrams during Iran-Contra, Scooter Libby today and even Aaron Burr nearly two hundred years ago.

Leahy argues against criminal prosecutions because “a failed attempt to prosecute for this conduct might be the worst result of all if it is seen as justifying dishonest actions.” But that’s true for every criminal prosecution — should murderers, John Ehrlichmann, Scooter Libby or Enron officials not be prosecuted because the possibility of an acquittal justifies their actions? If so, junk the criminal system.

We can’t leave it to politicians. Many Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, are alleged to have known about the torture and surveillance programs and either approved or said nothing. Pelosi (who, interestingly, has called for criminal prosecutions) has consistently equivocated on what she knew and when she knew it. It’s unlikely Democrats on commissions, let alone Republicans, are going to pursue the inquiry to its final end. They will undermine Congressional Commissions, and blue ribbon Commissions, but they cannot so easily undermine criminal prosecutions.

The criminal trials of the chief of the Bush defendants can certainly be shorter and probably less expensive than the Barry Bonds or Scooter Libby prosecution, and less purely political than Thomas Jefferson’s presidentially controlled prosecution of Aaron Burr.

The Bush people violated some clear specific crimes. Failing to get wiretaps permission from the Federal Internal Security Courts is a felony. Representatives of the Justice Department, local police and federal agent who participated in break-ins or wiretaps without warrants, are guilty of clear and unambiguous federal crimes. Federal Agents who did illegal surveillance even when the Justice Department refused to sign off on its illegality can be found guilty. Violation of the Federal Anti-Torture Act, which has been on the books for years, bars citizens from committing torture abroad, is a felony.

The War Crimes Act of 1996 is violated even if there is not what the Bush defendants would claim is “torture.” That act punishes those who act cruelly and inhumanely. Waterboarding, vicious dogs, and exposing detainees to temperature extremes could all be punished by a jury.

Bush’s people, afraid of the applicability of the War Crimes Act, inserted a provision into a 2006 law that made the War Crimes Act retroactively ineffective. But Congress can change that now, that law can be used for prosecutions.

The defense will claim, say opponents of criminal trials, that defendants relied on the now infamous August 1, 2002 legal opinion of the Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, and his assistants justifying torture and the opinions on illegal surveillance creating fog and evasion and therefore, they will get off. And that all the lawyers did was give their albeit controversial opinions, a full defense. Jurors will get confused by legal experts who support the views of the Bush lawyers. It’s too complicated for a jury, we are told.

But we have prosecuted lawyers, experts and those who rely on legal or accounting opinions in many cases. Kenneth Lay could refer to legal or accounting documents prepared to justify his case all day long and not be saved. The legal opinions rendered by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo and David Addington are such transparent documents that an American jury of citizens is, at the very least entitled to have an opportunity to pass judgment on them. Even as lawyers within the Bush administration repudiated the opinions, the illegal practices went on. No jury would have difficulty in rejecting John Yoo’s memorandum that reject the basic tenets of an American democracy.

Can a jury really decide the tough questions, such as whether Alberto Gonzales’ opinion, concluding the Geneva Convention Protections do not apply to prisoners of war captured for Al Qaeda or the Taliban? Of course. A jury can determine if the legal opinion was a facade to justify actions already taken — only the legal process with grand juries and subpoenas has any hope of piercing the wall of defense that will be used to block that inquiry. Those memos were not used to interpret the law — they were intentionally written to change the law. No Commission can hope to get facts behind these opinions as quickly as the Courts.

Our criminal law has specific status that reach overseas to punish torturers. Section 2340A of our Federal Criminal Code makes it a crime for any person “outside the United States to commit or attempt to commit torture.” But, say the critics of criminal prosecution, torture is too vague a word for a prosecution. Not so. Judges and juries routinely define much vaguer terms – what does “reasonable doubt of guilt” or “reasonable doubt of guilt with a degree of moral certainty.” What does cruel and inhuman treatment mean? They are always past precedents to help us define these terms.

Juries determine competency in cases interpreting wills and estates, and sanity in criminal cases, with the help of experts, whom they often barely understand.

It is wrong to say that lower level officials, or lower level military personnel can get off by claiming they followed higher orders. They did what fellow soldiers did – they followed the morality culture created by their environment and superiors. That’s not a defense. When police officers in Los Angeles, Jackson, or New York beat prisoners, or deny them rights, most know they are violating the laws — they do it nonetheless. And they can be and often are prosecuted.

At times CIA personnel and people within the White House knew with certainty they were acting illegally. When the CIA destroyed at least 92 interrogation tapes to cover up what was done to the detainees, they violated a specific court order that prohibited that destruction.

I don’t have a religious faith in the majesty of the law. It is just the far best alternative.

Is the criminal prosecutors and the process itself often flawed? Of course. At times, are the guilty declared innocent and the innocent declared guilty? Of course. Do conviction make it far less likely that torture will continue? Probably so. Will a string of successful prosecutions ensure that we will never have Americans participate in torture or illegal surveillance? Probably not. Does it make torture and illegal surveillance less likely? Yes.

At the end of the day, I would rather have American jurors, bound by the Constitution and the law, make the decision rather than politicians or unelected blue ribbon commission members. I would rather have the judges, bound by precedent and law, determine what is, and is not legal.

President Obama has said this is not the time to look back but to look forward. There was a claim that the need for bipartisanship argued against prosecution. But the illusion of bipartisanship, if it ever truly existed, has been broken.

President Obama and the Congress should now name a Special Prosecutor.

Obama please note: Those who fail to ‘master the past’ are guilty, too March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Asia, Foreign Policy, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Latin America, Vietnam, War.
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Japan Times, March 1, 2009, http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/fl20090301rp.html

In “Guilt About the Past,” based on guest lectures that Bernhard Schlink gave at Oxford University last year, the University of Berlin law professor describes the “long shadow” cast by the perpetrators of war crimes on their descendants.

“The act of not renouncing, not judging and not repudiating carries its own guilt with it,” he states in the book published in January by University of Queensland Press.

Last week in this column I discussed issues of guilt and atonement as they relate to Germany and Japan. This week I will examine how concepts of responsibility and self-questioning apply to the United States of America.

U.S. presidents, secretaries of state and defense, and members of Congress are certainly quick to point out perceived human rights’ abuses and political crimes committed in other nations. The assumption is always that the U.S. occupies the moral high ground of human dignity — so allowing Americans to believe in themselves as altruistic and selfless.

OK, they tell themselves, we have made mistakes; but our actions have always stemmed from pure motives. Others’ evil actions are motivated by intolerance and greed; our own regrettable actions are aberrations.

In fact, buried deep in America’s moral high ground are the bones of millions of victims of whom most Americans seem purposefully oblivious.

Schlink speaks of the need to “master the past” — that is, to come to terms with your nation’s crimes through law, atonement and reconciliation for all involved. If Americans wish to avoid repeating the tragic blunders and crimes committed in Vietnam and Iraq (to name just two war zones), they would do well to heed his message:

“Guilt also reaches those who do not actively separate themselves from the perpetrators and participants through dissociation, judgment or repudiation.”

In other words, it is not sufficient to merely “regret” past actions and believe that “looking forward” and “getting the country moving again” are substitutes for atonement. Future generations must, to use Schlink’s term, “master the past” by taking responsibility for it. Americans demand this of others — why not of themselves?

Let’s get specific.

The U.S. is guilty of conducting the most massive campaign of chemical warfare since World War II — far exceeding anything perpetrated by Saddam Hussein against the Kurds of Iraq. Between 1962 and 1970, American planes sprayed the countryside of Vietnam with dioxin in order to defoliate wooded areas its opponents used to hide themselves and their supply routes from aerial observation.

Of the 3 million Vietnamese estimated to have been exposed directly to this dioxin (known in the U.S. as Agent Orange), 1 million are acknowledged to have suffered serious health problems as a consequence. In addition, some 150,000 children have been — and continue to be — born with birth defects attributed to the use of this weapon of mass destruction.

However, all appeals by Vietnamese officials to the U.S. to apologize and pay reparations or compensation have fallen on deaf ears. The U.S. government has awarded up to $1,500 a month to the 10,000 U.S. service personnel adversely affected by Agent Orange. Why hasn’t this been extended to non-American victims?

What is the difference between this and Japan’s discrimination against non-Japanese radiation victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Why are Americans so averse to recognizing guilt for actions toward others?

This tendency to bury, rather than master, the past is all the more conspicuous when crimes are being committed in the present.

The U.S. spearheaded an illegal war, based on false premises, in Iraq, and for the past six years has killed, maimed and traumatized millions of that country’s citizens. Most Americans now consider the war a strategic error. But has anyone in power, even President Barack Obama, who opposed it from the beginning, spoken in terms of guilt and atonement? Do Americans care about the fates of those millions of people whose lives their state’s actions have ruined?

Several weeks ago, Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, proposed the establishment of a truth commission to investigate illegal practices by members of the Bush administration. Yet President Obama has repeatedly stated his opposition to this, instead declaring that he wants “to get it right [by] moving forward.”

There’s the political rub. By proposing “change we can believe in,” as Obama has, you emphasize the importance of the future by bypassing serious reflection on the past. It’s as if you go to the PAST file, highlight it and hit the DELETE button. Then you simply create a new file headed NEW IDEALS.

As Schlink puts it, ignoring past crimes has entangles you in them whether you like it or not. He writes:

“The principle is as follows: to not renounce the other includes one in that person’s guilt for past crimes, but so that a new sort of guilt is created. Those in the circle of solidarity who are themselves not guilty through actions of their own, bring about their own guilt when . . . they do not respond by dissociating themselves from those who are guilty.”

For instance, Americans are naturally perturbed by the intense animosity expressed toward them by Iranians — yet they seem ignorant of the fact that their Central Intelligence Agency, together with British intelligence, engineered a coup against Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953. Similarly, if the governments of Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Chile have vented criticism against the U.S., wouldn’t it be helpful if Americans were aware of their country’s active intervention in Latin America to subvert the development of democratic processes?

These are old stories. Yet they need to be analyzed not as strategic or tactical errors, but as seriously unethical transgressions.

The Obama ideology of “moving ahead” without attempting to redress past wrongs implicates those in the present all over again. Even as the Obama reboot sweeps the old icons from the screen, Americans would do well to remember that the virus remains deep in the system.

What, then, is to stop them from instigating new fiascoes that result in untold misery and death? The smiling face of President Obama on the screen saver is no protection against the virus.

The era of U.S. exclusivity and pre-emption, so misinterpreted and degraded by George W. Bush and his advisers, is over. This means that Americans will be judged worldwide by the same standard once — and still — applied to Germans and Japanese.

“One deserves to be proud only of what one achieves, not of what one is,” writes Schlink in “Guilt About the Past.”

“Instead of assuring the younger generation that they have the right to be proud or denying them the right, we owe it to them to integrate the past into our collective biography.”

What will be the world’s collective view of post-Bush America? Americans should take a cold hard look at their past, as they so require of others. The world will forgive what is admitted to and atoned for. Without admittance and atonement, there is no moving forward. The positive example of Germany and the negative example of Japan should be ample testimony to that.

Pelosi criticizes Truth Commission as inadequate, advocates criminal prosecutions February 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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Glenn Greenwald

www.salon.com, February 25, 2009

This directly relates to the post I wrote earlier about Mark Benjamin’s report that the Senate Judiciary Committee appear to be on the verge of creating a “Truth Commission” to investigate Bush crimes, but this is newsworthy in its own right, and so I wanted to highlight it separately:

In an interview today with Rachel Maddow — to be broadcast on Maddow’s MSNBC show tonight (and transcripts of which I’ve obtained) — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi repeatedly advocated the need for criminal prosecutions, not merely fact-finding.  She even directly criticized the proposal by Sen. Pat Leahy for a “Truth Commission,” on the ground that such a Commission would improperly immunize lawbreakers and thus foreclose prosecutions:

MADDOW: This is something that liberals have really been pushing. And you have stated your support for John Conyers convening an investigation into potential lawbreaking in the Bush administration.

PELOSI: Absolutely.

MADDOW: You’ve been outspoken about contempt of Congress charges related to the politicization of the Justice Department and that investigation. You have been less specific about how Congress should proceed on warrantless wiretapping and torture.  Why is that? . . .

PELOSI:  Senator Leahy has a proposal, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is a good idea. What I have some concern about though is it has immunity. And I think that some of the issues involved here, like the services part, politicizing of the Justice Department, and the rest, they have criminal ramifications, and I don’t think we should be giving them immunity.

Pelosi then acknowledged that the FISA bill passed by Congress in 2008 was flawed in many important respects, but said that the “part of the bill that was positive” was the requirement that the Justice Department’s Inspector General investigate the NSA eavesdropping program and issue a report (due this Summer) as to the scope and legality of Bush’s eavesdropping.  About that comment, Maddow asked Pelosi whether she would favor criminal prosecutions if, as many people expect, the IG Report concludes that the warrantless eavesdropping was illegal:

MADDOW:  Then in terms of your report, if the inspector general report that comes out this summer suggests that there has been criminal activity at the official level on issues like torture, or wireless wiretapping, or rendition, or any of these other issues…

PELOSI: No one is above the law. I think I have said that.

MADDOW: … you support a call for a criminal investigation, potential investigation.

PELOSI: Absolutely.

That’s pretty definitive.

Maddow then repeatedly, and rather relentlessly, asked Pelosi about how much she was told about the Bush’s use of torture and about the warrantless eavesdropping program and whether her having known about those programs was an obstacle to investigations and prosecutions.  Pelosi’s answers were largely evasive, but she was very emphatic — I believe for the first time — in claiming that while she was told by the CIA about potential “enhanced interrogation techniques” in “the abstract,” she was never told that these techniques were actually being used.  She also claimed that she put up “very strong resistance” to the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program (I’ve never seen any evidence of such resistance at all; the only letter from Pelosi that was disclosed was one from October, 2001, which merely raised a concern over whether the NSA had presidential authorization for the program, not whether the program itself was illegal).  But what matters here is that Pelosi insists that nothing she nor any other Democrat knew or did poses an obstacle in any way to full-scale criminal investigations.

This is the kind of debate and dispute that it is good to see in the Democratic caucus and that will hopefully grow — a debate between those (such as Leahy, Whitehouse and Conyers) who first want a “Truth Commission” to disclose Bush crimes and those (such as Pelosi, apparently) who believe that such a body is inadequate if it does not explicitly preserve the possibility of criminal prosecutions for high Bush officials and, in some circumstances (such as a finding by the IG that laws were broken), if it does not guarantee such an outcome.  It will be interesting to hear what Whitehouse, Leahy and Conyers have to say about Pelosi’s criticisms of their proposed “Truth Commission.”  I’ll post any comment I can get from them.

 

UPDATE:  Here is a response I received to Pelosi’s comments from Erica Chabot of Pat Leahy’s office:

Senator Leahy gave a statement on the Senate Floor today on his ideas for a Commission of Inquiry.  He also announced a Judiciary Committee hearing on the subject to be held next Wednesday. He mentions prosecutions in this statement.  I have pasted it below for your reference.

I linked to the text of Leahy’s speech earlier today (here).  The only argument he really makes against prosecutions is that “a failed attempt to prosecute for this conduct might be the worst result of all if it is seen as justifying abhorrent actions.”  That’s true for every prosecution.  Why continue to prosecute suspected murderers?  After all, they might be acquitted, and that could be seen as “justifying abhorrent actions.”  Moreover, as is true for every prosecution, before doing anything, prosecutors would gather and then carefully review all of the evidence, and thereafter assess the likelihood of conviction and only bring charges if there is a substantial likelihood of success. 

Ultimately, while Whitehouse and Conyers are proposing a Truth Commission with the explicit possibility of subsequent prosecutions, and Pelosi is arguing for prosecutions now, Leahy’s overt argument against prosecutions — no matter what his “Truth Commission” finds — is nothing more than an attempt, by definition, to place the President above and beyond the rule of law.  Whether she’s sincere or not about it, it’s at least good (and potentially productive) to see Pelosi being critical of such a lawless posture from the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman.

“You can’t sweep unlawful activities under the table” February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, Torture, War.
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general-tagubaReuters/Larry Downing.  Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq by U.S. military personnel, May 11, 2004.

By Mark Benjamin, www.salon.com, February 21, 2009

Abu Ghraib investigator Antonio Taguba talks to Salon about why he backs a commission to examine Bush torture policies.

Feb. 20, 2009 | WASHINGTON — President Obama vowed that “the United States will not torture” only two days into his new administration. But one big question Obama hasn’t answered is whether and how to investigate notorious Bush-era interrogation and detention policies. On Thursday, 18 human rights organizations, former State Department officials and former law enforcement and military leaders asked the president to create a nonpartisan commission to investigate those allegedly abusive detention practices.

Retired Maj. Gen. Tony Taguba, who investigated the famed abuses at Abu Ghraib, signed on to the effort. He explained his support in an interview with Salon. Taguba agrees with many attorneys who think it would be difficult, and perhaps impossible, to prosecute former Bush administration officials. A nonpartisan fact-finding commission, however, might provide some degree of accountability for official U.S. detention and interrogation policies that Taguba called misguided and illegal.

Taguba would like to see a broad mandate for the commission, including a study of administration claims that abuse gleans good intelligence, which he fervently disputes. And while he believes the commission should look at the decisions of military and civilian policymakers, he has a particular interest in getting to the bottom of civilian leaders’ claims for the legality of the administration’s interrogation and detention policies, which he called “despicable and questionable.” The retired general would also like to see the commission empowered to make recommendations for the future, to help ensure such abuses never occur again.

You are best known for doing an honest investigation of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib. You suffered some consequences for that. Is that fair to say?

As far as consequences are concerned, the report and testimony were not going to be well received. I followed my conscience and integrity — the best I could do to honor the Army uniform I had the privilege of wearing for over 34 years.

They parked you at the back of the Pentagon in retribution, right?

I was disappointed in my assignment back to the Pentagon to be on Rumsfeld’s staff. I was suspicious about the assignment. But I served at the pleasure of the president and performed as expected. It was conveyed to me by close friends that I had to be watched closely by senior leaders.

Can you describe this torture commission that you and others are advocating?

I would not refer to it as a torture commission. [It remains to be decided] if it is to be a truth and reconciliation commission, or a presidential commission, or a congressional commission, or a private commission … Interest groups have talked about establishing a special prosecutor in that regard. I feel we have to come to terms with policies that have gained such notoriety and have been debated about whether they were in the best interest of our national security, and whether those who created these policies were pressured by their senior leadership.

Are you advocating one particular flavor of a commission, or are you simply advocating for an investigation in general?

“Investigation” is a good term, but not one I would subscribe to. [I support] a structured commission with some form of authority with clear objectives and a follow-on action plan. I’m not looking for anything that is prosecutorial in nature, unless a suspected violation of relevant laws occurred, which should be referred to the Department of Justice.

That was going to be my next question. Why not?

Because it would be difficult. In my opinion, our military prosecuted those who were involved in torture or unlawful interrogation. And I think our military has come to terms with that. We are an institution that prides itself on taking corrective action immediately, admitting to it, and holding ourselves accountable. And we have done that. But I am not so sure that our civilian authorities in government have done that for themselves.

Is there still a lot of dirty laundry out there that we don’t know about?

I think so. This notion that a lot of constitutional legal experts — lawyers with great intellect, well-educated — came up with such despicable and questionable legal findings that were contrary to the definition of defending the Constitution? And then they framed this as if the executive branch had the authority to extend beyond the Constitution to establish a policy of torture and illegal detention?

The argument against a commission is that it would turn into a political catfight between Democrats and Republicans. What is your response to that?

I think we have to satisfy the American public at large. Some of those that were tortured were innocent. How do we come to terms with those that were cruelly mistreated and were innocent, never charged, were illegally detained and never compensated for their suffering? This is not a political issue, but a moral and ethical dilemma which has far-reaching implications.

Proponents of coercive interrogation argue that it works. I can’t find an experienced interrogator who thinks torture is an effective way of gathering quality intelligence. Should the efficacy of torture be a part of this commission’s work?

I think so. You have two sides here. One says, “We had to do it.” The other says, “It never actually worked.” You have to consider this in those terms. Some of those activities were actually not effective and those who thought so were in the academic or pristine settings of their offices. What would they know?

Should people receive amnesty for coming forward and participating in a commission of this type?

If you want people to talk, you need to give them that immunity. I would submit to you that issuing a subpoena to people like [former counsel to the vice president David] Addington, [former Justice Department attorneys John] Yoo and [Jay] Bybee or [former Pentagon general counsel Jim] Haynes will not work. They are not going to come up and talk freely because they want to save their reputations and write books about it. They know their positions and so do the public. They know that it was illegal.

But you have other folks, soldiers, for example, or civilian contractors who are willing to address why things happened and who gave them the authority to do these things.

What else should I have asked you?

This is a comment. In the opinion of some legal experts, it would be extremely difficult to stand up a commission and question those in government because they were supposedly acting in the interest of national security. What do we say to the soldiers who committed wrongdoings with regard to detention operations who were also acting in the interest of national security and who are now in jail or who have been punished? If the military can hold themselves accountable, why can’t the civilian authorities be as well? Why can’t they hold themselves accountable as well?

So, you’ve got low-level soldiers in jail. Why not take a look at the people who put those policies together in the first place?

When the policymakers create a policy, you have to account yourself for the consequences unintended or intended. The question we ought to ask these civilian authorities is, What was your intent in creating those illegal policies? What was the intent? Was the intent in the interest of national security, which is broad and contestable? What was the intent and what were the lawful precedents, if any, that led them to these highly questionable opinions?

It seems to me that if we don’t do some sort of review, this thing will just continue to come out in dribs and drabs and sort of haunt us forever. Do you agree with that?

I agree with that. You can’t sweep unlawful activities under the table and just forget about it. I feel strongly about this because we have future generations who will be the beneficiaries of these actions. We have a president who declared that torture is illegal. He signed executive orders repudiating torture and unlawful interrogation practices.

We have a lot of unanswered questions on accountability, questions that need to be answered and hold responsible officials — civilians and military — accountable. These include contractors. We ought not to refer to accountability as a bumper sticker or to be used loosely. We have an integrity issue to contend with if we are to prevent this matter from recurring.

“Reconciliation” and “Looking Forward Not Backward:” Code for No Justice? February 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About Justice, Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush.
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nuremberg-trial

The President of the Tribunal, Lord Chief Justice Lawrence, pronounces the sentences and reads the dissenting Russian opinion

 by Roger Hollander

www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com, February 19, 2009

 

(SEE UPDATE BELOW)

 

An essay entitled “Obama’s Justice: Reconciliation Not Retribution” appeared recently in the progressive online journal, Truthout.com (http://www.truthout.org/021809J).  Its author is Cynthia Boaz, assistant professor of political science at Sonoma State University, who is described as a specialist “in political development, quality of democracy and nonviolent struggle.”

 

Professor Boaz’s approach was most annoying in that she felt the need to set up a straw man (the notion that those who want justice want it for purposes of retribution) and resort to the ad hominem by characterizing those who are pushing for investigations and prosecution of the Bush era crimes as “disgruntled, self-identified progressives” and comparing them to “villagers wielding torches and pitchforks.”

 

But such annoyances pale in light of the implication of her thesis in support of Obama as a “unifier,” and his mission of “reconciliation, not retribution” in an attempt to justify Obama’s oxymoronic and disingenuous statement that he believes in the rule of law but would rather look forward rather than backward.

 

(To her credit Professor Boaz acknowledges that the Bush administration may have committed misdeeds “which in some cases, rise to the level of crimes against humanity” and does not argue that they should not be brought to justice.  Her point is that justice should not be politicized, that the president should not seek “retribution” for his predecessor)

 

In the real world justice in fact usually occurs in a political context – especially when crimes occur at the higher levels of government.  Obama recognizes this and his remarks to George Stephanopoulos were in response to overwhelming public sentiment for him to appoint a special prosecutor as reflected in his transition sounding exercise.  Presidents do appoint Special Prosecutors and the United States Attorney General.  Presidents grant pardons, often controversial and often of a political nature (Ford/Nixon; Reagan/Weinberger, North, Irangate).  The political and the judicial are indeed intertwined.

 

Talking about “reconciliation” and “looking forward rather than backward” is in itself a blatant political intrusion in the world of justice.  If Obama were not signaling to the heads of the Justice Committees in both houses of Congress (and the American people) that he would prefer for them to back off, then he simply would have affirmed his commitment to the rule of law and left it at that.

 

The evidence that is already in the public domain with respect to the knowingly false pretense for the invasion of Iraq, the high level authorization of torture, the extraordinary renditions, the wiretapping, the U.S. Attorney firings, etc. is so overwhelming that – in spite of the sacred principle of “innocent until proven guilty” – the American and world public cannot be faulted for demanding that the Nuremberg principles be applied to the neo-fascist Bush clique.  That former Vice President Cheney, who is universally considered to have been the Bush administration Godfather, has been making the rounds boasting about his role in committing in effect what are crimes against humanity, constitutes an open challenge to anyone who takes the rule of law seriously.  Given the literally millions of human beings whose lives have been destroyed or seriously debilitated by the actions of the Bush administration and the gross violations of constitutional and international law, the imperative for speedy justice within the context of due process is overwhelming.

 

What I fear is some kind of Truth Commission based on the premise of giving immunity for the sake of getting the truth out.  This, I believe, is what Obama was getting at with his “looking forward” remark and what Professor Boaz would like to see.  Such a notion mocks the concept and dignity of Justice.  It gives no closure to those who have suffered at the hands of high level war criminals and it has little or no deterrent effect.  What it is is politically expedient. 

 

Do I expect to ever see Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Wolfowitz et. al. in a United States court of law charged with high crimes?  Honestly I do not (but I didn’t ever expect to see the election of an Afro-American president in my lifetime either).  But genuine truth, reconciliation and justice demand that such high crimes be investigated and prosecuted; those who suffered deserve justice; and the future of what is left of constitutional democracy is worth fighting for.

What is more, if President Barak Obama or anyone else acts in any way to impede or frustrate the carrying out of justice, they become to some extent complicit with the principal perpetuators.

UPDATE (May 1, 2009)

There has been a lot of -pardon the pun – wate(boarding) under the bridge since I wrote this piece in mid February.  If you surf around my Blog or the many Blogs I post on it, you will find dozens if not hundreds of articles on the issue of torture and criminal responsibility for it.  Just today, for example, I posted an excellent article by Glenn Greenwald that appeared in salon.com which documented the words of, of all people, Ronald Reagan, who, in introducing the law that made torture a serious crime in the United States, states that torture is a crime, with no exception for extraordinary circumstances (including, presumably, the phony “ticking time bomb” scenario).  Ronald Reagan!

 

Professor Boaz, who is the target of my criticism in the original article above, had argued that those of us demanding that now President Obama take criminal action against the Torturers were misunderstanding the role of the presidency.  Investigation and criminal prosecution in the bailiwick of the Judicial System, not the presidency she tells us.  I wonder what she is thinking now that President Obama has heard, tried and exonerated the CIA agents who carried out the war crime known as torture.

 

During the longest eight years in history that we lived through under Bush/Cheney, one felt that what was happening as if it were in the realm of the surreal.  Anti-war election results, and the war escalates (excuse me, surges).  Torture with impunity.  Habeas Corpus out the window.  Warrantless wiretapping.  An ideologically politicized Justice Department.  Signing Statements allowing the President to ignore laws passed by Congress.  Dr. Strangeglove figures such as Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Rice, Gonzales; and Darth Vader himself disguised as Dick Cheney, bunker and all.

 

May the goddess help me, I am having the same surrealistic dizziness all over again.  The Attorney General declares that waterboarding is torture.  Torture is a crime.  Therefore … do nothing about it.  The President releases evidence in the form of the infamous torture memos that, that along with photographic and other (International Red Cross, for example) evidence, leaves no doubt about the nature and extent of the torture; and then he proceeds to grant amnesty to those who committed the crimes.  They were only following orders, he says, as the Nuremburg amnesia sets in alongside the swine flu.  Pelosi and Reid want investigations … in secret (!).  The mainstream media, as it did under Bush/Cheney, plays along with the Alice in Wonderland fantasies, and the maniacs on the neo-Fascist Right have convinced a signficant percentage of Americans that torture is not a crime under “certain circumstances.”  The torture memos written by John Yoo and Jay Bybee are so patently phony and Kafkesque that Yoo is invited to teach law in Orange County and Bybee is made a Federal Judge.

 

It has been suggested that President Obama doesn’t feel there is the political will to prosecute the war criminals, which is why he has been so wishy-washy, but that he has released the tortue memos and is soon to release more photos as a way to achieve that will.  I don’t believe this, but that doesn’t matter.  Only by latching on to the the issue like a pit bull and refusing to let go can we who believe in Decency and Justice bring the American War Criminals to justice.

torture-with-bush

abu-ghraib-matthew-langley

 

 

 

 

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