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US Judge Orders Nixon’s Secret Watergate Testimony Released Despite Obama Opposition July 31, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in History.
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Roger’s note: the Nixon presidency was in effect the beginning of the counter-revolution against the massive anti-war and Civil Rights movements of the 1960s.  It laid the groundwork for the successful attacks against the gains made by organized labor and the New Deal safety net programs.  What is happening as we speak with respect to the so called debt limit debate will be a quantum leap towards the dismantling of these gains.  We can thank Nixon and perhaps Barry Goldwater (the father of the less government fetish, and perhaps the most influential presidential loser of all times) for the presidencies of Reagan and Bush I and II, who carried forth this social disaster.  Watergate may have taken Nixon down, but unfortunately did not stop the Republican inspired and Democrat facilitated bulldozing of what had been gained by social movements from below.  
Published on Saturday, July 30, 2011 by the Associated Press

  by Nedra Pickler

Thirty-six years after Richard Nixon testified to the Watergate grand jury, a federal judge yesterday ordered the first public release of the transcript about the break-in that drove him from the presidency.

The 297-page transcript will not be available immediately but will be held until the government decides whether to appeal. In the American legal system, a grand jury is seated to determine whether a law has been violated and whether sufficient evidence exists to warrant prosecution.

The Obama administration opposed the transcript’s release, chiefly to protect the privacy of people discussed during the former president’s testimony who are still alive.

Nevertheless, US District Judge Royce Lamberth agreed with historians who sued for release that the historical significance outweighs arguments for secrecy, because the investigations are long over and Nixon has been dead 17 years.

Nixon was interviewed privately near his California home for 11 hours over two days in June 1975, 10 months after he became the first US president to resign the office. Two grand jurors were flown in and the transcript was read to the rest of the panel sitting back in Washington. It was the first time a former US president had testified before a grand jury. Later, Bill Clinton became the first sitting president to do so during the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

At the time of his testimony, Nixon could not be prosecuted for conduct related to Watergate because he had been pardoned by President Gerald Ford. Ten days after Nixon’s testimony, the third Watergate grand jury was dismissed without handing up indictments.

The historians say the testimony could help resolve continuing debate over Nixon’s knowledge of the break-in at Democratic Party headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington and his role in the cover-up that protected the conspirators for a time.

“Nixon knew when you testified before a grand jury you exposed yourself to perjury, so I’m betting he told the truth,” said University of Wisconsin Professor Stanley Kutler, who filed the lawsuit along with four historians’ organizations. Kutler, author of “Abuse of Power: The New Nixon Tapes,” previously successfully sued to force the release of audio recordings Nixon secretly made in the Oval Office. “Now, what did he tell the truth about? I don’t know.”

Newspapers reported at the time of Nixon testimony that he was questioned about an 18 1/2-minute gap in tape recordings from the president’s Oval Office, changes made to White House transcripts of the recordings, his administration’s use of the Internal Revenue Service, the government’s tax collectors, to harass his political enemies and a $100,000 (£60,000) campaign contribution from billionaire Howard Hughes. The details of what the president said have never leaked out.

Several Watergate figures filed declarations in support of the petition, including Nixon’s White House counsel John Dean, who served prison time for his role in the scandal. Dean wrote that Nixon’s testimony covers topics that the president only vaguely discussed in his memoirs and his revelations to the grand jury would help stop “those wanting to twist and distort history.”

In rejecting the Obama administration’s arguments for privacy, Lamberth pointed out that most of the surviving Watergate figures have either written about it, given interviews that already are public or spoken under oath in testimony about their involvement. “The court is confident that disclosure will greatly benefit the public and its understanding of Watergate without compromising the tradition and objectives of grand jury secrecy,” Lamberth wrote.

Justice Department spokesman Charles Miller said yesterday that government attorneys were reviewing the ruling.

Other courts have on occasion ordered the release of grand jury records because of their historical impact, including those investigating espionage allegations against Alger Hiss and Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

© 2011 Associated Press
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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.

Questioning Authority: A Rethinking of the Infamous Milgram Experiments February 13, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Science and Technology, Uncategorized.
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By Liliana Segura, AlterNet. Posted February 12, 2009.

A famous 1970s experiment was recently replicated, revealing what it takes for us to question and resist those in positions of authority.

Between 1963 and 1974, Dr. Stanley Milgram conducted a series of experiments that would become one of the most famous social psychology studies of the 20th century. His focus was how average people respond to authority, and what he revealed stunned and disturbed people the world over.

Under the pretense of an experiment on “learning” and “memory,” Milgram placed test subjects in a lab rigged with fake gadgetry, where a man in a lab coat instructed them to administer electrical shocks to a fellow test subject (actually an actor) seated in another room in “a kind of miniature electric chair.”

Participants were told they were the “teachers” in the scenario and given a list of questions with which to quiz their counterparts (the “learners”). If the respondent answered incorrectly to a question, he got an electric shock as punishment.

The shocks were light at first — 15 volts — and became stronger incrementally, until they reached 450 volts — a level labeled “Danger: Severe Shock.” The actors were never actually electrocuted, but they pretended they were. They groaned, shouted, and, as the current became stronger, begged for relief. Meanwhile, the man in the lab coat coolly told the test subjects to keep going.

To people’s horror, Milgram discovered that a solid majority of his subjects — roughly two-thirds — were willing to administer the highest levels of shock to their counterparts. This was as true among the first set of his test subjects (Yale undergrads), to subsequent “ordinary” participants as described by Milgram (“professionals, white-collar workers, unemployed persons and industrial workers”), to test subjects abroad, from Munich to South Africa. It was also as true for women as it was for men (although female subjects reported a higher degree of anxiety afterward).

For people who learned of the study, this became devastating proof, not only of human beings’ slavish compliance in the face of authority, but of our willingness to do horrible things to other people. The study has been used to explain everything from Nazi Germany to the torture at Abu Ghraib.

But what if Milgram’s obedience studies tell us something else, something just as essential, not about our obedience to authority, but what it takes for people to resist it? Now, for the first time in decades, a psychologist has replicated Milgram’s famous study (with some critical changes).

The bad news: His results are statistically identical to Milgram’s. The good news: Contrary to popular perception, the lesson it teaches us is not that human beings are a breed of latent torturers. “Actually,” says Dr. Jerry Burger, the psychologist who led the exercise, “what I think is that the real lesson of the demonstration is quite the opposite.”

Replicating Milgram: ‘I Can’t Tell You Why I Listened to Him and Kept Going’

Burger works at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, Calif. Like many in his field, he has long been interested in Milgram.

“Everybody who works in my area has his or her own ideas about why Milgram’s participants did what they did,” he says. And many have ideas about what they would change if they did the study themselves. “I have kind of had ideas like that forever … but it’s pretty much been considered to be out of bounds for research. I think we all kind of assumed no one was every going to be able to do this study again.”

Indeed, Milgram’s obedience study was deeply controversial in its time. His deceptive methodology would later be criticized as unethical, and stiffer regulations concerning the psychological well-being of participants in such studies would follow. Thus, despite its enduring role in the popular imagination — and relevance to the events of the day — Milgram’s study would remain firmly entrenched in its time and place.

Then, in 2004, the Abu Ghraib scandal broke. In the analysis that followed, many pointed to Milgram’s findings as a way to understand what could have led otherwise-average soldiers to act so cruelly. At ABC News, producers decided they wanted to do an investigative report on this question.

“I think what they had in mind at first was some sort of journalistic stunt,” Burger recalls “… to set up the Milgram study themselves.” But ABC was advised not undertake such a project lightly. “Someone told them, ‘If you want to do some sort of exploration of obedience, you need to talk to someone who works in the field,’ ” says Burger. “Somehow my name surfaced in this conversation.”

When ABC called him, “I told them, ‘No you can’t replicate Milgram,’ but I thought it was great that they wanted to explore these questions. … I was not interested in helping them put on some kind of stunt (but), it was something that I always wanted to do. And if ABC would foot the bill …”

It took months to set up the project — recruiting and vetting participants, getting insurance, consulting lawyers, etc. When it came to conduct the experiment, Burger had implemented significant changes to Milgram’s original study. One crucial adjustment had been to establish a threshold that did not exist under Milgram. Burger calls it the “150-volt solution.”

“You can’t put people through what Milgram did,” says Burger. Revisiting descriptions of his subjects, he says, “you see that people were suffering tremendously.” They believed they were torturing people, that people were “presumably even dying on the other side of the wall.”

Thus, based on Milgram’s original data, which showed that the majority of the participants who administered 150-volt shocks to their subjects were willing to go all the way to the highest levels, Burger decided that he would stop participants at the 150-volt mark, “the point of no return.”

When the ABC special aired in January 2007, it took a predictably sensationalist approach. “A Touch of Evil” was the title, and foreboding music provided a dark backdrop.

The segment showed men and women of various ages, ethnicities and professions doing the same thing — administering what they believed were electric shocks to a person in another room.

Often the participants would be startled by the shouts behind the wall, turning to look to the man in the lab coat with nervous expressions. But at his behest, they continued, even amid protests from the actor. (“Get me out of here, I told you I had heart trouble. My heart’s starting to bother me now.”)

In the end, 70 percent of the subjects reached the 150-volt mark — a statistic basically identical to Milgram’s. Unlike in Milgram’s experiment, however, Burger told his subjects immediately after their time was up that the whole thing had been staged.

“I can’t tell you why I listened to him and kept going,” one participant told his ABC interviewer. “I should have just said no.”

In the media and the blogosphere, the response to Burger’s study has played into the notion that Milgram’s findings, as true now as they were a generation ago, point to some intrinsic capacity for evil in human beings. It was more or less summed up by one blog’s headline, which Burger noted, chuckling: “This Just In: We Still Suck.”

‘Under the Right Circumstances, People Will Act In Surprising and Unsettling Ways’

Although Milgram’s research is understood mainly through the lens of “obedience,” Burger believes that authority is actually not the definitive factor in the situation.

Just as important, if not more so, are the combination of factors that make up the scenario and which make subjects so dependent on authority. For example, despite being shown the “learner” strapped in before the experiment begins, participants are operating on relatively little information.

“They want to be a good participator, they don’t know, ‘should I stop, should I not,’ ” says Burger, “… Except there’s a person in the room that’s an expert, who knows all about the study, the equipment, etc … and he’s acting like, well, this is nothing unusual … If the only information you have is telling you that this is the right thing to do — of course you do it.”

Participants are also absolved of any real sense of personal responsibility. “I was doing my job,” is a common refrain. Burger notes, “when people don’t feel responsible, that can lead to some very unsettling behaviors.” And then, there’s the high pressure created by the limited window of time participants have to choose whether to shock their “learner.”

“Imagine if Milgram had allowed those people to take 30 minutes and think about it,” says Burger. “They don’t have time, and the experimenter doesn’t allow them time. In fact, if the person pauses, the experimenter steps in and says, ‘Please continue.’ ”

But perhaps the most important enabling factor is the fact that the volts go up in little by little.

“Milgram set this up so that people responded in small increments,” says Burger. “They didn’t start with 150 volts, they started with 15 and worked their way up … That is a very powerful way to change attitudes and behaviors.” Most people, after all, don’t start with extreme behaviors right off the bat.

“People didn’t start by drinking Jim Jones’ poison Kool-Aid,” Burger says. “They probably started by donating money, or going to a meeting … you probably see that in most examples where you’re scratching you head and saying, ‘How can they do that?’ ”

In Burger’s opinion, the significance of Milgram’s findings are widely misunderstood. “The point is not ‘look how bad people are.’ … What we fail to recognize is the power of the situation and [that] under the right circumstances, people will act in surprising and sometimes unsettling ways.”

Indeed, what these factors demonstrate is not how easily people will harm another person, but how quickly people will cede their own authority to another person when they feel isolated, pressured and powerless. The more controlled an environment, the more vulnerable a person is.

What Does It Take to Resist Authority?

Long before his most famous experiment, Stanley Milgram was interested in phenomena showing that people placed in the right situation will often do the wrong thing.

Writing in The Nation magazine in 1964 about a case in which a New York woman named Kitty Genovese was killed within earshot of 38 neighbors, none of whom intervened, Milgram wrote, “We are all certain that we would have done better.” But, he argued, it is a mistake to “infer ethical values from the actual behavior of people in concrete situations.”

“…We must ask, did the witnesses remain passive because they thought it was the right thing to do, or did they refrain from action despite what they thought or felt they should do? We cannot take it for granted that people always do what they consider right. It would be more fruitful to inquire why, in general and in this particular case, there is so marked a discrepancy between values and behavior.”

One lens through which to understand this is politics, a profession notorious for its moral corrosiveness. In his book, Conservatives Without Conscience, John Dean, Richard Nixon’s White House counsel, wrote about the Milgram experiment to explore how members of the Bush administration could be so complicit in the immoral policies of the so-called war on terror.

In a 2006 interview with Thom Hartmann, Dean explained:

“I looked at this because I was trying to understand, how do people who work at the CIA and know that they’re part of a system that is torturing people in the Eastern European secret prisons — and they’re supporting that system, they’re providing information or bringing it out of it — how they do that every day?

“How do the people who work at NSA who were turning that huge electronic apparatus of surveillance on their neighbors and their friends, where’s their conscience?

“And then I realized that this is a perfect example of the Milgram experiment at work. They’re under authority figures. What they are doing is, they’re haven’t lost their conscience — they have given their conscience to another agent, and so they feel very comfortable in doing it.” 

If Milgram’s experiment showed a sort of moral death by a thousand cuts, the decisions, compromises and rationalizations that politicians make on a daily basis from their Washington offices that seem otherwise unfathomable indeed seem easier to explain, if not justifiable. After all, unlike the participants in Milgram’s original study, who were paid $5 for their time (and notoriety), politicians in the White House or on Capitol Hill build their careers on decisions that can destroy human beings. Whether in Iraq or at Guantanamo, the suffering on the other side of those walls is real.

But Milgram has much to teach us, too, about what it takes to resist powerful governments and their destructive policies. It’s not easy, and the stakes can be high.

Writing about war resisters in The Nation in 1970, Milgram noted, “Americans who are unwilling to kill for their country are thrown into jail. And our generation learns, as every generation has, that society rewards and punishes its members not in the degree to which each fulfills the dictates of individual conscience but in the degree to which the actions are perceived by authority to serve the needs of the larger social system. It has always been so.”

But while Milgram so effectively demonstrated the challenge of defying authority, he also showed that subjects were far more likely to do it when they saw other people doing it. He wrote in The Perils of Obedience, “The rebellious action of others severely undermines authority.”

“In one variation, three teachers (two actors and a real subject) administered a test and shocks. When the two actors disobeyed the experimenter and refused to go beyond a certain shock level, 36 of 40 subjects joined their disobedient peers and refused as well.”

Put in a political context, this is perhaps the most important lesson Milgram has to teach us. The best hope people have of resisting an oppressive system is to validate their experiences alongside other people. There is no more basic antidote to authoritarianism than support, solidarity and community.

Milgram wrote, “When an individual wishes to stand in opposition to authority, he does best to find support for his position from others in his group. The mutual support provided by men for each other is the strongest bulwark we have against the excesses of authority.”

Are We Civilized Enough to Hold Our Leaders Accountable for War Crimes? The World Is Watching January 26, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture, War.
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 John W. Dean, FindLaw.com. Posted January 24, 2009.

Other countries are likely to take action against officials who condoned torture, even if the United States fails to do so.

Remarkably, the confirmation of President Obama’s Attorney General nominee, Eric Holder, is being held up by Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn, who apparently is unhappy that Holder might actually investigate and prosecute Bush Administration officials who engaged in torture. Aside from this repugnant new Republican embrace of torture (which might be a winning issue for the lunatic fringe of the party and a nice way to further marginalize the GOP), any effort to protect Bush officials from legal responsibility for war crimes, in the long run, will not work.

It is difficult to believe that Eric Holder would agree not to enforce the law, like his recent Republican predecessors. Indeed, if he were to do so, President Obama should withdraw his nomination. But as MSNBC “Countdown” anchor Keith Olbermann stated earlier this week, even if the Obama Administration for whatever reason does not investigate and prosecute these crimes, this still does not mean that the Bush Administration officials who were involved in torture are going to get a pass.

With few exceptions, the discussion about what the Obama Administration will do regarding the torture of detainees during the Bush years has been framed as a domestic matter, and the fate of those involved in torturing has been largely viewed as a question of whether the Department of Justice will take action. In fact, not only is the world watching what the Obama Administration does regarding Bush’s torturers, but other countries are very likely to take action if the United States fails to do so.

Bush’s Torturers Have Serious Jeopardy

Philippe Sands, a Queen’s Counsel at Matrix Chambers and Professor of International law at University College London, has assembled a powerful indictment of the key Bush Administration people involved in torture in his book Torture Team: Rumsfeld’s Memo and the Betrayal of American Values. He explains the legal exposure of people like former attorney general Alberto Gonzales, Dick Cheney’s counsel and later chief of staff David Addington, former Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo, the former Department of Defense general counsel Jim Haynes, and others for their involvement in the torture of detainees at Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, and CIA secret prisons.

After reading Sands’s book and, more recently, listening to his comments on Terry Gross’s NPR show “Fresh Air,” on January 7, 2009 I realized how closely the rest of the world is following the actions of these former officials, and was reminded that these actions appear to constitute not merely violations of American law, but also, and very literally, crimes against humanity — for which the world is ready to hold them responsible.

Here is what Professor Sands told Terry Gross on NPR: “In talking to prosecutors around the world, as I have done, they all recognize the very real political difficulties of taking on someone who has been Vice President of the United States, or President of the United States, or Secretary of Defense of the United States. But those arguments melt away as you go a little down the chain. And I don’t think the same arguments would apply in relation to the man, for example, who was Vice President Cheney’s general counsel, at the time the decisions were taken, David Addington … I think he faces a very real risk of, you know, investigation for complicity in an act that amounts to torture … ” Later, referring to “international investigations,” he added that Addington (and others) were at “serious risk of being investigated.”

These are remarkable statements from a very well-informed man. Because we have a common publisher, I was able to contact him in London, and pose a few questions. I find his book, statements and responses to my questions chilling.

Q & A With Professor Philippe Sands

The following is my email exchange with Professor Sands:

John W. Dean: When talking to Ms. Gross you said you were not calling for such international investigations because we all need more facts. Given the fact that Judge Susan Crawford has now made clear that torture occurred, do you — and others with your expertise and background — have sufficient information to call for other countries to take action if the Obama Administration fails to act?

Philippe Sands: Last week’s intervention by Susan Crawford, confirming that torture occurred at Guantanamo, is highly significant (as I explain in a piece I wrote with Dahlia Lithwick: “The Turning Point: How the Susan Crawford interview changes everything we know about torture”). The evidence as to torture, with all that implies for domestic and foreign criminal investigation, is compelling. Domestic and foreign investigators already have ample evidence to commence investigation, if so requested or on their own account, even if the whole picture is not yet available. That has implications for the potential exposure of different individuals, depending on the nature and extent of their involvement in acts that have elements of a criminal conspiracy to subvert the law.

JD: If yes, can you share what you and others might do, and when?

PS: I am in the process of completing the epilogue to my book Torture Team, which will be published in May 2009. That will set out, in detail, what I learned when I made a return visit to the European judge and prosecutor with whom I met in the summer of 2007, as described in the book. Watch this space.

JD: If no, what would it take for those like you to call for all countries with potential jurisdiction to take action?

PS: More than 140 countries may potentially exercise jurisdiction over former members of the Bush Administration for violations of the 1984 Torture Convention and the 1949 Geneva Conventions, including the standards reflected in their Common Article 3. Whether they do so, and how they might do so, turns on a range of factors, including their domestic procedural rules. In the United Kingdom, one criminal investigation is already underway, in relation to the alleged treatment of Binyam Mohammed, a Guantanamo detainee who is a British resident. I doubt it will be the last. That said, having set out the relevant facts in one case [in my book], to the best of my abilities, I feel it will now be for others to take this forward as they consider appropriate.

JD: Also, when talking to Ms. Gross you said that you did not think that David Addington and others involved in torture were likely to be travelling outside the United States. Do you know for a fact that any country might take action? Have you discussed this with any prosecutors who could do so?

PS: This will be addressed in the epilogue to Torture Team.

JD: Do you believe that a failure of the Obama Administration to investigate, and if necessary, prosecute, those involved in torture would make them legally complicit in the torture undertaken by the Bush Administration?

PS: No, although it may give rise to violations by the United States of its obligations under the Torture Convention. In the past few days there have been a series of significant statements: that of Susan Crawford, of former Vice President Cheney’s confirming that he approved the use of waterboarding, and by the new Attorney General Eric Holder that he considers waterboarding to be torture. On the basis of these and other statements it is difficult to see how the obligations under Articles 7(1) and (2) of the Torture Convention do not cut in: these require the US to “submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution”. What happens thereafter is a matter for the prosecutor, who may decide that, in accordance with applicable standards (“authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State”) and the facts of the case, including the prospects for a successful prosecution, that proceeding to actual prosecution is not justified.

JD: Finally, you mentioned the case proceeding in the UK regarding possible torture of a British national. Is it possible that even an American ally like Great Britain could seek extradition, and undertake prosecution, of U.S. officials like Addington and Yoo for facilitating the torture of a citizen of Great Britain — if the U.S. fails to act?

PS: It is possible. The more likely scenario, however, is that which occurred in Senator Pinochet’s case: the unwitting traveller sets foot in the wrong country at the wrong time.

What Will The Obama Administration Do?

As all who have followed this issue know, President Obama hedged after he was elected as to what he may or may not do. So too did his Attorney General nominee. After Eric Holder declared waterboarding to be unlawful, no one on the Senate Judiciary Committee truly followed up as to what he was going to do, but it appears they are going to now press him on that point.

My question is how can the Obama Administration not investigate, and, if appropriate, prosecute given the world is watching, because if they do not, other may do so? How could there be “change we can believe in” if the new administration harbors war criminals — which is the way that Philippe Sands and the rest of the world, familiar with the facts which have surfaced even without an investigation, view those who facilitated or engaged in torture?

One would think that people like Cheney, Rumsfeld, Addington, Gonzales, Yoo, Haynes and others, who claim to have done nothing wrong, would call for investigations to clear themselves if they really believed that to be the case. Only they, however, seem to believe in their innocence — the entire gutless and cowardly group of them, who have shamed themselves and the nation by committing crimes against humanity in the name of the United States.

We must all hope that the Obama Administration does the right thing, rather than forcing another country to clean up the mess and seek to erase the dangerous precedent these people have created for our country. A first clue may come when Holder resumes testifying.

New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family January 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in George W. Bush, Religion.
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bush-family

The Bush family (photo: www.stillman.org)

Frederick Clarkson
January 4, 2009

www.religiondispatches.org

A brand new investigation of the Bush family reveals a religious narrative that strays from the official story circulated to supporters and the press. How many conversions did George W. actually have and why? How did a blue-blooded Episcopalian family come to represent the evangelicals of America?

Below is an addendum to today’s feature “New Book Reveals How Faith is Like a Covert Operation for the Bush Family”. The book discussed is Russ Baker’s: Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008)

Baker has unearthed many startling facts about the careers of Bush 41 and Bush 43. He also draws some head turning conclusions about some of the key figures in both the Watergate scandal and the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the relationship of Poppy Bush to both events. But before we summarize some of the book’s major disclosures, it is worth discussing the elephant in the room (For a full analysis of the revelations regarding the religious life of the Bushes, see today’s feature: ).

Investigative works are often labeled “conspiracy theories.” This term is generally used to suggest that whatever an author has learned, he or she may be a bit unhinged, and we may therefore not take the material seriously. And we are safe to go about our business as usual. While there are people and work, no matter how well intentioned to which the label might fairly apply, the label is also used by many of us to dismiss information and analyses that make us uncomfortable even when they legitimately push the boundaries of our understanding of modern politics, business and government. But as we address our own discomfort in the face of such material, we need to remind ourselves that investigative journalism discomfits the author as well. Journalists like Baker are constantly checking and cross checking, making sure that disturbing information is in fact so. Even more awkward are the disturbing questions that the journalist cannot answer, but are themselves so well founded that they must be raised. Conspiracy theorists tend to take the opposite tack. Information is shaped or interpreted to conform to predetermined and often fevered conclusions, while countervailing information is downplayed or ignored.

Baker is a well-respected journalist who has written for major newspapers and magazines and has served as a contributing editor of the Columbia Journalism Review. His effort to understand the lives of the presidents Bush unexpectedly led him to reexamine Watergate and the Kennedy assassination and other murky episodes of recent American history, “documenting the secrets that the House of Bush has long sought to obscure.”

“I’ll admit it,” Baker writes in his conclusion. “Fear of being so labeled has haunted me throughout this work. It’s been an internal censor that I’ve had to resist again and again. And also an external one, as friends within the journalistic establishment reviewed my findings, found them both credible and highly disturbing, and yet urged me to stay away from them for my own good. I began to realize that I was experiencing the very thing the process is designed to induce. The boundaries of permissible thought are staked out and enforced. We accept the conventional narratives because they are repeated and approved, while conflicting ones are scorned. Isn’t this how authoritarian regimes work? They get inside your mind so that overt repression becomes less necessary.”

“Whose interests does this serve?” he continues. “As this book demonstrates, the deck has long been and continues to be, stacked on behalf of big money players, especially those in commodities and natural resources *from gold to oil *and those who finance the extraction of these materials. The defense industry, and the aligned growth of business of “intelligence,” provide muscle. On a lower level is an army of enablers*the campaign functionaries, the PR people, the lawyers. This was the Bush enterprise. The Bushes embodied it as a dynasty, but it is larger than them, and will prove more enduring.”

Here are some of the major revelations of the book:

*George H. W. (“Poppy”) Bush, and many of his closest associates throughout his adult life were deeply and secretly enmeshed in covert intelligence activities. He has gone to great lengths to conceal many of his activities, no matter how mundane, and engaged in overt acts of misdirection. Bush’s extensive intelligence ties prior to his becoming CIA Director in the Ford administration, and going back to World War II, have not been previously reported. Baker calls this Bush’s “double life.”

*Poppy Bush was deeply involved with an array of CIA covert operators, Bay of Pigs veterans and rightwing Texas oil industry characters linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Baker shows that Bush was actually in Dallas on November 21, 1963 and was probably there on the day of the assassination as well. Baker draws no particular conclusions from the fact, except to document, describe and underscore the great lengths he went to conceal the fact.

*Baker asserts that, much to his own surprise, Richard Nixon while no innocent, was not the instigator of the Watergate crimes and the cover-up, but appears to have been set-up. What’s more, some of the seeming good guys, were not, and much of what seemed to be, was not as it seemed. Among those he implicates in the set-up are Poppy Bush and perhaps most remarkably, John Dean, the former White House counsel who became best known as the key whistleblower.

*In a related point, Baker notes that Nixon suspected the CIA of infiltrating his White House staff. Nixon recognized the Watergate burglars from his own days supervising covert operations as Vice President in the Eisenhower administration, and knew that their bosses were seasoned CIA hardliners with ties to the Bay of Pigs invasion and events linked to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Nixon battled the CIA for files on what he called the “Bay of Pigs thing,” but never could get access to them. (To borrow from Woody Allen, just because Nixon was paranoid, doesn’t mean they were not out to get him.)

*Baker questions the integrity and independence of famed Watergate reporter Bob Woodward of the Washington Post who he reports had been recommended for his job by senior Nixon White House officials who had known him when he worked in Naval intelligence prior to his becoming a reporter. In that capacity, which Woodward denies he held, he was a frequent visitor to the White House.

*Baker details the Bush family’s personal, political and business connections to the Saudi royal family; and to apparent international slush funds and money laundering schemes. Much of this is told in such a matter of fact fashion that it is easy to lose sight of the significance of many of the individual facts.

Regarding George W. Bush, in addition to the manufacture of the legend his conversion story (see main story) the book covers familiar turf regarding how strings were pulled to get George W. Bush into the “Champagne Unit” of the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid military service that might send him to Vietnam; how he failed to fulfill that service; and how his failure was systematically covered-up and politically defused. Also covered are the allegations of how W. was an abuser of illegal drugs in addition to his apparently drinking problems as a young man.

One important story from W.’s past that has long been rumored is confirmed in this book. It is a story that perhaps as much as his going AWOL from the National Guard and orchestrating a cover-up could have derailed his political career.

And that story is the illegal abortion he obtained for a girlfriend in Texas before Roe v. Wade. This is substantiated in part by four reporters whose stories were not published, but who shared their “experiences and detailed source notes” and even tapes with him. Two Bush pals took charge of arranging the abortion go to the hospital and who went to the hospital to inform her that he would not see her again. All of the names are named. Certainly as an candidate who was seeking to appeal to conservative evangelical, anti-abortion constituencies, this would have been a high hurdle to overcome.

“As president,” Baker concludes, “Bush promulgated tough new policies that withheld U.S. funds not only to programs and countries that permitted abortions, but even to those that advocated contraception as opposed to abstinence. Moreover, his appointments to the Supreme Court put the panel on the verge of reversing Roe v. Wade. Like his insistence on long prison sentences for first time drug offenders and his support for military action, his own behavior in regard to sexual responsibility and abortion could be considered relevant *and revealing.” Such journalistic understatement is typical of Baker’s narrative, even while reporting potentially politically explosive material.

Perhaps the revelation that would be most difficult for readers will not be anything about the Bush family, or Watergate or the Kennedy assassination, or any of the figures in this nearly 500 page book and 1000-plus footnotes. “These revelations about the Bushes,” Baker writes, “lead in turn to an even more disturbing truth about the country itself. It’s not just that such a clan could occupy the presidency or vice presidency for twenty of the past twenty-eight years and remain essentially unknown. It’s that the methods of stealth and manipulation that powered their rise reflect a deeper ill: the American public’s increasingly tenuous hold upon the levers of its own democracy.”

Frederick Clarkson’s writing about about politics and religion has appeared in magazines and newspapers from Mother Jones, Conscience and Church & State, to The Village Voice and The Christian Science Monitor for 25 years. He is the editor of Dispatches from the Religious Left: The Future of Faith and Politics in America, (Ig Publishing 2008), and co-founder of the group blog, Talk to Action.

Faith has always been a special commodity for politicians. It is not only essential to have or appear to have it, but that it be of the right variety—especially if you’re thinking of running for president. For nearly two centuries, you could be pretty much any religion you wanted, as long as it was mainline Protestant. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon, who identified respectively as Roman Catholic and Quaker, stretched the definition of acceptable presidential faith, followed soon after by Jimmy Carter, the first evangelical Christian president, whose political rise prefigured and catalyzed the wider engagement of conservative evangelicals in politics and, as it happened, the rise of the religious right.

These social and political changes have posed distinct challenges for pols seeking to navigate the changes in American religious life and the successes of a culture of religious pluralism. This was particularly so for the patrician Bush family, whose challenges in this arena are a familiar part of their political tale. In addition, however, there remain astounding hidden dimensions involving the skills of “spy craft” acquired in a lifetime of covert intelligence activities by George H.W. (“Poppy”) Bush and many of his closest associates.

This, according to a just-published investigative history of the Bush political dynasty, Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, the Powerful Forces that Put it in the White House, and what Their Influence Means for America (Bloomsbury Press, 2008). Author Russ Baker shows, among other things, that Poppy Bush’s well-known service as a Navy pilot in World War II was also part of his work for Naval Intelligence. This set the stage for an astonishing double life participating in covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency throughout his career.

The story of the reinvention of the religious identities of two presidents and their faith-based political strategy could be easily obscured amidst Family of Secrets’ revelations of the Bush family ties to such murky matters as Watergate and the Kennedy assassination (see sidebar). But Baker’s discussion of how a prominent political family applied the tools of the spy trade to their religious transformation and political strategy is a story that merits attention as religious faith becomes an increasingly popular political commodity.

This dimension of the story of the Bush family dynasty emerges in the wake of the growth of the religious right political movement within the GOP in the early ’80s. In this context, what was a starchy, Episcopalian heir to a blue-blooded Yankee political pedigree to do? And what of his reckless, apparently non-religious, playboy son? These were the intertwined questions faced by Vice President Bush and George W. in the 1980s as they planned Poppy Bush’s run for president in 1988—and W.’s political future.

Baker’s chapter titled “The Conversion” features startling revelations that challenge the well-known narratives of the Bush family’s religious history— including the way they crafted a strategy for winning over the religious right, and the creation of a conversion legend for George W. Bush. The purpose of the latter was not only to position him as a religious and political man of his time, but to neutralize the many issues from his past that threatened to undermine his future in politics (and possibly that of his father as well). The plan probably worked far better than anyone could have hoped. “I’m still amazed,” Doug Wead, a key architect of the Bush family’s evangelical outreach strategy told Baker, “how naïve so many journalists are who have covered politics all of their life.”

Poppy and W. Learn Evangelical Lessons

In the early 1980s, Vice President George H.W. Bush faced a political problem of historic proportions. The religious right, driven by politically energized evangelical Christians had altered the political landscape, helping deliver both the 1980 GOP nomination and the presidency to Ronald Reagan. How could the tragically preppy Poppy—a product of Andover and Yale, and secretive former director of the CIA—adjust to the new political reality in order to run for president in 1988? The answer to this question is part of the Bush family’s slow motion transition from old line Yankee blue bloods to good ol’ Red State politicians.

The story begins with Doug Wead, a former Assemblies of God minister turned what Baker terms a “hybrid marketer-author-speaker-historian-religious-political consultant,” who by 1985 had apparently been vetted and groomed to shape the Bush approach to the religious right. “Instinctively,” Baker writes, “he [Poppy Bush] was uncomfortable with pandering to the masses, and uncomfortable too with ascribing deep personal values to himself. For that matter, he didn’t like to reveal much of anything about himself, which was partly patrician reserve and partly perhaps an instinct reinforced by his covert endeavors over the years.”

If Poppy was going to be president, Wead advised, he needed to learn about “these people.” Eventually, Wead drafted a lengthy memo outlining a way for Bush to surf the rising wave of the religious right to the presidency. “This was the beginning,” according to Wead. But not only for their political strategy. Wead felt that Poppy himself had embarked on a spiritual journey, reworking his own spiritual identity even as he studied the evangelical world and developed a political approach for his 1988 presidential campaign.

All of this would be crucial since Representative Jack Kemp (R-NY), a well-known conservative evangelical, and televangelist Pat Robertson also planned to run for the GOP nomination, forcing Bush to compete for the evangelical vote. The three first clashed in the Michigan GOP caucuses, which preceded the usually first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses. (Bush ultimately won after a critical court ruling.) But Wead revealed to Baker how the ‘covert operator’ orientation of the Bush camp played out on the ground. “I ran spies in our opponents political camps,” Wead said, including elected Robertson precinct delegates in Michigan. These Bush agents made headlines when they abandoned Robertson and publicly threw their support to Bush. “We helped them win… and totally infiltrate the Robertson campaign,” Wead declared. “I ran them essentially for [Lee] Atwater, but W. knew about them.”

“The spy argot here is suggestive,” Baker writes. “In the Bush milieu, an intelligence mentality spills over not just into politics but even into dealings with the church-based right. Domestic political constituencies,” he warns, “have replaced the citizens of Communist countries as a key target of American elites. They seek to win hearts and minds of devout Christians through quasi-intelligence techniques.”

The layers of secrecy were peeled back on a need-to-know basis over time. Unbeknownst to Wead, for example, the younger Bush had been a voracious consumer of Wead’s memos to Poppy and his top aides years before they met in 1987. W. had also quietly served as Poppy’s key adviser as they absorbed the lessons and formulated their strategic approach to religious identity and outreach.

Under Wead’s tutelage, Poppy would learn the ins and outs of the evangelical world. But Poppy and W. had a problem in common. Baker writes that they knew that W.’s “behavior before becoming governor [of Texas in 1994] his partying, his womanizing, and in particular his military service problems—posed a serious threat to his presidential ambitions. Their solution was to wipe the slate clean—through religious transformation.”

A Tale of Two Conversions

For this to work they needed “a credible conversion experience and a presentable spiritual guide.” And so the legend goes that none other than Billy Graham paid a visit to his longtime friends at the Bush family estate in Kennebunkport, Maine. This led to the famous walk on the beach that George W. Bush says “planted a mustard seed in my soul,” and to his supposed rebirth as an evangelical Christian. That was the accepted narrative in the media and throughout the evangelical world for years. But Graham later told a journalist that he does not remember the encounter; and to another said he does remember a walk on the beach—but not, apparently, any kind of spiritually meaningful conversation. Whatever the facts of the Graham episode, there are actually two conversion stories. The second was deep-sixed in favor of the Graham story, and only emerged after George W. was elected president.

The itinerant evangelist Arthur Blessitt, famous for dragging (mostly on wheels) a 12-foot cross around the world, posted the story on his Web site in October 2001, noting that he met with George W. Bush a full year earlier than Graham. “Mr. George W. Bush,” wrote Blessitt, “a Midland oilman, listened to the radio broadcast and asked one of his friends ‘Can you arrange for me to meet Arthur Blessitt and talk to him about Jesus?’ And so it came to pass.”

Wead, Baker reports, “had warned the Bushes that they had to be careful how they couched their conversion story. It couldn’t be seen as something too radical or too tacky. Preachers who performed stunts with giant crosses would not do. Billy Graham, ‘spiritual counselor to presidents,’ would do perfectly.” And that was the story that speechwriter Karen Hughes wove into Bush’s 1999 campaign book, A Charge to Keep. There was no mention of Blessitt.

Baker writes from the standpoint of a journalist, looking into the murky career and political and financial empire of one of America’s leading political dynasties. George H.W. Bush’s career in the CIA, capped by his brief tenure as director under Ford, reveals a politician comfortable with the workings of covert operations and their political applications sufficient to attain the highest office for himself. That the spiritual rebirth and transformation of his son was so well scripted and staged (even if the facts are in doubt) is unsurprising for a family and network of associates steeped in the geo-political theater of CIA covert operations. Furthermore, as damaging as the tales of W.’s reckless youth were to his campaigns and presidency, the personal redemption story worked at least as powerfully as Bush’s handlers had hoped—for the father as well as the son.

John Dean: Republican Rule is Dangerous November 2, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in U.S. Election 2008.
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truthdig.com, Nov. 2, 2008

Nixon’s former counsel has written a scathing review of conservative Republican politics and says the McCain-Palin ticket, which “scares the hell out of me,” fits the mold. How’s this for an endorsement?: “If Obama is rejected on November 4th for another authoritarian conservative like McCain, I must ask if Americans are sufficiently intelligent to competently govern themselves.”

 

 

John Dean at FindLaw.com:

Republicans rule, rather than govern, when they are in power by imposing their authoritarian conservative philosophy on everyone, as their answer for everything. This works for them because their interest is in power, and in what it can do for those who think as they do. Ruling, of course, must be distinguished from governing, which is a more nuanced process that entails give-and-take and the kind of compromises that are often necessary to find a consensus and solutions that will best serve the interests of all Americans.

Republicans’ authoritarian rule can also be characterized by its striking incivility and intolerance toward those who do not view the world as Republicans do. Their insufferable attitude is not dangerous in itself, but it is employed to accomplish what they want, which is to take care of themselves and those who work to keep them in power.

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