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FBI Raids Homes of Antiwar and Pro-Palestinian Activists in Chicago and Minneapolis September 28, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, Democracy, Peace.
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DEMOCRACY NOW!  September 27, 2009

Jess Sundin, longtime antiwar activist in Minneapolis. Her home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.

Joe Iosbaker, employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008. His home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday.

Coleen Rowley, former FBI special agent and whistleblower based in Minnesota. She was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year in 2002.

AMY GOODMAN: Antiwar activists are gearing up for protests outside FBI offices in cities across the country today and tomorrow after the FBI raided eight homes and offices of antiwar activists in Chicago and Minneapolis Friday.

The FBI’s search warrants indicate agents were looking for connections between local antiwar activists and groups in Colombia and the Middle East. Eight people were issued subpoenas to appear before a federal grand jury in Chicago. Most of the people whose homes were searched or who were issued subpoenas had helped organize or attended protests at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, two years ago.

The federal law cited in the search warrants prohibits, quote, “providing material support or resources to designated foreign terrorist organizations.” In June, the Supreme Court rejected a free speech challenge to the material support law from humanitarian aid groups that said some of its provisions put them at risk of being prosecuted for talking to terrorist organizations about nonviolent activities. Some of groups listed by name in the warrants are Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The warrants also authorized agents to to seize items such as electronics, photographs, videos, address books and letters.

Friday’s raids come on the heels of a Justice Department probe that found the FBI improperly monitored activist groups and individuals from 2001 to 2006.

For more, I’m joined now by three guests.

Joining us from Minneapolis, longtime antiwar activist Jess Sundin, whose home was raided by the FBI early Friday morning. She’s a member of the Anti-War Committee, whose offices were also raided.

Joining us via Democracy Now! video stream from Chicago is Joe Iosbaker, whose home was one of two raided in Chicago Friday. He’s an employee of the University of Illinois in Chicago and a steward for SEIU Local 73. He helped coordinate buses from Chicago to the protests at the Republican National Convention in 2008.

Also in Minneapolis we’re joined by former FBI special agent and whistleblower Coleen Rowley. Time named her Woman of the Year, Person of the Year in 2002.

We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Let’s begin in Minneapolis with Jess Sundin. Tell us what happened.

JESS SUNDIN: Friday morning, I awoke to a bang at the door, and by the time I was downstairs, there were six or seven federal agents already in my home, where my partner and my six-year-old daughter had already been awake. We were given the search warrant, and they went through the entire house. They spent probably about four hours going through all of our personal belongings, every book, paper, our clothes, and filled several boxes and crates with our computers, our phones, my passport. And when they were done, as I said, they had many crates full of my personal belongings, with which they left my house.

AMY GOODMAN: Were you the only one there that morning?

JESS SUNDIN: No, my partner and my first-grade daughter were also there.

AMY GOODMAN: And what exactly did they show you to get in?

JESS SUNDIN: Well, we have a porch where you can’t see exactly who’s outside. And so, they had already let themselves into the porch by the time my daughter—my wife opened the door. And when they came in, they showed us this four-page document that listed, as I said, all the kinds of things that they were entitled to look—to search for in my home, as well as a subpoena to appear before a grand jury. My name was listed on the search warrant, but both myself and my partner received subpoenas for the grand jury in Chicago.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go to Chicago, to Joe Iosbaker. Describe what happened to you on Friday morning.

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, it’s the exact same story. It was a nationally coordinated assault on all of these homes. Seven a.m., the pound on the door. I was getting ready for work, came down the stairs, and there were, I think, in the area of ten agents, you know, of the—they identified themselves as FBI, showed me the search warrant. And I turned to my wife and said, “Stephanie, it’s the thought police.”

AMY GOODMAN: And they came in?

JOE IOSBAKER: They came in, and they proceeded to set up their operation in our living room, and they proceeded to photograph every room in our house. And over the next, I don’t know, thirty or forty-five minutes, they proceeded to label every room and then systematically go through every room, our basement, our attic, our children’s rooms, and pored through not just all of our papers, but our music collection, our children’s artwork, my son’s poetry journals from high school—everything.

AMY GOODMAN: And were they explaining to you what they were doing as they were raiding your house?

JOE IOSBAKER: There was—there were—some of the officers, you know, were telling us what they were doing. Most of them were not. But they gave us some explanation.

AMY GOODMAN: What exactly did they say to you?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, they—all they said in terms of the content of what they were looking for is that they—you know, they showed us the search warrant, and I was—my wife and I were both subpoenaed, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: What organizations are you involved with, Joe? What do you think they’re looking for?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, as you said at the start, I’m a trade unionist primarily. That’s how most people know me. I’m also the staff adviser at UIC for the Students for a Democratic Society chapter.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s University of Illinois, Chicago.

JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. And, you know, I’ve been a political activist for thirty-three years, so I’ve been a member of a lot of organizations and campaign.

AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, you’re a former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Can you explain what you think is happening here? And also, put it in the context of this very interesting Justice Department IG—Inspector General—report that has just come out on their surveillance of whistleblowers—rather, the surveillance of activists over the last almost decade.

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t really detail all of the legal factors that have changed since 9/11, but there simply has been a sea change. For instance, when I taught constitutional rights in the FBI, one of the main top priorities was First Amendment rights. And while this is not the first time that you’ve seen this Orwellian turn of the war on terror onto domestic peace groups and social justice groups—actually, we had that begin very quickly after 9/11, and there were legal opinions, Office of Legal Counsel opinions, that said the First Amendment no longer controls the war on terror—but even so, this is shocking and alarming that at this point we have the, you know, humanitarian advocacy now being treated as somehow material support to terrorists.

We’ve also just seen, ironically, four days before this national raid, we saw the Department of Justice Inspector General issue a report that soundly criticized the FBI for four years of targeting domestic groups such as Greenpeace, the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh, different antiwar rallies, even involving a finding that the FBI director had given them a falsehood to Congress as to the justification for the FBI to monitor a peace group.

AMY GOODMAN: What about what’s happened in Iowa, Coleen Rowley?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another instance. And that one is actually after the scope of the IG investigation. The IG investigation only went to 2006. There have been requests for that IG to go further. Obviously there’s been four more years. And in 2008, we found out through a Freedom of Information request that there’s 300 pages of—I think it was four or five, six agents trailing a group of students in Iowa City to parks, libraries, bars, restaurants. They even went through their trash. So, this is another reason why peace groups, and certainly law professors, have to be very concerned now about this misinterpretation that says advocacy for human-rights—I just have to mention, we have a famous Minnesotan who wrote Three Cups of Tea. And he obviously sets up schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. His name is Greg Mortenson. Obviously, people like him and Jimmy Carter are even at peril, given this wide discretion now to say that anyone who works in a foreign country, even for peace or humanitarian, anti-torture purposes, could somehow run afoul of the PATRIOT Act.

AMY GOODMAN: The Church Committee in the 1970s really blew the lid open on CIA spying at home, and also guidelines then, regulations, were passed afterwards. How do they apply today, when Americans are being surveilled, infiltrated, spied on at home?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, that’s another one of the factors, besides this Supreme Court ruling. Right after 9/11, the Attorney General began to erode those guidelines. He basically said that FBI agents could go into mosques and places like that to monitor, so that was the beginning. The very—almost the last official act that Bush did in 2008 was that he totally erased those prior AG guidelines. There is really no need to even show factual justification now. The presumption is entirely reversed. And basically the FBI need only say that they were not targeting—that they were not targeting a group solely based on their exercise of First Amendment rights. So the presumption really did, again, a complete flip-flop.

And, of course, that’s why you see these various scandals now coming out. It should be no surprise to someone that if there’s no restraints, the green light is on, that you see, of course—I actually kind of sympathize with the FBI. I used to train these agents, and I can understand the enormous pressure they’re under. And, of course, this is why it’s so incredibly important to get the word to the officials who are in charge of using their discretion that they should use their discretion to look for real terrorists instead of to go after peace groups.

AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin, what are your plans now? I mean, over the weekend I saw online the video of your mass emergency meeting—many people came out for this, rallying around—and also talked about the RNC 8, the eight people who were preemptively arrested in the lead-up to the Republican convention, all charged on terror counts. All of those terror counts have been dropped now. But it certainly was a very frightening time. What are your plans now?

JESS SUNDIN: Well, as you mentioned, in the Twin Cities we had a meeting the night that the raids happened. There were more than 200 people who gathered, and really every organization in the Twin Cities. But I’d say countless organizations across the country have contacted us to ask us how they can help. There will be, today and tomorrow, as you mentioned earlier, demonstrations in at least twenty cities around the country. We’ve had word of plans for demonstrations at embassies in other countries, as well, at US embassies.

So, one of the things we’re doing is trying to call attention to what’s happened and really make it clear to people that we have done nothing wrong. There is no basis to the claim that we’ve in any way given support to terrorist organizations. But in fact, we are being—we are being—there is attention on us because of our work in the antiwar movement, and in particular, our perspective of solidarity with people in the countries where the US war and militarism are happening.

We, following up on these demonstrations, are going to be pulling together a network of people from many of these organizations that have expressed their concern. Folks who want to get tied into that can find us through the Anti-War Committee website, which is very outdated. We’re doing our best to get it up. Of course, as we explained, all of our computers were seized. So we’re doing a lot of catch up, trying to get ourselves organized.

And, of course, we’re also very concerned with making legal plans to protect ourselves. A number of people have been called before a grand jury in Chicago. And we, you know, don’t want to be—you know, a case to be framed up around us. All of us are quite confident that nothing that was found in our homes will give substantiation to the claims against us. And there’s, in fact, no charges against us. But we want to do everything we can to both protect ourselves legally while at the same time working with the movement to call attention to what’s happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Joe Iosbaker, I wanted to ask you about the other house that was raided. Just looking at an AP piece, FBI agents in Chicago took a laptop and documents from the home of Palestinian American antiwar activist Hatem Abudayyeh, who is the executive director of the Arab American Action Network. His attorney, Jim Fennerty, said, The government’s trying to quiet activists. The case is really is scary,” he said. Abudayyeh is an American citizen. Can you talk about your work on Israel-Palestine, who Hatem Abudayyeh is?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually have to talk about my wife’s work. My wife is a longtime solidarity activist in the Palestine solidarity movement. And—

AMY GOODMAN: Stephanie Weiner.

JOE IOSBAKER: Correct. She was also subpoenaed. And really everyone in the antiwar movement in Chicago knows Hatem. You know, if you look back online at video of the protests here of thousands of people marching when Israel assaulted Gaza two years ago, Hatem was the emcee at almost every major rally. And the Arab American Action Network was the first center of the Arab community in the city, founded back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. So Hatem is the most prominent Palestinian activist in the city of Chicago. It’s no surprise that they targeted him.

AMY GOODMAN: And you’re organizing, Joe Iosbaker, around Colombia. In a minute we’ll be joined by Ingrid Betancourt, who was, well, as you know, held captive—

JOE IOSBAKER: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —for more than six years. But what about your work around Colombia, since it seems that Israel-Palestine and Colombia were major focuses of this FBI raid?

JOE IOSBAKER: Well, I actually think that I should defer that question to Jess, who has much more experience in Colombia solidarity work.

AMY GOODMAN: Jess Sundin in Minneapolis.

JESS SUNDIN: Yeah, the antiwar movement has long been concerned with places that the US funds wars abroad, and there’s a major civil war unfolding in Colombia, and it’s the third-largest recipient of US military aid, so Colombia is very much an issue for the antiwar movement. I have traveled to Colombia and understand that it’s the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. And, in fact, anyone involved in the social movement there is viewed by the government, as well as the paramilitary death squads, as a rebel and treated as such. And so, I know that the investigation is very interested in travel—I have traveled to Colombia—and [it] tried to establish some sort of organizational ties, which there aren’t. But that said, I do support the Colombian struggle and have been very involved in that.

AMY GOODMAN: Coleen Rowley, how do civil rights compare, what you’re seeing today under the Obama administration, to President Bush, someone you certainly blew the whistle on?

COLEEN ROWLEY: Well, I can’t talk for another couple hours here, because that’s how long it would take me. I actually urged the FBI from early on—I even wrote a chapter, “Civil Liberties and Effective Investigation.” And unfortunately, these warnings have just been largely—of myself and many others—have been largely ignored. Even the 9/11 Commission focused—three of their recommendations, out of forty-one, were on creating a privacy and civil liberties oversight board. And Bush pulled the rug from under that board early on. And Obama, two years later, has never appointed any people, any of the five seats to that board, which is just incredible in light of what’s gone on, even including the revelations of torture and warrantless monitoring.

What people need to do is to basically ask for more than just an IG investigation. They need to ask for Congress to actually take on something like a new Church Committee. And that’s actually been asked for. Barbara Lee, I think, actually had a proposal a year ago for something like that. So we should all contact our elected representatives and ask for Congress to take on greater oversight of this—what’s going on.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we will certainly continue to follow this case as it unfolds. I want to thank you, Coleen Rowley, former FBI agent, whistleblower, named Time Person of the Year in 2002. Jess Sundin and Joe Iosbaker, thanks so much for being with us. I know this is a very difficult time for you. Both of their homes were raided, computers, notes, other things taken. That happened on Friday morning. And, of course, we’ll continue to follow both these cases.

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Terrorism Law, the New McCarthyism February 23, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Criminal Justice, War on Terror.
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Monday 22 February 2010

by: Stephen Rohde  |  The LA Daily Journal

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(Image: Jared Rodriguez / t r u t h o u t; Adapted: Joe Gratz, GrungeTextures)

Tomorrow, the US Supreme Court will hear oral argument in the first encounter with the free speech and association rights of American citizens in the context of terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, and in the first test of the constitutionality of a provision of the USA Patriot Act.

The “Material Support” law takes a sweeping approach to its ban on aid to terrorist groups, prohibiting the provision of cash, weapons and the like, as well as four more ambiguous categories – “training,” “personnel,” “expert advice or assistance” and “service.” Opponents of the law say that when it comes to providing lawful legal advice or training in nonviolence, the law is nothing more than “guilt by association,” reminiscent of the witch hunts of McCarthyism.

These are no paranoid fears. “Congress wants these organizations to be radioactive,” Douglas N. Letter, a Justice Department lawyer, said in a 2007 appeals court argument in the case, referring to the dozens of groups that have been designated as foreign terrorist organizations by the State Department. Letter admitted that it would be a crime for a lawyer to file a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of a designated organization or “to be assisting terrorist organizations in making presentations to the U.N., to television, [or] to a newspaper.”

The Humanitarian Law Project, a nonprofit group that has a long history of mediating international conflicts and promoting human rights, brought the case in 1998. Two years earlier, passage of the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) had made it a crime to provide “material support” to groups the State Department had designated as “foreign terrorist organizations.” The definition of material support included “training” and “personnel.” Later versions of the law, including amendments in the USA Patriot Act, added “expert advice or assistance” and “service.”

In 2007, the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the bans on training, service and certain types of expert advice were unconstitutionally vague, but upheld the bans on personnel and expert advice derived from scientific or technical knowledge. Both sides appealed to the Supreme Court, which agreed to hear the consolidated cases in October. The cases are Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, No. 08-1498, and Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder, No. 09-89.

David D. Cole, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the challengers, is arguing that the case concerns speech protected by the First Amendment “promoting lawful, nonviolent activities,” including “human rights advocacy and peacemaking.”

A number of victims of McCarthy-era persecution filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the Supreme Court to remember the lessons of history.

“I signed the brief,” said Chandler Davis, an emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Toronto, “because I can testify to the way in which the dubious repression of dissent disrupted lives and disrupted political discourse.” Professor Davis refused to cooperate with the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1954, and was dismissed from his position at the University of Michigan. Unable to find work in the United States, he moved to Canada. In 1991, the University of Michigan established an annual lecture series on academic freedom in honor of Professor Davis and others it had mistreated in the McCarthy era.

The material support law authorizes the secretary of state to designate “foreign terrorist organizations,” and makes it a crime to provide certain statutorily defined “material support” for even the nonviolent and humanitarian activities of such groups. Similar to the Smith Act and federal executive orders in the 1940s and ’50s, the law grants the executive branch unreviewable discretion to designate groups as “terrorist” and creates vague bans on providing “expert advice or assistance,” “training,” “service” or “personnel” to designated groups. It threatens, once again unconstitutionally, to interfere with the rights of free speech and association.

The AEDPA’s vague ban on “assistance” and “advice” is essentially no different from the McCarthy-era attempt to root out association with and advocacy for groups unpopular with the government. Starting in the 1930s, and through the 1960s, Congress and the executive branch identified organizations – the Communist Party and groups with ties to the Communist Party – as using illegal means, including terrorism, with the aim of overthrowing the US government by force and violence. The Smith Act and the Subversive Activities Control Act made it a crime to associate with these designated groups or to speak in support of these groups. These were crimes regardless of whether or not that speech or association supported or furthered the groups’ unlawful activities.

Our society now recognizes that the McCarthy era was a shameful episode in American history, characterized by widespread abuses of executive and legislative power, fueled by demagoguery and overzealous government action, ultimately encompassing “loyalty” investigations of over four million American citizens. See, e.g., Ellen Schrecker, “Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America” (1998),  (the McCarthy era is “the most widespread and longest lasting period of political repression in American history.”).

While few individuals were ultimately prosecuted under the McCarthy-era laws, thousands were persecuted. Among the latter, larger group were Amici and their relatives, none of whom intended to or actually did engage in violence against this country. Nonetheless, they were investigated, libeled, terminated from and unable to secure employment, blacklisted, prosecuted and imprisoned. One of the key lessons from this era is that when the federal government fans the flames of public passion by enacting overreaching criminal statutes, staging Congressional hearings and investigating the loyalty of millions of American citizens, it implicitly condones and sanctions retributions against individuals, such as Amici. Eventually, our society and this court understood that these consequences were unacceptable. We should not make these mistakes again.

It is against this background that this court issued the decisions that are the controlling law that governs this case. In a series of landmark First Amendment decisions, this court struck down these statutes, restored freedom of speech and halted guilt by association. This court concluded that the Congressional and executive branch excesses were unconstitutional. The court held that punishing speech without showing incitement to crime and punishing association without showing specific intent to further illegal ends penalizes innocents and chills the political freedoms at the very core of our democracy.

These principles are equally applicable today, where the federal government (once again) has designated certain organizations as proscribed and purports to make it a crime to speak for or otherwise associate with such organizations. Now, when, once again, our safety and security have been threatened, this court should reaffirm the rights to free speech and association.

Stephen Rohde, a constitutional lawyer, was co-counsel with Arnold & Porter on the amicus brief filed by victims of McCarthyism in Humanitarian Law Project v. Holder.

© 2010 Daily Journal Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Obama Dystopia May 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Uncategorized.
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Andrew Hughes

www.opednews.com, May 25, 2009

After 8 years of the Bush-Cheney nightmare during which we saw the wanton destruction of Afghanistan and Iraq, the cynical  negation of centuries of Law designed to protect the most basic human rights and a foreign policy worthy of Genghis Khan, there came along the “Great Black Hope” in the persona of Barack Obama. The collective world consciousness turned uncritically to what was presented as a new era for peace, change and trust in Government.

Never before had one witnessed such an accomplished use of manipulation, propaganda, deceptive imagery and public relations wizardry to sell the public a man who was to take the baton from Bush and run with it in the race to destroy the economy, the rights of the people and help birth a nation totally controlled by those who have always lurked in the shadows of power. “Change” was promised and was delivered in the form of a deepening of the already Dystopic  nightmare.

Promises were broken with no apology, the same creative legalese that infested the Bush administration, in the form of John Yoo and Alberto Gonzalez, was again used to deny justice to the inmates of Guantanamo, It was used to justify more torture, more destruction of the Constitution and more illegal surveillance of U.S. citizens.

The President that extended the hand of peace to the Muslim world has murdered hundreds of Pakistani men, women and children. The President who promised accountability in Government has filled his staff with lobbyists, banksters and warmongers. His Attorney General refuses to prosecute some of the worst war crimes committed in modern history and continues to give legal cover to criminals who tortured with impunity.

The country has been further bankrupted by the continuing theft of taxpayer money as the Wall St. campaign donors receive their quid pro quo. Obama has stood by idly as Bernancke states that the private Federal Reserve is not answerable to either Congress or the American public. The U.S. taxpayer is now on the hook for $14.3 Trillion and rising. Foreclosures and unemployment are mounting with no meaningful efforts by the administration to alleviate the symptoms, never mind the cause. The new image of America is one of tent cities, lengthening soup kitchen lines, sherrifs evicting countless thousands of young and old from their homes, once prosperous towns descending in to an eerie stillness and an increasingly disillusioned populace.

The “War on terrorism” has mutated in to a control grid for an increasingly aware population. The foundation for this had already been put in place by Bush with the Patriot Act, Patriot Act 2, Military commissions act and numerous executive orders that strangled what was left of Posse Comitatus and the Constitution.

Homeland Security now defines “Terrorists” as those who believe in the Constitution, the first, second and fourth amendments. Returning veterans are being targeted for a denial of their second amendment rights. A  “Terrorist Watchlist” of more than a million and rapidly growing, is being used as the basis for denying citizens the rights to travel and to work.

Obama is now mulling over the idea of indefinite detention without trial for U.S. citizens. This, from a teacher of the Constitution ! Bills are in congress to criminalize free speech on the Internet via the Cyberbullying Act which will make hurting somebody’s feelings a felony. Just as the Patriot Act morphed in to a mechanism to subdue the U.S. population, the Cyberbullying Act will be subverted to criminalize political free speech and any criticism of the Government.

“Cyberterrorism” is being used as a pretext to bring government regulation to the the last stronghold of unbiased information. Washington has realized that it’s getting harder to get away with their Fascist agenda and are moving to control the field. The populace are beginning to realize just what kind of “Change” Obama intended to deliver.

There has been growing resistance on a state level with several invoking their 9th and 10th Amendment rights in a valiant attempt to stop the Federal Vampire from draining the last drops of blood, the last vestiges of Freedom and Hope.

This is the Dystopic Nightmare that America finds itself in today and each day brings new assaults on Freedom and Sanity. The framework for total control of the citizenry, the economy and the media is being built upon in a relentless aggrandization of Govermental power. Obama sits atop his new Empire still smiling that sickeningly disingenuous smile surrounded by his seasoned courtiers who have worked for decades to hijack America and steer it towards this New World Order. 

 http://meltdown101.livejournal.com

An Irishman born in Dublin in 1959 now living in France for the last 8 years. I write on Economics and Politics.

Buying Brand Obama May 4, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, Foreign Policy, Health, Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Pakistan, Torture, War.
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by Chris Hedges

Barack Obama is a brand. And the Obama brand is designed to make us feel good about our government while corporate overlords loot the Treasury, our elected officials continue to have their palms greased by armies of corporate lobbyists, our corporate media diverts us with gossip and trivia and our imperial wars expand in the Middle East. Brand Obama is about being happy consumers. We are entertained. We feel hopeful. We like our president. We believe he is like us. But like all branded products spun out from the manipulative world of corporate advertising, we are being duped into doing and supporting a lot of things that are not in our interest.

What, for all our faith and hope, has the Obama brand given us? His administration has spent, lent or guaranteed $12.8 trillion in taxpayer dollars to Wall Street and insolvent banks in a doomed effort to reinflate the bubble economy, a tactic that at best forestalls catastrophe and will leave us broke in a time of profound crisis. Brand Obama has allocated nearly $1 trillion in defense-related spending and the continuation of our doomed imperial projects in Iraq, where military planners now estimate that 70,000 troops will remain for the next 15 to 20 years. Brand Obama has expanded the war in Afghanistan, including the use of drones sent on cross-border bombing runs into Pakistan that have doubled the number of civilians killed over the past three months. Brand Obama has refused to ease restrictions so workers can organize and will not consider single-payer, not-for-profit health care for all Americans. And Brand Obama will not prosecute the Bush administration for war crimes, including the use of torture, and has refused to dismantle Bush’s secrecy laws or restore habeas corpus. 

Brand Obama offers us an image that appears radically individualistic and new. It inoculates us from seeing that the old engines of corporate power and the vast military-industrial complex continue to plunder the country. Corporations, which control our politics, no longer produce products that are essentially different, but brands that are different. Brand Obama does not threaten the core of the corporate state any more than did Brand George W. Bush. The Bush brand collapsed. We became immune to its studied folksiness. We saw through its artifice. This is a common deflation in the world of advertising. So we have been given a new Obama brand with an exciting and faintly erotic appeal. Benetton and Calvin Klein were the precursors to the Obama brand, using ads to associate themselves with risqué art and progressive politics. It gave their products an edge. But the goal, as with all brands, was to make passive consumers mistake a brand with an experience. 

“The abandonment of the radical economic foundations of the women’s and civil-rights movements by the conflation of causes that came to be called political correctness successfully trained a generation of activists in the politics of image, not action,” Naomi Klein wrote in “No Logo.”

Obama, who has become a global celebrity, was molded easily into a brand. He had almost no experience, other than two years in the Senate, lacked any moral core and could be painted as all things to all people. His brief Senate voting record was a miserable surrender to corporate interests. He was happy to promote nuclear power as “green” energy. He voted to continue the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He reauthorized the Patriot Act. He would not back a bill designed to cap predatory credit card interest rates. He opposed a bill that would have reformed the notorious Mining Law of 1872. He refused to support the single-payer health care bill HR676, sponsored by Reps. Dennis Kucinich and John Conyers. He supported the death penalty. And he backed a class-action “reform” bill that was part of a large lobbying effort by financial firms. The law, known as the Class Action Fairness Act, would effectively shut down state courts as a venue to hear most class-action lawsuits and deny redress in many of the courts where these cases have a chance of defying powerful corporate challenges. 

While Gaza was being bombarded and hit with airstrikes in the weeks before Obama took office, “the Obama team let it be known that it would not object to the planned resupply of ‘smart bombs’ and other hi-tech ordnance that was already flowing to Israel,” according to Seymour Hersh. Even his one vaunted anti-war speech as a state senator, perhaps his single real act of defiance, was swiftly reversed. He told the Chicago Tribune on July 27, 2004, that “there’s not that much difference between my position and George Bush’s position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who’s in a position to execute.” And unlike anti-war stalwarts like Kucinich, who gave hundreds of speeches against the war, Obama then dutifully stood silent until the Iraq war became unpopular.

Obama’s campaign won the vote of hundreds of marketers, agency heads and marketing-services vendors gathered at the Association of National Advertisers’ annual conference in October. The Obama campaign was named Advertising Age’s marketer of the year for 2008 and edged out runners-up Apple and Zappos.com. Take it from the professionals. Brand Obama is a marketer’s dream. President Obama does one thing and Brand Obama gets you to believe another. This is the essence of successful advertising. You buy or do what the advertiser wants because of how they can make you feel. 

Celebrity culture has leeched into every aspect of our culture, including politics, to bequeath to us what Benjamin DeMott called “junk politics.” Junk politics does not demand justice or the reparation of rights. Junk politics personalizes and moralizes issues rather than clarifying them. “It’s impatient with articulated conflict, enthusiastic about America’s optimism and moral character, and heavily dependent on feel-your-pain language and gesture,” DeMott noted. The result of junk politics is that nothing changes – “meaning zero interruption in the processes and practices that strengthen existing, interlocking systems of socioeconomic advantage.” It redefines traditional values, tilting “courage toward braggadocio, sympathy toward mawkishness, humility toward self-disrespect, identification with ordinary citizens toward distrust of brains.” Junk politics “miniaturizes large, complex problems at home while maximizing threats from abroad. It’s also given to abrupt unexplained reversals of its own public stances, often spectacularly bloating problems previously miniaturized.” And finally, it “seeks at every turn to obliterate voters’ consciousness of socioeconomic and other differences in their midst.” 

An image-based culture, one dominated by junk politics, communicates through narratives, pictures and carefully orchestrated spectacle and manufactured pseudo-drama. Scandalous affairs, hurricanes, earthquakes, untimely deaths, lethal new viruses, train wrecks-these events play well on computer screens and television. International diplomacy, labor union negotiations and convoluted bailout packages do not yield exciting personal narratives or stimulating images. A governor who patronizes call girls becomes a huge news story. A politician who proposes serious regulatory reform, universal health care or advocates curbing wasteful spending is boring. Kings, queens and emperors once used their court conspiracies to divert their subjects. Today cinematic, political and journalistic celebrities distract us with their personal foibles and scandals. They create our public mythology. Acting, politics and sports have become, as they were during the reign of Nero, interchangeable. 

In an age of images and entertainment, in an age of instant emotional gratification, we do not seek reality. Reality is complicated. Reality is boring. We are incapable or unwilling to handle its confusion. We ask to be indulged and comforted by clichés, stereotypes and inspirational messages that tell us we can be whoever we seek to be, that we live in the greatest country on Earth, that we are endowed with superior moral and physical qualities, and that our future will always be glorious and prosperous, either because of our own attributes, or our national character, or because we are blessed by God. Reality is not accepted as an impediment to our desires. Reality does not make us feel good. 

In his book “Public Opinion,” Walter Lippmann distinguished between “the world outside and the pictures in our heads.” He defined a “stereotype” as an oversimplified pattern that helps us find meaning in the world. Lippmann cited examples of the crude “stereotypes we carry about in our heads” of whole groups of people such as “Germans,” “South Europeans,” “Negroes,” “Harvard men,” “agitators” and others. These stereotypes, Lippmann noted, give a reassuring and false consistency to the chaos of existence. They offer easily grasped explanations of reality and are closer to propaganda because they simplify rather than complicate.

Pseudo-events-dramatic productions orchestrated by publicists, political machines, television, Hollywood or advertisers-however, are very different. They have, as Daniel Boorstin wrote in “The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America,” the capacity to appear real even though we know they are staged. They are capable, because they can evoke a powerful emotional response, of overwhelming reality and replacing reality with a fictional narrative that often becomes accepted truth. The unmasking of a stereotype damages and often destroys its credibility. But pseudo-events, whether they show the president in an auto plant or a soup kitchen or addressing troops in Iraq, are immune to this deflation. The exposure of the elaborate mechanisms behind the pseudo-event only adds to its fascination and its power. This is the basis of the convoluted television reporting on how effectively political campaigns and politicians have been stage-managed. Reporters, especially those on television, no longer ask if the message is true but if the pseudo-event worked or did not work as political theater. Pseudo-events are judged on how effectively we have been manipulated by illusion. Those events that appear real are relished and lauded. Those that fail to create a believable illusion are deemed failures. Truth is irrelevant. Those who succeed in politics, as in most of the culture, are those who create the brands and pseudo-events that offer the most convincing fantasies. And this is the art Obama has mastered.

A public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction is left to interpret reality through illusion. Random facts or obscure bits of data and trivia are used to bolster illusion and give it credibility or are discarded if they interfere with the message. The worse reality becomes-the more, for example, foreclosures and unemployment skyrocket-the more people seek refuge and comfort in illusions. When opinions cannot be distinguished from facts, when there is no universal standard to determine truth in law, in science, in scholarship, or in reporting the events of the day, when the most valued skill is the ability to entertain, the world becomes a place where lies become true, where people can believe what they want to believe. This is the real danger of pseudo-events and why pseudo-events are far more pernicious than stereotypes. They do not explain reality, as stereotypes attempt to, but replace reality. Pseudo-events redefine reality by the parameters set by their creators. These creators, who make massive profits peddling these illusions, have a vested interest in maintaining the power structures they control. 

The old production-oriented culture demanded what the historian Warren Susman termed character. The new consumption-oriented culture demands what he called personality. The shift in values is a shift from a fixed morality to the artifice of presentation. The old cultural values of thrift and moderation honored hard work, integrity and courage. The consumption-oriented culture honors charm, fascination and likability. “The social role demanded of all in the new culture of personality was that of a performer,” Susman wrote. “Every American was to become a performing self.”

The junk politics practiced by Obama is a consumer fraud. It is about performance. It is about lies. It is about keeping us in a perpetual state of childishness. But the longer we live in illusion, the worse reality will be when it finally shatters our fantasies. Those who do not understand what is happening around them and who are overwhelmed by a brutal reality they did not expect or foresee search desperately for saviors. They beg demagogues to come to their rescue. This is the ultimate danger of the Obama Brand. It effectively masks the wanton internal destruction and theft being carried out by our corporate state. These corporations, once they have stolen trillions in taxpayer wealth, will leave tens of millions of Americans bereft, bewildered and yearning for even more potent and deadly illusions, ones that could swiftly snuff out what is left of our diminished open society.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book, Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle, will be out in July, but is available for pre-order.

What Specter’s switch says about him, the Democrats and our political spectrum April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Political Commentary, Right Wing.
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glenn greenwald

(updated below – Update II)

I just contributed my thoughts on Arlen Specter’s party switch to the New York Times’ “Room for Debate” segment, so I’ll post the link to that once that is available (see Update II), but for the moment — and since this, presumably, is what many people want to discuss — I’ll note a few brief points:

(1) The idea that Specter is a “liberal” Republican or even a “moderate” reflects how far to the Right both the GOP and our overall political spectrum has shifted.

Consider Specter’s most significant votes over the last eight years, ones cast in favor of such definitive right-wing measures as: the war on Iraq, the Military Commissions Act, Patriot Act renewal, confirmation of virtually every controversial Bush appointee, retroactive telecom immunity, warrantless eavesdropping expansions, and Bush tax cuts (several times).  Time and again during the Bush era, Specter stood with Republicans on the most controversial and consequential issues.

(2) Democrats will understandably celebrate today’s announcement, but beyond the questions of raw political power, it is mystifying why they would want to build their majority by embracing politicians who reject most of their ostensible views.

Reports today suggest that Democratic officials promised Specter that the party establishment would support him, rather than a real Democrat, in a primary. If true, few events more vividly illustrate the complete lack of core beliefs of Democratic leaders, as well as the rapidly diminishing differences between the parties. Why would Democrats want a full-blooded Republican representing them in the blue state of Pennsylvania? Specter is highly likely to reprise the Joe Lieberman role for Democrats: a “Democrat” who leads the way in criticizing and blocking Democratic initiatives, forcing the party still further towards Republican policies.

(3)  Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics.  The moment most vividly illustrating what Specter is:  prior to the vote on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he went to the floor of the Senate and said what the bill “seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years” and is “patently unconstitutional on its face.”  He then proceeded to vote YES on the bill’s passage.

(4) Today is the best day to watch Fox News since the election — mass grieving flavored by impotent bitterness.

 

UPDATE:  In his Press Conference, Specter just reiterated that he opposes the nomination of one of Obama’s few truly excellent nominees:  Dawn Johnsen as OLC Chief.  What a great Democrat Specter will be.  Specter also just detailed how key Democratic officials promised to support him and raise money for him in the 2010 election if he switched, so now Democrats — Harry Reid and the rest — are committed to keeping him in power for another 8 years, committed to keeping the Pennsylvania Senate seat in the hands of Arlen Specter.

Specter is also complaining incessently about the fact that Lieberman lost his primary and Specter only won his 2004 primary by 1%.  This apparently demonstrates all sorts of bad things about our political process.  They really do believe that they are divinely entitled to keep their seats forever, and anything which threatens that is intrinsically illegitimate and wrong. 

 

UPDATE II:  The New York Times discussion on Specter to which I contributed is now available here.

Torturing Judge Bybee: Make Him Eat His Own Words April 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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by Dave Lindorff

If the day comes that Congress finally does its duty and begins an impeachment effort against 9th Circuit Federal Appeals Judge Jay Bybee, the former Bush assistant attorney general who in 2002 authored a key memo justifying the use of torture against captives in the Afghanistan invasion and the so-called “War on Terror,” it would be fitting punishment to watch him squirm as his own words as a judge were played back to him.

It was as an Appeals Court Judge Bybee, sitting on a case being heard in 2006 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, that he wrote the following words:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.” (Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1309 v. Laidlaw Transit Services, Inc.).

Yet causing words to become “so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean” was precisely the goal of the 48-page memo, just released by the Obama Administration, which Bybee wrote for the Bush/Cheney White House authorizing the use of what any ordinary person, and indeed the US Criminal Code, would define as torture against captives held in Bagram, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and elsewhere.

The actual Geneva Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, incorporated in 1996 by act of Congress as a part of the US Criminal Code, Title 18, Sections 2340-2340A, is quite unambiguous in its proscription. As Bybee notes in his memo, the Convention Against Torture defines torture as:

“…any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.”

Now we know that what US CIA agents, military interrogators, and even prison guards charged with “softening up” detainees, were doing to captives included repeated waterboardings (over 100 times in the case of some captives), slamming into walls while leashed to a neck restraint, enforced sleeplessness for as long as 11 days at a time, subjection to prolonged periods of extreme heat or cold, attacks by dogs, being locked in a box with biting insects, etc. ad nauseum.

Yet Bybee, in his capacity as counsel to the president in the office of the Attorney General, went to great creative lengths to make the words in that act “elastic” to the point that they “lose their ordinary meaning.”

For example, in his memo Bybee wrote:

“We…conclude that certain acts may be cruel, inhumane or degrading, but still not produce pain and suffering of the requisite intensity to fall within Sec. 2340A’s proscription against torture.”

Then, because he saw that that term “severe” in the statute was problematic, Bybee went out of his way to try to make it mean something more extreme. He found a legal case involving a hospital that was being sued for refusing to admit an emergency medical patient, concluding that severe pain would have to be pain “equivalent to (sic) intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function or even death.”

Obviously, when someone says they have a “severe headache” or tells the doctor that they have a “severe pain” in their lower back, they aren’t talking about facing death, organ failure of impairment of bodily function. They are using the word in its “ordinary meaning” to communicate that they are hurting badly. But then Asst. Attorney General Bybee isn’t interested in what Judge Bybee called “the ordinary meaning” of words. He’s looking for weasel words. He’s trying to get words to be “elastic,” and to mean “the opposite of what they appear to mean.”

But Bybee also recognized in the event that Bush or his subordinates were someday to be hauled before a court and prosecuted for war crimes, he would need to offer them a second line of defense, so, ever the good mob attorney, the future appellate court judge offered up this beauty:

“To violate Section 2340A, the statute requires that severe pain and suffering must be inflicted with specific intent. In order for a defendant to have acted with specific intent, he must expressly intend to achieve the forbidden act.”

What this means, writes Bybee, is that, “If the defendant [the government torturer] acted knowing that severe pain or suffering was reasonably likely to result from his actions, but no more, he would have acted with only general intent” but not “specific intent” to cause pain.” Put another way, he writes, “As a theoretical matter therefore, knowledge alone that a particular result is certain to occur does not constitute specific intent.”

How’s that for elastic? Let’s imagine a killer who fires a gun at a victim, hitting him square between the eyes and killing him. He could offer up the Bybee Defense, arguing that when he pointed his gun towards the victim, at a range of 10 feet, he knew that death was “reasonably likely” to result from his actions, “but no more.” Using Bybee’s reasoning here, he should not be convicted, or even charged with first-degree murder, because he lacked “specific intent” to kill.

But Bybee, noting that a jury might not buy such a line of defense, offers up yet another rationale for torture not being torture. He writes, in the memo:

“Furthermore, a showing that an individual acted with a good faith belief that his conduct would not produce a result that the law prohibits negates specific intent.”

Call this the Faith-Based No Torture Defense. According to FBNTD, if you don’t believe you are torturing someone, you aren’t torturing them. Here Bybee turns to case law with, not a torture case, but rather the example of a defendant in a mail fraud trial, who successfully argued that if he had a good faith belief that the material he was mailing was truthful, he wasn’t guilty of mail fraud. But of course, torture isn’t mail fraud, and the evidence of the pain and suffering being inflicted at the hands of the torturer is right there before his eyes, whatever he may “believe.”

Let’s face it. This word-twisting judge, sitting in his black robes in a court that ranks just below the US Supreme Court in importance, is a disgrace not just to the US court system, not just to the legal profession, but to the English language.

He should not only be impeached and removed from his post by Congress; he should be disbarred by fellow members of his legal profession and then prosecuted as a war criminal by his former employer, the US Dept. of Justice, for his role in authorizing and promoting the use of torture by US military and intelligence agency personnel. If convicted, he should be sentenced to a long term in jail, and while confined should be forced to write 100 times a day on a blackboard:

“The only thing we have to enforce our judgements is the power of our words. When these words lose their ordinary meaning-when they become so elastic that they may mean the opposite of what they appear to mean-we cede our own right to be taken seriously.”

While Bybee himself may have never personally tortured anything but the English language, his eventual prosecution for war crimes could be facilitated by a little legal research he did in that same memo. For as Bybee noted in that memo, the USA PATRIOT Act, in addition to eviscerating much of the Bill of Rights, also amended Section 2340A of the US law prohibiting torture to include the offense of “conspiracy to commit torture”–and if Bybee’s memo doesn’t meet the definition of conspiracy, I don’t know what the word conspiracy means.

Hey, I never thought I’d find myself commending the PATRIOT Act, but here’s one little piece of it that we should not be trying to rescind.

Dave Lindorff is a Philadelphia-based journalist and columnist. He is author of Marketplace Medicine: The Rise of the For-Profit Hospital Chains (BantamBooks, 1992), and his latest book “The Case for Impeachment” (St. Martin’s Press, 2006). His work is available at www.thiscantbehappening.net

Momentum Gains in Movement to Impeach Bush Torture Lawyer Turned Federal Judge April 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Torture.
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While the leadership of the Democratic Party remains silent on Obama’s refusal to hold torturers accountable, activists are demanding a special prosecutor and calling on Congress to impeach Jay Bybee.

by Jeremy Scahill

In the Sunday New York Times, the paper’s editors call for the impeachment of Judge Jay Bybee, author of one of the now infamous torture memos released last week. Bybee is now a federal judge. In its editorial, “The Torturers’ Manifesto,” the Times argued:

[The] investigation should start with the lawyers who wrote these sickening memos, including John Yoo, who now teaches law in California; Steven Bradbury, who was job-hunting when we last heard; and Mr. Bybee, who holds the lifetime seat on the federal appeals court that Mr. Bush rewarded him with.

These memos make it clear that Mr. Bybee is unfit for a job that requires legal judgment and a respect for the Constitution. Congress should impeach him. And if the administration will not conduct a thorough investigation of these issues, then Congress has a constitutional duty to hold the executive branch accountable. If that means putting Donald Rumsfeld and Alberto Gonzales on the stand, even Dick Cheney, we are sure Americans can handle it.

Of course, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, Cheney, Bush and a slew of others belong on trial with Bybee, not just as witnesses in his case and the Times should be calling for that as well.  But let’s remember, this is the paper that the Bush administration used as a conveyor belt for its deadly lies so expectations of it should be low.

In a recent piece for Slate, “Impeach Jay Bybee: Why should a suspected war criminal serve as a federal judge?,” Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman lays out some of Bybee’s history:

“Jay Bybee is currently sitting on the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. As assistant attorney general in President George W. Bush’s Justice Department, he was responsible for the notorious torture memos that enabled the excesses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and other places. While John Yoo did most of the staff work for Bybee, Yoo was barely 35 years old – and his memos showed it. They not only took extreme positions; they were legally incompetent, failing to consider many of the most obvious counterarguments. Bybee was 49. He was the grown-up, the seasoned jurist. He had been a law professor and had served as associate counsel to President Bush. When he was promoted to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, he became the final judge of legal matters within the executive branch. Yet his opinion on torture was so poorly reasoned that it was repudiated by his very conservative successor, Jack Goldsmith.”

David Swanson, the ever vigilant crusader for holding Bush era criminals accountable for their crimes, has started a website ImpeachBybee.org which contains resources on Bybee and how people can sign a petition calling for his impeachment.

While Obama has made clear that he does not intend to prosecute CIA torturers and their bosses and lawyers, saying it is “time for reflection, not retribution,” not everyone in his party is in agreement. As previously reported, Representative Jan Schakowsky, has been outspoken on this issue, as have Senator Russ Feingold and Representative Jerrold Nadler. But the leadership of the Democratic Party has, predictably, been silent. Indeed, Nadler was the first Democrat to call for the appointment of a Special Prosecutor. On Friday, Nadler released a statement, saying:

“These memos make it abundantly clear that the Bush administration engaged in torture. Because torture is illegal under American law – as the U.S. is a signatory to the Convention Against Torture – we are legally required to investigate and, when appropriate, to prosecute those responsible for these crimes.

“I commend President Obama for his unequivocal rejection of torture and for his resolve to move forward. The President’s intentions are honorable, but don’t go far enough. All history teaches us that simply shining a light on criminal acts without holding the responsible people accountable will not prevent repetition of those acts.

“I have previously urged Attorneys General Gonzalez and Mukasey to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the torture abuses of the Bush administration, and now I will convey that same necessity to President Obama and Attorney General Holder. We sorely need an independent investigation that will provide accountability for these terrible crimes.

Meanwhile, Bob Fertik at Democrats.com is circulating a petition to Congress with five primary demands:

1. Demand the appointment of a Special Prosecutor by Attorney General Eric Holder for torture, warrantless wiretapping, and other heinous crimes of the Bush Administration.

2. Prohibit the use of any taxpayer dollars to defend government officials who committed such crimes against lawsuits, or to pay for judgments against them.

3. Impeach Judge Jay Bybee, the torture memo author who serves on the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in California.

4. Protect human rights by restoring Habeas Corpus and the Fourth Amendment (search and seizure), including repeal of the Orwellian-named Protect America Act, U.S.A. Patriot Act, the FISA Amendments, and Military Commissions Act.

5. End secret government by prohibiting use of “State Secrets,” “Sovereign Immunity” and “Signing Statements.”

The Obama administration has a moral and legal responsibility to prosecute Bush era criminals. The UN has indicated that Obama’s refusal to prosecute torturers may be a violation of International law. As for US law, Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights said, “Whether or not to prosecute law breakers is not a political decision.  Laws were broken and crimes were committed. If we are truly a nation of laws … a prosecutor needs to be appointed and the decisions regarding the guilt of those involved in the torture program should be decided in a court of law.”

Comments like “reflection not retribution” and “look forward, not backwards,” are insulting to the rule of law and the cause of justice.

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

Obstruction of Justice March 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Racism.
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by Chris Hedges

U.S. District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema is scheduled to issue a ruling in the Eastern District of Virginia at the end of April in a case that will send a signal to the Muslim world and beyond whether the American judicial system has regained its independence after eight years of flagrant manipulation and intimidation by the Bush administration. Brinkema will decide whether the Palestinian activist Dr. Sami Amin Al-Arian, held for over six years in prison and under house arrest in Virginia since Sept 2, is guilty or innocent of two counts of criminal contempt.

Brinkema’s ruling will have ramifications that will extend far beyond Virginia and the United States. The trial of Al-Arian is a cause célèbre in the Muslim world. A documentary film was made about the case in Europe. He has become the poster child for judicial abuse and persecution of Muslims in the United States by the Bush administration. The facts surrounding the trial and imprisonment of the former university professor have severely tarnished the integrity of the American judicial system and made the government’s vaunted campaign against terrorism look capricious, inept and overtly racist.

Government lawyers made wild assertions that showed a profound ignorance of the Middle East and exposed a gross stereotyping of the Muslim world. It called on the FBI case agent, for example, who testified as an expert witness that Islamic terrorists were routinely smuggled over the border from Iran into Syria, apparently unaware that Syria is separated from Iran by a large land mass called Iraq. The transcripts of the case against Al-Arian-which read like a bad Gilbert and Sullivan opera-are stupefying in their idiocy. The government wiretaps picked up nothing of substance; taxpayer dollars were used to record and transcribe 21,000 hours of banal chatter, including members of the Al-Arian household ordering pizza delivery. During the trial the government called 80 witnesses and subjected the jury to inane phone transcriptions and recordings, made over a 10-year period, which the jury curtly dismissed as “gossip.” It would be comical if the consequences were not so dire for the defendant. 

A jury, on Dec. 6, 2005, acquitted Dr. Al-Arian on eight of the counts in the superseding indictment after a six-month trial in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida. On the 94 charges made against the four defendants, there were no convictions. Of the 17 charges against Al-Arian-including “conspiracy to murder and maim persons abroad”-the jury acquitted him of eight and was hung on the rest. The jurors, who voted 10 to 2 to acquit on the remaining charges, could not reach a unanimous decision calling for his full acquittal. Two others in the case, Ghassan Ballut and Sameeh Hammoudeh, were acquitted of all charges.

The trial result was a public relations disaster for the Bush White House and especially then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who had personally announced the indictment and reportedly spent more than $50 million on the case. The government prosecutors threatened to retry Al-Arian. The Palestinian professor accepted a plea bargain that would spare him a second trial, agreeing that he had helped people associated with Palestinian Islamic Jihad with immigration matters. It was a very minor charge given the high profile of the case. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Florida and the counterterrorism section of the Justice Department agreed to recommend to the judge the minimum sentence of 46 months. But U.S. District Judge James S. Moody Jr., who made a series of comments during the trial that seemed to condemn all Muslims, sentenced Al-Arian to the maximum 57 months. In referring to Al-Arian’s contention, for example, that he had only raised money for Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s charity for widows and orphans, the judge told the professor that “your only connection to orphans and widows is that you create them.”

I spent an afternoon with Dr. Al-Arian in his small apartment in Arlington, Va., on Friday. His lawyers have asked that he make no public statements about his case. But we talked widely about the Middle East, the new Israeli government, the siege of Gaza, our families and the changes he hopes will come with an Obama administration. He sat on a couch wearing an electronic monitoring bracelet on his ankle, thankful to be with his wife and children after being shuttled between jails across the South and kept for 45 months in solitary confinement during his five-and-a-half-year ordeal. But he remains perplexed, as are many, by the gross miscarriage of justice and the ferocity of the government’s campaign to smear him with terrorism charges.

The government originally sought a standard cooperation provision as part of the final plea agreement. Al-Arian objected. He refused to plead guilty if he had to cooperate with the Justice Department. The Justice Department-including lawyers from the counterterrorism section of Main Justice-then negotiated to take out the cooperation provision in return for a longer sentence on the one count. That was the deal. He was to have been held in jail until April 2007 and then deported. But that never happened.

Right-wing ideologues, led by Assistant United States Attorney Gordon Kromberg, had no intention of letting him leave the country. Kromberg, a staunch supporter of Israel, arranged to keep Dr. Al-Arian behind bars even after he had finished serving his sentence. He blocked the deportation and subpoenaed Al-Arian to appear in Virginia to testify in an unrelated investigation of a Muslim think tank. This subpoena was a clear violation of the original plea bargain, and Al-Arian, heeding the advice of his lawyers, refused to give in to Kromberg’s demands. This led Kromberg to set in motion the newest charges of criminal contempt. Criminal contempt, bolstered by something called terrorism enhancement under Patriot Act II, is the only charge in U.S. statutes that does not carry a maximum penalty. The enhanced criminal contempt charge increases Al-Arian’s sentence from the usual 14 to 21 months for criminal contempt to a staggering 17 to 24 years for obstructing a state terrorism investigation. A handful of members of the House, including Jim Moran and Dennis Kucinich, have denounced Kromberg’s newest attempt to orchestrate a judicial lynching.

Kromberg, like many involved in the case, has also repeatedly made derogatory and insulting comments about Muslims. When Al-Arian’s lawyers asked Kromberg to delay the transfer of the professor to Virginia, for example, because of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, they were told “if they can kill each other during Ramadan they can appear before the grand jury.” Kromberg, according to an affidavit signed by Al-Arian’s attorney, Jack Fernandez, also said: “I am not going to put off Dr. Al-Arian’s grand jury appearance just to assist in what is becoming the Islamization of America.”

Judge Brinkema, in one of the rare examples of judicial courage during this saga, defied the government to allow Al-Arian out on bail. 

The case against Al-Arian, in the eyes of the grand inquisitors like Kromberg, is a battle against a culture and a religion that they openly denigrate and despise. This racism, the driving engine behind the campaign against Al-Arian, mocks the integrity of the American judicial system. Let us hope that in a few weeks we will witness a new era. Justice delayed is better than justice denied. We owe Dr. Al-Arian, and ourselves, a return to the rule of law.

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.

Anniversary of My Dissent March 19, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Peace, War.
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From Three Decades as a Colonel and Diplomat to Six Years as a Peace Activist

by Ann Wright

It was six years ago today that I resigned from the Bush administration and the U.S. diplomatic corps in opposition to the war on Iraq. I remember the day so well. I woke up about 2 in the morning.

Like so many mornings in the past months, I could not sleep through the night. I was very worried and upset hearing the comments out of Washington, that we, the U.S. government, were being forced into taking military action against Saddam Hussein and his Iraqi government.

I, like so many US diplomats and US citizens, were wondering, why must the United States attack Iraq right now. Should we not wait and hear the results of the United Nations weapons inspectors on whether there was a weapons of mass destruction program in Iraq? How could we take military action without the agreement of the members states of the United Nations Security Council? When President Bush launched “shock and awe” on Baghdad on the morning of March 19 (Mongolia time) and March 18 in the U.S., I decided I was not going to continue working in the Department of State.

Upon arriving at the Embassy, I asked our communications officer to send my letter of resignation from the United States government to my boss, Secretary of State Colin Powell. I expected to join quickly the two other U.S. Federal employees whom had resigned (both were also U.S. diplomats.)

Several minutes later, the communications officer came back to my office and said “Ms. Wright, I read your telegram to the Secretary of State and I wish that you would reconsider your resignation. I don’t agree either with the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq, but I’m not going to resign. I haven’t yet sent your telegram to Washington and wish you would not resign!”

I told the Communications officer that I appreciated very much what she felt, but I needed her to send my resignation telegram. She went back to her office visibly disturbed. 15 minutes later, I called her and asked: “Have you sent my telegram?” She answered, “No, I was hoping you would reconsider.”

I told her of my appreciation of her concerns about my resignation, and repeated my request/order that she send the resignation telegram to Washington. A few minutes later, she brought me my copy of the telegram that she sent to Washington announcing my resignation from the Federal government.

As the telegram went to Washington, I forwarded emails to friends in U.S. diplomatic missions around the world explaining why I felt I must resign in opposition to the Bush administration’s war on Iraq. Within hours, I received over 400 emails in support and not one email in opposition to my decision.

One week later I left Mongolia. It took that long for packing materials to be brought from China into Mongolia as there were no household packing/moving companies in Mongolia.

Now, six years later, many have asked whether I have had any regrets about resignation from the U.S. government.

I must stay that, honestly, my only regret has been that so many people who felt the same way that I did, did not resign too. For me, my resignation freed me to speak freely about my concerns of the Bush administration’s war on Iraq, the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib and the unnecessary curtailment of civil liberties under the Patriot Act.

I cannot image working the past 6 years in the Bush administration and I fully intend to the Bush administration accountable for what it has done.

Since that fateful day, March 19, 2003, I have worked for peace in Iraq and have travelled for peace in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.

After six years of no longer working for the United States government, I have no regrets. I have met and become a part of a strong movement within the United States that works for peace in the United States and in countries throughout the world-Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Iran and Gaza.

As I was honored to serve my country by working within our government for over 35 years, I am now honored to be serving my country by actively and visibly confronting our government, demanding peace and justice and accountability for actions of government officials. Challenging government policies that are harmful, much less illegal, is a responsibility for us as citizens.

There are many ways to serve one’s country. I fully believe challenging policies that one feels are harmful to our nation is service, not treason.

So, six years after my resignation, I am proud to have resigned and value so much the new friends I have made, as well as the old friends from the past.

I will continue working for peace and justice every day.

Peace!

Ann Wright is a Retired US Army & Army Reserves Colonel and former US diplomat who resigned in opposition to the Iraq war.  She served in as a US diplomat in Nicaragua, Grenada, Somalia, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Sierra Leone, Micronesia, Afghanistan and Mongolia.  She is the co-author of “Dissent: Voices of Conscience”  www.voicesofconscience.com.  Her March 19, 2003 letter of resignation can be read at http://www.govexec.com/dailyfed/0303/032103wright.htm

Will Obama restore constitutional government? February 20, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Criminal Justice, George W. Bush.
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Friday, February 20, 2009, www.sfgate.com

While most of us have had our attention fixed on the global economic firestorm, President Obama is failing to meet his only sworn responsibility as our chief executive – to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

Americans understand that President George W. Bush defiled the Constitution with the Patriot Acts, military commissions, torture, extraordinary rendition and warrantless wiretapping. Now, just weeks into the Obama era, we are seeing that little has changed in terms of extra-constitutional prosecution of the so-called war on terror. So far, Obama has signed an order banning “harsh interrogation techniques” but may be keeping other reprehensible policies in place, and perhaps adding a few of his own.

President Obama issued an order to close the Guantanamo Bay prison as one of his first official acts. He was duly praised for what seemed a reversal of the sad legacy of his predecessor. Days later, however, the Christian Science Monitor reported that, in seeming contradiction to the Obama executive order closing Guantanamo, nearly three times as many prisoners are being held without due process at an enormous U.S. military prison in Bagram, Afghanistan. Last month, U.S. District Judge John Bates gave the Obama administration until today to “refine” its position on “open-ended detention.”

Meanwhile, plans for detention at home are being expanded under Democratic Party leadership. On Jan. 22, Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., a former judge who was impeached and removed from the bench before being elected to Congress, introduced HR645, the National Emergency Centers Establishment Act. This bill calls for the establishment of six centers on military installations across the United States. Previous centers were for addressing an “emergency influx of immigrants” or to support “the rapid development of new programs.” These new FEMA centers are “to provide temporary housing, medical and humanitarian assistance to individuals and families dislocated due to an emergency or major disaster.”

Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, is to date the sole member of Congress willing to raise a public stink. “Apparently, the fusion centers, militarized police, surveillance cameras and a domestic military command is not enough,” blogged Rep. Paul. “Even though we know that detention facilities are already in place, they now want to legalize the construction of FEMA camps on military installations using the ever popular excuse that the facilities are for the purposes of a national emergency. With the phony debt-based economy getting worse and worse by the day, the possibility of civil unrest is becoming a greater threat to the establishment. One need only look at Iceland, Greece and other nations for what might happen in the United States next.”

Why, asks Paul, are these centers being constructed on military bases if they’re not for the purpose of detaining large groups of people? Obama should explain what is going on.

Last fall, we learned who would be doing the rounding up when, for the first time since Reconstruction, U.S. troops were deployed within U.S. borders. The Third Infantry Division’s 1st Combat Team, trained during multiple tours in Iraq, will “help with civil unrest and crowd control.” According to Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, commander of the U.S. Northern Command, at least two more brigades will be deployed by 2010. The doctrine of posse comitatus, under which U.S. troops shall not be used against U.S. citizens, prohibits detaining us. Obama needs to explain why continuing this program is not a violation.

In his inaugural address, Obama “rejected as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.” His actions in the first month of his presidency appear to belie his rhetoric. The success of the Obama presidency will turn on the degree to which he can command the trust and respect of both the American people and the international community. If he shortchanges his pledge to return the country to lawful and constitutional government, achieving his greater goals may become impossible.

 

Lewis Seiler is president of Voice of the Environment. Dan Hamburg, a former member of Congress, is executive director.

This article appeared on page A – 17 of the San Francisco Chronicle