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CIA’s torture experts now use their skills in secret drones program June 8, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Torture, War.
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Roger’s note: I am reminded of the Richard Farina title: “I’ve been down so long, it looks like up to me.”  In our upsidedown world it has become normal to promote (and elect!) war criminals and punish those who speak and work for peace.

ab33230a-ad94-4ffb-a1d5-382226d1dc1e-620x372US drones are so secret that the White House barely mentions them by name. Photograph: MASSOUD HOSSAINI/AFP/Getty Images

There are many similarities between CIA’s use of drones and torture: Secrecy, lack of oversight and yes, even some of the people overseeing the programs

The controversy over the CIA’s secret drone program has gone from bad to worse this week. We now know that many of those running it are the same people who headed the CIA’s torture program, the spy agency can bomb people unilaterally without the president’s explicit approval and that the government is keeping the entire program classified explicitly to prevent a federal court from ruling it illegal. And worst of all, Congress is perfectly fine with it.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that many of those in charge of the CIA’s torture program – the same people whose names were explicitly redacted from the Senate’s torture report in order to avert accountability – “have ascended to the agency’s powerful senior ranks” and now run the CIA drone program under the agency’s Counterterrorism Center. Rather than being fired and prosecuted, they have been rewarded with promotions.

The longtime Counterrorism Center chief who just stepped down, Michael D’Andrea, was previously in charge of the notorious CIA prison known as the Salt Pit, where prisoners were regularly tortured and some died. His replacement, Chris Wood, was also “central to the interrogation program”, according to the Times.

The only reason we know D’Andrea and Wood’s names is because the New York Times’ executive editor Dean Baquet commendably decided to publish them – unlike the many newspapers who refused to for virtually no other reason except for the fact that the CIA asked them not to. As Baquet put it to the Huffington Post: “It would have been weird to not name the guys who run it. They’re not undercover. They’re not unknown. They’re sort of widely known.”

Adding to the disturbing nature of the CIA’s ability to kill people in complete secrecy, the agency apparently now has a carte blanche to conduct drone strikes on its own. According to the New York Times, President Obama doesn’t individually approve them anymore – he lets the CIA unilaterally decide to kill people if the strikes “fit certain criteria.” We have no idea what those conditions are since virtually everything about drone strikes at the CIA is secret.

Prior to last week’s controversial drone strike, the public at least had the general outlines of what the supposed rules constraining drone strikes were. After the last major drone controversy in 2013, the president announced the government would need to know with “near certainty” that civilians would not get killed. Obama called it: “the highest standard we can set” in a highly publicized 2013 speech.

Yet, up until the Wall Street Journal reported it on Sunday, the public did not know that Obama secretly gave the CIA a “waiver” from those rules for drone strikes in Pakistan, the place where the vast majority of the CIA’s strikes over the last decade have occurred. The publicly-touted policy was made meaningless by a classified order the public had no idea about. (Sound familiar?)

The most absurd part of this whole debate is that the White House actually refused to admit that the two hostages killed in Pakistan died in a US drone strike. Despite an almost universal acknowledgement by media reports – and a multitude of leaks by anonymous US officials – that the hostages were killed by a CIA drone, the administration has attempted to argue that it was a “counterterrorism operation” that resulted in the hostages’ deaths. This led to an awkward exchange between the press and the White House press secretary Josh Earnest, in which it was clear to everyone in the room what had happened, but the White House could not utter the word “drone.”

The reason for this denial apparently has nothing to do with legitimate secrets; the administration just wants to avoid a court ruling their program illegal. The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday: “the Attorney General’s office warned Mr. Obama that publicly disclosing the CIA’s role in this case would undermine the administration’s standing in a series of pending lawsuits challenging its legality”.

Think about that for a second: The Obama administration has promised more transparency around drone strikes, yet at the same time, won’t even acknowledge that the controversial drone strike it’s apologizing for even happened – just because such admission might force courts to hold the government accountable for its actions.

The dismal state of affairs around drone strike transparency was perfectly summed up in an exchange in early 2013, when the Guardian’s Spencer Ackerman, then writing for Wired, asked Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Dianne Feinstein why, if the CIA repeatedly and brazenly lied to Congress about torture, she trusted the spy agency to tell the truth about drone strikes. Senator Feinstein’s response still encapsulates the current debate: “That’s a good question, actually. That’s a good question.”

More than two years later, we still don’t have an answer.

‘Indiscriminate’ Killing in Gaza Was Top-Down War Plan, say Israeli Veterans May 4, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, Uncategorized, War.
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Roger’s note: This speaks for itself.

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Over 60 officers and soldiers who took part in ‘Operation Protective Edge’ anonymously testify about acts they committed or witnessed

IDF soldiers deployed during “Operation Protective Edge.” (Photo: IDF/flickr/public domain)

The “massive and unprecedented harm” inflicted on the population of Gaza during last summer’s 50-day Israeli military assault stemmed from the top of the chain of command, which gave orders to shoot indiscriminately at civilians, according to the anonymous testimony of more than 60 officers and soldiers who took part in “Operation Protective Edge.”

The Israeli group Breaking the Silence, an organization of “Israeli Defense Force” veterans who engaged in combat, on Monday released the 240-page collection of testimony entitled, This is How We Fought in Gaza.

“While the testimonies include pointed descriptions of inappropriate behavior by soldiers in the field,” the report states, “the more disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”

Breaking the Silence said that the war on Gaza operated under the “most permissive” rules of engagement they have ever seen.

“From the testimonies given by the officers and soldiers, a troubling picture arises of a policy of indiscriminate fire that led to the deaths of innocent civilians,” said Yuli Novak, director of the group, in a press statement. “We learn from the testimonies that there is a broad ethical failure in the IDF’s rules of engagement, and that this failure comes from the top of the chain of command, and is not merely the result of ‘rotten apples.'”

Gaza is one of the most densely-populated places on earth—home to an estimated 1.8 million people, over 60 percent of whom are children under the age of 18. Approximately 2,194 Palestinians were killed in last summer’s attack, at least 70 percent of Palestinians killed in the assault were non-combatants, according to the United Nations. The assault damaged and destroyed critical civilian infrastructure—including houses, shelters, and hospitals—and nearly a year later, hardly any reconstruction has taken place and the civilian population remains strangled by an economic and military siege.

Numerous soldiers said that, during the war, they were told that all people in given areas posed a threat and were ordered to “shoot to kill” every person they spotted.

“The instructions are to shoot right away,” said an anonymous First Sergeant who deployed to Gaza City. “Whoever you spot—be they armed or unarmed, no matter what. The instructions are very clear. Any person you run into, that you see with your eyes—shoot to kill. It’s an explicit instruction.”

Some said they were lied to by their commanders, who told them there were no civilians present.

“The idea was, if you spot something—shoot,” said an anonymous First Sergeant identified in the report as having deployed to the Northern Gaza Strip. “They told us: ‘There aren’t supposed to be any civilians there. If you spot someone, shoot.’ Whether it posed a threat or not wasn’t a question, and that makes sense to me. If you shoot someone in Gaza, it’s cool, no big deal.”

Soldiers testified that thousands of “imprecise” artillery shells were fired into civilian areas, sometimes as acts of revenge or simply to make the military’s presence known. Civilian infrastructure was destroyed on a large scale with no justification, often after an area had already been “cleared,” they said.

“The motto guiding lots of  people was, ‘Let’s show them,'” said one Lieutenant who served in Rafah. “It was  evident that that was a starting point.”

One Staff Sergeant described perverse and deadly acts committed by soldiers:

During the entire operation the [tank] drivers had this thing of wanting to run over cars – because the driver, he can’t fire. He doesn’t have any weapon, he doesn’t get to experience the fun in its entirety, he just drives forward, backward, right, left. And they had this sort of crazy urge to run over a car. I mean, a car that’s in the street, a Palestinian car, obviously. And there was one time that my [tank’s] driver, a slightly hyperactive guy, managed to convince the tank’s officer to run over a car, and it was really not that exciting– you don’t even notice you’re going over a car, you don’t feel anything – we just said on the two-way radio: “We ran over the car. How was it?” And it was cool, but we really didn’t feel anything. And then our driver got out and came back a few minutes later – he wanted to see what happened – and it turned out he had run over just half the car, and the other half stayed intact. So he came back in, and right then the officer had just gone out or something, so he sort of whispered to me over the earphones: “I scored some sunglasses from the car.” And after that, he went over and told the officer about it too, that moron, and the officer scolded him: “What, how could you do such a thing? I’m considering punishing you,” but in the end nothing happened, he kept the sunglasses, and he wasn’t too harshly scolded, it was all OK, and it turned out that a few of the other company’s tanks ran over cars, too.

While numerous human rights organizations and residents have exposed war crimes committed during last year’s assault on Gaza, this report sheds light on the top-down military doctrine driving specific attacks by ground and air.

One First Sergeant explained that soldiers were taught to indiscriminately fire during training, before their deployments. “One talk I remember especially well took place during training at Tze’elim—before entering Gaza [the Gaza Strip]—with a high ranking commander from the armored battalion to which we were assigned. He came and explained to us how we were going to fight  together with the armored forces. He said, ‘We do not take risks, we do not spare ammo—we unload, we use as much as possible.'”

No Israeli soldiers, commanders, or politicians have been held accountable for war crimes, and the Israeli government has resisted international human rights investigations, from Amnesty International to the United Nations.

Breaking the Silence says it “meticulously investigates” testimony to ensure its veracity. The group garnered global media headlines when it launched a report featuring testimony from Israeli soldiers who took part in the 2009 military assault on Gaza known as “Operation Cast Lead.” In that report, soldiers testified about indiscriminate attacks on civilians, including use of chemical weapon white phosphorous.

Palestine and the ICC January 5, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Roger’s note: One would have to be blind (and so many are!) not to see that the current government of Israel is in no way interested in a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians, that “talks” are no more than a stalling tactic used while smothering the Palestinians via warfare and settlements.  I have always found Robert Fisk, who has lived in and reported on the Middle East for decades, to be a reliable analyst.

A Gory Pandora’s Box
by ROBERT FISK

Throw an old dog a bone and sure enough, he’ll go chasing after it. So it is with “Palestine’s” request to join the International Criminal Court. An obvious attempt by Mahmoud Abbas to try Israel for war crimes in Gaza this year, we are told.

Or maybe a “two-edged sword” – yawns are permitted for such clichés – which could also put Hamas “in the dock”. Israel was outraged. The US was “strongly opposed” to such a dastardly request by the elderly potentate who thinks he rules a state which doesn’t even exist.

But hold on a moment. That isn’t the story, is it? Surely the real narrative is totally different. The BBC didn’t get this. Nor CNN. Nor even Al Jazeera. But surely the most significant event of all is that the descendants of the PLO – excoriated only a quarter of a century ago as the most dangerous “terrorist” organisation in the world, its mendacious leader Yasser Arafat branded “our Bin Laden” by Israel’s mendacious leader Ariel Sharon – actually wants TO ABIDE BY INTERNATIONAL LAW!

Heavens preserve us from such a thought, but these chappies – after all their past calls for Israel’s extinction, after all the suicide bombings and intifadas – are asking to join one of the most prestigious judicial bodies on earth. For years, the Palestinians have demanded justice. They went to the international court in The Hague to have Israel’s apartheid wall dismantled – they even won, and Israel didn’t give a hoot. Any sane Palestinian, you might think, would long ago have turned his or her back on such peaceful initiatives.

Yet still these wretched Palestinians persist, after this most humiliating of insults, in resorting to international law to resolve their conflict with Israel. Here they go again, dutifully seeking membership of the International Criminal Court. Will these Arabs never learn?

And of course, the Americans are threatening to punish such effrontery. Stop those millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians. Stand by Israel’s refusal to accept any such approach to the International Criminal Court by “Palestine”. The EU – especially Britain and France – have gone along with this tosh. Israel has already decided to stop more than £80m in tax owed to the Palestinian authority.

The US State Department’s spokesman told us that his government is “deeply troubled” by the Palestinian application. It is “entirely counterproductive”, he informed the world. It does “nothing to further the aspirations of the Palestinian people for a sovereign state” – though one might have thought that membership of so august a judicial body would have done a lot to persuade the world that Palestinians were ready to shoulder all the burdens of statehood.

After all, the Palestinians would indeed have to abide by international law and – if the law applied retrospectively – they would have to carry the burden of opprobrium themselves for both Hamas crimes and past PLO murders. The United States, of course – and this fact oddly did not feature in the flurry of news reports on “Palestine’s” request to join – has itself refused to join the International Criminal Court. And with good reason; because, like the Israelis – although this is not quite how the whole fandango was explained to us – Washington is also worried that its soldiers and government officials will be arraigned for war crimes. Think waterboarding, Abu Ghraib, the report on CIA torture…

No wonder Jeffrey Rathke, the windbag who speaks for the State Department, says that the Palestinian request “badly damages the atmosphere” with Israel, “undermines trust” and “creates doubts about their (Palestinian) commitment to a negotiated peace”. And remember, Abbas only made his request after America had vetoed – and it has used its veto more than 40 times on Israel’s behalf to reject Palestine’s self-determination since 1975 – a UN Security Council resolution to end Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land by 2017.

But of course, what this whole kerfuffle is really about is quite simple. The world is tired of witnessing the suffering of Palestinians. Those with an ounce of human sympathy are sickened at being slandered as anti-Semitic or anti-Zionist (whatever that is) every time they express their outrage at Israel’s cruelty towards the Palestinians.

Killing more than 2,000 Palestinians last summer, hundreds of them children, was a mass slaughter. We’ve watched this grotesquerie so many times now – in Gaza, for the most part – that even our statistics have become spattered with blood.

Who now recalls the fatalities of the 2008-9 Gaza war? One thousand four hundred and seventeen Palestinians dead, 313 of them children, more than 5,500 wounded. That was the conflict upon which President-elect Obama had no comment to make.

And who knows what other gory Pandora’s box ICC membership would open? That bomber pilot who in 2002 killed 15 civilians, 11 of them children, in a Gaza apartment block to assassinate a Hamas official, for example? Wouldn’t that constitute a war crime? Don’t these outrages “damage the atmosphere” and “undermine trust”. Were these bloodbaths not “entirely counterproductive”? And the Jewish colonisation of the occupied West Bank?

Sure, bang up those behind Hamas and Islamic Jihad suicide attacks for war crimes. Get the Palestinian Authority thugs who torture and murder their own prisoners. But that’s not what Israel and the US are worried about. They are concerned that, after months of arguing and rowing and delving through thousands of documents, jurists may decide that Israel – horror of horror – may have to answer for itself before international justice, something which no routine US veto could prevent.

Now just imagine if Israel and America wanted the Palestinians to sign the Rome document. Conjure the thought – for a split-second only – that Israel and America insisted that the Palestinians must abide by an international treaty and become members of the International Criminal Court to qualify for statehood. Abbas’s refusal to do so would be further proof of his “terrorist” intentions. Yet when Abbas does sign the Rome document, when the Palestinians want to abide by an international treaty, they must be punished – surely a “first” in modern history.

I can only think of two phrases that fit the bill for this scandal of the West’s politicians. Confound their politics. Frustrate their knavish tricks.

The impasse in the Middle East in a nutshell

Apropos of which… Avi Shlaim, among the finest of Israeli historians, has just brought out a new edition of his great work The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World. “The prospect of a real change in American foreign policy looks slim to non-existent,” he writes. “Nor is there at present any evidence to suggest that Israel’s leaders are remotely interested in a genuine two-state solution… They seem oblivious to the damage that the occupation is doing to their society and to the reputation of their country abroad.” That’s it in a nutshell, isn’t it?

Robert Fisk writes for the Independent, where this column originally appeared. 

 

The Torture Architects December 8, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Dick Cheney, George W. Bush, Torture.
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Roger’s note: The Senate Committee’s torture report is about to be released, possibly tomorrow.  Bush and the CIA already are waging a campaign to discredit it, so we can assume it will speak at least a degree of truth to the brutal Bush/Cheney torture regime.  What we can also, unfortunately, assume is that those responsible for those legal and moral crimes against humanity, will not soon if ever be brought to justice.

If you click on this link immediately below, you will see the complete Interactive Infographic that identifies all the major criminals, beginning with then President Bush, and by clicking on each one you can read the part they played in this infamy.  Please note that President Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, both sworn to uphold the Constitution, are as well legally and morally complicit in these crimes for their failure to do their sworn duty, that is, to prosecute the criminals.

https://www.aclu.org/national-security/infographic-torture-architects?iframe=1

 

white_house_torture

Obama Charged with ‘Imperial Hubris’ Unmatched Even by Bush September 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Constitution, George W. Bush, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Roger’s note: Obama’s latest act of warmongering tells us at least two things.  One is that the positions on issues taken by a candidate are a completely unreliable indicator of what said candidate might do once elected.  Secondly, the fact that Obama’s decision to declare war unilaterally against Isis/Isil, without either congressional or international authority, has gained widespread bipartisan approval (which is rare these days) shows us how the military industrial complex are the de facto rulers of the allegedly democratic nation.

 

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by Jon Queally
obama-war-crimes

Following his announcement to bomb Syria without congressional approval, president slammed for total disregard for constitutional safeguards regarding war-making

President Obama told the American public on Wednesday night that he will order significantly expanded military operations against the Islamic State in the Middle East, including more U.S. troops to Iraq and a bombing campaign in Syria. Anti-war voices and progressive critics were thoroughly unimpressed with the announced strategy as they issued warnings of the disaster to come. 

A day after President Obama told the American public he was preparing to bomb targets inside the sovereign state of Syria and that he did not need congressional approval to do so, critics are lashing out against what Bruce Ackerman, a professor of law and political science at Yale University, described as “imperial hubris” on Friday.

In his scathing op-ed in the New York Times, Ackerman writes:

President Obama’s declaration of war against the terrorist group known as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks a decisive break in the American constitutional tradition. Nothing attempted by his predecessor, George W. Bush, remotely compares in imperial hubris.

Mr. Bush gained explicit congressional consent for his invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. In contrast, the Obama administration has not even published a legal opinion attempting to justify the president’s assertion of unilateral war-making authority. This is because no serious opinion can be written.

This became clear when White House officials briefed reporters before Mr. Obama’s speech to the nation on Wednesday evening. They said a war against ISIS was justified by Congress’s authorization of force against Al Qaeda after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, and that no new approval was needed.

But the 2001 authorization for the use of military force does not apply here. That resolution — scaled back from what Mr. Bush initially wanted — extended only to nations and organizations that “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks.

And Ackerman’s not alone.

Robert Chesney, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law, told theDaily Beast this week that Obama’s claim of authority to bomb ISIS targets in Syria was “on its face” an “implausible argument.”

“The 2001 AUMF requires a nexus to al Qaeda or associated forces of al Qaeda fighting the United States,” explained Chesney, but “since ISIS broke up with al Qaeda it’s hard to make” the case that authority granted by the AUMF  still applies.

And as The Nation magazine’s Zoë Carpenter reports:

The White House’s dismissal of the need for congressional approval is also in conflict with positions Obama himself expressed as a presidential candidate. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama declared to The Boston Globe in 2008.

The situation in Iraq and Syria does not appear to meet that standard. Obama acknowledged on Wednesday that “[w]e have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Meanwhile, intelligence sources say that the threat from ISIS has been grossly exaggerated. “It’s hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems—all on the basis of no corroborated information,” former State Department counterterrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin told The New York Times.

According to Ackerman, the president has put himself in a perilous position.

“The president seems grimly determined to practice what Mr. Bush’s lawyers only preached,” the Yale professor concludes in his op-ed. “He is acting on the proposition that the president, in his capacity as commander in chief, has unilateral authority to declare war. In taking this step, Mr. Obama is not only betraying the electoral majorities who twice voted him into office on his promise to end Bush-era abuses of executive authority. He is also betraying the Constitution he swore to uphold.”

And Carpenter says that in addition to defying Congress and his constitutional obligations, Obama should also be worried about the implications for his new strategy under international law. She writes:

It’s worth noting that the legality of an extended cross-border campaign isn’t only a question of the separation of powers. As Eli Lakenoted at The Daily Beast, the White House has not explained the basis for the strikes under international law.

While the administration’s current attempt to circumnavigate Congress is hypocritical as well as potentially illegal, it’s also consistent with the way Obama has exercised US military power before. As Spencer Ackerman notes, he’s extended drone strikes across the Middle East and North Africa; initiated a seven-month air campaign in Libya without congressional approval; prolonged the war in Afghanistan; and, in recent months, ordered more than 1,000 troops back into Iraq. Promises of no boots on the ground notwithstanding, Obama’s war footprint is large, and expanding.

We Need to Recognize What Barbaric Is August 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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Roger’s note:

Violent husband to wife; “Don’t make me hit you.”

Five year old to mother: “Johnny made me hit him.”

Netanyahu: “Hamas made me kill 400 children.”

 

 

As Gazans begin to return to their shattered lives and neighborhoods, the U.N. has announced a panel to investigate war crimes there, at least those beyond the obvious: 1,814 Palestinians killed, 86% of them civilians including over 400 children, and 485,000 displaced. Still, more stories emerge. Amnesty International has released testimony from health workers showing the Israeli army repeatedly attacked ambulances, hospitals, medics, doctors and others seeking to help the wounded and collect the dead. In light of that and so much else, in a searing speech at an Austin protest, Dr. Rania Masri cites President Obama calling the capture of an invading Israeli soldier by the Palestinian Resistance a “barbaric action” and schools him in what is and is not “barbaric.”

“Barbaric is to deny our identity and to deny our existence…In the name of the Palestinians, who are the most resilient people I have ever known…we pledge to them, that when the bombs stop – and they will stop — we will remember our anger today, we will remember our tears today, and we will not be broken.”

 

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Three-Fifths of an Attorney General Declares POWs “Non-Persons” July 24, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Civil Liberties, Constitution, Criminal Justice, Human Rights, Torture.
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Roger’s note: Congratulations.  Barak Obama and Eric Holder, with the essential contribution of George Bush, have managed to score a trifecta: a policy and implementation at Guantanamo Bay that is all three, Orwellian, Kafkaesque and Lewis Carroll at the same time.  Torture, indefinite detention, and people who are not persons.  “Execution first, then the trial” shouted the Queen.

And by the way, the three fifths of a person of African slaves that was in the original constitution is even worse than it appears at face value.  Slaves would have been better off if not considered as persons at all.  The southern states lobbied for three fifths so that their slaves would be counted in the census, which in turn determined their level of representation in the House of Representative.  More slaves on the roll via the three fifths gave the southern state more political clout with which to defend slavery.  Thus, being counted as less than fully human was a double whammy against the slaves.  Kafka would have loved it.

 

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Protestors gathered in New York City’s Time Square in April of 2013 to raise awareness of detainee hunger strikes and indefinite imprisonment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay. (Photo: flickr / cc /Jordan P)

 

Hand it to President Obama for appointing Eric Holder the first African American Attorney General in US history. Then try to fathom that after generations of civil and human rights work by African Americans — whom the US Constitution once called “3/5 of a person” — it is Holder who declared some brown skinned prisoners of war to be “non-persons.” The men are held outside the law by the US at Guantánamo Bay.

Attorneys for the POWs have asked for an order that would allow group prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, but Holder’s Justice Dept. has formally replied that the men aren’t entitled to relief under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) because the Supreme Court has not found that Guantánamo’s prisoners “are ‘persons’ to whom RFRA applies.”

Holder calls the men “unprivileged enemy belligerents detained overseas during a period of ongoing hostilities.” Calling them prisoners of war would require respecting their human rights.

Cori Crider, an attorney with the legal charity Reprieve who represents some of the men, said in a statement, “I fail to see how the President can stand up and claim Guantánamo is a scandal while his lawyers call detainees non-persons in court. If the President is serious about closing this prison, he could start by recognizing that its inmates are people — most of whom have been cleared by his own Government.”

According to AG Holder, US Appeals Court rulings mean Guantánamo’s POWs — whom he calls “nonresident aliens outside the US sovereign territory” — are “not protected ‘person[s].’” In the infamous Hobby Lobby case Holder argues, the Supreme Court refused to say that the word “‘person’ as used in RFRA includes a nonresident alien outside sovereign United States territory.”

Even if RFRA applied to the POWs, Holder claims, the law “cannot overcome the judicial presumption against extraterritorial application of statutes.” Translation: US Law doesn’t apply at Gitmo, or, the reason the US isolates non-persons at an off-shore military penal colony in the first place is so we can ignore or violate “statutes” with impunity. And if we convince ourselves that “unprivileged enemy belligerents” are not people, we should be able to sleep even if we violate the US torture statute (18 USC, Sec. 1, Ch. 113C), the Convention Against Torture and the US War Crimes Act (18 USC, Sec. 2441) ¾ for years on end.

America’s indefinite imprisonment without charges, hunger strikers and force-feeding

My own jail and prison time, all for political protests, has always come with a clear sentence: six days, 90 days, 180 days; 54 months in all. Anybody who’s been on the inside knows that a release date gives you something fast to hold on to, even if you’re called by a number, fed through a slot, handcuffed for court. But imagine 156 months in a nihilistic “extraterritorial” military prison, with no charges, no trial, no sentence, no visits, phone calls or mail, and no hope.

This is what the USA imposes at Guantánamo, a torturous psychological vice of legal oblivion and manufactured futurelessness. Add to this appalling construction the fact that 72 of 149 remaining inmates were approved for release more than four years ago — but are chained up anyway. Scores of Gitmo’s inmates have looked into this man-made oblivion and decided to die. They are using the only power they have left, the dreadful hunger-strike, both as a protest against their endless detention without trial and their only means of eventually ending it.

The US military has chosen to force-feed hunger strikers, gruesomely plunging plastic tubes up the non-persons’ noses. This abuse violates laws against torture, and the force-feeding schedule is the original basis for the religious rights petition so vigorously opposed by Obama and Holder. The ghastly traumatic stress resulting from enduring force-feeding and the regime of its application make Ramadan’s prayerful group reflection impossible. US District Judge Gladys Kessler has, according to Charlie Savage in the New York Times, publicly condemned the abuse for causing “agony.” For PR purposes the Pentagon and Justice Department call the abuse “enteral feeding.”

Mr. Holder has called “not credible” the prisoners’ complaints about “alleged aspects of enteral feeding” and “allegations that detainees who were being enterally fed were not permitted to pray communally during Ramadan in 2013.” But after the number of hunger strikers reached 106 last year, the military halted its public reporting of the strike.

Significantly, a Navy medical officer at Guantánamo has become the first prison official known to refuse force-feeding duty. The unidentified nurse’s refusal was acknowledged by the Pentagon July 15.

If Holder wins his frightening argument denying the humanity of the men at Guantánamo, even the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals could object. The ASPCA says its vision is that “the US is a humane community in which all animals are treated with respect and kindness.”

Nurse Refuses Navy’s Force-Feeding of Gitmo Prisoners July 16, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Health, Human Rights.
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Roger’s note: The principle that states that one has the right to refuse an illegal order becomes null and void when, as is the case here, war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed at the highest level of government, i.e. the presidency.  It takes a brave individual to resist under these conditions.  Severest example: Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning is condemned to 35 years in prison for exposing Bush/Obama war crimes in Iraq.

 

“This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do.”

– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Guantanamo force feeding paraphernalia. (Photo: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

force-feeding

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A nurse in the U.S. Navy has refused to participate in the force-feeding of hunger striking detainees in what is the first widely-reported act of defiance on ethical grounds by a U.S. military service member at this offshore prison.

“This is a historic stand by this nurse, who recognized the basic humanity of the detainees and the inhumanity of what he was being asked to do,” said Cori Crider, a lawyer for UK-based charity Reprieve—which refers to the refusal as ‘conscientious objection.’ Crider learned of the act of refusal in a July 10 phone call with Abu Wa’el Dhiab—a Syrian man currently detained in Guantánamo Bay—and the news broke to the media on Tuesday.

The unidentified nurse told Dhiab, “I have come to the decision that I refuse to participate in this criminal act,” according to a press statement from Reprieve. “Before we came here, we were told a different story,” the nurse added. “The story we were told was completely the opposite of what I saw.”

Journalist Carol Rosenberg received confirmation from Navy Capt. Tom Gresback that “there was a recent instance of a medical provider not willing to carry out the enteral feeding of a detainee.”

It is not clear what repurcussions await the nurse, who is described by Dhiab as an approximately 40 year-old Latino man who may be a captain, according to Rosenberg. Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the command that oversees Guantánamo, also confirmed the refusal to the Guardian, stating, “It’s being handled administratively.” Dhiab says he has not seen the nurse since the act of refusal.

According to Dhiab, the Navy nurse is not alone: numerous other medical professionals have stated their ethical objections to the force feedings but express fear of retaliation and punishment if they refuse.

Maggie Martin, an organizer with Iraq Veterans Against the War, told Common Dreams, “People have been standing up as conscientious objectors throughout history including the current conflicts, but unfortunately I never heard those stories while I was in the military.”

She added, “It is heartening to see a service member refuse immoral orders.”

Mass hunger strikes at Guantánamo Bay have been met with force-feedings, which have been condemned as torture and a violation of international law by the United Nations human rights office and denounced as unethical by medical ethicists. The painful insertion of tubes and pumping of food, as well as threat of stomach damage and asphyxiation, has been comparedto water-boarding, itself a form of torture.

Mr. Dhiab, who remains detained despite being cleared for release in 2010, is currently challenging the practice of force-feedings in the courts and recently won the disclosure of videotapes recording the practice.

Currently 149 men remain detained at Guantánamo Bay, despite the fact that the vast majority of them have been cleared for release. It is not known how many of them are currently on hunger strike or face force feedings after the U.S. imposed a media blackout on reports of the peaceful protests late last year.

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Ariel Sharon: Serial war criminal, mass murderer January 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Criminal Justice, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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The true legacy of a virulent anti-Arab racist

JANUARY 12, 2014

Ariel Sharon: mass murderer

“Ariel Sharon: Israeli Hawk Who Sought Peace on His Terms, Dies at 85,” read the headline in the January 12 issue of the New York Times. The Washington Post called Sharon “a monumental figure in Israel’s modern history” who “sought to become the architect of a peaceful future,” accompanied by a most kindly and grandfatherly photo. USA Today: “controversial and iconic.” And on and on in all the U.S. corporate media.

Most of the world knows better, and none know better than the Palestinian and Lebanese people, thousands of whom were victims of this serial war criminal. Sharon’s career was built on massacres–from Qibya in 1953, to Sabra and Shatila in 1982, to Jenin in 2002.

A virulent anti-Arab racist, Sharon had a long and bloody history of murder and repression against the Palestinian people. In the early 1950s, he commanded Unit 101, a special forces company that carried out massacres against Palestinian exiles in Gaza and Jordan.

Despite having conquered 78 percent of Palestine in the 1948 war, Israel’s leaders were far from satisfied.  As has been extensively documented by many Israeli as well as Palestinian historians, Israel sought to provoke a “Second Round” in the early 1950s, in order to take over the West Bank, then under Jordanian rule, Gaza, and more.

A main Israeli tactic was called “retaliation.” In response to recently expelled Palestinians coming across the borders back into their homeland from Gaza and the West Bank, the Israeli army (IDF) would carry out large-scale attacks and massacres.

For diplomatic and public relations purposes, it was extremely important to Israel to be seen as victim rather than aggressor. This remains true down to the present.

“Retaliation” was really provocation; the intent was to get Jordan or Egypt to react militarily to the massacres, which could then be used by Israel as a pretext for a new war of conquest.

On Oct. 14, 1953, Unit 101, led by Sharon, attacked Qibya, a small, undefended village inside the West Bank, and massacred 69 people, many of them burned alive inside their homes. Unit 101 suffered no casualties. It was an atrocity sanctioned at the top and carried out for political ends.

The Qibya raid drew worldwide condemnation, and Jordan, much militarily weaker than Israel, did not respond as the Israeli leaders had hoped. The conquest of the West Bank and Gaza would have to wait until 1967.

Sabra  and Shatila massacres

Following the 1967 war of conquest, Sharon was the military governor of Gaza, renowned for extreme brutality in carrying out a policy of systematic torture and assassination of Palestinians resisting occupation.
Sharon is most notorious for the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut. As Israel’s defense minister, Sharon organized and led, with full U.S. backing, the massive assault on Lebanon. For three months in the summer of 1982, Israeli bombers, supplied by the U.S., relentlessly pounded Beirut and other cities and towns, killing more than 20,000 Lebanese and Palestinian civilians. Lebanon had no air defense system.

The stated objective of the invasion was to drive the Palestine Liberation Organization out of Lebanon. There are more than 400,000 Palestinian refugees–those driven from their homeland to make way for the state of Israel in 1948 and their descendants–living in Lebanon. Altogether, more than seven million Palestinians today live in exile.

After three months of bombing, the central PLO leadership agreed to evacuate its fighters from Lebanon. As part of the cease-fire agreement requiring them to leave, the remaining Palestinian civilian population was to be placed under international protection.

Sharon, however, publicly stated that 2,000 “terrorists” remained in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In reality, those remaining in the camps were almost all children, women and elderly men. Virtually all of the young men had been evacuated.

Israeli tanks surrounded the camps in violation of the cease-fire agreement. Then, on Sept. 16, 1982, with the full knowledge and consent of Sharon and the Israeli occupiers then in control of the area, Lebanese Phalangist militias were allowed to enter Sabra and Shatila in west Beirut.

The fascist Phalange—open admirers of Adolf Hitler who took their name from Franco’s party in Spain—were Israel’s closest allies in Lebanon. The Phalangists wore Israeli-supplied uniforms and carried Israeli-supplied weapons.
For three days, they rampaged through the Palestinian camps, torturing, raping and murdering. Many of the victims were disemboweled or decapitated. No one was spared—neither the very old nor the very young. By the end, more than 1,900 Palestinian children, women and men lay dead.

Though overwhelming evidence showed that Sharon and other Israeli commanders had sent the fascists into the undefended camps, a 1983 Israeli court of inquiry found Sharon only “indirectly responsible” for the massacre. One might think that even “indirect” responsibility for the butchering of nearly two thousand people would mean at least an end to the guilty individual’s political career. But not in apartheid Israel.
While Sharon was forced to resign from the Israeli cabinet following the court of inquiry, he continued to be a key political actor and came back as a cabinet minister in the 1990s.

Al-Aqsa Intifada and Sharon’s election as prime minister

On September 28, 2000, Sharon staged another famous provocation, “visiting” the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, an important Muslim holy site. While proclaiming his “right” to travel anywhere in Jerusalem, the hated killer did not venture out alone. Instead, he was accompanied by 1,500 armed police. Even so, hundreds of Palestinians fought back, marking the start of the Al-Aqsa intifada or uprising, which would continue for many years.

Five months later, in February 2001, Sharon was elected prime minister. In March 2002, the Israeli military carried out a massive operation in the West Bank and Gaza seeking to suppress the intifada. Among the most brutal attacks was one on the Jenin refugee camp in the northern West Bank. Over several days, using militarized bulldozers along with heavy weapons, the Israel military demolished much of the camp, burying many people alive.

The same year, Sharon began building the apartheid wall through the West Bank confiscating still more Palestinian land.

Sharon: The imaginary “peacemaker”

The false claim that Sharon turned into a “man of peace” hinges on his decision to withdraw military bases and the small, non-viable Israeli settlements from inside Gaza. And while Palestinians in Gaza welcomed the withdrawal, Israel continued to keep Gaza surrounded and blockaded.

Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza, while denounced by some fascist settlers, was based on a determination to secure even more control of the West Bank
In a July 21, 2000 interview with the Jerusalem Post, several months before he became prime minister, Sharon called for Israel to “retain greater Jerusalem, united and undivided…under full Israeli sovereignty.” This refers to the Palestinian Old City and all of the surrounding areas that Israel illegally annexed after the 1967 war.

“Israel will retain under its full control sufficiently wide security zones—in both the East and West. The Jordan Valley, in its broadest sense, as defined by the Allon Plan, will be the eastern security zone of Israel.”
Sharon called for large areas of the illegally occupied West Bank to be annexed. “Jewish towns, villages and communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, as well as access roads leading to them…will remain under full Israeli control,” Sharon continued. “Judea and Samaria” is the Israeli settlers’ name for the West Bank.

“Israel does not accept under any circumstances the Palestinian demand for the right to return. Israel bears no moral responsibility for the refugees’ predicament.”

“As a vital existential need, Israel must continue to control the underground fresh water aquifers in western Samaria [the West Bank]…The Palestinians are obligated to prevent contamination of Israel’s water resources.”

The Palestinian “state” that Sharon proposed was one that would be unlike any other country in the world. It would not control its own resources including water, or its airspace, or even its own borders, and would be a defenseless entity smack up against one of the world’s most highly militarized states.

False headlines notwithstanding, Sharon will go down in history not as any kind of imagined peacemaker, but instead as the blood-stained and racist mass murderer that he was.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

I Worked on the US Drone Program. The Public Should Know What Really Goes On December 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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Few of the politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue how it actually works (and doesn’t)

The Elbit Systems Hermes 450 is an Israeli medium size multi-payload unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) designed for tactical long endurance missions.

Whenever I read comments by politicians defending the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Predator and Reaper program – aka drones – I wish I could ask them some questions. I’d start with: “How many women and children have you seen incinerated by a Hellfire missile?” And: “How many men have you seen crawl across a field, trying to make it to the nearest compound for help while bleeding out from severed legs?” Or even more pointedly: “How many soldiers have you seen die on the side of a road in Afghanistan because our ever-so-accurate UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicle] were unable to detect an IED [improvised explosive device] that awaited their convoy?”

Few of these politicians who so brazenly proclaim the benefits of drones have a real clue of what actually goes on. I, on the other hand, have seen these awful sights first hand.

I knew the names of some of the young soldiers I saw bleed to death on the side of a road. I watched dozens of military-aged males die in Afghanistan, in empty fields, along riversides, and some right outside the compound where their family was waiting for them to return home from mosque.

The US and British militaries insist that this is such an expert program, but it’s curious that they feel the need to deliver faulty information, few or no statistics about civilian deaths and twisted technology reports on the capabilities of our UAVs. These specific incidents are not isolated, and the civilian casualty rate has not changed, despite what our defense representatives might like to tell us.

What the public needs to understand is that the video provided by a drone is a far cry from clear enough to detect someone carrying a weapon, even on a crystal-clear day with limited clouds and perfect light. This makes it incredibly difficult for the best analysts to identify if someone has weapons for sure. One example comes to mind: “The feed is so pixelated, what if it’s a shovel, and not a weapon?” I felt this confusion constantly, as did my fellow UAV analysts. We always wonder if we killed the right people, if we endangered the wrong people, if we destroyed an innocent civilian’s life all because of a bad image or angle.

It’s also important for the public to grasp that there are human beings operating and analyzing intelligence these UAVs. I know because I was one of them, and nothing can prepare you for an almost daily routine of flying combat aerial surveillance missions over a war zone. UAV proponents claim that troops who do this kind of work are not affected by observing this combat because they are never directly in danger physically.

But here’s the thing: I may not have been on the ground in Afghanistan, but I watched parts of the conflict in great detail on a screen for days on end. I know the feeling you experience when you see someone die. Horrifying barely covers it. And when you are exposed to it over and over again it becomes like a small video, embedded in your head, forever on repeat, causing psychological pain and suffering that many people will hopefully never experience. UAV troops are victim to not only the haunting memories of this work that they carry with them, but also the guilt of always being a little unsure of how accurate their confirmations of weapons or identification of hostile individuals were.

Of course, we are trained to not experience these feelings, and we fight it, and become bitter. Some troops seek help in mental health clinics provided by the military, but we are limited on who we can talk to and where, because of the secrecy of our missions. I find it interesting that the suicide statistics in this career field aren’t reported, nor are the data on how many troops working in UAV positions are heavily medicated for depression, sleep disorders and anxiety.

Recently, the Guardian ran a commentary by Britain’s secretary of state for defence Philip Hammond. I wish I could talk to him about the two friends and colleagues I lost, within one year leaving the military, to suicide. I am sure he has not been notified of that little bit of the secret UAV program, or he would surely take a closer look at the full scope of the program before defending it again.

The UAV’s in the Middle East are used as a weapon, not as protection, and as long as our public remains ignorant to this, this serious threat to the sanctity of human life – at home and abroad – will continue.

Heather Linebaugh

Heather Linebaugh served in the United Stated Air Force from 2009 until March 2012. She worked in intelligence as an imagery analyst and geo-spatial analyst for the drone program during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Follow her on Twitter: @hllinebaugh

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