Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Culpability and the Bush Years

See my post today at Open Salon here.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Saturday, December 27, 2008

The Nature of Capital and Bob Herbert's "Stop Being Stupid"

Today's NYT's has Herbert's latest OpEd, "Stop Being Stupid," in which he points out how extraordinarily stupid the idea - originating with the free market fundamentalists and implemented beginning under Reagan - is "that you could radically cut taxes and still maintain critical government services — and fight two wars to boot!"

Herbert scores many good points, but fails to really nail down the source of these stupidities and what it would take to turn the corner on it. He does correctly name some names, such as Alan Greenspan, Rob Rubin and Larry Summers, but not their ideological foundations.

An excerpt, followed by a reader's letter and my commentary:

December 27, 2008
Stop Being Stupid


I’ve got a new year’s resolution and a new slogan for the country.

The resolution may be difficult, but it’s essential. Americans must resolve to be smarter going forward than we have been for the past several years.

Look around you. We have behaved in ways that were incredibly, astonishingly and embarrassingly stupid for much too long. We’ve wrecked the economy and mortgaged the future of generations yet unborn. We don’t even know if we’ll have an automobile industry in the coming years. It’s time to stop the self-destruction.

The slogan? “Invest in the U.S.” By that I mean we should stop squandering the nation’s wealth on unnecessary warfare overseas and mindless consumption here at home and start making sensible investments in the well-being of the American people and the long-term health of the economy.

The mind-boggling stupidity that we’ve indulged in was hammered home by a comment almost casually delivered by, of all people, Bernie Madoff, the mild-mannered creator of what appears to have been a nuclear-powered Ponzi scheme. Madoff summed up his activities with devastating simplicity. He is said to have told the F.B.I. that he “paid investors with money that wasn’t there.”

Somehow, over the past few decades, that has become the American way: to pay for things — from wars to Wall Street bonuses to flat-screen TVs to video games — with money that wasn’t there.

For the rest of his OpEd, see here.

In times of major crisis the opportunity presents itself to either recognize what's really wrong and radically change this (and thereby really resolve things), or fail to rise to the occasion and usher in some other more virulent version of what has previously existed. What paradigm one is employing will prove decisive. The following comment on the NYT's website from a reader, one of the NYT's editors' selections, reflects this:

"Nobody can argue with 'be smart.' But how many tens of millions of Americans make their living with a job that, in one form or another, is aimed at getting other Americans to decrease their savings or increase their debt? Too many of us go to work and devise ways to legally pick the pockets of our unknowing fellow citizens in ways big and small. Americans are subjected to a daily blizzard of hidden fees and co-pays and penalties and tolls, each of which wears us down mentally, emotionally and financially. And behind every one of those fees is probably another American who thought it up, and got a big bonus for doing so. We need to revert back (or should I say move forward?) to true capitalism, where the seller and the buyer understand exactly what is being sold and the price that will be paid, and where it is engrained into our capitalist souls that cheating, swindling, hiding, and misrepresenting are immoral, shameful, illegal, and a threat to our country's future. If we know what things truly cost -- whether it be a cell phone, a mortgage, a flight to Denver or a visit to our doctor -- we can can make more intelligent decisions and maintain more control over our financial destinies. This is what actually goes on now, every day, between sophisticated businesses: prices are known, terms are understood, and the commercial code is clearly defined. When there are two sophisticated parties to a transaction, armed with tools of enforcement, things run remarkably smoothly. But consumers are not armed with the information or power necessary to calmly and rationally control our financial destinies. We open our bills wincing at the hidden pain we expect to find, because we are completely vulnerable to small print and long disclosures and agreement amendments and impossibly byzantine rules that we had no choice but to sign on to. Making this change requires more than a "be smart" slogan (which is a good start, mind you). In the short run it requires legal access to information, and penalties and stigma strong enough to dissaude [sic] deception. In the long run it requires us to redefine right and wrong.

— Kevin C, New York, NY"

Kevin C, like Herbert, puts his finger on some important aspects of the situation. I especially like his point that many people's jobs and bonuses are tied to driving other Americans into debt and "legally pick[ing] their pockets."

However, the idea that pure capitalism is the solution is precisely 180 degrees incorrect.

What would it take for the public to know exactly how much something cost, as Kevin recommends happen? How could dissuading deception with penalties and stigma actually come about? You'd have to introduce measures to curb the power of capital in a situation in which capital commands the key levers of power in the society. You'd have to convince those who really run things to do things that are not in their interests.

You might tell them, "Dear Messrs Capital: It is in your best and long-term interest to allow those who you rob and steal from everyday - which is the source of your profts - to regulate you and limit your ability to rob and steal from them. After all, look at the fine mess you are in and have put us into!"

Messrs Capital would say what exactly in response to this? "Dear Mr. and Ms. Citizen: Thank you for your letter. I have your best interests in mind. Yours truly, Capital."

In other words, Capital wouldn't listen. And for a very good reason. Because it's in its nature to do exactly what it has been doing! Asking Capital, or even demanding that Capital do something else, is like trying to get a crab to walk forward. It's like telling a butterfly to go back to being a caterpillar. Even if you could force butterflies back into being caterpillars - pushing monopoly capital back into free enterprise capital - they'd evolve back into butterflies again. Why? Because free enterprise capital becomes monopolistic because the modus operandi for capitalism is profit and it's more profitable to reap the rewards of economies of scale and to eat up your competition. Those who try to do otherwise will be extinguished by the nature of capital itself.

If Wal-Mart's CEO was visited by the Ghost of Christmas Past, Present and Future, and realized the folly of his ways and announced to the Wal-Mart Shareholders and Directors that he was going to stop paying Wal-Mart workers poverty level wages, begin giving them health and pension benefits, and stop driving down the costs of suppliers to the nth degree, what exactly would the shareholders, the directors, and the rest of the stock market do to this CEO and to the share price of Wal-Mart?

We all know the answer to that question, whether we've never taken Econ 101 or we've gotten an advanced degree in Economics. Wal-Mart's stock price would dive and the enlightened CEO would be canned forthwith.

Even if all of the Captains of Capital were to become Buddhas overnight, in other words, financial capital would discipline them or replace them.

Dealing with the crisis and the insanity that we see all around us requires recognizing what is at fault. It isn't capitalism distorted that is at fault. It is capitalism par excellence that is at work here. The problem isn't back to the future. The problem is capital - that is, a system that feeds on and requires deception, profit and exploitation.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Free Al-Zeidi!


A rally calling on the Iraqi Government to free Montather Al-Ziedi, the man who threw his shoes at George W. Bush, will be held Monday, December 29 at noon in front of the Iraqi consulate to the United States, located at 1801 P Street NW in Washington, DC.

The rally is timed to immediately precede Mr. Al-Ziedi’s appearance in the Central Criminal Court of Iraq on Dec. 31, New Year’s Eve. Mr. Al-Ziedi was arrested December 14 after hurling his shoes at Mr. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad.

"Al-Zeidi did not attempt to physically hurt George Bush but to insult him and express the deep anger that so many Iraqis feel over the U.S. occupation. He should be immediately released and the Iraqi government should be held accountable for abusing him while in custody," said Medea Benjamin, co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK.

"The treatment Al-Zeidi has received should shame all Americans and is likely to motivate as much anti-American sentiment as have the photos of torture at Abu Ghraib," said David Swanson, cofounder of "While our President and Vice President openly confess to authorizing torture, their puppet government in Iraq tortures a man for throwing shoes, in complete absence of even the pretense of 'interrogation,' much less a ticking time bomb. Freeing Al-Zeidi will not fix this situation. We must also put Bush and Cheney behind bars."

"There are credible reports that Montather Al-Ziedi has been tortured while in the custody of the government of Iraq," said Nick Mottern, Director of Consumers for Peace, one of the rally organizers, "and this alone provides the basis for setting him free."

"Mr. Al-Ziedi's act, in the context of the suffering caused by the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, can be seen as a legitimate form of self-expression," Mottern said, "but in any case his action is something that should be treated as nothing more than a misdemeanor in which his time already spent in jail would be more than sufficient."

The rally is being called by a coalition of peace and justice organizations including: CODEPINK: Women for Peace; Iraq Veterans Against the War;; Consumers for Peace;, and others.

At the close of the rally, organizers will deliver a petition to Ambassador of Iraq to the United States Samir Sumaida’ie at the Iraqi embassy at 3421 Massachusetts Avenue NW.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the NY Times' Editorial About Cheney

In today's NYT:

December 23, 2008

The World According to Cheney

Vice President Dick Cheney has a parting message for Americans: They should quit whining about all the things he and President Bush did to undermine the rule of law, erode the balance of powers between the White House and Congress, abuse prisoners and spy illegally on Americans. After all, he said, Franklin Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln did worse than that.

So Mr. Cheney and Mr. Bush managed to stop short of repeating two of the most outrageous abuses of power in American history — Roosevelt’s decision to force Japanese-Americans into camps and Lincoln’s declaration of martial law to silence his critics? That’s not exactly a lofty standard of behavior.

Then again, it must be exhausting to rewrite history as much as Mr. Cheney has done in a series of exit interviews where he has made those comments. It seems as if everything went just great in the Bush years.

The invasion of Iraq was exactly the right thing to do, not an unnecessary war that required misleading Americans. The postinvasion period was not bungled to the point where Americans got shot up by an insurgency that the Bush team failed to see building.

The horrors at Abu Ghraib were not the result of the Pentagon’s decision to authorize abusive and illegal interrogation techniques, which Mr. Cheney endorsed. And only three men were subjected to waterboarding. (Future truth commissions take note.)

In Mr. Cheney’s reality, the crippling budget deficit was caused mainly by fighting two wars and by essential programs like “enhancing the security of our shipping container business.”

Well, no. The Bush team’s program to scan cargo for nuclear materials at air, land and sea ports has been mired in delays, cost overruns and questions about effectiveness. As for the deficit, the Congressional Budget Office has said the Bush-Cheney tax cuts for the wealthy were the biggest reason that the budget went into the red.

Some of Mr. Cheney’s comments were self-serving spin (as when The Washington Times helpfully prodded him to reveal that even though the world might have seen Mr. Bush as insensitive to the casualties of war, Mr. Cheney himself made a “secret” mission to comfort the families of the dead.)

Mr. Cheney was simply dishonest about Mr. Bush’s decision to authorize spying on Americans’ international calls without a warrant. He claimed the White House kept the Democratic and Republican Congressional leadership fully briefed on the program starting in late 2001. He said he personally ran a meeting at which “they were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike” that the program was essential and did not require further Congressional involvement.

But in a July 17, 2003, letter to Mr. Cheney, Senator John Rockefeller IV, then vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he wanted to “reiterate” the concerns he expressed in “the meeting today.” He said “the activities we discussed raise profound oversight issues” and created “concern regarding the direction the Administration is moving with regard to security, technology and surveillance.”

Mr. Cheney mocked Vice President-elect Joseph Biden for saying that he does not intend to have his own “shadow government” in the White House. Mr. Cheney said it was up to Mr. Biden to decide if he wants “to diminish the office of vice president.”

Based on Mr. Cheney’s record and his standards for measuring these things, we’re certain a little diminishing of that office would be good for the country.

* * *

If you go to the comments on the editorial you will find many letters stating that Bush and Cheney ought to be in prison and, as one writer put it, the New York Times has closed the barn door after the animals have already left.

Another person who is a former Legislative Director for a Congressperson points out in letter #342 that the Jay Rockefeller letter that the NYT puts so much stock in is a "cover your ass" letter that Congresspeople write all the time. The NYT, as this person notes, is not so naive as to truly think it is anything else.

What's in play here is the NYT's inability and unwillingness to step outside the safety of caviling at the margins and act in a way appropriate to the gravity of the situation.

It underscores the necessity for the American people to step beyond what our mass media and major parties will do.

This was my comment at their website on their editorial:

Unfortunately, Cheney isn't misrepresenting the essential facts with respect to the White House briefing the Democratic Congressional leadership on their felonious program of massive spying on the American people. While some of the Democratic leadership might have expressed some reservations such as Jay Rockefeller, the fact remains that none of them went public on this in a manner appropriate to the egregious and outrageous violations of the 1978 FISA law that prohibited surveillance without cause. Moreover, none of them did what WOULD have been meaningful if they really objected - moved to impeach. Letters such as Rockefeller's expressing misgivings and concerns mean exactly how much to someone like Bush and Cheney? It's like saying "No, no, no" to a spoiled and rotten kid demanding his way, while GIVING the damn kid what he wants.

Not only did Bush and Cheney involve and get the approval of the Democratic leadership for their ubiquitous spying, but also for the program of TORTURE, not "abuse" as you continue to describe it. Pelosi, among others, was briefed on their use of waterboarding at least as early as 2002.

What is more disturbing than what Bush and Cheney have done is that they have been allowed to get away with it by the Democrats and by the mass media. If they are not held to account and their precedents are allowed to stand, then anything that they have done and more can be and will eventually be done by future presidents. Even if Obama doesn't do it, in other words, some other president can and will. What happens, therefore, to the rule of law?

The New York Times to its credit exposed the warrantless spying, although it delayed revealing it for a full year, having known about it before the 2004 election, by acceding to the White House's entreaties to not reveal "national security secrets" to who? Why to the American people themselves who were being spied upon!

The Times, to its discredit, still refuses to call for impeachment and still refuses to call torture torture.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Obama Selects Rev. Rick Warren for the Inaugural Invocation

More evidence of what finding common ground with people who want to delegitimize and stigmatize whole categories of people - which is what Obama's stance is - leads to:

From the Human Rights Campaign:

Letter to Pres-Elect Obama on Choice of Rev. Rick Warren to Deliver Invocation at 56th Presidential Inauguration


WASHINGTON – Today the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, sent the following letter to President-elect Obama on the selection of anti-gay reverend, Rick Warren, to deliver the invocation at the 56th Presidential Inauguration set to take place on the West Front of the United States Capitol on January 20th.

The letter is as follows:
Dear President-elect Obama -

Let me get right to the point. Your invitation to Reverend Rick Warren to deliver the invocation at your inauguration is a genuine blow to LGBT Americans. Our loss in California over the passage of Proposition 8 which stripped loving, committed same-sex couples of their given legal right to marry is the greatest loss our community has faced in 40 years. And by inviting Rick Warren to your inauguration, you have tarnished the view that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans have a place at your table.

Rick Warren has not sat on the sidelines in the fight for basic equality and fairness. In fact, Rev. Warren spoke out vocally in support of Prop 8 in California saying, “there is no need to change the universal, historical definition of marriage to appease 2 percent of our population ... This is not a political issue -- it is a moral issue that God has spoken clearly about." Furthermore, he continues to misrepresent marriage equality as silencing his religious views. This was a lie during the battle over Proposition 8, and it's a lie today.

Rev. Warren cannot name a single theological issue that he and vehemently, anti-gay theologian James Dobson disagree on. Rev. Warren is not a moderate pastor who is trying to bring all sides together. Instead, Rev. Warren has often played the role of general in the cultural war waged against LGBT Americans, many of whom also share a strong tradition of religion and faith.

We have been moved by your calls to religious leaders to own up to the homophobia and racism that has stood in the way of combating HIV and AIDS in this country. And that you have publicly called on religious leaders to open their hearts to their LGBT family members, neighbors and friends.

But in this case, we feel a deep level of disrespect when one of architects and promoters of an anti-gay agenda is given the prominence and the pulpit of your historic nomination. Only when Rev. Warren and others support basic legislative protections for LGBT Americans can we believe their claim that they are not four-square against our rights and dignity. In that light, we urge you to reconsider this announcement.


Joe Solmonese
Human Rights Campaign

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

What One Person Can Do!


About the shoe throwing incident, the New York Times shamefully said:

"Mr. Zaidi had been severely beaten by security officers on Sunday after being tackled at the press conference and dragged out. While he has not been formally charged, Iraqi officials said he faced up to seven years in prison if convicted of committing an act of aggression against a visiting head of state. No doubt he must face the charges - and punished if found guilty."

Would that the New York Times could aspire to acting with even a modicum of the forcefulness of truth that Mr. Zaidi did! Would that they could uphold the rights of the people in such a fashion, even in a pale shadow of his bravery! Would that journalists who have been so culpable in demurring to tell the people the truth about the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions were punished for that guilt! Would that the New York Times would face their responsibility and call for the prosecution and punishment of the monstrous war criminals Bush and Cheney and their gang!

The Shoes We Longed For

The young journalist who took on Bush has become a unifying Iraqi symbol, a national hero

Sami Ramadani
The Guardian, Wednesday 17 December 2008

Within a few unlikely seconds, a pair of size 10 shoes have become the most destructive weapon the people of Iraq have managed to throw at the occupying powers, after nearly six years of occupation and formidable resistance. One Iraqi writer called the shoes, hurled by a journalist at George Bush, "Iraq's weapon of comprehensive destruction".

While the uprisings of Falluja, Najaf, Basra and Baghdad against the occupation will always remain as landmarks of a people resisting occupation, these incredible seconds have united Iraqis in the most dramatic fashion.

Contrary to most media coverage, the 28-year-old TV reporter Muntadhar al-Zaidi made history not by merely throwing a pair of shoes, the highest expression of insult in Iraqi culture, at the US president, but by what he said while doing so and as he was smothered by US and Iraqi security men. He groaned as they dragged him out of the press conference. They succeeded in silencing him - and according to his brother he was beaten in custody - but he had already said enough to shake the occupation and Nouri al-Maliki's Green Zone regime to their foundations.

Strip the words away, and his and the Iraqi people's cry of deep pain, anger and defiance would amount to no more than a shoe-throwing insult. But the words were heard. "This is the farewell kiss, you dog," he shouted as he threw the first shoe. The crucial line followed the second shoe: "This is from the widows, the orphans and those who were killed in Iraq." Once those words were heard, the impact of a pair of shoes became electrifying. A young journalist has put aside the demands of his profession, preferring to act as the loudest cry of his long-suffering people. If one considers the torture and killings in Iraqi and US jails that Muntadhar often mentioned in his reports for al-Baghdadia satellite TV station, he was certainly aware he risked being badly hurt.

As the Iraqi and Arab satellite stations switched from the live press conference to reporting reaction to the event, the stunned presenters and reporters were swept away by popular expressions of joy in the streets, from Baghdad to Gaza to Casablanca. TV stations and media websites were inundated with messages of adulation. The instant reply to any criticism of "insulting a guest" was: "Bush is a mass murderer and a war criminal who sneaked into Baghdad. He killed a million Iraqis. He burned the country down."

Expressions of support and demands for Muntadhar's immediate release have spread from Najaf and Falluja to Baghdad, and from Mosul in the north to Basra in the south. An impressive show of anti-occupation unity is developing fast, after being weakened by the sectarian forces that the occupation itself has strengthened and nourished, as Muntadhar himself used to stress.

No one asked after Muntadhar's religion or sect, but they all loved his message. Indeed, I have yet to come across an Iraqi media outlet or website that pronounced on his religion, sect or ethnicity. The first I heard of his "sect" was through US and British media.

The reality is that Muntadhar is a secular socialist whose hero happens to be Che Guevara. He became a prominent leftwing student leader immediately after the occupation, while at Baghdad University's media college. He reported for al-Baghdadia on the poor and downtrodden victims of the US war. He was first on the scene in Sadr City and wherever people suffered violence or severe deprivation. He not only followed US Apache helicopters' trails of death and destruction, but he was also among the first to report every "sectarian" atrocity and the bombing of popular market places. He let the victims talk first.

It was effective journalism, reporting that the victims of violence themselves accused the US-led occupation of being behind all the carnage. He was a voice that could not be silenced, despite being kidnapped by a gang and arrested by US and regime forces.

His passion for the war's victims and his staunchly anti-occupation message endeared him to al-Baghdadia viewers. And after sending Bush out of Iraq in ignominy he has become a formidable national hero. The orphan who was brought up by his aunt, and whose name means the longed or awaited for, has become a powerful unifying symbol of defiance, and is being adopted by countless Iraqis as "our dearest son".

• Sami Ramadani, a political exile from Saddam's regime, is a senior lecturer at London Metropolitan University © Guardian News and Media Limited 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Now, if only the courage shown by this Iraqi journalist were to be displayed by US journalists!

Perhaps then this American Dog of a President would never have been allowed to seize the presidency in the first place, despite losing twice!

Throwing shoes at a tyrant beats licking their butts, which is what dogs are also wont to do.

Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at Bush and Denounces Him on TV as a ‘Dog’ (December 15, 2008)

In Iraqi’s Shoe-Hurling Protest, Arabs Find a Hero. (It’s Not Bush.)


BAGHDAD — Calling someone the “son of a shoe” is one of the worst insults in Iraq. But the lowly shoe and the Iraqi who threw both of his at President Bush, with widely admired aim, were embraced around the Arab world on Monday as symbols of rage at a still unpopular war.

In Saudi Arabia, a newspaper reported that a man had offered $10 million to buy just one of what has almost certainly become the world’s most famous pair of black dress shoes.

See the rest of the story:

Times Topics: Muntader al-Zaidi

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Former CIA Officer Predicts Obama Will Employ Rendition

Yesterday the New York Times published the following OpEd by Reuel Marc Gerecht, ex-CIA officer and a member of Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a neocon think tank that includes Steve Forbes, Bill Kristol, Jack Kemp, Louis J. Freeh, Joseph Lieberman, Newt Gingrich, Max Kampelman, Robert Macfarlane, and James Woolsey. FDD's Board of Advisors are Gary Bauer, Rep. Eric Cantor, Frank Gaffney, Gene Gately, Charles Jacobs, General P.X. Kelley, Charles Krauthammer, Hon. Richard D. Lamm, Kathleen Troia "KT" McFarland, Sen. Zell Miller, Richard Perle, Steven Pomerantz, Oliver "Buck" Revell, Hon. Francis J. "Bing" West (This list courtesy of Wikipedia).

In his OpEd Gerecht postulates a "ticking time bomb" scenario:

"[I]f we’d gotten our hands on a senior member of Al Qaeda before 9/11, and knew that an attack likely to kill thousands of Americans was imminent, wouldn’t waterboarding, or taking advantage of the skills of our Jordanian friends, have been the sensible, moral thing to do with a holy warrior who didn’t fear death but might have feared pain?"

Interestingly, the US government did have information about a pending attack on the US, with the World Trade Center Twin Towers specifically mentioned by more than one source. What did the Bush White House do about this?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Not only did they have information, they had a great deal of information, from diverse and multiple sources, without engaging in rendition and without employing torture.

In my book, Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, you will find this abbreviated list, in Chapter 14 by Peter Phillips, Bridget Thornton, Lew Brown and Andrew Sloan, of what the White House knew before 9/11:

"A significant portion of the GDG [Global Dominance Group] had every opportunity to know in advance that the 9/11 attacks were imminent. Afghanistan, Argentina, Britain, the Cayman Islands, Egypt, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Morocco, Russia, and from within the U.S. the intelligence community all warned the U.S. of imminent terrorist attacks. Some of the 9/11 prewarnings include:

"1996–2001: Federal authorities knew that suspected terrorists with ties to bin Laden received flight training at schools in the U.S. and abroad. An Oklahoma City FBI agent sent a memo warning that 'large numbers of Middle Eastern males' were getting flight training and could have been planning terrorist attacks. (CBS, May 30, 2002.) One convicted terrorist confessed that his planned role in a terror attack was to crash a plane into CIA headquarters. (Washington Post, September 23, 2001.)

"JUNE of 2001: German intelligence warned the CIA, Britain’s intelligence agency, and Israel’s Mossad that Middle Eastern terrorists were planning to hijack commercial aircraft and use them as weapons to attack 'American and Israeli symbols which stand out.' (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, September 11, 2001; Washington Post, September 14, 2001; Fox News, May 17, 2002.)

"JUNE 28, 2001: George Tenet wrote an intelligence summary to Condoleezza Rice stating, 'It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.' (Washington Post, February 17, 2002.)

"JUNE–JULY 2001: President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and national security aides were given briefs with headlines such as 'Bin Laden Threats Are Real' and 'Bin Laden Planning High Profile Attacks.' The exact contents of these briefings remain classified, but according to the 9/11 Commission, they consistently predicted upcoming attacks that would occur 'on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil, consisting of possible multiple—but not necessarily simultaneous—attacks.' (9/11 Commission Report, April 13, 2004.)

"JULY 26, 2001: Attorney General Ashcroft stopped flying commercial airlines because of a threat assessment. (CBS, July 26, 2001.) The report of this warning was omitted from the 9/11 Commission Report. (Griffin, May 22, 2005.)

"AUGUST 6, 2001: President Bush received a classified intelligence briefing at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, warning that bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners; this briefing was entitled 'Bin Laden Determined to Strike in the United States.' The entire memo focused on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the U.S. and specifically mentioned the World Trade Center. (Newsweek, May 27, 2002; New York Times, May 15, 2002; Washington Post, April 11, 2004; White House, April 11, 2004; Intelligence Briefing, August 6, 2001.)

"AUGUST, 2001: Russian President Vladimir Putin warned the U.S. that suicide pilots were training for attacks on U.S. targets. (Fox News, May 17, 2002.) The head of Russian intelligence also later stated, 'We had clearly warned them' on several occasions, but they 'did not pay the necessary attention.' (Agence France-Presse, September 16, 2001.)

"SEPTEMBER 10, 2001: a group of top Pentagon officials received an urgent warning that prompted them to cancel their flight plans for the following morning. (Newsweek, September 17, 2001.) The 9/11 Commission Report omitted this report. (Griffin, May 22, 2005.)"


The "ticking time bomb" scenario allegedly necessitating the use of torture is a false premise for multiple reasons. I will elaborate on this question as I am able, time permitting. For now, remember that any scoundrel could cite an alleged "ticking time bomb" as a justification at any time. Is this the kind of world that we want to live in where anyone has license, as long as he or she cites the suspicion that there's a bomb about to go off, to torture someone? Torture is, as international law makes crystal clear, at all times and under all circumstances unjust, immoral, illegal and barbaric. Those who want to claim, as does Gerecht, that "we're the good guys" and "they're the bad guys" and "when we torture people we do it morally" are either trying to fool others or are engaging in self-deception as well as duplicity.

See the Op-Ed in question below:

December 13, 2008


Out of Sight


FEW post-9/11 issues have produced more anxiety and revulsion than the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of “aggressive interrogation” and the extrajudicial rendition of terrorist suspects to countries that practice torture. President-elect Barack Obama has promised to ban waterboarding and other pain-inflicting soliciting techniques, as well as rendition. He has also promised to close the Guantánamo Bay prison.

More broadly, liberal Democrats in Congress intend to deploy a more moral counterterrorism, where the ends — stopping the slaughter of civilians by Islamic holy warriors — no longer justifies reprehensible means. Winning the hearts and minds of foreigners by remaining true to our nobler virtues is now seen as the way to defeat our enemies while preserving our essential goodness.

Sounds uplifting. Don’t bet on it happening.

Mr. Obama will soon face the same awful choices that confronted George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and he could well be forced to accept a central feature of their anti-terrorist methods: extraordinary rendition. If the choice is between non-deniable aggressive questioning conducted by Americans and deniable torturous interrogations by foreigners acting on behalf of the United States, it is almost certain that as president Mr. Obama will choose the latter.

Of course, he and his senior officials seem to believe now that they don’t have to make this choice. For them there is a better way to combat terrorism, by using physically non-coercive questioning of suspects and civilian courts or military courts-martial to try and punish jihadists.

But this third way, which is essentially where America was before the Clinton administration embraced rendition, is plausible only if Mr. Obama is lucky. He might be. If there is no “ticking time bomb” situation — say, where waterboarding a future Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (the 9/11 mastermind) could save thousands of civilians — then there is neither need for the C.I.A.’s exceptional methods, nor the harsh services of Jordan’s General Intelligence Department.

And there are signs that Mr. Obama won’t have to confront such a situation. Through American and allied efforts, Al Qaeda has sustained enormous damage since 9/11. Osama bin Laden’s decisive battle in Iraq, where Al Qaeda intended to re-energize its holy war against the Americans among the Arabs, has turned into a military and moral disaster. Arab Muslim fundamentalists have finally started the great debate as to whether it is, in fact, unacceptable to kill believers and nonbelievers in jihad.

And the internal-security services of our allies in Europe are, on the whole, vastly better today than they were in 2001. Thanks to intrusive surveillance methods (many of which are outlawed in the United States), they are much more efficient in pre-empting the plots of holy warriors traversing their borders.

However, troubles in Pakistan may well reverse Mr. Obama’s luck. He has said he intends to be hawkish about fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Central Asia. So, let us suppose that he increases the number of Special Forces raids into Pakistan, and those soldiers capture members of Al Qaeda and their computers, and learn that the group has advanced plans for striking American and European targets, but we don’t know specifically where or when.

What would Mr. Obama do? After all, if we’d gotten our hands on a senior member of Al Qaeda before 9/11, and knew that an attack likely to kill thousands of Americans was imminent, wouldn’t waterboarding, or taking advantage of the skills of our Jordanian friends, have been the sensible, moral thing to do with a holy warrior who didn’t fear death but might have feared pain?

Mr. Obama will probably not have the option of ordering the C.I.A. to aggressively interrogate another member of Al Qaeda — not after running a campaign that highlighted the moral failings of President Bush. To get the C.I.A. back in the interrogation business would probably require a liberal Democratic Congress to pass laws guaranteeing case officers’ immunity from criminal and civil prosecution. This seems unlikely — unless, of course, the United States is again devastated by a terrorist strike.

And because of Mr. Obama’s plan to close Guantánamo, the Justice Department is already going to have to figure out how to move, try, punish and release its detainees. Thus the last thing in the world the Obama administration will want is to bring in more “enemy combatants” from the Central Asian battlefield.

Which brings us back to rendition, which, properly understood, is what Americans do when they realize that active counterterrorism against jihadists prepared to use mass-casualty weapons is an ethical, juridical and operational tar pit. It isn’t an ideal solution — American intelligence officers have no control of the questioning, and Washington can become beholden to foreign security services — but it’s a satisfactory compromise. Just ask Samuel R. Berger, the national-security adviser for President Bill Clinton, who no doubt worked through all the pitfalls when he first approved extrajudicial rendition.

In addition, the C.I.A. is able to guard the secrecy of foreign-liaison operations more effectively, especially from Congressional prying, than it can its own activities. It has also certainly paid close attention to how the press tracked some of its clandestine international flights carrying terrorism suspects after 9/11, and will in the future undoubtedly make it much harder to sleuth out who is going where.

A dense bipartisan moral fog surrounds rendition. Former senior Clinton officials can still deny that they sent anyone away in order that he be tortured. Few are as honest and frank as Walt Slocombe, a Clinton undersecretary of defense who once remarked that the difference between Democratic and Republican rendition was that Democrats “drilled air holes in the boxes.”

If Mr. Obama’s Democrats get blown back into the ugly world that we live in, and resume rendition (and, of course, fib about it), then President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, who have been vilified for besmirching America’s honor, may at least take some consolation in knowing that hypocrisy is always the homage vice pays to virtue.

Reuel Marc Gerecht, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer, is a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

Senator Charles Schumer, Wall Street, Deregulation and the Current Crisis

“He [Schumer] is mindful that this is a very big part of his constituency — Wall Street.”

Today's New York Times' "A Champion of Wall Street Reaps Benefits: the Reckoning," a lengthy piece by Eric Lipton, Raymond Hernandez, with contributions by Griff Palmer, recounts the role played by the senior Democratic Senator from New York, Charles Schumer. The piece is well-worth reading.

“We are not going to be a bunch of crazy, anti-business liberals,” one executive said, summarizing Mr. Schumer’s remarks. “We are going to be effective, moderate advocates for sound economic policies, good responsible stewards you can trust.”

Responsible stewards indeed! Trustworthy, without a doubt!

Schumer epitomizes the neoliberal sensibilities dominant among the Democrats: deregulate, deregulate, deregulate. Now that the crisis has struck that others could see and warned vigorously of, warnings that Schumer dismissed while helping his primary constituency, Wall Street, make boatloads of money, Schumer is now backing some limited regulatory mechanisms and blaming the crisis on those that he had helped so much when the storm clouds were gathering. This is Schumer doing what he has always done and what has characterized his career, protecting big capital's interests.

No, those aren't storm clouds, Schumer would say. Those clouds are bright white, they're not dark and gloomy. That wind you feel is merely a trifle. A slight breeze. Not the harbingers of a hurricane.

With leaders such as these, beholden to and in the pockets of the corporate elite, no wonder we're in such straits. But this is what neoliberalism reaps.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Fed Refuses to Reveal Who They've Loaned $2 Trillion to

“In its considered judgment and in view of current circumstances, it would be a dangerous step to release this otherwise confidential information,” Jennifer J. Johnson, the secretary for the Fed’s Board of Governors, said in a letter e-mailed to Bloomberg News.

Dec. 12 (Bloomberg) -- The Federal Reserve refused a request by Bloomberg News to disclose the recipients of more than $2 trillion of emergency loans from U.S. taxpayers and the assets the central bank is accepting as collateral.

Bloomberg filed suit Nov. 7 under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act requesting details about the terms of 11 Fed lending programs, most created during the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

The Fed responded Dec. 8, saying it’s allowed to withhold internal memos as well as information about trade secrets and commercial information. The institution confirmed that a records search found 231 pages of documents pertaining to some of the requests.

“If they told us what they held, we would know the potential losses that the government may take and that’s what they don’t want us to know,” said Carlos Mendez, a senior managing director at New York-based ICP Capital LLC, which oversees $22 billion in assets.

For the rest of this story, go here.

Ain't democracy great?

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Riots Spread From Greece Across Europe


MADRID, Spain (Dec. 11) - The unrest that has gripped Greece is spilling over into the rest of Europe, raising concerns the clashes could be a trigger for opponents of globalization, disaffected youth and others outraged by the continent's economic turmoil and soaring unemployment.

Protesters in Spain, Denmark and Italy smashed shop windows, pelted police with bottles and attacked banks this week, while in France, cars were set ablaze Thursday outside the Greek consulate in Bordeaux, where protesters scrawled graffiti warning about a looming "insurrection."

Read the rest and see photos here.

See also indymedia, where the photo above is posted.

September 11 families denounce Guantanamo trials

Wed Dec 10, 2008 4:25pm EST
By Jane Sutton

GUANTANAMO BAY U.S. NAVAL BASE, Cuba (Reuters) - Two dozen people who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks issued a statement on Wednesday denouncing the Guantanamo war crimes trials as illegitimate, shameful and politically motivated.

Their criticism came in response to passionate praise for the Guantanamo tribunals from other victims' relatives, whom the Pentagon brought to the remote U.S. naval base in Cuba this week to observe pretrial hearings for five prisoners charged with plotting the September 11 attacks.

"These prosecutions have been politically motivated from the start, are designed to ensure quick convictions at the expense of due process and transparency, and are structured to prevent the revelation of abusive interrogations and torture engaged in by the U.S. government," said the 24 relatives who signed Wednesday's statement, which was distributed through the American Civil Liberties Union.

They said any verdict in the Guantanamo proceedings, which are formally known as military commissions, would leave them wondering if justice had been served.

"No comfort or closure can come from military commissions that ignore the rule of law and stain America's reputation at home and abroad," they said. "It is time for our nation to stop betraying its own values and the values of so many who died on 9/11."

For the rest of the story, go to Reuters.

Ray McGovern on Torture, Obama, and Congress

Will Obama Buy Torture-Lite?

By Ray McGovern
December 11, 2008

You’ve got to hand it to them. Torture aficionados at the White House and CIA have conned key congressional leaders into insisting not only that torture-lite would be a swell idea, but advocating that the overseers of torture be kept on.

From change-you-can-believe-in, we seem to be slipping back to fear-you-can-trade-on.

Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, has publicly warned those in charge of the administration transition that “continuity is going to be pivotal in keeping us safe and secure.”

Thus, he argues, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael Hayden should stay in their posts.

If that were not enough, Reyes told Congress Daily’s Chris Strohm that he [Reyes] had advised the Obama team that some parts of what Strohm referred to as “CIA’s controversial alternative interrogation program” should be allowed to continue.

Using some of the same euphemisms and circumlocutions employed by the ersatz-lawyers hired by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, Reyes fired this shot across the bow of Barack Obama’s transition ship:

“It gets back to a world that is very dangerous. … There are some options that need to be available. … We don’t want to be known for torturing people. At the same time, we don’t want to limit our ability to get information that’s vital and critical to our national security. That’s where the new administration is going to have to decide what those parameters are, what those limitations are.”


Someone needs to tell Reyes what those parameters – what those limitations – should be. They are set by the Geneva Accords and the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996. Those are the laws that President Bush’s overly clever lawyers told him he could safely — well, pretty safely — disregard, because of the “new paradigm” post 9/11.

Pretty safely? Even those Mafia-type lawyers felt it necessary to warn their clients that Section 2441 of the U.S. War Crimes Act, passed by a Republican-led Congress in 1996, could conceivably come back to haunt the president and others who approved of or took part in torture. This is the best they could do by way of offering reassurance:

“It is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges based on Section 2441. Your determination [that Geneva does not apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban] would create a reasonable basis in law that Section 2441 does not apply, which would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution.”

If that sounds like the kind of advice one would expect to get from lawyers for the Mob, that’s because it is.

The casuistry virtually drips from a Jan. 25, 2002, memorandum for the President drafted by then-counsel to the Vice President, David Addington, and signed by then-counsel to the President, Alberto Gonzales. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell objected for a day or so but then saluted sharply, as is his wont.

As will be seen below, the lawyers’ advice did come back to haunt the President, putting him in a real sweat until he got Congress to grant him retroactive immunity.

To say President Bush was dumb to take their dubious advice is not the half of it. Really dumb was his decision to put it in writing, since the goons uncovered by CIA Director George Tenet and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld were not about to torture without a signed authorization from the President.

Bush decided to go ahead on the basis of the Addington/Gonzales opinion and signed a presidential memorandum on Feb. 7, 2002, incorporating the advice. The opinion is written verbatim, twice, into that short executive memorandum.

Over the President’s large black felt-tip signature appears convoluted text depicting, despite itself, a circle that refuses to be squared. Bush orders that detainees be treated “humanely and, to the extent appropriate and consistent with military necessity, in a manner consistent with the principles of Geneva.”

That was the official start of post-9/11 torture authorized from the top, although an American, John Walker Lindh, was the first to be actually tortured after being captured on Nov. 25, 2001, during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan – when senior Justice Department officials deliberately chose not to prevent it.

In the wake of the smoking-gun presidential memorandum of Feb. 7, 2002, subsequent memos by the administration’s Mob lawyers were mostly ex post facto attempts at CYA.


What incalculable shame this has brought on the U.S. Army and the Central Intelligence Agency, in both of which I was privileged to serve. I am hardly the first to use a Mafia analogy.

Consider the case of Army Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba, who was the first to investigate the Abu Ghraib prison abuse — the most glaring result of the President’s memo and Rumsfeld’s implementing instructions.

“Make sure this happens!” in Rumsfeld’s handwriting appeared on a memo over Rumsfeld’s signature that was prominently posted at Abu Ghraib.

Taguba issued a tough report, which was then leaked to the press — and thus was largely responsible for preventing the scandal from being swept entirely under the rug. Rather than thank Taguba for upholding the honor of the U.S. military, the Bush administration singled him out for ridicule, retribution and forced retirement.

Taguba told Seymour Hersh of a chilling conversation he had with Gen. John Abizaid, then head of Central Command, a few weeks after Taguba’s report became public in 2004. Sitting in the back of Abizaid’s Mercedes sedan in Kuwait, Abizaid quietly told Taguba, “You and your report will be investigated.”

“I’d been in the Army 32 years by then,” Taguba told Hersh, “and it was the first time that I thought I was in the Mafia.”

Getting Squared Away

The Army, to its credit, was able to push brownnoses like Abizaid off to the margins and, more important, to keep Mob lawyers out of the process of updating the Army Field Manual for interrogation.

Such was not the case at CIA, where Mob lawyers continued to prosper — including the one who offered interrogators the following basic guidance: “If the victim dies, you’re doing it wrong.”

I like to think that our nation’s decisions are not totally bereft of moral considerations, and that a majority of Americans would agree that torture — like rape or slavery — is intrinsically evil.

But torture is also intrinsically dumb. And an Army general with guts said precisely that on the very day President Bush was extolling the merits of “alternative sets of procedures” for interrogation.

Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, a career intelligence officer and expert in interrogations, minced no words in describing the new Army Field Manual (FM 2-22.3, Human Intelligence Collection Operations).

He stressed that it is “consistent with the requirements of law, the Detainee Treatment Act, and the Geneva Conventions, and that it was endorsed by the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the Director of National Intelligence. The DNI, Kimmons said, “coordinated laterally with the CIA.”

Doesn’t take a crackerjack intelligence analyst to figure out why the CIA would not “endorse” it.

As a former Army intelligence officer, who had to commit the previous interrogation field manual virtually to memory, I was particularly proud that Kimmons had the guts to seize the bull by the horns:

Conceding past “transgressions and mistakes,” Kimmons insisted: “No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices. I think history tells us that. I think the empirical evidence of the last five years, hard years, tells us that.

“Moreover, any piece of intelligence which is obtained under duress through the use of abusive techniques would be of questionable credibility. And additionally, it would do more harm than good when it inevitably became known that abusive practices were used. And we can’t go there.

“Some of our most significant successes on the battlefield have been — in fact, I would say all of them, almost categorically all of them have accrued from expert interrogators using mixtures of authorized, humane interrogation practices in clever ways that you would hope Americans would use them, to push the envelope within the bookends of the legal, moral, and ethical — now as further defined by this field manual. So we don’t need abusive practices in there. Nothing good will come from them.”

No Torture Commandments

Kimmons emphasized that the new manual is written in “straightforward language for use by soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines; it is not written for lawyers.” He explained that the field manual explicitly prohibits torture or cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment or punishment.

Among the specific prohibitions were:

-Interrogators may not force a detainee to be naked, perform sexual acts or pose in a sexual manner;

-They cannot use hoods or place sacks over a detainee’s head or use duct tape over his eyes;

-They cannot beat or electrically shock or burn them or inflict other forms of physical pain — any form of physical pain;

-They may not use water boarding, hypothermia, or treatment which will lead to heat injury;

-They will not perform mock executions;

-They may not deprive detainees of the necessary food, water, and medical care; and

-They may not use dogs in any aspect of interrogation.

Meanwhile, just across the Potomac at the White House an hour later that same day (Sept. 6, 2006), President Bush devoted half of a long speech to cops-and-robbers examples, none of them confirmed or persuasive, showing how “tough” interrogation techniques — he called them “an alternative set of procedures” — had yielded information preventing all manner of catastrophe.

He made clear that his government had “changed its policies,” giving intelligence personnel “the tools they need” to fight terrorists, and that he wanted the “CIA program” to continue.

Bush appealed for and, just before Congress changed hands in November 2006, got legislation granting retroactive immunity to him and other practitioners of “alternative” procedures.

Several months earlier, on June 29, 2006, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that Geneva DOES apply to al-Qaeda and Taliban detainees, and rejected the artifice of “unitary executive power” used by the Bush administration to “justify” practices like torture.

One senior Bush official is reported to have gone quite pale when Justice Anthony M. Kennedy raised the ante, warning that “violations of Common Article 3 [of Geneva] are considered ‘war crimes.’”

That threw a scare into a whole bunch of what one might call “unitary executives,” prompting the President on Sept. 6, 2006, to ask Congress to give “top priority” to new legislation holding them harmless for violation of Geneva, which they got a couple of months later.

Back to the Future

You may have been told, Chairman Reyes, that when Rep. Charlie Wilson took the reins of a House intelligence oversight panel, he immediately wrote to the operations people at CIA, saying, “Well, gentlemen, the fox is in the hen house. Do whatever you like.”

Your predecessor as House Intelligence Committee chair, Pete Hoekstra, R-Michigan, also gave the CIA free rein as long as then-Director George Tenet did the White House’s bidding — whatever that bidding happened to be.

Is that how you see your role, Mr. Congressman? Why have you been running interference for the Bush/Cheney administration?

Specifically, why did you stiff-arm those of your colleagues who wanted to put language into the FY09 Intelligence Authorization Bill ordering CIA interrogators to adhere to the Army Field Manual for interrogation?

Have a look at the above list of practices expressly forbidden by the manual. Have the folks in the hen house told you that some are absolutely necessary?

You served in Vietnam. Did you see “alternative techniques” in use there? Could you visualize them being used on you — or your grandsons?

Do you think former Air Force General and now CIA Director Michael Hayden or former Navy Admiral Mike McConnell know more about effective interrogation techniques than the head of Army intelligence?

Getting Snowed

Are you not aware that many of those on the operations side of CIA ply their trade as con men? Such activities are supposed to be directed abroad. But all too often they are applied with consummate, smirking skill to the Hill.

Don’t believe the stories they tell you about alleged “successes” of torture techniques. They are normally told by folks with zero experience or folks simply snowing you.

Take former Deputy Director John McLaughlin, for example. I have known John for 40 years; he would not recognize an interrogation if he tripped over one.

And he and his boss Tenet were so duplicitous that the former head of State Department intelligence permitted himself the undiplomatic comment that the two should have been shot for their role in deliberately falsifying intelligence — like that concerning those non-existent “mobile biological weapons laboratories” in Iraq.

Not long ago, McLaughlin made the mistake of purveying the myth about how effective harsh interrogation techniques have been, with the usual “If you saw the intelligence I have seen…”

Trouble was, the senior intelligence officer he was talking to had seen it all, and more, and answered, “I have seen all of it John. Either you are naïve, incredibly credulous, or you are lying.”

How McLaughlin and John Brennan, both eager accomplices of George Tenet, got picked for the intelligence transition team boggles the minds of those of us who are familiar with their role in the saddest and most unconscionable chapters of U.S. intelligence — both analysis and operations.

But there they are, whispering into the credulous ears of people like Silvestre Reyes.

Chairman Reyes, go talk to Gen. Kimmons.

Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He was an Army infantry/intelligence officer and then a CIA analyst for 27 years, during which he chaired National Intelligence Estimates and prepared the President’s Daily Brief. He is now a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Strangling Dissent, Muzzling Whisleblowers

See my essay posted today at OpEd News.

Berkeley City Council Calls for UCB to prosecute John Yoo for War Crimes

Berkeley city council urges U.S. to prosecute former Bush official

Carolyn Jones, Chronicle Staff Writer

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

(12-09) 11:19 PST Berkeley -- After an emotional, fiery debate over academic freedom and torture, Berkeley's city council passed a measure late Monday night imploring the U.S. to prosecute Berkeley resident and former White House official John Yoo for war crimes.

Yoo, a tenured professor at UC Berkeley's Boalt Hall School of Law, wrote the legal memos justifying torture while interrogating terrorism suspects while he served as Deputy Assistant Attorney general for the Bush administration in 2001-03.

"John Yoo took a material involvement in the deaths and torture of untold numbers of people," said city councilman Max Anderson, choking back tears during the council's debate. "The broken bodies, the broken spirits, the broken trust he wrought with his actions - that's why they call these crimes against humanity."

Yoo was not available for comment Tuesday.

The council stopped short of passing the full original measure, put forth by the Peace and Justice Commission, which called for the city to urge UC Berkeley to re-arrange its class schedule so no student would be required to take a course from Yoo.

"I don't think we should be dictating course policy to the University," said city councilman Laurie Capitelli.

Yoo teaches constitutional and international law at Boalt, but he won't be in Berkeley much longer. He was appointed in September to be a visiting professor at Chapman University in Orange County, serving from January to May 2009.

E-mail Carolyn Jones at

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Use Good Search and Raise Money for World Can't Wait

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Click onto the link above and enter World Can't Wait as the organization you want your donations to go to. It's very simple.

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Saturday, December 6, 2008

My Letter to the Berkeley City Council

December 6, 2008

Dear Sir/Madam:

I write to support the resolution that John Yoo be prosecuted for war crimes and dismissed from his position as Boalt Hall Professor of Law.

I am a sociologist, a criminologist, and co-editor/author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney.

The crimes committed by the Bush White House are widespread, extensive, shocking to the conscience, and undermine the rule of law. John Yoo has played and is playing a very significant role as a co-conspirator of the Bush White House’s crimes against humanity, declaring in writing and in speeches that the President’s power is not limited by separation of powers or by the law, whether national or international. That presidential power, according to Mr. Yoo, includes the right to commit horrific acts of torture and murder of detainees and suspects.

Berkeley has a proud tradition of standing up for justice. I can hardly think of a more important duty than to stand up for the victims of torture and to stand up against the acts of those in our government who have consciously facilitated monstrous acts of inhumanity as policy.

I feel deep shame as an American and as a Chinese American for Mr. Yoo’s deeds and for the deeds of the White House that he so willingly and enthusiastically served and serves to this day. The fact that reportedly Mr. Yoo is an engaging professor for law students does not gainsay the fact that he is a war criminal, the latter a fact that is beyond dispute.

War criminals should not face safe harbor anywhere. They should be and must be condemned for their acts and advocacy. People of conscience must speak up and fight against tyranny or the tyrants will prevail. Every generation faces its own tests and found either worthy or wanting. This generation faces an historic challenge, the outcome of which will reverberate for generations and generations to follow. What is at stake here cannot be overestimated.

I urge that you pass this resolution and go on record on the right side of history.


Dr. Dennis Loo
Professor of Sociology
Cal Poly Pomona


Please send a letter or call the City Council and Mayor. See this posting for background and their contact information.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Slip Sliding Away and the Democrats: Is Torture Torture Or Not?

[Update: Feinstein's office added in a communication with Michael Scherer of Time magazine the following to what she had previously issued: Saying "that she still wants a law that mandates the Field Manual as the sole interrogation standard, but that she may be willing to be talked back from that position by the Obama Administration, if it chooses to do so." This confirms my assessment that Feinstein and Wyden were reacting to signals from the Obama team - DL.

Feinstein further added in her comments to Scherer: "I plan to introduce legislation in January that would close Guantanamo, make the Army Field Manual the single standard for interrogations, prohibit contractors from being used to carry out interrogations and provide the International Committee of the Red Cross with access to detainees."

This "addition" of hers, however, does not add anything to what she said previously. It merely restates her vacillation - DL.]

After consistently and unequivocally demanding that the Bush White House employ nothing other than the Army Field Manual in their interrogations, even introducing legislation to ensure that, Sen. Diane Feinstein – who is going to take over as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January - backtracked in a December 2, 2008 interview in the New York Times:

“[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. ‘I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,’ she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

“Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: ‘The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.’"

The Times article goes on to further relate Sen. Ron Wyden’s remarks:

“Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were ‘legal, humane and noncoercive.’ But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.”

These remarks bode exceedingly ill for current and future detainees of the U.S. government and for American soldiers who might be captured, and of course, for the fate of this country and the world.

As Glenn Greenwald on December 4 noted at length, Feinstein and Wyden are now backtracking on their very public and consistent stands opposing the use of techniques beyond what the Army Field Manual proscribes.

The fact that no member of Congress filibustered, and thereby stopped torture forthwith, when the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was being debated, or when, even before that, torture was revealed to be going on (Nancy Pelosi knew in 2002), and the fact that no one outside of a handful of Congress, led by Dennis Kucinich, have moved for impeaching this White House of torturers, of course, would have - and still would - render all of these contortions unnecessary.

But so it goes – and continues to go: the Democrats, when left to their own devices, coalesce with the GOP, in the absence of a determined and irresistible mass movement that could force this government, Democrat and Republican alike, to do otherwise: that is, the right thing.

What’s going on?

Greenwald speculates that it was easy for Congressional Democrats to claim that torture must be avoided under all circumstances when anything they passed to that effect could be and was vetoed or signing statemented-away by Bush, but now if they pass such a law, Obama’s on record as saying that torture should be ended, and he would therefore have to sign such a bill. Therefore, the Senators are waffling because they don’t really want to such a bill to become law.

Certainly, Democrats have set the bar very high for world-class waffling and far be it from me to dispute that they might be doing so. But Greenwald’s explanation doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

While he is right about the Senate Democrats backtracking, what’s in play here is more disturbing.

Let’s look closely at Feinstein’s remarks, which were not issued off the cuff but were reissued by her office to expand upon what she said to the Times:

“[T]he best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Whose views are these “other views?” They could perhaps be originating from the GOP or the current White House, although if that is the source, this is a strange way of putting it since the White House’s views and practice on this are known to everyone and not new for that reason. No, the source of these “other views” is the incoming Obama administration. Yes, the same administration that has repeatedly said that torture is wrong and said that they will end it when they take office.

The Senate Democrats are not acting on their own and would not be issuing these new equivocal statements without first being signaled by the President-Elect’s team and possibly Obama himself that they are considering some “alternative sets of procedures” for interrogations. Party members don’t go off on their own in such a dramatic fashion without first checking with the leaders of their Party.

This shift by Feinstein and Wyden is, unfortunately, consistent with signals coming from the Obama team within the last few weeks on what they are planning to do about the Guantanamo detainees, about creating a new kind of court (“National Security Courts”), and about continuing “preventive detention.” If they do go ahead with these plans, they will have joined unequivocally the no man’s land realm that the Bush cabal has been occupying.

The Times’ piece, authored by Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane, begins by describing the withdrawal of Brennan from consideration as the next CIA chief:

“John O. Brennan, a C.I.A. veteran who was widely seen as Mr. Obama’s likeliest choice to head the intelligence agency, withdrew his name from consideration after liberal critics attacked his alleged role in the agency’s detention and interrogation program. Mr. Brennan protested that he had been a ‘strong opponent’ within the agency of harsh interrogation tactics, yet Mr. Obama evidently decided that nominating Mr. Brennan was not worth a battle with some of his most ardent supporters on the left.” [Boldfacing added].

Mazzetti and Shane “forgot” to mention that Brennan has also been an exponent of the massive warrantless surveillance of all of America.

By describing Brennan’s role in supporting rendition and torture as “alleged” Mazzetti and Shane were engaging in the equivalent of declaring that 2+2 = 4 (allegedly).

It’s like Hillary Clinton cagily saying during the campaign that Barack Obama isn’t a Muslim, “as far as I know.”

This is what Brennan said in a March 8, 2006 Frontline interview: ”I think George [Tenet] had two concerns. One is to make sure that there was that legal justification, as well as protection for CIA officers who are going to be engaged in some of these things, so that they would not be then prosecuted or held liable for actions that were being directed by the administration. So we want to make sure the findings and other things were done probably with the appropriate Department of Justice review.”

Why was there concern of possible prosecution for CIA officers? There would be no concern if these CIA figures were following the Army Field Manual. There was only concern because they were engaging in practices prohibited by the AFM and that are unequivocally categorized by the Geneva Conventions as torture.

Mainstream media can’t bring itself to name practices for what they are when it comes to calling out government officials for what they are doing, but Mazzetti and Shane have no trouble describing in derogatory terms the critics of rendition, torture and massive, felonious surveillance as “ardent supporters on the left.”

I suppose that being opposed to torture makes you a lefty and hence all right-thinking, non-ardent, middle of the roaders or righties are for torture?

Brennan isn’t an “ardent” supporter of rendition. No, ardent isn’t good. He’s merely an “alleged” supporter of such practices.

Is it then better that we be “allegedly critics of torture?”

Speaking of alleged critics of torture: quo vadis Obama and the Congressional Democrats?

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Silence in a Time of Torture Signifies Tacit Approval

A message in support of a Berkeley City Council Resolution on John Yoo:

The Berkeley Peace and Justice Commission's recommendation to the City Council presents an important call for all Americans to stand in opposition to abetting John Yoo, University of California professor and author of the "Torture Memos" which were key to the establishment of a system of state torture. This Resolution calls for John Yoo to be prosecuted for war crimes and dismissed from his position as Professor of Law at Boalt Hall. The ramifications of the Resolution ensure that torture is not tolerated in the city of Berkeley and will serve as a model for other communities' efforts to hold high administration officials of torture to account. The passage of the John Yoo Resolution presents a critical step in investigating the codification, implementation, and acceleration of the authorization of torture—a responsible step that must now be taken to call for the end of torture as a pillar for endless war., a member of the No To Torture - John Yoo Must Go Coalition, supports the Commission's John Yoo Resolution and asks organizations and individual advocates to do the same. Fire John Yoo encourages directly contacting city council members to support the Resolution, and to visibly stand and speak out against torture before the City Council on December 8th. If you are unable to attend the Public Hearing, please write a statement that can be submitted to the Council. By taking these actions, we can have an enormous impact on the direction the U.S. will take in honoring its commitment to rescind the use of torture.

People of conscience demand the removal of John Yoo, legal architect of the Bush Regime's torture policies, from the employ of the University of California. How will the community of Berkeley respond when someone asks: "What did you do during this time?"

Linda Rigas
JD Candidate, New England School of Law, Boston, Massachusetts
Member of
Legal Intern, Physicans for Human Rights

Public Hearing Monday, December 8

2134 Martin Luther King, Jr. Way
City Council Meetings begin at 7:00 PM

A copy of the Peace and Justice recommendation can be found at: (see "Attachment #1").

Write and call Berkeley City Council Members to show your support for
recommended actions against John Yoo, Legal Advisor to the Bush
administration and author of memos giving the green light for torture:

Mayor Tom Bates (510) 981-7100

District 1 Linda Maio (510) 981-7110

District 2 Darryl Moore (510) 981-7120

District 3 Max Anderson (510) 981-7130

District 4 Jesse Arreguin (510) 981-7140

District 5 Laurie Capitelli (510) 981-7150

District 6 Susan Wengraf (510) 981-7160

District 7 Kriss Worthington (510) 981-7170

District 8 Gordon Wozniak (510) 981-7180

The Mayor and Council Members may be reached by mail at:
2180 MilviaStreet
Berkeley, CA 94704.

Right-Wingers and Neocons Love Obama's Cabinet Appointments

By Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet

Posted on November 30, 2008, Printed on December 3, 2008

As Barack Obama's opus, Team of Rivals, continues its rolling debut, the early reviews are in and the "critics" are full of praise for the cast:

"[T]he new administration is off to a good start."
-- Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell.

"[S]uperb ... the best of the Washington insiders ... this will be a valedictocracy -- rule by those who graduate first in their high school classes."
-- David Brooks, conservative New York Times columnist

"[V]irtually perfect ... "
-- Senator Joe Lieberman, former Democrat and John McCain's top surrogate in the 2008 campaign.

-- Karl Rove, "Bush's brain."

"I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain ... this all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators, and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign ... [Hillary] Clinton and [James] Steinberg at State should be powerful voices for 'neo-liberalism' which is not so different in many respects from 'neo-conservativism.'"
-- Max Boot, neoconservative activist, former McCain staffer.

"I see them as being sort of center-right of the Democratic party."
-- James Baker, former Secretary of State and the man who led the theft of the 2000 election.

"[S]urprising continuity on foreign policy between President Bush's second term and the incoming administration ... certainly nothing that represents a drastic change in how Washington does business. The expectation is that Obama is set to continue the course set by Bush ... "
-- Michael Goldfarb of the neoconservative Weekly Standard.

"I certainly applaud many of the appointments ... "
-- Senator John McCain

"So far, so good."
-- Senator Lamar Alexander, senior Republican Congressional leader.

Hillary Clinton will be "outstanding" as Secretary of State
-- Henry Kissinger, war criminal

Rahm Emanuel is "a wise choice" in the role of Chief of Staff
-- Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, John McCain's best friend.

Obama's team shows "Our foreign policy is non-partisan."
-- Ed Rollins, top Republican strategist and Mike Huckabee's 2008 campaign manager

"The country will be in good hands."
-- Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush's Secretary of State

**Team of Rivals will be playing all day, every day for at least the next four years**

Jeremy Scahill pledges to be the same journalist under an Obama administration that he was during Bill Clinton and George Bush's presidencies. He is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army and is a frequent contributor to The Nation and Democracy Now! He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

On Obama's Foreign Policy Apppointments

Max Boot, former McCain campaign staffer and neocon leader: "I am gobsmacked by these appointments, most of which could just as easily have come from a President McCain," Boot wrote. The appointment of General Jones and the retention of Gates at defence "all but puts an end to the 16-month timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the unconditional summits with dictators and other foolishness that once emanated from the Obama campaign."

This is an excerpt from Jeremy Scahill's "Barack Obama's Kettle of Hawks," posted today at

Iraq War Resister on the Importance of Creating a Culture of Resistance

The following is a presentation given by Matthis Chiroux, a U.S. Army Veteran, at the "Stopping the Endless Wars and Torture: Resisters Speak Out" event held on the evening of November 22nd, 2008, in conjunction with World Can't Wait's national conference in Chicago. [Go to for the video/audio].

My name is Matthis Chiroux.

I was in the Army 5 years. I was honorably discharged last summer. I received forced activation orders this past February, which I publicly refused in the U.S. Congress this past May. The U.S. Army has decided to prosecute me for my refusal to go to Iraq. That will probably be going down in January. I’m going to fight that tooth and nail as I promised to do last May.

I want to talk about this concept of military resistance, of soldiers and sailors saying “no” to this occupation and how we as American citizens can make that decision easier for them, because it is not something that is the slightest bit easy, even for the most progressive of us. I think out of all the people I met in the Army, I was pretty much the furthest left. The fact that I had to struggle for months over whether or not to deploy to Iraq is indicative of the fact that we do not have a society here which is ready to receive GI resisters as heroes rather than traitors.

That’s one of the first and most important things that we have to drive home about this concept of GI resistance. For GI resistance to be a reality, we have to have a society that’s willing to support it. The other vets in the room tell me if I’m wrong, but at least for me, when I was in the military, one of my biggest fears honestly was not physical pain or even getting blown up. My number one fear was being thought of as a coward. I didn’t want my fellow service members, I didn’t want my countrymen, I didn’t want the leaders of my nation to think that I, Matthis Chiroux, was a coward.

And that’s something that we’ve all been told we would be if we refused to go fight. It didn’t matter if that was in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or wherever they decided to send us, the idea of refusing to kill has been painted to service members as an act of cowardice. And it is something that unfortunately in this country is still reflected back at us, even among those who would like to call themselves progressives and Democrats.

The idea of service members saying, “No, I’m not going to do that!” is still unacceptable. And that’s a shame. More often than not, when I tell people that I refused to deploy to Iraq last summer – and this is in New York City, where I live, supposedly a very progressive center of the world – the first thing they say back to me is “well, aren’t you required to follow orders?” This is even very progressive people that I know. And I have to explain to them, “well, before that, there’s this part in the enlistment oath where you’re supposed to swear allegiance to the Constitution, and if you think something is violating that, it’s ultimately the authority.”

That’s crazy. I’m from Alabama originally, so when I got home, it’s just that amplified. That I think is the primary reason that soldiers, who otherwise believe the war is illegal, and know that we were lied to, to get in there, still continue deploying. Myself, it’s crazy to think I wasn’t scared of the jail time. I thought I would rather serve 20 years in jail than take one innocent life. The idea of going to jail didn’t scare me, the idea of having to sacrifice for what I thought was right, didn’t scare me, that’s sort of what gets us into the Army, the idea of sacrifice.

A lot of us, we want to make that sacrifice, otherwise we wouldn’t have gotten in there in the first place. There’s something about being a martyr for the country that is moving to us. It wasn’t the jail time, it wasn’t the hardship, it was simply the fact that I didn’t want to be remembered as a coward that was going to drive me into participating in an occupation that Iraq Veterans Against the War ultimately helped save me from, and I’m eternally grateful to the organization, or rather more, the individuals in the organization for opening my eyes to so many realities.

I never went to Iraq, but I was in the Army as a journalist, and I spoke with thousands and thousands of soldiers throughout my years as an Army journalist. After hearing so many idiosyncrasies having to do with prisoner abuse and corpse mutilation, free-fire rules of engagement you kind of start to put together another picture.

But still I had never experienced that first-hand. So I thought if I say no now, people are going to think I’m a coward. But then I saw Winter Solider, and I realized, wow, there are so many people who stood up there and testified who sound a lot like me. Except the only difference is, they’ve got something to regret now. And that’s that they didn’t say no before. I saw so many people who said, had I just known beforehand, I would have said “no” and I’d feel better about myself today.

And I realized, this whole idea of deploying because I’m afraid of being a coward, to participate in something that I think is illegal, is only going to lead me back home to be part of the anti-war movement out of remorse, rather than out of desire to pre-empt all this stuff. So, I think Winter Soldier in a huge way plays into that need of this movement to forge a culture in the United States of acceptance, and even more than that, and I’m not trying to say this because I want anyone to jump up and give me a hug, but of adoration for resisters.

We have been inundated for the longest time with so much of this “America: we support the troops!” There’s this intense love and respect, and I know after I got out of basic training, I went back to my home town, and people were jumping off the sidewalks with tears in their eyes, people I didn’t even know, falling over themselves to thank me for my sacrifice. So all of this “support the troops” rhetoric makes it so much harder for service members to break away from the party line.

Because they see “I’m a hero right now. My country is so overwhelmingly moved by my sacrifice. If I walk away from this, I’m going to be letting all these people down they’re going to think I’m a coward, I’m going to think I’m a coward.”

You [from World Can’t Wait] were showing me the pamphlet [why we don’t support the troops]. I think it’s really important to drive things home right now; the message to be sending to the military is not necessarily “we support you regardless.” To continue to say that, to pile on this admiration and compliments on people who deploy to Iraq is only making them want to do that more. And it’s important that we take that idea of supporting the troops, and apply it to the alternative, which is resistance. Which are those who are maybe not even conscientious objectors – this might disappoint people, but I’m not actually even a conscientious objector, but this war is so blatantly illegal. It is a war of choice, it’s based on lies, money and corruption, and I’m not the only one that can see that. A lot of people can see that.

MATTHIS CHIROUX is part of the We Are Not Your Soldiers National Tour sponsored by The World Can’t Wait–Drive Out the Bush Regime! For more info on this tour contact or call 347.385.2195.

Monday, December 1, 2008

To Those Who Believe That Torture Is Necessary and Works

From Matthew Alexander who led an interrogations team assigned to a Special Operations task force in Iraq in 2006, writing in the Washington Post on Sunday:

"I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans."

Torture is wrong under any and all circumstances. But it is also appropriate to point out, as Matthew Alexander does above, that it is viciously counter-productive. Bush and Cheney know this. They use it because their goals aren't really to quell anti-state terror. Their principle goal is to terrorize because they know that they can't accomplish what they want - world domination - by persuasion and if people have freedom of thought.