Archive for October, 2010

Bagram: America’s best-kept Afghan secret

From RT.com:

The US military’s Bagram detention facility in Afghanistan is hidden behind a wall of secrecy and considered by many to be more questionable than the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Debra Sweet, the director of The World Can’t Wait, said that those held at Bagram are unknowns – who they are is not disclosed, and the charges they face are not disclosed.

“The world wants to know who is being held there and why,” said Sweet.

There are allegations of secret prison practices, harsh interrogations and conditions far worse than those at Guantanamo Bay.

The Obama administration refuses to make public details about the detention facility, and also continues to deny habeas corpus rights to those held there.

“The argument that the Obama administration is making, as I understand it, is this is an active warzone, therefore we don’t have to give rights that anyone on US soil would be guaranteed,” said Sweet.

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Torture @ Guantanamo: Effects on Detainees & Soldiers

The Berkeley Says NO to Torture Week began Sunday October 10 with a book talk by Andy Worthington who wrote The Guantanamo Files:The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison, and Justine Sharrock, author of Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things.  Even for people who have followed the US detention of men at Guantanamo, the stories of the real people involved; both those detained, and those who were part of the functioning, are eye-opening and heart-breaking.

The Guantanamo Files: Stories of the 774 Men in American's Illegal Prison

Andy, who knows as much or more about the individual stories of the men detained at Guantanamo, reminded everyone of the reason we’re doing this Week in Berkeley: John Yoo is here teaching law at Cal, as he has been since 2004, when he returned from his two years spent in the Bush White House arranging the “legal” justification of torture and indefinite detention.  Why stay on the issue of the closure of Guantanamo when, for the time being, it’s disappeared off the radar?  “Just because something’s gone on for far too long, doesn’t make it less wrong,” Andy says.

He gave a quick overview of Guantanamo, 20 months after Barack Obama said he’d close it in 12 months.  598 men have been released with no charges, mostly by the Bush regime.  174 are left.  Of those, the Obama administration plans to charge 35 and try them under the “new” military commissions.  48 are to be held indefinitely — no charges, no trials, no release, in legal limbo.  The rest are all “approved for transfer,” a phrase this administration picked up from Bush, as opposed to “approved for release”  which could indicate they were held without reason.  Andy pointed out that the U.S. has prevailed on 15 countries to take detainees after release, but that the U.S. – the country which detained the innocent men –  won’t take any.

The vast majority of the 774 men were not caught on the battlefield, as the Bush regime said at the time, but were bought for bounty.  The US government didn’t know who they had, why, or what any of them might have done.   General Dunleavy, the first general in charge in 2002 when Guantanamo opened, called a lot of them “Mickey Mouse” prisoners, held without reason.  Nevertheless, while held, one in 6 of them got the “full treatment” of enhanced interrogation procedures, both physical and psychological that we now know to be the Bush/Yoo package of torture.

Andy did not confine his criticism to Bush, who came up with the term “enemy combatant,” but described for us what the Obama administration has done, and not done.  The term is new: “unprivileged enemy belligerents.”  They have habeas corpus rights, but still, many are not being released, much less given an apology or any sort of compensation.  See a post from Andy on October 11, Former Guantánamo Prisoner, Tortured by Al-Qaeda and the US, Launches Futile Attempt to Hold America Accountable.

Justine Sharrock got to know four men who were involved in torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.   She writes with much understanding, developed over time with the men, for how they have been destroyed by participating and being trained as part of dehumanizing package of detention and torture.

Tortured: When Good Soldiers Do Bad Things by Justine Sharrock

She read from her book about Chris Arendt, an anarchist, Jack Kerouac-reading punk from the Midwest who somehow ended up in a National Guard unit sent to Guantanamo. As he learned the pattern of detainee abuse, like the “frequent flyer” program where detainees were moved every few hours to a different cell for months, he began folding the order forms into origami birds which spilled over his whole desk.  He tried to kill himself.

The jacket blurb reads: “Myths about torture abound: Waterboarding is the worst we’ve done. The soldiers were hardened professionals. All Americans now believe that what we did was wrong. Torture is now a thing of the past. Journalist Justine Sharrock’s reporting reveals a huge chasm between what has made headlines and what has actually happened. She traveled around the country, talking to the young, low-ranking soldiers that watched our prisoners, documenting what it feels like to torture someone and discovering how many residents of small town America think we should have done a lot more torture.”

Justine’s work on how torture was shaped, and has come to be accepted, is really important.  She and Any will be speaking again at a program Wednesday about writers on torture.

Lauro Vasquez, a recent graduate of Dominican College read two of his poems.  A member of the Revolutionary Poetry Brigade, he told how he started thinking in poems while working as a dishwasher at college.  I’m going to ask him for the poems to post here.

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Telling the truth vs. the election game

It’s election time, and our problem, as people who care about humanity, is not that the Democratic Party is likely to lose big at the polls. Our problem is that the crimes of our government continue under the Democrats, and far too few of the millions in this country who know this are acting to stop these crimes by independent, mass action.

Case: October 2nd. As thousands of people streamed towards the One Nation Working Together rally at the Lincoln Memorial, they saw a bright orange banner with the words “War Crimes Must Be Stopped – No Matter Who Does Them!” In the crowd of union workers, teachers, and progressive minded people brought to Washington by the NAACP and unions, they might have just nodded agreement, or shaken their heads at the mugshot of George Bush on the banner.

World Can't Wait at One Nation Rally

World Can't Wait at One Nation Rally

But next to the image of Bush on that banner is a mugshot of Barack Obama. This stopped many hundreds of people to take photos and gather around. The World Can’t Wait supporters, some wearing orange jumpsuits to symbolize the indefinite detention and torture still going on at Guantanamo, distributed thousands of flyers detailing a few of the war crimes in 2010, and struggled ably and with persistence, over what the facts are. Some who stopped agreed that the image was truthful, shaking their heads over how disappointed they are with the Democrats. But, of those who stopped, more disagreed, and some were disbelieving or angry at the comparison. “You can’t say that about Obama! Obama wouldn’t do any of those things! You should have been out here when Bush started it! You’re just helping the Tea Party!”

Case: October 7th: On the ninth anniversary of the day the Bush regime sent US forces to invade Afghanistan, World Can’t Wait ran an ad in The New York Times. “Crimes are Crimes – No Matter Who Does Them!” it said, “End the silence of complicity,” with three examples from 2010 of how the Obama administration is “in some respects, worse than Bush:”

“Obama has claimed the right to assassinate American citizens whom he suspects of “terrorism,” merely on the grounds of his own suspicion or that of the CIA, something Bush never claimed publicly. Second, Obama says that the government can detain you indefinitely, even if you have been exonerated in a trial, and he has publicly floated the idea of “preventive detention.” Third, the Obama administration, in expanding the use of unmanned drone attacks, argues that the U.S. has the authority under international law to use such lethal force and extrajudicial killing in sovereign countries with which it is not at war.”  The ad was signed by an impressive list including Noam Chomsky, Cornel West, Cindy Sheehan, Mark Ruffalo, Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges, and Roseanne Barr.

When World Can’t Wait ran seven full page ads in The New York Times and USA Today during the Bush years, calling for a mass movement to “Drive Out the Bush Regime,” the response was strong and immediate, with hundreds calling, donating and volunteering. Then, the campaign and election of Barack Obama sucked in much of the leadership and base of the mass anti-war movement. The effect of that has been to demobilize, confuse, and silence many. We knew this ad would get a different response, but also, we know that a minority of that movement is really deeply angry to the point of feeling betrayed by Obama. So we expected that the appearance of such a message in The New York Times would polarize and challenge readers, drawing a strong response.

We did this statement, and continue to push out with its content because:

People have been lied to, and are not paying attention. Many people don’t get the truth from mainstream media. World Can’t Wait puts priority on going out to people way beyond the “movement,” so we know that huge numbers of people are bombarded in the media with everything but the truth about the crimes of our government. From National Public Radio to every commercial network, magazine and blog, people get a version of the “official story” which leaves out what the US is really doing in the world. The destruction of Iraqi and Afghani society is systematically portrayed as “bringing democracy.” The photos from Abu Ghraib, which many people vaguely remember from 2004, were never fully released, nor was the story followed. The Obama administration refused to release the rest of those photos in 2009, because they had such a devastating effect on people’s opinion of the legitimacy of the US occupation of Iraq. So, people who don’t seek out the reality tell us things like, “Obama’s for peace. He ended the war, and closed Guantánamo.”

Willful “ignore-ance.” A donor to the ad wrote that she has “very few friends left” because of her criticism of Obama as not bringing change for the better. “I can’t tell you how much it means to mean to know there is a group espousing what I have been saying to my 250 people email list since right after Obama was elected and I noted who he was putting in his administration. Your ‘Crimes are Crimes…’ is the sad reality that so many do not want to face which I see as the reason for the lack of a real movement at the moment.”

I am reminded of what Bob Avakian, the revolutionary communist leader, writes about the problem of people “living in the house of Tony Soprano,” not wanting to know how all the “goodies” in the house were acquired. In that case, Avakian says, we have a responsibility to challenge them:

“There is a place where epistemology and morality meet. There is a place where you have to stand and say: It is not acceptable to refuse to look at something—or to refuse to believe something—because it makes you uncomfortable. And: It is not acceptable to believe something just because it makes you feel comfortable.”

Noam Chomsky, in a video on why he signed the Crimes are Crimes statement, referenced Judge Robert Jackson’s writing in the Nuremberg principles on war crimes, and put the challenge this way: “The principle of universality holds whatever the scale of the crimes, those who rightly condemned the crimes of George W. Bush should be judged by history and by their own consciences by how well they apply the same principles to his successors.”

The “politics of the possible” preclude any criticism of Obama, because he’s being attacked from the right. Even people who are very critical of the Obama administration and the Democrats repeat the mantra that if the Democrats “lose” Congress, things will be “worse.” This is not a “spontaneous” response, by the way. In the last 24 hours, the Obama campaign has sent out mass emails urging people to “get into the game” to “fight as hard as we ever have” against “special interests who want to put their conservative allies in control of Congress.”

OH NO! Like, the war in Afghanistan might be expanded; Guantánamo won’t be closed; the government’s powers to spy on the people via the Patriot Act and FBI raids would increase? Threats to Iran, support for the deadly siege on Gaza, subsidies to major banks would flow while 15 million people are out of work? There might be NO progress on stopping global warming? “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” will stay in effect? The Supreme Court would find corporations are people entitled to give election money, but not people who can be held liable for human rights atrocities? All that might happen if Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are replaced with Republicans?

The situation is so much worse than that. The Democrats have firmly united behind the illegitimate so-called “War on Terror,” and have done terrible crimes based on the conferred “legitimacy” of the first African American president. And the right-wing threat is not from “special interests” but from a hard core of the ruling class who challenge even the legitimacy of Obama as president, and are seeking to remake the cohering norms of US society with a program of aggressive war on the world, racist attacks on immigrants, suppression of the rights of the people to unfettered capitalism, Christian theocracy, and suppression of science, all of which the Democratic Party capitulates and will not fight because they basically agree. The right has a mobilized, armed, racist base, in the form of the Tea Party movement, which is scary. And they have the political initiative. The problem isn’t that people don’t want to stand up against the Tea Party – it’s that they are being told to seek common ground and terrible compromises with that reactionary agenda.

Many people, in that crowd of people who attended the “One Nation” rally are deeply shaken and frustrated that the change they worked for in 2008 not only didn’t happen, but things are worse. What they got at the rally was speaker after speaker telling them that the “protest march” they came to make against the Tea Party – and also against the Obama policies that haven’t brought they change they hoped for – will only happen on November 2 when they “march” to the polls. Clearly, the Democrats didn’t want that rally to happen, as almost no politicians participated, but still, people were led to come begging from a party that wants them only to shut up and get out the vote.

Expecting change through the framework of elections when the game is rigged is delusional. It’s the same old trap every two years. Get in the game?? When the Democrats are out of power, it’s “get us back so we can deliver change”, and when they are in power, it’s the threat of how much worse it will be if they lose. This is not the game we need to be in.

“Worse” than under Bush? Many people still active against the wars and torture point out that, if McCain had ordered an expansion of the war in Afghanistan, there would have been much more visible protest. As the Crimes are Crimes statement puts it, “Such measures by Bush were widely considered by liberals and progressives to be outrages and were roundly, and correctly, protested. But those acts which may have been construed (wishfully or not) as anomalies under the Bush regime, have now been consecrated into “standard operating procedure” by Obama, who claims, as did Bush, executive privilege and state secrecy in defending the crime of aggressive war.

A woman wrote to thank World Can’t Wait for getting the Crimes are Crimes message “past the gatekeepers of the mainstream press.” In describing why she donated to the ad, she explained that, as a progressive, she had voted for Obama, even though she knew he wouldn’t bring change. But, it’s worse than she expected. “Instead of surrounding himself with progressives, he surrounded himself with reactionaries. Instead of looking for creative ways to disengage our country from wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he relied on good old-fashioned ways to keep those wars going with American troops as “advisers” and mercenaries as contract killers. Worst of all, perhaps, as you point out, is his refusal (and that of Nancy Pelosi) to bring to justice those who lied to us about WMDs and who finalized the unleashing of greedy corporate monsters on the world, an unleashing begun under Ronald Reagan. George W. Bush and his accomplices are murderers but instead of the harsh punishments dealt out to street thugs, they have been richly rewarded for their criminal acts.”

One ad does not make a movement, nor does one voice, nor a series of protests. But the importance and achievement of hundreds donating, and thousands signing this statement appearing in the “paper of record” has to be appreciated for the strong statement of principle that it is – and then we need to go out and amplify this message. This is the time for fearless truth-telling, on a bigger stage, and more visibly.

If people don’t know what their government is doing – or think the problem is that Obama’s a socialist, the immigrants are taking “our jobs” or such nonsense — we need to tell them, and not get quiet if they disagree. We need to show them Collateral Murder, important because it shows the US military killing Iraqi civilians and because soldiers have come forward to condemn those acts. We need energy and effort behind speaking the truth and mobilizing people to act on it, despite its popularity at any given moment. “History is full of examples where people who had right on their side fought against tremendous odds and were victorious.” Write to me with your thoughts and ideas for spreading this challenging message boldly – in the spirit of not silencing ourselves when people disagree.

World Can’t Wait is unique in saying in what we’re saying and in going out very widely to people with that message. We know there are people that agree and thank us for being willing to speak the unpopular truths that need to be said and to organize the protests, educational forums, and public statements like The New York Times ad, but there needs to be more of this. Those of you that do get it, those of you that were moved by the ad, who agonize over these continuing crimes, have a disproportionate responsibility to go out and change people’s minds.

There is much more to do. Funds are needed to print the Crimes are Crimes ad more widely, produce more DVD copies of Collateral Murder, and to webcast World Can’t Wait’s national broadcast of October 20: Stop the Crimes of Our Government: Collateral Murder & Targeted Assassination with Ethan McCord and Pardiss Kebriaei, and to bring veterans and activists with the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour to high schools.

Friday, October 8, 2010 the ACLU and Center for Constitutional Rights filed a response to the Obama administration on behalf of Nasser al-Aulaqi, the father of Anwar al-Aulaqi, targeted for assassination by Barack Obama.  The administration argues for the dismissal of the lawsuit on the grounds of “national security:”

“The government’s brief seeking the dismissal of this case runs to nearly sixty pages but can be summed up in a single sentence: No court should have any role in establishing or enforcing legal limitations on the executive’s authority to use lethal force against U.S. citizens whom the executive has unilaterally determined to pose a threat to the nation. The government has clothed its bid for unchecked authority in the doctrinal language of standing, justiciability, equity, and secrecy, but the upshot of its arguments is that the executive, which must obtain judicial approval to monitor a U.S. citizen’s communications or search his briefcase, may execute that citizen without any obligation to justify its actions to a court or to the public.”

History will judge our actions – or silence – in the face of this.

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“Killing Club” in U.S. Army Symbolizes Occupation of Aghanistan

Nine years old this coming week, the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan is in the news for 1) Pakistan attacking NATO supply convoys crossing their border into Afghanistan because a NATO airstrike killed 3 of their soldiers; 2) a book by Bob Woodward reveals severe splits at the top of the U.S. government, and in the military, over what to do about the failing war, and 3) hearings at Ft. Lewis-McCord on charges that members of an Army Stryker Brigade engaged in killing Afghan civilians for sport.

Protests aimed at stopping war occupation are planned for this week, in New York City, for October 16 in Chicago, and elsewhere we’re urging people to show the Collateral Murder video.  One protest to be seen by millions is the ad signed by 2600+ to be published in The New York Times later this week.

More on the Killing Club:

Mark Benjamin wrote in Salon Friday that Adam Winfield, a member of the Brigade, wrote his father last February,”Theres (sic) no one in this platoon that agrees this is wrong.”

Winfield is one of five soldiers in an Army Stryker Brigade from Joint Base Lewis-McCord, near Tacoma, that the Army has accused of being involved in the murders of at least three civilians in Afghanistan between January and May. Details have emerged about rampant drug use in Winfield’s platoon of around 30 soldiers, and of troops posing for photos with corpses. Soldiers in the unit say the alleged ringleader in the murders, Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs, severed and collected body parts, including teeth and fingers, apparently to make a necklace. Members of the platoon allegedly used drop weapons to cover up their crimes.

It’s too early to blame what occurred in Winfield’s platoon on soldiers’ moral compasses spinning out of control after repeated, violent tours in Iraq and Afghanistan (Gibbs was on his third combat tour). But it is easy to imagine that seemingly endless wars contributed to the moral turpitude Winfield described to his father.

It’s no stretch to say that the pervasive climate created in this country after 9-11 that anyone living in the war zone was an “enemy” led to mass killings in Iraq, Afghanistan, and now is standard operating procedure for US/NATO conduct towards Pakistan. Army basic training where recruits were led in jodies of “kill the hajis” lead to killing Afghan civilians. Ethan McCord, who exposed and opposed his orders to return 360degree fire and many other returned vets tell us about what they were ordered to do.

Afghan civilian deaths are up; U.S. casualties are up, and no end in sight.

But hey, it’s really your problem, according to Barack Obama, campaigning for Democrats this fall.  At the end of an interview with Rolling Stone last month, he came back into the room, and pointedly went after “any Democrat or progressive” who is complaining about what he’s not gotten done.

We have to get folks off the sidelines. People need to shake off this lethargy, people need to buck up. Bringing about change is hard — that’s what I said during the campaign. It has been hard, and we’ve got some lumps to show for it. But if people now want to take their ball and go home, that tells me folks weren’t serious in the first place.

I feel insulted by Obama’s remarks, for all those progressives who, serious about change, voted for Obama, under the delusion that he represented real change.  Here you have a leader who’s dead serious about commanding the US empire, with all that implies, chastising his base because they allowed themselves to be bamboozled.  And they want you to go for it again.

World Can’t Wait ran into some of those folks yesterday at the One Nation rally for jobs, education and healthcare on the Mall.  They were brought by the unions and the NAACP to ask for the change they had voted for.  We decided to go right for one of the burning contradictions right now: the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize expanding a war, issuing an order to assassinate a US citizen, defending the Bush regime torture lawyers in court on the basis of “state secrets” and “national security.”

Wearing orange jumpsuits, World Can’t Wait activists held a banner saying “War Crimes Must Be Stopped – No Matter Who Does Them.”  That would have been widely accepted, except for the mugshots of Bush and Obama.  “How dare you say that about My President?”  “That’s not true!” said others.  Hundreds, or thousands, snapped photos, argued, put dollars in the bucket, came back for our flyers, threw the flyers down, patted us on the back.  Some said “you should have been here when Bush was around.”

Hmmmm.  We were here, against the crimes of the Bush regime.  It’s just that you have to be consistent if you really are serious about stopping these unjust, immoral wars.

I’m looking forward to seeing those outrageous mugshots side by side in The New York Times this week.  Imagine the discussion at breakfast tables across the country.

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