Archive for January, 2011
On Tuesday January 25, at the same moment Congress gathered for the State of the Union address from Barack Obama, almost a hundred people gathered to discuss “Torture, Guantanamo and Accountability” at DePaul University Law School in Chicago. It’s been difficult over the last 2+ years to fill a room for such a discussion, so we were heartened by the participation of 40 law students and attorneys. Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, a distinguished research professor emeritus at the law school, and founder of the International Human Rights Law Institute; and Candace Gorman, who represents two men imprisoned at Guantanamo, spoke with me on the panel.
Dr. Bassiouni described the “chasm” between the promises made by Obama while campaigning and the actions of Obama as president, regarding the rule of law as represented by the United States. Candace told the story of one of her clients, still in Guantanamo. He is apparently one of the 48 who will be detained indefinitely, bringing some of the students to tears of frustration. We’ll have more on the program soon. Listen to Dr. Bassiouni and Ms. Gorman in an excellent hour-long discussion on Chicago public radio WBEZ.
Our colleague Andy Worthington, about to tour Poland with former Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg, took the time to describe the Obama’s administration’s plans for those imprisoned at Guantanamo in Obama’s Collapse: The Return of the Military Commissions:
This year the President’s bitter surprise for the prisoners (which has encouraged a widespread peaceful protest at the prison, as reported here) was two-fold. The first was his failure to veto a military spending bill passed by Congress, which contained cynical and unconstitutional provisions preventing the transfer of any prisoner to the US mainland, in which lawmakers also demanded the power to prevent the release of prisoners to countries regarded as dangerous…
The second bitter surprise for the prisoners was the announcement last week, first mentioned by the New York Times, that, although federal court trials have effectively been suspended, specifically derailing the administration’s stated intention to prosecute Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other men accused of involvement in the 9/11 attacks in federal court, the administration is preparing to push ahead instead with trials by Military Commission for at least some of the 33 men recommended for trials by Obama’s Task Force.
No, none of those plans were part of the State of the Union address. Those of you listening for “real change” in Obama’s direction on the wars Tuesday night were disappointed. Rocky Anderson, former mayor of Salt Lake City, and an opponent of torture, spoke on Democracy Now January 26 about the speech:
He didn’t mention human rights at a time when he has assassination lists for the first time in our nation’s history, that include U.S. citizens. No due process—we don’t just have indefinite detention anymore; we just go out, put their name on a list, and kill them. The invocation of state secrets, it’s absolutely obliterated any notion of checks and balances. Our courts have been removed from that equation, by and large, when it comes to torture, when it comes to warrantless wiretapping by our government. No discussion about that, of course. And we’re seeing, really, an institutionalization by this president of some of the worst abuses and what we, a lot of us, thought were just aberrations during the Bush years.
I’d like to note what Obama did say:
…because we’ve begun this work, tonight we can say that American leadership has been renewed and America’s standing has been restored. Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. (Applause.) American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end. (Applause.)
…We’ve also taken the fight to al Qaeda and their allies abroad. In Afghanistan, our troops have taken Taliban strongholds and trained Afghan security forces. Our purpose is clear: By preventing the Taliban from reestablishing a stranglehold over the Afghan people, we will deny al Qaeda the safe haven that served as a launching pad for 9/11.
Thanks to our heroic troops and civilians, fewer Afghans are under the control of the insurgency. There will be tough fighting ahead, and the Afghan government will need to deliver better governance. But we are strengthening the capacity of the Afghan people and building an enduring partnership with them. This year, we will work with nearly 50 countries to begin a transition to an Afghan lead. And this July, we will begin to bring our troops home. (Applause.)
Last I heard, the Defense Department is balking at even a 2014 pull out date of Afghanistan. The unjust, immoral, illegitimate occupations continue, and with them, the “war on terror” against civilians across the region. It’s up to us to bring out that reality to people.
I saw John Boehner pinch up his face when Obama obliquely mentioned the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As much as the reactionaries howled against letting gays be out in the military, I have to say that any gay person who actually decides now to enlist has lost their mind. Just because one can now serve openly does not mean the whole enterprise of occupying countries and killing civilians should involve you! I say, “don’t ask, don’t tell….no — DON’T GO!” It’s a bad thing, as several professors have written me, that because DODT is being repealed, colleges are now planning to open the doors once again to military recruiters.
I’ll see you in Washington D.C. on March 17-19 as we step up the visible protest on the anniversary of the Iraq war.
For a year, I attended a Protestant university where the “girls” dorm had a midnight curfew; the men, 2:00 am. Condoms were stored behind the counter at the town drugstore, so you had to ask the creepy pharmacist to allow you to buy them. I doubt anyone had ever dared ask the college health service to prescribe the Pill, but the answer would have been “no.” It was 100 times easier to buy any illegal drug on that conservative campus than to buy something to protect your fragile young life. We were really stuck in the Dark Ages, though it was 1969.
I was 18, a few months into college. My friend’s roommate’s girlfriend went home at Thanksgiving to see the family doctor, and found out she was 6 weeks pregnant. She was a senior, planning law school, much more sophisticated than I, and still, in a complete panic. Though I was still too scared to have sex — precisely because I wanted to avoid just such a pregnancy — I was the designated brave one delegated to find her an abortion. I knew people in Chicago in the anti-war movement who put me in touch with JANE abortion service. I remember it as a huge relief. She avoided the back-alley experience, and we learned that there was this amazing network of women who took care of other women with unplanned pregnancies, selflessly and safely.
Only 4 months later, women could get to New York City, camp out overnight in front of newly opened clinics — as they did in happy bunches — and get a safe, legal abortion because New York state had broken the ban. With the Roe v. Wade decision in three years later, we thought the years of agonizing deaths from septic abortions were over; we thought women, at least in the U.S., would not be forced to bear children against their will anymore.
The women who died from unsafe abortions are hardly remembered now, certainly not by what Dr. LeRoy Carhart calls the “Right to Lie” movement against abortion. Their story goes that if women were not forced to have abortions by the “abortion industry,” they, the good Christians, could intervene and convince every pregnant woman that God planned this pregnancy for her, and she ought to go along with His plan for her life and, no matter how hard it is, accept this blessing [overheard verbatim this weekend outside Dr. Carhart's clinic in Maryland].
But Dr. Carhart, who trained at Hahneman Hospital in Philadelphia, said the women he treated with septic abortion injuries made such a lasting impression in his surgical training, that he set out to make sure women would have the best care possible after 1973. In spite of the intense anti-abortion harassment — including a Nebraska state law passed in 2010 to stop his provision of abortion past 20 weeks — he’s expanding services at his Bellevue, Nebraska clinic. And he’s now doing advanced gestation abortions for maternal and fetal indications at his clinic in Germantown, Maryland.
Germantown, Maryland – January 23
About 150 anti-abortion protesters (link provided for reference, not endorsement) were outside that clinic Sunday, though it’s not open on weekends. On short notice, 45 pro-choice activists came, from 6 states, to celebrate abortion rights and defend Dr. Carhart and courageous abortion providers who make choice possible. We were filmed and interviewed by most local news, and some national outlets.
Those of us defending the clinic were on site two hours before the anti’s but of course the police told us we had to move. The sergeant said,”it will be fine. Separate, but equal!” (well, he didn’t actually say that).
South Bronx, NYC – January 22
Saturday, on the anniversary of Roe, the staff of Dr. Emily’s Women’s Health in the South Bronx, with the New York Coalition for Abortion Clinic Defense, welcomed 70 supporters for a street rally in front of the clinic. The monks who usually prey on women there were fairly quiet, but we weren’t. It was moving to hear from a first-year law student (especially given the experience above) whom I’d met earlier this fall working on prosecution of Bush era war crimes. Chloe described the decision to terminate a pregnancy just as she started school as uncomplicated, since she had access to good care. But, even if abortion was illegal, she said,
“I would have walked to the ends of the earth to terminate that pregnancy. Because my life already means something! I am not just a vessel waiting to be filled!”
WBAI Radio: a Celebration of Roe v. Wade – January 22
For an hour Saturday, I was on the radio show Equal Time for Free Thought. Sunsara Taylor hosted The Morality of Abortion and the Immorality of Those Who Would Force Women to Bear Children Against Their Will (audio).
Guests were Dr. Leroy Carhart; Merle Hoffman, Founder of Choices Womens’ Medical Center in Queens NY (going strong since 1971); Carole Joffe, author of Dispatches From the Abortion Wars: The Cost of Fanaticism to Doctors, Patients, and the Rest of Us, as well as, Doctors of Conscience: The Struggle to Provide Abortion Before and After Roe V. Wade and myself.
We jumped into the discussion of the morality of abortion, four of us with several decades of history doing so, from two sides. Depriving women of control over our bodies — even birth control access is being limited by state laws now — is profoundly diminishing to women, and immoral. When backed up by theocratic ideas like the Biblical submission of women to men, and violence to abortion providers, it’s intolerable to a people who care about the humanity of women.
Arguing for the morality of abortion, I can’t say it better than this:
The morality that should be supported and fought for is one that values the rights of women to lead full social lives. It supports social and intimate relations where people respect each other’s humanity and flourish together—and not where women are supposedly commanded by “God” to “submit themselves” to men. This morality sees children as a joy to society, and as ultimately the responsibility of all society, while not compelling anyone in any way to have children against their will. It does NOT, as these theocrats do, sanctimoniously shout hosannas to a clump of cells that might someday become a child—while feverishly upholding the murder of real live children in the war being waged by the U.S. in Afghanistan, and self-righteously dooming literally millions of other real live children, right in the U.S., to lives of deprivation and punishment—in the name of those same traditional values.
San Francisco, CA – January 22
There was a very large statewide anti-abortion protest in San Francisco, with many more children and teenagers than in past years. The pro-choice presence was smaller than previous years, though some young ones got a banner stretched across the anti-abortion group, before being pushed off.
There really is a battle for the minds of the next generation on this. Will their heads be filled with the lie that “abortion is murder?” World Can’t Wait activists with a bullhorn directed questions to the children brought to the march, which apparently infuriated some of their parents. “For all you who were afraid to tell your mom and dad you didn’t want to come here today — for all you all who are afraid to tell your pastor you believe abortion should be legal — you’re right!”
Sunday morning, the New York Times reported on an abortion provider who is bearing the brunt of society’s under-appreciation for the caring service he provides:
“I’m just a punching bag,” he added. “I don’t do well with that. Sometimes they [patients] won’t even look at me the day of the procedure; they won’t speak to me. That I despise. I really hate that.
“They were referred to me because I do it safely and expeditiously,” the doctor continued. “To be treated like garbage — and my staff — is really very upsetting.”
Please, send Dr. Berg a thank-you card and let him know just how vitally important his work is to women’s lives, and how much we appreciate him.
Robert E. Berg, MD
148 Madison Ave., Ste. 200
New York, NY 10016
A contradiction to ponder:
- A three-year investigation by the Department of Justice into the CIA operatives who carried out waterboarding, filmed the acts on 2 men, and then destroyed the tapes, ended this past November – with the government deciding not to prosecute anyone. Jason Leopold, in Special Prosecutor Declines to File Criminal Charges Over Destruction of CIA Torture Tapes wrote:It is widely believed that the videotapes were destroyed to cover up torture. It is also believed that the tapes were destroyed because Democratic members of Congress who were briefed about the tapes began asking questions about whether the interrogations were illegal, according to Jane Mayer, author of the book, “The Dark Side” and a reporter for The New Yorker magazine.
- A two-year secret federal investigation of the U.S. anti-war movement has been conducted by the Obama administration, apparently with a federal grand jury in Chicago hearing evidence from Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, looking into “possible links between U.S. anti-war groups and foreign terrorist organizations,” according to the Chicago Tribune. Fitzgerald issued subpoenas beginning in September 2010, delivered via FBI raids to their homes, for activists to appear before the grand jury. With all the records sealed by court order, it is impossible to know about the scope and intent of the probe.
But knowing what we know about how the “war on terror” has been conducted, one can be suspicious that the aim of the first investigation was to find no crimes, while the aim of the second is to manufacture crimes.
23 anti-war activists have now been targeted by the FBI, many through September raids that confiscated a wide range of personal material. In FBI Raids Anti-War Activists Homes in Midwest, Revolution newspaper reported after the initial raids:
The FBI spokesman in Minneapolis was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, “The warrants are seeking evidence in support of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation into activities concerning the material support of terrorism.” This was a charge which activists immediately dismissed as illegitimate and unjustified. No arrests have been made and the FBI admitted that there was no “imminent danger” to the public.
9 of the 23 activists have subpoenas compelling them to appear before the grand jury on Tuesday, January 25. Their profiles and background are posted by The Committee to Stop FBI Repression. According to the site:
These activists are involved in many groups, including the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Palestine Solidarity Group, the Colombia Action Network, Students for a Democratic Society, and the Freedom Road Socialist Organization. These activists and many others came together to organize the 2008 anti-war marches during the Republican National Convention in St. Paul.
The Committee’s site continues in a section on Grand Juries:
Some of those targeted have traveled to other countries to understand our government’s role in places like Palestine and Colombia. While there, they met with people to learn about their experience facing brutal repression from U.S. sponsored regimes, and brought their stories back to people in the U.S. Hearing about the reality of U.S. military aid is not a crime, and yet this appears to be the target of this investigation.
The Committee’s demands are:
- Stop the repression of anti-war and international solidarity activists.
- Immediately return all confiscated materials: computers, cell phones, papers, documents, etc.
- End the grand jury proceedings against anti-war activists.
Grand Juries as Politically Repressive Tools
It’s important to know how grand juries are used in political investigations in this country. Glen Ford, in President Barack “Midnight Raid” Obama: End Your Wars at Home and Abroad writes
Grand juries are places where rights are butchered, and we can clearly see the broad outlines of a mass prosecution strategy unfolding, in which grand juries are the engines of political destruction.
Revolution newspaper gathered resources from the Center for Constitutional Rights in The Grand Jury – The Grand Inquisition and summarizes:
The person who has refused to testify [before a grand jury] can be brought back before the judge and held in what is known as “civil contempt” of the court. Without a trial, the judge can imprison the person for whatever is the length of the grand jury. Grand juries are normally 18 months, but there are special federal grand juries that are empanelled for 36 months, and this can be extended because it is “special.”
Historically, the Justice Department and the FBI have used the subpoena power of the federal grand jury, coupled with compulsory immunity, to jail activists who refuse to cooperate with government investigations. In the 1960s and well into the ’80s, there were many instances of courageous people who refused to testify before grand juries.
Joe Iosbaker, one of those originally subpoenaed said in October,
“We have nothing to say to a Grand Jury. Most people do not understand how secretive and undemocratic the Grand Jury is. I am not allowed to have my lawyer with me. There isn’t even a judge. How strange is that? It is the U.S. prosecutor with 23 people they hand picked to pretty much rubber stamp whatever the prosecutor says. A person is defenseless in that situation.”
Maureen Murphy received a subpoena on December 21 to appear on January 25. In explaining why she will not testify, she cites the danger not only to the activists in the United States by giving legitimacy to the investigation, but principally to those they could be forced to testify about in other countries
I have no intention to participate in the government’s witch hunt. It is very clear that no crime has been committed and that the government’s motivation in issuing these subpoenas is to have us name the names of other activists not only here in the United States, but also in places like Palestine and Colombia, where many of us have traveled to learn about the human rights situations in those places. We can only assume that the US government shares intelligence with the governments of Israel and Colombia, whose repressive military rule the US bankrolls at the US taxpayer’s expense. And it is essentially a prison sentence or worse for human rights activists in Palestine and Colombia to be singled out and identified in this way. And I have no intention in playing any role in that.
Jess Sundlin, another whose home was raided, said
“If our friends choose not to testify, they could be imprisoned. It could be for months or even years, like in the case of Professor Abdelhaleem Ashqar, who faced the same prosecutor we face and who was investigated of violating the same law we are confronting. Before he was acquitted of the charges against him, Dr. Ashqar was sentenced to criminal contempt for refusing to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury in Chicago. The punitive sentence against him was more than 11 years. Again, he was acquitted of the crimes the grand jury was investigating.”
Needed: A Wave of Support for Antiwar Resisters
On Tuesday, January 25, The Committee to Stop FBI Repression, and affiliated organizations are holding protests of the grand jury investigation in dozens of cities. I’ll be in Chicago that day, outside the Federal Building, in support of those refusing to testify.
Jill McLaughlin, in Reality And Morality: Standing Up To Repressive Forces While Standing Up For Humanity expressed the mission of World Can’t Wait in opposing this dangerous and repressive investigation.
We cannot allow these repressive attacks to deter us from righteously opposing and resisting the crimes of our government. We must have courage.
I’m listening to an MLK speech from 1967, where King says that the United States, at that point, had committed “more war crimes than almost any other nation.”
Add 44 years of invasions, CIA-engineered coups, and occupations, from Vietnam through Afghanistan. Add the development of weapons and training for modern counter-insurgency — night vision, drones, depleted uranium, cluster bombs — means that an even higher percentage of civilians are dying and suffering in these aggressive wars the U.S. pursues.
People, it’s time to put political opposition to these wars back on the map, in a mass, visible, and determined way. Veterans for Peace kicked off something very significant last December 16, with mass civil resistance at the White House, as Barack Obama gave his report on the war in Afghanistan. Leah Bolger, Vice President of Veterans for Peace, captured the mood in Failure to Obey a Lawful Order:
Although it is we who were treated like criminals—handcuffed, arrested and charged, we are not the ones ordering drone strikes or sending in troops. We are not the ones using illegal weapons and poisoning the earth. We are not the ones with blood on our hands. The real criminals continue unabated, shamelessly claiming that they are “making progress,” and unabashedly announcing that they plan to continue their crimes for many years to come.
The next nodal point for our efforts to STOP these wars is the anniversary of the Shock & Awe on Baghdad, March 19, 2003. A war begun on the basis of monstrous lies against a country weakened already by 15 years of sanctions, brought tremendous loss of civilian life.
Chris Floyd brings some of that home to us in A World in Flames: the Endless Echoes of America’s Atrocities where he continues his series on the American use of chemical weapons in the assault on Fallujah, just after George Bush was re-selected in 2004.
Even without the WMD, the attack itself was one of the most horrific events of the still-unfolding act of aggression in Iraq. Presented in the U.S. press as an old-fashioned, gung-ho, WWII-style “battle,” it was in fact a mass slaughter, largely of trapped civilians; almost all of the “terrorists” and “insurgents” in the city had long escaped during the months-long, oddly public build-up to the assault. It seemed clear that the intent was not to quash an insurgent nest, as stated, but to perpetrate an act of condign, collective punishment — primarily against civilians — in order to terrorize the rest of Iraq into submission…
Larry Everest, writing in Revolution, continues digging into the U.S. diplomatic cable releases in WikiLeaks Files Shine Light on U.S. Accountability for Torture in Iraq. One cable released in November shows
beyond doubt that the U.S. military in Iraq and the U.S.-controlled Iraqi army were given an official green light for the systematic use of torture, as well the cover up of those war crimes…The WikiLeaks files reveal that prisoners were also routinely burned with cigarettes, electrocuted, raped, and beaten with any available implement, such as steel rods, wire cables, television antennas, chains, water pipes, fan belts, and rubber hoses, as well as fists and feet. Some were executed.
Stepping out boldly in protest this March against this legacy is more important than ever. We know from our work that many people living in this country think the Iraq war is “over” because some troops were moved to Afghanistan, and the trail of dead U.S. military has slowed. The occupation, still 50,000 U.S. troops strong, with added combat capability of U.S. State Department troops, and tens of thousands of private contractors in 17 U.S. bases, is huge and permanent. Unless it is exposed and stopped by U.S. public opinion and action.
On the 8th anniversary of U.S. war on Iraq, we strengthen our demand to end the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan, and the secret bombing and black operations of Pakistan and Yemen.
In U.S. Raids: High Tech Terror in Afghanistan, Everest looks into what the U.S. diplomatic cables say about the US forces occupying Afghanistan. One example:
A January 19, 2009 cable describes the outcry after “at least six operations since mid-December” led to charges of “civilian casualties” and “wrongful detentions.” The cable also reports, “Two special operations missions in December 2008 in Arghandab district allegedly displaced up to 200 families, who fled to Qalat [a town of some 10,000 people and the capital of Zabul province].” (“WikiLeaks cables: Afghan elders threaten to display civilian victims’ bodies,” Guardian UK, December 3, 2010)
In case you missed the tremendously down-played Pentagon announcement, Obama just sent more troops to Afghanistan. Ken Theisen, in Obama Escalates War in Afghanistan
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal on January 6, 2011, President Obama is planning on a further escalation of the U.S. war of terror in Afghanistan. Obama’s “surge” will bring the total of U.S. forces in this war ravaged nation to almost 100,000. The Journal reports that, “Defense Secretary Robert Gates has decided to send an additional 1,400 Marine combat forces to Afghanistan…”
Here are things you can do the next two months:
- March 17-19, that’s a Thursday through Saturday, will be protest days in Washington D.C., organized by the ANSWER Coalition, Veterans for Peace, World Can’t Wait, and other groups. Start making your plans now to mark that anniversary, in DC, or wherever you can be visible.
- There are high school students to reach out to. World Can’t Wait is putting Iraq and Afghanistan veterans on tour, leading up to the anniversary, and has resources available now through the We Are Not Your Soldiers tour.
- Troops are being deployed to Afghanistan all this spring. Don’t they and their families need to hear from us that they’re going to an illegitimate, unjust, immoral war, and they can resist!
- Drones are being manufactured and controlled around the U.S. Protests are ongoing against their use, and you can join them.
- Bradley Manning may be put before a military court in March 2011. Stay tuned for the ways in which you can support the person the U.S. charges as a whistle blower on these illegitimate wars of occupation.
Over an intense week protesting the beginning of the 10th year of the U.S. prison at Guantanamo, I continued to learn more. The situation for the 173 men there is changing, though not towards a just resolution.
After nine years, it got through to me that use of the word “detainees” indicates something impermanent, as if one is “detained” doing an errand. The men have been imprisoned; they are prisoners. So we shall call them prisoners and released prisoners.
Many thanks to Andy Worthington for coming to the U.S. last week, speaking and talking with all us involved in trying to end the U.S. regime of indefinite detention, based on torture begun by the Bush regime. His attention to the cases of 774 men, and grasp of the prison’s history is remarkable. You can see and support his work here.
Protests last week centered on the demand that Guantanamo be closed, with justice. A statement still circulating to that effect is here. Groups in other cities, and 100 fasters around the country, continue to speak out. World Can’t Wait in Chicago is sponsoring an event January 25 at DePaul University with Dr. M. Cherif Bassiouni, attorney Candace Gorman, and myself.
Thanks to Witness Against Torture, leading an ongoing fast for justice through January 22, two years from the day Barack Obama promised to close Guantanamo. Thanks to the attorneys who have defended the prisoners, too numerous to name here, and who shared their sense of outrage with us. And to the Center for Constitutional Rights and Amnesty International for a dramatic and intense protest Tuesday January 11 in front of the White House, and later at the Department of Justice.
The voices of the former prisoners — who of course could not be with us at the protest, as they are still considered “enemy combatants” though they were never charged — came through. Omar Deghayes, who speaks so movingly in the film Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo, sent a message read in front of the White House by Kathy Kelly:
…This past December 19th just marked three years to the day that I tasted freedom again and was released from Guantánamo to the warm embrace of my family and the community who fought so hard for my freedom. But not a day has passed since in which my thoughts and prayers have not remained with the 173 men who continue to languish in Guantánamo, detained without trial, most of them not facing any charge, and entering their tenth year of being separated from their loved ones. 90 of these men have actually been cleared for release long ago…
Andy Worthington explained to the hundreds of people standing in the street before the White House, what’s happened to the 173 men left. In a piece that summarize the pace of closure, Guantánamo Forever? makes the case that the Obama administration, as indicated back in May 2009, is making indefinite detention a permanent feature:
…it is reasonable to propose that Guantánamo is now a permanent institution for a variety of reasons. The first concerns a number of cynical moves by lawmakers in recent months, inserting provisions into a military spending bill that are explicitly designed to keep Guantánamo open — a ban on using funds to transfer Guantánamo prisoners to the U.S. mainland to face trials, a ban on using funds to buy or build a prison on the U.S. mainland to hold Guantánamo prisoners, and a ban on the release of any prisoner cleared for release by the President’s interagency Guantánamo Review Task Force (composed of representatives of government departments and the intelligence agencies) to countries considered dangerous by lawmakers — including Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen…
Andy looks further into this situation in Nine Years Later: The Political Prisoners of Guantanamo, showing some of the complex factors behind the paralysis. An even larger group of prisoners are held in Bagram, at the U.S. air base, in what the U.S. argues is a “war zone” so that the prisoners may not have habeas corpus, echoing the Bush regime of 5 years ago. Military tribunals, or “commissions” have been widely derided as unjust. Obama says some of the prisoners are “too dangerous to release” or to try. Is it that what would come out in court would be too revealing of the illegitimacy of the war on terror? And concludes
Until these problems are solved and the Guantanamo prisoners are either tried or released, President Obama’s contribution to this bitter legacy of the Bush administration is to be presiding over the unthinkable: a prison where, however the prisoners have been designated, they are almost all held in indefinite detention and are, indeed, political prisoners.
Over the next year, we will experience the ten year anniversaries of 9/11, the PATRIOT Act, the attack on Afghanistan, and the opening of Guantanamo. We have something to say now, and over the next year, about whether the outrages associated with the Bush years continue along, or are sharply opposed by more and more people.
World Can’t Wait began its Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime in 2005 with:
YOUR GOVERNMENT, on the basis of outrageous lies, is waging a murderous and utterly illegitimate war in Iraq, with other countries in their sights.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is openly torturing people, and justifying it.
YOUR GOVERNMENT puts people in jail on the merest suspicion, refusing them lawyers, and either holding them indefinitely or deporting them in the dead of night.
And we ended it with, “The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.”
Monday, January 10, author/filmmaker Andy Worthington and World Can’t Wait National Coordinator Debra Sweet joined David Swanson for a “War Is A Lie” book event at the Barnes and Noble bookstore near Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. The event was cosponsored by Progressive Democrats of America and several other peace and justice organizations. A crowd of 60 or more crammed into a narrow space between bookshelves to hear Swanson, a member of PDA’s National Advisory Board, and his special guests. Before the talk began, event organizer Diane Wittner—director of Chesapeake Citizens—led the speakers and other area activists in honoring independent media hero Bill Hughes, who has chronicled, video recorded and photographed countless events, including this one. With characteristic modesty, Hughes reluctantly accepted an award, then he took his usual place behind the camera.
After the Charm City Labor Chorus led the audience singing peace songs, PDA National Advisory Board member Swanson opened the panel with a quip about how the singing helped make up for Baltimore’s most famous musical legacy, the Star Spangled Banner. He then explained, “I wrote this book because so many smart people told me they were outraged by the Iraq War because a president lied about a war.” Swanson listed famous lies about wars and pointed out that every war is based on lies, including: propaganda falsely claiming Iraqis threw Kuwaiti babies from incubators (Gulf War); the Tonkin Gulf Resolution’s claim that the North Vietnamese attacked a U.S. ship (Vietnam War); similarly false claims that Spain attacked the U.S.S. Maine (Spanish American War); that Mexicans were attacking Americans (Mexican American War); and even that Americans would be welcomed as liberators by Canadians and would win in a cakewalk, leading up to the War of 1812.”
Rather than list lies by war, Swanson said he “organized the book by themes,” such as lies “depicting some enemy as evil beyond measure,” and lies in which “a religion, race or cultural group is depicted as evil.” These lies cast targets as so evil that “you can’t talk to these people, you can’t reason with them.” Swanson explained that his co-panelists working to free Guantanamo detainees must overcome claims that “it’s a threat to our nation to put [detainees] on trial.” Swanson recounted how descriptions foreign governments mistreating their people can quickly turn into pretexts for war: “Highlighting the domestic evils as in Iran turns into claims [that those who oppress their own people] can attack us, so it’s a defensive war. Every war is always a defense war.”
Swanson pointed out how lies used to start a war morph into a rationale against ending a war. He explained that claims that a war is really a “humanitarian” effort to rescue people from their own leaders turn into claims that “we can’t abandon the people of Iraq or Afghanistan.” We see “conflicting sales pitches” used to start a war, “new lies to keep the war going,” and then lies “after the fact” depicting wars as noble causes or necessary to preserve freedom help justify and used to sell the next war.
Swanson noted that, according to George W. Bush’s recent book, Senate Leader McConnell was privately demanding withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Republican Senate Leader was warning that their party would lose the Congress unless that happened. Meanwhile, McConnell and other top Republicans were publicly mocking peace activists and Democratic war critics as favoring “cut and run.” Swanson noted that while we think “they’re not listening to us,” that’s only because “they never let on” how much they’re listening to us.” He added, “They’ll never credit us for every day our activism keeps preventing an invasion of Iran.” So, while “they will never tell us every day we succeeded,” we are making a real difference.
“We don’t say there is good or bad rape,” Swanson concluded. “Or justified slavery.” Therefore “we have to get to that full understanding that there couldn’t be a good war.” Once we do that, he says, we can “dismantle the war machine” that is “destroying our economy and political system” and “costing half of every income-tax dollar.” This “would change our society.” We “fetishize free speech for corporate media propaganda” but cannot afford healthcare or infrastructure while we’re spending so much on war. “If we don’t change the course on war-making, we will die,” Swanson added, “If we do, we will live much better.”
Andy Worthington is a British historian, journalist, and film director. He developed the most definitive annotated list of all Guantanamo detainees and the first annotated list of Bagram detainees. His most recent book is The Guantanamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison. “The war on terror,” he explained, has a “novel twist” in that it has “involved an off-shore prison on a piece of Cuba stolen over a century ago,” where detainees are “not treated as POWs [and allegedly have] no rights under the Geneva Conventions.”
Worthington argues that because the 9/11 attacks “were criminal acts,” the detainees at Guantanamo captured in the aftermath “should have been tried in federal courts.” Even if officials considered the 9/11 events acts of war, detainees should be deemed “prisoners of war.” Instead, “the policy is to declare them the ‘worst of the worst’” and treat them as non-humans. On the event of the ninth anniversary of the prison opening, the record is: “599 released, 6 died, 1 put on trial, and 173 remain” in the prison which “didn’t close after a year as [Obama] promised.” U.S. officials have designated 48 of the 173 “too dangerous to release” even though there is no evidence to charge them, according to Worthington. President Obama is close to issuing an Executive Order to hold them indefinitely with “some sort of review process.” Worthington noted there already is “a review process: it’s called Habeas Corpus, and detainees have had their Habeas Corpus rights denied.”
Worthington said that “without concerted action by people such as those gathered at the event in Baltimore, these 173 people aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future.” The government task force Obama charged with advising him on Guantanamo says 89 shouldn’t be held. Progress toward releasing these detainees was halted when intelligence agencies traced terror plots and attacks—including the underwear bomber—to Yemen. In response, “Obama imposed a moratorium on release of Yemeni detainees.” Worthington called this “guilt by nationality,” which has made the detainees who’d been previously cleared for release “political prisoners.” The task force has found that 51 other detainees cannot return to their own countries safely. For these and other reasons, Congress, the Justice Department, Federal Courts in D.C. and Obama himself have “blocked the release” of cleared prisoners. In response, a group called “No More Guantanamos,” based in Amherst, Maine, passed a resolution offering to welcome cleared detainees to their town.
Debra Sweet announced several events in D.C. marking the anniversary of the opening of Guantanamo, including a week-long fast by Witness for Torture activists. She praised efforts “getting people like David [Swanson], Andy [Worthington], and Iraqi and Afghan War vets into schools” to counter recruitment efforts. Sweet said students brought into the military have an “85% chance they will be in a war zone.” She criticized the use of video games and dishonest, deceptive military recruitment tactics, saying it’s “extremely important that we demolish these lies.” Unless we counter recruiters’ efforts, Sweet cautioned, students “will be trained to commit war crimes.” She explained that the current situation pits “the strongest military in the world, the biggest economy” against “Islamic militants who also offer no future.” She praised her co-panelists and the audience at the event for “showing up, being visible, thinking and confronting people with the truth.”
All the panelists referred to ongoing actions and organizations, many of which can be found at WasIsACrime.org. Several audience members asked questions and engaged the panel in analysis of factors leading to war, the unsustainable costs of war, and what we can do about it. Many bought copies of War Is A Lie and lined up for David Swanson’s signature.
The voices almost never heard in the discussion of torture, indefinite detention and Bush’s Guantánamo are the men who were themselves detained. Over 600 have been released, in a tacit admission by the U.S. that they committed no crimes. 174 are still detained, even though Obama’s own commission found last year that more than 90 should be released immediately. We should hear these voices.
Andy Worthington published this letter last week, from a Yemini detainee:
A letter from Guantánamo, by Adnan Farhan Abdul Latif
To Attorney David Remes who dedicated his efforts to work on my dead case. The case that has been buried by its makers under the wreckage of freedom, justice, and the malicious and cursed politics.
Testimony and Consolation
I offer my dead corpse to the coming Yemeni delegation.
They agreed on the torture and agonies that I went through all those years.
They knew that I am innocent and at the same time ill and that I left my country to seek treatment.
This is also a message to the Yemeni people who bear the responsibility of my death in front of God and the responsibility of all of the other Yemenis inside this prison. This prison is a piece of hell that kills everything, the spirit, the body and kicks away all the symptoms of health from them.
A Testimony of Death
A testimony against injustice and against the propagandists of freedom, justice and equality.
Adnan Farhan Abdulatif while in the throes of death.
From Close Guantanamo with Justice Now, by dozens of organizations to mark the beginning of the 10th year of Guantanamo on Tuesday, January 11, 2011:
The story of Guantánamo remains the shameful case of the U.S. government rounding up nearly 800 men and boys, indiscriminately labeling them “the worst of the worst,” and throwing them into an island prison designed to exist beyond the reaches of the law, where they would have no right to challenge their detention or abuse. The vast majority of the prisoners at Guantánamo should never have been detained in the first place. Many were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and were fleeing the chaos of war when U.S. forces entered Afghanistan. Only one in twenty was captured by the U.S. military. Most were captured by local civilians and authorities in Afghanistan and Pakistan and sold to the United States in exchange for substantial bounty. According to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, a senior State Department official who served in the Bush administration between 2002-2005, the Bush administration knew early on that the majority of the men at Guantánamo were innocent but did not release them due to political concerns that doing so could harm support for the government’s push for war in Iraq and the broader “Global War on Terror.”
Andy Worthington and other journalists have spent years documenting the abuse detainees suffered. See the report by ProPublica, Prisoners’ Recollections Differ from Guidelines, contrasting the “torture memo” report released by the Obama administration in 2009, with its dry and utterly bland descriptions of torture procedures ordered by the Bush regime, with the report of the International Committee of the Red Cross in 2007 which, given the ICRC’s reluctance to criticize governments, was scathing in its criticism of the Bush program.
The problem is not simply that Barack Obama has not followed through on his pledge to close Guantanamo by January 22, 2010. In many ways, as we said in the Crimes are Crimes – No Matter Who Does Them statement,
this is worse than Bush. First, because 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.
Ten weeks after the publication of that statement in The New York Times, Obama, it was reported by Dafna Linzer at ProPublica that
The White House is preparing an Executive Order on indefinite detention that will provide periodic reviews of evidence against dozens of prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay, according to several administration officials… the order establishes indefinite detention as a long-term Obama administration policy and makes clear that the White House alone will manage a review process for those it chooses to hold without charge or trial.
This executive order, may be released on or near January 11, putting a close to any faint illusions — or delusions – on the part of those who says that Obama is “really trying” to close the illegal prison.
In another recent piece With Indefinite Detention and Transfer Bans, Obama and the Senate Plumb New Depths on Guantánamo Worthington says:
President Obama is now fulfilling one of Dick Cheney’s great hopes, presiding over a prison in which the overwhelming majority of the remaining 174 prisoners will, in all likelihood, continue to be held indefinitely.
Over at The Talking Dog, dog says:
Every day, in every way, the people of the Obama Administration just want you to know that if there is any material difference between it and the Bush Administration… they must not be doing their jobs right.
Just so we are clear: the continuation of the global “war on terror” continues, now fully endorsed by the administration and the Congress. As always, it’s up to us to make our demands visible. Join me in Washington DC on Tuesday, January 11, 2011.