Archive for category torture
President Obama will give a major speech Thursday at the National Defense University in Washington, reportedly about drones and Guantanamo. The Washington Post reports that
“Obama was prepared to deliver the speech earlier this month, but it was put off amid mounting concerns over a prisoner hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay and more recently the Justice Department leaks investigation — both of which the revised speech may address.”
The Post also reports that an anonymous White House official says the President
“…will discuss the policy and legal framework under which we take action against terrorist threats, including the use of drones. And he will review our detention policy and efforts to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.”
World Can’t Wait has been pondering hard on what more we can do to create a political situation where Obama has to back down, release at least some of the men at Guantanamo, and be forced into closing the prison. The use of indefinite detention and targeted killing is an affront to generally recognized precepts of international law. Usually, the administration answers, as Eric Holder did last year, makes a claim that “we can do whatever we want,” essentially, when “national security” is at stake.
Obama promised to close Guantanamo more than four years ago. We have been led to expect, over the last four years, that it’s really not that important to him to do so.
But along comes the prisoners’ hunger strike — a dynamic factor neither Obama’s people, nor the millions of us outraged at Guantanamo’s continued existence expected. Their action could bring a possible change in the administration’s plans to maintain indefinite detention, at least for some of the men in Guantanamo.
A major missing ingredient in this moment, though, has been the collective voices of artists, intellectuals, politicians, religious and cultural figures who are respected and beloved for being voices of conscience, speaking as one to demand that the torture of Guantanamo be ended. It’s time and past time, as more than 100 days of the prisoners’ hunger strike have passed, that we provide a way for them to speak out together, and for that message to be seen.
Dennis Loo of Cal Poly Pomona drafted a message which will run this week as a full page ad in The New York Times this week which could serve as such a vehicle. Demanding “Close Guantanamo,” it has been signed by 1100, including John Cusack, Alice Walker, Wallace Shawn, Junot Diaz, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Eve Ensler, Kara Walker, Dave Eggers, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Haggis, Bianca Jagger, Ariel Dorfman, Erica Jong, Michael Moore, Ron Kovic, Tom Morello, Mark Ruffalo, Coco Fusco, Peter Selz, James Schamus, Carl Dix, Oliver Stone, Cindy Sheehan, and Cornel West, joined by attorneys for the Guantanamo prisoners, law professors, clergy and academics.
The message powerfully challenges us to look at Guantanamo as “part of larger, alarming developments” including the NDAA, targeted killing by executive order, and the prosecution of whistle-blowers, “most flagrantly in the torture, slander and draconian legal charges against Bradley Manning.”
It says, “It is up to people to stand up for principle and morality when their institutions and public officials refuse to do so. The fates of those who are maimed or killed by our government’s policies are inextricably intertwined with our own: we must listen and respond to their cry for justice. We demand the release of the cleared Guantanamo prisoners now, and an end to indefinite detention without charge for the others, before they lose their lives.”
While promoting the message to Close Guantanamo that we are raising funds to publish in The New York Times, we have been hearing, especially in the Twitterverse, that people think, because Obama promised to close Guantanamo, and says that Congress is not allowing him to do that, the main problem is with Congress.
It is quite true that the U.S. Congress, both when the Republicans led it under Bush, and since the Democrats took over leadership in 2006, has a shameful record in advancing all sorts of repression. Memorably, they’ve made speeches and passed resolutions — and tried to pass laws — saying Guantanamo, specificially, can’t be closed, nor can the prisoners ever by tried here or released in the U.S.
So appealing to the right-wing Congress is going to continue to be a very hopeless road, absent the kind of mass political movement from the people needed, on all issues of justice, from authorizing un-ending wars, targeted killing, violation of borders for other countries, while further militarizing this country’s borders and infrastructure.
Obama, however, as people rightly point out, has promised to close Guantanamo. For his own reasons, whatever they may be, he repeats what most of the world thinks, that the continued existence of the illegal prison in Guantanamo, set up to avoid U.S. law by the Bush regime, doesn’t serve the U.S. public image as the land of freedom and democracy.
Obama repeated, in remarks at a press conference last month, that it is Congress who refuses to let him release prisoners who have been cleared for release. 86 prisoners were cleared, some back to 2006, by the Bush administration, and then again by a task force of Obama’s own creation in 2009, after what he’s called a very “thorough review.”
There are 3 main reasons the ball is in Obama’s court on Guantanamo:
1. Obama put in place the ban on transferring the 56 Yemeni prisoners, out of the 86 who have been cleared for release. Says Andy Worthington in Eloquent But Unconvincing: President Obama’s Response to the Guantánamo Hunger Strike
it was the President “who issued a ban on the release of Yemenis from Guantánamo after a failed bomb plot on a Detroit-bound plane on Christmas Day 2009, undertaken by a Nigerian man who was recruited in Yemen.”
Not Congress, though they’ve done many other reactionary things. It was also Obama who in January 2013 closed the office in the Executive Branch run by Donald Fried, which was tasked with resettling the prisoners.
2. It’s the Obama administration which has made life for prisoners worse at Guantanamo after some improvements at the end of the Bush administration. Glenn Greenwald wrote in July 2012,
“Last week, the Obama administration imposed new arbitrary rules for Guantanamo detainees who have lost their first habeas corpus challenge. Those new rules eliminate the right of lawyers to visit their clients at the detention facility; the old rules establishing that right were in place since 2004, and were bolstered by the Supreme Court’s 2008 Boumediene ruling that detainees were entitled to a “meaningful” opportunity to contest the legality of their detention. The DOJ recently informed a lawyer for a Yemeni detainee, Yasein Khasem Mohammad Esmail, that he would be barred from visiting his client unless he agreed to a new regime of restrictive rules, including acknowledging that such visits are within the sole discretion of the camp’s military commander.”
Obama’s credentials as a protector of the prisoners are non-existent, making his claims to fear for their deaths hollow. Yet, he should be held to follow through on his promise. You can read more on that in the text of our message.
3. Obama can use the clause written into the National Defense Authorization Act allowing the executive to release prisoners.
Senator Levin wrote to Obama on May 9, reminding him, “I successfully fought for a national security waiver that provides a clear route for the transfer of detainees to third countries in appropriate cases, i.e., to make sure the certification requirements do not constitute an effective prohibition.”
President Obama seems quite ready to use executive authority when it comes to targeted kill lists. He doesn’t wait for Congress, or even acknowledge Congressional authority in matters of war and national boundaries for drone war or special operations. So why is he allowed to hide behind “Congress won’t let me” now?
I would urge people who take Barack Obama at his word that he wants to close Guantanamo, to investigate more deeply what Obama’s policies have amounted to by reading Greenwald’s piece from 2012: The Obama GTMO Myth.
“Every time the issue of ongoing injustices at Guantanamo is raised, one hears the same apologia from the President’s defenders: the President wanted and tried to end all of this, but Congress — including even liberals such as Russ Feingold and Bernie Sanders — overwhelming voted to deny him the funds to close Guantanamo. While those claims, standing alone, are true, they omit crucial facts and thus paint a wildly misleading picture about what Obama actually did and did not seek to do.”
Andy Worthington writes in the wake of Obama’s latest statements,
“The best that can be said of President Obama’s performance on Tuesday is that the words he uttered can be used to hammer home to him the ongoing injustice of the prison, if he tries, as he has before, to lose interest in it. Mostly, though, what is needed is action — action to persuade Congress to drop its restriction on the release of prisoners, and action and honesty by President Obama himself: on his Yemeni ban, on the need to appoint someone to deal with the closure of Guantanamo on a full-time basis, and, if necessary, on releasing prisoners through the waiver in the NDAA.
He also, as an urgent matter, needs to initiate review boards for 46 other prisoners who he consigned to indefinite detention without charge or trial in an executive order in March 2011, on the basis that they are regarded as too dangerous to release, even though insufficient evidence exists to put them on trial. That is, and was an unacceptable decision to take, but the only proviso that tempered it ever so slightly was the President’s promise to initiate periodic reviews of the men’s cases, which, over two years later, have not taken place.
Political speeches and posturing are one thing. Reality is another. Greenwald reminded us after Adnan Latif died in Guantanamo earlier this year, “more detainees have died at the camp (nine) than have been convicted of wrongdoing by its military commissions (six).”
Obama needs to release the cleared prisoners, whatever work that takes; charge or release those being held indefinitely without charges, and close the prison. You can donate to help publish the ad. And sign it, along with the above writers, and myself.
My friend Stephen Phelps, Senior Minister at The Riverside Church, signed The New York Times ad on closing Guantanamo we plan to publish next week, and sent a note saying he would “begin to send the hope around to some others.” This hit me strongly. For the last four+ years, since Obama promised to close it, nothing hopeful has come out of Guantanamo.
It’s only the courageous, and desperate, actions of the prisoners which provide hope now, and which are enlivening the rest of the world with the idea that now Obama must, as Lynn Feinerman put it in Tikkun Daily, “Close Guantánamo. Repatriate and rehabilitate those destroyed by it.”
25 former Guantanamo prisoners just wrote Obama demanding he close the prison. They say that force-feeding (for which even more “medical” personnel have been brought in recently) “demonstrates the absence of any morals and principles the US administration may claim to have regarding these men,” and cite:
- The abuse of the prisoners’ religious rights, such as the desecration of the Qur’an
- The use of chemical sprays and rubber bullets to “quell unrest”
- Regular and humiliating strip searches
- Extremely long periods in total isolation
- Interference in privileged client/attorney relationships
- Lack of meaningful communication with relatives
- Arbitrary imprisonment without charge or trial
Ahmed Rachidi, a former prisoner released to Morocco, said recently:
The Obama Administration claims they are on a hunger strike because they want better treatment or better food. But that is not true. They are on a hunger strike because they want justice. They want freedom. They want to go home to their families. And this time they will not quit.
I hope we don’t fail to see how horrific a hunger strike is. Rachidi goes on:
This will be the last hunger strike. To stop eating is the only way prisoners can exert any control when they are powerless. But this time Shaker and the other prisoners don’t have the same strength, the same energy they used to have. Mentally and physically they are very weak. I am worried that something can go wrong, that someone will lose his life… Guantanamo is a concern to every human being who believes in democracy, who believes in human rights, who believes in the rule of law. We don’t have a lot of time. We need to come together to force President Obama to restore the rule of law and put an end to this disgrace.
In the thirty-six hours since we debuted the ad text, and began asking people to sign on, circulate it, and donate for its publication, I’ve been very heartened by the comments and donations, from $5 to $1,000. The lawyers who represent prisoners are a group with every reason to have given up in defeat, since they are barely allowed to get to Guantanamo, and now their clients are visibly weakened, some unable to converse. They are signing on, and helping raise funds.
Activists, artists, academics, lawyers, elected officials: this is an urgent call to you. Unite your voices together to support justice for the prisoners in the “newspaper of record” on the 100th day of the hunger strike.
Publishing this ad will resonate in a way other actions don’t, and could help create a situation where the Obama administration is forced to respond. Let’s get into the streets around the world on May 17-19 as part of taking hold of the moment where how a society is measured comes down to closing Guantanamo, and gives hope that the war crimes this country has perpetrated can be addressed.
Saturday was the first time it felt like spring in NYC, and crowds of people filled Union Square Park watching jugglers and musicians, and just hanging out. It was so heartbreakingly pleasant, one felt bad bearing the news to tourists that out of many things wrong in this class-divided world, we were about to challenge them to take notice of one very important thing.
Ten of us put on orange jumpsuits to mark the 51st day of the potentially deadly hunger strike by men imprisoned by the U.S. at Guantanamo. Witness Against Torture activists have been fasting for a week in solidarity; this was a public way and place to end the fast, and have visual impact. Often I am doing public relations at events like this. Today I wanted to experience the time under the hood, and be able to listen for peoples’ comments.
90% of those seeing us walked on by. Hundreds took flyers. Many took photos, though oddly, most didn’t really stop to find out much. Several said “thank you” to those of us in jumpsuits. Comments ran from “they should burn that place down with everyone in it,” to “they should free all those guys, and then burn it down!” A few people ranted that “they” were all terrorists. One said, “the prisoners are lucky; they could of all just been shot.” Some people were just confused, saying Obama had closed down the prison. Memorably, one hipster told another, “I think they’re monks, protesting Easter.”
One of the people flyering commented that all the Black people who stopped for a flyer “got it,” recognized what the problem is, and expressed compassion. A people who has suffered oppression is maybe most able to empathize, notwithstanding that the current President and Attorney General are responsible for no prisoners leaving Guantanamo in the last 18 months alive.
At this point, so far into the fast, we hear men are suffering terribly, possibly being deprived of water they see as safe to drink, some force-fed and some hospitalized. Clive Stafford-Smith, attorney for Shaker Amer, tweeted “90mins on phone with Shaker Aamer today; 130 detainees on hunger strike; situation in
#Gitmo as dire as General ‘Miller Time’” referencing Geoffrey Miller, who ran Guantanamo in 2004, and then went to Abu Ghraib, running torture at both.
How do we close Guantanamo and save the lives of the prisoners? Without the men taking this action, the White House would not have been finally forced to acknowledge the hunger strike, and major media would not be now covering Guantanamo. Their action is decisive, and desperate, as their attorneys report. There is no way out of Guantanamo now, absent a mass demand that it be finally closed and the prisoners charged and tried, or released, as most of them have been already cleared for.
But our action is decisive also. Find out what you can do where you are.
Support World Can’t Wait’s work to make Guantanamo visible in the U.S. Materials (flyers, signs); websites, travel cost $$. Our work is 100% supported by direct donations from individuals. Donate now.
Ten years ago today, lawyers for the Bush Regime sent memos up the chain of command which quickly reached the military and the CIA. The August 1, 2002 “torture memos” authored by attorneys in the Office of Legal Council at the White House gave the green light to torture, calling it “harsh interrogation” and completely legal.
Prisoners in Guantanamo were immediately water-boarded, “walled,” put in isolation, deprived of sleep. A few were men the US thought were part of al Qaeda; most of them were just guys sold to the US by someone in Afghanistan for bounty. Almost none of them, it’s now admitted, were involved in criminal activity, or even military struggle, against the US. But, they were still “the worst of the worst.”
The clock is ticking. August 1st marks the 10th anniversary of the adoption of professor John Yoo’s “Torture Memos,” which sanctioned mental and physical torment and coercion practiced by the state. It’s been 9 years since those same documents were found legally defective and withdrawn. The Bush Gang left the stage, Barack Obama took the helm, and 168 prisoners remain at Guantanamo. These men must not be forgotten, or their stories conveniently swept under the rug for the remainder of this election season.
Amy Davidson, a senior editor at The New Yorker, interviewed Jose Rodriquez, who for 30 years was head of the Counterterrorism Center during his 30 years at the CIA and who recently published a book defending everything done to prisoners, Hard Measures: How Aggressive C.I.A. Actions After 9/11 Saved American Lives. Rodriguez neatly recounted where the Torture Memos fit:
Over the summer of 2002, when we knew we had to do something different to get information out of Abu Zubaydah, who had been captured a few months earlier, we worked with our lawyers to make sure that we came up with techniques that were within the law. These techniques were vetted with the Department of Justice and the White House—with the policy people and the leadership people at the White House. Then, on August 1, 2002, we received a binding legal opinion in writing from the Justice Department that said waterboarding and nine other techniques we wanted to implement were not torture. We then went to the White House and asked the N.S.C. to give us policy approval to proceed, and for the President to direct us to proceed. And they did. A month later, when the Congress came back to town, we briefed the leadership of the House and Senate committees on intelligence, both Democrats and Republicans. They had no objection.
Which is the point, exactly. Everyone was in on it; “everyone” now in government has no objections to what happened. John Yoo teaches constitutional law at one of the most highly regarded law schools, Boalt Hall at UC Berkeley, protected, and actually defended by an administration that uses its liberal credentials as a shield against justice. Jay Bybee got a gig as a federal judge, nominated by G.W. Bush and approved by the same Congress which was OK with torture methods as long as they were named harsh interrogation.”
And none of the torture team partners has suffered indictment, or even deeply serious investigation by the Obama administration.
I have to add a thanks to Women Against Military Madness in Minneapolis, who are outside the Federal Building in Minneapolis today in an action called Tackling Torture at the Top.
And from Curt Wechsler:
My donation to World Can’t Wait today will help send an orange-jumpsuited contingent to the Democratic National Convention to represent the victims of brutal prison policy, and all of us who say NO to torture.
Drones and Guantanamo, owned and operated in a bi-partisan fashion. But it’s the Democrat War party who got people at accept them as “normal” and even legitimate.
Read the original memos, courtesy torturingdemocracy.org:
Memo from Jay Bybee to Alberto Gonzales
DATE: August 1, 2002
SUBJECT: “Standards for Conduct for Interrogation under 18 U.S.C. 2340 – 2340A”
AUTHOR: Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel In what has become notorious as the “torture memo,” Jay Bybee signs off on an opinion authored by John Yoo. The memorandum systematically dismisses numerous U.S. federal laws, treaties and international law prohibiting the use of torture, essentially defining the term out of existence.
Letter from John Yoo to Alberto Gonzales
DATE: August 1, 2002
AUTHOR: John Yoo, Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel John Yoo writes to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales warning of potential threats of international prosecution regarding the administration’s interrogation policies. Yoo notes that “Interrogations of al Qaeda members … cannot constitute a war crime” because of the Presidential determination that Geneva’s protections do not apply.
Memo from Jay Bybee to the CIA
DATE: August 1, 2002
SUBJECT: Memorandum for [REDACTED] Interrogation of [REDACTED]
AUTHOR: Jay Bybee, Assistant Attorney General, Office of Legal Counsel Written by the Office of Legal Counsel’s Jay Bybee and sent to the Central Intelligence Agency, this heavily redacted document was released to the ACLU in 2008. It details “advising the CIA regarding interrogation methods it may use against al Qaeda members,” and in one un-redacted portion, argues that “to violate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering. Based on the information you have provided us, we believe those carrying out these procedures would not have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering.”
Candace represents prisoners still held in Guantanamo, 2.5 years after the Obama administration said it would have been closed. She has just returned from a visit there, and will give us not only the latest news, but her perspective on her years-long efforts to get her clients released.
Anyone concerned about the “rule of law” and the National Defense Authorization Act should join in this60 minute conversation.
Read Candace at GTMOblog.
Write for details to join the call.
When Barack Obama announced in early 2010 that he had put Anwar al-Awlaki on his hit list, I heard from people for whom the announcement was a breaking point in their support for the president.
World Can’t Wait published a statement titled Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them. It said
In some respects, 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.
The ad got significant support in The New York Review of Books, and Rolling Stone. It was much more controversial when it went into The New York Times, on the anniversary of Bush’s bombing and occupation of Afghanistan, October 6, 2010. That paper, so far, has not published its opinion on the Obama administration’s killing of al-Awlaki and another American, on September 30, in an secret operation in Yemen, so we may assume it joins in supporting this crime by our government.
On October 2, they published an opinion by Jack Goldsmith, who you’ll remember as a lawyer for the Bush regime tainted by the torture scandal. Titled A Just Act of War, Goldsmith’s piece praises Obama’s aggression, because the Office of Legal Counsel came up with opinions justifying the killing by unmanned drone of al-Awlaki and another American citizen. For Goldsmith “what due process requires depends on context,” so it’s all good.
The assassination is hypocritical because America routinely criticizes (and justifiably so) such extrajudicial assassinations when they occur at the hands of another government.
The Bush-loving Washington Times, in a piece by Rowan Scarborough, whines that Al-Awlaki would have been difficult to try as a civilian. So just kill him.
“I think it’s pretty easy to understand why they didn’t take him alive. Would you want to deal with the hassle of trying to put him on trial, an American citizen that has gotten so much press for being the target of a CIA kill order? That would be a nightmare. The ACLU would be crawling all over the Justice Department for due process in an American court,” said a former military intelligence officer who worked with special operations troops to hunt down high-value terrorism targets.
Over at the more “liberal” Washington Post, John Bellinger III settles for the administrations’ self-enforcing opinion:
the Justice Department reportedly prepared an opinion concluding that his killing would comply with domestic and international law. This is likely to be considered sufficient due process under U.S. constitutional standards.
Leaving aside this monstrous immorality — no government should be allowed to kill with impunity, much less from a distance, in secret, off a battlefield — there may be a price the U.S. pays for such actions. Even Jack Goldsmith acknowledges
Such caution, however, does not guarantee legitimacy at home or abroad. There are relatively few complaints in American society about the drone program, but drones are becoming increasingly controversial outside the United States on the ground that they violate international law.
The best piece on what line has been crossed here is Glenn Greenwald’s Friday piece in Salon. See The due-process-free assassination of U.S. citizens is now reality. Today, he says
This was absolutely the heart and soul of the Bush War on Terror: the President can do whatever he wants to anyone he wants — with no oversight, due process, or checks — because we’re at War and these are Bad Terrorists (says the President, unilaterally and in secret).
Don’t want a world like this? Protest on October 6, 7, 8, and keep at it. Ten years is way too long for the richest country to be destroying one of the poorest on the planet, Afghanistan.
October2011.org at Freedom Plaza. I’ll be there. Join us!
In the summer of 2005, people were starting to come out of their 6 month long depression over the outcome of the 2004 election. It was somewhat of a struggle to get people to stop blaming Bush voters, and grasp and grapple with the depravity of the Bush program, and the fact that two aggressive wars had been launched on the basis of lies.
Some of us already working to end the wars, torture, and in many other causes wrangled with the problem that, “fighting against each outrage and winning on important fronts — from immigrants rights to defending the right to due process, to defending abortion, evolution, against discrimination or to defend critical thinking on campus — is invaluable to making real change in a world that desperately needs it. But we are fighting each and every one of these battles on losing ground – ground that is rapidly disappearing under our feet.”
The future is unwritten…
A better outcome for the world required a mass movement of people united in acting to drive George Bush, “Dick” Cheney, and their illegitimate regime from office, and repudiating and reversing the program which had become to be identified with them, especially after 9/11/01. That movement needed to act independently and stop looking for a savior from the Democratic Party. It needed a spirit, call, and direction, which World Can’t Wait supplied in the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime.
The Call was quickly distributed hand to hand in about a million copies nationwide starting that summer, and published in several full page newspaper ads in The New York Times, many local papers, and USA Today, with 40,000 people ultimately signing it. While it aggravated some, the points outlined in it captured what was coming down from the heights of power in a belligerent way, and moved many to act:
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.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving each day closer to a theocracy, where a narrow and hateful brand of Christian fundamentalism will rule.
YOUR GOVERNMENT suppresses the science that doesn’t fit its religious, political and economic agenda, forcing present and future generations to pay a terrible price.
YOUR GOVERNMENT is moving to deny women here, and all over the world, the right to birth control and abortion.
YOUR GOVERNMENT enforces a culture of greed, bigotry, intolerance and ignorance.
Over Labor Day weekend in 2005, as the waters of Katrina were covering New Orleans, 250 people gathered in New York City to found The World Can’t Wait – Drive Out the Bush Regime. Sunsara Taylor and I chaired the discussions. We took time out to march, with about 150 more joining us, around midtown, demanding, “rescue, not repression!” for New Orleans, which set a basic approach of immediate response to government action – or inaction.
Don’t Go to Work! Walk Out of School!
It was a bold call, and thousands followed it. On Thursday, November 2, 2005, on the year-anniversary of Bush’s re-election, tens of thousands marched around the U.S., inaugurating the effort to drive out Bush and Cheney, and reverse and repudiate the Bush program. Older people heeded a message from Gore Vidal to:
“join together in a popular movement dedicated to ending pre-emptive wars and restoring the nation to its traditional tax base which repaired levees, educated the citizenry and at regular intervals repaired the wall that Thomas Jefferson wisely put in place to separate church from state.”
Howard Zinn issued a call to students. High school students at more than 200 schools across the country left school and walked out, sometimes for miles, to join organized political protest in unprecedented ways. Protests took place in more than 60 cities, and involved at least 40 college campuses, in addition to the high schools. The outpourings of people all over the country had many faces. Local office holders came out and spoke at New York, Chicago and San Francisco rallies with mothers of soldiers who died in Iraq. Prominent public intellectuals and Hollywood celebrities gave their support to this effort to actually drive out the Bush regime.
In San Francisco, Latino day laborers joined with thousands at the Civic Center as Cindy Sheehan, California State Senator Carol Midgden, and others spoke from the stage. Statements of support came from artists and figures such as Jane Fonda, Harold Pinter and Gore Vidal, who signed on to the Call to Drive Out the Bush Regime.
In the dead of winter, as 2006 broke, and Bush gave his State of the Union address, people gathered in 68 cities to “drown out” the lies with street protests – then traveled to Washington, DC to protest in cold rain February 4, 2006, demanding Bush step down. The Bush Crimes Commission held hearings with testimony from people like former Brigadier General Janis Karpinsky and former UK ambassador Craig Murray on the crimes that the Bush regime was actively carrying out. In October of 2006 more than 200 cities across the country held mass protests of thousands. With heart and courage, thousands of us came together to make a powerful and precious political statement against a truly dangerous and repressive government. More on driving out a regime.
Next week: stopping torture as a key expression of the Bush program – spreading a culture of resistance through the Declare It Now: Wear Orange campaign and wearing orange jumpsuits.
The world still can’t wait for people in this country to take responsibility and STOP the crimes of your government. World Can’t Wait, and its projects War Criminals Watch, Fire John Yoo, and We Are Not Your Soldiers, deserve and need your support. Become a sustaining supporter here.
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.
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.”