Posts Tagged torture

G.W. Bush Cancels Europe Speech to Avoid Prosecution, Protest

From the Center for Constitutional Rights comes good news…  G.W. Bush has been forced to cancel a speaking trip in Switzerland next week to avoid being charged in a torture case:

“CCR, with the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) and Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), have spent weeks preparing a 2,500 page torture case against Bush that would have been filed on Monday, February 7 – the anniversary of the day, nine years ago, when Bush decided the Geneva Conventions didn’t apply to ‘enemy combatants.’ Bush was due to be in Geneva on the 12th, and his presence on Swiss territory is required for the prosecutor to take action.

“The complaint, brought under the Convention Against Torture with the support of 50 NGOs, two former UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and two Nobel Prize winners, was on behalf of two torture victims, one who is still at Guantánamo.

“Whatever Bush or his hosts say, we have no doubt he cancelled his trip to avoid our case. The message from civil society is clear – If you’re a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It’s a slow process for accountability, but we keep going.”

In the Guardian UK today:

The visit would have been Bush’s first to Europe since he admitted in his autobiography, Decision Points, in November that he had authorised the use of waterboarding – simulated drowning – on detainees at Guantánamo accused of links with al-Qaida. Whether out of concern over the protests or the arrest warrant, it is an extraordinary development for a former US president to have his travel plans curtailed in this way, and amounts to a victory for human rights campaigners.

Reuters reports today in Bush’s Swiss visit off after complaints on torture:

Bush, in his “Decision Points” memoirs on his 2001-2009 presidency, strongly defends the use of waterboarding as key to preventing a repeat of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Most human rights experts consider the practice a form of torture, banned by the Convention on Torture, an international pact prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Switzerland and the United States are among 147 countries to have ratified the 1987 treaty.

Bush was to speak at a Jewish charity function.  McClatchy newspapers report:

“Protest organizers told participants to bring an extra shoe, prompting fears that someone might re-enact an Iraqi journalist’s 2008 assault on President Bush in Baghdad. The reporter hurled his own footwear as a sign of contempt.”

Whether the threat of prosecution or the threat of determined mass protest caused the cancellation of Bush’s visit, it’s a sign that people are paying attention, and acting on the necessity of holding Bush accountable for war crimes.

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State of the Union: War on Terror Goes On and On, and On…

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.

Guantanamo prisoners

Many of the men still imprisoned at Guantanamo may never be released

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.

Crimes Are Crimes - No Matter Who Does Them

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Why I Oppose a Grand Jury Investigation of Anti-War Activists

A contradiction to ponder:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

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Closing Guantanamo Requires Us

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…

January 11, 2011 Andy Worthington speaking to protesters & media in front of the White House

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.”

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United Response to George W. Bush Memoir

With the publication of George Bush’s book, Decision Points, we, the undersigned, set the record straight. Instead of being rewarded with a lucrative book contract and treated by the media as a distinguished statesman, Bush should be indicted and prosecuted for the crime of aggressive war, the supreme crime against peace in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan; devastation of the civilian population and civil society; the institutionalization of torture and denial of due process to detainees; massive illegal spying against people in the U.S.; and perjury before Congress and the people. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been sent to an early grave because of Bush. Thousands of people have endured the most gruesome torture and abuse because of Bush. Tens of thousands of US service members have either died or suffered horrendous physical and mental injuries because of Bush. Trillions of dollars have been spent in the commission of criminal acts, abroad and at home.

It is the responsibility of the people of the United States to demand the investigation, indictment and prosecution of crimes committed by George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and other high officials.

It is up to each and every one of us to act. Unless high officials are held accountable for criminal acts, it sends a clear message to future administrations – including the current one — that they are not required to uphold the basic tenets of human rights and international law. Today, in fact, we see that many of Bush’s illegal actions have become codified as a new norm.

George W. Bush is recognized by the people of the world as a criminal. We, inside the United States, understand that too and thus we must demand that Attorney General Eric Holder and the Obama administration uphold the law and appoint a Special Prosecutor for the prosecution of Bush and his principal accomplices. We also encourage individuals to take creative measures to stop Bush’s rewriting of history: speak out at his appearances, go to bookstores and move his book to the Crime Section, and challenge the media to cover our message.  War criminals may write books, but we—the people—must speak the truth.

Brian Becker, ANSWER Coalition

Medea Benjamin, Code Pink

Elaine Brower, military mother, World Can’t Wait

Mike Ferner, President, Veterans for Peace

Susan Harman, Code Pink & Progressive Democrats of America

Nancy Mancias, Code Pink

Ray McGovern, Veterans for Peace

Stephanie Rugoff, War Criminals Watch

David Swanson, War is a Crime

Debra Sweet, World Can’t Wait

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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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Interviews from Syed Fahad Hashmi’s Sentencing

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March 20: STOP these Wars & Torture Now!

Sisters & Brothers:

Seven years after shock and awe in Iraq, and 14 months into the “change you can believe in,” things are going in a terrible direction.

One outrage after another:

Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan to 100,000 troops  is not saving Afghan civilians, but killing them.

His use of secret operations and unmanned drones in 5 countries is not only illegal, unjust, and immoral, but against all of humanity.  Revelations that the president claims the right to assassinate US citizens, and that private contractors are running black ops outside the chain of command.

His defense of the Bush era torture lawyers and war crimes in the name of “executive privilege” is unconscionable.

His refusal to allow more than 600 detainees in Bagram, Afghanistan to be identified, and to be denied habeas corpus rights or lawyers to challenge their detention put the lie to the claim he made a year ago that “we do not torture.”

Yes, the right wing IS breathing down Obama’s neck, questioning the legitimacy of his presidency because he’s Black.  The racist Tea baggers get more press for one convention of 600 than we’ve ever gotten for anti-war marches.  The neo-cons have all the intitiative, and the only promise Obama has kept is the one to spread the illegitmate occupation of Afghanistan.

But we have no skin in the game to save Obama, war president.

And there is no solution to this in Congress so don’t look there.   Changing the face in the White House only made the poison go down easier.

What we need — what only we can do — is make a change in what people in this country will accept being done in our names.  If people have gotten confused about whether the Iraq war is over, tell them, no — it’s becoming a permanent occupation!

If people are listening to the “Dick” Cheneys and John Yoos that torture is necessary to keep us safe, and thinking, maybe they agree, tell them, no — torture and aggressive war are never acceptable.

If kids you know are joining up with the military now because fighting for Obama sounds better than fighting for a president that hated, or because Don’t Ask Don’t Tell might finally be ended, tell them no!  Don’t join up for a military occupation where you will be trained and ordered to commit war crimes!

Want to stop the war?  Stop the recruiters!  Bring the We Are Not Your Soldiers! Tour bringing veterans to tell students the reality of the occupations, and help them resist the recruiters.  If you want to stop the wars, start at your school.  Wearenotyoursoldiers.org!  March with the contingent and sign up to bring the tour to your school.

Only we can reverse this dynamic.  The future is unwritten. Which one we get is up to us.  The world STILL can’t wait!

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