Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Guantanamo Papers


Can any rational mind doubt that our government -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld et al; Obama, Petraeus, Holder, et al -- has violated our own and international law, and the Geneva Conventions,  by torture, rendition, assassination and random killing of civilians?

It is unlikely that anyone will ever be charged or prosecuted for these crimes.

So let us at least, at the very least, convict the United States government in the court of world opinion of a crime against literature: the supression of Mohamedou Ould Slahi's Guantanamo memoir. It is destined -- when at last it becomes public in unredacted form -- to join Emile Zola's defense of Alfred Dreyfus as a classic for the ages.

Capt. Dreyfus, a French military officer, was jailed in the infamous Devil's Island penal colony in the late 19th Century on charges that later proved to be  egregious lies.  He was  ultimately  exonerated but the case made a lasting impact on the consciousness of the French nation.

Mohamedou Ould Slahi is his own Zola. He is in his 11th year as an uncharged, untried prisoner in the infamous prison colony on Guantanamo Bay.  He has written in his own hand a 466-page manuscript of horrors, yet somehow leavened with wit. Through his attorneys, Slate magazine obtained and is publishing excerpts from the unclassified version of his writings.

According to Slate, "The man first assigned to prosecute him, Marine Corps Lt. Col. Stuart Couch, withdrew from the case when he discovered Slahi had been tortured. When Couch’s boss, former Guantánamo chief prosecutor Col. Morris Davis, met with the CIA, the FBI, and military intelligence in 2007 to review Slahi’s case, the agencies conceded they could not link him to any acts of terrorism."

In 2010, a U.S, District Judge granted Slahi's petition for habeas corpus and ordered his release. The government appealed.  He is still in detention while the appeal is heard.

The heinous, sadistic torture he underwent was part of a plan carefully devised at the Pentagon.  He was abused in every possible way -- physical beatings, sexual perversions, humiliation, deprivation of sleep and food -- all of which he describes in sickening detail.

Yet, recalling one beating by a masked torturer, he wrly noted that his abuser “had gloves, OJ Simpson gloves on his hands.” When, after delivering 100 pages of writing to them, his lawyers asked for more information, he sent them a letter in which he said, “You ask me to write you everything I told my interrogators. Are you out of your mind! How can I render uninterrupted interrogation that has been lasting the last 7 years? That’s like asking Charlie Sheen how many women he dated.”

I call the supression of his manuscript a literary crime because Mohamedou Ould Slahi is a gifted writer of powerful prose.

His book begins: July 2002, 22:00. The American team takes over. The music was off. The conversations of the guards faded away. The truck emptied.”  These short, punchy sentences, in the active voice, are the work of a natural.

But the story he writes is one of crimes against humanity.  The carefully planned torture and debasement inflicted upon him was "signed off" on by a multitude of high military authorities.

Highest of all is the signature of Donald Rumsfeld.


Sunday, April 28, 2013

Where We Gonna Put Dem Boots?

The Washington cliche of the day is "boots on the ground."  The question of the day is, "should we (the United Statese) put them (boots) on the ground in Syria because the embattled government there used chemical weapons against the insurgents?"

Wait.  Do we have it on any authority other than our own government and its intelligence services that Syria actually did this?  Are those chemical weapons any more substantive than Sadam Hussein's WMDs or Iran's nukes?  Just asking.

A batch of The Usual Suspects were rounded up on the Sunday telly talkabouts to kick around Pressing Matters, of which the pressingest seemed to be Syria and those boots.

Lindsey Graham, South Carolina's gift of enlightenment to the U.S. Senate, opined that if somebody doesn't do something, ”the whole region’s gonna fall into chaos.”  Gonna?  Gonna?  

There was Old Standby John McCain, untarnished by his brilliant selection of Sarah Palin for Veep, saying "no" to boots on the ground. "The American people are weary," he said, demonstrating that he's been awake a bit longer than his Carolina colleague.  "They don't want boots on the ground."

Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the Democratic party's contribution to this font of wisdom, sang her president's song, a firm, fearless, "maybe, maybe not."  Responding to Graham and McCain, she said, "I don't think you ever want to rule it (boots on the ground) out.  But obviously we don't want to do it unless it's absolutely necessary." Obviously.

The Georgia sage of the Senate, Saxby Chambliss, declared: "We don't need to put boots on the ground, but we need to enable their neighbors, the neighbors of Syria, to bring some sort of peaceful resolution to this."

Aha!  There it is! We need a peaceful resolution to this!

Alors!  Why didn't we think of this before!  A peaceful resolution.

And to think that these people hold office for six, long years! Well, we elected George W. Bush to two terms as President, didn't we? Now even Grandma Barbara thinks "we've had enough Bushes."

We've had enough of Obama, too -- but that's another essay.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Just What IS the "Lesson" of Boston?

I am duly impressed by the speed with which law enforcement found and either killed or apprehended the perpetrators of the Boston Marathon explosions that killed three and maimed many.

But I'm not chanting "USA" and waving flags.  I'm afraid. Very afraid.

What transpired in Boston made me much more aware of how far the United States has moved toward becoming a totalitarian police state.  To a degree that is frightening, what happened to those Chechen brothers could happen to you.

You've been stripped of your privacy without realizing it.  Most of your protective blanket under the Bill of Rights is in tatters.  Surveillance technology of various kinds has made it possible for law enforcement to pinpoint you in a trice.  Quiet changes in procedure have taken away Miranda rights.  Government drones can find you and kill you --"legally."  You can be grabbed off the street -- possibly even out of your home -- tomorrow and held incognito without charge and without trial -- forever. Nobody is "just a nobody" any more. You're on camera, in a data base, tracked by cookies; you're a number, a code, a profile; what you eat, what you buy, where you travel and how . . . these are your cyber signatures.

It's well and good when this efficient police state nails genuine wrongdoers.  Perhaps (although I doubt it) such efficiency as was displayed in Boston will serve as a deterrant to similar attacks by others.  But I fear for the day when someone in some position of authority, however great or however minimal, decides to use the awesome power of this apparatus to do away with political enemies, to silence critics of government or policy, to quell minorities, to shield powerful corporate interests from punishment or even trial for their crimes. 

Those who wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights knew well how quickly abuse of power can kill a democracy, and sought to build into those documents a foolproof system of checks and balances.  With PATRIOT Acts and Justice Department memos, with Presidential orders and TOP SECRET stamps, by Congressional cowardice and brainwashing of the public, most of those checks and balances have been disabled.  The common citizen is but a single step from enslavement by the ruling oligarchs.

I can understand the feelings of those in the Boston crowds who broke into applause, chants of "USA" and loud cheers when Suspect No. 2 was taken into custody last night.

But as someone who has already been on one powerful politician's enemies list, and who reported on things government didn't want made public, and whose job took him into other dark places in America, I felt a deep, deep chill when I realized how efficient the modern American surveillance state really is.

I think of Bradley Manning, whose conscience told him to enable his fellow citizens to know about things he knew about that, to him, weren't right.  He could well be put to death for an act of good conscience. His "trial" by his military captors no more resembles justice than American television resembles journalism. There is precious little left of the Bill of Rights to protect any American from his fate.

The very person who will probably prosecute the surviving suspect in Boston -- Carmen Ortiz -- is the same Department of Justice attorney who prosecuted the activist, Aaron Swartz, for writing about the corrupting influence of money in our government, political system and society, until he committed suicide.

The apparatus indeed is vast.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

An Open Letter

  • An Open Letter To:
  • Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.),  John Boozman (R-Ark.),  Richard Burr (R-N.C.),  Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.),  Dan Coats (R-Ind.),  Tom Coburn (R-Okla.),  Thad Cochran (R-Miss.),  Bob Corker (R-Tenn.),  Jon Cornyn (R-Texas),  Mike Crapo (R-Idaho),  Ted Cruz (R-Texas),  Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.),  Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.),  Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa),  Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), Dean Heller (R-Nev.),  John Hoeven (R-N.D.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.),  Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.),  Mike Johanns (R-Neb.),  Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Mike Lee (R-Utah),  Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Rand Paul (R-Ky.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) , Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.),  Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Tim Scott (R-S.C.),  Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.),  Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Thune (R-S.D.), David Vitter (R-La.) and  Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). 

"Honorable" Senators:

On behalf of the people of the United States, and your constituents, I ask that you publicly justify your vote this week against the so-called gun control legislation.  Specifically, tell the families of the names that follow why the NRA and the arms manufacturing industry are worth so much more to you than the lives of  any or all of the people named.

Special request to Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky:  Specifically addressing the families of those named below, please explain what was so utterly hilarious about the pictures of yourself and Sen Harry Reid, and their captions, as posted yesterday on your Facebook page.

Sincerely, in remembrance of:

Alex Sullivan, John Larimer, Jessica Ghawi, Micayla Medekm John Blunk, Alex Teves, Alexander "AJ" Boik, Gordon Cowden, Rebecca Wingo, Matt McQuinn, Veronica Moser-Sullivan and Jesse Childress. Slain by gunshot in a movie theater in Aurora, CO.

Cassie Bernall, Steven Curnow, Corey DePooter, Kelly Fleming, Matthew Kechter, Daniel Mauser, Daniel Rohrbough, Wlliam "Dave" Sanders, Rachel Scott, Isaiah Shoels, Lauren Townsend and Kyle Velasquez.  Slain by gunshot at Columbine high school.
          Brian Bluhm, Ryan Clark, Austin Cloyd, Jocelyne Couture-Nowak, Kevin Granata, Matthew G. Gwaltney, Caitlin Hammaren, Jeremy Herbstritt, Rachael Elizabeth Hill, Emily Hilscher, Jarrett Lane, Matthew J. LaPorte, Henry Lee, Liviu Librescu, G. V. Loganathan, Partahi Lumbantoruan, Lauren McCain, Daniel O'Neil, Juan Ramon Ortiz, Minal Panchal, Daniel Perez Cueva, Erin Peterson, Mike Pohle, Julia Pryde, Mary Read, Reema Samaha, Waleed Shaalan, Leslie Sherqman, Maxine Turner and Nicole White.  Slain by gunshot at Virginia Tech.

         Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 5; Madeline Hsu, 6; Catherine Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison Wyatt, 6;  Rachel D'Avino,  Anne Marie Murphy, Lauren Rousseau, Mary Sherlach, Victoia Soto and Dawn Hocksprung.  Slain by gunshot at Sandy Hook elementary school.

And the more than 3,400 American men, women and children slain by gunshot since the Sandy Hook massacre.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Another Biscuit for the Dogs of War

There he goes again.

Recent meetings in Kazakhstan (see previous blog) kept hopes alive for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear question. But once again, right on schedule, comes George Jahn of the Associated Press Vienna bureau with a tainted morsel designed to stoke the appetites of the war dogs.

His dispatch begins:

VIENNA (AP) — Technicians upgrading Iran's main uranium enrichment facility have tripled their installations of high-tech machines that could be used in a nuclear weapons program to more than 600 in the last three months, diplomats said Wednesday.

They say the machines are not yet producing enriched uranium and some may be only partially installed. Still the move is the latest sign that 10 years of diplomatic efforts have failed to persuade Tehran to curb its uranium enrichment. Instead, Iran continues to increase its capacities.

The installations also suggest that Iran possesses both the technology to mass-produce centrifuges that can enrich much faster than its present machines and the ability to evade international sanctions meant to keep it from getting materials it needs to do so.

As usual, Jahn does not name sources, writes in code and weasle-words and makes unsupportable statements as truth.

Just after helpful negotiatons between the G5+1 group and Iran in April of 2012, and with hopes high for more progress in Moscow the following June, Jahn breathlessly reported he had been given a sketch by "diplomats" that "proved" Iran was advancing rapidly with  nuclear weapons development. It purported to show "an explosives containment chamber of the type needed for nuclear arms-related tests that U.N. inspectors suspect Tehran has conducted." I found a similar drawing on the site of a firm that sells bomb-containment devices to law enforcement. Responsible scientists denounced Jahn's drawing as a hoax.

Last November, with the G5+1 talks slated to resume in six weeks, Jahn dropped another Israeli propaganda bomb. The Associated Press he wrote, had obtained a graph alleged to be part of an Iranian computer simulation of a nuclear explosion. Experts promptly  pointed out that the graph of the relationship between energy and power shown in the AP story contained absurdly large errors that not even a junior high school physics student would make, let alone a nuclear scientist. Former senior IAEA inspector Robert Kelley, said “It’s clear the graph has nothing to do with a nuclear bomb.”

One of the sources for today's article by Jahn was an Israeli diplomat.  Another was said to be from a neutral country.  Jahn's article refers to only one lame attempt at verification of anything he was told, a telephone call to an International Atomic Agency official that was not returned.

The machines he's so excited about in his lede paragraph, which "could be" used in work in pursuit of a weapon, also "could be" used in peaceful nuclear research, especially for medical purposes. It was The United States "Atoms for Peace" program that gave Iran nuclear technology decades ago, and the Islamic republic became a Middle East leader in medical treatment facilities.  Now that the western embargo has tightened, Iran has been developing its own resources for nuclear research.  Neutral observers following the Iran situation have known for months that Iran intended to install up to 1,000 of the "high tech machines" Jahn mentions.  Why should it be news, then, that the number is now up to 600?

Because it will get the pot boiling all over again about Netanyahu's "red line"  and when the U.S. will be "forced" to join Israel in military action against Iran. The American Endless War Machine must be fueled, and Israel is itching to use a few of its own 300 too 400 nuclear weapons.

Monday, April 15, 2013

No Pulitzers for Iran "Coverage"

The only serious diplomatic effort to resolve "the Iran nuclear issue" resumed over the weekend and there hasn't been a word in the American media.  But that doesn't surprise me because it seemed clear before it began that the G5+1 session in Almaty, Kazakhstan, would be little more than an opportunity to "kick the can further down the road," as The Guardian put it -- keep the process alive until after the Iranian presidential election. 

The shame is that a Yank has to read the Guardian -- and other non-American news sources -- for a responsible report on the G5+1.  Ask a typical flag-waving, Limbaugh-loving American what the G5+1 is and he'll probably guess some kind of new, small computer. (G5+1 is journo-speak for the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany, the group that is trying to broker an accord of some kind.)

The American media can't stand the sight of no blood; a calm, snail's pace negotiating session simply won't get their attention.  A computer-generated drawing purporting to show a new test chamber for superbombs, or a miscopied junior high school physics formula said to have "proved" Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons -- that's their cup of tea.  Anything to stir up war talk.

Even the New York Times, winner of another four Pulitzer Prizes today, can't seem to get it right consistently on Iran.  It's falling for  for the fishy-smelling kind of yellow-cake, aluminum tube stuff that led it to cheerlead the Iraq invasion. The collective sins of  our media already have built some things that don't exist into terrifying bogeymen.  "Iran's nuclear program" is the same kind of "threat" to U.S. national security that Iraq's "WMDs" were. There are still far-right Americans who believe in the latter; "we just haven't found 'em yet." The media drumbeat has endowed the former with a similar potential for horror that it doesn't possess.

For example, Robert Jervis, a professor of foreign policy at Columbia and a member of the Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies, recently called "for the United States to resign itself to Iran's development of nuclear weapons and to focus on deterring the Islamic Republic from ever using them."  The entire section that follows in his essay is based upon the absolutely unproved assumption that Iran is, or is trying to, develop nuclear weapons.

Later in the piece, Jervis gives us this: "In practice, (we have) only two tools for dealing with Iran's advancing nuclear program: threats and promises, the melding of which the political scientist Alexander George labeled 'coercive diplomacy.' To succeed in halting Iran's progress toward a bomb, the United States will have to combine the two, not simply alternate between them."

Advancing nuclear program?  Progress toward a bomb? Under the desks, kids! 

Iran's "nuclear program" is not a lot different now from what it was after the U.S. gave the country nuclear capability and technology when our Good Buddy the Shah was running things, not always for the peace and comfort of the Irani masses. Its facilities -- including the bogeyman in the bunker at Fordow -- produce 20% enriched uranium This grade is fine for nuclear power generating plants like the one at Bushehr. But as for making a weapon, forget it.  In fact, the U.S. "Atoms for Peace" jump start led to Iran's developing  some of the finest medical research and treatment facilities in the Middle East.  Iran could only continue those things, after the U.S. embargo grew tighter and tighter, by using its own material, or what it could get past the embargo from places like Niger. Hence the two new uranium mines in Iran, which the U.S. duly "decried" during G5+1. Hence President Ahmadinejad's shopping trip to Niger after G5+1.

A Nigerian official said, "We are a sovereign state and will deal with who we want. Our uranium, our oil, we are going to sell them to who we want."

Meanwhile, there was diplomacy going on over the weekend, despite the silence of the New York Times, the talking heads and the rest of the U.S. media.  The EU powers offered unspecified relaxation of some portions of the embargo that is crippling Iran's economy, if the Islamic republic would stop 20% production, ship the existing stockpile out of the country and close down Fordow. That is, give away everything for a mess of pottage.

But it sounds like a negotiation.  At least it's not Shock and Awe. Until it is, the U.S. media will continue to ignore it or misrepresent it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

10 Years of "Unmitigated Disaster"

Tuesday was the tenth annivesary of the toppling of the statue of Sadam Hussein by U.S. Marines in Firdos Square in newly-conquered Baghdad, just 20 days after the start of America's longest war.

Like the "reasons" for invading Iraq in the first place, the statue-toppling was phony, a scripted event staged for propaganda purposes, a precursor of the even more phony "Mission Accomplished" debacle aboard an aircraft carrier less than a month later.

But on that infamous May day aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln, the devastating cost, in dollars and blood, of American military madness was just beginning, and continues to this day. In dollars, the cost of the unfunded war passed three trillion in 2008 and still rises daily.  We have lost nearly 5,000 young lives there; 33,183 were wounded and more than 200,000 went home with PTSD.   We have slain 1.2 million human beings there -- men, women and children.

And what has all of this criminal activity bought?

Certainly not the peaceful civilian rule our lying government promised.  On the tenth anniversary of the U.S.missile and bombing rampage called "shock and awe," dissidents killed more than 50 people in 13 separate attacks around Baghdad.  More than 100 were injured. Sunni fighters tied to al-Qaeda continue terrorist attacks this year in an attempt to undermine Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's Shia-led government.
Remember what we called our carnage there? "Operation Iraqi Freedom."  How we love to mask our murder with cute euphemisms! Is it "freedom" to live amidst quotidian sectarian and political violence?  Or is it "unmitigated disaster," as one London academic put it? Iraq's U.S.-dictated constitution and puppet government were literally designed to sow sectarian and ethnic discord. Torture, sectarian death squads and billions of U.S. dollars have weakened the nation's social fabric and created a corrupt ruling class that gets richer by the day. The Shia faction controls the government, yet most of Iraq's Shia population remain the poorest of all the divided Iraqi population. Iraqi Kurdistan is a separate state in all but name. The U.S. and Turkey, a ruthless oppressor of the Kurdish people, pull the strings of the regional government, which is forging new  links to Israel.
Throughout Iraq, popular anger against corruption and human rights violations is growing. Peoples' lives, for the most part, are scarcely better than they were under the dictatorship of Sadam Hussein. Millions live without potable water, adequate sanitation, health care or decent housing.  Children are starving. Public infrastructure is non-existent in vast areas.  Cancer rates are soaring. 
An expatriate Iraqi living in the United States visited his homeland when the U.S. occupation "ended."  He writes:
  • Millions of Iraqis have been killed, injured or displaced. One of the most developed countries in the region at the time of the invasion, Iraq now is among the worst in terms of infrastructure and public services. Baghdad ranks lowest in the quality of life of any city in the world, according to a recent global survey from the consultant group Mercer.
  • Moreover, the Iraqi national identity has been replaced by ethnic and sectarian affiliations.
  • I am half Sunni and half Shiite — or “Sushi,” as Iraqis jokingly call kids of mixed marriages. I was never asked my sect before 2003. I did not know who from my friends was a Sunni or a Shiite until then. But now, these sectarian divisions have become a core component of Iraq’s new identity, and they continue to threaten its territorial integrity and national unity.

A former New York prosecutor and dean of the Kennedy College of Law, Paul Savoy, writes that "there is universal agreement (among legal experts) that carelessness in the use of deadly force is criminal."

What we've done in Iraq wasn't mitigated by carelessness.  It  was deliberate.  There should be a new Nurenburg for those who planned and executed it.