America: What’s Next? (Or: The Same Old Song And Dance)

It seems like every presidential election in recent history, America is faced with a stark choice of either voting for change or voting for the end of the world.  In my time following politics, I often felt that these types of stark choices were often overblown. http://www.visitingdc.com/images/george-w-bush-picture.jpg America, despite its bruises, was doing fine.  The world was not going to end if we voted for Republican Presidential Candidate A or Democratic Presidential Candidate B or Independent Presidential Candidate C.  Like a cat, America always landed on its feet.

After that fateful day on 9/11, America pulled it together.  We survived.

But I don’t feel that way now.  The stuff our government is doing in the name of 9/11, in the name of the “war on terror,” in the name of our safety, is troubling.  Extraordinary rendition.  Guantanamo.  Waterboarding.  Destroying tapes.  The blithe dismissal of international treaties.  The pathetic reasoning the government has come up with to do these things in our name, and the accompanying line of “yes men” experts justifying the adminstration’s conduct. 

It bothers me . . . a lot. It should bother you, too. 

Sure, its easy to point the finger at George Bush and his administration for ignoring the utmost principle that has carried this nation:  the rule of law. He’s an easy target, but criticisms against his policies clearly shouldn’t end with him. Bush has a lot of helpers.  That help comes not only in the form of people (i.e., Cheney, Gonzalez, Ashcroft, etc.), but also institutions (i.e., CIA, Department of State, Department of Defense, etc.).  When he’s gone, the institutions will still be there.  Who can replace Bush and bring about government wide change?  Who can replace Bush and change the environment that fostered the situation we are in now?

Looking at the candidates out there, both on the Republican and Democrat side, don’t give me a hell of a lot of solace.  There doesn’t appear to be much will for serious change, either in government or in the populace.  The majority of the arguments are based within the Bush paradigm of the “war on terror.”

For example, it’s never whether waterboarding is per se illegal, but whether it’s effective or not. It’s never whether extraordinary rendition violates both domestic and international law, but whether it’s a useful tool for garnering information. It’s never whether “suspects” in Guantanamo are afforded the right to habeas corpus, but whether we are fighting a successful “war on terror.”

The paradigm needs to change. We are arguing under premises that we assuming are correct. The populace and those in government are putting the cart before the horse.

If you can protect us from terrorist attacks, then why should we bother?  If you are fighting this war on terror, why should we dare question your tactics?  If there are foreign terrorists out there, why does the U.S. have to treat those foreign terrorists with dignity or in accordance to international treaties that we ourselves helped draft?  If we are the U.S., the most powerful nation in the world, shouldn’t we be able to do whatever we want so long as we think it’s right? 

My main concern is not who will lead America once Bush is gone, but whether the institutions within our government are capable of true change and whether the citizens of this country will start waking up and realizing that a country that puts its safety above the rule of law is a country that has no rule of law to begin with.

I’m no Republican, but the what the hell happened to that party?  Remember when they stood for smaller government (even when they were expanding it) and particularly for respecting the constitution? To be sure, in my earlier age, I was a Republican. They seemed like the party that respected the constitution (or at least appeared to).  Now what the hell happened?  The constitution is a stumbling block for their three favorite words:  war on terror.  Why is that the answer to just about everything? War on Terror.  War on Terror.  War on Terror.  It’s like some kind of strange mantra.

And the Democrats?  They’re still stuck in a 1992 pipe dream when Clinton was president.  Their mantra is: Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton.  Bill Clinton.  Sorry to break it to you, democrats, but he’s no longer president.  Democrats need true vision that looks forward, not one that is wedded to an embossed past.  Democrats need definition.  They have none and they need one fast. The democrats lost in 2004 not because the American public was duped. The democrats lost in 2004 because they had no candidate and certainly no platform.

So, what’s next for America?  The same old, same old, for sure.

There are too many moments these days when we cannot recognize our country. Sunday was one of them, as we read the account in The Times of how men in some of the most trusted posts in the nation plotted to cover up the torture of prisoners by Central Intelligence Agency interrogators by destroying videotapes of their sickening behavior. It was impossible to see the founding principles of the greatest democracy in the contempt these men and their bosses showed for the Constitution, the rule of law and human decency.

It was not the first time in recent years we’ve felt this horror, this sorrowful sense of estrangement, not nearly. This sort of lawless behavior has become standard practice since Sept. 11, 2001. The country and much of the world was rightly and profoundly frightened by the single-minded hatred and ingenuity displayed by this new enemy. But there is no excuse for how President Bush and his advisers panicked — how they forgot that it is their responsibility to protect American lives and American ideals, that there really is no safety for Americans or their country when those ideals are sacrificed.

Out of panic and ideology, President Bush squandered America’s position of moral and political leadership, swept aside international institutions and treaties, sullied America’s global image, and trampled on the constitutional pillars that have supported our democracy through the most terrifying and challenging times. These policies have fed the world’s anger and alienation and have not made any of us safer.

In the years since 9/11, we have seen American soldiers abuse, sexually humiliate, torment and murder prisoners in Afghanistan and Iraq. A few have been punished, but their leaders have never been called to account. We have seen mercenaries gun down Iraqi civilians with no fear of prosecution. We have seen the president, sworn to defend the Constitution, turn his powers on his own citizens, authorizing the intelligence agencies to spy on Americans, wiretapping phones and intercepting international e-mail messages without a warrant.

We have read accounts of how the government’s top lawyers huddled in secret after the attacks in New York and Washington and plotted ways to circumvent the Geneva Conventions — and both American and international law — to hold anyone the president chose indefinitely without charges or judicial review.

Those same lawyers then twisted other laws beyond recognition to allow Mr. Bush to turn intelligence agents into torturers, to force doctors to abdicate their professional oaths and responsibilities to prepare prisoners for abuse, and then to monitor the torment to make sure it didn’t go just a bit too far and actually kill them.

The White House used the fear of terrorism and the sense of national unity to ram laws through Congress that gave law-enforcement agencies far more power than they truly needed to respond to the threat — and at the same time fulfilled the imperial fantasies of Vice President Dick Cheney and others determined to use the tragedy of 9/11 to arrogate as much power as they could.

Hundreds of men, swept up on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, were thrown into a prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, so that the White House could claim they were beyond the reach of American laws. Prisoners are held there with no hope of real justice, only the chance to face a kangaroo court where evidence and the names of their accusers are kept secret, and where they are not permitted to talk about the abuse they have suffered at the hands of American jailers.

In other foreign lands, the C.I.A. set up secret jails where “high-value detainees” were subjected to ever more barbaric acts, including simulated drowning. These crimes were videotaped, so that “experts” could watch them, and then the videotapes were destroyed, after consultation with the White House, in the hope that Americans would never know.

The C.I.A. contracted out its inhumanity to nations with no respect for life or law, sending prisoners — some of them innocents kidnapped on street corners and in airports — to be tortured into making false confessions, or until it was clear they had nothing to say and so were let go without any apology or hope of redress.

These are not the only shocking abuses of President Bush’s two terms in office, made in the name of fighting terrorism. There is much more — so much that the next president will have a full agenda simply discovering all the wrongs that have been done and then righting them.

We can only hope that this time, unlike 2004, American voters will have the wisdom to grant the awesome powers of the presidency to someone who has the integrity, principle and decency to use them honorably. Then when we look in the mirror as a nation, we will see, once again, the reflection of the United States of America.

You can find this NY Times Editorial here.

Advertisements

9/11 Panel Study Finds That C.I.A. Withheld Tapes (Or: No, Really?)

The New York Times reported in an article published today that the 9/11 Panel study found that the CIA withheld tapes of its interrogation program. Although the report did not opine that withholding the tapes was illegal, it certainly underscores a disturbing pattern of conduct by an organization intent on preventing any transparency whatsoever into its operations.

Moreover, the 9/11 Panel Study, when read in conjunction with the current congressional investighttp://www.abc.net.au/reslib/200709/r176785_673756.jpgation on the CIA’s interrogation techniques, show that the government’s reasoning for the destruction of the tapes — i.e., to protect the agents’ identity — is suspect. Indeed, the government’s strained attempt to portray its destruction of the tapes as an aberrant act by a misguided military official obstructs the more poignant issue that the CIA’s destruction and withholding of tapes is part of a larger, institutionalized pattern of misconduct.

It’s time that the CIA stop hiding behind legal mumbo jumbo and start cooperating with the body of government, Congress, meant to act as a constitutional check behind its activities. But given its course of conduct, you have to ask yourself whether “cooperating” and following the “spirit of the law” is outside their official vocabulary. Maybe someone should remind them that the CIA is not above the law.

Something perhaps even more interesting than the withholding of tapes has come out of this. Apparently, the CIA does have a “few” tapes of interrogations done in other countries. What are we really talking about when the CIA says “interrogations done in other countries”? No, not job interviews, but extraordinary rendition.

Congress should grow some cojones and demand for a review of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. After all, when the U.S. government forcibly takes a terror suspect and brings that individual to another country to be interrogated, and that individual is subsequently tortured, then the U.S. is vicariously liable for those acts which are foreseeable. Of course, we are talking about more than simply the legal concept of foreseeability, but rather a planned program by the CIA to use torture — either at their own hands or its partners — as a method of interrogation in the name of “safety” and the “war on terror.”

Mark Mansfield, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that the agency had gone to “great lengths” to meet the commission’s requests, and that commission members had been provided with detailed information obtained from interrogations of agency detainees. “Because it was thought the commission could ask about the tapes at some point, they were not destroyed while the commission was active,” Mr. Mansfield said.

Intelligence officials have said the tapes that were destroyed documented hundreds of hours of interrogations during 2002 of Abu Zubaydah and Abd al Rahim al-Nashiri, two Qaeda suspects who were taken into C.I.A. custody that year. According to the memorandum from Mr. Zelikow, the commission’s interest in obtaining accounts from Qaeda detainees in C.I.A. custody grew out of its attempt to reconstruct the events leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks in the United States.

Its requests for documents from the C.I.A. began in June 2003, when it first sought intelligence reports describing information obtained from prisoner interrogations, the memorandum said. It later made specific requests for documents, reports and information related to the interrogations of specific prisoners, including Abu Zubaydah and Mr. Nashiri.

In December 2003, the commission staff sought permission to interview the prisoners themselves, but was permitted instead to give questions to C.I.A. interrogators, who then posed the questions to the detainees. The commission concluded its work in June 2004, and in its final report, it praised several agencies, including the C.I.A., for their assistance. Abbe D. Lowell, a veteran Washington lawyer who has defended clients accused of making false statements and of contempt of Congress, said the question of whether the agency had broken the law by omitting mention of the videotapes was “pretty complex,” but said he “wouldn’t rule it out.”

Because the requests were not subpoenas issued by a court or Congress, C.I.A. officials could not be held in contempt for failing to respond fully, Mr. Lowell said. Apart from that, however, it is a crime to make a false statement “in any matter within the jurisdiction of the executive, legislative or judicial branch.” The Sept. 11 commission received its authority from both the White House and Congress.

On Friday, the leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee sent a letter to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey and to Mike McConnell, the director of national intelligence, asking them to preserve and produce to the committee all remaining video and audio recordings of “enhanced interrogations” of detainees in American custody.

Signed by Senator Patrick Leahy, Democrat of Vermont, and Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, the letter asked for an extensive search of the White House, C.I.A. and other intelligence agencies to determine whether any other recordings existed of interrogation techniques “including but not limited to waterboarding.”
Government officials have said that the videos destroyed in 2005 were the only recordings of interrogations made by C.I.A. operatives, although in September government lawyers notified a federal judge in Virginia that the agency had recently found three audio and video recordings of detainees.

Intelligence officials have said that those tapes were not made by the C.I.A., but by foreign intelligence services.

Extraordinary Rendition (Or How The U.S. Government Is Doing Some Really Scary Stuff)

I figure it’s about time that I start commenting on the CIA’s speciality:  extraordinary rendition.  Basically, extraordinary rendition is when the CIA snatches a terrorism suspect and sends them to another country for interrogation.  By doing so — the CIA reasons unofficially — the suspects do not have the same rights of due process that a suspect has in America, which can often times make interrogation difficult, like when a suspect asks for an attorney or that sticky ban against torture. 

To get around these “technicalities” and “road blocks” (and essentially the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, along with the Civil Rights Law), the CIA sends a suspect for interrogation to another country, like Egypt, who will then torture our suspect — or do things that certainly are not allowed under U.S. Law — while we keep our hands clean.

Sounds like some twisted logic to me, to say the least.

How far is the government going to take this war on terror?  Is there an end in sight?  (By definition, it does not appear to have an end).  And how much are the American people going to accept what the government is doing simply under the rubric of the “war on terror.” 

I can see it now.  What’s two plus two?  War on Terror.  How do you make a chicken salad?  War on Terror.  How many aspirins should I take?  War on Terror.  Why is the stock market going up?  War on Terror.  Why are people fat?  War on Terror.

Of course, there are terrorists in this world.  Truly bad things are being planned as I write this against the United States and its allies.  It’s important to catch these people who are doing this.  But this has to be done within the confines of our constitution.  They are not mere “technicalities.”

Extraordinary rendition violates just about everything.  It violates due process.  It violates the separation of powers.  It violates accountability and the rule of law. 

You have to ask yourself this:  if the government can do this to terrorist suspects without impunity or review, what will stop it from doing things like that to us?

What bothers me is that presidential candidates are not talking about it.  Why not?  At best, perhaps a presidential candidate does not want to be accused of being soft on terrorism?  At worst, perhaps a presidential candidate does not have the information to make a detailed position, since the CIA and the current administration of whack jobs have insulated themselves from any transparency?  Either way, the presidential candidates must make it an issue.

Here’s an interesting article, “Congress and the Disappeared,” by Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice (http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0747,hentoff,78426,2.html), published November 20, 2007.

Congress and the Disappeared 

Human-rights history was made on February 7 of this year when, in Paris, 57 nations signed an unprecedented new international treaty prohibiting any of these countries from engaging in what the CIA calls “extraordinary renditions”: secretly snatching terrorism suspects and sending them to countries known for their expertise in torturing the people in their custody. The new treaty also forbids holding suspects in secret prisons—a continuing CIA specialty—or otherwise making people disappear.

Though invited to sign the treaty, the United States of America declined, without any discernible sense of embarrassment at being, after all, the world’s most expert and efficient producer of secret prisoners.

Our president, after all, had already signaled very different intentions about protecting American values in an age of terrorism when, in his second State of the Union address (January 28, 2003), he chillingly declared: “More than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries. Many others have met a different fate. Let’s put it this way—they are no longer a problem.” 

Only six days after 9/11, Bush had set in motion CIA “special powers” that would lead to the renditions and the secret prisons. On September 17, 2001, he told the National Security Council that he was about to give the agency “special authorities to detain Al Qaeda operatives worldwide.” He followed up on March 13, 2002, insisting on “the President’s power as commander-in-chief to transfer captured terrorists to the control and custody of foreign nations.”

As he was later to say on Ted Koppel’s Nightline: “You need to have a president who understands you can’t win this war with legal papers. We’ve got to use every asset at our disposal.”

By July 2004, the investigative organization Human Rights First had released a thoroughly documented 43-page report, “Ending Secret Detentions.” It was announced under a news release headlined “U.S. Holding Prisoners in More Than Two Dozen Secret Detention Facilities Worldwide.” And in the text itself: “At least half of these operate in total secrecy . . . beyond the reach of adequate supervision, accountability, or law.”

On seeing that report, the International Red Cross told Agence France-Presse: “We are more and more concerned about the lot of the unknown number of people captured . . . and detained in secret places. We have asked for information on these people and access to them. Until now we have received no response from the Americans.”

One American wasvery concerned, but we didn’t hear from him until November 6 of this year, on PBS’s Frontline—the most fearless and valuable documentary series since Edward R. Murrow’s on CBS. In Extraordinary Rendition, Tyler Drumheller, who ran CIA operations in Europe in 2003, said of the CIA’s secret jails: “We are an intelligence service, an espionage service. Not jailers. . . . Everything that the military didn’t want to do or felt uncomfortable doing ended up in the lap of the CIA.”

For the last three years, the existence of these secret prisons and the practice of extraordinary rendition has been increasingly known around the world thanks to the European press and such American reporters as Dana Priest of The Washington Post and Jane Mayer of The New Yorker—and has also been detailed in many of these columns.

But there has yet to be a Congressional investigation into these pervasive American war crimes, as clearly defined in the Geneva Conventions and our own war-crimes statutes— including nothing from the present Congress, led by Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi.

There are Democratic members of Congress—notably Senators Pat Leahy, Dick Durbin, Russ Feingold, Joe Biden, and Ron Wyden—who keep pressuring the White House, to no avail, to release the documents outlining the orders that have made this nation a worldwide supercriminal, thereby lowering our stature throughout the globe as never before.

So the leaders of Congress, by their inaction, are as complicit as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Yoo, and the rest of those administration officials who have authorized untold numbers of disappeared prisoners and the torture of kidnapped suspects worldwide.

In an October 27 article by Craig Whitlock in The Washington Post (“From CIA Jails, Inmates Fade Into Obscurity”), the International Committee of the Red Cross reported that it had “failed to find dozens of people once believed to have been in CIA custody. . . .”

So far as I can learn in the years I’ve been covering this story, CIA “black sites” have existed and may still be operating in Afghanistan, Poland, Romania, Tunisia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, and India.

“Some [prisoners],” Whitlock reports, “have been secretly transferred to their home countries, where they remain in detention and out of public view, according to interviews in Pakistan and Europe with government officials, human rights groups and lawyers for the detainees. Others have disappeared without a trace and may or may not still be under CIA control.” (Emphasis added.)

In June 2004, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch wrote: “The Bush administration apparently believed that the new wars it was fighting could not be won if it was constrained by the ‘old’ rules.”

Our new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, agrees with his commander in chief, having written in The Wall Street Journal before his nomination that “current institutions and statutes are not well suited to . . . what became, after Sept. 11, 2001, principally a military effort to combat Islamic terrorism.”

Nonetheless, Senators Charles Schumer and Dianne Feinstein are primarily responsible for making Mukasey our chief law-enforcement officer, even as the secret CIA “black sites” continue to exist under the depraved new rules by which we are now being judged around the globe—and will be judged by history.

Three years ago, Brody foretold the ultimate result: “Ironically, the new administration is now finding that . . . rather than advance the war on terror, the widespread prisoner abuse has damaged efforts to build global support for countering terrorism. . . . Policies adopted to make the United States more secure from terrorism have in fact made it more vulnerable.”

Will any candidate for the presidency in 2008 be able to turn us around? So far, this appalling state of affairs has yet to become a campaign issue.