The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Digby - Unleashing The Beast

Unleashing The Beast

by digby

I have written often about how the Republicans are becoming what they railed against for decades: totalitarians. Unsurprisingly I suppose, it turns out that what they really hated about Soviet communism was the economics. The 50 years of ranting about personal liberty and anti-authoritarian government seems to have been mere political rhetoric. Now that they are in power themselves they have adopted certain Soviet values quite seamlessly.

Here's a former Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky, writing in this Sunday's Washington Post:

This is a new debate for Americans, but there is no need for you to reinvent the wheel. Most nations can provide you with volumes on the subject. Indeed, with the exception of the Black Death, torture is the oldest scourge on our planet (hence there are so many conventions against it). Every Russian czar after Peter the Great solemnly abolished torture upon being enthroned, and every time his successor had to abolish it all over again. These czars were hardly bleeding-heart liberals, but long experience in the use of these "interrogation" practices in Russia had taught them that once condoned, torture will destroy their security apparatus. They understood that torture is the professional disease of any investigative machinery.

Apart from sheer frustration and other adrenaline-related emotions, investigators and detectives in hot pursuit have enormous temptation to use force to break the will of their prey because they believe that, metaphorically speaking, they have a "ticking bomb" case on their hands. But, much as a good hunter trains his hounds to bring the game to him rather than eating it, a good ruler has to restrain his henchmen from devouring the prey lest he be left empty-handed. Investigation is a subtle process, requiring patience and fine analytical ability, as well as a skill in cultivating one's sources. When torture is condoned, these rare talented people leave the service, having been outstripped by less gifted colleagues with their quick-fix methods, and the service itself degenerates into a playground for sadists. Thus, in its heyday, Joseph Stalin's notorious NKVD (the Soviet secret police) became nothing more than an army of butchers terrorizing the whole country but incapable of solving the simplest of crimes. And once the NKVD went into high gear, not even Stalin could stop it at will. He finally succeeded only by turning the fury of the NKVD against itself; he ordered his chief NKVD henchman, Nikolai Yezhov (Beria's predecessor), to be arrested together with his closest aides.

So, why would democratically elected leaders of the United States ever want to legalize what a succession of Russian monarchs strove to abolish? Why run the risk of unleashing a fury that even Stalin had problems controlling? Why would anyone try to "improve intelligence-gathering capability" by destroying what was left of it? Frustration? Ineptitude? Ignorance? Or, has their friendship with a certain former KGB lieutenant colonel, V. Putin, rubbed off on the American leaders? I have no answer to these questions, but I do know that if Vice President Cheney is right and that some "cruel, inhumane or degrading" (CID) treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.

I wrote some time back about the ramifications for the torturers in this regime. I quoted liberally from this great article article by Jason Vest in the National Journal:

"If you talk to people who have been tortured, that gives you a pretty good idea not only as to what it does to them, but what it does to the people who do it," he said. "One of my main objections to torture is what it does to the guys who actually inflict the torture. It does bad things. I have talked to a bunch of people who had been tortured who, when they talked to me, would tell me things they had not told their torturers, and I would ask, 'Why didn't you tell that to the guys who were torturing you?' They said that their torturers got so involved that they didn't even bother to ask questions." Ultimately, he said -- echoing Gerber's comments -- "torture becomes an end unto itself."


According to a 30-year CIA veteran currently working for the agency on contract, there is, in fact, some precedent showing that the "gloves-off" approach works -- but it was hotly debated at the time by those who knew about it, and shouldn't be emulated today. "I have been privy to some of what's going on now, but when I saw the Post story, I said to myself, 'The agency deserves every bad thing that's going to happen to it if it is doing this again,'" he said. "In the early 1980s, we did something like this in Lebanon -- technically, the facilities were run by our Christian Maronite allies, but they were really ours, and we had personnel doing the interrogations," he said. "I don't know how much violence was used -- it was really more putting people in underground rooms with a bare bulb for a long time, and for a certain kind of privileged person not used to that, that and some slapping around can be effective.

"But here's the important thing: When orders were given for that operation to stand down, some of the people involved wouldn't. Disciplinary action was taken, but it brought us back to an argument in the agency that's never been settled, one that crops up and goes away -- do you fight the enemy in the gutter, the same way, or maintain some kind of moral high ground?

This is an important thing for us to think about. It's not just a matter of abstract morality. It's a practical question of what happens to societies when they let go. It's hard to imagine how gay marriage or women's rights could even come close to the kind of weird, inhumane behavior that is set free when you go this deeply into sanctioned authoritarian sadism. I wrote in that post, called Genie In A Bottle:

To some extent civilization is nothing more than leashing the beast within. When you go to the dark side, no matter what the motives, you run a terrible risk of destroying yourself in the process. I worry about the men and women who are engaging in this torture regime. This is dangerous to their psyches. But this is true on a larger sociological scale as well. For many, many moons, torture has been a simple taboo --- you didn't question its immorality any more than you would question the immorality of pedophilia. You know that it's wrong on a visceral, gut level. Now we are debating it as if there really is a question as to whether it's immoral --- and, more shockingly, whether it's a positive good. Our country is now openly discussing the efficacy of torture as a method for extracting information.

When Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined the phrase "defining deviancy down" he couldn't ever have dreamed that we would in a few short decades be at a place where torture is no longer considered a taboo. It certainly makes all of his concerns about changes to the nuclear family (and oral sex) seem trivial by comparison. We are now a society that on some official levels has decided that torture is no longer a deviant, unspeakable behavior, but rather a useful tool. It's not hidden. People publicly discuss whether torture is really torture if it features less than "pain equavalent to organ failure." People no longer instinctively recoil at the word --- it has become a launching pad for vigorous debate about whether people are deserving of certain universal human rights. It spirals down from there.

People and societies don't just wake up one morning to find they no longer recognize themselves. It's a process. And we are in the process in this country of "defining deviancy down" in ways I never thought possible. We are legitimizing torture and indefinite detention --- saying that we will only do this to the people who really deserve it. One cannot help but wonder what "really deserves it" will mean in the years to come as we fight our endless war against terror.

Sure, right now it's just a bunch of foreigners and I guess we don't feel foreigners are entitled to basic human rights. They must not be human --- or at least not as human as "we" are. In fact, it not even "we." Right wingers make millions of dollars writing books about how liberals are godless, death-loving, traitors within. Many people who read those books probably believe these liberals are only one step away from being sub-human too ---- they are, after all, godless traitors.

But as the soviet experience shows, anyone can be defined as such sub-humans and at some point it usually comes around to catch even the people who wrote the original tales of godless, death-loving traitors within. I don't know why --- maybe it's a kill the messenger thing.

I would almost guarantee that if we continue down this path there will someday be a fine, loyal conservative who, for reasons of petty insider warfare or political expediency finds himself in a position like this at the hands of his former comrades:

In 1971, while in Lefortovo prison in Moscow (the central KGB interrogation jail), I went on a hunger strike demanding a defense lawyer of my choice (the KGB wanted its trusted lawyer to be assigned instead). The moment was most inconvenient for my captors because my case was due in court, and they had no time to spare. So, to break me down, they started force-feeding me in a very unusual manner -- through my nostrils. About a dozen guards led me from my cell to the medical unit. There they straitjacketed me, tied me to a bed, and sat on my legs so that I would not jerk. The others held my shoulders and my head while a doctor was pushing the feeding tube into my nostril.

The feeding pipe was thick, thicker than my nostril, and would not go in. Blood came gushing out of my nose and tears down my cheeks, but they kept pushing until the cartilages cracked. I guess I would have screamed if I could, but I could not with the pipe in my throat. I could breathe neither in nor out at first; I wheezed like a drowning man -- my lungs felt ready to burst. The doctor also seemed ready to burst into tears, but she kept shoving the pipe farther and farther down. Only when it reached my stomach could I resume breathing, carefully. Then she poured some slop through a funnel into the pipe that would choke me if it came back up. They held me down for another half-hour so that the liquid was absorbed by my stomach and could not be vomited back, and then began to pull the pipe out bit by bit. . . . Grrrr. There had just been time for everything to start healing during the night when they came back in the morning and did it all over again, for 10 days, when the guards could stand it no longer. As it happened, it was a Sunday and no bosses were around. They surrounded the doctor: "Hey, listen, let him drink it straight from the bowl, let him sip it. It'll be quicker for you, too, you silly old fool." The doctor was in tears: "Do you think I want to go to jail because of you lot? No, I can't do that. . . . " And so they stood over my body, cursing each other, with bloody bubbles coming out of my nose. On the 12th day, the authorities surrendered; they had run out of time. I had gotten my lawyer, but neither the doctor nor those guards could ever look me in the eye again.

Perhaps nobody cares that that this very thing is being done every day to hunger strikers in Guantanamo. But do people honestly think it can't happen to them? Once we unleash this beast it won't only be terrorists or muslims who will be in danger. In one way or another, we all will be.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The New York Times | A Bad Bargain

A Bad Bargain
The New York Times | Editorial

Friday 22 September 2006

Here is a way to measure how seriously President Bush was willing to compromise on the military tribunals bill: Less than an hour after an agreement was announced yesterday with three leading Republican senators, the White House was already laying a path to wiggle out of its one real concession.

About the only thing that Senators John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham had to show for their defiance was Mr. Bush's agreement to drop his insistence on allowing prosecutors of suspected terrorists to introduce classified evidence kept secret from the defendant. The White House agreed to abide by the rules of courts-martial, which bar secret evidence. (Although the administration's supporters continually claim this means giving classified information to terrorists, the rules actually provide for reviewing, editing and summarizing classified material. Evidence that cannot be safely declassified cannot be introduced.)

This is a critical point. As Senator Graham keeps noting, the United States would never stand for any other country's convicting an American citizen with undisclosed, secret evidence. So it seemed like a significant concession - until Stephen Hadley, the national security adviser, briefed reporters yesterday evening. He said that while the White House wants to honor this deal, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Duncan Hunter, still wants to permit secret evidence and should certainly have his say. To accept this spin requires believing that Mr. Hunter, who railroaded Mr. Bush's original bill through his committee, is going to take any action not blessed by the White House.

On other issues, the three rebel senators achieved only modest improvements on the White House's original positions. They wanted to bar evidence obtained through coercion. Now, they have agreed to allow it if a judge finds it reliable (which coerced evidence hardly can be) and relevant to guilt or innocence. The way coercion is measured in the bill, even those protections would not apply to the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.

The deal does next to nothing to stop the president from reinterpreting the Geneva Conventions. While the White House agreed to a list of "grave breaches" of the conventions that could be prosecuted as war crimes, it stipulated that the president could decide on his own what actions might be a lesser breach of the Geneva Conventions and what interrogation techniques he considered permissible. It's not clear how much the public will ultimately learn about those decisions. They will be contained in an executive order that is supposed to be made public, but Mr. Hadley reiterated that specific interrogation techniques will remain secret.

Even before the compromises began to emerge, the overall bill prepared by the three senators had fatal flaws. It allows the president to declare any foreigner, anywhere, an "illegal enemy combatant" using a dangerously broad definition, and detain him without any trial. It not only fails to deal with the fact that many of the Guantánamo detainees are not terrorists and will never be charged, but it also chokes off any judicial review.

The Democrats have largely stood silent and allowed the trio of Republicans to do the lifting. It's time for them to either try to fix this bill or delay it until after the election. The American people expect their leaders to clean up this mess without endangering U.S. troops, eviscerating American standards of justice, or further harming the nation's severely damaged reputation.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Bernard Weiner | Control the Dictionary, Control the World

Control the Dictionary, Control the World
By Bernard Weiner
The Crisis Papers

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Clinton tried to fudge the truth when he claimed he'd "never had sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," but he felt he could get away with that language because, in his mind, he defined "sexual relations" as referring to vaginal intercourse.

Bush, with a straight face, tells us that he has never authorized torture, and he thinks he can get away with that lie because the public is mostly unaware that his administration has totally altered the definition of "torture."

According to the infamous 2002 torture memos, which effectively set the policy, torture no longer means what we all understand that term to mean (physical beatings, shoving suspects under water to "drown" them unless they give up secrets, electric shocks to the genitals, unbearable stress, sexual abuse and humiliation, etc.). No, those internationally-understood definitions have become, under Bush&Co., "quaint" remnants from an earlier era.

Under the leadership of Alberto Gonzales and other lawyers - mainly from the White House, Rumsfeld's office, and Cheney's office - the Bush administration went through all sorts of moral gyrations and emerged with new definitions of what constituted torture. Basically, it's not torture if it doesn't kill you or if the excrutiating pain and injuries don't lead to organ failure.

You think I'm exaggerating? Check it out for yourself. The Justice Department's August 1, 2002, legal memo concluded that "the ban on torture is limited to only the most extreme forms of physical and mental harm," which the memo defined as akin to "death or organ failure." [See also "Bush's Torture Deceit: What 'Is' Is" and "Gonzales Grilled on Role in Torture at Confirmation Hearing."]

So when Bush says the US doesn't torture and he would never authorize torture, in a sense he believes himself to be telling the truth, since he transformed the meaning of "torture" to give it a totally different, exceedingly narrow, interpretation. The administration apparently believes that as a result of interrogations under what Bush calls its "alternative set of procedures," only if the detainees die or are the victims of organ failure could officials rightfully be accused of authorizing torture. (Actually, it's estimated that perhaps as many as 100 detainees have died while in US custody, scores of them directly from torture.)

A Few "Exceptions" From Torture Laws

Furthermore, Bush is asserting that US laws against torture, and Congressional oversight of such activity, should apply only to interrogations that take place on American soil. If the CIA uses the "alternative procedures" in Iraq, or Afghanistan, or in the secret CIA prisons abroad, those don't count. Plus, the administration has moved to shield those who authorized and carry out "harsh" interrogations from national and international laws against mistreatment of prisoners. Meanwhile, of course, a few lower-level, enlisted "bad apples" have been tried, convicted, and sent to prison.

Likewise, according to the Bush administration, the "extraordinary rendition" of especially recalcitrant prisoners to friendly countries abroad that are notorious for extreme physical torture does not count as the US cooperating in the administration of torture. The Bush crew play variations on: "They were tortured there? Really? We are shocked, shocked! We don't approve of torture and had no idea it was used on prisoners entrusted to their care." Yeah, sure.

But recently, in making the case to Congress that it should pass the administration's draconian laws permitting such "alternative procedures," Bush let the cat out of the bag and admitted that several al-Qaida suspects gave up a good deal of valuable information while being interrogated in those secret CIA prisons abroad. But he still denies that his administration carried out "torture" there. Does he think we're stupid?

Do you see how it works? And the ramifications of how it works? In short, Bush&Co. have simply rewritten the dictionary to remove their legal liability for such crimes, and in the process have rewritten the rules under which they, and their subordinates, act. When reality doesn't meet their needs, they don't consider making alterations to their policies; they just change the definition of what's "real."

Bush Desperate for Torture Victory

In a sign of how desperate Bush is to maintain complete control of the torture definition - and thus keep himself and other top US officials out of the war-crimes court in The Hague - Bush took a rare visit to Congress last week to try to forestall defeat of his torture/military tribunals bill. It was a definition struggle again.

The Geneva Convention on the treatment of captured prisoners is quite clear and specific: no country is permitted to use "cruel" treatment or "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment" on prisoners in its care. Too "vague," says Bush. Instead, he suggests, CIA interrogators need "latitude" (euphemism: "clarity") in interrogating and torturing suspects so that they won't be nervously looking over their shoulders at war-crimes charges.

The Pentagon's senior lawyers think Geneva's definitions are quite clear and openly disagreed with the hardline Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld interpretation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Even Colin Powell bestirred his calcified conscience to point out that by trying to do an end-around Geneva, the US risked losing the moral high ground internationally. Also, as Senator John McCain (who was tortured as a POW in Hanoi) and others have pointed out, the US would put its captured troops in great jeopardy of "cruel and degrading" treatment - in other words, torture - similar to what the CIA was meting out in its secret prisons abroad.

Republican "moderate" senators McCain, Graham, Snowe, Warner and others have been demanding that the US remain consistent with the Geneva protections and also provide some legal safeguards to suspects on trial in military tribunals. But time and time again, these so-called "moderates," under extreme Roveian pressure, have caved and given Bush what he wants. As I write this, it's unclear whether they have the courage to stick to their guns this time. We shall see. In the meantime, get this: Bush threatened to close down the CIA's questioning of terrorist suspects unless Congress approves his bill. Talk about cutting off your nation's nose to spite your personal face! Blackmail as a pre-emptive veto.

The Immorality of "Pre-Emption"

Let's move to another definition, at another level. Bush's National Security Strategy asserts that the US can "pre-emptively" attack another country when it determines that country might possibly be thinking of attacking America or grossly harming our interests. In the "old days" - that is, pre-Bush - the definition of "pre-emption" meant that a country, in some circumstances, was permitted under international law to act first when faced with an imminent threat of attack.

In Bushspeak, it doesn't matter that the countries in question might be 10 or 15 years out from being a viable threat, or that, while they might be antagonistic to US policies, they have no intent of ever actually attacking America. No, according to the Bush Doctrine, you destroy possible or potential enemies first, long before they have the chance to even think of doing the US harm.

That's one of the administration's ex-post-facto justifications for having invaded and occupied Iraq. Once the early rationales for attacking were shown to be false - those big lies including that Iraq had stockpiles of WMD, and was allied with al-Qaida in the run-up to the 9/11 attacks - then the administration went back to its "pre-emption" rationalization, in effect asserting: "We had to attack before Saddam got close to reconstituting his weapons programs; even though US/UK intel was confirming that Iraq was well-contained and that it could be 10 years before they would be a believable threat to anybody, we had to act now, to abort that development in its blastocyst stage before that potentially dangerous fetus could grow and do us harm as an adult."

Transfer that rationalization theory to a trial for murder: "Your honor, I cannot be convicted of murdering the victim by shooting him six times. I fully believed he was thinking of doing me harm, maybe next year or the year after that, and so I took him out pre-emptively. It was a clear case of early self-defense." That explanation should satisfy a Bush administration jury.

No Court Review Permitted

Perhaps the most reprehensible aspect of the administration's desperation to avoid indictment for authorizing torture is a tactic they've used in other areas as well: Trying to eliminate judicial review of their actions. In taking this tack, they are making an open assault on the Constitution and several centuries of governmental precedent.

Despite the fact that Bush&Co. have packed the Supreme Court and the various appellate courts with their ideological brethren, they still don't have total control of the legal system, and therefore want to avoid judicial review whenever possible. They know how weak their Constitutional cases are. So they have had their flunkies in Congress introduce a variety of bills to prohibit court review of certain administration policies and laws - as if the Supreme Court would ever OK having its judicial prerogatives revoked.

But in the administration's military-tribunals bill currently before Congress, Bush&Co. also have inserted an in-your-face clause that would prevent civilian courts from intervening in, or reviewing the legality of, the proposed military tribunals. This would totally violate America's historic checks-and-balances system of governance, and would amount to the Executive Branch effectively controlling the Legislative and Judicial branches of government. In short, a budding dictatorship.

As noted previously, the administration has created what they consider to be an airtight legal justification for Bush to act outside the law whenever he claims to be doing so as "commander in chief" during "wartime." Since his "war on terrorism," by definition, is a never-ending war, this means his actions "in defense of the homeland" permanently cannot be challenged. Sounds like the ingredients for dictatorship.

The Court Slaps Down Bush

No wonder Bush is leery of courts ever getting near the justifications for his imperial presidency. The two times when the Supreme Court did review his behavior toward detainees in US care, he was reprimanded mightily, in no uncertain language.

In the 2004 case of Mr. Hamdi, a US citizen, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Court: "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens.... Even the war power [of the President] does not remove constitutional limitations safeguarding essential liberties."

In the recent case of Mr. Hamdan, a foreign suspect, the court slapped down Bush's I-am-the-Law approach again. Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the majority: "[I]n undertaking to try Hamdan and subject him to criminal punishment, the Executive is bound to comply with the Rule of Law that prevails in this jurisdiction."

Revolt of the Moderate Middle

The power to nominate new Supreme Court justices is just one of many reasons why the momentum of this outlaw administration must be broken as quickly as possible. Which brings us to the midterm elections in November.

The imminence of that election explains why Bush is trying to create a rushed, "crisis" atmosphere to get his bill passed; after all, his administration could have brought these suspects to trial anytime within the past five years. "We're running out of time," Bush says, by which he really means: "We've got to get this issue neutralized now, before the election, or else we can't smear the Democrats as pro-terrorist for blocking my bill, since it will be Republicans, with military credentials, who also are doing the obstructing."

Even if the GOP rebels hold their ground this one time, but especially if they don't, the American people - left, right and center - must speak with one enormous groundswell of revulsion against the ruling Republican Party in the Congress that has rubber-stamped virtually everything Bush&Co. have asked for. A convincing GOP defeat in the House would do great damage to the administration's momentum of lawlessness.

The current fracturing of the Republican Party in Congress is a testament to the revolt of the moderate middle in America against the Bush administration's catastrophic bungling in Iraq, its demonstrated incompetence in the Katrina debacle, its lies and deceits, its slimy denunciations of those who oppose the CheneyBush Iraq policy (which means about two-thirds of the American people) as terrorist-supporting traitors, etc., etc.

If the GOP can be roundly trounced two months from now at the polls, its defeat will be due in no small part to those honest, traditional conservatives who, appalled by the hijacking of their once-great party by extremists from the Far Right, are thoroughly fed up and have had enough of misrule on a grand scale. (Note: This election, given Rove's previous history, will require extreme vigilance, and probably court suits, to keep the voting honest and honestly-counted.)

Let us all - Democrats, Libertarians, Independents, progressives - join with these moderate Republicans, and start the process of moving our country back to common decency, earned respect, and a sane foreign and domestic policy based on reality and the true needs of the American people. Can I hear an Amen?


Bernard Weiner, PhD in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle for 19 years, and currently co-edits the Crisis Papers. To comment:


FCC Scandal Explodes with Second Revelation of Suppressed Media Ownership Research

FCC Scandal Explodes with Second Revelation of Suppressed Media Ownership Research
by Robert W. McChesney

Last week, Sen. Barbara Boxer rocked the re-confirmation hearings for Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin when she released a suppressed FCC study from 2004 – leaked to her by an FCC whistleblower – that indicated locally owned television stations did far more local news programming than TV stations owned by big conglomerates. A former FCC lawyer acknowledged that agency officials ordered the report and all supporting material be destroyed.

Martin, who was on the FCC in 2004 but not yet its Chairman, said he had no idea the report had been done in the first place and knew nothing about its disappearance. Then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell also claims he knew nothing about it, and, in classic Bush-era fashion, he took no responsibility for what transpired under his command.

In their minds, this was some sort of clerical error -- and the sooner everyone forgot about it, the better. The FCC could go back to its time-honored job of doling out tens of billions of dollars in monopoly privileges to massive media and communication firms in relative anonymity.

That PR approach collapsed this week on Monday, Sept. 18, when another repressed FCC study was leaked to Senator Boxer by an FCC whistleblower. This study demonstrated that independent radio ownership plummeted after the passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, even though the number of commercial radio stations actually increased. As with the first study, by all accounts it was grade-A empirical research of the highest quality. Apparently that was the problem.

Martin finally agreed to an independent investigation on Monday night, though no timetable has been set. But -- and this is crucial --he apparently does not intend to delay his mad rush to relax ownership rules until the investigation has been completed and steps have been implemented to address the problem. It is full speed ahead. So right now this looks more like a PR stunt than a genuine effort to get at the truth and deal with its implications for policy making. In view of Martin's and the FCC's record, skepticism is not only justified, but warranted.

Let me explain. This scandal could not have hit the FCC at a worse time from Martin's vantage point. Right now, the FCC is formally reviewing its local media ownership rules and is prepared to vote on relaxing or eliminating them as soon as the end of the year.

In 2003, when Powell tried to eliminate any restrictions on local media ownership, the public revolted, with an extraordinary left-right coalition that generated nearly 3 million letters to the FCC and Congress. Powell announced plans for numerous public hearings on media localism across the country as he tried to persuade Congress he was actually listening to the people. The federal courts eventually rejected Powell’s plan to relax media ownership rules in 2004, and he resigned as a failure in 2005.

Powell's plans for hearings on localism were quietly dropped after Powell learned in no uncertain terms at the tumultuous hearings he attended that the public wanted more locally owned broadcast media and wanted rules to reverse media consolidation, not permit it.

Kevin Martin now has been tasked by the Bush administration to do the job his predecessor couldn't: Eliminate the restrictions on local media ownership so the big media firms, like Tribune, Sinclair, News Corp., Clear Channel, Gannett, Belo and Media General, -- which have been so supportive of the Bush administration -- could build local monopolies by gobbling up most of the media in communities around America.

Their vision is of owning an empire of company media towns with one monopoly newsroom servicing all the outlets in a town, and a massive reliance on inexpensive syndicated fare. A dream for the company that holds the monopoly – and for the politicians it supports – but a nightmare for everyone else.

Martin has promised to hold as many as six official public hearings but has so far only committed to one in Los Angeles on October 3. He and the Republican majority are unequivocally in favor of scrapping rules limiting local media monopolies, but they have to at least make it look like they care about the public and due process – because that's what the law requires – to get their gift to big media approved by the courts.

But this scandal has thrown a monkey wrench into Martin’s and the Bush administration’s best-laid plans. Core research that undermines the argument for relaxing media ownership rules has been suppressed by the agency that is legally obligated to serve the public interest. Something is utterly rotten here, and the logical question facing everyone is how extensive has this pattern of corruption and suppression been?

It is imperative that the FCC slow down its mad dash to implement sweeping media ownership rules changes this year. It must wait until the independent investigation has been completed. It must fulfill Martin's promise to hold at least six official public hearings around the nation. It must pay attention to what the research indicates and, every bit as important, what the people of the nation tell the FCC in their filings with the commission and at its public hearings.

This can happen, but only if enough Americans contact the FCC and get their names on the record demanding fairness and integrity.

Fortunately a coalition of some 40 consumer, labor, civil rights and public interest groups have formed a coalition,, to rally public involvement and opposition to corrupt FCC procedures on media ownership. Go to the Web site and send a message to the FCC demanding full accountability:

If we know one thing from the past four years of activism in the burgeoning media reform movement, it is that organized people can defeat organized money. In fact, it is the only thing that does. But it takes a lot of people because we are talking about a lot of money, so please get on the bus. And bring your friends.

Robert W. McChesney is the president and founder of Free Press, and the author of The Problem of the Media.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Eugene Robinson - Torture Is Torture -

Torture Is Torture
Bush's 'Program' Disgraces All Americans

By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; A21

I wish I could turn to cheerier matters, but I just can't get past this torture issue -- the fact that George W. Bush, the president of the United States of America, persists in demanding that Congress give him the right to torture anyone he considers a "high-value" terrorist suspect. The president of the United States. Interrogation by torture. This just can't be happening.

It's past time to stop mincing words. The Decider, or maybe we should now call him the Inquisitor, sticks to anodyne euphemisms. He speaks of "alternative" questioning techniques, and his umbrella term for the whole shop of horrors is "the program." Of course, he won't fully detail the methods that were used in the secret CIA prisons -- and who knows where else? -- but various sources have said they have included not just the infamous "waterboarding," which the administration apparently will reluctantly forswear, but also sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, bombardment with ear-splitting noise and other assaults that cause not just mental duress but physical agony. That is torture, and to call it anything else is a lie.

It is not possible for our elected representatives to hold any sort of honorable "debate" over torture. Bush says he is waging a "struggle for civilization," but civilized nations do not debate slavery or genocide, and they don't debate torture, either. This spectacle insults and dishonors every American.

There is one ray of encouragement: the crystal-clear evidence that the men and women of our armed forces want no part of torturing anybody. The members of the Republican resistance -- Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina -- have impeccable Pentagon connections and are not operating in a vacuum. Bush admitted in his news conference Friday that he had spoken to "the professionals" and that they would not carry out "the program" unless Congress specifically told them to.

In support of its torture bill, all the White House could manage to squeeze out of five top Pentagon lawyers was a four-sentence letter of non-objection that had all the enthusiasm of a hostage tape.

Colin Powell's strongly worded rejection of torture should have embarrassed and chastened the White House, but this is a president who refuses to listen to critics of his "war on terrorism" -- even critics who helped design and lead it.

There should be no need to spell out the practical reasons against torture, but, for the record, they are legion. As Powell and others have argued, if the United States unilaterally reinterprets Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to permit torture, potential adversaries in future conflicts will feel justified in doing the same thing. Does the president want some captured pilot to be subjected to the tortures applied in the CIA prisons?

And, as has been pointed out by experts, torture works -- far too well. Torture victims will tell what they know, and when their knowledge is exhausted they will tell their torturers what they want to hear, even if they have to invent conspiracies. The president says that torturing al-Qaeda kingpins foiled serious plots against America, but how do we know those plots were real? How can we be sure that some of the detainees at Guantanamo aren't shopkeepers or taxi drivers who were snatched because Khalid Sheik Mohammed ran out of real terrorists to implicate and began naming acquaintances so he wouldn't get waterboarded again?

But we shouldn't have to talk about the practicalities of torture, because the real question is moral: What kind of nation are we? What kind of people are we?

Bush's view of the world is based on the idea of American exceptionalism: that this country is unique, that its ideas and values are not just worthy or admirable but superior to any others. This attitude annoys the rest of the world to no end -- a lot of other countries think they're pretty special, too -- but accept for the moment that the American system is in fact the best of all systems and that the great experiment begun by the Founding Fathers was a signal event in the history of mankind. Accept, if you will, Bush's view that the United States is steadfastly blessed by a loving God.

What do you imagine God might think about torture, Mr. President?

Robert Dreyfuss - There Is No War on Terror

There Is No War on Terror
By Robert Dreyfuss

Wednesday 13 September 2006

President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and the entire Republican election team are scrambling to make their so-called war on terror the focus of the next seven weeks. As in 2002 and 2004, they're counting on their ability to scare Americans with the al-Qaida bogeyman. And while the trauma of 9/11 has begun to dissipate and American voters seem less susceptible than ever to the scare tactics used by the White House, for the past five years the Democrats have been singularly unable to develop an effective counter to the Bush administration on terrorism. So, for that reason, here are 10 important facts about terrorism that opponents of President Bush should understand.

Part of what follows is derived from a series of some two dozen interviews I conducted over the summer with leading U.S. counterterrorism officials, many of whom served in top posts during the Bush administration. Not all of them agree with each other, nor with all of my conclusions, which can be found in the Sept. 21 issue of Rolling Stone . But most of them served on the front lines of the so-called "war on terror." If U.S. counterterrorism efforts were run by these officials, instead of Bush and Cheney, those efforts would look radically different than they do today.

I. The threat of terrorism is wildly exaggerated.

A strong and convincing case that the al-Qaida bogeyman is inflated far beyond the real but limited threat that it poses is made in the current issue of Foreign Affairs , in an article by political scientist John Mueller. He and others argue persuasively that the reason the United States has not been attacked since 9/11 is that terrorists are far less powerful than the White House claims. "If al Qaeda operatives are as determined and inventive as assumed, they should be here by now. If they are not yet here, they must not be trying very hard or must be far less dedicated, diabolical, and competent than the common image would suggest," writes Mueller. Why haven't the Democrats picked up this argument?

II. Al-Qaida barely exists at all as a threat.

The organization that attacked the United States on 9/11 has been shattered and pushed to the brink of extinction, despite claims to the contrary of the vast anti-terrorism industrial complex and its journalistic heavy-breathers. I interviewed Carl Ford, the former assistant secretary of state for intelligence, who told me:

We're overstating their capability, because we can't believe that there isn't a more nefarious explanation for the fact that we haven't been attacked. There aren't a lot of terrorists out there, and they're not 10-feet tall. ... One appealing hypothesis is: they've been damaged more than we know.

The Democrats should stop ringing alarm bells about al-Qaida and explain calmly that the terrorist threat, which was small five years ago, has been greatly reduced since 9/11.

III. There is no Terrorist International.

President Bush lumps the remnants of al-Qaida together with states such as Iran and Syria, the resistance movement in Iraq, insurgent political parties such as Hezbollah and Hamas and other assorted entities into one, big "Islamofascist" enemy. Nothing could be more ill-informed or further from the truth. "That's an oversimplification of the task of dealing with the tactic [terrorism] that is used by many different groups, with many different ideologies," Paul R. Pillar, a former top CIA analyst and the author of a respected book on terrorism, told The Washington Post. "It leads to a misunderstanding of the need of what is in fact a different counterterrorist policy for each group and state we are dealing with. ... Hamas is an entirely different entity than al-Qaeda. ... Their objectives are very much different." Pillar said much the same thing to me. Bush claims that al-Qaida and its terrorist allies want to create an "empire than spans from Spain to Indonesia." Not a chance. Larry Wilkerson, the former top aide to Colin Powell, told me: "I don't think there's a soul in the administration, except for Vice President Dick Cheney, who believes that crap about Islamofascism." Why don't Democrats ridicule this specific sort of fear-mongering?

IV. Iraq will not, and could not, fall to al-Qaida.

The Iraqi resistance is overwhelmingly made up of Sunni, former Baathist, nationalist members of Iraq's former military and intelligence services, Sunni tribal leaders and just plain old "pissed-off Iraqis." It is not al-Qaida. When Bush says that by leaving Iraq we would turn Iraq over to the al-Qaida types, he is making the same false argument that he made five years ago. Then, he told us that Saddam Hussein backed Osama bin Laden. Now, he tells us that pro-Saddam Hussein Iraqis back pro-bin Laden al-Qaida types. He lied then and he is lying now.

V. The Taliban is not al-Qaida.

In 2001, the Taliban and al-Qaida may have had a marriage of convenience. But, as in many marriages, it was not a happy one. Mullah Omar and the Taliban leadership were suspicious and resentful of al-Qaida, and some Taliban leaders were openly hostile to bin Laden. Today, the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan is a sad reminder that Bush bungled Afghanistan, too - but the Taliban fighters are Afghan Islamists, like the mujahideen that the CIA supported in the 1980s. They are not Arabs or foreign fighters, and they are not al-Qaida. If the Taliban pose a threat to U.S. interests, it is not a terrorist one.

VI. Neither Iran nor Syria sponsor anti-U.S. terrorism.

Al-Qaida has zero support in Iran and Syria. The Syrian regime is fiercely hostile to al-Qaida-style fundamentalist Islam. Iran, a Shiite theocracy, is bitterly hostile to Sunni fundamentalism and to al-Qaida. Although both countries tactically support Hamas and Hezbollah against Israel and although Iran routinely assassinates opposition leaders abroad, neither country has attacked the United States in decades. The few al-Qaida leaders - including Osama bin Laden's son - reported to be in Iran are under house arrest and do not lead operations for the shattered terrorist group. Yet that hasn't stopped Bush administration officials, such as Nicholas Burns of the State Department, from accusing Iran of "harboring" al-Qaida. Nonsense.

VII. It is not a "war."

Although the Pentagon has garnered 90 percent of the money for the so-called war on terrorism, and although the Pentagon's special operations command is supposedly in charge of the "war," it is not a war. Terrorism cannot be fought with tanks, planes and missiles. The Defense Department cannot invade the London suburbs or mosques in Hamburg or the teeming cities of Pakistan. Cells of angry Muslims will coalesce spontaneously to seek revenge for real or alleged wrongs for decades to come. That is a problem for the CIA, the FBI, and, especially, foreign police and intelligence services, not Donald Rumsfeld's legions. "I hate the term 'global war on terrorism,'" John O. Brennan, who headed the National Counterterrorism Center until last year, told me. "The Department of Defense and others insist very strongly on calling it a war, because that allows the Pentagon to prosecute the military dimension of the conflict. It fits their strategy."

VIII. There were never any al-Qaida sleeper cells in the United States.

In 2002, the Bush administration leaked to the press its assertion that al-Qaida had 5,000 "sleepers" in the United States, dormant agents that could be activated by Osama bin Laden. There were none - at least, not a single one has been found, and no terrorism has occurred in five years. No terrorism at all: In five years, no one in the United States has as much as been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim fundamentalist.

IX. Vulnerabilities are not threats.

The unnecessary, superfluous Department of Homeland Security is tracking countless points of vulnerability. Trains and trucks, buses and subways, chemical plants and factories, airports and ports, skyscrapers and bridges, tunnels and dams - the list of potential targets is endless. But the list of potential terrorists is infinitesimally small. Despite the recently uncovered London plot - details of which have still not been revealed and which is increasingly looking exaggerated - there hasn't even been a single advanced terrorist plot uncovered in the United States since 9/11. President Bush gamely cites 10 supposed plots stopped by U.S. counterterrorism efforts, but on closer examination all 10 are either bogus or were to take place overseas. According to several top counterterrorism officials, the number of serious terrorist plots against the United States in the past five years is: zero.

X. No one is in charge.

After the creation of the DHS, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the National Counterterrorism Center, the U.S. Northern Command, the FBI's new intelligence division and other counterterrorism agencies, no one is in charge. "We have a more confusing organization now," Pillar told me. "It's really hard to answer the question 'Who's in charge?'" Every agency, from the Pentagon to the lowliest police department, has used the threat of terrorism to win ever-larger appropriations from federal, state and local governments for the ostensible purpose of fighting terrorism. So far, none of them have found any actual terrorists - but the proliferation of competing agencies continues, and they continue to step on each other's toes.

After 9/11, the Bush administration launched an open-ended war on an ambiguous enemy ("terror") while offering the nation no definition of what victory would look like. Five years later, the nation has spent billions in taxpayer dollars and lost thousands of American lives fighting a threat that should be the province of law enforcement and intelligence services, not the military. And the White House tells us there is no end in sight.

Mr. Bush: Do you still want the November election to be decided on this sorry record?


Robert Dreyfuss is the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Henry Holt/Metropolitan Books, 2005). Dreyfuss is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va., who specializes in politics and national security issues. He is a contributing editor at The Nation, a contributing writer at Mother Jones, a senior correspondent for The American Prospect, and a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone. He can be reached through his website:

George Lakoff - "Twelve Traps to Avoid" By George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute

For progressives to succeed in taking back this country, we need to stay true to our values and communicate them effectively. To accomplish this mission, we need to be aware of the traps that have often tripped up progressives in the past.

In this preview of the new book, Thinking Points: Communicating Our American Values and Vision, A Progressive's Handbook by George Lakoff and the Rockridge Institute, we present twelve traps to avoid as we make our case to restore an America that is true to its best principles.

Twelve Traps to Avoid
(Excerpted from Chapter One of Thinking Points)

1. The Issue Trap

We hear it said all the time: Progressives won't unite behind any set of ideas. We all have different ideas and care about different issues. The truth is that progressives do agree at the level of values and that there is a real basis for progressive unity. Progressive values cut across issues. So do principles and forms of argument. Conservatives argue conservatism, no matter what the issue. Progressives should argue progressivism. We need to get out of issue silos that isolate arguments and keep us from the values and principles that define an overall progressive vision.

2. The Poll Trap

Many progressives slavishly follow polls. The job of leaders is to lead, not follow. Besides, contrary to popular belief, polls in themselves do not present accurate empirical evidence. Polls are only as accurate as the framing of their questions, which is often inadequate. Real leaders don't use polls to find out what positions to take; they lead people to new positions.

3. The Laundry List Trap

Progressives tend to believe that people vote on the basis of lists of programs and policies. In fact, people vote based on values, connection, authenticity, trust, and identity.

4. The Rationalism Trap

There is a commonplace--and false--theory that reason is completely conscious, literal (applies directly to the objective world), logical, universal, and unemotional. Cognitive science has shown that every one of these assumptions is false. These assumptions lead progressives into other traps: assuming that hard facts will persuade voters, that voters are "rational" and vote in their self-interest and on the issues, and that negating a frame is an effective way to argue against it.

5. The No-Framing-Necessary Trap

Progressives often argue that "truth doesn't need to be framed" and that the "facts speak for themselves." People use frames--deep-seated mental structures about how the world works--to understand facts. Frames are in our brains and define our common sense. It is impossible to think or communicate without activating frames, and so which frame is activated is of crucial importance. Truths need to be framed appropriately to be seen as truths. Facts need a context.

6. The Policies-Are-Values Trap

Progressives regularly mistake policies with values, which are ethical ideas like empathy, responsibility, fairness, freedom, justice, and so on. Policies are not themselves values, though they are, or should be, based on values. Thus, Social Security and universal health insurance are not values; they are policies meant to reflect and codify the values of human dignity, the common good, fairness, and equality.

7. The Centrist Trap

There is a common belief that there is an ideological "center"--a large group of voters either with a consistent ideology of their own or lined up left to right on the issues or forming a "mainstream," all with the same positions on issues. In fact, the so-called center is actually made up of biconceptuals, people who are conservative in some aspects of life and progressive in others. Voters who self-identify as "conservative" often have significant progressive values in important areas of life. We should address these "partial progressive" biconceptuals through their progressive identities, which are often systematic and extensive.

A common mistaken ideology has convinced many progressives that they must "move to the right" to get more votes. In reality, this is counterproductive. By moving to the right, progressives actually help activate the right's values and give up on their own. In the process, they also alienate their base.

8. The "Misunderestimating" Trap

Too many progressives think that people who vote conservative are just stupid, especially those who vote against their economic self-interest. Progressives believe that we only have to tell them the real economic facts, and they will change the way they vote. The reality is that those who vote conservative have their reasons, and we had better understand them. Conservative populism is cultural--not economic--in nature. Conservative populists see themselves as oppressed by elitist liberals who look down their noses at them, when they are just ordinary, moral, right-thinking folks. They see liberals as trying to impose an immoral "political correctness" on them, and they are angry about it.

Progressives also paint conservative leaders as incompetent and not very smart, based on a misunderstanding of the conservative agenda. This results from looking at conservative goals through progressive values. Looking at conservative goals through conservative values yields insight and shows just how effective conservatives really are.

9. The Reactive Trap

For the most part, we have been letting conservatives frame the debate. Conservatives are taking the initiative on policy making and getting their ideas out to the public. When progressives react, we echo the conservative frames and values, so our message is not heard or, even worse, reinforces their ideas. Progressives need a collection of proactive policies and communication techniques to get our own values out on our own terms. "War rooms" and "truth squads" must change frames, not reinforce conservative frames. But even then, they are not nearly enough. Progressive leaders, outside of any party, must come together in an ongoing, long-term, organized national campaign that honestly conveys progressive values to the public--day after day, week after week, year after year, no matter what the specific issues of the day are.

10. The Spin Trap

Some progressives believe that winning elections or getting public support is a matter of clever spin and catchy slogans--what we call "surface framing." Surface framing is meaningless without deep framing--our deepest moral convictions and political principles. Framing, used honestly at both the deep and surface levels, is needed to make the truth visible and our values clear. Spin, on the other hand, is the dishonest use of surface linguistic frames to hide the truth. And progressive values and principles--the deep frames--must be in place before slogans can have an effect; slogans alone accomplish nothing. Conservative slogans work because they have been communicating their deep frames for decades.

11. The Policyspeak Trap

Progressives consistently use legislative jargon and bureaucratic solutions, like "Medicare prescription drug benefits," to speak to the public about their positions. Instead, progressives should speak in terms of the common concerns of voters--for instance, how a policy will let you send your daughter to college, or how it will let you launch your own business.

12. The Blame Game Trap

It is convenient to blame our problems on the media and on conservative lies. Yes, conservative leaders have regularly lied and used Orwellian language to distort the truth, and yes, the media have been lax, repeating the conservatives' frames. But we have little control over that. We can control only how we communicate. Simply correcting a lie with the truth is not enough. We must reframe from our moral perspective so that the truth can be understood. This reframing is needed to get our deep frames into public discourse. If enough people around the country honestly, effectively, and regularly express a progressive vision, the media will be much more likely to adopt our frames.

You can now download the complete chapter in which this excerpt appears (as well as the preface and introduction) on the Rockridge Institute's website.

While our new book, Thinking Points, does more than merely describe the problem, an entire book would be a bit much to fit into this diary. Thinking Points does, however, present a way out of the traps by defining the values we share as progressives as well as how to communicate them to activate the progressive frames and values of swing voters.

Paul Krugman - King of Pain

King of Pain


A lot has been written and said about President Bush’s demand that Congress “clarify” the part of the Geneva Conventions that, in effect, outlaws the use of torture under any circumstances.

We know that the world would see this action as a U.S. repudiation of the rules that bind civilized nations. We also know that an extraordinary lineup of former military and intelligence leaders, including Colin Powell, have spoken out against the Bush plan, warning that it would further damage America’s faltering moral standing, and end up endangering U.S. troops.

But I haven’t seen much discussion of the underlying question: why is Mr. Bush so determined to engage in torture?

Let’s be clear what we’re talking about here. According to an ABC News report from last fall, procedures used by C.I.A. interrogators have included forcing prisoners to “stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours”; the “cold cell,” in which prisoners are forced “to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees,” while being doused with cold water; and, of course, water boarding, in which “the prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet,” then “cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner’s face and water is poured over him,” inducing “a terrifying fear of drowning.”

And bear in mind that the “few bad apples” excuse doesn’t apply; these were officially approved tactics — and Mr. Bush wants at least some of these tactics to remain in use.

I’m ashamed that my government does this sort of thing. I’d be ashamed even if I were sure that only genuine terrorists were being tortured — and I’m not. Remember that the Bush administration has imprisoned a number of innocent men at Guantánamo, and in some cases continues to imprison them even though it knows they are innocent.

Is torture a necessary evil in a post-9/11 world? No. People with actual knowledge of intelligence work tell us that reality isn’t like TV dramas, in which the good guys have to torture the bad guy to find out where he planted the ticking time bomb.

What torture produces in practice is misinformation, as its victims, desperate to end the pain, tell interrogators whatever they want to hear. Thus Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi — who ABC News says was subjected to both the cold cell and water boarding — told his questioners that Saddam Hussein’s regime had trained members of Al Qaeda in the use of biochemical weapons. This “confession” became a key part of the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq — but it was pure invention.

So why is the Bush administration so determined to torture people?

To show that it can.

The central drive of the Bush administration — more fundamental than any particular policy — has been the effort to eliminate all limits on the president’s power. Torture, I believe, appeals to the president and the vice president precisely because it’s a violation of both law and tradition. By making an illegal and immoral practice a key element of U.S. policy, they’re asserting their right to do whatever they claim is necessary.

And many of our politicians are willing to go along. The Republican majority in the House of Representatives is poised to vote in favor of the administration’s plan to, in effect, declare torture legal. Most Republican senators are equally willing to go along, although a few, to their credit, have stood with the Democrats in opposing the administration.

Mr. Bush would have us believe that the difference between him and those opposing him on this issue is that he’s willing to do what’s necessary to protect America, and they aren’t. But the record says otherwise.

The fact is that for all his talk of being a “war president,” Mr. Bush has been conspicuously unwilling to ask Americans to make sacrifices on behalf of the cause — even when, in the days after 9/11, the nation longed to be called to a higher purpose. His admirers looked at him and thought they saw Winston Churchill. But instead of offering us blood, toil, tears and sweat, he told us to go shopping and promised tax cuts.

Only now, five years after 9/11, has Mr. Bush finally found some things he wants us to sacrifice. And those things turn out to be our principles and our self-respect.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Shrill, hysterical lefty partisan blogger

Shrill, hysterical lefty partisan blogger

Glenn Greenwald

I began writing a post in response to this truly ridiculous Op-Ed by John Yoo in this morning's NYT -- in which Yoo gleefully celebrates every authoritarian transgression of the Bush administration, from torture and pre-emptive wars to endless invocations of presidential secrecy, the issuance of "hundreds of signing statements" declaring laws invalid, and even what Yoo calls the President's assertion of his power to "sidestep laws that invade his executive authority" (what we used to call "breaking the law") (emphasis added in all instances).

But then I thought better of it, because, at this point, anyone who fails (or refuses) to recognize that the President does not have the power in our system of government to violate laws by invoking national security concerns is never going to recognize that. Yoo's Op-Ed is so flagrantly frivolous that it ought not be taken seriously. He even goes so far as to claim that the "founders intended that wrongheaded or obsolete legislation and judicial decisions would be checked by presidential action." How can you be on the faculty of a major law school and say this?

It is indeed true that the President has the power to "check" legislation that he considers "wrongheaded or obsolete" -- by vetoing bills before they're enacted into law, not by violating them after they're enacted into law. The whole point of Hamilton's Federalist No. 73 is to explain the purpose of the veto power, and specifically that "the case for which it is chiefly designed" is "that of an immediate attack upon the constitutional rights of the executive." That is how the President in our system of government defends against Congressional encroachments on his power and imposes "checks" on "wrongheaded or obsolete legislation" -- by vetoing such bills (an action which is then subject to being overridden), not by secretly violating laws at will.

Why is it even necessary to point out that the U.S. President does not have the power to violate laws which he thinks are "wrongheaded or obsolete," or that Presidents have no authority to disregard "wrongheaded or obsolete judicial decisions" (whatever that might mean)? And what permits a "law professor" to claim otherwise on the Op-Ed page of the NYT? Under this administration, there is no notion too radical or authoritarian to be off limits not only from being subject to debate, but from being implemented.

Just look at the things we're debating -- whether the U.S. Government can abduct and indefinitely imprison U.S. citizens without charges; whether we can use torture to interrogate people; whether our Government can eavesdrop on our private conversations without warrants; whether we can create secret prisons and keep people there out of sight and beyond the reach of any law or oversight; and whether the President can simply disregard long-standing constitutional limitations and duly enacted Congressional laws because he has deemed that doing so is necessary to "protect" us.

These haven't been open questions for decades if not centuries. They've been settled as intrinsic values that define our country. Yet nothing is settled or resolved any longer. Everything -- even the most extremist and authoritarian policies and things which were long considered taboo -- are now openly entertained, justifiable and routinely justified.

Rather than dissect Yoo's lawlessness-venerating Op-Ed, I instead want to quote a "lefty blogger" who makes some critically important points even though he is (admittedly) rather shrill and imprudent with his language and often sounds a bit like a partisan hysteric (he uses regrettably shrill words like "tyranny" and "despotism"). But on two issues in particular -- (a) secret prisons and detentions, along with punishment without trials, and (b) claims (such as those by Yoo and the White House) that courts are acting improperly by "interfering" in the President's national security programs -- he really does articulate some important points.

Here is the first post:

The observations of the judicious Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital: "To bereave a man of life, [says he] or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.

Here is the second one:

The complete independence of the courts of justice is peculiarly essential in a limited Constitution. By a limited Constitution, I understand one which contains certain specified exceptions to the legislative authority; such, for instance, as that it shall pass no bills of attainder, no ex post facto laws, and the like. Limitations of this kind can be preserved in practice no other way than through the medium of courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void. Without this, all the reservations of particular rights or privileges would amount to nothing. . . .

The interpretation of the laws is the proper and peculiar province of the courts. A constitution is, in fact, and must be regarded by the judges, as a fundamental law. It therefore belongs to them to ascertain its meaning, as well as the meaning of any particular act proceeding from the legislative body. If there should happen to be an irreconcilable variance between the two, that which has the superior obligation and validity ought, of course, to be preferred; or, in other words, the Constitution ought to be preferred to the statute, the intention of the people to the intention of their agents.

This lefty blogger fails to take seriously the existential threat posed by Islamofascist-Nazi Terrorists, because he resists the notion that the Constitution changes as a result of that threat. Instead, he claims that the Constitution can only be changed by the amendment process set forth within that document, not by whimsical reactions to contemporary events. Apparently, he hasn't heard the brilliant insight that the Constitution is not a "suicide pact"-- which means we can disregard it any time doing so makes us safe -- or that, as the President said, Judge Taylor's decision ruling the NSA program unconstitutional happened because she "simply do[es] not understand the nature of the world in which we live":

. . . yet it is not to be inferred from this principle, that the representatives of the people, whenever a momentary inclination happens to lay hold of a majority of their constituents, incompatible with the provisions in the existing Constitution, would, on that account, be justifiable in a violation of those provisions; or that the courts would be under a greater obligation to connive at infractions in this shape, than when they had proceeded wholly from the cabals of the representative body.

Until the people have, by some solemn and authoritative act, annulled or changed the established form, it is binding upon themselves collectively, as well as individually; and no presumption, or even knowledge, of their sentiments, can warrant their representatives in a departure from it, prior to such an act.

The vision of John Yoo and the Bush administration is exactly what this country was founded in order to avoid. The powers Yoo insists the President possesses are exactly those which were identified by the Founders as the hallmarks of tyrants and despots. Of course, if Hamilton said anything like he said in the above-excerpted quotes as part of our current debates, he would be branded a shrill, unserious, soft-on-terrorism, partisan hysteric by the Washington Post Editorial Board and certain highly serious and very responsible magazines.

If only Alexander Hamilton and the other Founders had understood the grave, existential, unprecedented threat posed by Islamicfascist Nazi jihadists, they would have understood all of this and would have enthusiastically embraced all the things they waged war to prevent and which they impetuously and shrilly called "notorious acts of despotism." But there is no need to change the Constitution they created and for which they advocated. It can just be decreed to be different by the President whenever national security demands it. Just ask John Yoo or Richard Posner or any Bush followers. That's what they'll tell you.

* * * * * *

At 2:20 pm EST today, I will be on the Ian Masters Show on KPFK 90.7 FM public radio in Los Angeles -- along with Marty Lederman -- to discuss the FISA and military commission issues. You can listen to the live audio feed here.

And more shrill, partisan lefty bloggers -- here and here -- respond to John Yoo by claiming that we ought to maintain the rule of law and Constitutional limits on government even though Islamofascist Nazis want to stage more terrorist attacks.

Bush Aims to Kill War Crimes Act

Bush Aims to Kill War Crimes Act


The Nation

[posted online on September 5, 2006]

The US War Crimes Act of 1996 makes it a felony to commit grave violations of the Geneva Conventions. The Washington Post recently reported that the Bush administration is quietly circulating draft legislation to eliminate crucial parts of the War Crimes Act. Observers on The Hill say the Administration plans to slip it through Congress this fall while there still is a guaranteed Republican majority--perhaps as part of the military appropriations bill, the proposals for Guantánamo tribunals or a new catch-all "anti-terrorism" package. Why are they doing it, and how can they be stopped?

American prohibitions on abuse of prisoners go back to the Lieber Code promulgated by Abraham Lincoln in 1863. The first international Geneva Convention dates from the following year.

After World War II, international law protecting prisoners of war and all noncombatants was codified in the Geneva Conventions. They were ratified by the US Senate and, under Article II of the Constitution, they thereby became the law of the land.

Wishing to rebuke the unpunished war crimes of dictators like Saddam Hussein, in 1996 a Republican-dominated Congress passed the War Crimes Act without a dissenting vote. It defined a "war crime" as any "grave breach" of the Geneva Conventions. It thereby advanced a global trend of mutual reinforcement between national and international law.

The War Crimes Act was little noticed until the disclosure of Alberto Gonzales's infamous 2002 "torture memo." Gonzales, then serving as presidential counsel, advised President Bush to declare that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people the United States captured in Afghanistan. That, Gonzales wrote, "substantially reduced the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act."

Noting that the statute "prohibits the commission of a 'war crime' by or against a US person, including US officials," he warned that "it is difficult to predict the motives of prosecutors and independent counsels who may in the future decide to pursue unwarranted charges." The President's determination that the Geneva Conventions did not apply "would provide a solid defense to any future prosecution."

Unfortunately for top Bush officials, that "solid defense" was demolished this summer when the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld ruled that the Geneva Conventions were indeed the law of the land.

The Court singled out Geneva's Common Article 3, which provides a minimum standard for the treatment of all noncombatants under all circumstances. They must be "treated humanely" and must not be subjected to "cruel treatment," "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," or "the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples."

As David Cole of the Georgetown University Law Center pointed out in the August 10 issue of The New York Review of Books, the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rusmfeld "suggests that President Bush has already committed a war crime, simply by establishing the [Guantánamo] military tribunals and subjecting detainees to them" because "the Court found that the tribunals violate Common Article 3--and under the War Crimes Act, any violation of Common Article 3 is a war crime." A similar argument would indicate that top US officials have also committed war crimes by justifying interrogation methods that, according to the testimony of US military lawyers, also violate Common Article 3.

Lo and behold, the legislation the Administration has circulated on Capitol Hill would decriminalize such acts retroactively. Eugene Fidell, president of the National Institute of Military Justice, told the Associated Press on August 10, "I think what this bill can do is in effect immunize past crimes. That's why it's so dangerous." Human rights attorney Scott Horton told Democracy Now! on August 16 that one of the purposes of the proposed legislation is "to grant immunity or impunity to certain individuals. And these are mostly decision-makers within the government."

The Coming Debate

Bush officials have not acknowledged that one of their real motives for gutting the War Crimes Act is to protect themselves from being prosecuted for their own crimes. But so far they have apparently offered only one other reason for tampering with the law: The existing law, especially the Geneva language prohibiting "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment," is too vague to enforce. (Perhaps the Bush Administration should declare the US Constitution's ban on "cruel and unusual punishment" as too vague to enforce as well.)

Fidell noted in an August 9 Washington Post article that military law includes many terms like "dereliction of duty," "maltreatment" and "conduct unbecoming an officer" that may appear vague but that are nonetheless enforceable. The Army Field Manual bars cruel and degrading treatment. When Attorney General Gonzales recently testified at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing that "outrages upon personal dignity" was too ambiguous, Senator John McCain stated that top military lawyers see no problem in complying with Common Article 3.

The arguments for preserving the War Crimes Act and rejecting the Bush amendments, in contrast, are multiple and overwhelming:

1. Commitment to the Geneva Conventions protects US service people from future retaliation.

As former Secretary of State Colin Powell has argued, abandoning the Geneva Conventions would put US soldiers at greater risk, would "reverse over a century of US policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions" and would "undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict [Afghanistan] and in general."

2. The War Crimes Act will prohibit "torture-lite" in the future.

According to Scott Horton, the proposed legislation is "designed to provide an OK to certain techniques which fall just short of torture that are being used by the CIA," including "waterboarding, longtime standing and hypothermia," techniques that have been "linked to severe injuries and fatalities."

3. The War Crimes Act will prohibit future Abu Ghraib-type outrages.

The Bush Administration's legislation would remove the prohibition on "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment." Repealing the War Crimes Act, the Washington Post's R. Jeffrey Smith reported, is decriminalizing the forced nakedness, use of dog leashes and wearing of women's underwear that shocked the world at Abu Ghraib prison.

Derek P. Jinks an assistant law professor at the University of Texas, author of a forthcoming book on the Geneva Conventions, said in an August 9 Washington Post article that the "entire family of techniques" used to degrade, humiliate and coerce prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo "is not addressed in any way, shape or form" in the Bush Administration's proposal. Retired Army Lieut. Col. Geoffrey Corn, until recently chief of the war law branch of the Army's Office of the Judge Advocate General, said in the same article, "This removal of [any] reference to humiliating and degrading treatment will be perceived by experts and probably allies as 'rewriting'" the Geneva Conventions.

This "rewriting" could have very concrete ramifications in practice. The international tribunal prosecuting war crimes in the former Yugoslavia deemed acts like placing prisoners in "inappropriate conditions of confinement," forcing them to urinate or defecate in their clothes, and threatening them with "physical, mental, or sexual violence" to be humiliations, degrading treatment and outrages. The proposed changes to the War Crimes Act would indicate that it is not a crime for Americans to conduct such acts.

4. Gutting the War Crimes Act will promote the perception of the United States as an outlaw country.

As a letter signed by sixteen members of Congress recently said, such legislation "would harm the reputation of the United States as a leader promoting and protecting human rights." What would be more deserving of scorn than a country that lets potential war-crime defendants repeal the very law under which they might be prosecuted?

5. The Bush legislation unfairly exempts high government officials from the very war crimes charges they are leveling against lowly "grunts."

Since the start of the Iraq War there have been more than thirty prosecutions under the military law that prohibits war crimes, with many more pending. But they have all prosecuted low-level military personnel. Gutting the War Crimes Act would leave the military "bad apples" at the bottom subject to prosecution but would let the civilian "bad apples" at the top evade all responsibility.

As Horton points out, the Uniform Code of Military Justice already incorporates the Geneva Convention rules, but it does not apply "to Donald Rumsfeld or Stephen Cambone or to people in the White House." The point of the War Crimes Act is that it "spreads the application of the Geneva Conventions the next level up to civilians, and particularly to civilian policymakers." From the beginning, the "prosecutorial focus" of the War Crimes Act "was intended to provide deterrence at that level." Repealing it undermines the fundamental principle of equal justice under law.

6. Preserving the War Crimes Act is part of reasserting the rule of law in America.

The War Crimes Act has been a central focus of the Bush Administration's scorn for all Constitutional limits on the power of the President and the executive branch. It was the idea that the President could by fiat declare US and international law null and void that animated the Gonzales torture memo. It was this denial of constitutional limits that the Supreme Court resoundingly rebuked in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. A rebuff to the Bush Administration's attack on the War Crimes Act is a reassertion of those constitutional limits.

The War Crimes Act can be a bridge to a more just and peaceful world. The incorporation of the Geneva Conventions' prohibitions on war crimes into national law affirms America's commitment to international law. It embodies an implementation of the global heritage of the Nuremberg trials, the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions. It embeds that tradition within our own national law.

In the wake of World War II, Justice Robert Jackson, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunal, observed that "the ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law." Making statesmen responsible to law is what the War Crimes Act is all about.

Defending the Law

The arguments for preserving the War Crimes Act are conclusive (except perhaps to those who might face criminal prosecution under them). Indeed, the Administration's decision to gut the War Crimes Act is a gift to those who want to see American statesmen held accountable to national and international law. It suggests that the Bush Administration itself recognizes the criminality of many of its actions. And it shows in the sharpest relief why the War Crimes Act is needed.

But, at least for the moment, Bush's Republican allies still control both houses of Congress; they are in a position to slip a repeal of the War Crimes Act into any piece of legislation they choose. Massachusetts Democrat Ed Markey, senior member of the House Committee for Homeland Security, told The Nation, "The Bush Administration and the GOP leadership in Congress is trying to quietly excuse and even codify cruel and inhuman treatment of prisoners in US custody, at secret CIA prisons abroad and even the abhorrent practice of extraordinary rendition [the outsourcing of torture and other cruel treatment to other countries]."

While the Administration has been lining up its ducks, the campaign to save the War Crimes Act has just begun. The advocacy group Just Foreign Policy has started an online campaign to save the War Crimes Act. "This is not an obscure point in the law. What's at stake here is whether, for example, the abuses of prisoners by sexual humiliation that shocked us at Abu Ghraib are clearly illegal under US law," national coordinator Robert Naiman observes. "If we found these actions outrageous, we are obligated to tell our members of Congress to protect the law that bans them."

Markey adds, "Every American citizen should call the White House and their members of Congress because these changes being made in the dead of night could be the green light for other countries that capture American troops to treat them cruelly or torture them."