Friday, June 30, 2006

The Bush Presidency: Setback?

Analysis: Ruling strikes at the core of Bush presidency

Friday, June 30, 2006
By Peter Baker and Michael Abramowitz, The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- For five years, President Bush waged war as he saw fit. If intelligence officers needed to eavesdrop on overseas telephone calls without warrants, he authorized it. If the military wanted to hold terror suspects without trial, he let them.

Now, the Supreme Court has struck at the core of his presidency and dismissed the notion that the president alone can determine how to defend the country. In rejecting Mr. Bush's military tribunals for terror suspects, the high court ruled that even a wartime commander-in-chief must govern within constitutional confines significantly tighter than this president has believed appropriate.

For many in Washington, the decision echoed not simply as matter of law, but as a rebuke of a governing philosophy of a leader who at repeated turns has operated on the principle that it is better to act than to ask permission. This ethos is why many supporters find Mr. Bush an inspiring leader, and why many critics in this country and abroad react so viscerally against him.

At a political level, the decision carries immediate ramifications. It provides fodder to critics who turned Guantanamo Bay into a metaphor for an administration run amok. Now, lawmakers may have to figure out how much due process is enough for suspected terrorists -- hardly the issue many would be eager to engage in months before an election.

That sort of back-and-forth process is just what Mr. Bush has usually tried to avoid as he set about to prosecute an unconventional war against an elusive enemy following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. He asserted that in this new era a president's inherent constitutional authority was all that was needed.

Lawmaker and judges largely deferred to him, with occasional exceptions like a Supreme Court decision two years ago limiting the administration's ability to detain suspects indefinitely.

"There is a strain of legal reasoning in this administration that believes in a time of war the other two branches have a diminished role or no role," Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has resisted the administration's philosophy, said. "It's sincere, it's heartfelt, but after today, it's wrong."

Bruce Fein, a former Reagan administration official, said the ruling restores balance in government. "What this decision says is, 'No, Mr. President, you can be bound be treaties and statutes,' If you need to have these changed, you can go to Congress," Mr. Fein said. "This idea of a coronated president, instead of an inaugurated president, has been dealt a sharp rebuke."

The administration's allies, however, were disturbed that Mr. Bush's hands now may be tied by the ruling written by Justice John Paul Stevens. "Stevens's opinion was quite shocking in its lack of discussion of the president's independent authority," said Andrew McBride, a former Justice Department official who wrote a brief supporting the administration on behalf of former attorneys general and military lawyers.

Mr. Bush made no such protest himself yesterday, seemingly caught by surprise at the decision. He was meeting in the Oval Office with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and about to head out for a news conference when counselor Dan Bartlett and press secretary Tony Snow informed him of the ruling. White House counsel Harriet Miers then arrived and gave Mr. Bush what he called a "drive-by briefing," but he gave little real reaction when he met with reporters.

Mr. Snow later denied that the ruling undercut Mr. Bush's authority. "I don't think it weakens the president's hand, and it certainly doesn't change the way in which we move as aggressively as possible to try to cut off terrorists before they can strike again," Mr. Snow said.

Mr. Bush came to office already intent on expanding executive power, even before Sept. 11, 2001 -- encouraged in particular by Vice President Dick Cheney, who has long been convinced that presidential authority was improperly diminished after Watergate.

The decision to create military commissions, instead of civilian courts or courts-martial, to try terror suspects represented one of the adminstration's first steps after the al-Qaida attacks on New York and Washington to create a new legal architecture for handling terror cases.

As described by the New Yorker magazine this week, the executive order establishing military commissions was issued without consultations with then-Secretary of State Colin Powell or then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice after a concerted legal push by Mr. Cheney's legal adviser David Addington, now his chief of staff.

"Rather than push so many extreme arguments about the president's commander-in chief powers, the Bush administration would have been better served to work something out with Congress sooner rather than later -- I mean 2002 rather than 2006," said John Radsan, a former CIA lawyer who now teaches law at William Mitchell College of Law.

The administration relied on a similar view of its power in detaining U.S. citizens indefinitely as enemy combatants, denying prisoners access to lawyers or courts, rejecting the applicability of the Geneva Conventions in some instances, employing harsh interrogation techniques and establishing secret CIA prisons for terror suspects in foreign countries. Only its National Security Agency telephone and e-mail surveillance stirred much protest in Congress.

The administration often fended off criticism by arguing that the commander-in-chief should not be second-guessed. Dickinson College professor Andrew Rudalevige, author of "The New Imperial Presidency," commented: "The Bush administration has been very successful in defining the debate as one of patriotism or cowardice. And this is not about that. This is about whether, in fighting the war, we're true to our constitutional values."

Even some Bush supporters yesterday said it may be appropriate now to revisit decisions made ad hoc in a crisis atmosphere, when a president's natural instinct is to do whatever he thinks is necessary to guard the nation against attack.

"That's what presidents do, and I say thank goodness for that," said George J. Terwilliger III, deputy attorney general under former President George H.W. Bush. "But once you get past that point, ... both as a matter of law and a matter of culture, a more systemic approach to the use of authority is appropriate."

( Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

This Deceitful Bush Administration: Leaks that suit us and hide OUR lies are okay; Leaks that don't suit us are treasonable.

Published on Wednesday, June 28, 2006 by TruthDig
A Disgraceful Attack on the New York Times
by Robert Scheer

The Bush administration’s jihad against newspapers that reported on a secret program to monitor the personal-banking records of unsuspecting citizens is more important than the original story. For what the president and his spokesmen are once again asserting is that the prosecution of this ill-defined, open-ended “war on terror” inevitably trumps basic democratic rights in general and the constitutionally enshrined freedom of the press in particular.

The stakes are very high here. We’ve already been told that we must put up with official lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the unprecedented torture of prisoners of war and a massive electronic-eavesdropping program and other invasions of privacy. Now the target is more basic — the freedom of the press to report on such nefarious government activities. The argument in defense of this assault on freedom is the familiar refrain of dictators, wannabe and real, who grasp for power at the expense of democracy: We are in a war with an enemy so powerful and devious that we cannot afford the safeguard of transparent and accountable governance.

“We’re at war with a bunch of people who want to hurt the United States of America, and for people to leak that program, and for a newspaper to publish it, does great harm to the United States of America,” President Bush said Monday.

The “bunch of people” Bush says we are fighting was originally believed to be those behind the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, specifically Osama bin Laden and his decentralized Al Qaeda terrorist organization. Yet Bush, prodded by the neoconservative clique, quickly expanded this war beyond what should have been a worldwide manhunt for Al Qaeda operatives into an open-ended occupation of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq — which, as we know from the Sept. 11 commission report, had nothing to do with Al Qaeda or Sept. 11.

In fact, if the media, or Congress, had aggressively pursued the truth earlier, rather than being overwhelmed by the shock of Sept. 11, anti-U.S. terrorists of every stripe would not now be swarming over Iraq. Nor would the degenerating situation in Afghanistan and the enhanced power of religious fanatics throughout the Mideast, from Tehran to Gaza, pose such threats to peace if a fully informed public had held this president in check. Even today, the Bush administration continues to place the situation in Iraq in the “war on terror” framework, instead of acknowledging the primary role of religious and nationalist passions unleashed by the unwarranted U.S. invasion.

As Bush has continued to stretch it to cover all of his leadership failings, the “war on terror” has become a meaningless phrase, to be exploited for the political convenience of the moment. Terrorism, which should be treated clinically as a dangerous pathology threatening all modern societies, instead has been seized upon as an all-purpose propaganda opportunity for consolidating this administration’s political power. In such a situation, the press’ role as a conduit of both information and debate is more essential than ever. Freedom of the press, enshrined in our Constitution at a time when our fragile nation was besieged by enemies of the new republic, is not an indulgence to be allowed in safe periods but rather an indispensable tool for keeping ourselves safe. That is just the point that Vice President Dick Cheney, the high priest of excessive secrecy — even in domestic matters, such as refusing to reveal the content of his negotiation with Enron lobbyists in framing the administration’s energy policy — is bent on obscuring.

“Some in the press, in particular The New York Times, have made the job of defending against further terrorist attacks more difficult,” said Cheney, all but calling the newspaper traitorous.

How convenient to leave out The Wall Street Journal, which editorially supports the administration but which also covered this latest example of Bush’s abuse of power in its news pages. The administration’s attack on the Times, in fact, is not really about national security, but rather follows a domestic political agenda that requires attacking free media that dare offer criticism.

On Monday, following the pattern, Cheney also attacked the Times’ earlier disclosure that the National Security Agency had simply ignored the legal requirement of court warrants in monitoring telephone calls. “I think that is a disgrace,” he said of the Times winning a Pulitzer Prize for the stories.

What is truly a disgrace, though, is an administration that has consistently deceived the public about its intentions and which continues to shamefully exploit post-Sept. 11 fears to ensure its grip on the body politic.

Robert Scheer is the editor of and author of “Playing President.” Email to:

© 2006, LLC

Monday, June 26, 2006

OUr failing prison system is ready to explode?

Published on Monday, June 26, 2006 by the Seattle Times
Jailbreak: Our Failing Prison System
by Neal Peirce

"What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons."

That's the disturbing lead sentence of "Confronting Confinement," the newly released report of the Vera Institute of Justice's Commission on Safety and Abuse in American Prisons.

Many of us are sure to despise the finding. Isn't the overriding reason for jails and prisons to lock up the bad guys and protect the rest of us? Aren't we the country that decided, beginning 30 years ago, to substitute punishment for rehabilitation? Haven't we demonstrated our toughness by imprisoning 2.2 million people — the most of any nation on Earth? And pumping up our prison and jail expenditures to a stunning $60 billion a year?

So now you're telling us that bad stuff is seeping out of jails and prisons and back into our neighborhoods, cities, towns?

Well, yes.

Overcrowding is so rampant in the burgeoning California prison system that a high-ranking corrections official is warning: "We believe that an imminent and substantial threat to the public safety exists, requiring immediate action."

The New York City-based Vera Institute's panel, headed by former U.S. Attorney General Nicholas de B. Katzenbach, with former judges, corrections officials and prisoner rights advocates, cites many more perils.

First and foremost, there's violence — widespread patterns of individual assaults, including gang violence, rape and beatings by guards. Can we expect inmates subjected to that culture to abstain from it when they're released?

Indeed, if prison guards spend their days in that kind of culture, the potential for acting the same to their families, or in other outside-the-bars incidents, is real. "When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them," warns the commission.

The perils are compounded by the decision to segregate difficult or mentally ill prisoners — a practice growing fast in the past decade. Segregation is usually counterproductive, the Vera commission reports — it triggers violence inside prison walls and recidivism among segregated convicts when they're freed.

Then there's medical care. High rates of disease and illness among prisoners, coupled with inadequate funding for correctional health care, endanger all parties — prisoners, staff and the public. Every year, about 1.5 million people are released from jail or prison carrying such life-threatening diseases as tuberculosis, hepatitis C and AIDS. Correctional systems, obliged to operate on shoestring budgets for medical care, "are set up to fail" — in some instances there are just two or three doctors for 4,000 to 5,000 inmates.

The "cures" for all these conditions are clear. Reduced crowding — indeed, limits on prisoner numbers in any institution — leads the list. Second, a return to rehabilitation — basic literacy and skills training — on the sure knowledge that high numbers of prisoners (currently about 60 percent) will commit offenses and be reincarcerated if they're not prepared for civilian life.

Third, use force and non-lethal weaponry far more sparingly — constant and excessive force only begets violence. And fourth, upgrade medical care radically, including much better screening for infectious diseases, partnering with community health-care providers, providing treatment for mentally ill prisoners, and persuading Congress to extend Medicaid and Medicare benefits to prisoners.

Why would federal and state legislators approve such changes? The answer: Unless they do, violence to family members and others, plus illness and desperation, will keep rippling out each time an inmate heads home, as 95 percent do.

Even in the absence of the sweeping reforms the criminal justice system cries out for — especially terminating our horrendously failed and harmful "war on drugs," plus scrapping mandatory minimum sentences in favor of radically expanded sentencing discretion by judges — the ideas of the Vera Institute's panel represent a worthwhile start.

Congress is at least considering a "Second Chance Act" for easing prisoner re-entry into society, including modest proposals to encourage job openings, housing, substance-abuse and mental-health treatment. It enjoys sponsors ranging from conservative to liberal lawmakers and backers from the National Council of La Raza to the Christian Coalition.

Could we be ready for an outbreak of corrections sanity? With our 2.2 million men and women behind bars and the explosive conditions in many of our prisons, the old "pay me now or pay me later" adage has never been more compelling.

Neal Peirce's column appears alternate Mondays on editorial pages of The Times. Email to:

© 2006 Washington Post Writers Group

Saturday, June 24, 2006

NY Times Book Review, Noam Chomsky "Failed States"

Failed States, by Noam Chomsky
Homeland Insecurity
New York Times

THIS latest philippic from Noam Chomsky sets out to overturn every belief about their country Americans hold dear. The self-image of the United States as a beacon of freedom and democracy, lighting the way for the rest of the world, is a lie, Chomsky says, and it always has been. "Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy" aims to expose the rot of the shining city on a hill, from its foundations to its steeples.

At the book's center is the avowed American mission to spread democracy throughout the world. Chomsky concedes that, rhetorically at least, this has been the nation's goal since Woodrow Wilson, but he insists the words are utterly at odds with American deeds. In its many foreign interventions, Washington has acted to frustrate the will of the people, often by supporting those engaged in the most chilling violence. The United States has overthrown democratic governments in Iran, Chile, Guatemala "and a long list of others." Elsewhere it has paid lip service to procedural democracy while doing all it could to rig the outcome. There is, Chomsky says, a "rational consistency" to this inconsistency between words and actions. The record shows that the United States does indeed back democracy abroad — "if and only if it is consistent with strategic and economic interests."

These are not, Chomsky insists, the interests of the American people, but of the corporate elite that dominates the country and its policy making. For, he says, the United States is not a democracy, if that word is reserved for a society where the people's will is done.

Take health care. Chomsky has the data to show that the American system is economically inefficient, much costlier than more socialized models abroad and deeply unpopular with a majority of Americans, who are ready to pay for increased government intervention even if that means higher taxes. That democratic majority remains unheard, however, because "the pharmaceutical and financial industries and other private powers are strongly opposed." That is why the mainstream news media, a perennial Chomsky target, say publicly funded health care lacks political support: the majority might back it, but not the people who count.

Chomsky employs the same linguistic deconstruction for media definitions of prosperity. The experts may say the economy is healthy, as it is for the top 1 percent, whose wealth rose by 42 percent from 1983 to 1998. But it is not healthy for the majority, whose wages have stagnated or declined in real terms, nor for those going hungry in America because they cannot afford to buy food.

Much of this will be familiar to veteran Chomsky readers, but in this book he supplies a new twist. What, he asks, is a failed state? It is one that fails "to provide security for the population, to guarantee rights at home or abroad, or to maintain functioning (not merely formal) democratic institutions." On that definition, Chomsky argues, the United States is the world's biggest failed state. This sounds like a hyperbolic charge, ludicrously overblown — but he goes far toward substantiating it. He is especially strong on pointing up Washington's woeful efforts to protect Americans from terror attacks, in one instance lavishing more resources on the imaginary threat from Cuba than on the all-too-real menace of Al Qaeda.

And if a rogue state is defined by its defiance of international law, then the United States, Chomsky says, has long been the rogues' rogue. It has ignored the Geneva Conventions by its treatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and of Iraqi civilians in Falluja; violated the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty by its development of new weapons when it should be making good-faith efforts to get rid of the old ones; flouted the United Nations Charter, which allows the use of force only when the "necessity of self-defense" is "instant" and "overwhelming," standards hardly met by the 2003 invasion of Iraq; and defied the World Court, which in the 1980's held Washington guilty of "unlawful use of force" against Nicaragua, a ruling the United States simply rejected. Scholars like to speak of American exceptionalism, but with Chomsky the phrase takes on new meaning: America exempts itself from the rules it demands for everyone else. This is not a double standard, but flows from what Chomsky, quoting Adam Smith, calls the single standard: the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind: . . . All for ourselves, and nothing for other people."

Throughout "Failed States" Chomsky writes in this vein of fierce excoriation. No one is exempt, according to him. The whole system is rotten, including traditional liberal heroes. Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy are all faulted for their pursuit of international dominance, from Roosevelt's plans to firebomb Japanese cities more than a year before Pearl Harbor to Kennedy's war in Vietnam. Even the framers of the Constitution are condemned. Chomsky disapprovingly quotes James Madison's insistence that the new Republic should "protect the minority of the opulent against the majority." He doesn't much like The New York Times either.

If there is a crumb of comfort for his readers, it is this: Americans are not a uniquely evil people. On the contrary, imperialists throughout history have behaved in the same way, from the Greeks to the British, always telling themselves they were driven by noble purpose — even as their elites wreaked havoc for their own material gain.

There are flaws in this book. It is dense, with almost every paragraph broken up by extensive quotations. And it is unrelenting, the invective interrupted only by the occasional flash of bitter wit. Like any polemicist, Chomsky is selective in his material: for example, he cites rulings by the Israeli Supreme Court that have injured Palestinians rights, but ignores those that have respected them.

Too often Chomsky fails to cast those outside the United States as active moral agents in their own right. He argues, with justification, that the American invasion of Iraq has unleashed a wave of terrorism in that country — but he has little interest in the bombers and beheaders themselves. Their actions are merely the inevitable products of decisions taken in Washington. He is also too airily dismissive of liberal interventionists, those who would like to see American power deployed to thwart genocide; in Chomsky's eyes, they are mere patsies for imperialism.

Similarly, his view of politics can be too mechanistic; sometimes he writes as if whole national debates are mere staged distractions, planned by the powers that be. And while he spends 260-odd pages presenting his critique, he offers only two paragraphs of solutions (an imbalance, it should be said, he is aware of).

Still, maybe it's sufficient for a prophet to tell the people they are in a wilderness; he shouldn't be expected to point the exact way out. Chomsky's ambitions, after all, are high enough. It's hard to imagine any American reading this book and not seeing his country in a new, and deeply troubling, light.

Jonathan Freedland is an editorial page columnist for The Guardian of London.

Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

Friday, June 23, 2006

Demos need a new script, by Helen Thomas. For sure!

Published on Thursday, June 23, 2006 by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Democrats Need A New Script
by Helen Thomas

When are the Democrats going to get their act together?

Surely, they are not going to let President Bush's political guru, Karl Rove, snooker them in the mid-term November election campaign as he did in the past two presidential elections.

What is he going to pull out of the hat? Soft on terrorism? Gay marriage? Flag burning? 9/11?

Are the Democrats going to be such easy prey again, neutralized by phony wedge issues and neglectful of the real issue, which is the administration's flagrant use of falsehoods to justify a war of choice?

It could happen again. The leaderless Democrats, speaking in a cacophony, are being outgunned by the conservatives and members of their own party representing the Democratic Leadership Council who are at heart "Republican lite."

There are a handful, including Rep. John Murtha, D-Pa., a Vietnam veteran who is calling for a speedy U.S. pullout from Iraq. He also took a swipe at Rove on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday for pushing the war while "sitting in his big air-conditioned office on his big, fat backside, saying 'Stay the course.' "

He was responding to Rove's speech in New Hampshire last week in which Rove attacked Democrats for what he called "that party's old pattern of cutting and running."

Rove -- who prides himself on being a history buff -- obviously did not remember when President Ford ordered U.S. troops out of Vietnam in April 1975. They departed -- some clinging by their fingertips to helicopters -- as North Vietnamese forces advanced on Saigon.

At that time Ford said at Tulane University: "We, of course, are saddened indeed by the events in Indochina.

"But these events, tragic as they are, portend neither the end of the world nor of America's leadership in the world."

Summing up, he added: "The fate of responsible men and women everywhere, (meaning the South Vietnamese) rests in their own hands, not in ours."


Polls show that the American people -- including many Republicans -- are beginning to turn against the war.

In addition to an endless war for no known U.S. objective, there are a host of other issues that Democrats should embrace to hit home to every American

They could shout from the rooftops against the chipping away at the Bill of Rights and expansion of presidential power.

Bush has asserted the right to wiretap and eavesdrop on any American without a warrant in the name of fighting terrorism. He has asserted presidential power beyond stated constitutional rights and there is no Republican gutsy enough to call his hand.

The administration also has detained hundreds of suspected terrorists in limbo without charges or trials.

And then there are the shameful alleged secret prisons abroad where prisoners may be subjected to torture under interrogation.

The fact that millions of Americans lack health insurance is a theme Democrats should campaign on. The Democrats should support universal health care. When the administration lays down the law in the prescription drug program that drug prices are not negotiable, who is it working for?

Another rich target for Democrats: Bush and the Republican Congress cut taxes for the richest people in the country while fighting to keep the 10-year-old minimum wage at $5.15.

Former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., said last week that the "divide between rich and poor in this country has reached outrageous proportions." He urged passage of Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy's bill to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 an hour in three stages.

And how about the cuts in homeland security funding for vulnerable New York and Washington?

The Democrats also could hit upon our diminished image around the world and loss of credibility.

As Bush prepared to visit Europe this week, Die Zeit, a German weekly, declared that Americans have "lost their moral credibility in Iraq."

The newspaper also said "America's entire Iraq policy is out of control."

That's what the Democrats should be saying.

Helen Thomas is a columnist for Hearst Newspapers. E-mail to:

© 2006 Hearst Newspapers

Monday, June 19, 2006

Guatanamo will incite terrorism and torture for decades to come.

Published on Monday, June 19, 2006 by the Boston Globe
Sending Shameful Signals
by James Carroll

"No question Guantanamo sends, you know, a signal," President Bush said last week. "It provides an excuse, for example, to say the United States is not upholding the values that they're trying to encourage other countries to adhere to." This frank admission is anomalous, of course, because President Bush intends to maintain the prison complex in Cuba indefinitely. And every day that he does so, the signal sent grows louder.

It didn't take the recent suicides of three detainees to make known Guantanamo's character as a center of human-rights violations. A sorry list of accusations and criticisms has besmirched the place, including charges of deliberate insult to the religion of Muslims and interrogation practices that are "tantamount to torture." Tony Blair and Kofi Annan have called for its closure, and last week the European Parliament passed a resolution doing the same. This week, President Bush is likely to face criticism on the question at the summit meeting in Vienna. Representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, meanwhile, are at Guantanamo to learn more about the three suicides, which one US official characterized as "acts of asymmetric warfare." The US Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, a case involving questions of detainee rights at Guantanamo and the powers of military commissions to try terror suspects held there.

But all of this unfolds in the context identified by President Bush himself -- that of ``values" represented by this astounding American prison. How might perceptions of the United States be different today, especially in Arab and Muslim worlds, if the hundreds of prisoners captured in Afghanistan in 2001 had been treated with scrupulous adherence to the highest standards of international law; if they had been provided lawyers, promptly charged, and brought to public trials -- all showing that the United States treats even its purported enemies as persons with rights, worthy of due process? Had we followed such a course, our nation would have put its best values on display, a not incidental rebuttal to the demonizing of America as a great Satan. But such a course would have been more than propaganda. It would have been a defining act, proof that we are the good and exceptional people we think we are.

Just such a thing happened before. After World War II, many Allied leaders, led by Joseph Stalin and Winston Churchill, assumed that captured Nazis, whose war crimes were evident, should be summarily executed. But others, led especially by US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, understood the importance of dealing with the major criminals according to scrupulous legal procedures. The result was the Nuremberg Tribunals, where the rights of defendants, even those defendants, were affirmed. Those trials, lasting from 1945 to 1949, involving more than 200 accused war criminals, demonstrated the values for which the United States had just fought the brutal war. More than that: In a recovery from brutality, the Nuremberg trials rescued those values.

The opposite has been occurring in Guantanamo Bay. Prisoners were taken there in the first place in an obvious end run around the jurisdiction of courts inside the United States, a blatant statement that traditional legal procedures would not apply. (The US military base itself is a blatant statement that, concerning Cuba, normal requirements of national sovereignty do not apply.) Such cynical exceptionalism was reinforced when the captured men were categorized as "enemy combatants" instead of "prisoners of war," a ploy to dodge standards set by the Geneva Accords of 1949 (which themselves came out of the spirit reflected at Nuremberg). Little thought seems to have been given even now to the consequences for Americans when they are captured in future conflicts by enemies who will surely cite Guantanamo as precedent for methods tantamount to torture.

Guantanamo defenders define the enterprise as an exercise in intelligence gathering, but it has been years since any of those prisoners could have provided meaningful information about enemy intentions or capacity. Something else accounts for this cruelty, this illegality. Instead of the dignity of Nuremberg, it evokes the shame of the World War II incarceration of Japanese-Americans. Racial hatred, revenge, a blind belief in toughness -- these are the values that America is "signaling" in Cuba. After 9/11, we were determined that our enemies would not wound us again. They did not have to. We have wounded ourselves -- nowhere more destructively than at Guantanamo. The time is long past for the disgraceful American prison to be closed. Likewise the imperial base itself.

James Carroll's column appears regularly in the Globe.

© 2006 The Boston Globe

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Risking our Necks? Few are willing. Ray McGovern

The Courage to Face the Consequences
By Ray McGovern
t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Friday 09 June 2006

Hope is here. The cold light of truth is piercing the cloud of lies conjured by Donald Rumsfeld and others about the war in Iraq - even in the defense secretary's own bailiwick.

A Matter of Conscience ...

Several months ago, US Army 1st Lt. Ehren Watada decided that US involvement in Iraq is illegal and immoral. Like so many of us, Watada concluded that intelligence was manipulated to "justify" the invasion. Unlike so many of us, he has had the courage to stick his neck out and pay the price for resistance.

We should, I suppose, give the neck its due. It is a pleasant thing - a convenient connection between head and torso. We do not risk it out of caprice. But if there is nothing for which we will risk that neck, then it has become our idol. And necks are not worthy of this status. Finally, an active duty US Army officer has refused to engage in that kind of idol worship.

No publicity seeker, Watada earlier this year quietly submitted a request to resign from the Army. The request was denied. He then refused to deploy to Iraq with his unit this summer, and is prepared to face prison rather than violate his conscience. Meanwhile, he fully expects the kind of ostracism encountered by those few Army enlisted men who objected to the torture at Abu Ghraib. In what might well be the understatement of the month, Watada says he may be "the most unpopular person at Fort Lewis."

... and a Gift for Dan Berrigan

Watada may not realize this, but he has presented a pearl of great price to long-time war resister, Jesuit priest and poet Dan Berrigan, who celebrates his 85th birthday this weekend in New York. Facing ridicule and ostracism for acting on their principled opposition to the war in Vietnam, Dan and his late brother Phil were no strangers to prison - or to profound disappointment at the dearth of those willing to witness in the way of Watada.

In No Bars to Manhood, Dan wrote:

"Of course, let us have peace," we cry, "but at the same time let us have normalcy, let us lose nothing, let our lives stand intact, let us know neither prison nor ill repute nor disruption of ties ... " There is no peace because there are no peacemakers. There are no makers of peace because the making of peace is at least as costly as the making of war - at least as exigent, at least as disruptive, at least as liable to bring disgrace and prison, and death in its wake.

Dan Berrigan will be encouraged by Watada's resistance. And so, I hope, will Faiza Al Araji, one of the courageous Iraqi women who came to the US in March to give first-hand testimony to the suffering of the Iraqi people. Executive manager of Arab Water Treatment Co., Faiza is a highly educated engineer who took a month off to appeal to US citizens to do something to end the tragedy of her people.

I had the privilege of sharing speaking duties with her on several panels arranged by progressives in California. It was painful. Faiza would pour out her heart, only to be met with expressions of sympathy - and impotence. After three successive days of this, she found a way to express her outrage without wearing out her welcome. We were in Santa Cruz, speaking to a standing-room-only audience. After Faiza's account of the horrors being experienced by her people elicited the all-too-familiar, hand-wringing moans of "what can we do," she lost it.

Candid Sharing ...

Returning to her seat next to me on the panel, she grabbed my notebook and filled the top page with what she really wanted to say. Her poignant words, as she wrote them:

So, Iraqis are in the middle between American people who don't know what to do alway? and American Administration who had plans to war and never listen!

Where is the key to help poor Iraqis?

In the beginning of my meeting I feel sad for American people but after passing of time my people are dying and Americans still asking stupid questions like what can I do?

I feel sick.

Faiza could see it. We are, for the most part, blissfully (perhaps studiously?) unaware of our own power - the power we still enjoy as Americans, even as the claws of fascism creep steadily closer. We in the dominant culture often feel impotent, despite the power of our inherent privilege. Perhaps it's a subconscious thing. Maybe we prefer to remain in denial because, otherwise, we would have to look in the mirror and decide whether we have the courage to put that power into play.

... and Becoming Aware

At the Servant Leadership School in Washington, DC, we are constantly grappling with the debilitating accoutrements of white privilege and unexplored racism. At one point an African-American trainer threw up his hands, looked at us, and - as calmly as he could - explained:

If someone has their foot on my neck, I will say once, please get off my neck. If you continue to stand on my neck and explain how you didn't know you were there and why you were there and how difficult it is to move, I cannot be nice about it any more. It's not about conversation; in the end it's about getting your foot off my neck.

And so, we are back to necks. We must stop the hand wringing and find ways to get our country's foot off Iraq's neck.

What can we do? Get together with a few friends and figure it out! If we were willing to put something on the line, if we were willing to stick out our own necks, as Lt. Watada has done, things could change.

Ray McGovern was an Army officer (1962-1964) and an analyst with the CIA for the next 27 years. He is on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and last month took advantage of an opportunity to confront Rumsfeld directly about the lies he told - and continues to tell - about the war in Iraq. Ray now works with Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Garrison Keillor on the Current Occupant and the G.O.P.

With ineptitude on full display, the party's over for Republicans

By Garrison Keillor

June 8, 2006

People who live in mud huts should not throw mud, especially if it comes from their own roofs. As Scripture says, don't point to the speck in your neighbor's eye when you have a piece of kindling in your own.

I see by the papers that the Republicans want to make an issue of Nancy Pelosi in the congressional races this fall: Would you want a San Francisco woman to be speaker of the House?

Will the podium be repainted in lavender stripes with a disco ball overhead? Will she be borne into the chamber by male dancers with glistening torsos and wearing pink tutus? After all, in the unique worldview of old elephants, "San Francisco" is a code word for "g-a-y," and after assembling a record of government lies, incompetence and disaster, the party in power hopes that the fear of g-a-y-s will pull it through in November.

Running against Ms. Pelosi, a woman who comes from a district where there are known gay persons, is a nice trick, but it does draw attention to the large shambling galoot who is speaker now, Tom DeLay's enabler for years, a man who, judging by his public mutterances, is about as smart as most high school wrestling coaches.

For the past year, Dennis Hastert has been two heartbeats from the presidency. He is a man who seems content just to have a car and driver and three square meals a day. He has no apparent vision beyond the urge to hang onto power. He has succeeded in turning Congress into a branch of the executive branch. If Mr. Hastert becomes the poster boy for the Republican Party, this does not speak well for them as the Party of Ideas.

People who want to take a swing at San Francisco should think twice. Yes, the Irish coffee at Fisherman's Wharf is overpriced, and the bus tour of Haight-Ashbury is disappointing (where are the hippies?), but the Bay Area is the cradle of the computer and software industry, which continues to create jobs for our children.

The iPod was not developed by Baptists in Waco. There may be a reason for this. Creative people thrive in a climate of openness and tolerance, since some great ideas start out sounding ridiculous.

Creativity is a key to economic progress. Authoritarianism is stifling. I don't believe that Mr. Hewlett and Mr. Packard were gay, but what's important is: In San Francisco, it doesn't matter so much. When the cultural Sturmbannfuhrers try to marshal everyone into straight lines, it has consequences for the economic future of this country.

Meanwhile, the Current Occupant goes on impersonating a president. Somewhere in the quiet leafy recesses of the Bush family, somebody is thinking, "Wrong son. Should've tried the smart one."

This one's eyes don't quite focus. Five years in office and he doesn't have a grip on it yet. You stand him up next to Tony Blair at a press conference and the comparison is not kind to Our Guy. Historians are starting to place him at or near the bottom of the list. And one of the basic assumptions of American culture is falling apart: the competence of Republicans.

You might not have always liked Republicans, but you could count on them to manage the bank. They might be lousy tippers, act snooty, talk through their noses, wear spats and splash mud on you as they race their Pierce-Arrows through the village, but you knew they could do the math.

To see them produce a ninny and then follow him loyally into the swamp for five years is disconcerting, like seeing the Rolling Stones take up lite jazz. So here we are at an uneasy point in our history, mired in a costly war and getting nowhere, a supine Congress granting absolute power to a president who seems to get smaller and dimmer, and the best the GOP can offer is San Franciscophobia? This is beyond pitiful. This is violently stupid.

It is painful to look at your father and realize the old man should not be allowed to manage his own money anymore. This is the discovery the country has made about the party in power. They are inept. The checkbook needs to be taken away. They will rant, they will screech, they will wave their canes at you and call you all sorts of names, but you have to do what you have to do.

Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion" can be heard Saturday nights on public radio stations across the country.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Homophobia and Right Wing priorities, william Wilson, opinion

June 5, 2006

Right Wing Priorities-- Homophobia over... Everything? Flood Victims, Global Warming, Environment, War, Debt...

By William Wilson

You Know What They Say About Homophobes...

Today I'd like to perform a thought experiment.

Imagine two men holding hands. Get a good image in your head. Young men... maybe one has long hair, one has short hair, young men, good looking..... OK.

Now, think about another hurricane like Katrina. Remember that? It was before the new season of American Idol started, think real hard. Remember? Babies screaming for food in the rotten stink of the superdome? Old people drowning? Crackheads roaming the street looking for any fix they could get? Black folks labeled as looters when they tried to get diapers and food?

Which one of those images is more repellent to you? If you could prevent one of those things from happening, which would it be?

Let's get a little more extreme.

Imagine those two men kissing. Come on, imagine it. A good wet kiss, plenty of tongue...OK.

Now imagine thousands of people in Bangladesh drowning because the rivers are flooded and the monsoon rains won't stop. Imagine it: children and old people buried under mudslides, houses washed away.

Imagine the survivors, sitting for days and weeks watching the corpses and turds float by.

Which is worse? Which is more important to the richest, most advanced nation on earth?

Yet president Bush, who considers Jesus his favorite 'philosopher,' is more concerned with our sexual behavior and writing a gay marriage amendment into the constitution.

James Inhofe, chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, once said that global warming is 'the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.'

He's also a member of a secretive group of dominionist believers called 'the family'. He declared the politics of American policy toward Israel to be 'not a political battle at all. It is a contest over whether or not the word of God is true.'

And he wants to write a gay marriage ban into the constitution. And, an even bigger surprise from

In the 2002 election cycle oil and gas companies contributed more money to Inhofe's campaign
than any other congressman except Texas senator John Cornyn. The contributions Inhofe has received from
the energy and natural resource sector since taking office have exceeded one million dollars.

Recently I came across a a letter from Dick Bott, the head of Bott Radio Network (a Christian radio network.) I quote:

First of all, we believe the perception of Global Warming (or as they say when it gets cold
“climate change”) is at best a secondary issue where some well-meaning Christians may disagree. It
certainly does not rise to the same level of urgency or Biblical clarity as does the killing of innocent
unborn children or the sanctity of marriage as being between a man and a woman. Yet, it is
interesting to note that many of these leaders who have signed on to this politically charged Global
Warming issue refuse to speak or lead on the issue of life or marriage because they say they don’t want to
get “political.”

Emphasis mine.

Right. So gay marriage is more important than global warming and the current mass extinction on this planet.

Come on! How can you be so terrified of two people loving each other? This fundamentalism is sick. It's irrational and pathological, and maybe it should be criminal.

The human destruction of the environment has the potential to be the worst human tragedy the world has ever seen - worse than the Holocaust, worse than Stalinist Russia or the great famines of history. The poor and the sick will suffer enormously and disproportionately. Rising sea levels will flood some farmlands, while drought will dry up others. Weather patterns will change as ocean currents change
temperature. Hurricanes will likely get stronger and more frequent.

As this disaster looms, our government has been hijacked by men who place a fundamentalist interpretation of the bible above scientific reality. Meanwhile, "Christian" radio stations beam alternative realities into the homes of millions of Americans.

Coincidentally enough, their interpretation of the bible aligns perfectly with big business, rich-get-richer politics. They are destroying America - and if they keep their heads in the sand about the environment, they will destroy the earth.

They say that the most virulent homophobes are often simply repressing their own desires. Keep that in mind this election cycle, as the right tries to distract the public from Iraq, the economy, and the environment by forcing their version of morality on us.

But we also need to keep a bigger truth in mind.

These people, who would place know nothing politics and prejudice above the health and safety of the poor, are not true Christians. They are slaves to the god of money and power.

I hope that true Christians everywhere will fight to get them out of office this November.

As Dick Bott said in his letter: 'I hope you'll think twice about your priorities as a Christian and keep "the main thing the main thing."'

Authors Website:

Authors Bio: William Wilson is a writer and activist living in the American midwest. He blogs at