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Torture and the American Conscience

Torture and the American Conscience
By Paul Craig Roberts | CounterPunch

One might think that the American public’s toleration of torture reflects the breakdown of the country’s Christian faith. Alas, a recent poll released by the Pew Forum reveals that most white Christian evangelicals and white Catholics condone torture. In contrast, only a minority of those who seldom or never attend church services condone torture.

Torture is a violation of US and international law. Yet, president George W. Bush and vice president Dick Cheney, on the basis of legally incompetent memos prepared by Justice Department officials, gave the OK to interrogators to violate US and international law.

The new Obama administration shows no inclination to uphold the rule of law by prosecuting those who abused their offices and broke the law.

Cheney claims, absurdly, that torture was necessary in order to save American cities from nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists. Many Americans have bought the argument that torture is morally justified in order to make terrorists reveal where ticking nuclear bombs are before they explode.

However, there were no hidden ticking nuclear bombs. Hypothetical scenarios were used to justify torture for other purposes.

We now know that the reason the Bush regime tortured its captives was to coerce false testimony that linked Iraq and Saddam Hussein to al Qaeda and September 11. Without this “evidence,” the US invasion of Iraq remains a war crime under the Nuremberg standard.

Torture, then, was a second Bush regime crime used to produce an alibi for the illegal and unprovoked US invasion of Iraq. Read more.

###

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration. He is coauthor of The Tyranny of Good Intentions. He can be reached at: PaulCraigRoberts@yahoo.com

TOMORROW, 5 PM, NYC: Protesters to Demand Release of Torture Photos & Prosecution of War Crimes of Bush Administration

Protesters to Demand Release of Torture Photos & Prosecution of War Crimes of Bush Administration, March to Site of General Petraeus Award

EVENT: Protest demonstration/Photo opportunity

WHEN: Thursday, May 28, 2009 - National Day of Resistance to U.S. Torture

WHERE: Part 1: Grand Central Station, 5:00 pm

Part 2: March to Union League Club, 6:00 pm

Part 3: Union League Club, 38 E. 37th Street, NYC

Portraying detainees at Guantanamo, torture opponents will appear in a dramatic tableau in Grand Central Station on Thursday with photos purported to be among those the Obama administration is refusing to make public. Later, a procession will move several blocks to the Union League Club, where CENT COMM Commander General David Petraeus, architect of the Iraq war “surge” will receive an award presented by John Negroponte, former Director of National Intelligence.

This event is part of May 28 non-violent civil resistance actions in 14 other cities which will demand the release of the photos and prosecution for war crimes of those officials of the Bush administration who directed, wrote the legal justification for and participated in torture. These protests, called by the national World Can’t Wait organization and others, will respond to the growing body of evidence of torture by US military, CIA and contractors.

A redneck view of the Obamarama

This column originally appeared on the web site of the Australian Broadcasting Company.

By Joe Bageant
When it comes to expressing plain truths, few are as gifted as American rednecks. During recent travels in the Appalachian communities of West Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky I've collected scores of their comments on our national condition and especially President Barack Obama.

Joe_bageant2_100 In America, all successful politicians are first and foremost successfully marketed brands. In fact, the Obama campaign was named Advertising Age's 2008 marketer of the year. George W. Bush's brand may have "collapsed," as they say on Madison Avenue, but things don't change much. Rednecks instinctively know this: 

Shhhhhh…It’s Still a (State) Secret

Shhhhhh…It’s Still a (State) Secret
Written by William Fisher | The Public Record

“My Administration is also confronting challenges to what is known as the ‘State Secrets’ privilege. This is a doctrine that allows the government to challenge legal cases involving secret programs. It has been used by many past Presidents - Republican and Democrat - for many decades. And while this principle is absolutely necessary to protect national security, I am concerned that it has been over-used. We must not protect information merely because it reveals the violation of a law or embarrasses the government.”

Thus spoke President Obama in his national security speech last week.

Will Obama Nominate Supreme Court Justice Who Favors Imperial Presidency?

Read Charlie Savage in the NY Times.

HT Glenn Greenwald. Also blogged by Marcy Wheeler.

Important rulings on executive authority — striking down military commissions and upholding habeas corpus rights for Guantánamo detainees — have been decided by a five-vote majority, including Justice Souter, on the nine-member court.

“Given that the decisions have generally been 5-4 in this area, this could be terribly consequential,” said David Golove, a New York University law professor. “We’re losing one of the court’s strongest leaders on the side of limiting executive power to reasonable bounds. If the person who replaces Souter is different than him, the balance of power may shift.”

Meanwhile not even Barbara Boxer will join with Russ Feingold in supporting habeas corpus, which has now become a radical leftist position.

Memorial Day 2009: Requiem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq

Requiem for the Last American Soldier to Die in Iraq
By Brian Turner | Network of Spiritual Progressives

If you’re watching this then it means I’m not around anymore. I imagine you’re probably in your late teens now. Maybe Mt. Kilimanjaro no longer has snow on its peak. Maybe the ice shelves on the northern coasts of Alaska have melted back and polar bears are dwindling in number. I always wanted to get up there and see Alaska. Maybe you’ll make it up there one day yourself. I wonder if it’s somehow possible for you to buy a plane ticket to Baghdad, to visit Iraq as a tourist. Will you visit the places where I’ve been? Will you talk to the people there? Will you tell them my name?

At some point in the future, soldiers will pack up their rucks, equipment will be loaded into huge shipping containers, C-130s will rise wheels-up off the tarmac, and Navy transport ships will cross the high seas to return home once again. At some point — the timing of which I don’t have the slightest guess at — the war in Iraq will end. And I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately — I’ve been thinking about the last American soldier to die in Iraq.

Tonight, at 3 a.m., a hunter’s moon shines down into the misty ravines of Vermont’s Green Mountains. I’m standing out on the back deck of a friend’s house, listening to the quiet of the woods. At the Fairbanks Museum in nearby St. Johnsbury, the lights have been turned off for hours and all is dark inside the glass display cases, filled with Civil War memorabilia. The checkerboard of Jefferson Davis. Smoothbore rifles. Canteens. Reading glasses. Letters written home. Read more.

Memorial Day, 2009: How Do You Ask a Man to Be the Last Man to Die for a Mistake?

Watch C-SPAN's Soldiers' Stories, coverage of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. One of those testifying, Col. Andrew Bacevich (Ret.) eloquently recalled how John Kerry, then a youthful, highly decorated military veteran, asked a famous question: How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake? Listen to Kerry's poignant, passionate anti-war speech from 1971 before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, the committee he now chairs.

Obama Betrays The Liberals

Obama Betrays The Liberals
By Sherwood Ross

America’s liberals stand betrayed. Their new president, the one they sweated to elect----a brilliant, charismatic leader with a professional background in constitutional law---has transmogrified himself from the champion who denounced in his campaign the illegalities of the Bush White House into a president bent on their perpetuation.

Liberals are stunned by Obama’s plan to “restart Bush-era military tribunals” for some Guantanamo detainees, reviving what the Associated Press pointed out, is “a fiercely disputed trial system he once denounced.”(May 15). Liberals are appalled by Obama’s May 21st proposal to hold terrorism suspects in “prolonged detention” inside the U.S. without a trial. “Such detention,” Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote him, “is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world.”

Obama’s AfPak War Engulfs Pakistan’s Swat Valley

Obama’s AfPak war engulfs Pakistan’s Swat Valley
By James Cogan | WSWS

A humanitarian catastrophe is taking place in areas of Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP), as a result of the Obama administration’s expansion of the occupation of Afghanistan into the so-called “AfPak war”.

Over the past seven years, ethnic Pashtun Islamist movements in NWFP and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) have lent assistance to the resistance being waged against the American-led forces in Afghanistan by the Pashtun-based Taliban, including by disrupting US and NATO supply routes through Pakistan.

On Washington’s insistence, the Pakistani government of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani has ordered the military to embark on operations to crush the militants. In late April, Pakistani forces deployed into the Lower Dir and Buner districts of NWFP to drive out a small number who had moved into the area from their strongholds to the north, in the Swat Valley district.

Since May 8, the operation, which now involves up to 18,000 Pakistani troops, backed by air support and heavy artillery, has extended deep inside the Swat Valley. Over the past two weeks they have engaged in a series of battles against the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Islamist fighters.

There is virtually no independent reporting from the conflict zone. Most information coming out of Swat is sourced directly from the military, making its accuracy questionable.

What is clear, however, is that the assault into Buner, Lower Dir and the Swat Valley has rapidly degenerated into the savage collective punishment of entire Pashtun communities. Hundreds of thousands of terrified civilians have taken to the roads to get out of the conflict zone. By the beginning of this week, the United Nations had registered 1.45 million internally displaced persons.

Read more.

Feingold: Prolonged Detention Would ’Set The Stage For Future Guantanamos’

Feingold: Prolonged detention would ’set the stage for future Guantanamos’
By Muriel Kane | Raw Story

Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) has sent a letter (pdf) to President Barack Obama which praises many aspects of his Thursday speech but also expresses concerns about his intention to create a system of “prolonged detention” without trial for certain terrorists.

Feingold announces in the letter that he plans to hold a hearing on the matter next month and asks for top Justice Department officials to testify.

“While I appreciate your good faith desire to at least enact a statutory basis for such a regime,” Feingold writes, “any system that permits the government to indefinitely detain individuals without charge or without a meaningful opportunity to have accusations against them adjudicated by an impartial arbiter violates basic American values and is likely unconstitutional.”

Feingold goes on to note that “such detention is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world. It is hard to imagine that our country would regard as acceptable a system in another country where an individual other than a prisoner of war is held indefinitely without charge or trial.”

“Once a system of indefinite detention without trial is established, the temptation to use it in the future would be powerful,” Feingold continues. “And, while your administration may resist such a temptation, future administrations may not.”

Read more.

Judge Threatens Sanctions Over Gov't Wiretapping

Judge threatens sanctions over gov't wiretapping
By Paul Elias, Associated Press | SF Gate

A federal judge on Friday threatened to severely sanction the Obama Administration for withholding a top secret document he ordered given to lawyers suing the government over its warrantless wiretapping program.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ordered Justice Department lawyers to court on June 3 to tell him why he shouldn't award unspecified damages to the now-defunct Oregon arm of the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation. The group alleges that government officials eavesdropped on their telephone calls without court authorization.

The National Security Agency has also refused the judge's previous orders to provide security clearances to two of the charity's lawyers so they can view the top secret document.

The judge had issued a written order on Jan. 5 and then reinforced it during a hearing later that month. He also barred the prosecutors from appealing the order, but they asked the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to step in anyway. The appeals court refused to hear the case.

On May 15, government lawyers told Walker they would refuse to comply with his order.

"Enough is enough," said Jon Eisenberg, the charity's lead appellate attorney. "The DOJ has been so uncooperative for so long that this Draconian approach is now needed."

Read more.

McChrystal was Cheney's Chief Assassin

McChrystal was Cheney's Chief Assassin | Press TV

Seymour Hersh says that Dick Cheney headed a secret assassination wing and the head of the wing has just been named as the new commander in Afghanistan.

In an interview with GulfNews on May 12, 2009 Pulitzer prize-winning American investigative journalist, Seymour Hersh, said that there is a special unit called the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) that does high-value targeting of men that are known to be involved in anti-American activities, or are believed to be planning such activities.

According to Hersh, the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) was headed by former US vice president Dick Cheney and the former head of JSOC, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal who has just been named the new commander in charge of the war in Afghanistan.

Gay US Diplomats to Receive Equal Benefits

Gay US Diplomats to Receive Equal Benefits
By Matthew Lee | ABCNews

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton will soon announce that gay American diplomats will be given benefits similar to those that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, U.S. officials said Saturday.

In a notice to be sent soon to State Department employees, Clinton says regulations that denied same-sex couples and their families the same rights and privileges that straight diplomats enjoyed are "unfair and must end," as they harm U.S. diplomacy.

Read more.

Obama's Detention Plans Face Scrutiny

Obama's Detention Plans Face Scrutiny
By Evan Perez | WSJ

The Obama administration's efforts to craft what it calls a "preventive detention" plan for suspected terrorists will face constitutional challenges similar to those raised against the Bush administration's policies.

Some detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, are deemed too dangerous to release and may not be able to put on trial, creating a quandary that President Barack Obama said Thursday poses "the toughest issue we will face."

Read more.

Obama’s Betrayals

Obama’s Betrayals
by Sheldon Richman | Future of Freedom Foundation | Hat Tip (H/T) to at802

...In the name of looking to the future, we are being asked to forget the past....

It is instructive that the neoconservatives who gave us the Bush war program are now delighted with Obama’s policies, including his escalation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

This all should be troubling to anyone who thinks elections can bring needed change. Presidents come and go, with little obvious effect on foreign policy, no matter what they say during their campaigns. Republican and Democrat, right and left — those terms are more about style than substance. In subtle ways and with staunch corporate media support, the system maintained by the ruling elite ensures that no successful national candidate will deviate too far from its plumb line. The marginalization of real anti-war candidates during the 2008 election was just the latest demonstration.

Read more.

The Thought Crimes President

Ian Welsh corrects President Obama, a former constitutional law professor, as to what is his most important duty. (Here's a hint: it has nothing to do with safety.) Recognizing the President's actual most important duty is pivotal to understanding how far off base he is proposing to take the nation. Read Ian Welsh's "The Thought Crimes President" here.

Human Rights Attorney Vince Warren: Obama’s “Preventive Detention” Plan Goes Beyond Bush Admin Policies

Human Rights Attorney Vince Warren: Obama’s “Preventive Detention” Plan Goes Beyond Bush Admin Policies

We get reaction to President Obama and Vice President Dick Cheney’s dueling speeches on torture from Vince Warren, the executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Warren took part in a secret meeting Wednesday between Obama and several human rights groups. Warren says although he welcomes Obama’s willingness to hear critical views, he’s disappointed in Obama’s new support for preventive detention.

Read more.

BORDC Statement on Revival of Military Commissions

BORDC Statement on Revival of Military Commissions | Bill of Rights Defense Committee

On Friday, May 15, 2009, President Barack Obama announced that his administration would restart the military commissions he halted in the first days of his presidency. BORDC strongly opposes this decision.

The use of military commissions is not, contrary to its portrayal in the media, a partisan issue. Many conservatives, including BORDC Advisory Board member Bruce Fein, are opposed to these unconstitutional trials. Military tribunals are an inherently flawed system, and regular courts are already suited to situations like this with systems set up to handle intelligence issues and classified information. This is evidenced by the successful prosecutions of terrorists—over 120 of them, including Jose Padilla and Zacharias Moussaoui—in the regular courts. Broad existing laws and regular federal courts are already more than sufficient without needing to resort to legally and practically dubious trial systems.

Read more.

CCR Guantánamo Attorneys Comment After President’s Speech

CCR Guantánamo Attorneys Comment After President’s Speech | Press Release | CONTACT: press@ccrjustice.org

Center for Constitutional Rights President Michael Ratner and Managing Attorney for CCR’s Guantanamo project Shayana Kadidal responded with disappointment to President Obama’s speech this morning. CCR represents the detainees at Guantánamo and is part of the key FOIA lawsuit surrounding the torture photo disclosures.

Ratner and Kadidal were disturbed by the direction the Obama administration is taking on questions of human rights, transparency, accountability and the law. CCR’s Executive Director, who met with the president yesterday, briefed his colleagues before boarding a plane this morning.

Two Sides of the Same Coin: Heads-Heads

May 22, 2009

“In politics we presume that everyone who knows how to get votes knows how to administer a city or a state. When we are ill... we do not ask for the handsomest physician, or the most eloquent one.” -- Plato

NYT: Taliban Offer Afghan Peace Plan

With the passage of the war supplemental by the Senate, President Obama and Congress are "doubling down" on war in Afghanistan. Are we - and the Afghan people - doomed to endure many more years of war?

There is no reason that we need be, according to yesterday's New York Times, which reports that talks between Taliban leaders and Afghan government representatives have accelerated since Obama's election, and that Afghan officials say they have the tacit blessing of Washington for the talks.

Furthermore, the demands being put forward by the Taliban in the negotiations appear, on the face of it, to be eminently reasonable.

Daoud Abedi, one of the intermediaries in the talks, told the Times he had hammered out a common set of demands between the Taliban and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar's group. The groups agreed to stop fighting if those conditions were met, Abedi said.

Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson Attacks Obama's War Policy

Freshman Democrat Alan Grayson Attacks Obama's War Policy
by Christopher Bateman | Vanity Fair

In 2007, Vanity Fair’s David Rose wrote about an ambitious lawyer and entrepreneur named Alan Grayson, who at the time was suing KBR and other defense contractors in Iraq for alleged fraud on behalf of whistleblowers and American taxpayers. Grayson, who ran for Congress unsuccessfully in 2006, ran again in 2008, and this time was elected to represent Florida’s 8th district, which encompasses part of Orlando....

Have you been pleased at all with the Obama administration’s policies in Iraq and what they’ve done there so far?

That Glorious Transparency

Dday picked up on the phony self-oversight and the latest signing statement. Where's the rest of the blogosphere?

UPDATE: CAF noticed the signing statement too.

Obama's Proposed Guantanamo Legal Plan Rife With Problems

Obama's Proposed Guantanamo Legal Plan Rife With Problems
By McClatchy | Yahoo! News

President Barack Obama raised more questions than he answered Thursday when it comes to the legal prospects for Guantanamo Bay detainees.

While politicians have been most concerned that detainees not be transferred to prisons in the United States , the truly thorny legal quandary involves how to form new military commissions or how to detain terrorism suspects indefinitely without violating U.S or international laws.

Detainees could be placed on one of four different tracks: They could be released or transferred to other countries, tried in federal courts, charged before newly comprised military commissions or indefinitely detained because they cannot be prosecuted and "pose a clear danger."

But many legal experts said Obama still must offer more concrete details on how his sweeping plan would work.

Read more.

Obama Issues Another Signing Statement on Same Day He Speaks in Front of Constitution

Well, OK, the statement is dated yesterday. Here it is.

Here's the meat of it, telling Congress to go Cheney itself:

Section 5(d) of the Act requires every department, agency, bureau, board, commission, office, independent establishment, or instrumentality of the United States to furnish to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, a legislative entity, any information related to any Commission inquiry. As my Administration communicated to the Congress during the legislative process, the executive branch will construe this subsection of the bill not to abrogate any constitutional privilege.

Marcy Wheeler's take on this:

I find the signing statement troubling for a number of reasons. First, Obama's celebration of investigative tools to combat fraud going forward seems like the same old "look forward" language with which Obama has thus far prevented any inquiry into Bush-era torture and other abuses. Investigative tools are nice, but we need to know what the beast we're investigating really looks like, which is what the Pecora Commission should tell us.

Also, I just spent several days wading through the 9/11 Commission archives. Having recently been reminded of Bush's stonewalling of that Commission, on which this Pecora Commission is based (though this Commission will have more members from Obama's party), I really don't relish the thought that Obama may soon be stonewalling in similar fashion.

More specifically, though, I'm concerned about what this says about Obama's approach to executive privilege. The privilege has, traditionally, arisen out of a real concern to protect precisely the subject of the 9/11 Commission--national security information. Bush was, of course, stonewalling the 9/11 Commission to protect himself from embarrassment, but at least any executive privilege there arose out of the traditional purpose for executive privilege.

But this Pecora Commission is mandated with investigating a financial failure, not a national security one. Yet Obama's signing statement suggests he may invoke privilege to hide details of that failure.

Now, there is one use of the privilege that does apply here--deliberative privilege, in which the President can shield conversations with top advisors to protect the President's ability to get unvarnished advice (it's a use of executive privilege that I find rather bogus, but it there is precedent for it). So perhaps Obama plans to invoke executive privilege to shield conversations he had with the Masters of the Universe surrounding him about why they shouldn't nationalize Bank of America, for example, instead of throwing away money on a bailout that may be far less effective. But that's precisely the kind of conversation this Pecora Commission needs to be able to investigate, if we're going to avoid similar meltdowns in the future.

It's not a good sign, frankly. The meltdown and the bailout have been largely managed through the executive branch behind closed doors (or, barring that, behind the opacity of the Fed). If Obama plans to shield events that happened behind those closed doors, we may never find out the causes for the economic meltdown.

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