Categories
politics

In Adopting Torture, No Inquiry Into Prior Use

All of the evil thugs who tortured captured prisoners in the name of the nameless, formless War On Terror should be prosecuted and hounded from polite society. I include the Bush Administration thugs, but also their enablers from both sides of our oligarchy, i.e. Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate plus their various lackeys on K Street and elsewhere. All should pay for sullying our country’s name, for allowing our government to be mentioned in future history books on the same page as Pol Pot and the Spanish Inquisition. Sickens and disgusts me that powerful, educated public servants would be so cavalier with the civil rights of others. I am not surprised, but sickened nonetheless.

Scott Shane and Mark Mazzetti write, in part:

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

[quote]

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Even George J. Tenet, the C.I.A. director who insisted that the agency had thoroughly researched its proposal and pressed it on other officials, did not examine the history of the most shocking method, the near-drowning technique known as waterboarding.

The top officials he briefed did not learn that waterboarding had been prosecuted by the United States in war-crimes trials after World War II and was a well-documented favorite of despotic governments since the Spanish Inquisition; one waterboard used under Pol Pot was even on display at the genocide museum in Cambodia.

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

[Click to continue reading In Adopting Harsh Tactics, No Inquiry Into Past Use – NYTimes.com]

Now that the details of these crimes are being made public, the various participants are all furiously trying to point fingers at each other, evade responsibility for their actions. I wish I was a religious man, at least then I could take slight comfort in the thought of these scum burning in hell.

Like these scum populating a Tony Auth cartoon from a while ago1:

This Reuters report gives me a little bit of hope: perhaps the international outrage will be so fierce, Obama will be forced to conduct a full, detailed investigation into the details of the US torture program. Make an example of a few mid-level functionaries

President Barack Obama opened the door on Tuesday to possible prosecutions of U.S. officials who laid the legal groundwork for harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects during the Bush administration.

Obama also said he would not necessarily oppose an effort to pursue a “further accounting” or investigation into the Bush-era interrogation program that included waterboarding, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, shoving people into walls and other methods.

That marked a shift for the Obama administration, which has emphasized it does not want to dwell on the past with lengthy probes into policies put in place by President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

But pressure in the U.S. Congress is growing for a full-blown investigation of the CIA interrogation program.

Controversy has erupted across the political spectrum over last week’s release by the Obama administration of classified memos detailing the program to question al Qaeda suspects.

[From Obama opens door to prosecutions on interrogations | Reuters ]

Footnotes:
  1. there is also a more recent variant []
Categories
politics

Torture is an actionable crime

Dan Froomkin emphasizes the point that despite Bush administration claims to contrary, no terrorist plots were foiled by torturing anyone.

Abu Zubaida was the alpha and omega of the Bush administration’s argument for torture.

That’s why Sunday’s front-page Washington Post story by Peter Finn and Joby Warrick is such a blow to the last remaining torture apologists.

Finn and Warrick reported that “not a single significant plot was foiled” as a result of Zubaida’s brutal treatment — and that, quite to the contrary, his false confessions “triggered a series of alerts and sent hundreds of CIA and FBI investigators scurrying in pursuit of phantoms.”

Zubaida was the first detainee to be tortured at the direct instruction of the White House. Then he was President George W. Bush’s Exhibit A in defense of the “enhanced interrogation” procedures that constituted torture. And he continues to be held up as a justification for torture by its most ardent defenders.

But as author Ron Suskind reported almost three years ago — and as The Post now confirms — almost all the key assertions the Bush administration made about Zubaida were wrong.

Zubaida wasn’t a major al Qaeda figure. He wasn’t holding back critical information. His torture didn’t produce valuable intelligence — and it certainly didn’t save lives.

[Click to continue reading White House Watch – Bush’s Torture Rationale Debunked ]

In a just world, thugs like John Yoo, Albert Gonzales, Douglas J. Feith and Dick Cheney would do hard time in a federal prison. Instead, Rethuglicans are chuckling to themselves at their golf junkets.

Call Anywhere - TRI-X 400

and you gotta love this assertion:

While the officials named in the complaint have not addressed these specific accusations, Mr. Yoo defended his work in an opinion column in The Wall Street Journal on March 7, warning that the Obama administration risked harming national security if it punished lawyers like himself.

“If the administration chooses to seriously pursue those officials who were charged with preparing for the unthinkable, today’s intelligence and military officials will no doubt hesitate to fully prepare for those contingencies in the future,” Mr. Yoo wrote.

[click to continue reading Spanish Court Weighs Inquiry on Torture for 6 Bush-Era Officials – NYTimes.com]

In other words, “you sure have a nice democracy here, would hate to see anything happen to it, kid.” / faux mafia voice.

Categories
government

NSA Wiretaps Combined with Credit Card Records of U.S. Citizens

My paranoid self wonders if this is why the TSA always opens my suitcase every time I travel, and why I used to always get marked for special searches of my person and luggage (up until recently). Maybe, maybe not, but of course, I’ll never know.

Data Dump

NSA whistleblower Russell Tice was back on Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC program Thursday evening to expand on his Wednesday revelations that the National Security Agency spied on individual U.S. journalists, entire U.S. news agencies as well as “tens of thousands” of other Americans.

Tice said on Wednesday that the NSA had vacuumed in all domestic communications of Americans, including, faxes, phone calls and network traffic.
Today Tice said that the spy agency also combined information from phone wiretaps with data that was mined from credit card and other financial records. He said information of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens is now in digital databases warehoused at the NSA.

“This [information] could sit there for ten years and then potentially it marries up with something else and ten years from now they get put on a no-fly list and they, of course, won’t have a clue why,” Tice said.

In most cases, the person would have no discernible link to terrorist organizations that would justify the initial data mining or their inclusion in the database.

[From NSA Whistleblower: Wiretaps Were Combined with Credit Card Records of U.S. Citizens | Threat Level from Wired.com]

The NSA started large – accumulating as much information from as wide a source as they could get. Theoretically, once their database was seeded, they culled out non-terrorists, but I’m skeptical. The data is still being held, waiting for some future reason to utilize it.

“This is garnered from algorithms that have been put together to try to just dream-up scenarios that might be information that is associated with how a terrorist could operate,” Tice said. “And once that information gets to the NSA, and they start to put it through the filters there . . . and they start looking for word-recognition, if someone just talked about the daily news and mentioned something about the Middle East they could easily be brought to the forefront of having that little flag put by their name that says ‘potential terrorist’.”

Categories
government

Starvation is Torture

Sounds pretty harsh to me: who knows how many people locked up were for minor crimes, or non-violent drug offenses? Even hard core criminals deserve some human rights.

DECATUR, Ala. — The prisoners in the Morgan County jail here were always hungry. The sheriff, meanwhile, was getting a little richer. Alabama law allowed it: the chief lawman could go light on prisoners’ meals and pocket the leftover change.

And that is just what the sheriff, Greg Bartlett, did, to the tune of $212,000 over the last three years, despite a state food allowance of only $1.75 per prisoner per day.

In the view of a federal judge, who heard testimony from the hungry inmates, the sheriff was in “blatant” violation of past agreements that his prisoners be properly cared for.

“There was undisputed evidence that most of the inmates had lost significant weight,” the judge, U. W. Clemon of Federal District Court in Birmingham, said Thursday in an interview. “I could not ignore them.”

[From As His Inmates Grew Thinner, a Sheriff’s Wallet Grew Fatter – NYTimes.com]

Remember when prison was for rehabilitation of society’s miscreants and not just institutionalized torture?

Categories
politics

Waking From a Bad Dream

Dan Froomkin has a good overview of why the selection of Leon Panetta and Dawn Johnsen means that Obama is serious about changing America’s moral standing in the world, signaling that the US isn’t going to be torturing people. Obama’s administration is thus not going to be like the criminal thugs1 who are about to slink out of Washington.

It has been like a national nightmare: We are attacked by terrorists and our leaders respond not with courage and a call to our higher natures, but by spreading fear — and turning us into a regime of torturers. Rather than celebrate our Constitution and its enduring values, they use the levers of government to subvert it.

Now the nightmare appears to be almost over.

By choosing two vocal opponents of torture for two key positions — Dawn Johnsen to head the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel and Leon Panetta to head the Central Intelligence Agency — President-elect Barack Obama has indicated that he intends to make the cleanest possible break from Bush administration precedents, end torture and return to traditional interpretations of the Constitution.

[From Dan Froomkin – Waking From a Bad Dream – washingtonpost.com]

Read more

Footnotes:
  1. George Bush and his cronies, in other words []
Categories
government

Constitution Free Zone

Scary stuff. Scary fracking stuff indeed.

ACLU Constitution Free Zone

Using data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, the ACLU has determined that nearly 2/3 of the entire US population (197.4 million people) live within 100 miles of the US land and coastal borders.

The government is assuming extraordinary powers to stop and search individuals within this zone. This is not just about the border: This ” Constitution-Free Zone” includes most of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas.

We urge you to call on Congress to hold hearings on and pass legislation to end these egregious violations of Americans’ civil rights.

[From American Civil Liberties Union : Surveillance Society Clock]

The ACLU has compiled a FAQ which begins:

  • Normally under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the American people are not generally subject to random and arbitrary stops and searches.
  • The border, however, has always been an exception. There, the longstanding view is that the normal rules do not apply. For example the authorities do not need a warrant or probable cause to conduct a “routine search.”
  • But what is “the border”? According to the government, it is a 100-mile wide strip that wraps around the “external boundary” of the United States.
  • As a result of this claimed authority, individuals who are far away from the border, American citizens traveling from one place in America to another, are being stopped and harassed in ways that our Constitution does not permit.
  • Border Patrol has been setting up checkpoints inland — on highways in states such as California, Texas and Arizona, and at ferry terminals in Washington State. Typically, the agents ask drivers and passengers about their citizenship. Unfortunately, our courts so far have permitted these kinds of checkpoints – legally speaking, they are “administrative” stops that are permitted only for the specific purpose of protecting the nation’s borders. They cannot become general drug-search or other law enforcement efforts.
  • However, these stops by Border Patrol agents are not remaining confined to that border security purpose. On the roads of California and elsewhere in the nation – places far removed from the actual border – agents are stopping, interrogating, and searching Americans on an everyday basis with absolutely no suspicion of wrongdoing.
  • The bottom line is that the extraordinary authorities that the government possesses at the border are spilling into regular American streets.

The ACLU has also written a bit about the technology innovations which are enabling this massive and un-American database project.

Ellen Nakashima of the Washington Post wrote recently:

The U.S. government has quietly recast policies that affect the way information is gathered from U.S. citizens and others crossing the border and what is done with it, including relaxing a two-decade-old policy that placed a high bar on federal agents copying travelers’ personal material, according to newly released documents.

The policy changes, civil liberties advocates say, also raise concerns about the guidelines under which border officers may share data copied from laptop computers and cellphones with other agencies and the types of questions they are allowed to ask American citizens.

In July, the Department of Homeland Security disclosed policies that showed that federal agents may copy books, documents, and the data on laptops and other electronic devices without suspecting a traveler of wrongdoing. But what DHS did not disclose was that since 1986 and until last year, the government generally required a higher standard: Federal agents needed probable cause that a law was being broken before they could copy material a traveler was bringing into the country.

[From Expanded Powers to Search Travelers at Border Detailed – washingtonpost.com]

and added this in an earlier article on the same topic:

The notice states that the government may share border records with federal, state, local, tribal or foreign government agencies in cases where customs believes the information would assist enforcement of civil or criminal laws or regulations, or if the information is relevant to a hiring decision.

They may be shared with a court or attorney in civil litigation, which could include divorce cases; with federal contractors or consultants “to accomplish an agency function related to this system of records”; with federal and foreign intelligence or counterterrorism agencies if there is a threat to national or international security or to assist in anti-terrorism efforts; or with the news media and the public “when there exists a legitimate public interest in the disclosure of the information.”

Homeland Security is proposing to exempt the database from some provisions of the 1974 Privacy Act, including the right of a citizen to know whether a law enforcement or intelligence agency has requested his or her records and the right to sue for access and correction in those disclosures.

A traveler may, however, request access to records based on documents he or she presented at the border.

The notice is posted at the Government Printing Office‘s Web site.

Danny Westneat of the Seattle Times wrote of one such occurrence in 2007:

Layla Iranshad, 27, was headed to her job at Peninsula College. She says the agent asked her if she was a U.S. citizen (yes, she answered), then asked where she was born.

“I said in England. Then he asked how I got my citizenship. He also wanted to know where I lived and where I was going.

“It freaked me out. Since when in this country do we get stopped on the street and questioned about our citizenship?”

U.S. Customs and Border Protection announced last week it will stop drivers at a series of random checkpoints on the Olympic Peninsula in the coming months.

“The primary purpose of the temporary checkpoints is to support enhanced national-security efforts to deter, detect and prevent the threat of terrorist attacks against the American people,” says a statement from the Border Patrol.

The agency, which guards the international boundary, can set up “interior checkpoints” up to 100 miles from any border. The checkpoints have been used before near the Blaine crossing, but never on the Olympic Peninsula.

Forks is 30 miles from the border, which lies in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. By these rules, the agency could set up a checkpoint in downtown Seattle, which is 70 miles from the border off Port Angeles.

[From Local News | Checkpoint sticks in Forks’ craw | Seattle Times Newspaper]

Remind me again what country we live in? I’m writing my Senators1 and my Congress-critter about this crazy, totalitarian, government insanity. How about you?

Footnotes:
  1. one of whom should become President, and one of whom probably will become President []
Categories
government

Mario Savio American Hero

Finally remembered the source of this speech:

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

which was quoted by a character (Chief) on a recent Battlestar Galactica episode….

original version spoken by here on the UC Berkley Sproul Hall Steps, December 2, 1964.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tcx9BJRadfw

(direct link to video here)

And seems sort of familiar, doesn’t it?

In 2004, it was revealed that Mario was the subject of a massive FBI surveillance program even after he left the Free Speech Movement. The FBI trailed Mario Savio for more than a decade after he left UC Berkeley, and bureau officials plotted to “neutralize” him politically, even though there was no evidence he broke any federal law. [1] According to hundreds of pages of FBI files, the bureau: Collected, without court order, personal information about Savio from schools, telephone companies, utility firms and banks and compiled information about his marriage and divorce. Monitored his day-to-day activities by using informants planted in political groups, covertly contacting his neighbors, landlords and employers, and having agents pose as professors, journalists and activists to interview him and his wife. Obtained his tax returns from the Internal Revenue Service in violation of federal rules, mischaracterized him as a threat to the president and arranged for the CIA and foreign intelligence agencies to investigate him when he and his family traveled in Europe. Put him on an unauthorized list of people to be detained without judicial warrant in event of a national emergency, and designated him as a “Key Activist” whose political activities should be “disrupted” and “neutralized” under the bureau’s extralegal counterintelligence program known as COINTELPRO.

The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI's Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (South End Press Classics Series)
“The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States (South End Press Classics Series)” (Ward Churchill, Jim Vander Wall)

more from the SFGate

Categories
politics

Blue Dog Democrats and Their Master

AT&T was thankful to the Blue Dog Democrats, and others, who gave the telecom corporations retroactive immunity for breaking the law, and spying on Americans without warrants, before 9-11 even happened, so AT&T threw a lavish, private gala. A group of blogger activists tried to find out exactly who was invited to this special FISA party, but even though the party was held on public land, they were thrown out by Denver Police.

Last night in Denver, at the Mile High Station — next to Invesco Stadium, where Barack Obama will address a crowd of 30,000 people on Thursday night — AT&T threw a lavish, private party for Blue Dog House Democrats, virtually all of whom blindly support whatever legislation the telecom industry demands and who also, specifically, led the way this July in immunizing AT&T and other telecoms from the consequences for their illegal participation in the Bush administration’s warrantless spying program. Matt Stoller has one of the listings for the party here.

Armed with full-scale Convention press credentials issued by the DNC, I went — along with Firedoglake’s Jane Hamsher, John Amato, Stoller and others — in order to cover the event, interview the attendees, and videotape the festivities. There was a wall of private security deployed around the building, and after asking where the press entrance was, we were told by the security officials, after they consulted with event organizers, that the press was barred from the event, and that only those with invitations could enter — notwithstanding the fact that what was taking place in side was a meeting between one of the nation’s largest corporations and the numerous members of the most influential elected faction in Congress. As a result, we stood in front of the entrance and began videotaping and trying to interview the parade of Blue Dog Representatives, AT&T executives, assorted lobbyists and delegates who pulled up in rented limousines, chauffeured cars, and SUVs in order to find out who was attending and why AT&T would be throwing such a lavish party for the Blue Dog members of Congress.

Amazingly, not a single one of the 25-30 people we tried to interview would speak to us about who they were, how they got invited, what the party’s purpose was, why they were attending, etc. One attendee said he was with an “energy company,” and the other confessed she was affiliated with a “trade association,” but that was the full extent of their willingness to describe themselves or this event. It was as though they knew they’re part of a filthy and deeply corrupt process and were ashamed of — or at least eager to conceal — their involvement in it. After just a few minutes, the private security teams demanded that we leave, and when we refused and continued to stand in front trying to interview the reticent attendees, the Denver Police forced us to move further and further away until finally we were unable to approach any more of the arriving guests.

[From AT&T thanks the Blue Dog Democrats with a lavish party – Glenn Greenwald – Salon.com]

Shriveled

Video of the event is now available, and a transcript of Democracy Now!’s video of the same event here

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah, it’s amazing. And essentially, we probably tried to interview twenty-five, thiry people going in, and every last person refused to even give their name, identify themselves, say what they’re here for, what the event is for. It’s more secretive than like a Dick Cheney energy council meeting. I mean, it’s amazing.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you here for? Why do you want to interview people?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, because, I mean, it’s extraordinary that the same Blue Dogs that just gave this extremely corrupt gift to AT&T are now attending a party underwritten by AT&T, the purpose of which is to thank the Blue Dogs for the corrupt legislative gift that they got. So AT&T gives money to Blue Dogs, the Blue Dogs turn around and immunize AT&T from lawbreaking, and then AT&T throws a party at the Democratic convention thanking them, and then they all go in and into this exclusive club.

and:

GLENN GREENWALD: Absolutely. I mean, I found the symbolism of the event very revealing. First of all, as you say, there was a very intended-to-be-intimidating wall of private security surrounding the event, and they were actually infinitely more aggressive and angrier than the Denver police were. And in fact, I was there with Jane Hamsher, the blogger from FireDogLake, who at one point was trying to speak with one of the individuals entering the party, and she was physically pushed by one of the private security members, notwithstanding the fact that the Denver police had been there the entire time, navigating and negotiating where it was that we could stand. The other aspect of it was, was that what the police had been clearly trained to do is create this façade of being accommodating and cooperative and pleasant, but what it really does is it masks the fact that their strategy is to ensure that any sort of dissident voices, or people off script, are relegated to places where they can’t really be heard.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s very hard to figure out in these situations. You know, you have a sidewalk, which is owned by the private venue, and where the public can use the public sidewalk, they’re showing you the cracks, the crevices in the sidewalk, and they’re saying that’s theirs, this is yours.

GLENN GREENWALD: Right, well, I mean, I found that very odd, too. At first, we were told that we could stand in a certain place that was on one side of one of the cracks that appeared in the sidewalk, and I was kind of amazed that the Denver police knew with such precision, based on the cracks in the sidewalk, where private and public property were demarcated. But when it turned out that where we were told to stand originally still enabled us to accost the people who were exiting the cars and try to interview them, suddenly the cracks in the sidewalk shifted to a place further away, and then suddenly that became the public-private line, and then we were told to stand there.

Who needs civil liberties when there are pageants to present!

Categories
politics

Drug Legalization 1970

Was reading a Gore Vidal polemic (Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace), and ran across a mention of a published New York Times op-ed piece from September 26, 1970. With some trepidation, but a belly full of wine and thus courage in the realm of copyright matters, I reproduce the article in full. 1970 was thirty-eight years ago after all. Please forgive any typos: the New York Times digital archive only goes back as far as the 1980s, previous articles are available only as image scans, and the OCR contained in my copy of Adobe Acrobat is somewhat anemic. Better than typing it myself, but not perfect.

It is possible to stop most drug addiction in the United States within a very short time. Simply make all drugs available and sell them at cost. Label each drug with a precise description of what effect-good and bad-the drug will have on whoever takes it. This will require heroic honesty. Don’t say that marijuana is addictive or dangerous when it is neither, as millions of people know-unlike “speed,” which kills most unpleasantly, or heroin, which is addictive and difficult to kick.

For the record, I have tried-once-most every drug and liked none, disproving the popular Fu Manchu theory that a single whiff of opium will enslave the mind. Nevertheless many drugs are bad for certain people to take and they should be told about them in a sensible way.

Along with exhortation and warning, it might be good for our citizens to recall (or learn for the first time) that the United States was the creation of men who believed that each man has the right to do what he wants with his own life as long as he does not interfere with his neighbor’s pursuit of happiness (that his neighbor’s idea of happiness is persecuting others does confuse matters a bit).

This is a startling notion to the current generation of Americans who reflect on our system of public education which has made the Bill of Rights, literally, unacceptable to a majority of high school graduates (see the annual Purdue reports) who now form the Unsilent majority”-a phrase which that underestimated wit Richard Nixon took from Homer, who used it to describe the dead.

Now one can hear the warning rumble begin: if everyone is allowed to take drugs everyone will and the GNP will decrease, the Commies will stop us from making everyone free, and we shall end up a race of Zombies, passively murmuring “groovie1 to one another. Alarming thought. Yet it seems most unlikely that any reasonably sane person will become a drug addict if he knows in advance what addiction is going to be like.

Is everyone reasonably sane? No. Some people will always become drug addicts Just as some people will always become alcoholics, and it is just too bad. Every man, however, has the power (and should have the right) to kill himself if he chooses. But since most men don’t, they won’t be mainliners either. Nevertheless, forbidding people things they like or think they might enjoy only makes them want those things all the more. This psychological insight is, for some mysterious reason, perennially denied our governors.

It is a lucky thing for the American moralist that our country has always existed in a kind of time-vacuum: we have no public memory of anything that happened before last Tuesday. No one in Washington today recalls what happened during the years alcohol was forbidden to the people by a Congress that thought it had a divine mission to stamp out Demon Rum and so launched the greatest crime wave in the country’s history, caused thousands of deaths from bad alcohol, and created a general (and persisting) contempt for the laws of the United States.

The same thing is happening today. But the government has learned nothing from past attempts at prohibition, not to mention repression.

Last year when the supply of Mexican marijuana was slightly curtailed by the Feds, the pushers got the kids hooked on heroin and deaths increased dramatically, particularly in New York. Whose fault? Evil men like the Mafiosi? Permissive Dr. Spock? Wild eyed Dr. Leary? No.

The Government of the United States was responsible for those deaths. The bureaucratic machine has a vested interest in playing cops and robbers. Both the Bureau of Narcotics and the Mafia want strong laws against the sale and use of drugs because if drugs are sold at cost there would be no money in it for anyone. If there was no money in it for the Mafia, there would be no friendly playground pushers, and addicts would not commit crimes to pay for the next fix. Finally, if there was no money in it, the Bureau of Narcotics would wither away, something they’re not about to do without a struggle.

Will anything sensible be done? Of course not. The American people are as devoted to the idea of sin and its punishment as they are to making money-and fighting drugs is nearly as big a business as pushing them. Since the combination of sin and money is irresistible (particularly to the professional politician), the situation will only grow worse.

Gore Vidal, playwright and novelist, is the author of the newly published “Two Sisters.”


“Two Sisters” (Gore Vidal)

The more things change…

Actually, some things have changed, mostly the names of the drugs in question, and the repressiveness of the federal government. Hundreds of thousands of people are still in jail for the crime of using or selling a weed, and the word “groovie” is only used ironically2.

Footnotes:
  1. sic – I’ve never seen the word spelled this way, but hey, it was published in the New York Times, so maybe a variant spelling? []
  2. even when spelled groovy, it still is only used ironically []
Categories
government

Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power

Tim Shorrock writes in Salon:

The last several years have brought a parade of dark revelations about the George W. Bush administration, from the manipulation of intelligence to torture to extrajudicial spying inside the United States. But there are growing indications that these known abuses of power may only be the tip of the iceberg. Now, in the twilight of the Bush presidency, a movement is stirring in Washington for a sweeping new inquiry into White House malfeasance that would be modeled after the famous Church Committee congressional investigation of the 1970s.

While reporting on domestic surveillance under Bush, Salon obtained a detailed memo proposing such an inquiry, and spoke with several sources involved in recent discussions around it on Capitol Hill. The memo was written by a former senior member of the original Church Committee; the discussions have included aides to top House Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, and until now have not been disclosed publicly.

Salon has also uncovered further indications of far-reaching and possibly illegal surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency inside the United States under President Bush. That includes the alleged use of a top-secret, sophisticated database system for monitoring people considered to be a threat to national security. It also includes signs of the NSA’s working closely with other U.S. government agencies to track financial transactions domestically as well as globally.

The proposal for a Church Committee-style investigation emerged from talks between civil liberties advocates and aides to Democratic leaders in Congress, according to sources involved. (Pelosi’s and Conyers’ offices both declined to comment.) Looking forward to 2009, when both Congress and the White House may well be controlled by Democrats, the idea is to have Congress appoint an investigative body to discover the full extent of what the Bush White House did in the war on terror to undermine the Constitution and U.S. and international laws. The goal would be to implement government reforms aimed at preventing future abuses — and perhaps to bring accountability for wrongdoing by Bush officials.

“If we know this much about torture, rendition, secret prisons and warrantless wiretapping despite the administration’s attempts to stonewall, then imagine what we don’t know,” says a senior Democratic congressional aide who is familiar with the proposal and has been involved in several high-profile congressional investigations.

“You have to go back to the McCarthy era to find this level of abuse,” says Barry Steinhardt, the director of the Program on Technology and Liberty for the American Civil Liberties Union. “Because the Bush administration has been so opaque, we don’t know [the extent of] what laws have been violated.”

[Click to read more of Salon.com News | Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power]

Troubling, frightening, disturbing, pick your adjective. There is apparently a database called Main Core which contains the names of over 8,000,000 American citizens who are considered to be persons of interest to the state, and who would be imprisoned, or worse, if a national emergency occurred.

A prime area of inquiry for a sweeping new investigation would be the Bush administration’s alleged use of a top-secret database to guide its domestic surveillance. Dating back to the 1980s and known to government insiders as “Main Core,” the database reportedly collects and stores — without warrants or court orders — the names and detailed data of Americans considered to be threats to national security.

According to several former U.S. government officials with extensive knowledge of intelligence operations, Main Core in its current incarnation apparently contains a vast amount of personal data on Americans, including NSA intercepts of bank and credit card transactions and the results of surveillance efforts by the FBI, the CIA and other agencies. One former intelligence official described Main Core as “an emergency internal security database system” designed for use by the military in the event of a national catastrophe, a suspension of the Constitution or the imposition of martial law. Its name, he says, is derived from the fact that it contains “copies of the ‘main core’ or essence of each item of intelligence information on Americans produced by the FBI and the other agencies of the U.S. intelligence community.”

[snip]

An article in Radar magazine in May, citing three unnamed former government officials, reported that “8 million Americans are now listed in Main Core as potentially suspect” and, in the event of a national emergency, “could be subject to everything from heightened surveillance and tracking to direct questioning and even detention.”

Scary stuff.

Categories
politics

ACLU Sues over FISA

Moments like this are why I’m happy to be a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I may not like lattes, don’t drive a Volvo, but the ACLU makes me proud to be a liberal.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed suit Thursday over a controversial wiretapping law, challenging the constitutionality of the expanded spy powers Congress granted to the president on Wednesday.

The federal lawsuit was filed with the court just hours after Bush signed the bill into law.

The ACLU is suing on behalf of journalist and human rights groups, asking the court put a halt to Congress’s legalization of Bush’s formerly secret warrantless wiretapping program. The ACLU contends (PDF) the expanded spying power violates the Constitution’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures.

[From Bush Signs Spy Bill, ACLU Sues | Threat Level from Wired.com]

[snip]

The ACLU contends those blanket powers to grab international communications of Americans without specific court orders violate the Fourth Amendment and would stymie journalists who often speak to confidential sources outside the country. Plaintiff Naomi Klein, the liberal columnist and author, said the surveillance would compromise her writing about international issues.

“If the U.S. government is given unchecked surveillance power to monitor reporters’ confidential sources, my ability to do this work will be seriously compromised,” Klein said.

Throw some coins towards the ACLU, or read more details of this suit

“Spying on Americans without warrants or judicial approval is an abuse of government power – and that’s exactly what this law allows. The ACLU will not sit by and let this evisceration of the Fourth Amendment go unchallenged,” said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. “Electronic surveillance must be conducted in a constitutional manner that affords the greatest possible protection for individual privacy and free speech rights. The new wiretapping law fails to provide fundamental safeguards that the Constitution unambiguously requires.”

In today’s legal challenge, the ACLU argues that the new spying law violates Americans’ rights to free speech and privacy under the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution. The new law permits the government to conduct intrusive surveillance without ever telling a court who it intends to spy on, what phone lines and email addresses it intends to monitor, where its surveillance targets are located, why it’s conducting the surveillance or whether it suspects any party to the communication of wrongdoing.

Plaintiffs in today’s case are:

  • The Nation and its contributing journalists Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges
  • Amnesty International USA, Global Rights, Global Fund for Women, Human Rights Watch, PEN American Center, Service Employees International Union, Washington Office on Latin America, and the International Criminal Defence Attorneys Association
  • Defense attorneys Dan Arshack, David Nevin, Scott McKay and Sylvia Royce
Categories
politics Suggestions

Secret Red Cross Report of C.I.A. Torture


“The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How The War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals” (Jane Mayer)

War criminals: no better than any despot we’ve fulminated against over the years.

Red Cross investigators concluded last year in a secret report that the Central Intelligence Agency’s interrogation methods for high-level Qaeda prisoners constituted torture and could make the Bush administration officials who approved them guilty of war crimes, according to a new book on counterterrorism efforts since 2001.

The book says that the International Committee of the Red Cross declared in the report, given to the C.I.A. last year, that the methods used on Abu Zubaydah, the first major Qaeda figure the United States captured, were “categorically” torture, which is illegal under both American and international law.

The book says Abu Zubaydah was confined in a box “so small he said he had to double up his limbs in the fetal position” and was one of several prisoners to be “slammed against the walls,” according to the Red Cross report. The C.I.A. has admitted that Abu Zubaydah and two other prisoners were waterboarded, a practice in which water is poured on the nose and mouth to create the sensation of suffocation and drowning.

The book, “The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals,” by Jane Mayer, who writes about counterterrorism for The New Yorker, offers new details of the agency’s secret detention program, as well as the bitter debates in the administration over interrogation methods and other tactics in the campaign against Al Qaeda.

[snip]

Citing unnamed “sources familiar with the report,” Ms. Mayer wrote that the Red Cross document “warned that the abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted.” Red Cross representatives were not permitted access to the secret prisons where the C.I.A. conducted interrogations, but were permitted to interview Abu Zubaydah and other high-level detainees in late 2006, after they were moved to the military detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

[From Book Cites Secret Red Cross Report of C.I.A. Torture of Qaeda Captives – NYTimes.com]

Impeachment is too lenient of a punishment: George Bush and his handlers should stand trial at The Hague for crimes against humanity. 2009 cannot come too quickly.

Categories
News-esque

Waterboarding is Torture

Everyone who actually undergoes a waterboarding treatment comes away shaken, even those who have the ability to say a code word, and have the torture stop. The America of my dreams would never strip away the dignity and humanity of a person via torture. Christopher Hitchens undergoes a little torture in the name of journalism.

Hitchens gets waterboarded

Here is the most chilling way I can find of stating the matter. Until recently, “waterboarding” was something that Americans did to other Americans. It was inflicted, and endured, by those members of the Special Forces who underwent the advanced form of training known as sere (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape). In these harsh exercises, brave men and women were introduced to the sorts of barbarism that they might expect to meet at the hands of a lawless foe who disregarded the Geneva Conventions. But it was something that Americans were being trained to resist, not to inflict.

Exploring this narrow but deep distinction, on a gorgeous day last May I found myself deep in the hill country of western North Carolina, preparing to be surprised by a team of extremely hardened veterans who had confronted their country’s enemies in highly arduous terrain all over the world. They knew about everything from unarmed combat to enhanced interrogation and, in exchange for anonymity, were going to show me as nearly as possible what real waterboarding might be like.

[snip]

And so then I said, with slightly more bravado than was justified, that I’d like to try it one more time. There was a paramedic present who checked my racing pulse and warned me about adrenaline rush. An interval was ordered, and then I felt the mask come down again. Steeling myself to remember what it had been like last time, and to learn from the previous panic attack, I fought down the first, and some of the second, wave of nausea and terror but soon found that I was an abject prisoner of my gag reflex. The interrogators would hardly have had time to ask me any questions, and I knew that I would quite readily have agreed to supply any answer. I still feel ashamed when I think about it. Also, in case it’s of interest, I have since woken up trying to push the bedcovers off my face, and if I do anything that makes me short of breath I find myself clawing at the air with a horrible sensation of smothering and claustrophobia. No doubt this will pass. As if detecting my misery and shame, one of my interrogators comfortingly said, “Any time is a long time when you’re breathing water.” I could have hugged him for saying so, and just then I was hit with a ghastly sense of the sadomasochistic dimension that underlies the relationship between the torturer and the tortured. I apply the Abraham Lincoln test for moral casuistry: “If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong.” Well, then, if waterboarding does not constitute torture, then there is no such thing as torture.

[From Believe Me, It’s Torture: Politics & Power: by CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS vanityfair.com]

Read the entire tale here

Categories
politics

Obama and FISA flip

I was going to refrain from criticizing Obama for being a centrist, venal politician until after he was elected1, but the FISA travesty is just too disgusting. Obama taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago for crying out loud, you’d think that would be enough of an education about nuance, but apparently not.

During the Democratic primary campaign, Mr. Obama vowed to fight such legislation to update the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or FISA. But he has switched positions, and now supports a compromise hammered out between the White House and the Democratic Congressional leadership. The bill is expected to come to a vote on the Senate floor next Tuesday. That decision, one of a number made by Mr. Obama in recent weeks intended to position him toward the political center as the general election campaign heats up, has brought him into serious conflict for the first time with liberal bloggers and commentators and his young supporters.

Many of them have seen the issue of granting immunity to the telecommunications companies as a test of principle in their opposition to Mr. Bush’s surveillance program.

“I don’t think there has been another instance where, in meaningful numbers, his supporters have opposed him like this,” said Glenn Greenwald, a Salon.com writer who opposes Mr. Obama’s new position. “For him to suddenly turn around and endorse this proposal is really a betrayal of what so many of his supporters believed he believed in.”

Jane Hamsher, a liberal blogger who also opposes immunity for the phone companies, said she had been flooded with messages from Obama supporters frustrated with his new stance.

“The opposition to Obama’s position among his supporters is very widespread,” said Ms. Hamsher, founder of the Web site firedoglake.com. “His promise to filibuster earlier in the year, and the decision to switch on that is seen as a real character problem. I know people who are really very big Obama supporters are very disillusioned.”

[From Obama Voters Protest His Switch on Telecom Immunity – NYTimes.com]

Its About Judge Ment
[It’s About Judge Ment – Obama graffiti, West Loop ]

Does Obama’s caving in to the Bush administration mean I won’t vote for him in November? No, probably not, but I’m with Markos Moulitsas, aka Kos, on this2 – I just can’t muster much enthusiasm for Obama at the moment.

Markos Moulitsas, a liberal blogger and founder of the Daily Kos Web site, said he had decided to cut back on the amount of money he would contribute to the Obama campaign because of the FISA reversal.

“I will continue to support him,” Mr. Moulitsas said in an interview. “But I was going to write him a check, and I decided I would rather put that money with Democrats who will uphold the Constitution.”

Footnotes:
  1. all liberals probably realize that neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama are very liberal, but we hoped that a Democrat could be elected, and our country would move ever so slightly to the left. []
  2. for the first time in what seems like forever, but probably isn’t []
Categories
Uncategorized

Feingold, Dodd planning filibuster of wiretap bill

Cops on Bikes

Feingold and Dodd are doing the nations work here, the FISA bill is a travesty. Durbin will probably come on board, he’s reliably rational, and liberal, but Obama might vote “present” only, not willing to stand up for the constitution.

In a last-ditch attempt to fix a surveillance bill critics say would essentially legalize President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program, Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Chris Dodd (D-CT) have promised to filibuster the bill as long as it offers telecommunications companies retroactive immunity.

“This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans,” the senators said in a joint statement Tuesday.

“If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immu

[From The Raw Story » Feingold, Dodd planning filibuster of wiretap bill]

You can read (or watch video) of Dodd’s impassioned remarks at his Senate web site

Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post online adds:

A senior Democratic statesman took to the Senate floor yesterday and delivered a jeremiad against President Bush and his lawlessness the likes of which I’m not sure we’ve ever heard there before.

What set off Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) was the warrantless surveillance bill sent over from the House this week and seemingly assured of passage in the Senate. The bill significantly broadens Bush’s spying powers and essentially guarantees civil-lawsuit immunity for the telecommunications companies that cooperated in earlier surveillance efforts.

But to Dodd, it’s just the latest indignity from a president who has come to expect a corrupted political system to jettison the rule of law on his say-so.

“Retroactive immunity is on the table today; but also at issue is the entire ideology that justifies it, the same ideology that defends torture and executive lawlessness,” Dodd said.

[From Dan Froomkin – One Senator Says ‘Enough’ – washingtonpost.com]

I can’t believe this stupid bill has gotten as far as it has. Whatever happened to rule of law?