Thursday, February 10, 2011

Why Bush can't go abroad

The McClatchy Papers, the best of the corporate mainstream, published articles in the run-up to Iraq showing that the Bush administation lied about Saddam’s ties to Al-Qaida and weapons of mass destruction. The chain does not have a paper in New York or Washington; its stories were thus largely ignored in the centers of war. But ordinary protestors, millions of people in the anti-Iraq War movement, did notice and learn from its genuine reporting. Sunday, it covered Bush’s cancellation of a trip to Switzerland to raise money for the Israeli regime – an action that would have harmed. as I have said before, ordinary Israeli citizens* and Palestinians - because of protests against Bush’s ordering of American torture. But Carol Rosenberg's article only mentioned the extensive 2500 page indictment for torture initiated by the Center on Constitutional Rights and 60 other legal/human rights groups, including the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). See here and here. These are a civil society expression of internationalism from below for core human rights (no torture, no indefinite detention), fighting to restore the rule of law and decency against major criminality.

Bush is not going abroad because he is in danger of being arrested and tried, like the Chilean tyrant and the Nixon-Kissinger-client General Augusto Pinochet in England and Spain. Not protest – Bush is by inured to that – but arrest and jail are what stare Bush in the face abroad. The “decider” might no longer live in plush comfort, surrounded by his airy (“the Emperor’s New Clothes”) entourage. The authorities would not be asking Bush puff questions like Matt Lauer.

Rosenberg’s article also says, in a silly way, that the Center for Cnstitutional Rights’ lawsuits on behalf of Guantanamo prisoners have “achieved mixed results.” The CCR pioneered defending those these prisoners – while the US government kept all but their names secret and harassed lawyers who tried to stand up for the rule of law. Other organizations were thus slow to take up these cases (Democrats as well as Republicans did not do their duty as citizens and this cowardice and obsequiousness to tyranny extended far into the legal community). Some 650 of the original torturees at Guantanamo have now been released without charge. The other 50 are being held; a few brought to Military Commissions (the first case was of Omar Khadr, held for 7 years ago on an accusation stemming from when he was 15 years old; this is Obama's and Eric Holder's idea of how to make American "justice" respectable in the world...). The CCR’s is a heroism on behalf of decency and the rule of law to be admired.

Bush may have sleepily – he is not very bright – agreed to this engagement in Switzerland. Others, however, gave him a heads-up. No Bush official travels – or will travel – abroad. See the second article by Kanya D'Almeida from the Inter Press Service below.

Bush is a war criminal, and the United States is under treaty- The Geneva Conventions, the Convention against Torture, and internal legal obligations – Article 6 Section 2 of the Constitution, the Supremacy Clause, makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land - to bring him to trial. See here and my debate with State Senator Shawn Mitchell over whether Condi Rice is a war criminal here. But the Convention against Torture specifies that if the perpetrator’s country does not bring him to trial – is a lawless country, as the US, for its elite, is – then he or she may be brought to trial in any country which honors the rule of law (any signatory). Such obligations would especially be engaged in any country Bush entered...

Even now, proceedings are ongoing in Spain against the 6 “lawyers” who justified torture in the Bush administration. 23 CIA operatives have been convicted in absentia in Italy for the extraordinary rendition of Sheikh Omar to be tortured in Egypt. By the doctrine of command responsibility, on which the US tried and shot the Tokyo war criminals after World War II, Bush is certainly guilty of sending them. One may be convicted, as at Tokyo, for not giving explicit orders against war crimes. But Bush has no such excuse. W. ordered the crimes. “I waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohmammed [actually 183 times in a month, according to one of the torture memos released by Obama in 2009] and I would do it again.” So any case to be made on his behalf – none occurs to me – could not include that he had, in any way, tried to head off these crimes. The Bush "lawyers" are on trial for passing the buck around through phony redefinitions of torture (good to know that even the inquisition didn't torture...) so that W. could claim “We do not torture.” David Frum tries below and here to argue that really America has legalized torture. But no international lawyer or legal scholar thinks that the torture memos had a chance of being law (it is why Jack Goldsmith, Bush's next head of the Office of Legal Council, withdrew them). Now since Bush has admitted to waterboarding publically (and all the crimes took place under his command), his words of "decency" are, even for this generally bewildered man, unusually empty.

At the Superbowl, the announcers said that on AFN (Armed Forces Network), troops in 175 countries were watching. They did not ask: what are those troops doing there? Are they popular? Or are they like the British occupiers in Boston in 1770? Can Americans afford this, given a depression, and mass joblessness and foreclosures? See Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, ch. 1. But such questions would have required thinking and the talking heads on the sportscasts, viz. propaganda for militarism, are no more thoughtful than other corporate talking heads (when he was at ESPN, even Keith Olbermann made jokes, but did not often raise political issues).

The camera flashed on the box of owner Jerry Jones of the Dallas Cowboys. There was John Madden and those great football fans, W. and Condi (Condi used to be an intense Bengals’ fan). See here. W. and Condi can go to football games, market books on puff television, speak in Condi’s case to the illustrious citizens in Denver at a “let’s pretend” dinner for my school, perform on the piano with Aretha Franklin in Philadelphia or cheerlead for auto dealer's profits at a Convention in California. As a torturer, however, she cannot go abroad. No whisper of this passes into the corporate media.

But America is now the war criminal state – or in the sad case of Obama, a constitutional lawyer who is busy undermining the rule of law, a complicitor in or protector of a war criminal regime (the act of being an accomplice to war crimes is also punishable under American treaties and American law). But despite murders-of-innocents-by-drone, Barack can feel, rightly, that he is still comparatively far down on the scale of injustice,

In that former officials must watch where they travel like a hawk, America is like Israel. The only place Israeli leaders can travel safely is America, W and Condi Israel. W. has as his spokesman says, gone elsewhere (not in Europe) – to conferences probably under armed guard, with assurances from the regimes that international law is not followed there, even about torture. If Bush had to go meet Blair and Spanish prime minister Aznar in the Canary Islands in early 2003 because all Spain was aflame with protest against American aggression (1 million in Madrid, 2 million in Barcelona on February 16, 2003), perhaps he can find some satellite or asteroid, patrolled by big American weapons, on which he will be certain now not to get arrested. Imagine a kind of Bush Company instead of the Company in “Avatar.” W and Condi are not going abroad…

This is a new stage of American militarism, of America as the leading rogue state: firing drones into Pakistan or Yemen or Somalia from Creech Air Force base in Nevada, murdering perhaps 10 civilians for every suspected “terrorist”, shielding torturers even under Obama. See here. The death last week of Awal Gul, father of 18 children at Guantanamo, held beyond the law in secret American torture prisons for 9 years, testifies to the now bipartisan decadence of the American regime. Obama’s has wanted but failed to eliminate even the physical symbol of Guantanamo – the American colonial torture camp seized in Cuba during the Spanish American war. But more strikingly, he has made bipartisan the Bush criminal apparatus. This specific crime at America’s Devil’s Island is that of Barack Obama and the Democratic Party.

It would have been far better for Obama to have held bipartisan hearings lasting beyond the midterms (or even his first term), and, with the results, then appointed an independent prosecutor about torture, to have caused some of those responsible to be tried, and perhaps pardoned them than to have created this ever extending morass (Truth and Reconciliation, as in South Africa, is, sadly, a state of civilization beyond what the world’s momentarily greatest empire can manage – see Desmond Tutu, No future without forgiveness). Obama has licensed “commander in chief power” at the expense of the legislative and the judiciary (he is somewhat more careful about legislative prerogatives himself, but any subsequent President has the ostensible "legal" authority for a police state at his disposal). These are distinctively fascist ideas, those of the neo-cons, Leo Strauss and Carl Schmitt (“he is sovereign who makes the decision in the state of the exception” – the opening sentence of Political Theology, 1923). See here, here, here, here and here.

Americans do protest, as the Center for Constitutional Rights and Code Pink, among many others, illustrate. That America pretends to an international leadership for decency while it lionizes and protects its own Presidential torturer, that American militarism and impunity for great crimes of war is now to the fore as America bogs down further in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and financial collapse (profits for the very rich, unemployment and foreclosures for the poor and the slipping middle class) – if one takes the measure of where America is, where America is going, these are the leading facts.

Sunday, February 6, 2011 by the McClatchy Newspapers
Bush Trip to Switzerland Axed Over Torture Protest Fears
by Carol Rosenberg

The United Israel Appeal scrapped a plan to showcase President George W. Bush at a Feb. 12 gala in Geneva amid reports that human rights groups were poised to protest and file a torture complaint.

The charity, also known as Keren Hayesod, notified the former president on Friday morning "that the event has been called off," a Bush spokesman, David Sherzer, said Saturday.

"We regret that the speech has been canceled," Sherzer said. "President Bush was looking forward to speaking about freedom and offering reflections from his time in office."

The United Israel Appeal did not respond to an emailed request for an explanation on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. But the Associated Press, citing a Swiss newspaper report, said charity officials were worried protests could turn violent at the speech by the 43rd American president.

It was to be held at the Hotel Wilson, named for the 28th American president, Woodrow Wilson.

Protest organizers told participants to bring an extra shoe, prompting fears that someone might re-enact an Iraqi journalist's 2008 assault on President Bush in Baghdad. The reporter hurled his own footwear as a sign of contempt.

The New York based Center for Constitutional Rights said Saturday that European human rights groups had compiled a 2,500-page Convention Against Torture complaint against Bush, seeking to trigger it once he set foot onto Swiss soil.

CCR, a law firm led by New York civil rights lawyer Michael Ratner, has for years filed a series of mixed-result lawsuits against Bush administration policies, alleging civil liberties and human rights abuses in its detention, rendition and warrantless wiretapping policies.

It systematically sued in U.S. courts on behalf of Guantánamo captives, expanding detainee rights since the Pentagon inaugurated the prison camps opened in southeast Cuba in January 2002. It also is a party to a complaint in Spain against former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and five other Bush era lawyers that alleges international human-rights abuses in the U.S. treatment of war on terror captives.

That complaint has been stalled for years, and a series of U.S. diplomatic cables posted on the Internet late last year by Wikileaks showed the efforts both the Bush and Obama administrations made to derail it. [See here and here].

Still, a Spanish magistrate has given the United States a March 1 deadline to say whether it was pursuing its own probe of the Bush legal brain trust.

Saturday, Ratner's firm all-but claimed credit for grounding Bush.

"The message from civil society is clear," it said in a statement. "If you're a torturer, be careful in your travel plans. It's a slow process for accountability, but we keep going."

Bush's spokesman countered that the Texan, who scarcely traveled abroad before his time in the White House, has been a frequent flier in retirement.

"President Bush has made several trips outside of the United States, including to South Korea, China, Japan, Brazil, Canada, and the Middle East," Sherzer said. "He gave more than 60 speeches last year, and we expect this year to be similar."
© McClatchy Newspapers 2011

Tuesday, February 8, 2011 by Inter Press Service
No More Immunity for George W. Bush – Abroad, at Least
by Kanya D'Almeida

UNITED NATIONS - Former U.S. President George W. Bush may have mostly vanished from the headlines since January 2009, but the alleged crimes committed by his administration are not forgotten.

[the photograph would not reproduce]
The former US president’s visit would have been his first to Europe since his waterboarding disclosure in Decision Points. (Photograph: Anne McQuary/Bloomberg)

On Monday, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) released the 'Preliminary Bush Torture Indictment', a document outlining the core aspects of the case against Bush for torture, and his violations of the Convention Against Torture to which the United States is a signatory.

The move by the CCR, in conjunction with over 60 other human rights and legal advocacy groups, including the Berlin-based European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR), coincides with the ninth anniversary of the day Bush decided that "enemy combatants" were no longer entitled to the fundamental protections granted to every human being by the Geneva Conventions.

On Monday morning, two torture victims in Geneva had been planning to file criminal complaints against the former U.S. president, who was scheduled to arrive in Switzerland on Feb. 12 to speak at an event there.

Since Swiss law requires the presence of a torturer on Swiss soil before the investigation can proceed, rights activists say this would have been the perfect opportunity to hold Switzerland to its obligations as a signatory to the Convention Against Torture and send a strong message to the ex-president that he is not eligible for special exemption under the law, even as a former head of state.

Ultimately, Bush canceled his travel plans.

"In November 2009, Bush admitted that he authorized the torture of detainees in U.S. custody," Katherine Gallagher, senior staff attorney at CCR and vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), told IPS.

"We are supposed to be a country with a strong rule of law and when we act with such blatant impunity here at home it sends a very bad message to the rest of the world," she added.

In an interview with Matt Lauer on MSNBC in November last year, Bush claimed, "waterboarding [simulated drowning of a prisoner] is legal because the lawyer said it was legal. I'm not a lawyer." Asked if he would make the same decision again today, Bush answered, "Oh yeah, I would."

Along with the indictment brought by the CCR, two other cases of universal jurisdiction in Spain are already well underway, investigating the actions of the 'Bush 6' - constitutional lawyers in Bush's administration, all authors of the torture manual and architects of the legal framework that Bush invoked when prosecutions were brought against him.

"Both of these issues are part of a global accountability effort which I hope will come full circle to the United States," Gallagher told IPS. "With the Bush 6, we see this pattern of people trying to get each other off the hook and pretend like this is acceptable - but it's not."

While judges from Madrid to Geneva take on the previous U.S. administration, the White House is silent. Neither President Barack Obama, nor any spokesperson of his administration, has offered a word in support of its citizens who are fighting to end impunity.

Leading rights watchdogs Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have called on the U.S. government to thoroughly investigate the complaints being brought against the former president, stressing the need for impunity to be addressed immediately.

"We are asking the U.S. to at least investigate the potential for prosecution," Laura Pitter, a spokesperson at Human Rights Watch, told IPS.

"There is no reason why U.S. courts should not open up such an investigation, even if it is based solely on what Bush has already admitted publicly," she added.

Obama's public poker face was belied by scores of leaked cables in the deluge released by the whistle-blower Wikileaks in December last year. The documents exposed that behind its silent exterior, the Obama administration was corresponding furiously with Spanish officials to keep the investigative cases off the radar.

"This is very disappointing coming from a president who used to be a constitutional law professor," Gallagher told IPS. [Amen!]

Regardless of Washington's indifference, human rights champions are forging ahead with their case.
"Bush is a torturer and deserves to be remembered as such," said Gavin Sullivan, solicitor and counterterrorism program manager at ECCHR.

"He bears ultimate responsibility for authorizing the torture of thousands of individuals at places like Guantánamo and secret CIA 'black sites' around the world. As all states are obliged to prosecute such torturers, Bush has good reason to be very worried."

And perhaps even more important than the success of the indictment, Gallagher said, are the scores of survivors of torture whose voices are not being heard, or who are still hidden away in Guantanamo who deserve, at least now, to see justice.

Mischief Or Justice?
08 FEB 2011 09:37 AM
by Conor Friedersdorf

After noticing stories about President Bush being threatened with arrest if he travels in Europe, and cancelling a trip as a result, David Frum writes this:

“It’s hard to know how much of this story is true, and how much is fundraising bluster. But if even a small portion of the news is true, President Obama has a duty to speak up and to warn foreign governments that further indulgence of this kind of nonsense by their court systems will be viewed as an unfriendly act by the United States. It is one more reminder of why the concept of an International Criminal Court is such an invitation to mischief.”

“And for those inclined to enjoy the mischief: Just wait until somebody serves an arrest warrant in Luxembourg on ex-President Obama for ordering all those drone strikes on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.”

Am inclined to enjoy the mischief, and I don't much care if someone serves an arrest warrant on ex-President Obama either. Perhaps I'm being shortsighted. I'd like to hear a longer argument from Frum that isn't aimed at people who want the other side's partisans in jail, but not their own side's partisans.

International prohibitions on torture are a good thing. President Bush acknowledges that he ordered torture, though he doesn't use that word. But I don't want to have an argument over whether he's guilty or not. What interests me is the idea that even if he broke a longstanding law it's outrageous "mischief" to arrest him. Is that Frum's position? I'd prefer my presidents to be constrained by the law, and I don't see how that happens if arresting confessed lawbreakers is verboten. Maybe a past president sitting in a jail cell would encourage future occupants of that office to show more respect for the law. Why is that attitude wrongheaded? What does Frum want to happen when a president breaks a law as serious as ordering torture? Does he want US presidents to be above the law? Isn't that an invitation to mischief?”

FRIDAY, FEB 4, 2011 11:05 ET
Guantanamo death highlights U.S. detention policy

AP/Brennan Linsley
A guard looks out from a tower in front of the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay.

“A 48-year-old Afghan citizen and Guantanamo detainee, Awal Gul, died on Tuesday of an apparent heart attack. Gul, a father of 18 children, had been kept in a cage by the U.S. for more than 9 years -- since late 2001 when he was abducted in Afghanistan -- without ever having been charged with a crime. While the U.S. claims he was a Taliban commander, Gul has long insisted that he quit the Taliban a year before the 9/11 attack because, as his lawyer put it, ‘he was disgusted by the Taliban's growing penchant for corruption and abuse.’ His death means those conflicting claims will never be resolved; said his lawyer: ‘it is shame that the government will finally fly him home not in handcuffs and a hood, but in a casket.’ This episode illustrates that the U.S. Government's detention policy -- still -- amounts to imposing life sentences on people without bothering to prove they did anything wrong.

This episode also demonstrates the absurdity of those who claim that President Obama has been oh-so-eagerly trying to close Guantanamo only to be thwarted by a recalcitrant Congress. The Obama administration has sought to "close" the camp only in the most meaningless sense of that word: by moving its defining injustice -- indefinite, due-process-free detention -- a few thousand miles north onto U.S. soil. But the crux of the Guantanamo travesty -- indefinite detention -- is something the Obama administration has long planned to preserve, and that has nothing to do with what Congress has or has not done. Indeed, Gul was one of the 50 detainees designated by Obama for that repressive measure. Thus, had Gul survived, the Obama administration would have sought to keep him imprisoned indefinitely without any pretense of charging him with a crime -- neither in a military commission nor a real court. Instead, they would have simply continued the Bush/Cheney policy of imprisoning him indefinitely without any charges.

There's one other aspect of this episode that warrants attention. In its 2008 Boumediene decision, the Supreme Court struck down the provision of the Military Commissions Act which denied habeas corpus review to all detainees, and ruled that Guantanamo detainees at least have the right to a one-time review by a federal court as to whether there is credible evidence to justify their detention (a far less rigorous standard than the one that applies if they're charged with a crime and the state has to prove their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt). Gul had filed a habeas petition and it was fully argued before a federal court back in March -- 11 months ago. The federal judge never got around to issuing a ruling.

This happens quite frequently in our court system: judges simply fail to act within anything resembling a reasonable period of time. Gul was imprisoned for 8 years without a shred of due process (outside of internal Bush Pentagon "administrative reviews") and finally had his Constitutional right to obtain habeas review affirmed by the Supreme Court in 2008. His habeas petition was fully submitted and orally argued almost a full year ago, yet even in the face of his prolonged, due-process-free imprisonment, the federal judge presiding over the case just never bothered to rule on his claims. There's a well-known legal maxim that ‘justice delayed is justice denied,’ but this goes well beyond merely violating that. Taking almost a full year -- at least -- to decide a habeas petition for someone who is languishing in indefinite detention for their ninth year is simply inexcusable.

Gul's death -- and what turned out to be his due-process-free life sentence -- is an important reminder of the heinous detention policies of the U.S.: not as a matter of the Bush/Cheney past, but very much the current U.S. posture as well. The only difference is that there is no more partisan gain to be squeezed from the controversy, so it has blissfully disappeared into the harmonious dead zone of bipartisan consensus.

* * * * *
All of this finds a nice symbolic parallel in the Obama administration's apparent efforts to install Omar Suleiman as interim Egyptian leader; Suleiman is not only steadfastly pro-American and pro-Israeli, but was long the U.S.'s point man for renditions and the severe torture which accompanied it. This is what is meant when we hear repeatedly about what a stalwart "ally" the Mubarak government been in the "War on Terror": they've dutifully detained and brutalized anyone we wanted.”

Wednesday, February 9, 2011 by Pro Publica
CIA Officials Involved in Abuse and Wrongful Detention Rarely Reprimanded, Sometimes Promoted
by Marian Wang

CIA officers who were involved in cases of wrongful imprisonment, mistreatment and even detainee deaths have often avoided serious punishment and in many cases been promoted within the agency, an investigation by the Associated Press has found.

CIA officers who were involved in cases of wrongful imprisonment, mistreatment and even detainee deaths have often avoided serious punishment and in many cases been promoted within the agency, an investigation by the Associated Press has found.

Take the case of German citizen Khaled El-Masri, who was kidnapped and transferred to a secret prison in Afghanistan for interrogation in 2003. U.S. officials have since admitted that the CIA wrongfully imprisoned El-Masri._

Though the lawyer who signed off on the decision received a reprimand, the CIA never punished the analyst who pressed for El-Masri’s wrongful rendition, despite recommendations from the CIA’s inspector general, AP reported.

A former CIA official told the Washington Post in 2005 that the analyst “didn’t really know. She just had a hunch” when she made the decision regarding El-Masri. The analyst now runs the CIA’s Global Jihad unit, which leads the U.S. government’s counterterrorism efforts against al-Qaeda.

She’s hardly the only example of the CIA’s failure to hold officers accountable for their decisions. Other cases in the AP story in which officers made serious mistakes with little to no punishment include:

1. A case in which a terrorism suspect froze to death in a makeshift prison in Afghanistan after CIA officers stripped him and left him overnight in an unheated cell. An investigation of the incident raised concerns about the top officer at the prison, the CIA’s station chief in Afghanistan, and management at headquarters. Nobody was punished.

2. A case in which a CIA interrogator performed a “mock execution” by holding an unloaded gun and bitless drill to the head of an al-Qaeda operative at a secret CIA prison in Poland. Mock executions are not authorized by the Justice Department, but the interrogator received only a reprimand.

3. A case of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib in which a prisoner was interrogated, covered by a hood, shackled to a window, and found dead a half hour later. His death was ruled a homicide and the medical examiner said the hood over his head and the position he was constrained to contributed to his death, but the CIA officer who ran the detainee unit only received a letter of reprimand.

4. Many of the internal investigations which found past mistakes by CIA officers were conducted by the CIA’s inspector general—a position that sat vacant for more than a year before a new inspector general was sworn in last fall.

A CIA spokesman told the AP, “Any suggestion that the agency does not take seriously its obligation to review employee misconduct — including those of senior officers — is flat wrong,”and said that CIA Director Leon Pannetta has fired employees for misconduct.

Shorter versions of the AP story have been published elsewhere, but for all the details, read the full report.

© 2010 Pro Publica

*Ordinary Israeli citizens live under constant threat of being drafted themselves or their children for unjust war and brutalizing Palestinians in the occupied territories, dying in war, having their liberties as democratic citizens taken away by a fascist police state – the Knesset recently established a McCarthyite body spying even on human rights organizations, adopted corrupt loyalty oaths for Arab citizens, and the like. Though some in the United States still burble about Israeli "democracy," it is at this point an openly fascist regime. See the protests here and here.

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