30 March 2007

Unfair death sentences: Another reason for Gonzales to resign

There are plenty of reasons to call for the resignation of Alberto Gonzales: His justification of torture, his disregard for the FISA law, and his alleged lies to Congress about the firing of eight U.S. attorneys are three biggies that we've heard a lot about in recent years.

One that doesn't make the headlines as much is Gonzales's history of unfairness in death penalty cases.

Yesterday, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) called for Gonzales's resignation based on the fact that he "does not have a record which reflects fairness in our justice system."

According to Diann Rust-Tierney, NCADP's Executive Director:
Two years ago, as Attorney General Alberto Gonzales faced confirmation hearings, the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty stressed that the nation's chief law enforcement officer "must demonstrate the highest commitment to fairness, due process and equal protection under the law."

We based our opposition to Gonzales' confirmation on our belief that his track record on death penalty cases in Texas failed to meet this challenge. Time and again the legal analysis he provided to then-Gov. George W. Bush on the eve of executions failed to include any discussion of the most salient issues, including severe mental retardation and mental illness, abysmally poor legal representation and, in more than a handful of cases, even credible claims of innocence.

With the recent revelations that differences regarding the death penalty played a role in the dismissal of at least three U.S. attorneys, our fears, sadly, have been justified.

Then, as now, Mr. Gonzales placed Bush's political agenda above honesty, integrity , and commitment to fairness. In Texas this took the form of cursory review - and then denial in every single case but one - of clemency applications as President Bush parlayed his "tough-on-crime" persona into a successful run for the Republican presidential nomination.

Today, Mr. Gonzales' failed priorities have contributed to a politicized federal death penalty system instead of one based on fairness and integrity.
Read the NCADP's full statement.

29 March 2007

Mark Fiore on Bush's partisan fishing expeditions

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore addresses George W. Bush's habit of blaming all his current woes on partisan fishing expeditions by Democrats.

Check it out, and then decide who's really doing the fishing: Gone Fishin'

28 March 2007

Amnesty report on Hicks tribunal -- direct from Guantanamo Bay!

The first proceeding under the Military Commissions Act of 2006 took place on Monday, March 26, with the arraignment of Australian national David Hicks. It was a fiasco.

Jumana Musa, Amnesty International USA's Advocacy Director for Domestic Human Rights and International Justice, was at Guantanamo for Monday's hearing. Here is her report, filed yesterday:

At a hearing in Guantanamo on 26 March 2007, in his sixth year of detention and at the start of the US administration's second attempt in the last three years to try him before a military commission, Australian national David Hicks pleaded guilty to one specification under the charge of "providing material support for terrorism".

This plea was made after years of indefinite detention, isolation and allegations of torture and ill-treatment, and after a day in which Hicks' legal representation was reduced by the military judge overseeing the commission. After the plea, proceedings were adjourned and were expected to be reconvened later in the week after the details of the plea had been worked out.

David Hicks was one of 10 detainees to be charged under military commissions established under President George W. Bush's Military Order of 13 November 2001. Those proceedings were halted in November 2004 by a US District Court judge, and ruled unlawful by the US Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld in late June 2006. In early March 2007, David Hicks was the first person to be charged under the Military Commissions Act, legislation signed into law by President Bush on 17 October 2006 in response to the Hamdan ruling.

On 26 March 2007, David Hicks was arraigned on charges that he had never previously faced, in a system whose rules were issued two months ago. He came into the commission room in tan prison uniform and flip-flops with his hair hanging half way down his back. At his table was Major Dan Mori, his military defense counsel, Joshua Dratel, his civilian defense counsel, and Rebecca Snyder, his assistant military defense counsel.

When the military judge, Marine Colonel Ralph Kohlmann, asked David Hicks if he wanted to keep his current legal representation, Hicks answered that he did, and that he wanted them provided with more assistance. What followed was a direct result of attempting to create a system of justice based on a roughly 200-page manual and which will operate in something approaching a legal vacuum.

Although the afternoon started with David Hicks asking for more support for his legal team, the result was the exact opposite. First, the military judge raised a challenge to the participation of Rebecca Snyder. While insisting that he was not issuing a ruling at this time, Colonel Kohlmann asserted that under his interpretation of the rules she could not represent David Hicks as military defense counsel since she was a civilian in the reserves. He gave David Hicks a choice - Rebecca Snyder could stay and consult but not advocate on his behalf, or she could leave. David Hicks told the judge he did not want her at the table if she could not represent him.

Next, the judge raised an issue with David Hicks' civilian defense counsel of three years, Joshua Dratel. He stated that Dratel had not complied with the commission rules because he had not signed the necessary certification. Joshua Dratel argued that the qualification of a civilian defense counsel under the Rules for Military Commissions requires that in order to appear before a commission, civilian counsel shall "Have signed the agreement prescribed by the Secretary [of Defense] pursuant to 10 U.S.C. § 949c(b)(3)(E)." The issue at hand was that the Secretary of Defense had failed to issue such an agreement. Colonel Kohlmann had issued an order that could be signed in its place, but Joshua Dratel argued that, not only was this order invalid since the judge did not have the authority to issue it, but also that it would violate Dratel's ethical obligations to sign an agreement that had not been created. Colonel Kohlmann, as he had previously with Rebecca Snyder, decided that Joshua Dratel did not meet the criteria necessary to practice before the military commission. Dratel was offered the opportunity to stay on as a consultant, to which he replied "I am not a potted plant." When asked if he wanted Joshua Dratel to stay on as a consultant, David Hicks replied "I am shocked because I just lost another lawyer", adding that he was left only with "poor Mr. Mori."

An afternoon that started with a request for increased resources for the defense thus resulted in the reduction of David Hicks' legal team by two-thirds due to regulations that had not been promulgated and rules that had not been tested.

These exchanges were observed by a room that included journalists, NGO delegates, Australian attorneys, Australian government and diplomatic officials, as well as David Hicks' father and sister. David Hicks is the only detainee at Guantanamo to have had visits from family.

At the hearing, Major Mori challenged the military judge's fitness to preside over the proceedings, arguing both bias and the appearance of bias. The judge ruled himself fit to serve, dealt with scheduling matters, and adjourned the proceedings.

Approximately three hours later, the commission was reconvened and David Hicks entered a guilty plea to one of two specifications of his charge of "providing material support for terrorism". The specification alleges that between December 2000 and December 2001, Hicks intentionally provided material support for al Qa'ida, and that this conduct took place in the context of an armed conflict. Yet the international armed conflict in Afghanistan only began in October 2001. The Military Commissions Act effectively backdates the "war on terror" to make offences committed even before 11 September 2001 triable by military commission.

David Hicks pleaded not guilty to a second specification, namely that during the same time period, he provided material support or resources for an act of terrorism.

The military judge questioned David Hicks as to whether his plea had been influenced by the removal of two of his three attorneys earlier in the day. Hicks replied that it had not. However, after more than five years of virtually incommunicado military detention, and facing unfair trial procedures, serious questions must be asked about whether such a guilty plea can have been a purely volitional act.

The maximum penalty that David Hicks faces is life imprisonment, but the prosecution has said that it does not intend to argue for a life sentence. Under the terms of a reported arrangement, Hicks would serve any prison sentence in Australia. The guilty plea thus begins a process which will end in his return to his home country, some predict before the end of the year. In this regard, what transpired yesterday can also be seen as part of an exit strategy from a source of diplomatic tension rather than of judicial proceedings at which justice would either be done or be seen to be done.

Yesterday's proceedings do not bode well for the 60 to 80 people that the government claims it will prosecute under the military commission system. The proceedings reaffirm the need to close the Guantanamo detention camp as a matter of urgency and to end the lawlessness that it has come to symbolize.

The military commissions should be scrapped. Guantanamo detainees should be charged with recognizable criminal offences and brought to fair trial before a competent, independent and impartial tribunal, such as a US District Court, or else released with full protections against further abuse.

Jumana Musa observed David Hicks' arraignment for Amnesty International. She is a lawyer and a staff member of Amnesty International's US section. She is a fluent Arabic speaker.
Now please take a few moments to put an end to this nonsense. Click here to send an e-mail asking your Senators and Representative to support the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007.

27 March 2007

Anti-gay, racist e-mails from an Army recruiter

From the "tax dollars at work" files:

Corey Andrew of New Jersey posted his resume at CareerBuilder.com, like many of us have done from time to time. One of the responses he received was from a U.S. Army recruiter.

Andrew wasn't interested in joining the Army. But, instead of ignoring the overture, he responded by asking the recruiter, Sgt. Marcia Ramode, if he was eligible to serve, since he was a gay man.

I'm glad that he decided to go there, because the ensuing exchange sheds some light on a serious problem. (And this comes so soon after General Peter Pace's homophobic comments. Coincidence?)

In any case, click here for a very good blog post that goes into some granular detail about this. And be outraged. Sgt. Ramode wrote and sent these e-mails using her official Army e-mail address.

According to an article about the case in The Jersey Journal, "If an applicant makes a statement that he or she is homosexual, the recruiter must inform the applicant in a professional manner that they are not eligible for enlistment."

Key words: "in a professional manner". Does anyone believe that Ramode's tirades were communicated "in a professional manner"? (If so, click here and then guess again.)

And, since one of my best friends is married to a Native American, one thing in particular struck me upon reading Ramode's e-mails: She identifies herself as a Native American even as she insults Andrew for being gay. Actually (as I understand it), in Native American culture gays and lesbians are held in high esteem. It is believed that they embody both male and female spirits, and that's a really cool and venerable thing in their culture (and understandably so).

Sgt. Ramone appears to have some very deep and very serious issues to deal with. I hope she will get some help and eventually find peace.

26 March 2007

Pakistani gang-rape victim becomes crusader for women's rights

Progress is human rights is only possible when ordinary people bravely go out on a limb and take action.

Here is an inspiring story of such a person, from the March 20 edition of The Scotsman:

A PAKISTANI woman who turned her tribal gang-rape ordeal into a crusade for women's rights was honoured by the Council of Europe yesterday.

Mukhtar Mai was gang-raped on the order of elders in her remote village in southern Punjab - an act supposed to restore her family's honour after her younger brother's involvement with a girl from a rival tribe.

Instead of accepting her "punishment" and saying nothing, Ms Mai, a farmer's daughter, started legal action and successfully fought her case in Pakistan's highest court, where her attackers were convicted.

The case shocked Pakistan, and Ms Mai used her government compensation money to set up a village school and found an organisation to counter violence against women.
[Read more.]

25 March 2007

The real gay agenda

John and Chris have been together for three decades. They've raised two healthy and well-adjusted children, who have themselves grown up, gotten married, and provided John and Chris with two beautiful grandchildren so far.

When they were in their twenties, Chris worked two jobs to put John through medical school. They've stayed together through good times and bad. Their love and their devotion to each other have remained strong even as most other residents of their suburban Philadelphia neighborhood have divorced, remarried, and in some cases divorced again.

Sound like the ideal marriage? Yes, it might, if only John and Chris could get married. But, you see, John and Chris are both men, and Pennsylvania does not recognize same-sex marriages.

Some might suggest that they move to nearby New Jersey, where marriage-like civil unions recently became legal. But it's not so easy to uproot a family. There are homes and careers involved. Besides, telling John and Chris to move to Jersey to find equality is like telling someone to move out of the country if they don't like the way their tax dollars are being spent. Moving to Jersey would mean giving up on Pennsylvania. Better to stay and fight for equality at home in the Keystone State.

And equality is really all they want. That's really all there is to the so-called "gay agenda". Simple equality. No special privileges, just the same privileges as everyone else.

Those who oppose same-sex marriage say that it would undermine the institution of marriage. But isn't heterosexual infidelity already doing that?

I fail to see how legalizing same-sex marriage would have any effect on heterosexual marriages. As James Carville once said, "I was against gay marriage until I found out I didn't have to have one." No, anyone who feels that his own heterosexual marriage would be threatened if gays could marry obviously has some very deep issues that can't be fixed through legislation.

This country was founded on the principle that all people - not just the heterosexual ones - are created equal. It's time to make that principle a reality. It's time for the homophobes of America to stop worrying about what consenting adults are doing in the privacy of their own homes. After all, time and time again we've seen that those who want to control what goes on in other people's bedrooms seem to have the most to hide in their own. (Can you say "Ted Haggard"?)

Our soldiers are dying in Iraq and Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden is still on the loose, and 13 million children in this country suffer from hunger due to poverty. Don't we have more important things to worry about than what the gay couple down the street might be doing behind closed doors?

And aren't the principles of freedom and equality better for this country, and for humankind in general, than a policy of bigotry and hate?

24 March 2007

Amnesty speaks out against U.S. military tribunals

On Monday, The U.S. will try Gitmo prisoner David Hicks, an Australian, via a military tribunal.

This past Thursday, human rights group Amnesty International issued the following press release urging the U.S. to abandon the military tribunal system and to try Gitmo detainees in ordinary federal courts:

Amnesty International calls on US government to abandon military commissions

The US government should abandon its proposed military commissions and bring any Guantanamo detainees it charges to trial in the ordinary federal courts, without recourse to the death penalty, Amnesty International urged today, releasing a new report on trials under the Military Commissions Act (MCA).

The first proceeding under the military commissions is due to take place on 26 March, with the arraignment of Australian detainee David Hicks. He was one of 10 detainees charged under the previous military commission system thrown out by the US Supreme Court last year.

In its report, Justice delayed and justice denied?, Amnesty International reiterates its belief that trials under the revised military commission process will fail to comply with international standards. The organization is also deeply concerned that detainees could face execution after such trials.

"The pervasive unlawfulness that has marked the past five years of detentions cries out for the strictest adherence to fair trial standards. Instead, these trials threaten to cut corners in pursuit of a few convictions and add to the injustice that the Guantanamo detention facility has come to symbolize", said Susan Lee, Amnesty International's Americas Programme Director.

The military commissions will operate in something approaching a legal vacuum. Defendants cannot turn to international human rights law, the Geneva Conventions or the US Constitution for protection. The military commissions are part of a universe absent of judicial remedy for detainees and their families. Even if a detainee is acquitted, he may be returned to indefinite detention as a so-called "enemy combatant".

In the "war on terror", detainees in US custody have been treated as potential sources of information first and potential criminal defendants a distant second. They have been subjected to repeated interrogations without access to lawyers or the courts. Interrogation techniques and detention conditions amounting to torture or other ill-treatment under international law have been authorized and used against them.

"The military commissions are patently tailored to fit the unlawful practices that have preceded them. Information coerced by cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment will be admissible. At the same time, the government may introduce evidence while keeping secret the methods used to obtain it," said Susan Lee.

In September last year, 14 detainees were transferred from years of secret CIA custody to Guantanamo for the stated purpose of trial by military commission. They have not yet been charged, and are being denied access to lawyers even as the government is building its case against them.

"We fear that the military commissions will lack the independence necessary to guarantee fair trials for those charged and to apply the relevant scrutiny to government misconduct," said Jumana Musa, Amnesty International's observer to military commission hearings at Guantanamo under the previous system. "Under such circumstances, justice will neither be done nor be seen to be done."

Because of the absence of fair trial guarantees, and the trail of illegality that precedes the trials, Amnesty International is calling on other countries not to provide any information to assist the prosecution in military commissions.

Background Information

Pentagon officials have suggested that 60 to 80 of the thousands of detainees it has held as "enemy combatants" may eventually face trial by military commission, while admitting that even this may be an overestimate. There are currently more than 350 detainees unlawfully held in Guantanamo and hundreds more in US custody in Afghanistan. It is not known if there are any detainees currently held in the USA’s secret detention program.

Amnesty International is campaigning for repeal of the MCA or its substantial amendment in line with international law. As well as providing for trials by military commission, the MCA strips the US courts of jurisdiction to consider habeas corpus appeals of any non-US citizen held as an "enemy combatant", and further entrenches impunity of US personnel by narrowing the scope of the USA’s War Crimes Act.
Read the Amnesty report referenced above: USA: Justice delayed and justice denied? Trials under the Military Commissions Act

23 March 2007

Make a call to restore the Constitution

Over the past five years, the Bush administration has taken step after step to erode our Constitutional rights. This reached a climax last fall with the passage of the Military Commissions Act.

The new Congress must waste no time in repairing all the damage. This is really important, folks.

And here's a way that you can help jumpstart the effort, from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU):

It's hard to believe this happened in America: Last October, Congress and the President passed the Military Commissions Act, eliminating habeas corpus -- the right to challenge unlawful imprisonment -- for some people.

This law undermines American due process and our laws against torture. It gives the President the power to decide who is and who is not an enemy of our country, and to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with any crime.

This week, we are calling for change. It’s time for Congress to restore our Constitution and reassert the very rights that make us unique as a country by fixing the un-American Military Commissions Act. A bill already under consideration -- the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 -- does just that.

Help Restore the Constitution. Call your Members of Congress right now.

Tell them:

It’s time to restore due process and defend the Constitution. Please co-sponsor the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.
(In the House, the bill number is H.R. 1415. In the Senate, it's S. 576.)

The Bush administration is working hard to stop Congress from passing this vital legislation. But we’re working harder.

We’re leading the charge, running radio ads for nearly two weeks, asking Americans who care about the Constitution to call their Members of Congress.

Join in, call now. We need every voice to win.

Our Members of Congress need to know that we'll never give up the rights that define us.

We’re pulling out all of the stops, and so is a broad, bi-partisan coalition of organizations who are calling on their membership and activists this week to pass the “Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007.” When you pick up the phone today, you will be joining with countless others from across the country who care deeply about restoring the Constitution.

Please, add your voice. Call your Members of Congress now.

The Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007 restores due process and habeas corpus rights for detainees being held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere. It enforces the Geneva Conventions as the law on how we treat people. And it holds government officials accountable so that due process violations and torture stop.

With so much pressure from the White House, we need every voice to win this fight, including yours. I’m sure you agree: We must make sure we don’t fall a few votes short when freedom is on the line.

That’s why your call today is critically important.


Anthony D. Romero
Executive Director
Listen to the ACLU's radio ads on the subject
and then take action.

21 March 2007

The U.S. attorney firings: the Senate takes action and Bush tapdances

Two interesting developments yesterday in the U.S. attorney scandal:

First, the U.S. Senate voted 94-2 in favor of S.214, The Preserving United States Independence Act of 2007. This legislation would revoke the provision of the 2006 Reauthorization of the Patriot Act that allows the Attorney General appoint interim U.S. attorneys for indefinite terms and without Senate confirmation. This bill still needs to go through the House. But, in any case, the 94-2 Senate vote clearly indicates that the recent U.S. attorney firings is not a partisan issue, but one that Senators in both parties chose to address by clipping Gonzales's wings via this legislation.

Then George W. Bush made a speech in which he tried to turn it into a partisan issue.

Said George:
"We will not go along with a partisan fishing expedition aimed at honorable public servants."
Hey, George: If it's a partisan thing, how do you explain the 94-2 vote? (I'm guessing that nobody had told him about S.214. Or, more likely, maybe he's hoping that the American public hadn't heard about S.214.)

And then George tried to sell us on his "solution": He offered us interviews with Karl Rove and Harriet Miers - but in private and not under oath.

Why in private, George? And why don't you want them to testify under oath?

What is there to hide?

It seems to boil down to this: The Senate finally took some bipartisan action and Bush did a partisan tapdance around it. Bush had better get used to dealing with a Congress that will actually challenge him. And Congress had better keep up the pressure.

20 March 2007

Are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed's confessions too coincidental?

When the news broke last week that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed had confessed to beheading Daniel Pearl and countless other terrorist activities against the U.S., I was skeptical. Before a closed U.S. military tribunal, he confessed to 9/11, Richard Reid's attempted shoe bombing, the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, etc., etc., etc. [Read transcript (PDF).]

Why skeptical?

For starters, under torture people will say whatever they think the torturer wants to hear, just to make the pain stop. What they say is not necessarily the truth. This is well demonstrated by this anecdote from John McCain in Newsweek regarding his experience as a POW in Vietnam:
"I was once physically coerced to provide my enemies with the names of the members of my flight squadron, information that had little if any value to my enemies as actionable intelligence. But I did not refuse, or repeat my insistence that I was required under the Geneva Conventions to provide my captors only with my name, rank and serial number. Instead, I gave them the names of the Green Bay Packers' offensive line, knowing that providing them false information was sufficient to suspend the abuse."
And an article in the March 26, 2007 issue of Newsweek describes KSM as an egomaniac. His over-the-top confessions would certainly seem to back up that assessment.

Finally, doesn't such a big "victory" in the "war on terror" seem a little too convenient as the Bush administration is under fire from all directions?

More reasons for skepticism can be found in this excellent article by Danny Schechter at MediaChannel.org: How True Are The True Confessions Of The Terror Mastermind?

19 March 2007

On the fourth anniversary: Iraq veterans memorial

Today, March 19, 2007, is the fourth anniversary of the start of George W. Bush's unnecessary war of aggression against Iraq.

In honor of the brave troops who were forced to do Bush's dirty work, I am proud to present this Iraq Veterans Memorial. The Memorial is a collection of video memories from family, friends, military colleagues, and co-workers of those who have paid the ultimate price in this war.

For more information about this Memorial, go to: iraqmemorial.org

18 March 2007

For DC residents, it's taxation without representation (but you can make a difference)

Residents of the District of Columbia pay their taxes but don't have voting representation in Congress.

They have no rep in the Senate, and just one non-voting member in the House of Representatives. Non-voting!

This is what we call "taxation without representation". It's the kind of thing our Founding Fathers rebelled against.

Hopefully a change is in the works. This past week, the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Committee on the Judiciary approved the DC Voting Rights Act, which would give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House, clearing the way for a floor vote on the issue in the coming weeks. [Read more.]

You can help:

Call your Representative at 202-224-3121 and urge support for the DC Voting Rights Act (H.R. 1433)!

17 March 2007

Texas lawmaker removes "execution art" from Capitol

From the "shoot the messenger" files:

Texas State Representative Borris Miles (D-Houston) didn't like the hanging and electrocution depictions in an art exhibit organized by an anti-death-penalty group at the Capitol building in Austin, so he had the items removed.

According to an Associated Press article published in the Dallas Morning News, Miles said that:
"We should not prevent the display of art, but there have to be limits."
So who appointed him to the role of censor?

The other side speaks out as follows:
The Texas Moratorium Network, which advocates a two-year moratorium on the death penalty, didn’t violate any standards with the exhibit, said Scott Cobb, the group’s president.

He said the purpose of the artwork, some of which was created by death-row inmates, is to call attention to the death penalty.

"Nobody has a right to take down what they don’t like. [Miles] overreacted and should have gone through the proper channels" to remove the work, Cobb said.
[Read more.]

If scenes of execution are so offensive to that Texas lawmaker, why does Texas execute more people than any other state in the U.S.?

And if scenes of execution are so effensive to him, why doesn't Rep. Miles introduce legislation to end the death penalty in Texas?

15 March 2007

Mark Fiore: Gonzales performance review

Attorney General Alberto ("Tortore Boy") Gonzales is on the hot seat this week over the firings of eight U.S. attorneys, allegedly for political reasons.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore pretty nicely summarizes Gonzales's long list of transgressions. Check it out.

14 March 2007

Human Rights Campaign responds to General Pace

Yesterday, General Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tapdanced around the public outrage over his earlier statement to the Chicago Tribune that "homosexual acts between individuals are immoral and that we should not condone immoral acts." Instead of apologizing, he simply said, "I should have focused more on my support of the policy and less on my personal moral views." [Read story.]

Moral views? Moral views? Since when are bigotry and intolerance moral?

I was quite impressed by the following statement from Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign (America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality):

"Chairman Pace should apologize immediately to the tens of thousands of gay and lesbian service members who are making huge sacrifices and risking their lives every day to protect our country. He has flatly refused to do so.

"What is truly immoral is maligning these service members with his bigoted statements.

"The chairman also is making matters worse by misrepresenting the failed military policy. He argues that the 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy allows individuals to serve the nation and that it does not make a moral judgment. He doesn't tell the truth on either account. What the chairman fails to admit in his latest statement is that the current policy requires people to hide, misrepresent and deny their basic identities. It also criminalizes gay relationships and is a constant source of stress and fear for our gay and lesbian troops."

Good points.

General Pace does not support our troops. At least not all of them.

13 March 2007

U.S. Army is ordering injured troops to go to Iraq

Bush wants his surge, and so he'll get it. But the Army can't recruit people fast enough, so what do they do? According to an article in Salon (as published at CommonDreams.org), they send their injured troops back to Iraq.

An excerpt:
As the military scrambles to pour more soldiers into Iraq, a unit of the Army's 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Benning, Ga., is deploying troops with serious injuries and other medical problems, including GIs who doctors have said are medically unfit for battle. Some are too injured to wear their body armor, according to medical records.

On Feb. 15, Master Sgt. Jenkins and 74 other soldiers with medical conditions from the 3rd Division's 3rd Brigade were summoned to a meeting with the division surgeon and brigade surgeon. These are the men responsible for handling each soldier's "physical profile," an Army document that lists for commanders an injured soldier's physical limitations because of medical problems -- from being unable to fire a weapon to the inability to move and dive in three-to-five-second increments to avoid enemy fire. Jenkins and other soldiers claim that the division and brigade surgeons summarily downgraded soldiers' profiles, without even a medical exam, in order to deploy them to Iraq. It is a claim division officials deny.

The 3,900-strong 3rd Brigade is now leaving for Iraq for a third time in a steady stream. In fact, some of the troops with medical conditions interviewed by Salon last week are already gone. Others are slated to fly out within a week, but are fighting against their chain of command, holding out hope that because of their ills they will ultimately not be forced to go. Jenkins, who is still in Georgia, thinks doctors are helping to send hurt soldiers like him to Iraq to make units going there appear to be at full strength. "This is about the numbers," he said flatly.

That is what worries Steve Robinson, director of veterans affairs at Veterans for America, who has long been concerned that the military was pressing injured troops into Iraq. "Did they send anybody down range that cannot wear a helmet, that cannot wear body armor?" Robinson asked rhetorically. "Well that is wrong. It is a war zone." Robinson thinks that the possibility that physical profiles may have been altered improperly has the makings of a scandal. "My concerns are that this needs serious investigation. You cannot just look at somebody and tell that they were fit," he said. "It smacks of an overstretched military that is in crisis mode to get people onto the battlefield."

Eight soldiers who were at the Feb. 15 meeting say they were summoned to the troop medical clinic at 6:30 in the morning and lined up to meet with division surgeon Lt. Col. George Appenzeller, who had arrived from Fort Stewart, Ga., and Capt. Aaron K. Starbuck, brigade surgeon at Fort Benning. The soldiers described having a cursory discussion of their profiles, with no physical exam or extensive review of medical files. They say Appenzeller and Starbuck seemed focused on downplaying their physical problems. "This guy was changing people's profiles left and right," said a captain who injured his back during his last tour in Iraq and was ordered to Iraq after the Feb. 15 review.
[Read more.]

This is no way to fight a war. And it certainly is no way to win a war.

Above all, this is no way to support our troops.

12 March 2007

New York Times calls for dismissal of Attorney General Gonzales

An editorial in yesterday's New York Times called for George W. Bush to dismiss Alberto ("Torture Boy") Gonzales and "appoint an attorney general who will use the job to enforce the law and defend the Constitution."

This editorial comes three days after Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) "hinted very obliquely that perhaps Mr. Gonzales's time was up."

The editorial provides a fairly comprehensive list of reasons why, including Gonzales's defense of the "obviously politically motivated firing of eight United States attorneys", his defense of Bush's warrantless spying on American citizens, and his undermining of the Geneva Conventions.

[Read the editorial.]

Of course, the right-wing pundits will surely waste no time in dismissing this editorial as yet another example of America-hating left-wing media bias.

But who really hates what America is supposed to stand for?

11 March 2007

Mark Fiore on the veterans health care scandal

In his latest animation, the great political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes an entertaining yet sobering look at the health care crisis facing U.S. veterans at Walter Reed and other military medical facilities around the country. [Check it out.]

How dare we treat our veterans this way!

The "surge" wasn't enough; now Bush wants to endanger even more troops

In January, despite the wishes of Congress and the American people who employ him, George W. Bush decided that he was going to send 21,500 additional U.S. troops into Iraq.

Apparently, though, that wasn't enough to quench his thirst for blood. Now he is going to send another 4,400 troops into harm's way. [Read story.]

How many more American soldiers must die for Bush's illegal and unnecessary war of aggression?

09 March 2007

Newspapers drop Coulter

Unless you've been living under a rock, you've likely heard about how right-wing pundit Ann Coulter, in a March 2 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), called John Edwards a "faggot".

Well, I think the mainstream media are starting to wake up from their right-biased coma, as several newspapers reacted to Coulter's latest stunt by dropping her syndicated weekly column.

Now if only the cable TV companies would be so willing to drop FOX "News".

08 March 2007

Take action for International Women's Day

Today, March 8, is International Women's Day.

Women have come a long way in many cultures around the globe; however, the struggle for true equality and respect continues worldwide.

Today, please take a few minutes to visit the Amnesty International USA website to learn about some of the human rights issues currently facing the women of the world. There you can also take action on those issues. With a few clicks of your mouse, you can make the world a safer place for women and girls.

07 March 2007

Amnesty interviews a former detainee

On New Year's Eve, 2003, while vacationing in Macedonia, Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese descent, was kidnapped by the CIA, drugged, tortured, and thrown in a secret prison in Afghanistan. After nearly five months in captivity, the CIA concluded that Masri had no ties to terror organizations, and they released him "on a dark and deserted road near the Albanian border."

Your tax dollars at work.

Since his release, El-Masri has been fighting to end extraordinary renditions and demand an official apology for his mistreatment. Three cases are currently pending: German prosecutors are investigating a criminal case, a German parliamentary committee is looking into the German government's role in the abduction, and Masri, with the help of American Civil Liberties Union attorneys, has filed a civil suit in U.S. courts against former CIA Director George Tenet. The case against Tenet is stalled due to allegations by the defense that a trial would expose "state secrets". But El-Masri isn't about to give up.

The Spring 2007 issue of Amnesty International Magazine features a very interesting interview with El-Masri. In it, El-Masri relates his experiences as well as his insightful thoughts on the Bush administration's tactics in the "war on terror".

Some excerpts:

I'm not against the idea of state secrets. I'm just saying that I was treated unjustly. I am an innocent man. Everyone knows that. I'm just looking for the American government to confirm that fact. They don't need to expose any state secrets to do that. They just have to say that what happened to me was a mistake-that it's not insignificant that I was treated so unjustly. I don't understand how the government, or its legitimate secrets, could be damaged by such an admission.


It seems as though my case has made an impact. People and governments in Europe are paying better attention. They've woken up. But it's impossible to say whether the [extraordinary rendition] program is continuing. If they had known what I was going to do after I was released, I would probably still be sitting in prison.

At the end of the day, it's not just about what's happening with my case. It's about what's happening all over the world. In Europe and in America, the executive branch is usurping the balance of powers so that so the courts don't have the power to check the powers of the executive. Then the executive can do whatever he wants. And that's when it gets dangerous.


There's a permanent war against terror, against Osama bin Laden -- and now every Muslim in every tiny village in the Alps is under suspicion of being a terrorist. That's what really threatens international security: the crimes that are hidden behind these "state secrets." Someone with secret files can put someone in jail just by pointing at him and saying he's dangerous. You would think that something like that could only happen in an absolute, or totalitarian, state. Never in America! America was the symbol of the rule of law.


If America is going to be in a permanent war, then the government should be honest and say that people no longer have their constitutional rights. But if they continue claiming that they value freedom, then they also have to admit that they can't control people and do with them whatever they want. And that means there will be some amount of insecurity. No one likes insecurity. No one who defends freedom is defending terrorist attacks. But the government shouldn't say it's defending freedom when it's only concerned about security. In fact, the current "security state" in America and Europe leads to paranoia and resentment and creates even more insecurity for a lot of people.
[Read the complete interview.]

So what do you think? What does the U.S. government owe El-Masri? Financial retribution for his pain and suffering? An apology? Anything? Nothing?

06 March 2007

Starvation = Liberation???

I just found this interesting but very sad article that cites a UNICEF study revealing that some 4.5 million Iraqi children are under-nourished.

4.5 million!

This is the country we said were were going to liberate four years ago.

Instead, we've trashed their infrastructure, we've killed countless innocent civilians, we're starving their children, and we won't stop and we won't leave.

Liberation? Would someone please give Mr. Bush a dictionary?

05 March 2007

Pentagon to judge: My dog ate my interrogation video

Lawyers for Jose Padilla, a U.S. citizen that Bush declared an "enemy combatant", say that the psychological torture that Padilla suffered while in detention has driven him to the point where he is not mentally competent to stand trial.

Interestingly, a video of his interrogation in a U.S. military brig, which a judge had ordered into evidence, seems to have mysteriously disappeared. The Feds lost the smoking-gun video. Oops.

According to an article on Newsweek's website:

A federal judge ruled today that suspected Al Qaeda operative Jose Padilla is mentally competent, paving the way for his long-delayed case to proceed to trial, at long last, in April. But the ruling by U.S. Judge Marcia Cooke in Miami leaves open what may be more intriguing questions than those surrounding the defendant's mental health: what happened to a crucial video recording of Padilla being interrogated in a U.S. military brig that has mysteriously disappeared?

The missing DVD dates from March 2, 2004. It contains a video of the last interrogation session of Padilla, then a declared "enemy combatant" under an order from President Bush, while he was being held in military custody at a U.S. Navy brig in Charleston, S.C. But in recent days, in the course of an unusual court hearing about Padilla’s mental condition, a government lawyer disclosed to a surprised courtroom that the Defense Intelligence Agency—which had custody of the evidence—was no longer able to locate the DVD. As a result, it was not included in a packet of classified DVDs that was recently turned over to defense lawyers under orders from Judge Cooke.

The disclosure that the Pentagon had lost a potentially important piece of evidence in one of the U.S. government's highest-profile terrorism cases was met with claims of incredulity by some defense lawyers and human-rights groups monitoring the case. "This is the kind of thing you hear when you're litigating cases in Egypt or Morocco or Karachi," said John Sifton, a lawyer with Human Rights Watch, one of a number of groups that has criticized the U.S. government’s treatment of Padilla. "It is simply not credible that they would have lost this tape. The administration has shown repeatedly they are more interested in covering up abuses than getting to the bottom of whether people were abused."
[Read more.]

Ten years ago, who would have thought that this could happen in the United States of America?

Another good article about the mental health issue in the Padilla case can be found in the March 12th issue of The Nation. Check it out: A Trial for Thousands Denied Trial

04 March 2007

Still in favor of the death penalty?

I oppose the death penalty for a lot of reasons, but the primary one is the very real risk of executing an innocent person.

If you're one of those people who still believe that the death penalty is a good thing, tell me: How can you justify the risk of executing an innocent person? After all, we see numerous cases all the time of people being released from death row after new evidence proves their innocence. Is it because these victims of a flawed justice system are faceless strangers? Would you still favor the death penalty if your brother, sister, father, mother, son, or daughter were sentenced to death for a crime that he or she did not commit?

A recent article in the St. Louis Review provides a case in point.

An excerpt:
Juan Melendez lists a number of reasons why people should support abolishing the death penalty.

But the best reason is one he has experienced. He knows that an innocent person is at risk of being killed by any state that has the death penalty because he is one of those people, he told an audience at St. Louis University last week.

The native of Puerto Rico spent 17 years on death row in Florida after being convicted of the first-degree murder and armed robbery of Delbert Baker, a beauty-shop owner.

In 2001, Judge Barbara Fleischer overturned the conviction. She noted there was no physical evidence which connected Melendez to the murder and that additional information attacked the credibility of the state’s key witnesses’ testimony.

Evidence that was not presented at the trial showed that three witnesses provided an alibi. Another man had been seen at the home of the murder victim on the night of the homicide, had been wearing bloody clothes and admitted to other witnesses that he had killed Baker.

"The evidence also helps to substantiate the defense theory that someone other than the defendant committed the homicide," the judge wrote.

The St. Petersburg Times reported that prosecutors withheld evidence from defense lawyers. A tape that emerged contained the confession of the real killer, now deceased, who said Melendez was not present.

"Check the record. It’s all in black and white," Melendez said of those who might doubt his innocence.

Surviving 17 years on death row, knowing he did not commit the crime, tested Melendez, a Catholic. "Without God I never would have made it. I wanted to commit suicide. But God sent me beautiful dreams. That gave me hope that one day I would be out of there, that I would be free."

Melendez was interviewed by the Review while in St. Louis Feb. 22 for a talk at SLU about his experiences. When he was released from prison Jan. 3, 2002, he became the 99th death-row inmate in the United States to be released since 1973.

Now, 123 people have been let off death row. Another 1,062 have been executed since the death penalty was reinstated, he said. "Only God knows the (innocent) ones who did not have the luck I had," Melendez noted.
[Read more.]

Yes, only God knows.

02 March 2007

Army medical system cleans house. Will vets finally get proper care?

It was very sad to read the recent reports of neglect and ill-treatment of sick and wounded veterans at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. It's bad enough that we sent our kids to fight in an illegal war of aggression based on lies. But to fail to adequately tend to their physical and mental health needs is unthinkable.

So it's kind of gratifying to watch the fallout once this issue finally made it into the mainstream media.

Yesterday, the commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center was fired. According to a Washington Post story, "the Army said it had lost trust and confidence in his leadership in the wake of a scandal over outpatient treatment of wounded troops at the Northwest Washington hospital complex."

Then today Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey resigned. According to the Associated Press, "Defense Secretary Robert Gates said Harvey had resigned. But senior defense officials speaking on condition of anonymity said Gates had asked Harvey to leave. Gates was displeased that Harvey, after firing Maj. Gen. George Weightman as the head of Walter Reed, chose to name as Weightman's temporary replacement another general whose role in the controversy was still in question."

And so the drama continues.

But hopefully these staff changes are more than just politics. Hopefully they are signs that the underlying problems will be addressed and that our veterans will finally get the care they deserve.

Fingers crossed. But I know better than to hold my breath.

01 March 2007

In the U.S., oil is more important than our children

According to the new UNICEF report Child Povery in Perspective: An Overview of Child Well-Being in Rich Countries, children in the United States have the second worst quality of life in the developed world.

Yes, the second worst. Nice, huh?

And I just stumbled upon a case in point:

Md. boy dies from toothache

Twelve-year-old Deamonte Driver died of a toothache Sunday.

A routine, $80 tooth extraction might have saved him.

If his mother had been insured.

If his family had not lost its Medicaid.

If Medicaid dentists weren't so hard to find.

If his mother hadn't been focused on getting a dentist for his brother, who had six rotted teeth.

By the time Deamonte's own aching tooth got any attention, the bacteria from the abscess had spread to his brain, doctors said. After two operations and more than six weeks of hospital care, the Prince George's County boy died.
[Read more.]

So far we've spent more than $400 billion dollars on an unnecessary war in Iraq. Think of how much better off we'd be if that money had instead been spent on taking care of our children.