30 April 2007

Amnesty says China fails to keep promises on human rights in lead-up to Olympics

The 2008 Summer Olympics will be held in Beijing next year, and a new report by the Nobel-prize-winning human rights group Amnesty International (AI) criticizes the Chinese government for failing to live up to its promises to improve their human rights record in the months leading up to the global attention that the Olympics will bring. In fact, the China might be using the Olympics as an excuse for crackdowns.

The report catalogs a wide range of persistent abuses, from extensive use of detention without trial to the persecution of civil rights activists and new methods to rein in the domestic media and censor the Internet.

No Chinese official was immediately available to comment on the report. China has denounced previous Amnesty reports, saying it was fulfilling all the commitments made in its bid for the Games. (Guess again.)

The report calls on the International Olympic Committee to push Beijing to improve its human rights record, especially on issues relating to the Olympics.

The following is from an AI news release issued today on the subject:
China: Olympics countdown -- important reforms marred by increasing repression

Despite significant reforms to the death penalty system and new rules for foreign journalists in China, there is little evidence of improvement in other areas of human rights related to the Olympics -- and there has been increasing repression of human rights activism and domestic journalism, said Amnesty International today.

In its latest assessment of China's progress towards its promised human rights improvements ahead of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, Amnesty International also found that the Olympics is apparently acting as a catalyst to extend the use of detention without trial, at least in Beijing.

"The new extra layer of judicial review for death sentences and the relaxation of restrictions on foreign journalists are important steps towards better respect for human rights in China. Disappointingly, they have been matched by moves to expand detention without trial and 'house arrest' of activists, and by a tightening of controls over domestic media and the Internet," said Catherine Baber, Deputy Asia Pacific Director at Amnesty International.

"The failure to ensure equal rights and freedoms for both foreign and domestic journalists smacks of double standards -- China has yet to meet its promise to ensure 'complete media freedom' for the Olympics."

An overriding pre-occupation with 'stability' and 'a good social environment' for the hosting of the Olympics appears to inform this approach. While such concerns are understandable for any country holding such a major international event, policies and practices must be founded on respect for rule of law and human rights, or they risk fuelling further discontent.

Moves to reform or abolish 'Re-education through Labour' remain stalled, with the Olympics apparently being used as a pretext to extend its use in order to 'clean up' Beijing in time for August 2008. The Beijing police have also recently suggested that another form of detention without trial, 'Compulsory Drug Rehabilitation', may be extended from six months to one year to force drug users to 'give up their addictions before the Olympics'.

"If the Chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee are serious about the Olympics having a 'lasting legacy' for China, they should be concerned that the Games are being used as a pretext to entrench and extend forms of detention that have been on China's reform agenda for many years," said Catherine Baber.

Amnesty International has sent copies of its latest update to the Chinese authorities and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), noting that these issues are directly relevant to Beijing's hosting of the Olympics and key principles in the Olympic Charter, such as 'preservation of human dignity'.

"The IOC cannot want an Olympics that is tainted with human rights abuses -- whether families forcibly evicted from their homes to make way for sports arenas or growing numbers of peaceful activists held under 'house arrest' to stop them drawing attention to human rights issues," said Catherine Baber.

Notes to Editors

In the run-up to the 2008 Beijing Games, Amnesty International is publishing regular assessments focusing on four key areas of human rights relating to the Olympics: human rights activists, media freedom, death penalty and detention without trial. Key findings in the latest assessment are as follows:

Human Rights Activists

Examples of growing tolerance towards some individual activists are outweighed by the continuing harassment of others who try to report or campaign more widely on human rights violations. Two veteran Chinese dissidents who had been active in the 1989 pro-democracy movement were allowed to go to Hong Kong for the first time in mid April, and HIV/AIDS activist Dr Gao Yaojie was able to travel to the USA to receive an award. However, many more activists face intimidation, arbitrary detention and intrusive surveillance of family members.

· Ye Guozhu continues to serve a four-year prison sentence in connection with his efforts to organise a demonstration against reported forced evictions in Beijing. Relatives say he suffers from health problems, partly as a result of being tortured in detention, including a recent incident at the end of 2006 where local sources say he was beaten with electro-shock batons by guards at Chaobai prison in Beijing. Amnesty International considers him a prisoner of conscience and is calling for his immediate and unconditional release.

· Defence lawyer Gao Zhisheng is being held by police as a prisoner in his own home after being convicted of 'inciting subversion' in December 2006 in connection with his peaceful human rights activism. He has claimed to other activists that he had been treated harshly during his four months in formal police custody, including being handcuffed and forced to sit in an iron chair or cross-legged for extended periods, and having bright lights shone on him. He said he only agreed to confess to his 'crime' in order to protect his family.

Media Freedom

Despite promising 'complete media freedom' during the Olympics, the government is applying double standards for foreign and domestic journalists. On 1 January 2007, new regulations for foreign journalists took effect, allowing them to bypass permission from local authorities when conducting interviews and investigations. However, Chinese audiences are likely to be denied access to foreign news reports on sensitive topics, particularly after regulations were introduced in September that strengthen official controls over the domestic distribution of news from foreign agencies within China. Over recent months, other official rulings have tightened controls over domestic media, who now

· have to get permission before reporting on 'sensitive' historical events

· are banned from broadcasting news on 20 specific issues, including judicial corruption and campaigns to protect human rights

· are subject to a new penalty points system, where they may be closed down if they lose all their points over 'wrongdoings'. The system is aimed at a 'peaceful social environment ahead of... next years Olympic Games', according to a state media executive quoted in the South China Morning Post.

In recent months, the Chinese authorities have also sought to further tighten controls over the Internet. This has been followed by further censoring of certain websites, blogs and online articles. For example, a website providing news broadcasts over the internet, www.ccztv.com, was closed down in March.

Death Penalty

On 1 January 2007, the Supreme People's Court (SPC) formally resumed its role of approving all death sentences, a move that Amnesty International welcomed in the hope that it would reduce the number of people sentenced to death and spur reforms in the judicial system towards greater compliance with international fair trial standards.

But a lack of transparency means it is difficult to assess whether the SPC's review is having a significant effect. For example, the state news agency Xinhua reported on 19 March that the SPC had approved four death sentences since 1 January. Yet Amnesty International recorded the executions of at least 13 other individuals during that period while monitoring Chinese news reports -- none of them the same as the four people named by Xinhua. Amnesty International is calling on the Chinese authorities to publish further details of the SPC reviews and full national statistics on death sentences and executions.

Detention without trial

"We do not rule out the possibility of compelling all drug abusers in the capital to give up their addictions before the Olympics": Fu Zhenghua, deputy director of the Beijing Public Security Bureau.

Amnesty International continues to receive regular reports of individuals being assigned to 'Re-education through Labour' and other forms of administrative detention imposed without charge, trial or judicial review. The organization fears that these abusive systems are being used to detain petty criminals, vagrants, drug addicts and others to 'clean up' Beijing ahead of the Olympics.
Read the full briefing: China: The Olympics countdown - repression of activists overshadows death penalty and media reforms

29 April 2007

Take action for Darfur

Today, April 29, has been declared a Global Day for Darfur. Activists around the world are taking part in demonstrations to call for U.N. peacekeeper protection for civilians, a sustainable peace agreement, and punishment for the perpetrators.

On this special day of action, Amnesty International USA is offering a number of actions you can take online with just a few clicks of the mouse.

So please take a few moments to speak out for protection and justice for the victims of the ongoing violence in Darfur:

Urge Chad to accept peacekeepers to protect civilians.
Thousands of women and girls have been raped, child soldiers have been recruited, whole villages looted and destroyed, and an estimated 120,000 people have been forced from their homes in eastern Chad, some of whom have been desperate enough to escape into Darfur. Urge Chad to accept peacekeepers to protect civilians.

Tell Congress to help get U.N boots on the ground in Darfur.
Thousands of Amnesty activists last week visited, phoned, and e-mailed their Members of Congress to tell them that time is running out for the people of Darfur. Help get UN boots on the ground before it's too late. Join our efforts by taking action today.

Ensure justice for the people of Darfur.
Despite international outrage over the human rights crisis in Darfur, not a single perpetrator of war crimes or crimes against humanity has been brought to justice. Send two crucial messages to Secretary of State Rice and your members of Congress today: strengthen the U.S. government’s relationship with the ICC, and keep the pressure on Sudan's government to cooperate with the ICC investigation.

Read more about the conflict in Darfur.

27 April 2007

Sunday, April 29: Global Day for Darfur

It's amazing how many people I meet who are absolutely unaware of the killings going on in Darfur in western Sudan. For those of you who don't know about about, hundreds of thousands of people are believed to have lost their lives since the Darfur conflict erupted in 2003. Systematic human rights abuses have occurred, including killing, torture, rape, looting, and destroying of property by all parties involved in the conflict, but primarily by the Sudanese government and government-backed Janjawid militia. For more background on the crisis from Amnesty International, click here.

This week, activist around the world are taking action to mark the grim four-year anniversary of Darfur conflict, and to call for U.N. peacekeeper protection for civilians, a sustainable peace agreement, and punishment for the perpetrators. These days of action will culminate in demonstrations worldwide on Sunday, April 29.

Find an event in your area.

Amid falling execution rates, Amnesty calls for a universal moratorium

Most Americans believe that our society is fairly civilized. But we are one of very few nations in the world today that still exercises the death penalty.

According to the human rights group Amnesty International, execution rates are falling worldwide. But the U.S. is on the list of the six countries that were responsible for 91 percent of all executions carried out in 2006. The other five countries: Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan, and China. That's the company we keep.

When the subject of abolishing the death penalty arises, the bloodthirsty pro-death-penalty types often react as though we are suggesting that they free all the criminals. Don't fall for that trick. Life in prison without parole is the alternative we offer. Lock them up and throw away the key. At least this way we won't make the mistake of executing a wrongfully convicted person. And, given the fact that 200 people have been exonerated so far via DNA evidence after having spent time in prison (some on death row) for crimes they did not commit, we have to wonder how many people haven't been so "lucky".

That said, below is a report issued today by Amnesty International, which is calling for a universal moratorium on the death penalty:

Death penalty on the decline

Momentum is growing for an end to capital punishment after Amnesty International’s (AI) latest analysis revealed a big drop in executions.

The Annual Death Penalty Statistics – launched in Rome on Friday – show a worldwide trend towards abolition with an encouraging 25 per cent decrease in executions and death sentences in 2006.

Last year, the Philippines became the 99th country to abolish the death penalty for ordinary crimes, while Georgia and Moldova removed provisions for the death penalty from their constitutions. Many more, including South Korea, stand on the brink of abolition. Only 16 countries were abolitionist in 1977.

"AI is calling for a universal moratorium on execution," said Secretary General Irene Khan. "A death penalty free world is possible if key governments are willing to show political leadership."

Despite the encouraging signs, statistics reveal that many states continue to kill their citizens with a total disregard for basic human rights.

At least 1,591 prisoners were executed by their own governments in 25countries last year, while 3,861 new death sentences were issued (in 55 countries). Over 20,000 prisoners currently languish on death row across the globe.

91 per cent of all known executions in 2006 took place in six countries: China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Pakistan and the USA.

"These hard core executioners are isolated and out of tune with global trends," said Ms Khan. "The figures are inexcusable, but even officials in Iraq and China have spoken of their desire to see an end to the use of the death penalty."

Based on public reports available, AI estimated that at least 1,010 people were executed by the Chinese government last year. These figures are only the tip of the iceberg, with credible sources suggesting the real total is closer to 8,000.

Iran's execution rate nearly doubled compared to 2005, with at least 177 people killed. It also executed the highest number of child offenders (four), while Pakistan killed one. Iraq was a new entry on the list of top executioners after a dramatic escalation in deaths, with at least 65 hangings.

"The death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment," said Ms Khan. "It must be abolished and a universal moratorium will be an important step forward."

More info on the annual death penalty statistics:

Facts and figures

Sentences and executions

List of abolitionist and retentionist countries

Executions fall as pressure grows for universal moratorium (press release)

Stop the state killing (essay, PDF)

26 April 2007

Mark Fiore: Gun Crazy

This week's new animation from political cartoonist Mark Fiore takes a look at the availability of guns for the mentally ill.

There's a lot of insight packed into this brief animation.

Check it out: Gun Crazy

Tell Barrick to stop mining for gold on Shoshone sacred grounds

Come on, people, haven't the Native Americans suffered enough at the hands of the white "settlers"?

Now I just learned that a company called Barrick Gold is mining on Shoshone lands without consent (and in defiance of the UN).

Below is a statement and action alert on the subject from Oxfam America:

What would you do if someone came onto your land and started drilling for gold?

It's happening right now to the Western Shoshone people of Nevada. A mining company called Barrick Gold has been mining Shoshone lands without consent and is now expanding into Mount Tenabo and Horse Canyon, areas considered sacred to the Shoshone.

Even though the Shoshone have repeatedly protested these incursions and the UN stated last year that no companies should mine these Native American tribal lands without the Shoshone's permission, Barrick has continued its operations.

Click here to tell Barrick to stop mining on sacred grounds.

The Western Shoshone people have invited Barrick officials to discuss the matter, but the company has refused. Even worse, Barrick has continued its activities, bringing in drilling rigs and erecting a locked fence preventing access to certain areas.

We want Barrick to know that the Western Shoshone peoples have strong support among concerned citizens around the world. Please sign the petition to show your support and to tell Barrick to stop drilling without Shoshone consent. Send this message to your friends to help us make a strong statement for justice.

On May 2, Western Shoshone representatives will attend Barrick’s annual stockholder meeting in Toronto to restate their opposition to the mine and call on Barrick to make a good faith effort to resolve the issue. To strengthen their case, we are asking you to sign our petition calling on Barrick to stop mining without Shoshone consent.

So please sign the petition. The Shoshone need everyone's support on this to fight corporate arrogance and greed.

24 April 2007

Amnesty International report: U.S. authorities fail to protect Native American and Alaska Native women from shocking rates of rape

Centuries ago, the white man invaded North America and stole it from the indigenous peoples for whom this was their longtime home. The white man slaughtered the Native Americans and forced those who survived to live in poverty on reservations.

But that's not the end of their problems at the hands of the white man. A report released today by Amnesty International (AI) says that Native American and Alaska Native women in the United States suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence, yet the federal government has created substantial barriers to accessing justice.

Below is an excerpt from a press release about this new report, along with links to the full press release, the full report, and an action you can take online to address the problem.

U.S. Authorities Fail to Protect Native American and Alaska Native Women From Shocking Rates of Rape, Reports Amnesty International

Federal Government's Jurisdictional Maze and Chronic Under-Funding of Law Enforcement and Indian Health Services Mean Justice Denied for Native Women

(Washington, D.C.) -- Native American and Alaska Native women in the United States suffer disproportionately high levels of rape and sexual violence, yet the federal government has created substantial barriers to accessing justice, Amnesty International (AI) asserted in a 113-page report released today. Justice Department figures indicate that American Indian and Alaska Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or sexually assaulted than women in the United States in general; more than one in three Native women will be raped in their lifetimes.

The United States government has created a complex maze of tribal, state and federal jurisdictions that often allows perpetrators to rape with impunity -- and in some cases effectively creates jurisdictional vacuums that encourage assaults. It is necessary to establish the location of the crime and the identity of the perpetrator to determine which authorities have jurisdiction, during which critical time is lost. This leads to inadequate investigations or a failure to respond.

Further complications are the lack of trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) at Indian Health Service (IHS) facilities to provide forensic exams, and the potential for law enforcement to mishandle evidence when rape kits are used. The result is that Native women often:

• Do not get timely - or any - response from police.

• May not get forensic medical examinations.

• May never see their cases prosecuted.

"Native women are brutalized at an alarming rate, and the United States government, a purported champion of women's rights, is unfortunately contributing to the problem," said Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). "It is disgraceful that such abuse even exists today. Without immediate action, an already abysmal and outrageous situation for women could spiral even further out of control. It is time to halt these human rights abuses that have raged unfettered since this country was founded."

The AI report, Maze of Injustice: The failure to protect Indigenous women from sexual violence in the USA, warned that government figures, as disturbing as they are, grossly underestimate the problem because many women are too fearful of inaction to report their cases. According to one Oklahoma support worker, of 77 active sexual assault/domestic violence cases involving Native American women, only three victims reported their cases to the police.

The U.S. Government has undermined the authority of tribal justice systems to respond to crimes of sexual violence by consistent under-funding. Federal law limits the criminal sentences that tribal courts can impose for any one offense to one year and prohibits tribal courts from trying non-Indian suspects -- even though data collected by the Department of Justice shows that up to 86 percent of perpetrators are non-Indian.

In addition, AI's research suggests that there is a failure at the state and federal level to pursue cases of sexual violence against Native women involving non-Indian perpetrators. One former federal prosecutor told AI, "It is hard to prosecute cases where there is a Native American victim and a non-Native American perpetrator." Once a case is denied at the state or federal level, there is no further recourse for survivors of rape under criminal law.

"When elders say, 'too many of our women and children have been raped,' we know that we must come together to overcome the darkness and end the silence. What we don't acknowledge, we carry with us," said Denise Morris, executive director and CEO of the Alaska Native Justice Center and a speaker at the report launch. "The United States government has a legal and moral responsibility to provide resources to Native organizations so they can begin to develop solutions and promote healing and wellness at the community level."

The report focuses primarily on three regions that pose distinct jurisdictional challenges: Oklahoma, Alaska and Standing Rock Sioux Reservation (North/South Dakota). The report finds that regardless of the location or legal framework, the outcome is the same: many Native women who have experienced sexual violence are denied justice.
See the full press release.

Read the full report, which includes AI's recommendations to address the problem.

Send an e-mail or a letter to Rep. David Obey, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, asking him to support full funding of the Violence Against Women Act and in particular the appropriation of $2.5 million for the Tribal Title, which seeks to improve safety and justice for American Indian and Alaska Native women.

An island made by global warming (and many to be destroyed)

According to an article today in the British newspaper The Independent:
The map of Greenland will have to be redrawn. A new island has appeared off its coast, suddenly separated from the mainland by the melting of Greenland's enormous ice sheet, a development that is being seen as the most alarming sign of global warming.
Sure, it's just an ice sheet. But it's also just the beginning. Further melting will threaten coastal towns and cities, and could even "remove several island countries such as the Maldives from the face of the earth."

So tell me: Do you really need to drive that bloated SUV?

23 April 2007

Why do they think women are worth less than men?

An article today by the Associated Press cites a study that found that women earn only 80 percent of what their male peers earn one year after college.

Then it gets even worse.

10 years after college, women earn only 69 percent of what men earn.

The study was conducted by the American Association of University Women Educational Foundation.

The article goes on to say:
Even after controlling for hours, occupation, parenthood, and other factors known to affect earnings, the study found that one-quarter of the pay gap remains unexplained. The group said that portion of the gap is "likely due to sex discrimination."
So there it is.

Sex discrimination.

Employers believe that women should be paid less than men for performing the same job.

What century is this?

22 April 2007

Gonzales's long record of lawlessness

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is under intense scrutiny these days over the firing of eight federal prosecutors, with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle calling for Gonzales's resignation. Not only does it appear that the firings were politically motivated (which is illegal), but Gonzales may have gone so far as to lie about it to Congress.

Prior to this latest scandal, Gonzales was perhaps most notorious for his semantic gymnastics to justify the use of torture on detainees in U.S. custody and to protect the torturers from prosecution for war crimes - moves that paved the way for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.

Later, so that other countries could do the dirty work for us, Gonzales defended the Bush administration's policy of extraordinary rendition, which is the practice of sending prisoners to other countries (most of which are notorious for their use of torture) for interrogation. Gonzales said that these other countries promised not to torture the people we turn over to them. Right.

But you don't have to be a Muslim to get a taste of the Attorney General's war on human rights. Back in February, Gonzales went before the Senate Judiciary Committee and tried to justify his warrantless spying on American citizens. It's apparently too much trouble for Gonzales's team to get the required court warrant for wiretapping. (Getting one requires that you demonstrate reasonable cause.)

Now let's go back farther, to the 1990s, when Gonzalez served as legal counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush. According to a statement by the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP), Gonzales's track record on death penalty cases in Texas failed to demonstrate a commitment to fairness, due process, and equal protection under the law. "Time and again," reads the statement, "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."

So there you have it: Gonzales failed to disclose evidence that may have prompted then-Governor Bush to commute the death penalty for a possibly innocent person.

In short, Gonzales's long-term track record has proven him to be an eager participant in George W. Bush's culture of death, disregard for human rights, and disdain for the rule of law.

The federal prosecutor scandal resulted in eight lawyers losing their jobs for no good reason. That's bad enough. But Gonzales's previous transgressions have resulted in unlawful detentions, torture, and death.

If this latest scandal is what finally calls Gonzales to accountability, then it's a positive step towards restoring true justice in the U.S. But we must not lose sight of Gonzales's other offenses, and he should be held accountable for all of them.

Gonzales's position is that of the nation's highest law enforcement official. As such, he was entrusted with the responsibility of protecting our rights and freedoms, and defending the Constitution. Instead, he has built a career on finding creative ways of ignoring or undermining the rules while evading accountability for himself and for those he served.

It's time to give Mr. Gonzales a refresher course on U.S. and international law, and the consequences of breaking them.

Earth Day actions: Speak out against corporations that violate the earth and its inhabitants

Today, April 22, is Earth Day 2007. On this occasion, I am pleased to present a two easy actions from Amnesty International USA (AIUSA), through which y ou can speak out against corporations who are violating our planet and its inhabitants.

AIUSA works on issues related to the environment and human rights as part of their Business & Human Rights program. The military, diplomatic, and economic power of the U.S. is often exercised through the actions of multinational corporations with ties to the U.S. government. This is true in an increasing number of countries around the world, including many the U.S. identifies as allies. How multinational corporations conduct business and how and whether the U.S. holds them accountable are matters of great consequence for both human rights and the environment.

Take Action Today:

Call on Chevron to address the human rights of Amazon communities
For over four decades, Indigenous communities have witnessed multinational oil companies cut through their ancestral lands in search of the country's vast petroleum resources. According to the report "Amazon Crude", Texaco alone was responsible for dumping 19 billion gallons of toxic wastewater into the region contaminating the drinking water of Ecuador's Amazon communities.

Demand that Dow Chemical clean up Bhopal disaster site
More than 7,000 people died within a matter of days when toxic gases leaked from a chemical plant in Bhopal, India on the night of 2-3 December 1984. Over the last 22 years, exposure to the toxins has resulted in the deaths of a further 15,000 people, as well as chronic and debilitating illnesses for thousands of others for which treatment is largely ineffective. Call on Dow Chemical to clean up the factory site and remove the stockpiles of chemicals abandoned by the company.

21 April 2007

Mark Forford: Everyone Should Get A Gun

The shootings this week at Virginia Tech have prompted many Americans to consider how the easy availability of guns might contribute to crimes of this nature.

In his latest column in the San Francisco Chronicle, the great Mark Morford takes a look at the issue, in his own unique and inimitable style.

An excerpt:
You know what offers just tremendous amounts of pleasure? Shooting guns.

It's true. Shotguns, handguns, rifles, BB guns, squirt guns, you name it. Try it yourself: Just head out to a shooting range and have the gun boys yank you some clay pigeons and blast those things out of the sky and oh my God it's just a ridiculous barefaced thrill, a sense of godlike power, a rush of adrenaline to go along with a hot buzz of precision and concentration and the smell of gunpowder and much manly macho grunting.

I am not at all joking. I've done it. I've even enjoyed it, quite a bit. Sport shooting is an intense rush, a unique sort of pleasure, scary and powerful and deadly and fascinating and, in its deep, pure violence, rather beautiful. What's more, guns can be gorgeous pieces of precision engineering, sexy and brutal and often superbly made and so dumbly phallic and obviously homoerotic it makes the men of the NRA tingle every night, secretly.

But let this be known: Guns are also, quite clearly, something that could exit the human experience entirely and we would, very simply, only be the better for it. Much, much better. Oh yes we would.

Look, it's easy enough to point out all the obvious gun-control arguments the brutal Virginia Tech massacre slaps across the face of the pro-gun culture. Guns are far too easy to obtain. Gun fetishism is far too prevalent and glamorized and legitimized in the States. Guns are often easier to get hold of than a driver's license and we don't even perform instant background checks, and in places like Texas it's now easier than ever not only to own a gun, but the state's newly expanded gun laws mean it's A-OK to shoot and kill someone for pretty much looking at you sideways, and if you do, not only is it unlikely you will go to jail for it, many Texans will actually applaud.

But the truth is, these issues aren't really the point. And as many politicians -- even Democrats -- are already pointing out, new gun-control legislation in the wake of VT isn't exactly a priority, mostly due to the vicious power of the tiny-but-vocal gun lobby and especially given the faux-cowboy gun-lovin' warmonger who currently holds the White House veto stamp in his insolent little fist right now.

But even the obvious fact that no new gun-control laws are likely to emerge hasn't stopped the pro-gunners from tossing up what is easily my favorite pro-gun argument of all time, one that's popped back up on blogs and forums and in right-wing columns all over the Net in response to VT, like some sort of cute, thuggish mantra of happy cancerous violence.

It goes like this: If only more people had guns, no one would get shot. If only everyone was armed and everyone was packing heat and everyone knew everyone else could kill them at a moment's notice, why, no one would dare shoot each other for fear of getting killed themselves before they even had a chance to enjoy their own murderous rage.

In other words, the solution to the too-many-guns-too-easily problem? Even more guns.

More to the point: If the professors and students at Virginia Tech just so happened to carry their own swell Glock 9mm in their backpacks or in their purses just like insane sullen loner Cho Seung-Hui, maybe he would've been less likely to go on that rampage because, gosh golly, he'd surely know he'd be quickly shot dead by 100 trigger-ready students as soon as he fired the first shot. And what satisfaction is there in a brutal gun rampage if you don't get to kill more than a handful of kids? It's such perfectly insane logic, they should print it on the NRA brochure. Hell, maybe they do.

I love this line of thinking. It's like bashing your own skull with a brick and calling it intellectual stimulation.
Read more.

20 April 2007

Amnesty International alarmed at Iraq's soaring execution rate

It's George W. Bush's Iraq, for sure. Iraq now has the dubious distinction of having the fourth highest execution rate in the world (after China, Iran, and Pakistan), with the execution of at least 65 people last year.

Even worse, these executions followed questionable legal procedures.

Today, Amnesty International issued the following press release regarding this problem:

Iraq: Televised 'confessions', torture and unfair trials underpin world's fourth highest executioner

Iraqi authorities are increasingly imposing the death penalty including after pretrial televised "confessions", uninvestigated allegations of torture and unfair trials, according to a new report from Amnesty International.

Iraq has now become the country with the fourth highest number of executions after China, Iran and Pakistan, with the execution of at least 65 people last year.

Since reinstatement of the death penalty in mid 2004, more than 270 people have been sentenced to death and at least a hundred people have been executed. The broadcast of televised "confessions" ceased in late 2005 but many of those who appeared continue to be held on death row or have been executed.

"The dramatic increase in use of this cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment represents a dangerous slide into the brutal errors of the past, particularly when so many executions have come after unfair trials, televised 'confessions' and uninvestigated allegations of torture," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "Despite official justifications of the death penalty as a deterrent, rising violence on Iraqi streets suggests that its reinstatement may simply have contributed to the brutalisation of Iraqi society."

The report, Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq, is based on Amnesty International's examination of hundreds of verdicts issued by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq (CCCI), as well as the testimonies of families of those convicted and their lawyers. It also includes a detailed analysis of Iraqi laws that undermine the right to a fair trial.

The report's main findings include:

• Insufficient or no investigation of allegations of torture despite frequent reliance on "confessions" made during detention to obtain convictions for capital offences;

• Pretrial televised "confessions" and the inclusion in court of evidence identifiying the accused from witnesses who have previously seen the confession;

• Inadequate access to defence lawyers and the intimidation of lawyers including death threats and attacks;

• Vague and overly broad definition of capital offences under Iraqi law including abductions that do not involve killing and damage to public property with the aim of undermining security or stability.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases without exception as a violation of the right to life and as the ultimate form of cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. At an international level, Iraq's restoration of the death penalty also represents a seriously retrograde development. At the beginning of 2007, no less than 128 countries had taken the momentous step of abolishing the death penalty in law or in practice with an average of more than three countries a year moving to abolition over the last decade.

"The shocking manner of Saddam Hussain's execution exposed the grotesque cruelty of the death penalty in Iraq, yet his was only one of at least 65 executions last year and the toll is continuing to mount," said Malcolm Smart. "Amnesty International calls on the Iraqi government to immediately establish a moratorium on executions, commute all pending death sentences and ensure that the most rigorous standards for fair trial are respected in all cases. Without such action, Iraq will continue to live under the brutal legacy of the past."
Read the full report: Unjust and unfair: the death penalty in Iraq

19 April 2007

Mark Fiore: Outta' Africa

Earlier this month, while Americans were too preoccupied with the downfall of radio personality Don Imus to think about much else, we learned that the U.S. agents have been illegally transferring hundreds of terror suspects, including women and children, to Ethiopia for "interrogation" (read: "torture"), and keeping them there without charge and without access to lawyers.

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore addresses this issue. Check it out: Outta' Africa

18 April 2007

Right-wing press stoops to a new low with Osama-Obama cartoon

The 2004 swift boat adventure was bad enough. But the right-wing spin machine has outdone itself yet again.

For months they've been having a field day talking about how "Obama" rhymes with "Osama". Now they've taken it a step further.

An article yesterday by Media Matters for America shines the spotlight on a ridiculous cartoon on the right-wing website Townhall.com that depicts Osama bin Laden wearing a button that reads "Obama 2008".

To read more about this latest obscenity, and to see an image of the not-so-funny cartoon, click here.

Will people actually fall for this nonsense? And, if so, will the Democrats once again roll over and let the Republicans get away with it?

17 April 2007

Guns in schools and in society

Like most Americans, I was saddened by yesterday's shootings at Virginia Tech. My heart goes out to the victims and their families.

And this latest tragedy makes me think about guns, and how readily available they are in the U.S.

I have some friends who own guns for sport or for self-defense. And twenty years ago I spent an afternoon at a rifle range with a boyfriend who wanted to try it once. At the time, I didn't see the appeal. I still don't. I'm just not comfortable around guns.

But many people are, and by law they're allowed to pursue their love of guns.

But with guns comes responsibility. And too many people use them irresponsibly. Too many people use them to kill. After all, that's what they were made for.

Jane Smiley has an interesting piece about the gun issue today in the Huffington Post, in which she relates gun enthusiasm to the right-wing mindset in general. An interesting perspective. Here is an excerpt:

Some years ago, I was talking to a man about guns. At the time, I didn't really know anyone with guns (still don't), but he did. He had had guns himself. He said, "I gave my gun away, because when I had it, every time something happened that made me mad, my mind would start circling around that gun, and I would be thinking about using it.

So I got rid of it and I'm glad I did." Right up front I will say that I am opposed to casual gun ownership, but I also realize that Americans will always have guns. Period. It's a national fetish. But the mental state my interlocutor was describing years ago is the price we have to pay, along with, of course, the accidental deaths of children and other unprepared and careless people who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and in proximity to the wrong gun. What I would like is for the gun-toting right wing to admit that there is a price we pay, that senseless accidental deaths and traumas are a national cost and that it's not so clear that it's worth it, but hey, we pay it anyway because so many guns are in the hands of so many people that there would never be any getting rid of them. I would like the right wing to admit that guns are not "good" and that the right to bear arms is not an absolute virtue and that the deaths in the US caused by guns are at least as problematic, philosophically, as abortion. But I'm not holding my breath.
Read more.

16 April 2007

Where are your tax dollars going?

Americans are finishing up their 2006 tax forms. That's painful enough. But it's even more painful to consider how our hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.

According to the Friends Committee on National Legislation, here is where that money goes:

• 1 cent goes to diplomacy and development
• 5 cents goes to education, job training, and social services
• 12 cents goes to respond to poverty in the United States
• 41 cents goes to war

Think about that.

15 April 2007

Bhopal revisited: Amnesty International seeks SEC investigation of Dow Chemical

On the night of December 2, 1984, there was a catastrophic explosion from a gas leak at a Union Carbine pesticide plant in Bhopal, India. More than 7,000 Bhopalis were killed in the explosion, and 15,000 more died later from their injuries.

The incident left behind a derelict plant site full of toxic chemicals that have never been effectively cleaned up.

Union Carbide is now a fully owned subsidiary of Dow Chemical. The company is still denying its responsibility, and refuses to reveal the toxicological information of the gas, thwarting medical efforts to deliver appropriate treatment to the more than 100,000 surviving victims.

The human rights group Amnesty International has been very busy investigating this issue. And, on Thursday, Amnesty International USA issued the following press release, which outlines some disturbing findings regarding Dow Chemical's handling of the Bhopal problem:

Amnesty International Seeks SEC Investigation of Dow Chemical

In Bhopal Case, Dow's India Investing Problem and Extralegal Maneuvering Revealed in Newly Uncovered Letters

(New York) -- Amnesty International USA today called for an investigation of Dow Chemical Co. by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), based on letters showing that Dow management is concerned about its ability to expand in India and is therefore secretly pressuring the Indian government to rid the company of its legal liabilities related to the Bhopal toxic chemical disaster.

In a November 8, 2006, letter to the Indian Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen, Dow emphasized its interest in eliminating the Bhopal impediment to investment in India. The letter said, "Our common goal is to support economic growth in India, including key foreign investments that will promote job creation, economic diversification and technology updates. Thank you for your efforts to ensure that we have the appropriate investment climate to facilitate forward-looking investment and business partnerships."

"These letters are strong evidence that Dow believes pending legal liabilities for the legacy of Bhopal present a barrier to investing in India, but the company has not disclosed this to its shareholders," said Sanford Lewis, an attorney who has represented Dow shareholders, including the New York City Pension Funds and Amnesty International USA. "Furthermore, Dow is attempting to bypass the Indian courts in this matter, by pressuring the executive branch."

Specifically the letter requested that the government "withdraw its application for a financial deposit against remediation costs [for Bhopal cleanup]. Certainly a withdrawal of application would be positive, tangible demonstration that the GOI means what it says about Dow's lack of responsibility in the matter." Liveris was referring to a Madhya Pradesh High Court case regarding cleanup of the toxic abandoned factory site in which the Indian government has filed a brief asking for a $22 million deposit toward cleanup costs.

A second letter, dated November 28, 2006, from Indian industrialist RaTan Tata to the Indian Planning Commission, supports Liveris' request and calls for government and corporate money to clean up the Bhopal site and end Dow's liability. These apparent attempts to avoid liability coincide with multiple rumors about a possible Dow buy-out? claims Dow denies.

"Looking at these letters, it seems that Dow's refusal to address the human rights of the Bhopal survivors may be having a serious, but undisclosed, financial impact," said Amy O'Meara of Amnesty International USA. "Shareholders have a right to know the facts. It is our duty to the survivors in Bhopal to help ensure that this kind of information is brought to light."

According to Amnesty International's written complaint to the SEC, the letter from the Dow CEO presents "... a candid acknowledgment that despite the settlement of prior civil litigation, the Company remains stymied in India as a result of the ongoing impact of the Bhopal disaster." It continues, "... considering the professed importance of India as a market and production base for the Company's businesses in the Asian region as a whole, we believe the impediment to investing in India owing to the unresolved liabilities in Bhopal may constitute a material matter that ought to have been previously disclosed by the management to shareholders."

Amnesty has requested that the SEC investigate Dow's failures to disclose pertinent information to shareholders, and calls on Dow investors to demand increased disclosure by supporting a shareholder resolution that requests the Company to report on any steps taken by the company to address the needs of the survivors of the Bhopal chemical disaster.

The resolution was filed by shareholders representing more than $278 million, led by the New York City Pension Funds. Said NYC Comptroller William C. Thompson, Jr, "This letter shows concretely that Dow's CEO is aware of how the remaining issues in Bhopal impede the company's investing in India. This gives new momentum and support for our shareholder resolution, calling for the company to report on new initiatives by Dow to address the problems of the survivors. The CEO's proposed solution, which would simply have the company wipe its hands of this matter, seems impractical and unlikely."

The letters were unearthed by Bhopal survivor groups through a Right to Information Request to the Indian government's Planning Commission.

Dow inherited responsibility for the Bhopal disaster from Union Carbide, which owned the Bhopal factory. Dow purchased Carbide in 2001. According to Amnesty International, more than 22,000 people have died and more than 100,000 continue to suffer as a result of the 1984 disaster.

» Read more about Amnesty International USA's work on Bhopal


AIUSA letter to the SEC April 12, 2007

Letter from Ratan Tata to the Indian Planning Commission, November 28, 2006

Letter from Dow to Ronen Sen, Indian Ambassador to the US, November 8, 2006


» Send an email to Dow Chemical's President and CEO, Andrew Liveris, demanding that Dow/UCC (DOW) FACE JUSTICE.

» Demand Dow Chemical (DOW) clean up the Bhopal site

13 April 2007

Hey Olbermann: Lay off Cooper

I've long been a fan of MSNBC's Keith Olbermann. Over the past few years, Olbermann has been one of the very few mainstream media figures who's had the guts to speak truth to power.

But I have to disagree with him on his latest public feud.

In a recent interview with New York Magazine, Olbermann decided to stick it to CNN reporter Anderson Cooper, who is long rumored to be gay. Olbermann apparently doesn't like the fact that Cooper chooses to keep his sex life to himself.

Keith, Cooper may choose to discuss some aspects of his personal life but not others. That is his own inherent right to some degree of privacy. Yes, Cooper is a celebrity, and that makes his personal life more open to public scrutiny. But, Keith, I don't see your face and sex life splattered all over the pages of magazines, so you can't demand the same of your perceived rival.

Besides, it's in really poor taste to "out" someone who hasn't already outed himself.

And, quite frankly, if you keep this up, people will start questioning your own sexuality. After all, those who tend to make a big deal about the sexuality of others are usually the ones who are having trouble facing their own sexual issues.

Keith, I still love you, but your pedestal is shrinking from this Cooper thing. Please let it go.

Why Imus is not a free speech issue

Imus dominated the media over the past week because of his horrible comment about the Rutgers woman's basketball team.

Many people, myself included, approached the controversy from a free-speech perspective. As offensive as Imus's comment was, doesn't the First Amendment give him the right to say it? We don't have to listen.

But CBS and MSNBC (which at this point have both terminated Imus's show on their networks) were Imus's employers. And I think that an employer has the right to expect employees to represent the company in an acceptable way.

I certainly couldn't walk around my workplace and constantly make offensive comments, and still keep my job.

Apparently, neither can Imus.

And maybe that's a good thing.

Imus can say whatever he wants on his own turf. But not on his employer's dime.

Capitol Hill Blue ran an article about this yesterday that I thought made a lot of sense. Read it: Imus is not a free speech issue

11 April 2007

On Iraq appropriations, it's Bush's way or the highway

Yesterday, George W. Bush gave a speech to promote his Iraq War supplemental appropriations. He needs more money with which to kill more innocent Iraqi civilians and torture "terror suspects". After again leading into a discussion of Iraq by mentioning 9/11, which Iraq had nothing to do with, Bush indicated that he will not negotiate with "the Democrats" who want to tie the new spending to a withdrawal timetable. (Never mind the fact that a lot of Republicans are also calling for a withdrawal plan.)

He said that we must remember 9/11, and therefore give him a blank check with which to further destroy Iraq. I guess it makes sense to him, if not to anyone else.

If Congress lets him get away with this, we'll no longer be living in a democracy but rather a dictatorship.

10 April 2007

Only Bush wants us to stay in Iraq

Yesterday marked the fourth anniversary of the fall of Baghdad. And it's still falled, as is the rest of that country that we supposedly went to liberate.

How did the Iraqis celebrate this anniversary? By taking to the streets, ripping American flags, and demanding that U.S. forces leave Iraq. And who can blame them? We went into their country under false pretenses and in defiance of the United Nations Security Council; we destroyed their country; and four years later it's still in a state of destruction -- along with a civil war.

The Iraqi people want us out of Iraq. The American people want us out of Iraq. Only George W. Bush and his small (and shrinking) circle of cronies want us there.

But we stay anyway.

This is not what democracy looks like.

09 April 2007

NOW says "Dump Don Imus"

The media are abuzz with news of radio talk show host Don Imus's latest racist-sexist comment, when he referred to the Rutgers women's basketball team as "nappy-headed hos".

Freedom of speech is one thing; but should the First Amendment protect this kind of hate speech, racism, and sexism?

Lots of people are rising up and saying, "No!"

That includes the National Organization for Women (NOW), which issued the following action alert by the group's president, Kim Gandy:

It's Time to Dump Don

Does "Imus" rhyme with "Disgust"? Well, not quite. But it oughta.

I tuned in to the NCAA women's college basketball championships mostly to see a great game between Rutgers and Tennessee, but also to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Title IX, the law that required equal opportunities for women and girls in educational institutions, including sports as well as academics.

But on sports radio station WFAN in New York, and broadcast all over the country by CBS Radio and MSNBC Television, host Don Imus wasn't talking about the game. He was talking about the players, and so was WFAN's Executive Producer Bernard McGuirk, who called the Rutgers players "hard-core hos."

Imus, who had already commented that the players were "rough girls," added "nappy-headed hos" to his description of the second place team in the country. Read the transcript or watch the video.

Take action by sending messages to General Manager Chuck Bortnick of radio station WFAN, which produces Imus' show, to Karen Mateo, Communications VP of CBS Radio which owns WFAN, and to MSNBC television which airs and promotes the show.

Your message to WFAN, CBS Radio and MSNBC? Tell them "You don't have to let Don Imus keep peddling racism and sexism on your airwaves. It's time to Dump Don!"

You can use our letter, modify our letter, or write one of your own.

If you also want to call your local station, you can find the stations that carry Imus in the Morning.

Thanks for taking action with NOW!

I'm not entirely convinced that Imus should lose his job for this. Yes, he's racist. Yes, he's offensive. Yes, his employer should ensure that he is publicly reprimanded. But he is known for his outrageous comments, and it's my understanding that this latest thing isn't unusual.

But what kind of role model is Imus setting for any young people who might hear his show?

So, has he finally crossed the line?

08 April 2007

Mark Fiore: Feeling the Heat

In his latest animation, political cartoonist Mark Fiore shows us how corporate polluters are still doing fine, despite the Supreme Court's recent ruling that the EPA should reconsider its refusal to regulate greenhouse gas emissions that spur global warming.

Check it out: Feeling the Heat

And be outraged.

06 April 2007

Amnesty International: Conditions at Gitmo are getting worse

It was bad enough that the conditions at Gitmo were already in violation of countless U.S. and international humanitarian standards and laws. But, according to in-depth research by the human rights group Amnesty International (AI), conditions there have gotten even worse with the addition of the new Camp 6, which opened last December. According to AI, this new unit "has created even harsher and apparently more permanent conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation."

So yesterday AI released a 26-page report on the issue, titled Cruel and Inhuman - Conditions of Isolation for Detainees in Guantanamo Bay.

The following is AI's high-level description of the report:

A new facility at Guantanamo Bay is creating even harsher conditions of extreme isolation and sensory deprivation for detainees, according to a new Amnesty International (AI) report.

Conditions at Camp 6, which opened in December 2006, are described as "cruel and inhuman". Detainees are confined for 22 hours a day to individual, steel cells with no natural light and minimal human contact. No activities are provided, with detainees subjected to 24-hour lighting and constant observation by guards.

According to the Pentagon, 165 men had been transferred to Camp 6 within a month of its opening. Many were previously held in Camp 4, where detainees lived communally in barracks with access to a range of recreational activities. Camp 4 is now reported to house just 35 detainees, down from 180 in May 2006.

Despite the US authorities describing Camp 6 as a "state-of-the-art modern facility" that is "more comfortable" for detainees, the conditions appear more severe than the most restrictive levels of "super-maximum" custody in the US. There is growing concern they could have a serious adverse effect on the psychological and physical health of many of the detainees.

A further 100 detainees are held in solitary confinement at Camp 5, while there may be as many as 20 on Camp Echo, a facility set aside from the others where conditions have been described as "extremely harsh". In all, it appears that 80 per cent of detainees are held in isolation.

AI is calling for Guantanamo to be closed and for detainees to be brought to fair trial, or else released. In the meantime, the US government must take immediate steps to improve conditions in the camp.

For more information:

Read AI's full report.

Learn more about AI's campaign to Close Guantanamo.

Take action:

Send a letter or e-mail to George W. Bush demanding that he take all necessary steps to close the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay.

You can make a difference!

05 April 2007

Ahmadinejad vs. Bush: Which has the bigger heart?

Yesterday, after holding fifteen British sailors and marines for almost two weeks, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad released them so they could be home with their families for the Easter holiday.

On the other hand, George W. Bush has been holding hundreds of terror suspects, many of them innocent, for as long as five years, with no hope of ever being freed.

Ahmadinejad may be a madman, and I'm certainly not defending him. But, in this particular case, doesn't he seem like the greater humanitarian of the two?

04 April 2007

Another innocent person released from Gitmo

Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has referred to Guantanamo prisoners as "the worst of the worst". Yet we continue to see a trickle of these "worst" characters being released upon discovery that they have no ties to terrorism.

The most recent case that I'm aware of involves Bisher al-Rawi, an Iraqi with residency rights in Britain. According to an article by Agence France Presse, "[h]is mother, who has campaigned for his release, claims he was there to help his older brother Wahab set up a peanut oil processing business."

I've heard many similar stories of innocent men and boys who have been detained because of mistaken identities, translation errors, or the lies of greedy bounty hunters.

And then these innocent people are forced to live in deplorable conditions and endure inhumane treatment and sometimes torture, all in the name of national security.

Furthermore, another article by Agence France Presse quotes Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, as stating that military officers had told him that the interrogations at Gitmo had revealed "virtually nothing" of useful intelligence. Think about that.

One can only guess how many other innocent people remain at Guantanamo who have not had the lucky opportunity to prove their innocence.

The ironic thing is that, in fact, none of us will be secure as long as this kind of thing is allowed to continue.

03 April 2007

Amnesty Internatonal Video: Military Defense Counsel/Gitmo

Last week, I shared the first-person account of Jumana Musa, Amnesty International's representative at the arraignment at Guantanamo of Australian citizen David Hicks.

While there, Jumana also interviewed on film two Military Defense Counsel attorneys on the conditions faced by the detainees at Guantanamo. Their statements are well worth checking out - particularly the second interviewee.

Watch the 3-minute video.

Now please click here to ask your Senators and Representative to restore habeas corpus rights to people in U.S. custody.

02 April 2007

Report from Baghdad: Jane Stillwater gives McCain a reality check

In recent days, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) has been telling us how safe it is now in Baghdad. Nice place for a stroll.

But freelance reporter Jane Stillwater decided to check it out for herself. And she found a very different kind of Baghdad, along with a general consensus amongst American reporters that "walking around in Baghdad without troops backing you up was suicidal and anyone who did something like that had a death wish."

And she confronted McCain. Brilliantly and poetically.

Click here to read Jane's story.

McCain's misplaced optimism will not win the war. Indeed, very few Americans now believe that the U.S. can "win" in Iraq. Heck, even Henry Kissinger has stated that a military victory in Iraq is impossible.

People are dying there every day. But apparently that's not what matters to George W. Bush. Or to John McCain.

01 April 2007

The American ghosts of Abu Ghraib

I just stumbled upon an article at Consortiumnews.com that offers some shocking first-hand insight into failure by the previous (Republican-led) Congress to fully investigate the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib (and the military's own cover-up).

In the article, Former Army Sgt. Sam Provence, who was "the only uniformed military intelligence officer at the Iraqi prison to testify about the abuses during the internal Army investigation," relates his experiences regarding the cover-up along with some shocking things he learned while attending a special screening of the documentary Ghosts of Abu Ghraib.

The article starts out as follows:

For those of you who have not heard of me, I am Sam Provance. My career as an Army sergeant came to a premature end at age 32 after eight years of decorated service, because I refused to remain silent about Abu Ghraib, where I served for five months in 2004 at the height of the abuses.

A noncommissioned officer specializing in intelligence analysis, my job at Abu Ghraib was systems administrator (“the computer guy”). But I had the misfortune of being on the night shift, saw detainees dragged in for interrogation, heard the screams, and saw many of them dragged out. I was sent back to my parent unit in Germany shortly after the Army began the first of its many self-investigations.

In Germany, I had the surreal experience of being interrogated by one of the Army-General-Grand-Inquisitors, Major General George Fay, who showed himself singularly uninterested in what went on at Abu Ghraib.

I had to insist that he listen to my eyewitness account, whereupon he threatened punitive actions against me for not coming forward sooner and even tried to hold me personally responsible for the scandal itself.

The Army then demoted me, suspended my Top Secret clearance, and threatened me with ten years in a military prison if I asked for a court martial. I was even given a gag order, the only one I know to have been issued to those whom Gen. Fay interviewed.

But the fact that most Americans know nothing of what I saw at Abu Ghraib, and that my career became collateral damage, so to speak, has nothing to do with the gag order, which turned out to be the straw that broke this sergeant’s back.

After seeing first-hand that the investigation wasn't going to go anywhere and that no one else I knew from the intelligence community was being candid, I allowed myself to be interviewed by American and German journalists. Sadly, you would have had to know German to learn the details of what I had to say at that time about the abuses at Abu Ghraib.

Later, Republican Congressman Christopher Shays, who was then chair of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Emerging Threats, and International Relations, invited me to testify on Feb. 14, 2006, so my sworn testimony is on the public record. [See: www.humanrightsfirst.info/pdf/06214-usls-provance-statment.pdf]

On June 30, 2006, dissatisfied with the Pentagon’s non-responsiveness to requests for information on my situation, the Committee on Government Reform issued a subpoena requiring then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to produce the requested documents by July 14. I heard nothing further. I guess he forgot. I guess Congress forgot, too.

Thanks largely to a keen sense of justice and a good dose of courage on the part of pro bono lawyers and congressional aides, I made it through the next two and a half years of professional limbo, applying my computer skills to picking up trash and performing guard duty. Instead of a prison sentence, I was honorably discharged on Oct. 13, 2006 and began my still-continuing search for a place back in the civilian world.

Producers for Rory Kennedy’s documentary “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” were among the journalists who interviewed me—discreetly—in Germany. On Feb. 12, 2007 I attended a screening of that documentary. What happened there bears telling.
Read more.

And, if you live in South Carolina, please do everything you can to make sure that Senator Lindsey Graham does not get reelected in 2008. (You'll see why when you read the article.)