31 January 2012

Court says government contractors are accountable for torture

Will we finally see some accountability for torture by U.S. agents in the so-called "war on terror"? That is yet to be determined, but one new development may give us hope for justice at some level.

On January 27, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that private contractors who commit torture should not be immune from civil suits. This ruling struck down the claim by contractors CACI International, Inc., and L-3 Services, Inc., which provided interrogation and interpretation services in Iraq, that they should be immune based on a "battlefield Preemption" theory which protects civilian contractors engaging in combat activities under the command of the military.

This new ruling was in response to lawsuits filed on behalf of 76 Iraqis who allege that they were tortured and otherwise abused at Abu Ghraib and other U.S.-run prisons in Iraq. According to Human Rights First, "Among the alleged heinous acts: electric shocks, repeated brutal beatings, sleep and sensory deprivation, forced nudity, stress positions, sexual assault, mock executions, humiliation, hooding, isolated detention, and prolonged hanging by the limbs."

A brief in this case filed by the U.S. government expressed an interesting in "ensuring that military detention operations are conducted in a manner consistent with humane treatment obligations and the laws of war, and ensuring that contractors are held accountable for their conduct by appropriate means."

What a refreshing change of pace from the previous administration!

"By taking this position," stated Human Rights First, "not only does the United States meet its international human rights and law of war obligations but also advances its own interests. Specifically, it protects U.S. troops and civilians accompanying them abroad and bolsters national security."

So will civil suits by torture victims soon proceed? Or will the contractors appeal this ruling all the way to the Supreme Court? And, if so, what will happen there?

Stay tuned.

29 January 2012

"Class warfare" irony

The Republicans love to cry "class warfare", as if they are victims.

However, they are the ones who started this current class war. And they are the ones who are winning it, as evidenced by the growing income gap between the "haves" and the "have-nots".

So pay no attention to their whining. It's all just smoke and mirrors - and a political strategy aimed at the sheep who blindly follow Limbaugh, Beck, and Hannity because it's easier than thinking for themselves.

And, sadly, it works.

Let's hope that it doesn't work so well in November.

22 January 2012

Will Roe survive?

Today, January 22, 2012, is the 39th anniversary of the landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade - a decision which confirmed that women have the right to control our own reproductive lives.

And the right wing has been fighting it ever since. They want to be the ones to control our bodies, even as they condemn the concept of big government and its perceived interference in their own lives. Obviously they fear us, and fear can make people crazy.

This year, some of them want to go so far as to run graphic anti-choice ads during the Super Bowl.

And it's working.

According to the National Organization for Women, states last year passed a record number of anti-choice laws, and that's likely just a small preview of what they'll be rolling out this year.

As frustrated as many of us are with the Democrats in Congress, this issue illustrates why we must fight harder than ever this year to ensure that the Republicans don't win the Senate or the White House in November.

They really could - and would - roll back so much of the progress we've made over the past hundred years.

20 January 2012

The misnamed Defense Department

In 2003, the U.S. military invaded Iraq, although that country posed no threat to our national security. Then, last year, we got involved in Libya's internal revolution. Etc. And now some people on both sides of the aisle appear open to taking military action against Iran.

This is not defense, it is aggressive offense.

So, until those in charge stop engaging in unnecessary battles and wars of aggression, perhaps the "U.S. Department of Defense" should be renamed to "U.S. Department of Offense".

16 January 2012

21st century racism

As I write this on the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reflect on King's vision of a world in which our children "will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."

And it saddens me to see how - despite having our first African-American president living in the White House - racism still abounds.

Racism against African Americans is not as blatantly obvious as it was during the Jim Crow era. The GOP even had a black RNC chairman from 2009 to 2011, and a recent but brief campaign by an African-American presidential hopeful. But that's like denying racism by saying "some of my best friends are..."

The real truth was exposed for all to see on racist signs at tea party rallies in recent years.

And the real truth is exposed in GOP efforts to pass voter ID laws that would disproportionally disenfranchise thousands and thousands of minority voters - who tend to vote Democrat.

Consider also that brown is the new black. Old-fashioned racism against blacks has morphed into shameless bigotry against brown-skinned people. See the war on Latino immigrants. And see the anti-Muslim bigotry that seems to hold all Muslims in the world responsible for the actions of a handful of radical extremists on 9/11. If we were to similarly hold all white Christians responsible for the actions of domestic terrorists like Timothy McVeigh and Eric Rudolph, the bigots would call it anti-American.

The fact is that Manifest Destiny was an easy excuse to steal this nation from its original native inhabitants. And the white man's arrogance continues as he desperately tries to defend this stolen land from "the other". Even if "the other" is here because his ancestors were kidnapped from Africa and enslaved 300 years ago. And even if "the other" immigrated here legally to enjoy our religious liberty and other great freedoms.

Bigotry has its roots in insecurity, and in fear of the unknown. Might does not make right. But I continue to shudder at the possibilities of what can happen as these frightened white men - the 1% - continue to control our country's wealth and power.

Things will only get worse for the 99% unless Washington wakes up and supports us - We The People - not the corporate 1%. But - with all due respect to the Occupy movement and last year's efforts in Wisconsin - the alarm clocks are apparently being ignored as the powerful keep snoozing.

I hope I am mistaken.

11 January 2012

Guantanamo: A shameful anniversary

Today, January 11, 2012, marks the 10th anniversary of the arrival of the first prisoners to the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In 2009, just two days after taking office, President Obama issued an executive order calling for the Guantanamo prison to be closed. Three years later, we're still waiting for that to happen - with no closure in sight.

Today, some 171 prisoners remain there, denied their right to due process. And it remains a black mark on our record in the U.S.-led "war on terror".

Osama bin Laden may be dead, but he has succeeded in exposing the U.S. hypocrisy on human rights through the overreactions of the Bush and Obama administrations and Congress.

As I've written before, it seems that the "war on terror" has become a war on human rights. And that can only make us less safe, not more so.

05 January 2012

Does new DoD strategy mean more unemployed vets (and a richer Halliburton)?

The U.S. Department of Defense today released its new lean-and-mean military strategy.

In order to save money, headcounts will be reduced. That means fewer soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. And this comes at a time when our young military veterans are facing an unemployment rate of some 30 percent (and rising). As the numbers of active troops decline, it is reasonable to expect that unemployment rate to rise as well, barring a job market miracle.

Instead of cutting our number of military personnel, why not put them to work doing useful things that will ultimately save taxpayer dollars?

For example:

The U.S. government continues to pay civilian military contractors (i.e., war profiteers) billions of dollars for work that could be done much more cheaply by soldiers -- and those soldiers would probably do a better job.

The State Department alone has budgeted $3.8 billion in expenses for operations in Iraq during the 2012 fiscal year, including "mission operations, such as security, logistics, and life support, as well as construction ... and other general management expenses."

And the military is looking to replace troops in Afghanistan with high-priced civilian contractors as well.

That's no way to save money!

And it's no way to support our troops.

03 January 2012

Key witness in Abu-Jamal murder case takes the truth to his grave

On December 31, 2011, William Dale Singletary died at the age of 61. Singletary was an eyewitness to the fatal 1981 shooting of Philadelphia police officer Daniel Faulkner.

Mumia Abu-Jamal has spent the past 30 years in prison for that murder, serving most of that time on death row until his death sentence was recently commuted to life without parole. And Singletary went to his grave insisting that Abu-Jamal was not the killer.

I wasn't at the scene of the crime, so I don't know what really happened. I just know that the original murder trial was flawed, with Amnesty International later reporting that "numerous aspects of this case clearly failed to meet minimum international standards safeguarding the fairness of legal proceedings."

And Singletary's compelling testimony, although thrown out by the court, seems to suggest some reasonable doubt as to Abu-Jamal's guilt.

Singletary testified that he had provided a police officer with a truthful account of what he had witnessed, including his assertion that someone else, not Abu-Jamal, had shot Faulkner. But the officer ripped up the statement and threw it away, telling Singletary that he wouldn't be allowed to leave the police station until he wrote the kind of statement that the officer wanted (that is, one that pointed to Abu-Jamal as the killer). In other words, Singletary was coerced into signing a false statement (a practice that's certainly not unheard-of in the so-called criminal justice system). In short, Singletary's story suggests, as others have alleged, that the police wanted to frame Abu-Jamal.

As someone who has repeatedly called for a fair retrial in this case, I know what it's like to deal with the rabid "Hang Mumia" crowd. But, if Singletary's story is true, I cannot imagine how frustrating and painful it must have been for him to have spent the past 30 years knowing that an innocent man was on death row because the court did not believe his own eyewitness testimony.

May he finally rest in peace.

02 January 2012

Obama signs indefinite detention into law

On December 31, when most U.S. citizens were distracted with New Year's holiday plans, President Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law. This law authorizes the President of the United States to order the U.S. military to arrest and imprison terrorism suspects indefinitely, including U.S. citizens, without charging them or putting them on trial. In other words, the President could now arbitrarily strip you of your right to due process.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the bill also contains provisions "making it difficult to transfer suspects out of military detention, which prompted FBI Director Robert Mueller to testify that it could jeopardize criminal investigations."

Obama issued a signing statement expressing "serious reservations" regarding some of the provisions of the bill. But he signed it anyway. He did not veto it, as he could have done.

Anthony D. Romero, the ACLU's executive director, summarized the danger that this new law presents: "The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield."

"We are incredibly disappointed that President Obama signed this new law even though his administration had already claimed overly broad detention authority in court," said Romero. "Any hope that the Obama administration would roll back the constitutional excesses of George [W.] Bush in the war on terror was extinguished [with the signing of this bill]. Thankfully, we have three branches of government, and the final word belongs to the Supreme Court, which has yet to rule on the scope of detention authority. But Congress and the president also have a role to play in cleaning up the mess they have created because no American citizen or anyone else should live in fear of this or any future president misusing the NDAA’s detention authority."

Romero promised that the ACLU "will fight worldwide detention authority wherever we can, be it in court, in Congress, or internationally." I hope they are successful.

In the meantime, however, the new law can only do further damage to our reputation in the world - a reputation that Obama initially seemed to be repairing quite successfully.

And the world will now see that even Obama - a former Constitutional law professor - cannot be trusted to uphold universal human rights standards and the rule of law.