Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Alberto Gonzales and His Perverse Sense of Political Martyrdom

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has recently resurfaced in the news media as he has announced plans to write a tell-all book about his time as a member of the Bush Administration. Gonzales appeared on The O'Reilly Factor last week to answer softball questions from substitute host Juan Williams about his role in approving so-called enhanced interrogation techniques and his role in the firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

Billed as a "Factor Exclusive", it quickly became clear why Gonzales chose The O'Reilly Factor as the forum for his first interview since leaving the Bush Administration. Williams began the interview with this question:

WILLIAMS: Now do these kind of loud appeals coming from the left for the
Obama administration to go after you, to look at criminal proceedings, does that
worry you?

GONZALES: It doesn't worry me, Juan. Obviously, in every
administration, every president is criticized. Cabinet heads are criticized. I
think if you're not criticized by someone, you're probably not doing your

Other questions Williams asked were:

WILLIAMS: Now Ruben Navarrette, the columnist out in San Diego he says, you
know what? Liberals don't like you, conservatives don't like you. He says civil
libertarians are going after you for treatment of detainees as well as for
wiretaps. And then last week, you had the Senate Armed Services report that said
that based on their studies, the Obama administration should look at future
criminal proceedings. Now, let's stop and think about this for a second. Do you think that you did anything wrong in terms of paving the way for
detainees to be tortured?

WILLIAMS: Now, Mr. Attorney General, in September, the current Attorney
General Michael Mukasey appointed a prosecutor to look at whether or not there
were possible criminal charges, again criminal charges that could put you in
jail in regard to the firing of those nine U.S. attorneys. Again,
you're on the spot. You know, some people say there's a lynch mob after you. We
have talked just a moment ago about detainees. Now we are back to the nine U.S.
attorneys. Again, do you have any sense that you did something wrong
with regard to the firing of those nine U.S. attorneys?

Guess what Gonzales answered to both of these questions? "Absolutely not Juan..." followed by a long explanation for why he didn't feel he was in the wrong. It is clear that this was not a critical interview, but a chance for Alberto Gonzalez to continue to spout his talking points and deny that he did anything wrong or criminal while he was a member of the Bush Administration. Williams performance reminded me of a defense attorney gently asking his client rehearsed questions in order to allow his client to give favorable testimony in front of jurors.

If this appearance wasn't interesting enough, Gonzales also gave an interview to the Wall Street Journal's Evan Perez. From Perez's piece:

"What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind
of response to my service?" he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his
most extensive comments since leaving government.
During a lunch meeting two blocks from the White House, where he served under his longtime friend, President George W. Bush, Mr. Gonzales said that "for some reason, I am portrayed as the one who is evil in formulating policies that people disagree with. I consider myself a casualty, one of the many casualties of the war on terror."

Go ahead and read that excerpt again if you need to because it is quite telling of the mindset that exists not just within the Bush Administration, but within Washington. Not only does Gonzales express a sense of bewilderment at why people would think that he has done anything wrong, but he also plays the role of a political martyr by victimizing himself as "one of the many casualties of the war on terror." When I think about casualties of the so-called "War on Terror", I tend to think about the hundreds of thousands of innocents killed between Afghanistan and Iraq, I tend to think about the millions of displaced persons in both countries, and I tend to think about all those effected by the attacks on the World Trade Center. to name a few. What I don't think about, is Alberto Gonzales and his political career.

Aside from being appalling, the mindset that Gonzales puts forth stems from his belief that he is portrayed as evil for "formulating policies that people disagree with". He is viewing this, as was done in the interview with Juan Williams, as a political issue. Opponents of the torture policies and wiretapping policies that Gonzales has shown his support for, are painted as "liberals", "lynch mobs" and with vague terms like "the left". The debate is framed as political opposition to policies that were implemented by the Bush Administration. This issue, that of lawbreaking conducted by Bush Administration officials, should not be viewed through the lens of political accountability rather these concerns exist outside traditional political discourse. These concerns need to be discussed without a Pavlovian response to paint everything as "the left" vs. "the right" because we are talking about accountability to the rule of law and remaining a country in which no person can operate above the law.

The bewilderment that Alberto Gonzales expresses as he asks "what is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong" is precisely a reason for why these Bush Administration officials should be held to account. Alberto Gonzales, like other Bush Administration officials, believe that they have done nothing wrong and that this criticism stems from "political opponents". This is despite reports like those from the bi-partisan Senate Armed Services Committee that state that Bush Administration officials are "directly responsible" for the abuse of detainees and despite the report done by Physicians for Human Rights which led Maj. General Antonio Taguba to state:

After years of disclosures by government investigations, media accounts,
and reports from human rights organizations, there is no longer any doubt as to
whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question
is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account.

It is imperative for the Obama Administration to understand that holding elected officials to account for breaking the law falls outside of political retribution. The media pundits and the Bush Administration continue to try and frame this issue of accountability within the context of political differences and in order for any kind of legal accountability to take place, it is absolutely necessary for the incoming administration to recognize that this is taking place. This would not be an act of investigating political opponents who drew up unfavorable policies, this would be an act of investigating elected officials who committed serious crimes because they believed themselves to be above the law. There is a difference and in order for this country to preserve itself as a nation where no one is above the law, it is a difference that needs to be realized and articulated by the incoming administration.

This article can also be found at:

Friday, December 26, 2008

Contrary to Rick Warren's Recent Statements, He DID Equate Gay Marriage With Incest and Pedophilia

This past Sunday, Rick Warren put out a video for his members at Saddleback Church attempting to explain all of the recent controversy surrounding President elect Obama's decision to have Warren give the invocation at his inauguration. The controversy has come from those who are angered by Warren's opposition to gay marriage, abortion rights, and even the membership of gays to his church.

In his video response, Warren claims that no news story is 100% accurate and that all of this has happened because the media loves conflict. He also blames all this divisiveness on talk radio and bloggers that "need to get a life" and "are just being rude". Here is the video:

Did you hear that? "I have been accused of equating gay partnerships with incest and pedophilia," Warren stated, "I believe no such thing, I never have. You've never once heard me in thirty years talk that way about that."

Really? Well in that case, listen up members of Saddleback Church!

In case you missed it, check out the above clip starting at 2:00.

Warren: "I'm opposed to the redefinition of a 5,000 year definition of marriage. I'm opposed to having a brother and sister being together and call that marriage. I'm opposed to an older guy marrying a child and calling that a marriage. I'm opposed to one guy having multiple wives and calling that marriage."

Interviewer: "Do you think those are equivalent to gays getting married?"

Warren: "Oh I do."

Thanks for setting us straight Rick!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Washington and Fox News Shed a Tear for the Departure of Brit Hume

Last night, Brit Hume signed off for the last time as the anchor of the Fox News program, "Special Report". Hume was treated to a video presentation from his colleagues and friends (including both Presidents Bush and Vice President Cheney), praising his journalistic integrity and all of his years of hard work:

Is it any surprise that President Bush and Vice President Cheney would appear in a video to heap praise upon an anchor that has provided this Administration a platform from which they have spread their propaganda? It is only appropriate to take a look back at a few instances which show exactly what type of "journalist" Brit Hume was during his tenure as anchor. In order to do this, I turn back to Glenn Greenwald, author, activist, and commentator for who has written about Hume over the years. Let's go back to an entry from Greenwald on September 11, 2007, in which he analyzed Hume's performance when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker appeared on "Special Report" to "brief America" about the situation in Iraq. Greenwald writes:

The model for the entire hour was not a journalist asking questions of
government leaders, but instead, a direct examination at a trial, where a
friendly lawyer gently leads his own witness to present claims in the most
persuasive manner possible, with the lawyer interrupting only to clarify the
witness' statements and to provide helpful suggestions as to how the witness can
make his case even more effectively.

Greenwald goes on to describe how during the first ten minutes of this program, Petraeus (with help from charts and a video presentation) spoke uninterrupted, carefully laying out his talking points with Hume only speaking to raise points that helped to clarify points that Petraeus was making. The program continued in this manner with Hume lobbing softball after softball at both Petraeus and Crocker and refusing to critically challenge or follow-up the responses. Greenwald writes of Hume:

Even before this obscene propaganda show last night, the very idea that
Hume could be considered a "journalist," and that there is nothing deemed
improper about Gen. Petraeus choosing him for an exclusive interview, speaks
volumes about the broken and corrupt state of our media. Hume is an outspoken
proponent of the war,
having called Jack Murtha senile for advocating withdrawal and proclaiming the Democrats untrustworthy on national security for opposing the war. A country with a functioning political press would never pretend that the pro-war, Bush-worshipping Hume could conduct an actual interview with Petraeus, let alone be the only journalist allowed to do so.

What other kind of "journalism" passed the so-called "fair and balanced" test during Hume's tenure? Let's fast forward to the coverage that Fox News gave the U.S. raid on the Afghan village of Azizabad. It quickly became clear that the United States had killed around 95 civilians in this raid as villagers spoke of their outrage and news reports began to surface that this had not been a military target. The U.S. government continued to insist that this target was legitimate and that only 5 civilians had been killed in this attack. Brit Hume's program joined alongside the Pentagon, suggesting the witnesses had lied and that few civilians had been killed in the strike despite mounting evidence that led the U.S. to reinvestigate the raid.

All the while, the U.S. government did everything from accusing villagers from spreading Taliban propaganda to doubting the claims that 50 of the civilians that were killed, were children, despite contrary information from investigations, independent journalists, the UN, and video footage of the aftermath that showed the large number of civilians that had been killed in this raid. The Pentagon did an investigation at the time and said that they based their conclusion (that many Taliban members had been killed) on an account from an "independent journalist" and his first-hand account of the incident. This "independent journalist" turned out to be Oliver North, Fox News reporter, main player in the Iran-Contra scandal who admitted lying to Congress, and regular guest on Brit Hume's program.

Glenn Greenwald also wrote about this incident and Hume's involvement in spreading these dubious claims:

Nobody -- other than Brit Hume's news show -- ever denied that civilians were
killed in this airstrike. The only "debate" -- prior to the emergence of
documentary evidence -- was over how many were killed. Yet Fox began by telling its pitifully misled viewers that while "some locals claim [the airstrike]
killed civilians," "a Fox crew" had a "different story."

Greenwald continues:

Fox's news show -- not Bill O'Reilly, but Brit Hume's "legitimate news
program" -- continued to insist, based upon the "reporting" of "journalist"
Oliver North and his cameraman, that the U.S. military's original claims were
true, and the villagers and the U.N. were lying, even as the U.S. military
itself was, in light of the ample evidence,
severely backtracking on its story

This is the type of reporting that is consistent with the the "fair and balanced" coverage for which President Bush and Vice President Cheney heap praise upon Hume in his farewell video. Is it any wonder why they hold Hume in such high regard? Now that Hume will be "limited" to his new role as "Senior Political Analyst", one wonders what kind of analysis he will be giving as a guest on the very same "news" program that he just spent over a decade anchoring. I bet the only difference that we will be able to see, is the side of the table on which Hume will be seated.

Happy trails Brit!

This article can also be found at:

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rep. Nadler (D-NY) Calls for an Investigation of Bush Administration Officials

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) has written a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey urging him to appoint an independent council to investigate actions taken by Vice President Dick Cheney, Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, and other senior level administration officials in regard to the torture of prisoners in U.S. custody. Rep. Nadler cites Vice President Cheney's recent interview with ABC News and Cheney's frank admission to directly approving the waterboarding of Khalid Sheikh Mohammad as evidence of the Administration's participation in approving tactics that are against the law. Rep. Nadler states in his letter:

The Vice President’s public admission that he was “aware of the program,
certainly, and involved in helping get the process cleared” is deeply
disturbing. It implicates the Vice President in this activity which appears to
have been a direct violation of our criminal laws against the use of
torture. Similarly, a recent report issued by the Senate Armed Services Committee
found that “Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s authorization of aggressive
interrogation techniques for use at Guantanamo Bay was a direct cause of
detainee abuse there.”[7] Additional evidence shows that other top officials
also were involved in authorizing similar activities.

Not only did Cheney admit to his role in approving such policies as stated above, but, as Nadler points out, the Senate Armed Services Committee recently issued a report that found Administration officials directly responsible for the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. I recently wrote about this bi-partisan report and will reemphasize that this report is damning evidence that the Administration not only approved policies of torture, but lied about it when the abuses at Abu Ghraib were exposed.

In addition to Nadler's letter, he appeared this morning on Democracy Now! and emphasized some very basic points that I, and others, have been making:

And the morality of this aside, you cannot have high officials deliberately
break the law without accountability. The Vice President, on that interview we
saw a few minutes ago, talked about the oath of office that the President, the
Vice President, others take, and that is to preserve, protect and defend the
Constitution of the United States. You are not preserving it, and you are not
defending it; you are, in fact, perverting it, if you deliberately break the
law, which is the supreme law of the land pursuant to the Constitution. It is
imperative, if the United States is to remain a country of laws and not men,
that people who break the laws be held accountable.

This is very important and very fundamental to the operation of the United States. This country is a country of laws and not men, or in other words, no one should be above the law. When it continues to become increasingly clear that elected officials at the highest levels of government have committed serious crimes, there should be no reason why an independent panel shouldn't look into said crimes. As I have also written about in recent days, a distinction must also be made between political accountability and accountability to the law. Nadler touches on this point in his interview:

...there are things that it is imperative that the Obama administration,
when it takes office, and the Congress, in January, take steps to hold officials
accountable for violations of law, and really, not because we want vengeance and
not because we want to be vindictive of what happened, but because holding
people to the law and making them go through a legal process of proving guilt or
innocence is the only way that you can minimize the likelihood of recurrence of
law breaking and maintain the United States as a democratic country.

Those who often raise the argument that we should "move on to unite the country" and "not hold political grudges" are wrongly applying their formula for political accountability into the realm of criminal accountability. When laws are broken, there is a need for investigations and charges to be brought that apply to the crimes committed. It does not make any sense, or deter future political leaders from lawbreaking, if we chalk up the violation of laws to "political disagreements" or "political difference". This is the same disparity that I wrote about in discussing the response of some in Politico's "Arena" forum recently. I will revisit Maurice Carroll's response to reiterate the point:

Is it a good idea for a new administration to look for prosecutable crimes
by the old administration? Even if their opinion is that there WERE crimes? By
and large, the answer is no. Even if the true believers (and the true-believer
editorial writers) are pestering the Obama administration to do it. One of the
strengths of the American political system is that it's not a blood sport. We
disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail. Which is a longish way
of saying: There'll be a new slate. Shouldn't we wipe the old slate clean?

Carroll is not alone in this viewpoint, a viewpoint that encourages us not to investigate an outgoing administration EVEN IF there is a belief that crimes WERE committed. Carroll justifies this viewpoint by stating that "we disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail" and that this is "one of the strengths of the American political system." This is an absurd statement that equates political difference with accountability to laws and sadly, it is this narrative that is often repeated the loudest during these recent discussions about investigation of Bush Administration Officials. It mischaracterizes the argument of those who are calling for accountability to the rule of law into an argument being put forth by mere political opponents.

Rep. Nadler is not the first who has called for the investigation of Bush Administration officials for lawbreaking and he is certain to not be the last. There have been some rumors that President Bush has plans to pre-pardon members of his Administration before January 20 to avoid potential prosecution, but at this point it remains to be seen if an Obama Administration would put forth such an investigation. There is certain to be more on this issue between now and Inauguration Day.

This article can also be found at:

Monday, December 22, 2008

Cheney Spouts Off on Support for Torture, Executive Power, and Illegally Wiretapping Americans

Vice President Dick Cheney has been making several appearances in the corporate media as of late, giving interviews to ABC and FOX over the last few days, in which he has been quite frank about many aspects of the last eight years. For example, in these interviews Cheney has revealed:

1. That as a "general principle", any decisions the President makes during wartime are legal.

2. The interrogation of Kahlid Sheikh Mohammed, which included repeatedly waterboarding him, was approved through the Vice President's Office, that he does not regret that decision, and that he supports waterboarding as a tactic used by America.

3. That he himself told leading Democratic members of the Congress, in detail, about the NSA warrantless wiretapping program and that the Democrats agreed that this program should proceed and be kept secret.

These items are not necessarily ground-breaking or "new", but the open way in which Cheney confirms what many have been saying for years now is a clear indication that this Administration has operated and continues to operate under the notion that they are above the law. Support for a Nixonesque view of Executive power, support for torture, and support for illegally listening in on the phone conversations of Americans are not the result of some long investigative report or inquiry, rather this is the admission of the current Vice President during nationally televised interviews. Is it any clearer that this country needs to hold these officials within the Administration accountable and recommit itself to the rule of law? Cheney in his own words:

In regard to this last clip about the NSA wiretapping program, I think that Glenn Greenwald's entry over at Salon hits the nail on the head regarding the complicity of the Democrats in Congress in some of the illegal activity over the last eight years and just how far Washington has strayed from the basic principles of the law:

Either way, Cheney's general claim is as clear as it is incriminating. According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets -- "our playbook" -- to Al Qaeda. It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around. In fact, he's almost certainly the opposite. Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic
leaders for the NSA program.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Accountability to the Rule of Law is not a Criminalization of Political Differences

Posted at the "Arena" section of, is a question that relates to what I, and many, have been writing about recently. For those who are not familiar with this section of Politico's website, it is a section that is described as their "daily debate with policy makers and opinion shapers." The question posted states: "Should the DOJ consider prosecuting Bush administration officials for detainee abuse as the NYT and others have urged?"

There are some short responses by a wide-range of individuals and some of the responses continue to miss the mark on this issue. The first response is from Steven Calabresi, a Professor of Law at Northwestern University, and he acknowledges that if war crimes were committed, (and he doesn't believe that any were) then we should prosecute those responsible. He then goes on to qualify his response by taking a shot at both the New York Times and those who hold a different political ideology than the Bush Administration:

"The effort by the New York Times and others to criminalize politics by
casually urging the criminal prosecution of Bush Administration officials the
Times disagreed with is however reprehensible. It is a step back toward the era
when we guillotined our political opponents instead of voting them out of

This is much more than, as Calabresi suggests, a criminalization of politics. As has been discussed in my previous entries, we are talking about decisions that have directly led to the torture, and in some cases, the deaths of detainees in U.S. custody. This is about an Administration who has violated the Geneva Conventions, shut out legal opinion that did not coincide with the tactics they wanted to implement, and lied after the story broke about these torture programs. We are not talking about the criminalization of politics, we are talking about a fundamental disregard and disrespect for the rule of law.

There are more responses to this question from Steve Steckler of the Infrastructure Management Group and from Maurice Carroll, Director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. Steckler states:

"Such prosecutions, warranted or not (and on balance, I don't believe they are),
would distract and diminish the new Administration in a manner similar to what
would have occurred had the same Bushhaters been successful in getting the
Democratic Congress to begin impeachment proceedings."
Again, labeling those who are concerned with crimes committed by the current Administration as "Bushhaters" frames this issue within a political context that implies that those who are calling for an investigation into crimes committed, are merely political opponents of the President. It matters not if those calling for an investigation or prosecution of the officials who have committed crimes are political opponents, what matters is that there are serious laws that have been broken. My favorite response to this question however, comes from Maurice Carroll. Here is his response in full:

"Is it a good idea for a new administration to look for prosecutable
crimes by the old administration? Even if their opinion is that there WERE
crimes? By and large, the answer is no. Even if the true believers (and the
true-believer editorial writers) are pestering the Obama administration to do
it. One of the strengths of the American political system is that it's not a
blood sport. We disagree without looking to put the other guys in jail. Which is
a longish way of saying: There'll be a new slate. Shouldn't we wipe the old
slate clean?"

This argument has been echoed lately in discussions surrounding the Bush Administration and has been voiced by many. The problem with this is line of thought is that it provides for zero accountability even if very real crimes have been committed. Carroll states that it isn't a good idea for a new administration to look into prosecutable crimes, EVEN IF they believe that real crimes were committed. Instead, Carroll favors "wiping the old slate clean" by excusing any crimes and moving on with a "new slate".

Political accountability is one thing. If elected officials do not represent their constitutes and fail to bring the people what was promised then voting these officials out of office is a type of political accountability, but we are not simply talking about political accountability in this instance. We are talking about actual crimes that have taken place and holding criminals accountable by the legal standards that every day citizens are held to. We should not confuse accountability to the rule of law, with political accountability.

It makes little sense to operate as a nation of laws and on the notion that no one is above the law, if the country's response to law breaking by elected officials is to ignore it to preserve so-called "political unity". Mr. Carroll states that this is one of the great strengths of the American political system yet in fact, it is one of the biggest weaknesses of the American political system. This is a system where we see soldiers, who implemented policies of torture punished by a justice system that ignores those who put the policy in place. This is not justice, nor is it simply a difference in political belief systems. What this system is, is a group of elite politicians who feel they are above the law and can act without being held to account for even the most serious crimes that we have seen in recent times. Should the DOJ consider prosecuting Bush Administration officials for detainee abuse? Most certainly. It is necessary in order to hold lawbreakers to account for their crimes and recommit this country to the basic principles of the rule of law.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Cheney Admits Role in Approving Torture: It's Time for a Recommitment to the Rule of Law

In follow-up to my blog entry yesterday, In an interview with ABC News Dick Cheney has admitted to authorizing torture techniques and continues to justify their use.

Cheney also went on to advocate keeping Guantanamo Bay open indefinitely and continues to justify the invasion of Iraq despite the fact that the Administration was dead wrong about Saddam Hussein having stockpiles of Weapons of Mass Destruction. In fact, Cheney even brushed aside the notion that the accuracy of their pre-war claims even matter anymore. This is the first time that Vice President Cheney has admitted such an active role in approving these so-call "enhanced interrogation techniques" and his stark admission comes just days after the Senate Armed Services Committee released their report finding that senior officials within the Bush Administration are directly responsible for the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody. What is described in the report (thought not explicitly cited as such) are war crimes and what Cheney admits to in his interview with ABC, are war crimes. The only question left at this juncture is what (if any) actions an Obama Administration will take to restore the respect for the rule of law.

Cheney's arrogance and stark admissions are done because he knows that the likelihood of being held to account is very small within the current Washington climate. This is the same arrogance that has led the Bush Administration to expand the powers of the Executive Branch of the government to unprecedented levels. As rumors continue to float around the country that once President-elect Obama takes office he will close Guantanamo, it is necessary for Obama to simultaneously announce a recommitment to the rule of law. This recommitment needs to emphasize that no one, not the President and not any elected or appointed official, is above the law. In accordance with this recommitment, Obama should take the necessary steps to convene either an independent panel or a special prosecutor to investigate lawbreaking that has occurred over the last eight years. It is necessary to stop the expansion of power within the Executive Branch and it is necessary to restore this country's commitment to the basic principles of law that this country should adhere to.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Senate Armed Services Committee: Senior Bush Officials Directly Responsible for Torture

Last week the Senate Armed Services Committee released the results of their Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in U.S. Custody. This bi-partisan inquiry concluded that senior officials in the Bush Administration, including the President, are directly responsible for implementing policies that led to the abusive techniques that were used on detainees in U.S. custody. In addition, the inquiry also concludes that the legal council of the Department of Justice distorted the intent of anti-torture laws and that legal reviews of these policies were cut short and acted to undermine the military's review process.

This revelation, that of the Bush Administration's responsibility for policies resulting in detainee abuse, should not come as a surprise to those who have been following developments of how the United States has conducted the so-call "War on Terror" since 2001. What is new in this instance, is that the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose ranking member is Republican Senator John McCain, has concluded that senior government officials both past and present are directly responsible for such actions.

Such a damning report has received scant media coverage in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal and is likely not to register as a blip on the radar of news coverage. Glenn Greenwald, blogger and analyst for, reflects on the issue:

"Just ponder the uproar if, in any other country, the political parties joined together and issued a report documenting that the country's President and highest aides were directly responsible for war crimes and widespread detainee abuse and death. Compare the inevitable reaction to such an event if it happened in another country to what happens in the U.S. when such an event occurs..."

Non-existent media coverage does not lessen the importance of such findings. The conclusions reached and the time-line established are well worthy of, and frankly demand, further discussion and examination. Based on the findings of the inquiry, the initial action that opened the door for the consideration and implementation of so-call "enhanced interrogation techniques" was President Bush's signing of the memorandum on February 7, 2002 which stated that the Third Geneva Convention did not apply to the conflict with Al Qaeda. From the report:

"...the decision to replace well established military doctrine, i.e., legal compliance with the Geneva Conventions, with a policy subject to interpretation, impacted the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody."

This memorandum set off a chain of events that resulted in the United States implementing the same torture techniques on detainees that they had once trained their own military members to resist. The Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) is an agency under the Department of Defense who trained American military to resist and withstand interrogation techniques that were considered illegal. This training, called Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape or SERE training, taught service members to resist Chinese Communist techniques originally developed to elicit false confessions. During the Spring of 2002, the report finds that senior government officials began to inquire about knowledge that JPRA had and its support for interrogations. Into the Summer of 2002, JPRA provided information to DOD that allowed the agency to begin the process of reverse engineering the SERE techniques for use on detainees.

During this same time period, the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Council (OLC) was working to redefine torture. The now infamous "Bybee memos" were issued on August 1, 2002. The first memo concluded that "For an act to constitute torture as defined in [the federal torture statute], it must inflict pain that is difficult to endure. Physical pain amounting to torture must be equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death." The Second memo addressed the legality of interrogation techniques and while these techniques remain classified, there have been indications that waterboarding was among the list that were approved. It is during this time period where Assistant Attorney General for the OLC, John Yoo, was meeting with people like Alberto Gonzales and David Addington to discuss these matters before issuing a new legal opinion on torture.

On October 11, 2002, a request was sent from the detention facility at Guantanomo Bay (GTMO) to the Commander of the United States Southern Command requesting approval for use of more aggressive interrogation techniques. It was after this request that GTMO's Staff Judge Advocate, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver, wrote an analysis that justified such interrogation techniques, but she expected a broader legal review would take place at more senior levels. General Richard Myers, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff then began to solicit the opinion of every branch of the military on the opinion issued by Beaver. Every branch of the military objected to certain aspects of the opinion. The Marine Corps even stated that several of the techniques "arguably violate federal law, and would expose our service members to possible prosecution."

The Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Capitan Jane Dalton, instructed her staff to perform a thorough review of these techniques, but the review was cut short by General Myers and soon after, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld pressured his advisors for a final recommendation. On November 27, 2002 DOD council William Haynes recommended that Rumsfeld approve all but three of the techniques that were requested by Dalton. On December 2, 2002, Rumsfeld famously signed Haynes's recommendation and in referencing limits on stress positions Rumsfeld added the handwritten note: "I stand for 8-10 hours a day. Why is standing limited to 4 hours?"

From this point on, SERE techniques were actively taught at the military base in Guantanamo Bay and quickly spread to Afghanistan and into Iraq. These authorized techniques led to the torture, injury, and death of detainees in U.S. custody. The ACLU has compiled a comprehensive list of deaths that have occurred in U.S. custody that you can view here. While Rumsfeld rescinded the order that authorized use of these so-called enhanced techniques at GTMO in January of 2003, it is evident and the Senate Armed Services report states, that these practices continued throughout Afghanistan and Iraq. After rescinding the order, Rumsfeld acted to establish a "Working Group" whose purpose it was to review the interrogation tactics. According to the Senate Armed Services Report:

"...senior military and civilian lawyers tried, without success, to have their concerns about the legality of aggressive techniques reflected in the Working Group's report. Their arguments were rejected in favor of a legal opinion from the Department of Justice's Office of Legal Counsel's John Yoo."

Yoo's opinion concluded that criminal laws in effect would not apply to military interrogators and that they could not be prosecuted for methods that violate the law. This opinion was later rescinded by the new Assistant General for the Office of Legal Counsel, Jack Goldmith in late 2003 as he told the DOD that Yoo's memos could not be relied upon to determine the legality of such techniques.

The conclusions of this report are crystal clear. Starting with President Bush's declaration that the Geneva Conventions do not apply to al Qaeda, senior members of the Administration supported policies that directly led to the abuse (and in some cases death) of detainees in U.S. custody. Though the report does not use the term "war crimes" this is precisely what is being described. Not only did these officials support these policies, but it is apparent that they sought to find legal opinions that matched their wish for implementing such policies and disregarded concerns from numerous branches of the military about the legality of these policies.

As this new Administration takes office it is imperative for President Obama to denounce these actions and end the assault that the Bush Administration has waged upon the rule of law. Doing this requires accountability for past actions and for past crimes committed. We often hear the argument that we should not look to the past and further divide the country by taking action against past Administration officials, but in this situation, it is absolutely necessary for action to be taken. After all, not only did the Administration actively work to reinvent the definition of torture so that they could abuse detainees, but as Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post points out, they constantly lied about it:

"Bush himself repeatedly and sanctimoniously blamed Abu Ghraib on a small number of low-level perpetrators, even while trying to get credit for what he insisted was a transparent system that held those who were responsible accountable.

Bush, on May 24, 2004, described what happened at Abu Ghraib as "disgraceful conduct by a few American troops who dishonored our country and disregarded our values."

On June 1, 2004, he told a reporter: "Obviously, it was a shameful moment when we saw on our TV screens that soldiers took it upon themselves to humiliate Iraqi prisoners -- because it doesn't reflect the nature of the American people, or the nature of the men and women in our uniform. And what the world will see is that we will handle this matter in a very transparent way, that there will be rule of law -- which is an important part of any democracy. And there will be transparency, which is a second important part of a democracy. And people who have done wrong will be held to account for the world to see. "

If action is not taken to punish members of the Bush Administration for these actions, what will deter future political figures from breaking the most serious laws in this country if they are shown that there is no accountability for these actions? How can it be justified that the lower level military personnel have been punished for carring out these policies at places like Abu Ghraib, yet those who supported and provided shoddy legal justification that led to the implementation of these same policies, go unpunished? It is for these reasons that President Obama should launch an independent and thorough investigation into this issue and let the chips fall where they may when it comes to prosecuting these officials. This new Administration should not balk at any political heat they would take for such action as these violations are too serious to simply chalk up to leaving the past in the past.

"The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of 'a few bad apples' acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the united States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of oru enemies, and compromised our moral authority."

- Senate Armed Services Committee Report, 2008

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Third Public Hearing on 2009 Budget Shows the Public Frustrated and Upset at Proposed Cuts

The third and final public hearing on the 2009 proposed budget for Hamilton County was held last night at Cincinnati State and Technical College. The Conference Center was packed with concerned citizens, employees of the Sheriff's Department, and employees of Hamilton County Job and Family Services (JFS). Almost every speaker raised objections to the proposed cuts in the areas of public safety, public services, and to the Queensgate Jail which would lead to its closure.

Commissioner Todd Portune called the meeting to order at 6:35PM and opened with comments outlining the process of considering the budget and laying out the ground rules for those who wished to give public comment. This was followed by an hour and a half of speakers who shared their concerns and solutions to the proposed budget. Making their presence known in large numbers for the third straight meeting were members of the Sheriff's Department and their families. These individuals raised concerns over cuts in public safety and the proposed closure of the Queensgate jail facility.

Corporal Michael Steers was the first of the evening to comment. He told the Commissioners that closing Queensgate will embolden crime and result in an exodus of Hamilton County residents to the perceived "safer" neighboring counties of Warren and Butler. Steers went on to speak about those in the Sheriff's Office whose job is on the line and then promised the Commissioners: "If you fail to act, we all will work tirelessly to make sure you join all those on the unemployment line." This comment received a thirty second standing ovation from the crowd, the largest crowd outburst of the night.

Many other officers took the floor, echoing the concerns of Steers and raising the issue of just how safe citizens of Hamilton County will be if such cuts in public safety are implemented. Rebecca Schweitzer, a mother of 3 police officers, echoed this sentiment begging the Commissioners not to take away resident's "front door" of safety.

Also present at this final public hearing were employees of the Hamilton County JFS and citizens concerned with a cut in funding to a so-called social safety net. According to one employee from the agency, 178 employees of JFS have already been laid off and up to another 180 are expected to be laid off between now and 2010. Local author and community activist Dan LaBotz spoke about such concerns and urged the Commissioners to join with other counties throughout the State to request Federal dollars to fully fund services like those provided by JFS. LaBotz argued that since JFS is first in line to provide social welfare, they should be fully funded during times of economic hardship when the public will be relying on these services the most. "This is a moment in history to be in the streets and to get your unions active," LaBotz said, "Unions were created to fight for the workers." LaBotz even floated the idea of a sit-in by the employees of JFS (similar to the sit-in this last week by Chicago employees) in order to get the results that will benefit the public.

After the period of public comment concluded, each Commissioner gave their comments and hinted at some recommendations that they would be proposing to amend the proposed budget. Commissioner Pat DeWine read off a list of areas from which he believes money can be reallocated to lessen the blow to cuts in public safety. This list included reallocating money away from the Chamber of Commerce, development of new small business centers, and the elimination of the receptionist position in their own office. DeWine claims his recommendations will add up to $3.2 million in money that can be used toward lessening the blow to public safety. Regarding the closure of the Queensgate facility, DeWine stated that there are legal questions as to whether the County can even get out of the lease for the property, so it may be necessary to put off closing the facility so that the County is not paying for a building that is not in use.

Commissioner David Pepper echoed many of the ideas put forth by DeWine including not taking on any new business development funds at a time when public safety programs are under such a threat of being cut. Pepper responded to those who raised objections to the staff levels of the Commissioners and the overall sacrifice of the Commissioners by saying that they have taken a "hacksaw to the 6th Floor" and that they would continue to make cuts on their end to share the sacrifice. Pepper also suggested a ten day furlough for the Commissioners and even opening up the websites of the County to house web advertisements from local business to raise extra revenue. Pepper thanked members of unions who were present at the meeting and who spoke on behalf of their employees. "We have some members of AFSCME here," Pepper said referring to the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees who represent employees of the Hamilton County JFS. No one that spoke at this hearing however, identified themselves as either a member of AFSCME or as a leader of AFSCME speaking on behalf of employees at JFS. As has been reported previously, it appears that employees of JFS have tried to organize greater support on their own, but have yet to receive much help in organizing from AFSCME. I have contacted the Regional Director of AFSCME, Peter McLinden, to answer some questions about these issues, but he has not responded at the time of this article.

Commissioner Todd Portune closed the hearing with his own comments and directly addressed those concerned with the cuts to the JFS workforce and to the public services that JFS provides. Portune stated that all three Commissioners have been lobbying hard with both the State and Federal Government regarding the County's All-Funds budget, but that Gov. Strickland has announced another $700 million in cuts that will make it difficult for JFS to be funded. "For those who have asked us to do more in that area, we are doing what we can to stop the bleeding, but when our General Fund is down $30 million we can't replace the JFS funding with General Fund dollars," Portune stated, "There is a sense of inevitability to some of these cuts." Portune did speak of his meetings with Building and Trade Union leadership and announced that they have agreed to re-open contracts, forgo raises, and accept furloughs to lessen cuts. Portune is calling on all unions, including AFSCME, to follow suit. "My concern on layoffs is that the amount of layoffs would negatively affect the County's economic development." Portune stated. Portune also called for each agency to post a list of employees who have been laid off and who would have not been laid off but for the cuts in the proposed budget. Portune suggests that these lists could be used to re-call employees once the economy rebounds.

The Board of Commissioners expects to adopt a 2009 budget next week and will be posting their recommendations to the current proposed budget on the Hamilton County website sometime today. Unanimous passage is what the Commissioners are hoping for, but the budget will be passed by majority if necessary.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Hamilton County Citizens Voice Opposition to Proposed Budget at Second Public Hearing

Concerned Hamilton County citizens packed into the Drake Center on Wednesday night for the County Commissioner's second public hearing to discuss the proposed 2009 Budget for Hamilton County. The seating options were quickly exhausted as the start of the hearing approached and by the time the President of the Board, Todd Portune, called the hearing to order at 6:39PM people were standing three-deep against the back wall and other were still struggling to get in.

Commissioner Portune opened the hearing by summarizing the goals of the Board in adopting a budget for 2009 and the goals of the public hearings. Portune stated that the Board's adopted goals are to balance the budget, reduce crime, and enhance the quality of life in Hamilton County. He acknowledged grave challenges during these times of economic hardship, and stressed that the recommended General Fund budget is $30 million less than in 2008. Portune stated that the Board is looking at creative ways to come up with money so that they will not have to cut as many pubic services, but he stated that they will not balance the budget by issuing tax increases or new taxes on citizens of the County.

The three main areas of debate that have proved to be hot button issues with the public are the decrease in Sheriff and Deputy patrols and their subsequent transference of cost to townships, the closure of the Queensgate Jail, and the severity in the number of layoffs of County employees and the effect this will have on the services that these agencies will be able to provide. These main areas of contention were evident by the presence of numerous uniformed members of the Sheriff's Office at the hearing and the overall number of people who waited to address the Board of Commissioners.
Administrator Patrick Thompson stated just prior to the public taking the floor, "This is not a feel good budget and many recommendations are unprecedented, but there is no precedent for these times."

The next two hours proved not to be a "feel good" time for the Commissioners as speaker after speaker stepped up to the microphone to voice their opposition to the cuts that are being proposed for 2009. Members of the Sheriff's Office and their families were a large percentage of those who spoke over the course of the two and a half hour meeting and while many acknowledged that these are trying economic times, the Officers opposed cutting money from patrols citing concerns about public safety. "Your actions have kept the bad guys out of jail and kept the good guys out of work," stated a Corporal from the Sheriff's Office. Another Deputy stated, "If you go through with those cuts, you will prove you are not tough on crime, but tough on crime fighters."

Also making a noticeable presence at the hearing were members of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services (JFS). Suhitha Wickrema, an employee of JFS, was first to speak and raised concerns about how cutting jobs at his agency would affect the of the services that they provide. "In August of 2008, there were 85,000 individuals receiving food stamps," Wickrema stated, "This is an increase of 6% from the same period in 2007." Wickrema argued that it is statistics like these that prove why the JFS budget should be increased as opposed to being cut. Later in the meeting, another JFS worker, who had just been laid off after 14 years and five months of service, took the floor. She told stories of other co-workers that have shared her own fate. She spoke of a recently laid off JFS employee who has two special needs children and will more than likely need to benefit from the services that JFS provides, the same services that she provided to others prior to her job loss. The speaker also told of the story of a JFS employee who had been employed for 29 years and two months and who was recently told to pack her belongings in a box and leave the building in a half hour. This woman was ten months away from retirement.

One of the most lively exchanges of the evening was when Kathy King stepped up to the microphone and asked the Board to correct her if she wrong on the points that she wanted to make. She asked how the Board justifies increasing their own expenditures while the County is being asked to cut back and she asked why Administrator Patrick Thompson apparently gets bonuses for laying people off. This elicited a response from Todd Portune, "No ma'am," responded Portune to the latter question. A few people shouted out from the crowd as King fired back, "How about for cutting costs?" Portune responded, "There are performance clauses in Mr. Thompson's contract..." at this point the crowd in the room began to shout at the Board, drowning out Portune's response. After Portune called for order and the crowd quieted down, he finished his response and insisted that the insinuation that Patrick Thompson benefits financially from cutting County jobs, is false.

As this second public hearing came to a close and as the final hearing approaches next Wednesday, it is clear that the public is largely unsatisfied and very frustrated with the 2009 Proposed Budget. The County Commissioners hold one final public hearing next Wednesday at which the goal will be to consider a recommended budget. The Board has until December 31 to pass the 2009 budget and Commissioner Portune stated that they plan on adopting a budget on either December 12 or December 22. It seems that with only a maximum of a few weeks that remain for public comment on the proposed budget, there is little time to find a solution that will generate the type of revenue that will allow the County to refrain from cutting the services that the public does not want cut. With such little time left, it will be important to hear from those who have yet to make their voice heard on these issues. There is one final public hearing remaining. The information regarding this final hearing is below:

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
3520 Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223-2690

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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Community Members Seek Greater Support for Hamilton County JFS at Future Budget Hearings

Over a dozen concerned citizens gathered in Mt. Auburn last night at the Church of Our Savior for a public meeting to discuss Hamilton County's proposed budget and its impact on county services and workers. The proposed budget cuts for 2009 would close a jail, eliminate deputy patrols in some townships, layoff hundreds of county workers, and have an untold impact on many public programs.

According to employees of the Hamilton County Job and Family Services (JFS) who attended yesterday's meeting, as many as 350 jobs could be lost in this department alone. In fact, layoffs have already begun at JFS as an estimated 80 workers have already lost their jobs.

Organizers and sponsors of yesterday's public meeting (including Mother Paula Jackson, Rev. Damon Lynch III, and Cincinnati Progressive Action) voiced concerns over the layoffs at JFS during these times of economic hardship. Attendees expressed concern that during times when unemployment is going to increase, the county will be eliminating workers from an agency that will be needed the most and who are most prepared to handle an increase in unemployed citizens. In addition to the loss of jobs at JFS, attendees worried that elimination of these positions will put many of these workers into the unemployment line themselves and will actually end up costing the county more money in the long-run.

The first public hearing put together by County Commissioners was held on November 19 at the Sharonville Convention Center. An estimated 150 citizens attended this hearing and numerous employees of the Sheriff's Office spoke voicing their opposition to the recommended budget. Family members of these employees also voiced their concerns about how job losses and a reduction in public safety services will affect their communities. While the vast majority of the speakers at this first public hearing were connected to the Sheriff's Office, members of the Hamilton County JFS were largely absent despite facing similar job and service cuts. As the final two public hearings approach on December 3 and December 10, attendees of last night's public meeting shared the viewpoint that more members of JFS are needed to attend these hearings to voice their opinion on an issue that greatly affects them.

With a lack of representation from JFS workers at both the public hearing on November 19 and at last night's public meeting at the Church of Our Savior, it was acknowledged that there is work to do to both educate workers at JFS on the impact that the proposed budget will have on the agency and also motivate JFS workers to attend the remaining public hearings to give their input and voice solutions to issues raised in the 2009 proposed budget.

Some of the attendees of last night's meeting questioned how the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) are working with their members at JFS as the threat of future job cuts loom. Based upon the response of JFS employees at the meeting, it appears that AFSCME has taken little to no action to encourage workers to either attend or speak out at the public hearings. AFSCME even cancelled a recent meeting despite questions raised by JFS workers about this current crisis.

As the public meeting concluded, attendees called for JFS workers, all those who have been affected by the services that JFS provides, and all citizens concerned about the future of County services to attend either one or both of the remaining public hearings to voice their opinions as well as their solutions to the cuts that are included in the proposed budget. The times and locations for the remaining two public hearings are as follows:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.
The Drake Center
Rooms F and G, Level A, West Pavilion
151 West Galbraith Road
Cincinnati, Ohio 45216-1096

Wednesday, December 10, 2008 at 6:30 p.m.
Cincinnati State Technical and Community College
3520 Central Parkway
Cincinnati, Ohio 45223-2690

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Camilo Mejia, Ending the Occupation, and Regaining Our Collective Sense of Humanity

The story of Camilo Mejia is recognized by many in the anti-war movement as a story of one man standing up against the injustice of war. Mejia was the first conscientious objector of the Iraq War and has been a leading voice for the organization Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) where he was named Chair of their Board of Directors in 2007. Mejia has been traveling to cities as part of the Resisting the Empire Tour and this tour is what brought his story to the University of Cincinnati's campus last week.

Camilo Mejia was stoplossed in January 2003, only months away from graduation from the University of Miami. He was shipped out to Iraq in April 2003 and returned in October on a two week furlough. It was during this time away from the battlefield that Mejia was able to collect his thoughts and listen to his conscience. When his plane took off to go back to Iraq, Mejia was not aboard. He decided that he could no longer take part in fighting an unjust and illegal war and he decided that he could not take part in abusing the Iraqi people anymore. Mejia laid low for several months while he worked on putting together a case so that he could file for conscientious objector status and in March 2004, he turned himself in and submitted such an application. He was charged with desertion, convicted by a military court, court marshaled, and sentenced to one year in prison. From prison, Mejia wrote a piece entitled "Regaining My Humanity" in which he stated:

Today, as I sit behind bars I realize that there are many types of freedom, and that in spite of my confinement I remain free in many important ways. What good is freedom if we are afraid to follow our conscience? What good is freedom if we are not able to live with our own actions? I am confined to a prison but I feel, today more than ever, connected to all humanity. Behind these bars I sit a free man because I listened to a higher power, the voice of my conscience.

Mejia has been listening to the higher power of his conscience ever since and feels that it is a privileged to be a part of the growing anti-war movement. During his talk at the University of Cincinnati, he shared with us stories of frustrated soldiers, torturous interrogation techniques, and the provoking of civilians. Mejia told the story of when he first arrived in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. There was little resistance from the population at first, but Mejia said that they would often "fish for missions". In one instance an 8-10 year-old boy threw a rock at a Lieutenant and the Lieutenant told his soldiers, "I'm going to make an example of him". The Lieutenant proceeded to grab the boy and begin to take him with the group of soldiers. "Me no Ali Baba mister" the boy would yell as some soldiers tried to convince the Lieutenant to let the boy go. An old man came running from a near-by house, Mejia gathered that this man could have been the boy's father, and passionately tried to communicate with the Lieutenant. The Lieutenant asked the man "What are you going to do? This kid threw a rock at me." The old man slapped the kid in the face. This did not satisfy the Lieutenant as he kept the child in his grasp and continued to move along. The old man continued to plead his case as the Lieutenant demanded more of a punishment for the child. The old man then began to beat the child in order to show the Lieutenant that he was being taught a lesson and it was only then did the Lieutenant let the child go. "This is the reality of an occupation," Mejia said to us, "this is how you win the hearts and minds."

After this incident the attacks increased on the U.S. soldiers in the area and Mejia stated that they responded by purposely conducting missions around mosques, hospitals, schools, and public squares. "We were doing things in a way that led to the killing of civilians," he stated. He spoke of instances in which he was ambushed and though he was opposed to the war, Mejia says that his survival instincts took over and he shot in any direction from which gunfire was coming. "You don't have the luxury to think morally when you are thinking, how do we get out of this place alive." he stated.

Mejia did make it out alive and when he returned home in October of 2003 for a two week furlough, he began to try and justify his participation in a war in which he didn't believe. Often times his justification would be that he was doing it for the man sitting next to him in Iraq, but when he dug deeper within himself he couldn't justify the broader question of why. It was then when he decided to speak out and take a stance despite the fear of a court marshal and being labeled as a deserter. After Mejia turned himself in and was sentenced to a year in jail, Amnesty International labeled him a Prisoner of Conscience and he was supported by many organizations through the website

As he travels around the country and continues his work with IVAW, he stresses the importance of building a larger anti-war movement. He speaks of the importance that antiwar organizations on college campuses join with groups like IVAW to not only give speakers like himself a platform, but to build a broad coalition from coast to coast to pressure leaders to end the occupation of Iraq. This task, that of ending the occupation, is an uphill climb to say the least. From the invasion, to the implementation of torture, to the scores of civilians killed, the task of repairing what has been so badly damaged can seem insurmountable. It is almost as if we, as a nation, must reclaim our own humanity much like Camilo did during his own personal journey. It was this thought that led me to ask Mejia this question:

"In interviews and in your piece that you wrote from jail in 2005, you often speak of the dehumanizing factors of war and of your personal journey to regain your own humanity. Considering we live in a society in which war is very profitable for various sectors of society and corporate interests and government are becoming more and more aligned, do you feel that the United States has sold or lost its collective sense of humanity and if so, how do you think we can get it back?"

Mejia responded:

"I don't think that we have lost our humanity, we just haven't been able to experience it. Think back to Vietnam and the iconic images of the little girl who was burned and running away from the napalm. Now it is different, we are not allowed to see it. If people don't experience the pain then they won't be as willing to change it. We haven't lost our sense of humanity, we need to reclaim it."

We stand at a moment in time where there is an opportunity to reclaim our collective humanity. The people of this country have voted for a change and we must continue to demand that such change is implemented. We need to think outside the box in our organizing efforts in order to continue to join together and turn this hope into momentum. Camilo Mejia's journey to reclaim his personal humanity was not easy just as the journey to reclaim our collective humanity will not be easy. To undertake this challenge, it was imperative for Mejia to listen to the higher power of his conscience and for the rest of us, it is going to be essential.

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Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Open Letter to John Bolton

Dear Mr. Bolton,

I was recently about half-way through reading your letter to President-elect Obama when I asked myself this question: Why should I, Barack Obama, or anyone else for that matter, take any advice from you seriously?

You sir were a loyal soldier in the neo-conservative army that waged an all out assault on rationality and dissenting opinion in the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2002 and 2003. Your work directly contributed toward the invasion and occupation of Iraq which has resulted in the loss of thousands of U.S. soldiers and hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis. You were a member of the Project for the New American Century which tried to influence the Clinton Administration to adopt the same preemptive doctrine that you later were able to implement under the Bush Administration. This type of behavior has led to the decline in respect of the United States throughout the world and the spread of terrorist activities into countries that previously had little to no activity.

Your disregard for world opinion when it conflicts with so-called "United States interests" is a prime example of an unilateralist philosophy that has led this country into the giant mess that this new administration must now attempt to dig us out of. Why in the world should an Obama Administration take the advice of someone who is part of the ideology that the American people rejected so enthusiastically in this election?

In your letter, you advise President-elect Obama to:

"...resolve disagreements among your advisers, and not allow drift, and you must insist on discipline once you make a decision. If anyone disagrees with this approach, you may invite them to do the honourable thing and resign, or not sign on in the first place."

This advice is dictatorial. While you acknowledge that President Bush suffered from only hearing "one voice in his ear at critical points", you then advise Obama to take the same 'my way or the highway' approach to leading. The voters have rejected the idea of the imperial presidency Mr. Bolton. The strength of a leader does not simply reside in the ability to make decisions, but to listen to various viewpoints, constantly review new information, and be willing to adapt to a situation when things do not go as planned. In case you are not aware, things over the last eight years have not quite gone as planned for the American people. It is time for a new leadership strategy.

This new strategy should include a technique that you have not always been helpful in implementing, this is the strategy of diplomacy. It has not been effective nor will it continue to be effective to make statements such as "...there is no United Nations" and to suggest that it would make no difference if the UN lost ten floors of its building. You sound like a bully on the playground when you say things like:

"The United States makes the UN work when when it wants it to work and that is exactly the way it should be because the only basic question, only question for the United States, is what's in our national interest and if you don't like that, then I'm sorry but that is the fact."

This belittling of the international community is not what we needed eight years ago and it is certainly not what we need now. Despite this, you advise President-elect Obama to:

"...not let global 'public opinion' about the United States, from Albania to Zimbabwe, dissuade you from doing what you think is right for America. Your job is to defend and advance our interests and values, a task which invariably will displease our adversaries, and even many of our friends, especially those who wish we were, well, more European in our behaviour and attitudes...we should try to shift international public opinion to support our policies, not modify our policies to try to satisfy international public opinion."

Have you learned no lessons from any of the imperialist policies that you have supported? Do you not acknowledge that this type of thinking has led to out of control military spending, an increase in Al Qaeda's presence in Iraq, and a decline in American power and influence throughout the world? While you may think that you are advocating ways for a President Obama to be strong in actuality you are advocating the same stubborn ideology of the last eight years. Your words of advice read as a desperate last attempt for your neo-conservative agenda to fall upon ears that have already rejected your imperialist view of the world.

I urge President-elect Obama to say "thanks but no thanks" to the advice which you offer in your letter, this country can no longer afford to follow your advice. We have a lot of repair work to do and ripping open old wounds through bullying and unilateralism is not going to be an effective way to help this country heal.

This article can also be found at:

Thursday, November 6, 2008

From Hope to Momentum: Why the Election is Just the Beginning

It was as if the air had been let out of a balloon. The networks announced at 11pm EST that the country had elected Barack Obama to be the next President of the United States. I could instantly hear people shouting outside of my home and within three minutes, someone near-by began shooting off fireworks. I watched the sea of people at Chicago's Grant Park explode on my television set as people hugged each other and jumped around, unable to control their excitement. Crowds began to gather from Washington D.C. to major cities across the globe driving home just how much of a global impact the U.S. elections have. We watched the world let out a collective sigh of relief on election night with images of a unified and hopeful people anxious to see what happens next.

There is no doubting the historical nature of Barack Obama's campaign and election to be the first African-American President of the United States. Watching Obama address tens of thousands of supporters as President-elect was even enough to move many Americans to tears. Seeing the hope in the eyes of so many people is an amazing moment in history to bear witness to and only provides us with evidence that we are standing at an important time in the history of this country. The end of this election should not mark the end of the involvement of those who were energized by this campaign, to the contrary, this is where the real work needs to begin.

There are two main narratives that have been circulating since the election. The first comes from those on the right who have seen the Republican Party unravel into a giant circular firing squad and are still trying to interject their ideology into the American discourse. This is the narrative that we are a "center-right country". Karl Rove spoke these words on Fox News on election night and it has moved through the conservative echo chamber ever since. These pundits argue that an Obama Administration will be forced to govern from the center because the majority of Americans have "center-right" values.

The other narrative has come out of the Democratic Party and from some progressive-minded individuals. This narrative is that progressives won the election, are now in control, and through Obama will have the sway to influence policy over the next four years. Both of these narratives miss the mark. The United States is not a "center-right country". Americans just demonstrated their rejection of the ideology that has been in control of the Executive Branch for the last eight years and most Americans are in against the war, for universal health care , and in favor of smart government regulation of the financial industry. These are progressive ideas that many Obama supporters hold and are even more progressive than positions that Obama himself holds. This is not the mark of a center-right country, but of a country desperate for a new direction.

In the same breath, the narrative that progressives are now in control of the government and that Obama will automatically enact progressive change is also misguided. It has been demonstrated by many and through Obama's own voting record that he is a moderate politician with centrist policies. Now is not the time for progressives to sit back and watch what Obama can do, but rather it is time to use this fantastic opportunity to unite and apply pressure to an Obama Administration to enact actual change. It is vital for progressives to stay engaged and turn this enthusiasm from the election into a movement for the people.

Barack Obama and his administration are going to be pressured by the big corporate campaign donors who have established ties to and invested funds in Obama's campaign. Just like any other business decision, they want to see a good return on their investment so they will be seeking access and looking to influence policy. Amy Goodman wrote an article earlier this week in which she echos this sentiment:

"There are two key camps that feel invested in the Obama presidency: the millions who each gave a little, and the few who gave millions. The big-money interests have means to gain access. They know how to get meetings in the White House, and they know what lobbyists to hire. But the millions who donated, who volunteered, who were inspired to vote for the first time actually have more power, when organized."

The key to that statement are the last two words...when organized. Progressives need to start building a network in order to counter the insider influence and use this network to create a powerful movement of accountability. This moment in which we live is too important for us to not take action. In order to begin to pressure our national leaders, we must get organized on a grassroots level. It is absolutely necessary for those who supported Obama, to join with those who supported Cynthia McKinney, Ralph Nader, Ron Paul, on down the line and unite around the issues that we all care about. We must seize this moment, turn it into momentum, and raise our voice to say that we demand real progressive change.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Restoring Hope: Viewing the World from the Ground-Up

After engaging in many conversations about the plight of this country and the world over the weekend, I felt a little worn down. All of the issues that surround the Presidential election combined with sifting through all the misinformation can be exhausting and dejecting at times. I woke up early Saturday morning to attend a mandatory class on working the polls as I will be doing on November 4th and was pleased to find the class packed with people of all ages anxious to spend their time helping others vote on Election Day. Viewing the election through your television screen for the past two years can wear you down and seeing active members of your own community eager to participate in the process is a good feeling. Coming out of that class I felt partially recharged and so today, I decided to ride that wave of optimism and go down to the Board of Elections to vote early.

I arrived a little before two o' clock and took my place at the end of a long line that stretched out onto the sidewalk. People were handing out fliers with the hope of swaying any last minute voters who had yet to make up their mind. I saw literature for voting yes on Issue 8, No on Issue 5, for Todd Portune, against Issue 6, and so on. Many of the people gathered outside had brought their younger children so their kids could be introduced to the voting process. There was a family in front of me where the mother was explaining to her young son why it was important to vote and why there were so many people in line. People of all colors and creeds were in generally good spirits as they exchanged smiles and engaged in small talk as the line snaked up the stairs and into the main section of the BOE. Election officials were on-hand directing the voters to empty voting booths and explaining the layout of the ballot.

As I shuffled through the line, I was reminded of a quote that I once heard from folk musician and activist Utah Phillips during a 2004 interview. In that interview Phillips said:

If I look at it [the world] from the top down, I get seriously depressed. The world’s going to hell in a wheelbarrow. But if I walk out the door, turn all that off, and go with the people, whatever town I’m in, who are doing the real work down at the street level, like I said, there’s too many good people doing too many good things for me to let myself be pessimistic about that. I’m hopeful, can’t live without hope. Can you?

As I was standing there today watching an elderly couple struggling to climb the stairs to get into the BOE, as I watched that little boy ask his mom questions about voting, as I watched a blind woman receive her ballot, I felt hope. I felt the hope of an active citizenry cut through all the sound bytes and negative ads and permeate through the racism and hatred of this campaign. I, like Utah Phillips, was forced to view things from the ground up and it gave me hope in what a unified people and in what an active citizenry can do. This hope and faith in people is important in times like these when we live in a world that bombards us with media sound bytes, sensational news stories, and views from the top; it is enough to make anyone pessimistic about the direction that we are headed. It is during those times, when the negativity is driving us to the point of insanity, that it is so important to take a step back and view the world from the bottom up. There are people who are doing very good work to move this society forward in the face of all that is stacked against us. That is what gives me hope and it is this faith in people that we all must depend on. We all have our vision of how we would like to make our community, our country, the world a better place, but these visions all must stem from the fundamental faith in people to unite, take action, and implement the changes necessary to move us forward.

Mark Johnson is filmmaker who just finished a documentary entitled "Playing for Change: Peace Through Music". It is a film that took Johnson ten years to make, but his belief that "No matter who we are, no matter where we come from, we are all united through music" carried the project forward. Johnson was on the Bill Moyers Journal this past week discussing the film and why he chose to take on this project. Johnson said it quickly became evident that those involved with the film were representing the eyes of the children on the planet. He went on:

Because the truth is, they need us to inspire each other and to create a better world. I mean, there's so many problems now with the economy and with war and a lot of depression. But at the end of the day, there's also so much hope because I can assure you, all over the world, people are beautiful and they want to unite together.

Johnson traveled all over the world recording street musicians, viewing the world from the ground up, and uniting the world through music. He traveled to some of the most troubled regions of the planet and when Bill Moyers asked him what took him to those places of the world, Johnson responded:

Well, I think that in order to really unite people, you know, we have to show that in our darkest situations and in the places with the most struggles in the world, that we can find a way of uplifting each other out of it. I remember hearing somebody that said, you know, "The last person who knew why we were fighting died a long time ago."

We all know the world is changing. And we get to decide if it's changing for the better or if it's changing for the worse.

Hope during dark times is not idealistic, it is necessary. Faith in a united people is the foundation for moving us forward and bettering our lives. As the election draws closer, as more bombs are dropped overseas, and as the economy continues to slide, let's take a moment for a deep breath and look at the world from the ground up.

Below is a clip from the documentary referenced above with a brief introduction by Bill Moyers. The song is "Stand by Me", the musicians are from all across the world, and hopefully it will do a little bit to restore your faith in a unified people.

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

An Iraqi and a War Veteran Speak Out for an End to Occupation

The Speak for Peace Tour 2008 came to Xavier University's Bellarmine Chapel last Thursday evening in an effort to bring voices from the Iraq War to Cincinnati, Ohio. The Speak for Peace Tour 2008 is put on by the American Friends Service Committee and has traveled throughout various cities in the country. The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization founded in 1917 and "carries out service, development, social justice, and peace programs throughout the world." The event was also co-sponsored by Xavier University's Peace & Justice Programs, Bellarmine Chapel, and the Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center. The Iraq War and its impact on human lives was the main topic as speakers Eugene Cherry and Raed Jarrar addressed the crowd.

Eugene Cherry is an Iraq War Veteran. He was deployed to Iraq in 2004 where he worked as a medic and for a personal security detachment. He returned to the United States in 2005 with symptoms of PTSD and went AWOL for 16 months before turning himself in. He was given an honorable discharge and now is working with various groups, including Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW) to tell his story about what is happening overseas. Cherry spoke of enlisting in the military with the hope of learning some medical skills that would aid him in his quest to become a doctor, but after his time in Iraq Cherry feels that he did more harm than good. Within American Culture, violence is too often embraced and when speaking within the context of the American military, Cherry says that they are often the perpetrators of such violence. Cherry spoke of the use of cluster bombs and their deadly impact on civilian populations and spoke candidly about the use of white phosphorous by United States forces in Iraq.

In 2004, after the U.S. assault on the city of Fallujah, independent reporters began to report that the United States had used chemical weapons on civilians during the assault. Reporter Dahr Jamail was one of those who began to report that he had spoken with Iraqi doctors who treated citizens who "had their skin melted". The U.S. initially denied having used white phosphorus during the assault, then said they had used it only to light up enemy positions at night, and then admitted that they did use the chemical weapon, but assured us that they did not target civilians. Eugene Cherry confirms that the United States did use this weapon and that the those within the military called it "shake and bake".

Cherry went on to speak about the role of private contractors and mercenary firms inside of Iraq as proof that the corporations are in the back pocket of elected officials. "With every war there is an underlying social and economic issue," Cherry stated. He went on to speak of his work with the contracting firm KBR and how KBR paid their local workers a small salary every month while some KBR contractors were earning up to $650,000 for their work. Cherry equated this treatment with slave labor.

The evening had been kicked off with the question "What really led us to this point?" and as Raed Jarrar took the floor, he reminded those gathered in the chapel that what has been going on in Iraq began during the first Gulf War. Jarrar is an Iraqi and following the fall of Baghdad in 2003, became a country director for the only door-to-door casualty survey group in post-invasion Iraq. He currently works in Washington D.C. as an Iraqi Political Analyst. "The same people who have been telling us lies, continue to tell us lies," Jarrar said. He sees two reasons that politicians use to explain why the U.S. must stay in Iraq. The first is for the security of the United States, politicians claiming that if the U.S. withdraws, Al Qaeda will take over. The second is for humanitarian reasons, if the U.S. withdraws, then all hell will break loose and the Iraqis will be worse off. Jarrar claims that both of these views are manufactured myths.

The humanitarian reason for staying in Iraq is based on the belief that Iraq is divided by sectarian hatred, Sunni versus Shite versus Kurd. "Iraqi's do not see it this way," Jarrar stated, "They [Iraqis] realize that it is political and economic, not religious." Jarrar finds that the United States has been taking the side (though at different points throughout the conflict) of Sunnis and Shites with the minority view against the majority of Iraqis. This can be seen if you look at the representation in the Iraqi Parliament which is largely made up of parties who advocate for a complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Jarrar stated that these very parties hold the majority of seats in Parliament yet hold no seats in the executive branch. This results in the Iraqi people voting in members of Parliament who want the U.S. to withdraw, but an Executive Branch that is aligned with Washington in allowing U.S. forces to continue the occupation. Jarrar feels that this is a disconnect that many members of Congress even fail to see. Jarrar told the crowd that if they wanted to see the view of the majority of Iraqis, to watch the demonstration that would be happening over the weekend in Iraq. The peaceful protest did happen on Saturday and drew tens of thousands of Iraqis who protested the continued occupation of their country.

I had a chance to get in one question during a brief Q&A session which I directed at both Eugene Cherry and Raed Jarrar. I asked them for the Iraqi's perspective on the presence of private mercenary firms (like Blackwater) and if Iraqis see any difference in opinion between contractors and U.S. troops. Eugene Cherry responded that it is problematic when you have contractors operating with complete immunity inside Iraq. He said the only distinction is that U.S. military operates under a set of laws that can allow for accountability, but contractors are not bound by either American or Iraqi law. Raed Jarrar gave a much more frank answer to the question. "They [Iraqis] do not care where the bullets come from or who is doing the shooting. People do not like to be occupied."

Both Eugene Cherry and Raed Jarrar call for a complete and immediate withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq and reject both major Presidential candidates support for continuing the occupation and building permanent military bases inside of Iraq.

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