Friday, October 3, 2014

Guantanamo News: Just How Overdue Is This?

Protest at the White House against torture and abuse in Guantanamo Bay and Bagram U.S. military prisons February 27, 2009. Photo: mike.benedetti/flickr/cc.

White House Losing Ground in Bid to Keep Guantanamo Bay Abuse Secret
By Sarah Lazare / October 3, 2014

Federal judge rejects Obama administration request for secret trial and demands partial public release of videos showing force-feeding abuse of Guantanamo captive

Federal Judge Gladys Kessler on Friday ordered the U.S. government to publicly release videos showing the force-feedings of Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian man held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. However, Kessler ruled that, before releasing the videos, the U.S. government may redact "identifiers of individuals in the videotapes," including "faces other thatn Mr. Dhiab's, voices, names, etc." According to Reprieve, this amounts to approximately 11 hours of redacted tape.

“This may well be the most significant court decision on Guantanamo Bay in years," said Alka Pradhan, Reprieve attorney to Mr Dhiab. "No longer does the American public have to rely on propaganda and misinformation, but can finally watch the videotapes and judge for themselves whether this terrible prison should continue to be the image America projects to the world, or whether we should reclaim our values and shut it down for good.”


A federal judge on Thursday rejected an Obama administration effort to shut the public out of the first-ever trial for abuse and torture at Guantanamo Bay, slamming the White House push for secrecy as "deeply troubling."

Judge Gladys Kessler of the Washington DC district court wrote, "With such a long-standing and ongoing public interest at stake, it would be particularly egregious to bar the public from observing the credibility of live witnesses, the substance of their testimony, whether proper procedures are being followed, and whether the court is treating all participants fairly."

Kessler criticized the Justice Department for filing a motion last Friday to hold the trial almost completely behind closed doors, arguing that the request "appears to have been deliberately made on short notice." She continued, "[O]ne of the strongest pillars of our system of justice in the United States is the presumption that all judicial proceedings are open to the public whom the judiciary serves."

The case pertains to Abu Wa'el Dhiab, a Syrian man currently who has been held at the U.S. military's offshore prison since 2002, despite being cleared for release in 2009. Dhiab, who has been on hunger strike off and on for years to protest the conditions of his confinement, is suing the Obama administration for torturous force-feeding practices, which include: forcible removal from his cell to force-feedings by a squad of soldiers donning riot gear; painful tube insertions; and use of a painful restraint chair for the process, according to a statement from Reprieve, the UK-based legal charity representing him. Dhiab's hearing is slated to take place next Monday and Tuesday in Washington, DC, and expert witnesses are to testify on the man's abuse.

The government argues that the trial must be held completely behind closed doors, except for opening statements, to protect "national security." But Dhiab's lawyers say this argument reeks of a cover-up. "The was a brazen attempt by the Obama Administration to shut the American people out of their own courtroom," said Cori Crider, Reprieve director and one of Mr. Dhiab's attorneys. "And how sad to see our Justice Department deliberately undermining one of the central pillars of our democracy: open justice."

This is not the first time the U.S. government has sought to hide information about Dhiab's case. The White House has fought to hide video recordings of the force-feedings of Dhiab and other men held captive at Guantanamo. Dhiab was the first of these prisoners to legally challenge the Obama administration on the videos, resulting in a partial win: Dhiab's lawyers from Reprieve were permitted to view the tapes, but their content remains classified, effectively gagging the tapes' viewers. Kessler has agreed with the government's argument that these videos can remain hidden from the public, which, in the words of Guardian journalist Spencer Ackerman, means "the most graphic depictions of the force-feedings will remain hidden from view."

Sixteen major media organizations filed suit in June calling for the public release of the videos on first amendment grounds. In a recent article, Dhiab's wife Umm Wa'el joined in the call for disclosure of the tapes. She wrote:
America was shocked by the images from Abu Ghraib. These films from Guantanamo threaten to do the same. The American people should be given the chance to see them, and to decide whether they accept what is being done daily to my husband. I am certain that if they are given the chance, they will see the reality: the simple desperation of an innocent man, held without charge or trial, using the only means at his disposal to get back to his wife and children.

[This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.]

Source / Common Dreams

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The War on Drugs Is a Failure: UN Commission

Photo: M.A. Cabrera Luengo.

Citing Failed War on Drugs, World Leaders Call for Widespread Decriminalization
Global commission condemns "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies"
By Deirdre Fulton / September 9, 2014

In the face of a failed War on Drugs, a global commission composed mostly of former world leaders recommended on Tuesday that governments decriminalize and regulate the use of currently illicit drugs such as marijuana, cocaine, and psychedelics.

"The international drug regime is broken," reads the report from the Global Commission on Drug Policy, whose members include former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan; former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz; former justice of the Supreme Court of Canada and former high commissioner for human rights at the UN Louise Arbour; and Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, as well as the former presidents of Brazil, Colombia, Mexico, and Portugal. "[O]verwhelming evidence points to not just the failure of the regime to attain its stated goals but also the horrific unintended consequences of punitive and prohibitionist laws and policies."

Punitive drug law enforcement has done nothing to decrease global drug use, the Commission says in "Taking Control: Pathways to Drug Policies that Work" (pdf). Instead, such policies have fueled crime, maximized health risks, undermined human rights, and fostered discrimination — all while wasting tens of billions of dollars.

In place of these "harsh measures grounded in repressive ideologies," the commission recommends that world governments:

  • Shift their focus from enforcement to prevention and harm reduction;
  • Ensure equitable and affordable access to "essential medicines" like opiate-based pain medications;
  • Stop criminalizing people for drug use and possession;
  • Rely on alternatives to incarceration for non-violent, low-level participants in illicit drug markets such as farmers and couriers;
  • Look for alternatives to militarized anti-drug efforts when going after organized crime groups;
  • "Allow and encourage diverse experiments in legally regulating markets in currently illicit drugs, beginning with but not limited to cannabis, coca leaf and certain novel psychoactive substances;"
  • Use the upcoming major review of drug policies by the UN General Assembly, scheduled for 2016, as an opportunity to open debate on true reform.

Implementing such reforms "is necessary because global drug prohibition, the dominant paradigm in the last 40 years, has not only failed in achieving its original stated objectives, which was to reduce drug consumption and improve health worldwide, but it has, in fact, generated a lot of harm, including an AIDS and hepatitis epidemic among people who use drugs and social violence and infiltration of democracies with narco-traffickers and the birth of a few narco-states in the world," commission member Michel Kazatchkine, UN Secretary General Special Envoy on HIV/AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said in an interview with The World Today's Eleanor Hall.

He continued:

We're promoting a model similar to let's say what exists with tobacco. That is, put government in control: in control of who produces the drug, of the quality of the drug, on how and where it is sold, to whom it is sold — for example, forbid it to people less than let's say 18 years old or whatever.

Take back control of that market and therefore reduce, not only the violence, but also reduce the health and social harms that the current international regime has generated.

Experts called the report groundbreaking. In a statement, Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said, “The import of the Commission’s report lies in both the distinction of its members and the boldness of their recommendations. The former presidents and other Commission members pull no punches in insisting that national and global drug control policies reject the failed prohibitionist policies of the 20th century in favor of new policies grounded in science, compassion, health and human rights. There’s no question now that the genie of reform has escaped the prohibitionist bottle."

In its report, the Commission acknowledges that reshaping the global discussion on drugs will be a challenge:

The obstacles to drug policy reform are both daunting and diverse. Powerful and established drug control bureaucracies, both national and international, staunchly defend status quo policies. They seldom question whether their involvement and tactics in enforcing drug policy are doing more harm than good. Meanwhile, there is often a tendency to sensationalize each new “drug scare” in the media. And politicians regularly subscribe to the appealing rhetoric of “zero tolerance” and creating “drug free” societies rather than pursuing an informed approach based on evidence of what works. Popular associations of illicit drugs with ethnic and racial minorities stir fear and inspire harsh legislation. And enlightened reform advocates are routinely attacked as “soft on crime” or even “pro-drug.”

But the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session — and the time between now and then — is seen as an opportunity to overthrow that status quo. Several Latin American leaders, including Colombia's Juan Manuel Santos and Guatemala's Otto Perez Molina, have already called for a paradigm shift on international drug policy.

"2016 will be the beginning of years, perhaps decades, of debate on new drug conventions," Arbour said at the New York press conference marking the report's release. The conversation was already beginning on Tuesday, under the Twitter hashtag #ControlDrugs.

Source / Common Dreams

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Chomsky: The Owl of Minerva and Human History

Global warming has had a particularly strong impact on the Arctic, yet the effects on the region’s ice have been anything but steady or predictable. Some glaciers are spitting out icebergs and draining the Greenland ice sheet at an alarming pace; others are barely moving; a few are growing thicker.
(Photo: NASA/Jefferson Beck and Maria-José Viñas/Flickr CC 2.0)

Noam Chomsky: Are We Approaching the End of Human History?
By Noam Chomsky / September 9, 2014

It is not pleasant to contemplate the thoughts that must be passing through the mind of the Owl of Minerva as the dusk falls and she undertakes the task of interpreting the era of human civilization, which may now be approaching its inglorious end.

The era opened almost 10,000 years ago in the Fertile Crescent, stretching from the lands of the Tigris and Euphrates, through Phoenicia on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean to the Nile Valley, and from there to Greece and beyond. What is happening in this region provides painful lessons on the depths to which the species can descend.

The land of the Tigris and Euphrates has been the scene of unspeakable horrors in recent years. The George W. Bush-Tony Blair aggression in 2003, which many Iraqis compared to the Mongol invasions of the 13th century, was yet another lethal blow. It destroyed much of what survived the Bill Clinton-driven UN sanctions on Iraq, condemned as “genocidal” by the distinguished diplomats Denis Halliday and Hans von Sponeck, who administered them before resigning in protest. Halliday and von Sponeck’s devastating reports received the usual treatment accorded to unwanted facts.

One dreadful consequence of the US-UK invasion is depicted in a New York Times “visual guide to the crisis in Iraq and Syria”: the radical change of Baghdad from mixed neighborhoods in 2003 to today’s sectarian enclaves trapped in bitter hatred. The conflicts ignited by the invasion have spread beyond and are now tearing the entire region to shreds.

Much of the Tigris-Euphrates area is in the hands of ISIS and its self-proclaimed Islamic State, a grim caricature of the extremist form of radical Islam that has its home in Saudi Arabia. Patrick Cockburn, a Middle East correspondent for The Independent and one of the best-informed analysts of ISIS, describes it as “a very horrible, in many ways fascist organization, very sectarian, kills anybody who doesn’t believe in their particular rigorous brand of Islam.”

Cockburn also points out the contradiction in the Western reaction to the emergence of ISIS: efforts to stem its advance in Iraq along with others to undermine the group’s major opponent in Syria, the brutal Bashar Assad regime. Meanwhile a major barrier to the spread of the ISIS plague to Lebanon is Hezbollah, a hated enemy of the US and its Israeli ally. And to complicate the situation further, the US and Iran now share a justified concern about the rise of the Islamic State, as do others in this highly conflicted region.

Egypt has plunged into some of its darkest days under a military dictatorship that continues to receive US support. Egypt’s fate was not written in the stars. For centuries, alternative paths have been quite feasible, and not infrequently, a heavy imperial hand has barred the way.

After the renewed horrors of the past few weeks it should be unnecessary to comment on what emanates from Jerusalem, in remote history considered a moral center.

Eighty years ago, Martin Heidegger extolled Nazi Germany as providing the best hope for rescuing the glorious civilization of the Greeks from the barbarians of the East and West. Today, German bankers are crushing Greece under an economic regime designed to maintain their wealth and power.

The likely end of the era of civilization is foreshadowed in a new draft report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the generally conservative monitor of what is happening to the physical world.

The report concludes that increasing greenhouse gas emissions risk “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts for people and ecosystems” over the coming decades. The world is nearing the temperature when loss of the vast ice sheet over Greenland will be unstoppable. Along with melting Antarctic ice, that could raise sea levels to inundate major cities as well as coastal plains.

The era of civilization coincides closely with the geological epoch of the Holocene, beginning over 11,000 years ago. The previous Pleistocene epoch lasted 2.5 million years. Scientists now suggest that a new epoch began about 250 years ago, the Anthropocene, the period when human activity has had a dramatic impact on the physical world. The rate of change of geological epochs is hard to ignore.

One index of human impact is the extinction of species, now estimated to be at about the same rate as it was 65 million years ago when an asteroid hit the Earth. That is the presumed cause for the ending of the age of the dinosaurs, which opened the way for small mammals to proliferate, and ultimately modern humans. Today, it is humans who are the asteroid, condemning much of life to extinction.

The IPCC report reaffirms that the “vast majority” of known fuel reserves must be left in the ground to avert intolerable risks to future generations. Meanwhile the major energy corporations make no secret of their goal of exploiting these reserves and discovering new ones.

A day before it ran a summary of the IPCC conclusions, The New York Times reported that huge Midwestern grain stocks are rotting so that the products of the North Dakota oil boom can be shipped by rail to Asia and Europe.

One of the most feared consequences of anthropogenic global warming is the thawing of permafrost regions. A study in Science magazine warns that “even slightly warmer temperatures [less than anticipated in coming years] could start melting permafrost, which in turn threatens to trigger the release of huge amounts of greenhouse gases trapped in ice,” with possible “fatal consequences” for the global climate.

Arundhati Roy suggests that the “most appropriate metaphor for the insanity of our times” is the Siachen Glacier, where Indian and Pakistani soldiers have killed each other on the highest battlefield in the world. The glacier is now melting and revealing “thousands of empty artillery shells, empty fuel drums, ice axes, old boots, tents and every other kind of waste that thousands of warring human beings generate” in meaningless conflict. And as the glaciers melt, India and Pakistan face indescribable disaster.

Sad species. Poor Owl.

Noam Chomsky is Institute Professor emeritus in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Among his recent books are Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Power Systems, Occupy, and Hopes and Prospects. His latest book, Masters of Mankind, will be published soon by Haymarket Books, which is also reissuing twelve of his classic books in new editions over the coming year. His website is

Source / In These Times

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Obama: Remember, He Does This Every Day Now

Obama NSA Defense FAIL: The al-Mihdar Red Herring
By Juan Cole / Jan. 17, 2014

In his speech on the National Security Agency domestic surveillance program on Friday, Obama offered an explanation of its origins:

The program grew out of a desire to address a gap identified after 9/11. One of the 9/11 hijackers – Khalid al-Mihdhar – made a phone call from San Diego to a known al Qaeda safe-house in Yemen. NSA saw that call, but could not see that it was coming from an individual already in the United States. The telephone metadata program under Section 215 was designed to map the communications of terrorists, so we can see who they may be in contact with as quickly as possible.

This is, of course, a steaming crock of crap. The fact is that Khalid al-Mihdar was under surveillance and so was his contact in Yemen. The US even had videotape of al-Mihdar at an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur shortly before he went to San Diego. And US intelligence knew that al-Mihdar was in the United States.

The problem? The various intelligence agencies were each looking to make their own bust and refused to properly share information with one another.

They don’t need to spy on all of our smartphone information and track 310 million people’s telephone calls and whereabouts! They need to talk with each other there in Washington! And in fact there is a joint FBI/ CIA facility in the DC area now where files can be accessed by officers with the right clearances across agencies.

Obama’s anecdote simply does not support the case for holding phone metadata, either in the government or by private telcos. And since I don’t think Obama is ignorant or lacking in smarts, I think he and whoever crafted that reference to 9/11 into his violent assault on the Fourth Amendment were doing so in a calculated and wholly dishonest fashion.

Obama was from 2007 frank that he admired Ronald Reagan. What you’re a little afraid of is that he may harbor some sneaking admiration for Tricky Dick Nixon.

Jim Gilmore writes at PBS:

In September 2002, agents and officials from the CIA and FBI testified before a joint congressional panel about how their security agencies failed to fully share information about suspected terrorists and their activities in the months leading up to the Sept. 11 attacks.

As much as anyone working in counterterrorism, John O’Neill knew about this communication breakdown. In fact, just two months before Sept. 11, in a speech to Spanish police on interagency cooperation, he had asked his audience, “How much more successful could we all be if we really knew what our agencies really knew?” O’Neill’s last major FBI investigation — the attack on the USS Cole on Oct. 12, 2000 — was a case study of just how bad inter-agency communication had become.

-The Critical Meeting in Malaysia

The story of this intelligence failure begins with a 1999 CIA breakthrough — the interception of communications from an Al Qaeda logistics center in Yemen about a meeting of operatives that would take place in January 2000 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The names of two of the participants were mentioned: Khalid Almidhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.

The CIA tracked Almidhar on his way to Malaysia. An agent told FRONTLINE that during a passport check at a stopover, the CIA even got access to his Saudi Arabian passport and learned Almidhar had been issued a multiple-entry visa to the U.S.

Once in Kuala Lumpur, the Al Qaeda operatives were photographed — at the CIA’s request — by Malaysian authorities at a series of meetings. Reportedly, no sound recordings were made, but intelligence sources now believe the meetings were held to plan future Al Qaeda attacks. Among the men captured in the surveillance photos were:

Almidhar and Alhazmi (later hijackers of American Flight 77 which flew into the Pentagon on Sept. 11);
Ramzi bin al-Shibh (a Sept. 11 co-conspirator and Mohamed Atta’s roommate. It would not be until after Sept. 11 that bin al-Shibh would be identified in the Malaysia surveillance photos);
Tawfiq bin-Atash — AKA “Khallad” (a suspected intermediary between bin Laden and plotters of the October 2000 USS Cole attack).

The CIA maintains that it did notify the FBI by e-mail of the Malaysia meetings soon after they occurred — and that it did mention Almidhar had a U.S. visa. The FBI, however, states they have no record of this notification.

The CIA admits that it did not inform the bureau that after the Malaysia meetings ended, it tracked Almidhar and Alhazmi to Los Angeles. The CIA further admits that it failed to warn the INS or the State Department, and as a result, the men’s names were not added to a terrorist watch list.

h/t for the tweet that inspired this post to @ZoeSCarpenter

Source / Informed Comment

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Friday, January 10, 2014

America's Firm Grounding in Neo-Nazi Facism

The Malthusian Obsession: Eugenics, American-Style
By Jeffrey St. Clair / January 10, 2014

In 1952, Charlie Follett, a wayward orphan, was a resident of the Sonoma County State Boys Home. One day when he was 14-years old, he was taken to the hospital, told to disrobe and sit on a table. The orderly didn’t explain what was about to happen to him.

“First, they shot me with some kind of medicine. It was supposed to deaden the nerves,” Charlie Follett told the Sacramento Bee, describing his forced vasectomy. “Then the next thing I heard was snip, snip. Then when they did the other side, it seemed like they were pulling my whole insides out.”

Follett was a minor, unaware of what was happening to him or why, unable to resist or even challenge it. The state had simply decided that this teenager (and thousands of others like him) was a derelict, unworthy of the right to reproduce.

Follett was one of at least 20,000 people sterilized against their will by the state of California from 1909 to 1963, in a eugenics program explicitly geared toward ridding the state of “enfeebled” and “defective” people.

California’s eugenics program proved so efficient that in the 1930s, Nazi scientists asked California eugenicists for advice on how to run their own sterilization regime. “Germany used California’s program as its chief example that this was a working, successful policy,” says Christina Cogdell, author of Eugenic Design. ”They modeled their law on California’s law.”

But California wasn’t alone. The state of Virginia forcibly sterilized 8,300 people. North Carolina sterilized 7,600 people against their will, the last in 1974. My home state of Indiana has a wretched record, with 2,500 forced sterilizations, nearly equally divided between young women and men, with most occurring between 1938 and 1953. Oregon, which had a population about half the size of Indiana, performed 2300 sterilizations, with 60 percent of them conducted on patients entombed in the barbarous state mental hospital. The sterilizations were approved by the state-sanctioned Oregon Eugenics Board. Incredibly, this board wasn’t disbanded until 1975, though the state’s eugenics program persisted until 1983.

A grim chapter of history, you say. But the era of sterilization hasn’t ended yet. It has simply migrated from state hospitals and health departments to the courts and medical offices. Take the case of Kathy Looney, a Louisiana woman convicted in 2000 of abusing three of her eight children. She was given a savage choice: either undergo medical sterilization or face lengthy jail time. Ultimately, she agreed to the sterilization and the judge issued a 10-year suspended sentence and placed Ms. Looney on five years of probation.

“I don’t want to have to lock you up to keep you from having any more children,” barked District Judge Carl V. Sharp. “So some kind of medical procedure is needed to make sure you don’t.”

In this context, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a revealing comparison by Drs. Andre N. Sofair and Lauris C. Kaldjian of German and U.S. sterilization policies from 1930 to 1945. During the years when Americans were being involuntarily sterilized as part of a multi-state eugenics program dating back to 1907, what did the leading medical journals here have to say on the topic in their editorials?

The authors reviewed the relevant periodicals only from the 1930s. Even in this narrow time frame, against the backdrop of Nazi eugenic programs, the facts are instructive. The American Journal of Medicine, the Annals of Internal Medicine and the American Journal of Psychiatry had nothing to say. The American Journal of Public Health ran one anonymous editorial on mental health that Sofair and Kaldjian described as “relevant,” probably because it suggested that rising rates of hospitalization for the mentally infirm didn’t necessarily mean that Americans’ mental IQs were falling, a belief that was exploited by the advocates of eugenic sterilization.

A special committee convened by the American Neurological Association endorsed the widely held view that mentally “defective” people were a drain on national resources. The committee took a positive view of “feeblemindedness,” on the grounds that it breeds “servile, useful people who do the dirty work of the race.” The committee reviewed the Germany sterilization law of 1933, and praised it for precision and scientific grounding.

The editorial record of the New England Journal in the early 1930s was dreadful. Editorials lamented the supposed increase in the rate of American feeblemindedness as dangerous, and the economic burden of supporting the mentally feeble as “appalling.” In 1934, The Journal’s editor, Morris Fishbein, wrote that “Germany is perhaps the most progressive nation in restricting fecundity among the unfit,” and argued that the “individual must give way to the greater good.”

While researching our book Whiteout, I came across a remarkable federal court opinion on sterilizations of the poor. In 1974, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell wrote that “over the last few years, an estimated 100,000 to 150,000 low-income persons have been sterilized annually in federally-funded programs.”

Gesell pointed out that though Congress had decreed that family planning programs function on a voluntary basis, “an indefinite number of poor people have been improperly coerced into accepting a sterilization operation under the threat that various federally funded benefits would be withdrawn. … Patients receiving Medicaid assistance at childbirth are evidently the most frequent targets of this pressure.”

Starting in the early 1990s, poor women were allowed Medicaid funding to have Norplant inserted into their arms; then, when they complained of pain and other unwelcome side effects, they were told no funding was available to have the Norplant rods taken out. Here, therefore, was a new species of involuntary sterilization, implemented under the approving gaze of Bill and Hillary Clinton, who later imposed their cruel Malthusian obsession on the destitute women of Haiti.

In the coming age of austerity, as poverty, homelessness and huger take deep root across the Republic, the eugenic impulse is almost certain to reemerge, probably dressed in the old progressive guise of social improvement and economic benevolence.

[Jeffrey St. Clair is the author of Been Brown So Long It Looked Like Green to Me: the Politics of Nature, Grand Theft Pentagon and Born Under a Bad Sky. His latest book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion. He can be reached at:]

Source / Counterpunch

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