Wednesday, August 6, 2008

New, improved Iraq Moratorium -- Act now!

As the Iraq Moratorium prepares for its 12th monthly observance on August 15 -- the Third Friday of the month, as always -- it's made some changes to get ready for its second year.

You'll find a new website, with a new address,, and even a new logo to go with the new look.

One thing that hasn't changed is the determination to end the senseless war and occupation of Iraq, by encouraging locally organized, grassroots actions to move more of the silent majority who say they oppose the war to do something to end it.

It's a simple concept. It asks people to interrupt their daily routines on the Third Friday of every month and take some action, individually or with a group, to end the war and occupation.

The national Moratorium doesn't try to tell people what action to take. It offers a wide variety of options, from wearing a button or armband to taking part in a demonstration, and many things in between. The important thing is that people do something.

The national website acts as a clearinghouse for information, collecting and posting events planned by local organizers and reports, photos and videos afterward. It also offers some tips and tools for organizers to use.

It's almost an exaggeration to call it a shoestring operation. It operates on virtually no money with a volunteer crew. (Disclosure: I'm part of the volunteer core group that tries to keep it growing.)

Given its almost non-existent resources and media blackout of antiwar actions, it's first year record is somewhat remarkable. There have been more than 1,200 actions in 41 states and 240 communities since the Moratorium began in September 2007. No one really knows how many individuals also observe the Moratorium in some way on the Third Friday of the month, but it's a significant number.

As Iraq Moratorium #12 approaches, think about one thing, big or small, that you can do to help. If nothing else, a donation would be gratefully accepted -- and you don't have to wait until August 15.

Whatever it is, please do something.

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Understanding Pelosi: One Word: "Accessory"

Nancy Pelosi was briefed on and signed off on torture. She won't impeach because she is an accessory to war crimes.

She would be impeaching and convicting herself.

Glenn Greenwald
Tuesday July 15, 2008 08:16 EDT
The motivation for blocking investigations into Bush lawbreaking important political impediment to holding Bush officials accountable for their illegal torture program:
An additional complicating factor is that key members of Congress sanctioned this program, so many of those who might ordinarily be counted on to lead the charge are themselves compromised.
As we witness not just Republicans, but also Democrats in Congress, acting repeatedly to immunize executive branch lawbreaking and to obstruct investigations, it's vital to keep that fact in mind. With regard to illegal Bush programs of torture and eavesdropping, key Congressional Democrats were contemporaneously briefed on what the administration was doing (albeit, in fairness, often in unspecific ways). The fact that they did nothing to stop that illegality, and often explicitly approved of it, obviously incentivizes them to block any investigations or judicial proceedings into those illegal programs.

In December of last year, The Washington Post revealed:
Four members of Congress met in secret for a first look at a unique CIA program designed to wring vital information from reticent terrorism suspects in U.S. custody. For more than an hour, the bipartisan group, which included current House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), was given a virtual tour of the CIA's overseas detention sites and the harsh techniques interrogators had devised to try to make their prisoners talk.

Among the techniques described, said two officials present, was waterboarding, a practice that years later would be condemned as torture by Democrats and some Republicans on Capitol Hill. But on that day, no objections were raised. Instead, at least two lawmakers in the room asked the CIA to push harder, two U.S. officials said.
The article noted that other Democratic members who received briefings on the CIA's interrogation program included Jay Rockefeller and Jane Harman.
Also see: Nancy Pelosi, How Do You Plead?, by George Washington, July 21, 2008

Without question, Pelosi has covered up crimes committed by Bush, Cheney and the White House gang.

Moreover, Pelosi is guilty of criminal conspiracy.  She conspired with the Neocons to implement torture, spying and the use of tainted and unreliable evidence regarding 9/11.

She is also guilty of violating the War Crimes Act of 1996, a federal statute set forth at 18 U.S.C. § 2441, which makes it a federal crime for any U.S. national, whether military or civilian, to violate the Geneva Convention by engaging in murder, torture, or inhuman treatment. The statute applies not only to those who carry out the acts, but also to those who order it, know about it, or fail to take steps to stop it. The statute applies to everyone, no matter how high and mighty.  See this.

It is time for Pelosi to make her choice. Accept responsibility and show remorse, and she may be sentenced to community service. Otherwise, she will be tried along with Bush, Cheney and crew as a criminal.
She tried to explain it all the other day...

Nancy Pelosi Answers 10 Questions; First Question: Why Did You Take Impeachment Off the Table?
Q: Why have you taken impeachment off the table as an option for President George W. Bush? Nancy Shipes WOODSTOWN, N.J.

A: I took it off the table a long time ago. You can't talk about impeachment unless you have the facts, and you can't have the facts unless you have cooperation from the Administration.
Translation: We can't impeach Bush because it's not ok with Bush. He won't co-operate and let us impeach him.  

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UPDATED: Real Iraq Reality, and Real News on 'Surging' McCain

I posted part 1 yesterday.

In this update today, an Iraqi journalist continues his series of video reports of the 'real' reality on the ground in Iraq, with part 2...

Baghdad, 5 years on (part 2): killing fields

One Baghdad's killings fields on the edge of Sadr City. The scene of thousands of sectarian murders over the last three years, it is a desolate and evil place: 'Only the killers and the killed ever come here' says Abdul-Ahad. Here in the thousands of unmarked graves lie the victims of militia gangs. Video by Ghaith Abdul-Ahad.

4 min 28 sec
An Iraqi journalist begins a series of video reports of the 'real' reality on the ground in Iraq, with...
Baghdad, 5 years on (part 1): City of walls

US claims that the military surge is bringing stability to Iraq. By travelling through the heart of Baghdad its easy to see by enclosing the Sunni and Shia populations behind 12ft walls, the surge has left the city more divided and desperate than ever.

4 min 37 sec
On the flip... Pepe Escobar of Asia Times deconstructs and shreds the sole foundation of McCain's presidential campaign...

9 min 25 sec - 'Surging' McCain

Part 1 of this report examines McCain's position in relation to the Iraq war, his decision to hedge his bets regarding the success of the surge and his interpretation of the surge's "success." Analyst for The Real News, Pepe Escobar compares McCain's interpretation to the many overlapping political and military facts on the ground in Iraq before and during the surge.

Pepe Escobar, born in Brazil is the roving correspondent for Asia Times and an analyst for The Real News Network. He's been a foreign correspondent since 1985, based in London, Milan, Los Angeles, Paris, Singapore, and Bangkok. Since the late 1990s, he has specialized in covering the arc from the Middle East to Central Asia, including the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He has made frequent visits to Iran and is the author of Globalistan and also Red Zone Blues: A Snapshot of Baghdad During the Surge both published by Nimble Books in 2007.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Real News: Obama sells Europeans on Afghan war

August 4, 2008 - 6 min 27 sec - Obama sells Europeans on Afghan war

European public hails Obama as the anti-Bush, but politicians cool to idea of more troops in Afghanistan

The Guardian headline said “Obama gets rock star welcome” One Berliner called it “an Anti-Bush rally”, and the Financial Times Deutshland called it an “ad for the war on terror “. In a speech laden with cold war rhetoric, Democratic Presidential hopeful Barack Obama stood before more than 200,000 people in Berlin on thursday and summoned Europeans and Americans to work together on many issues, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the “War on Terror” and climate change. Andreas Zumach of Die Tageszietung: European politicians are somewhat glad about the general statements Obama made on the need for improving the Euro-Atlantic alliance again. They have read about what he said on more cooperation on global issues like climate change, on the US in the future more obeying international law. They are very wary, especially the ones in Germany, France, and the other big European countries, about the clear message he sent on Afghanistan, where he very clearly and undiplomatically said, "We need more of your troops in Afghanistan," which means more war fighting done by the Europeans in a war that's bound to be lost.

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Obama, Rice Team Up on Foreign Policy?

Hat tip to Jeralyn Merritt at Talkleft for this:

If you had to guess which presidential candidate was consulting Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice on foreign affairs would you pick the one from her party -- a party which has frequently suggested she be added to the ticket as the VP candidate -- or the candidate from the other party? The Aspen Daily News, citing a new Time Magazine article, says it's Obama who has been consulting Condi Rice on foreign affairs.
From the Time article:
A few days before he left on his eight-country world tour, Barack Obama wanted to discuss the trip with an old contact in Washington: Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Obama's phone call was in part a courtesy, but over three years of occasional phone conversations, the two have quietly discussed everything from foreign aid to the Middle East and nuclear proliferation. Obama and Rice have come to have a certain respect for each other, says an Obama aide familiar with their conversations, because both take an intellectual, sober view of foreign affairs. "They've had good exchanges," the aide says. "Does he treat her as someone whom he has respect for? Absolutely. Does he listen to her on occasion? Absolutely."

The little-known Rice-Obama link is just the latest surprise in a summer of unexpected shifts in American foreign policy.
It may prove bittersweet to watch as a new President gets credit for policies she and Bush have promoted, but that is the price of embracing diplomacy so late in the game. At least, says the Obama aide, she can expect the phone calls to continue.

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Once more into the breach

(Cross-posted from Lotus - Surviving a Dark Time.)

Remember what I said just over a week ago, how Kirkuk remains a potential "flashpoint for ethnic conflict?" Juan Cole brings the goods: First, he cites Reuters for Friday, which reports that Kurdish councilors

called for the city [of Kirkuk] to become part of the largely autonomous region of Kurdistan. ...

Thursday's decision by Kurdish councilors at a provincial council meeting was symbolic because other factions boycotted the session. The council's head, himself a Kurd, also noted the call was unconstitutional.

But tensions have been rising over the city's fate, with demonstrators taking to the streets several times this week.
One of those rallies, last Monday, was attacked by a suicide bomber. Some 23 people were killed.

The central Iraqi government rejected the councilors' call while urging calm:
"The Iraqi government calls upon all parties and groups in Kirkuk province to refrain from carrying out any [actions] that might harm the national unity," government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said in a statement. "The Iraqi government is stressing its [opposition to] any unilateral measure to change the status of Kirkuk."
Kurds regard Kirkuk as their historical capital and demand that it become part of the largely-autonomous Kurdish region. Besides the central government, which among its other concerns likely numbers the prospect losing direct control over the oil-rich region of which Kirkuk is part, Turkey is also watching warily: For its own internal reasons, Turkey fears any strengthening of Kurdish interests and expressed "anxiety" over the proposal.

But the real source of potential conflict comes from a third source: The non-Kurd residents of Kirkuk, particularly the Turkmen (also Turkomen), who also regard Kirkuk as home and fear ethnic oppression if the city becomes part of Kurdistan. This is something I first brought up over four years ago. Over a year ago, I noted that the leader of a Turkmen group in Kirkuk said "all the Turkmens will become suicide bombers to defend the Turkmen identity" of the city.

The intensity of that feeling remains, as evidenced by an interview with Narmin Al-Mufti, an official of the Turkoman Front, published in the Kurdish newspaper Chawder. Juan Cole posted the translation done by the US federal government's Open Source Center.

In the interview, Mufti called the Kurdistan Regional Government "not a lawful region but an internal administration." That is, the Front accepts the Kurdish area as an administrative region but does not accept autonomy, charging it is contrary to the Iraqi constitution. In fact, he said they do not recognize the constitution itself
because it has been forced upon us without our agreement. We prefer and recognize the older constitution, which contained 39 articles and did not contain Article 140,
which relates to the future of Kirkuk.

He also said the Turkoman Front does "not believe the Kurdish leadership," who "are only concerned about, and work for, their own interests" and that
[t]he Turkoman Front does not agree with elections, because balloting would be in the interest of the Kurdish political parties and they are always carrying out vote fraud.
Fraud such as, he charged, moving hundreds of thousands of "non-residents" to Kirkuk to affect potential elections. Kick those non-residents out, he said, and the Front could accept elections, because then "the Turkomans would have the majority vote in Kirkuk."

"I want to tell the Kurdish leadership," he concluded, "that we would rather be part of China than Kurdistan." The Kurds, every bit as determined on the matter, would probably be willing to grant that wish.

The chance of any short-term breakthrough on this impasse seems unlikely, especially considering that
Iraqi parliamentarians failed on Sunday to pass a law on provincial elections, putting the date of important polls in doubt and leaving unresolved a political standoff that has stoked ethnic tensions[, Reuters reports].

After struggling for hours to reach a quorum, lawmakers indefinitely postponed a special session they had called to pass the law, which has come unstuck over plans for the disputed northern city of Kirkuk and angered minority Kurds.
Still, hope springs eternal and all that.
Lawmakers did not say when they would reschedule the debate, but political leaders continued meetings to seek a compromise. ...

Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish lawmaker, said a compromise was close at hand and parliament would hold another vote when faction leaders signal they have reached a deal.

"We are waiting for the white smoke to rise," he said.
The trouble is, when we see the smoke rising, will it mean what Othman wants it to mean? Or will it signify a heat that is starting to do more than just smolder? Or even an impending explosion?

There's more: "Once more into the breach" >>

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Why the Silence on Real Torture Timeline?

Last month, I examined the testimony from the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on interrogations and torture. The hearings concentrated on the military's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program, and its use of military psychologists hired by the CIA to "reverse-engineer" SERE program elements for use in coercive interrogations by the United States at Guantanamo Bay prison and elsewhere.

The timelines constructed out of this testimony and ancillary documentary evidence showed the Department of Defense turned to SERE for help in interrogating "enemy combatants" in July 2002. At least, that seems the case if you follow the summary given by SASC Committee Chair, Senator Carl Levin, adhered to in subsequent reports by every other journalist (but one).

Except, the timeline was wrong, and that fact is available for anyone to read in black and white. It was also admitted, grudgingly, by Levin himself, in an exchange with me during a "liveblog" session at Firedoglake.

As I wrote in my June 23 article:

While Senator Levin gives a fairly thorough presentation of how SERE techniques migrated to Guantanamo, including discussions and meetings and when they took place, and descriptions (at least in the documents released by the committee) of what kind of techniques were being taught, one date is inexplicably left out which Lt. Col. Baumgarten gave in his testimony. [Baumgarten is former Chief of Staff of Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA) for the Department of Defense, and administratively responsible for the SERE program.] Levin concentrates upon the late July 2002 request by Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, for information on SERE techniques and their effects upon prisoners.... But Baumgarten's own opening statement gives a more nuanced, different story. From [Lt. Col. Baumgarten's] statement, as published online (bold emphasis added):
My recollection of my first communication with [Department of Defense] OGC [Office of General Counsel] relative to techniques was with Mr. Richard Shiffrin in July 2002. However, during my two interviews with Committee staff members last year I was shown documents that indicated I had some communication with Mr. Shiffrin related to this matter in approximately December 2001. Although I do not specifically recall Mr. Shiffrin’s request to the JPRA for information in late 2001, my previous interviews with Committee staff members and review of documents connected with Mr. Shiffrin’s December 2001 request have confirmed to me the JPRA, at that time, provided Mr. Shiffrin information related to this Committee’s inquiry. From what I reviewed last year with Committee staff members, the information involved the exploitation process and historical information on captivity and lessons learned.
Now something is very strange here, as Levin's own staff appear to have documents indicating DoD was asking about SERE techniques in December 2001, eight months before the July 2002 request everyone else is concentrating on. Why this gap? My guess is that it would take us even closer to the Oval Office than Levin or anyone else wants to go at this point. Where are these documents on the December 2001 request? Why did no one on the committee question Baumgarten about this issue during the hearings?
Senator Levin Responds

Learning that Carl Levin was to participate in a "liveblog" discussion at Firedoglake on July 15, I showed up to ask my questions. What follows are my questions and Sen. Levin's responses.
[Valtin:] Sen. Levin, Your timeline for SERE interjection into U.S. torture training goes to July 2002. But Lt. Col. Baumgarten’s own statement indicates that he was approached by Shiffren (or others?) in December 2001. This is verified, supposedly, by documents your committee staffers showed him.

Why are these documents not released? Why isn’t this Dec. 2001 part of the timeline emphasized? Would not this early of an approach to use SERE for reverse-engineering purposes put some in the Administration in greater legal jeopardy, as the OLC rulings on detainees did not come until early 2002?
[Levin:] Lt. Col. Baumgartner did so testify at our hearing. However information relating to his discussions with Shiffrin remains classified. When our report is finalized we will press the DoD to declassify this matter.
[Valtin:] Thank you for your response, Sen. Levin. I suspected this was the case. Can you comment on the significance of a timeline that begins in December 2001 instead of July 2002, as that would help educate the public as to why such documents should be declassified. DoD could certainly do their usual redactions for security purposes. Or is it not just DoD we are talking about here?

Also, Sen. Levin, why wait until your report is “finalized” to press for declassification? That could be many months from now. Why not ask for declassification… now?
[Levin:] We have many pending requests for declassification, and we’re not waiting for our report to be finalized to ask for declassification of numerous documents. The Yoo memo is an example of where we put maximum pressure on for declassification. There is only one minute left in the roll call, so I have to run. Thanks for joining me today.
I hope the reader notices the care with which Sen. Levin made his remarks. He said nothing about the significance of the Baumgartner revelations. He also answered my complaint about the lassitude in pursuing declassification of the relevant documents with a huffy protestation of how the committee is pursuing the declassification of "numerous documents" -- though not necessarily the ones in their possession showing Pentagon OCG approaches to SERE re "the exploitation process" and the "lessons" of captivity and torture interrogation in December 2001.

The Importance of the Timeline

Why bury the information on the December 2001 portion of the timeline, moving the supposedly relevant first approach to SERE to July 2002? The answer is quite simple: the Administration had not gotten all its legal ducks in a row by December 2001, a time when the first detainees, such as so-called "American Taliban", John Walker Lindh, were being captured and tortured by U.S. interrogators in Afghanistan.
Lindh was found barely alive, shot in the leg, and suffering from dehydration, hypothermia and frostbite. Although Lindh was seriously wounded, starving, freezing, and exhausted, U.S. soldiers blindfolded and handcuffed him naked, scrawled “shithead” across the blindfold, duct-taped him to a stretcher for days in an unheated and unlit shipping container, threatened him with death, and posed with him for pictures. Parts of his ordeal were captured on videotape.
From the very beginning of the U.S. "war on terror", post-9/11, Bush Administration lawyers, led by David Addington (as argued so persuasively in Jane Mayer's new book, The Dark Side), looked for ways to deny U.S. and internationally recognized rights to prisoners caught up in the anti-terrorist dragnet and ongoing military operations.

Ultimately, President George W. Bush denied that even minimal Geneva Conventions protections applied to the "illegal enemy combatants" captured by the U.S. Subsequently, in an infamous set of memos written by Addington, Jay Bybee, Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, and others, long-standing protections against torture and cruel, unusual, and inhumane treatment were taken away from the burgeoning population of prisoners, imprisoned now in ad hoc bases in Afghanistan, held on prison ships, and some subsequently either sent via "extraordinary rendition" to be tortured by foreign "allies", held incommunicado in secret CIA prisons, or shipped to the new U.S. prison constructed at the Guantanamo Naval Base in Cuba.

On February 7, 2002, Bush signed an executive order outlining treatment of al-Qaida and Taliban detainees:
Pursuant to my authority as commander in chief and chief executive of the United States, and relying on the opinion of the Department of Justice dated January 22, 2002, and on the legal opinion rendered by the attorney general in his letter of February 1, 2002, I hereby determine as follows:

a. I accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that none of the provisions of Geneva apply to our conflict with al-Qaida in Afghanistan or elsewhere throughout the world because, among other reasons, al-Qaida is not a High Contracting Party to Geneva.

b. I accept the legal conclusion of the attorney general and the Department of Justice that I have the authority under the Constitution to suspend Geneva as between the United States and Afghanistan, but I decline to exercise that authority at this time. Accordingly, I determine that the provisions of Geneva will apply to our present conflict with the Taliban. I reserve the right to exercise the authority in this or future conflicts.

c. I also accept the legal conclusion of the Department of Justice and determine that common Article 3 of Geneva does not apply to either al-Qaida or Taliban detainees, because, among other reasons, the relevant conflicts are international in scope and common Article 3 applies only to "armed conflict not of an international character."

d. Based on the facts supplied by the Department of Defense and the recommendation of the Department of Justice, I determine that the Taliban detainees are unlawful combatants and, therefore, do not qualify as prisoners of war under Article 4 of Geneva. I note that, because Geneva does not apply to our conflict with al-Qaida, al-Qaida detainees also do not qualify as prisoners of war.
A list of the Bush Administration documents on interrogation can be found at this Washington Post web page, including the January 22, 2002 memo written by Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee and addressed to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and the Pentagon's general counsel, William J. Haynes II. Bybee argued that that the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Convention did not apply to al Qaeda prisoners; the August 1, 2002 memo to White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales from Jay S. Bybee of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel concluded that techniques used to interrogate al Qaeda operatives would not violate a 1984 international treaty prohibiting torture", and others documents not mentioned here. (Of course, the WP list doesn't include new memos recently declassified, at least in part, as part of the ACLU Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the government.)

The crucial point about all these memos and executive orders is that they come after the December 2001 approach by officials of the Department of Defense looking -- against all national and international laws, treaties and covenants then in effect -- how to torture prisoners held by the United States. Keeping the "timeline" safely within the July 2002 parameter provides a veneer of legal cover, as flimsy as it might be (since torture is always illegal, and it's not clear that even the Bybee, Yoo, and other memos will protect administration officials against prosecution for war crimes, at least by international tribunal).

While I am no attorney, I strongly believe the December 2001 origin of the timeline exposes officials in the U.S. government to prosecution for war crimes by both domestic and international bodies. Congressional officials, and first among them the members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, have not seen fit to seriously address their watchdog role, satisfying themselves with toothless votes of censure, limited hang-out investigations, and a refusal to pursue impeachment against Bush and Cheney.

A Call to Activists, Attorneys, and Journalists

The December 2001 Baumgartner documents are not going to be declassified, at least not in any timely way, unless public pressure is put upon the government to do so. One little blogger is not going to be enough to push back against bureaucratic inaction and/or obstructionism. Why important reporters and/or press or bloggers have not picked up on this is beyond me, but I will withhold judgment on that score for the time being, if only the delay in coverage is remedied soon.

The smoking gun is out there. And even if these documents do not turn out to be the smoking gun I think they are, the need to know our history for the last seven years, to come to terms with how the U.S. became a torturing nation, demands that we know the truth.

Senator Levin, release the documents from December 2001 that discuss any or all approaches by government officials to Lt. Col. Baumgartner, or other SERE or JPRA individuals or bodies regarding the "exploitation" or interrogation of prisoners in U.S. custody.
Senator Carl Levin can be reached at 269 Russell Office Building, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510-2202. His email link is here. His telephone number is (202) 224-6221; Fax (202) 224-1388; TTY (202) 224-2816.
Also posted at Invictus

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