January 24, 2005

The Struggle for the Health and Legal Protection of Farm Workers: El Cortito, Maurice “Mo” Jourdane, Arte Público Press, 2004, $34.95

When César Chávez died in 1995, perched atop his wooden coffin was el cortito – the short-handled hoe. Until it was banned in California in 1975, the short hoe was responsible for the excruciating pain and permanent disfigurement of hundreds of thousands farm workers. Forced to stoop in the fields as they used the deadly tool to weed and thin the crops that yielded huge profits for agribusiness employers, laborers were required to work as many as ten to twelve hours a day, often in blazing heat.

It was through the relentless – and ultimately successful – efforts of Mo Jourdane that farm workers now stand tall in the fields, not required to use the short hoe.

César told Mo when they first met in 1967, “Like so many, I wake up in the night with the pain that comes from stooping in the field all day. The short hoe is the nail they use to hang us from the cross.” César’s doctor later confirmed, “stoop labor had destroyed César’s back.”

Just before Christmas in 1970, César was released after spending 12 days in jail for his nonviolent protest against the Teamsters, who falsely claimed they represented members of the United Farm Workers (UFW) union. The day after he was freed from jail by a unanimous order of the California Supreme Court, César, weakened from his fast, met with Mo, a young staff attorney at California Rural Legal Assistance (CRLA). “Will you get rid of the short hoe?” César asked Mo bluntly.

A few days later, Mo began his five-year battle to ban el cortito from the fields of California. In this book, Mo takes the reader on a journey through a riveting legal and political saga. From recording the back-breaking injuries workers had suffered, to securing medical evidence documenting the crippling effects of the hoe, Mo built his case. He describes his legal strategy, the testimony, and ultimately, the decisions of the Industrial Safety Board and the California Supreme Court.

The short-handled hoe was emblematic of the conditions farm workers faced. These, mostly Mexican, laborers did the work their U.S. counterparts shunned. Lacking union assistance, they were subjected to slave-like employment conditions and forced to live in nearly uninhabitable shanty-towns, for nearly a century before the UFW and CRLA came to their assistance.

In the mid-1970s, the pro-grower administration of then California Governor Ronald Reagan ended with the election of Jerry Brown as governor of the country’s most populous state. It was a new political climate that created the conditions for the demise of el cortito. And with the Brown administration, California farm workers, heretofore excluded from the protections of the National Labor Relations Act, became the first in the United States to secure collective bargaining rights, with the revolutionary Agricultural Labor Relations Act (ALRA).

I met Mo in 1976, when we both worked at the newly-established Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB), the agency charged with administering the ALRA. Although Mo worked in the field offices and I worked in the Sacramento headquarters of the ALRB, I ran into him one day at an unfair labor practice hearing in Salinas. I didn’t know Mo, but as soon as I entered the room, I knew I was in the presence of a great trial lawyer. Mo’s presentation was mesmerizing, and he advocated passionately for his client. The administrative law judge was equally impressed, and ruled in his favor.

In his book, Mo details the struggles in the fields, and in the courts, to achieve justice for those who put food on our tables. “Working for CRLA meant a great deal more than helping farm workers solve the particular problems they brought through the door of our nine offices daily,” writes Mo. “Long hours spent at the office and in the fields were part of fighting the war on poverty, an epic campaign that involved efforts to challenge systematic inequalities in America.”

Mo also succeeded in preventing the children of migrant workers from automatically being placed in the mentally retarded classes, simply because they didn’t score well on a test that was not administered in their native language.

Early one morning, while Mo was on his way to interview witnesses in an unfair labor practice case in rural Kern County, an 80,000-pound oil rig pulled off a dirt access road into the path of Mo’s car. He was severely injured in the collision. Mo survived the crash and ten surgeries to repair his badly damaged face, eyes and head.

Mo went on to be a Superior Court judge in Monterey County from 1982-1985, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. For the past 20 years, Mo, a marathon runner, has been a staff attorney for the Fourth District Court of Appeal in San Diego.

Besides being an invaluable historical chronicle for all readers, this book is an inspiration to aspiring lawyers. Over and over, Mo fought the odds to secure incredible victories for his clients, through individual and class actions. He sets forth important strategies about how to win when you don’t have the law on your side: marshal the best facts you can; anticipate defenses; never give up. In the words of the familiar UFW chant, Sí Se Puede! (It can be done!)

January 19, 2005

The Gonzales Indictment

Alberto Gonzales should not be the Attorney General of the United States. He should be considered a war criminal and indicted by the Attorney General. This is a suggested indictment of Alberto Gonzales for war crimes under Title 18 U.S.C. section 2441, the War Crimes Act.

COUNT I: Application of Geneva Conventions; Definition of Torture

On or about January 25, 2002 through January 16, 2005, Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES, Counsel to George W. Bush, the President of the United States of America, did write, commission and concur in memoranda that advocated conduct by United States military forces, amounting to war crimes under Title 18 U.S.C. section 2441 (The War Crimes Act ).

The War Crimes Act defines as war crimes: grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, and violations of Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions.

Section 130 of the Geneva Convention Relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Geneva Convention) defines as grave breaches of that Convention: “willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment,” and “willfully causing great suffering or serious injury to body or health.”

It is well-established that Article 3 common applies to international as well as internal armed conflicts. Article 3 common provides that “persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms…shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.”

The following acts constitute violations of Article 3 common: “Violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture”; “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment”; and “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention provides: “Should any doubt arise as to whether persons, having committed a belligerent act and having fallen into the hands of the enemy [are prisoners of war under this Convention], such persons shall enjoy the protection of the present Convention until such time as their status has been determined by a competent tribunal.”

Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES wrote, in a memorandum to President George W. Bush dated January 25, 2002, that the war against terrorism is a “new paradigm” that “renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.”

Defendant GONZALES wrote that the Third Geneva Convention should not apply to members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda who were captured after the United States invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. Defendant GONZALES also advised President Bush in that memorandum that he could avoid allegations of war crimes under The War Crimes Act by simply declaring that the Geneva Convention does not apply to members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. Defendant GONZALES wrote that a determination of the inapplicability of the Third Geneva Convention would insulate against prosecution by future “prosecutors and independent counsels.”

In apparent reliance on the advice in Defendant GONZALES’ memorandum, and notwithstanding the requirement of Article 5 of the Third Geneva Convention that a “competent tribunal” determine the status of prisoners, President George W. Bush issued an order on February 7, 2002, specifying that the United States would not apply the Third Geneva Convention to members of Al Qaeda, and that as commander-in-chief of the United States, he had the power to suspend the Geneva Conventions regarding the conflict in Afghanistan, although he declined to suspend them at that time.

Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES commissioned the Office of Legal Counsel of the Department of Justice’s memorandum dated August 1, 2002, which required that, in order to constitute “torture,” the pain caused by an interrogation must include “injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions.” This definition is contrary to The War Crimes Act and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Unusual or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the United States.

Before the August 1, 2002 memorandum was issued, Colin Powell, Secretary of State, had counseled against its conclusions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply; he wrote that this “will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva conventions, and undermine the protection of the law of war for our troops, both in this specific conflict and in general.”

Although the August 1, 2002 memorandum was retracted on December 30, 2004, the provisions of the August 1, 2002 memorandum remained in effect for 2 ½ years, notwithstanding the warnings of Secretary Powell.

The January 25, 2002 and August 1, 2002 memoranda, and the February 7, 2002 order set forth policies that led to the willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment; and great suffering or serious injury to body or health, of DOES 1 through 1,000, prisoners in United States custody in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, as listed in EXHIBIT A (Dear Mr. Gonzales).

Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES knew or should have known that, pursuant to memoranda written by, commissioned or concurred in by him, prisoners in United States custody would be subjected to willful killing, torture or inhuman treatment; and great suffering or serious injury to body or health, in violation of The War Crimes Act.

COUNT II: Military Commissions

Between September 11, 2001 and November 13, 2001, Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES did participate in the drafting of the Military Order establishing the Military Commissions, which order was signed by President George W. Bush on November 13, 2001. Said order mandated conduct by members of United States military forces which constitute war crimes under The War Crimes Act.

The War Crimes Act defines war crimes as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. Section 130 of the Third Geneva Convention defines as a grave breach of that Convention: “willfully depriving a prisoner of war of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in this Convention.”

Article 84 of the Third Geneva Convention provides that prisoners of war shall be tried in the same types of courts (military or civilian) as members of the armed forces of the Detaining Power. It also provides: “In no circumstances whatever shall a prisoner of war be tried by a court of any kind which does not offer the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality as generally recognized.”

Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions prohibits “the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Unlike courts convened pursuant to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and civilian courts of the United States, the Military Order provides for no judicial review by federal courts of the United States. The final level of review in the Military Commissions is to the President or the Secretary of Defense.

Military Commission Order No. 1(6)(B)(3) allows the use of evidence that the accused is not permitted to see, and provides for the exclusion of the accused from the proceedings. These provisions violate the rights of the accused to be confronted with the evidence against him, and to confront and cross-examine adverse witnesses. These rights are guaranteed to the accused in courts convened under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and civilian courts in the United States.

Section 4(c)(3) of the Military Order provides for the “admission of such evidence as would, in the opinion of the presiding officer of the military commission…have probative value to a reasonable person.” Such evidence would be inadmissible under the rules of evidence in courts convened under the Uniform Code of Military Justice and civilian courts in the United States.

Defendant ALBERTO GONZALES knew or should have known that the Military Commissions, in whose creation he participated, will deprive prisoners in United States custody who will be tried before them, of the rights of fair and regular trial prescribed in the Third Geneva Convention and Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions.

Penalties Under the War Crimes Act

Title 18 U.S.C. sec. 2441 provides that any national of the United States who commits a war crime “shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for life or any term of years, or both, and if death results to the victim, shall also be subject to the penalty of death.”

January 17, 2005

Alito Threatens Dr. King’s Dream

Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from a Birmingham Jail

During his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, Samuel Alito Jr. pledged allegiance to the principle of one man-one vote and denied he was a bigot. It is astonishing that these issues even entered our national discourse in 2006. But it is Alito’s record, both as a member of the Reagan administration and as a judge on the Court of Appeals, that raises allegations of racism. And it is that same record that betrays Dr. King’s values and threatens the future of civil rights in this country if Alito is confirmed to the high court.

In his 1985 application for a job in the Reagan Justice Department, Alito noted that he became interested in constitutional law “in large part by disagreement with Warren Court decisions, particularly in the areas of criminal procedure, the Establishment Clause, and reapportionment.” The reapportionment cases that upset him were the landmark decisions that affirmed the bedrock principle of our democracy: one person-one vote.

Fred Gray, the veteran civil rights lawyer who represented Dr. King and Rosa Parks, testified at Alito’s hearing. “As one who has been in the trenches and still is in the trenches,” Gray told the senators, “I appear today to attest to the tremendous importance of the reapportionment cases – those cases decided by the Warren Court, one of which I actually litigated and was my brainchild, Gomillion versus Lightfoot … The cases illuminate the inequities of mal-apportionment which deprived African Americans of voting strength across the nation. In my view, there is no more important body of law than that generated in the field of voter registration and in civil and human rights.” Gray testified, “I am troubled, extremely troubled, by Judge Alito’s comments made in his application, notwithstanding his testimony before this committee … A nominee to the Supreme Court who has a judicial philosophy that’s set against the Warren Court and against the reapportionment cases is in effect saying that he would turn the clock back.”

Indeed, when Alito became a judge, he ruled against minority voters who claimed a school board voting plan illegally diluted their voting strength. If he is confirmed, Alito will vote on a series of cases alleging minority vote dilution now pending before the Supreme Court.

Moreover, certain important provisions of the Voting Rights Act that have enhanced the opportunities for African Americans and other minority groups to vote effectively are set to expire next year, unless Congress renews them. These special provisions allow for significant federal oversight of state and local voting functions for jurisdictions deemed to have the worst and most persistent histories of voting discrimination against their minority populations. This heightened oversight is intended to identify and prevent proposed voting changes that worsen the position of minority voters, or to deter covered jurisdictions from proposing such voting changes.

For example, section 5 of the act requires certain covered states and political subdivisions to obtain federal or judicial preapproval or “preclearance” of any voting law changes or practices before they can legally take effect. This oversight has resulted in the detection and prohibition of several harmful voting laws and practices. Appeals of district court decisions on these preclearance provisions go directly to the Supreme Court.

Alito will have the opportunity to rule on section 5 preclearance issues, and may also review the 2007 congressional renewal of the act’s special provisions.

Besides his astounding statement opposing reapportionment, Alito also proudly touted his membership in the Concerned Alumni of Princeton in the same job application. CAP was formed to maintain Princeton as a white male college. It complained that increased numbers of “women and minorities will largely vitiate the alumni body of the future.”

In spite of his avowed pride in being a CAP member, Alito denied any memory of the group after he was nominated for the Supreme Court. His amnesia is particularly surprising in light of his vast recall of the details of the myriad cases on his court’s docket.

Alito’s judicial record in civil rights cases corroborates his bias. In all split decisions in cases alleging race and sex discrimination, Alito voted against the claimants. His dismal record led the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Hispanic Caucus Civil Rights Task Force, and the National Bar Association to oppose Alito’s confirmation.

The mainstream media has fixated on Martha Alito’s tearful exit from the hearing after Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s defensive rhetorical question about whether her husband was a “closet bigot.” Unfortunately, that dramatic film clip obscured the merits of the issue.

Samuel Alito’s record on and off the bench shows a consistent pattern of bigotry – a pattern that promises to continue once he becomes a justice of the Supreme Court. Senators from both parties who truly seek to realize the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have a solemn obligation to filibuster and defeat Alito’s nomination.

January 10, 2005

Dear Mr. Gonzales

Dear Mr. Gonzales,

You have been rewarded for your unflinching loyalty to George W. Bush with a nomination for Attorney General of the United States. As White House Counsel, you have walked in lockstep with the President. As Attorney General, you will be charged with representing all the people of the United States. Your performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday verified that you will continue to be a yes-man for Bush once you are confirmed.

In the face of interrogation by members of the Committee, you waffled, equivocated, lied, feigned lack of memory, and even remained silent, in the face of the most probing questions. Your refusals to answer prompted Senator Patrick Leahy to say, “Mr. Gonzales, I’d almost think that you’d served in the Senate, you’ve learned how to filibuster so well.”

Even though the Department of Justice retracted the August 2002 torture memo, and replaced it with a new one on the eve of your confirmation hearing, you still refuse to denounce the old memo’s narrow and illegal definition of torture. You permitted that definition to remain as government policy for 2 1/2 years, which enabled the torture of countless prisoners in U.S. custody.

You continually evaded inquiries about your responsibility for drafting the now-repudiated memo by portraying yourself as a mere conduit for legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. This puzzled Senator Russ Feingold, who said, “If you were my lawyer, I’d sure want to know your opinion about something like that.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham told you, “I think we’ve dramatically undermined the war effort by getting on the slippery slope in terms of playing cute with the law, because it’s come back to bite us.” Indeed, 12 retired professional military leaders of the U.S. Armed Forces wrote to the Judiciary Committee, expressing “deep concern” about your nomination because detention and interrogation operations which you appeared to have “played a significant role in shaping” have “undermined our intelligence gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world.”

When Senator Graham, an Air Force judge advocate, asked you if you agreed with a professional military lawyer’s opinion that the August memo may have put our troops in jeopardy, you were tongue tied. You said nothing for several embarrassing seconds, until Senator Graham suggested you think it over and respond later.

When Senator Richard Durbin asked “Do you believe there are circumstances where other legal restrictions, like the War Crimes Act, would not apply to U.S. personnel?” you again sat mute for several seconds, and then asked to respond later.

It is alarming, Mr. Gonzales, that a lawyer with your pedigree would be stumped into silence by these questions.

You have taken the unprecedented step of advising the President that the Geneva Conventions have become “obsolete.” You testified that since “we are fighting a new type of enemy and a new type of war,” you “think it is appropriate to revisit whether or not Geneva should be revisited.” You admitted preliminary discussions are already underway.

The 12 former military leaders wrote, “Repeatedly in our past, the United States has confronted foes that, at the time they emerged, posed threats of a scope or nature unlike any we had previously faced. But we have been far more steadfast in the past in keeping faith with our national commitment to the rule of law.”

Mr. Gonzales, you have concurred in, even commissioned, advice that led to the following:

Sodomy with a broomstick, chemical light, metal object
Severe beatings

Water boarding (simulated drowning)

Electric shock

Attaching electrodes to private parts

Forced masturbation

Pulling out fingernails

Pushing lit cigarettes into ears

Chaining hand and foot in fetal position without food or water

Forced standing on one leg in the sun

Feigned suffocation

Gagging with duct tape

Tormenting with loud music and strobe lights

Sleep deprivation


Subjecting to freezing/sweltering temperatures

“Dietary manipulation”

Repeated, prolonged rectal exams

Hanging by arms from hooks

Permitting serious dog bites

Bending back fingers

Intense isolation for more than 3 months

Grabbing genitals

Severe burning

Stacking of naked prisoners in pyramids

Injecting with drugs

Leaving bullet in body of wounded prisoner

Taping naked prisoner to board

Shooting into containers with men inside

Keeping prisoners in small, outdoor cages

Pepper spraying in face

Forcing heads into toilets and flushing

Threatening live burial, drowning, electrocution, rape and death

Beating prisoners to death

Killing wounded prisoners

Throwing off bridge into river and drowning



Saddam Hussein would be proud of you, Mr. Gonzales.

Perhaps most alarming was your response to Senator Durbin’s question, “Can U.S. personnel legally engage in torture under any circumstances?” You answered, “I don’t believe so, but I’d want to get back to you on that.” You failed to give a categorical “no” answer. You surely know, Mr. Gonzales, that the Convention Against Torture prohibits torture at any time. That treaty, ratified by the United States and therefore part of the Supreme law of the land under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, says, “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability, or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for torture.”

Mr. Gonzales, based on your record and your performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I have critical concerns about your appointment as Attorney General. I believe you would stand mute if George W. Bush told you he planned to collapse the three branches of government into one, destroying the Constitutional separation of powers. Even though Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution gives only Congress the authority “to make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water,” you refused to tell the Senate Judiciary Committee that the President is not above the law. You think the President has the power to declare an act of Congress unconstitutional. You would rationalize the torture of prisoners.

Where even the strident John Ashcroft thought prisoners in United States custody are entitled to due process, you designed the military tribunals to deny it to them.

As counsel to Texas Governor George W. Bush, you wrote abbreviated clemency memos in capital cases omitting crucial defenses such as ineffective assistance of counsel, even evidence of factual innocence. Your counsel led Bush to deny pardons in 56 of 57 death penalty cases.

You sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the American people for seven hours with a smug grin on your face, lying to us, knowing you will be confirmed.

Your testimony led the New York Times to opine, “Mr. Bush had made the wrong choice when he rewarded Mr. Gonzales for his loyalty,” and the conservative Washington Post to say, “The message Mr. Gonzales left with senators was unmistakable: As attorney general, he will seek no change in practices that have led to the torture and killing of scores of detainees and to the blackening of U.S. moral authority around the world.” The Post concluded, “Those senators who are able to reach clear conclusions about torture and whether the United States should engage in it have reason for grave reservations about Mr. Gonzales.”

You will have the distinction of being the first Latino Attorney General of the United States. You come from humble roots in Humble, Texas. You should understand the struggles of people of color, yet you have turned your back on them. As overseer of the policies that led to the torture of myriad people of color in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, you have betrayed your roots.

Your actions have shamed us in the eyes of the world and endangered our fighting men and women.

You do not deserve to be our country’s top prosecutor, head of the Department of Justice, charged with protecting our civil rights.

Mr. Gonzales, you should be ashamed.

January 3, 2005

Redefining Torture

The election’s over, but the Bush spin machine goes on. In anticipation of hard questions Alberto Gonzales will face at his attorney general confirmation hearing in the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, Bush’s lawyers are seeking to minimize the damage from the release of the torture memos in which Gonzales concurred.

Gonzales wrote a memo in January 2002 that proposed for the first time, “The war against terrorism is a new kind of war” and “this new paradigm renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” Gonzales also designed the military commissions to deny due process to those who will face trials in them. (See my editorial, The Quaint Mr. Gonzales).

An August 2002 memo leaked during 2004 set the stage for the torture of prisoners in Iraq and Guantánamo Bay. It “helped provide an after-the-fact legal basis for harsh procedures used by the CIA on high-level leaders of Al Qaeda,” according to the New York Times. In it, Bush’s legal eagles defined torture so narrowly, the torturer would have to nearly kill the torturee in order to run afoul of the legal prohibition against torture. It said that to constitute torture, the pain caused by an interrogation must include injury such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions.

That memo also set forth the opinion that the laws prohibiting torture do “not apply to the President’s detention and interrogation of enemy combatants,” because he is Commander-in-Chief of the United States. And it posited various defenses to shield the President and his men from prosecution under the federal torture statute. The release of this memo, coupled with the repulsive torture photographs, launched a firestorm of criticism at the Bush administration.

The White House quickly disavowed the memo as the work of a small group of Justice Department lawyers. But the Washington Post reported that “administration officials now confirm it was vetted by a larger number of officials, including lawyers at the National Security Council, the White House counsel’s office and Vice President Cheney’s office.” According to Newsweek, the memo “was drafted after White House meetings convened by George W. Bush’s chief counsel, Alberto Gonzales, along with Defense Department general counsel William Haynes and [Cheney counsel] David Addington.” Haynes is one of Bush’s judicial nominees who was not approved by the Senate; Bush, however, has resubmitted Haynes’ name to the Senate, hoping Republican senators will engage in the unprecedented destruction of the filibuster.

Now, on the threshold of Senate hearings to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, Justice Department lawyers have redefined torture in a new memo meant to supersede the embarrassing August 2002 memo.

The new memo, dated December 30, 2004, begins with the admirable statement: “Torture is abhorrent both to American law and values and to international norms.” Although undoubtedly aware of the abhorrent nature of torture back in 2002, the old memo’s authors launched right into narrowing the definition of torture in its first paragraph. They didn’t bother to mention that it is repulsive to the people.

In the fourth paragraph of the 17-page December memo, its authors say: “This memorandum supersedes the August 2002 Memorandum in its entirety.”

When the August 2002 memo came to light, it provoked such an outcry, Gonzales stepped up to the political damage control plate, and dubbed the Commander-in-Chief section “unnecessary.” Gonzales’ damage control statement has now been codified in the December memo. It says: “Because the discussion in that [August 2002] memorandum concerning the President’s Commander-in-Chief power and the potential defenses to liability was – and remains – unnecessary, it has been eliminated from the analysis that follows. Consideration of the bounds of any such authority would be inconsistent with the President’s unequivocal directive that United States personnel not engage in torture.”

What a relief! But wait. The new memo doesn’t actually say the President doesn’t have unlimited power to defy our torture laws. It begs the question by saying it’s “unnecessary” to deal with the broader legal issue because Bush has commendably declared that U.S. personnel should not commit torture.

The myriad reports, photographs, and testimonials that document widespread torture by U.S. personnel, however, show that Bush’s directive has been ignored. So the scope of possible defenses to torture prosecutions would indeed be relevant.

What the new memo does do is modify the definition of torture. “We disagree with statements in the August 2002 Memorandum,” writes Daniel Levin, Acting Assistant Attorney General and lead author of the December memo, “limiting ‘severe’ pain under the [federal torture] statute to ‘excruciating and agonizing’ pain, or to pain ‘equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death.'”

The new definition of torture is much broader, making it easier to maintain a criminal prosecution under the torture statute. In fact, it says “great care must be taken to avoid approving as lawful any conduct that might constitute torture.”

Acknowledging that “despite extensive efforts to develop objective criteria for measuring pain, there is no clear, objective, consistent measurement,” the new memo, contrary to the August 2002 memo, concludes that “severe physical suffering” may sometimes constitute torture even if it does not involve “severe physical pain.” But to constitute torture, writes Levin, “‘severe physical suffering’ would have to be a condition of some extended duration or persistence as well as intensity.”

The August 2002 memo, consistent with the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment and Punishment, required that the act actually result in the infliction of severe physical or mental pain or suffering, in order to amount to torture. The new memo, citing the federal torture statute, denies it is necessary to show actual infliction; an act committed with the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering is sufficient to sustain a criminal prosecution for torture.

Finally, the new memo admits that a defendant’s motive to protect national security will not shield him from a torture prosecution. This directly contradicts the August 2002 memo’s analysis of the necessity defense, which, it said, could defeat a torture charge if the defendant’s acts constituted a lesser evil than the evil of terrorism.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents some of the detainees, said the repudiation of the earlier memo confirms that the Gonzales nomination should be withdrawn.

“The first [August 2002] memo took us back to the Middle Ages and so it first makes you say, what are we doing putting this guy in as attorney general of the United States,” Ratner said.

John Ashcroft was widely criticized for his attacks on civil liberties. Democratic senators will challenge Alberto Gonzales on his apologies for torture and other repressive policies. One would hope they do not see Gonzales as a lesser evil than the harsh Mr. Ashcroft.

December 27, 2004

The Emperor-in-Chief

Rumor has it that George W. Bush’s tailor is busily stitching a royal blue cloak to go with the gold crown that will adorn the president as he takes the oath of office on January 20. Now that Bush has secured a second term, it is no longer necessary to hide behind the subtle flight suit that bedecked him on the deck of the aircraft carrier declaring “Mission Accomplished” in May 2003. He can now come out of the closet as full-fledged Emperor of the World.

Notwithstanding the United States Constitution and the United Nations Charter, Bush nicely qualifies as “the male sovereign or supreme ruler of an empire,” as required by Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary.

Bush wasn’t always riding high. Shortly before 9/11, his ratings were falling. It was a mere two weeks after the September 11 attacks that a secret memo prepared for Alberto Gonzales’s office concluded Bush had the power to use military force “preemptively” against any terrorist organizations or countries that supported them. Any link to the attacks on the World Trade Center or the Pentagon was unnecessary, said the memo, even though Congress had so limited its license for the president to use force.

Treaties ratified by the United States, such as the Charter of the United Nations, are the Supreme law of the land under our Constitution. The U.N. Charter forbids the use of armed force against another State unless undertaken in self-defense or authorized by the Security Council. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation,” according to the leading Caroline Case of 1841.

The Charter’s prohibition on the use of force has not prevented prior presidents from acting unilaterally. Ronald Reagan invaded Grenada, George H.W. Bush invaded Panama, and Bill Clinton bombed Yugoslavia in 1999, the year after he bombed Afghanistan and the Sudan. Before invading Iraq, George W. Bush made war on Afghanistan to retaliate against the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden. None of these interventions was an exercise of self-defense; none was approved by the Council. All were illegal.

George W. Bush, however, has taken chutzpah to a higher level with his new doctrine of “preemptive war.” It was first elaborated in the secret September 25, 2001 memo from Justice Department lawyer John Yoo to Tim Flanigan, Gonzales’s chief deputy. Near the top of the 15-page memo is the following language:

The President has constitutional power not only to retaliate against any person, organization, or State suspected of involvement in terrorist attacks on the United States, but also against foreign States suspected of harboring or supporting such organizations.
The President may deploy military force preemptively against terrorist organizations or the States that harbor or support them, whether or not they can be linked to the specific terrorist incidents of September 11.

Nowhere does the U.N. Charter permit the use of force to “retaliate” against anyone or any State. Nowhere does the Charter allow military force to be used “preemptively” against any organization. Yet nowhere did John Yoo mention the United Nations Charter.

Nevertheless, George W. Bush adopted the Yoo theory as his own, publicly proclaiming in a June 2002 speech at the West Point Military Academy graduation, “If we wait for threats to fully materialize we will have waited too long.” He added, “Our security will require all Americans to be forward looking and resolute, to be ready for preemptive action when necessary to defend our liberty and to defend our lives.”

The new Bush Doctrine was again set forth three months later in the “National Security Strategy of the United States.” It said: “America will act against such emerging threats before they are fully formed.” This does not meet the Caroline test.

And in his March 17, 2003 speech that launched Operation “Iraqi Freedom” Bush maintained, “We choose to meet that threat now where it arises, before it can appear suddenly in our skies and cities,” in spite of the fact that Iraq had not attacked any country for 12 years, and posed no threat to any other country.

When Bush’s lawyers tried to defend the indefinite detentions of 600 men held incommunicado at the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and of U.S. citizen Yasser Hamdi in the United States, the Supreme Court scolded them, saying war in not a “blank check” for the president. The due process the Court required the Bush administration to provide these men has been slow in coming, however; six months after the Court’s ruling in the Guantánamo case, very few have been afforded hearings.

Flush from their election “victory,” Bush’s men are hunkering down to remake the country in their own image. In the last Congress, the Senate Democrats worked with Bush to approve 204 judicial nominees, “rejecting only 10 of the most extreme,” according to incoming Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).

Nonetheless, Bush has re-nominated several candidates who failed to win Senate approval during his first term. He is hoping the Republicans will destroy the filibuster, a time-honored procedure that keeps the majority from tyrannizing the minority.

Many of the names Bush is resubmitting to the Senate are right-wing ideologues, who oppose abortion. (See my editorial, Bush’s Judges: Right-Wing Ideologues). Bush, empowered by the “mandate” he has secured, is gunning for Roe v. Wade. With the illness of Chief Justice William Rehnquist, it is likely Bush will have one to four Supreme Court appointments in his second term. We can expect to see abortion opponents nominated to the Court.

One of Bush’s re-nominees is William J. Haynes II, who, as general counsel to the Defense Department, oversaw the preparation of a memo that argued Bush may not be bound by the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Torture Convention, a treaty ratified by the United States, specifies that torture is never permitted, even in time of war. This memo is regarded as having set the tone for the widespread torture in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo Bay.

Although the torture was revealed with the pornographic photographs in April, no high level officials have been brought to justice. Even the conservative Washington Post said in an editorial Thursday, “The record of the past few months suggests that the administration will neither hold any senior official accountable nor change the policies that have produced this shameful record.”

Emperor George W. Bush will continue to consolidate his empire. For the people of Iraq, our soldiers who are there, and our sons and daughters who will likely be drafted into that quagmire, the price is dear.

December 17, 2004

Guarding the Guardians of Peace

In 1945, the United Nations Conference in San Francisco gave birth to the United Nations Organization. In the wake of two world wars that claimed 55 million lives, the U.N. Charter pledged to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.”

The Charter allows a member state to use armed force in only two instances: 1) in self-defense, or 2) when the Security Council determines force is necessary to meet “any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression.”

President Harry Truman said, “No one nation, no regional group, can, or should expect, any special privilege which harms any other nation.” Referring to World War II, Truman observed, “Out of this conflict have come powerful military nations, now fully trained and equipped for war. But,” he proclaimed, “they have no right to dominate the world.”

Although heralded as a product of consensus of the nations of the world, the Charter was conceived and drafted by the United States, and ultimately, reflected the agenda of the victorious military powers after World War II.

Most significantly, they insisted on the veto power for themselves, the five permanent members of the Security Council – Great Britain, the Soviet Union, China, France and the United States, notwithstanding opposition from the smaller nations. Without that veto power, they would not likely have signed on to the U.N. Charter.

The veto power reserved for Security Council members has hobbled the U.N. for decades. At the behest of the veto-bearing United States, the U.N. sat on the sidelines during the genocide in Rwanda, when 800,000 people were slaughtered.

Also at the urging of the U.S., the Security Council put its imprimatur on the imposition of economic sanctions on Iraq, which were responsible for the deaths of one million Iraqis, mostly children, during the 1990s. The Council didn’t condemn the “no-fly-zones” over Iraq, which it never sanctioned, and which were used by the U.S. and U.K. to bombard Iraq on nearly a daily basis in the years leading up to “Operation Iraqi Freedom.”

The Security Council never condoned the recent U.S.-U.K. wars on Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq. But, because of pressure and the threatened veto by the United States, the Council never condemned them either. The attack on Yugoslavia was justified as “humanitarian intervention,” in spite of “ethnic cleansing” by both sides in that conflict. And, the Bush administration rationalized the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq as self-defense, even though neither country ever posed an imminent threat to the United States.

In 1995, in a moment of candor, then Ambassador to the U.N. Madeleine Albright declared, “the U.N. is a tool of American foreign policy.” Indeed, before its invasion of Iraq in 2003, the Bush administration frequently threatened the United Nations with becoming “irrelevant” if it did not give its blessing to the war.

But even in the face of threats, the Security Council refused to approve Bush’s war on Iraq. Bush then cobbled together prior Council resolutions, none of which, individually or collectively, authorized the use of force in Iraq. Although he claimed to be enforcing Security Council resolutions, the Charter empowers only the Council to enforce its resolutions.

After the invasion, however, the Security Council capitulated to pressure from the United States, and authorized the U.S.-U.K. as the occupying authority in Iraq, giving the occupiers an international mandate to maintain troops in Iraq while a new government is established.

Recently, the United Nations has found its backbone and challenged U.S. policy. In September, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, somewhat belatedly, called the war on Iraq “illegal.” And he sent Bush a letter counseling against the recent attack on Fallujah.

This prompted some Republican members of the House of Representatives to call for Annan’s resignation. The ostensible reason: corruption in the administration of Iraq’s Oil for Food Programme from 1996 to 2003. “It’s payback time for the U.N.,” a Bush administration official told the Los Angeles Times, on condition of anonymity. “The bills are coming due for the U.N.’s noncooperation on Iraq, and the oil-for-food scandal is red meat for the U.N.’s critics.”

But the oil-for-food excuse was a red herring. The Oil for Food Programme was created by a vote of the Security Council. Through it, Iraq sold about $65 billion worth of oil to buy food and medicine for the Iraqi people, to soften the harsh impact of the sanctions imposed to keep Saddam Hussein from rearming after the 1991 Gulf War.

The programme was micromanaged by the Council, particularly the United States. The U.S. scrutinized every purchase, holding up contracts for months, or even years. However, when overland oil was illegally smuggled to Jordan and Turkey, two favored U.S. allies, the United States quietly closed its eyes, according to the report of Charles Duelfer, the top U.S. investigator in Iraq.

ChevronTexaco and ExxonMobil have been subpoenaed by the Securities and Exchange Commission to determine whether they paid kickbacks or bribes to unlawfully profit from Iraq’s oil under the programme.

Moreover, earlier this week, an audit board set up by the Security Council to monitor oil sales in Iraq during the U.S.-led occupation found widespread mismanagement, faulty metering of how much oil was being pumped, and noncompetitive bidding procedures that awarded more than $10 billion in contracts to Halliburton’s subsidiary, Kellogg Brown & Root.

When Republicans began gunning for Annan’s neck, former South African president Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the campaign against Annan “reprehensible and unjust,” saying it reflected American arrogance. They wrote, in an open letter: “Those who call for his resignation betray the objectivity his position as secretary general demands and regard the United Nations as a mouthpiece to extol and exonerate the policies of the United States of America, right or wrong.”

The same day, the Bush administration, mindful that it needs Kofi Annan’s cooperation to pull off the Iraqi elections slated for the end of January, called off its dogs. “We are expressing confidence in the secretary general and in his continuing in office,” said U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Danforth.

One week earlier, a blue ribbon panel of international experts Annan appointed a year ago to study the structure of the U.N. in the wake of the war on Iraq, issued a 99-page report. The panel determined there is no reason to amend the U.N. Charter’s self-defense provision. Any arguments for the use of force must be addressed to the Security Council, as required by the Charter, the report says. In a rebuff to Bush’s doctrine of preemptive war, the panel wrote: “For those impatient with such a response, the answer must be that, in a world full of perceived potential threats, the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted. Allowing one to so act is to allow all.”

The report also notably identified poverty, despair, humiliation, political oppression, foreign occupation, extremism, and human rights abuse as the breeding ground for terrorism. It advocated nuclear disarmament by all countries, not simply the developing nations. And the report argued that all U.N. member states should ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

Nevertheless, last week, Bush signed into law the Nethercutt Amendment, which mandates withholding aid from countries that refuse to grant immunity for U.S. citizens before the International Criminal Court. “As revelations of abuses continue,” said Richard Dicker, director of the International Justice program of Human Rights Watch, “U.S. insistence on immunity strikes a particularly raw nerve.” Dicker maintained, “The United States is bullying smaller, weaker countries because of an ideological obsession with an illusory threat. It’s putting its ill-conceived campaign ahead of other interests the U.S. government claims are its highest priorities.”

George W. Bush has consistently challenged the legitimacy of the United Nations, manipulating the Security Council when it suits his purpose, attacking it when it doesn’t. It remains to be seen how well the only organization charged with the maintenance of international peace and security, and the protection of human rights, will fare during Bush’s second term.

December 7, 2004

Chickens Come Home to Roost

Twenty-four days after the September 11 attacks, I wrote in an article called Hoist on Our Own Petard: “The hatred that fueled 19 people to blow themselves up and take thousands with them has its genesis in a history of the United States government’s exploitation of people in oil-rich nations around the world. President George W. Bush accuses the terrorists of targeting our freedom and democracy. But it was not the Statue of Liberty that was destroyed. It was the World Trade Center – symbol of the U.S.-led global economic system, and the Pentagon – heart of the United States military, that took the hits.”

Throughout the last three years, Bush has continued to disingenuously claim that the terrorists hate us for our freedom, instead of providing an honest analysis of why were attacked on September 11.

The day before Thanksgiving, the Defense Department released a report by the Defense Science Board that, for the first time, critically examines Bush’s “war on terror.” The report candidly admits: “Muslims do not hate our freedom, but rather they hate our policies.”

Almost three months ago, the report was delivered to the White House, but its conclusions have been ignored. It was made public only after it was leaked to the New York Times.

What does the report identify as the objectionable American policies? “The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the long-standing, even increasing, support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan and the Gulf states. Thus, when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy.” This is not an excerpt from an Osama bin Laden tape. It appears in a U.S. Defense Science Board policy report.

The United States supports those Arab dictatorships because they enable us to maintain myriad U.S. military bases in their countries. Many Muslims see those bases as an insult to Islam, especially in Saudi Arabia, home to two of Islam’s holiest sites. Yesterday, the U.S. consulate in Saudi Arabia was attacked; four Saudi guards were killed and 18 local staff were taken hostage.

Mindful of the instability in Saudi Arabia, Bush changed Iraq’s regime so he could transfer his Saudi bases to Iraq. Indeed, the construction of 14 permanent U.S. bases in Iraq is well underway. When Bush’s specious weapons-of-mass destruction rationale evaporated, he quickly began talking about “bringing democracy to the Iraqi people.” But, according to the report, people throughout the Muslim and Arab world don’t buy it.

Has Bush’s “war on terror” made us safer since September 11?

His wars on the people of Afghanistan and Iraq, rather than furthering the “war on terror,” have united Muslim extremists and raised the stature of terrorist organizations like Al Qaeda, according to the report.

How do Muslims and Arabs see those wars?

They see photographs of naked Iraqis piled on top of each other, terrified Iraqis cringing in the face of snarling dogs, leashed Iraqis on all fours being led like dogs.

They see, most recently, a bloodied Iraqi with a gun held to his head by a U.S. Navy SEAL, and another Iraqi with a SEAL’s boot planted firmly on his chest.

They hear about a report written by Alberto Gonzales that makes excuses for the use of torture in America’s “war on terror.”

They hear about 550 men locked up in the U.S. prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, many of whom have been tortured, some of whom will face kangaroo courts designed by Gonzales.

Then they hear Bush has nominated Gonzales to be America’s chief law enforcement officer.

They see a videotape of a U.S. Marine shooting an unarmed, wounded Iraqi in a mosque.

They see images of scores of dead Iraqis splayed on the ground in Fallujah.

They see Iraqi children whose limbs have been blown off by American bombs.

“I feel hatred. I hurt,” said Ismail Ibrahim, one of 200 displaced Fallujans living in a Baghdad school since the latest fighting drove them out. “This is my city and it has been destroyed.” Ibrahim warned, “The people of Fallujah are people of revenge. If they don’t get their revenge now, they will next year or even after 50 years.”

“The Americans just don’t get it,” according to Ibrahim. “They think that they can use their muscles to subdue the resistance. On the contrary, it will increase.”

Matloob Abbas, another Fallujan living in the school, said, “We will teach our children to be fedayeen [warriors] so they can sacrifice their lives for Islam if elections bring us another Allawi [interim prime minister chosen by the U.S.].”

Although Bush has succeeded in duping many Americans about the reasons scores of our young men and women are dying and being wounded in Iraq, few in the Muslim and Arab world are fooled.

“The two scandals [Abu Ghraib and the new Navy SEAL photos] confirm the image about the Americans known in the Middle East: that the Americans are not a charity or a humanitarian organization that is leading an experiment of democracy,” said Sateh Noureddine, managing editor of the Lebanese leftist newspaper As-Safir. “Rather, [the U.S. government] is leading a retaliatory operation following the Sept. 11 attacks.”

Anti-American sentiment is not limited to the Middle East. Luis Felipe Lampreia, a former Brazilian foreign minister, maintains, “Anti-Americanism is generalized and growing. The whole Iraq situation has brought back memories of the big stick – American power as used in Nicaragua or Chile during the Cold War. The problem is the perception that Bush uses immense power in an egotistical way.” Indeed, Bush was met with angry crowds during his recent visit to Chile.

Most of the countries in what used to be called the Third World are now home to United States military bases. This “arc of instability,” as defined by U.S. defense officials, extends from Colombia to North Africa and across the Middle East to the Philippines and Indonesia. Not by accident, it covers the world’s key oil reserves.

Hatred against Bush’s policies is growing as rapidly as news of the war crimes perpetrated by his administration travels around the world.

Bush was elected because many see him as a strong man who will protect us against the terrorists. Ironically, it is Bush’s imperialist policies that invite increased terror upon us. In the words of Malcolm X, “The chickens have come home to roost.”

November 30, 2004

Setting the Conditions for War Crimes

I was drafted in 1967 and I served in Vietnam for 1 year … So this area was mostly all free-fire zones. So it was with this understanding that it was a free-fire zone that everything was fair game. If at any time you saw people in any way trying to avoid you or run away or make suspicious movements, that was free game. You could go ahead and shoot them and kill them. – Testimony of Guadalupe G. Villarreal, Dellums (House of Representatives) War Crimes Hearings, Apr. 28, 1971, Washington D.C.

Thirty-six years later, NBC war correspondent Kevin Sites, embedded with the U.S. Marines in Fallujah, wrote in his November 10 blog: “The Marines are operating with liberal rules of engagement.” Sites heard Staff Sgt. Sam Mortimer radio that “everything to the west is weapons free.” Weapons Free, explained Sites, “means the Marines can shoot whatever they see – it’s all considered hostile.” On November 13, Sites videotaped a U.S. Marine killing an unarmed, wounded Iraqi in a Fallujah mosque.

During the U.S. attack on Fallujah, dubbed “Operation Phantom Fury,” Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein saw U.S. soldiers “open fire on the houses.” Hussein also reported seeing U.S. helicopters fire on and kill people, including a family of five, who tried to cross the river.

“A large number of people including children were killed by American snipers,” according to the Independent (U.K.). Civilians who remained in Fallujah “appeared to have been seen as complicit in the insurgency,” the Independent reported. “Men of military age were particularly vulnerable. But there are accounts of children as young as four, and women and old men being killed.”

Free fire zones, and indiscriminate killing of civilians, which constitute willful killing, are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. War Crimes Act considers grave breaches of Geneva to be war crimes, which can result in the death penalty for those convicted.

Criminal liability for war crimes extends beyond the perpetrator. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, higher-ups can be just as liable if they knew or should have known their underlings were committing war crimes, but they failed to stop or prevent it. Commanders have a responsibility to make sure civilians are not indiscriminately hurt and that prisoners are not summarily executed.

The rules of engagement are set at the top. The Marines are being told they can fire at anything that moves. Before entering Fallujah, the Marines had been pumped up by tough talking superiors.

Fighting in Fallujah was grueling urban warfare. Sites wrote that the Marine who killed the wounded Iraqi in the mosque had reportedly been shot in the face himself the day before.

When Sites saw the Marine shoot the unarmed, wounded man, Sites reported, “I feel the deep pit of my stomach.” He told the lieutenant “that this man – all of these wounded men – were the same ones from yesterday. That they had been disarmed, treated and left here. At that point the Marine who fired the shot became aware that I was in the room. He came up to me and said, ‘I didn’t know sir – I didn’t know.’ The anger that seemed present just moments before turned to fear and dread.” By speaking up, Sites prevented other injured Iraqis from meeting a similar fate in that mosque.

After Sites’s report became public, there was a great outcry. Interim Iraqi prime minister Ayad Allawi said he was “very concerned” about the fatal shooting. United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called for an investigation of allegations of the disproportionate use of force and the targeting of civilians in Fallujah. Clips from Sites’s videotape were seen around the world, and aired repeatedly on Al-Jazeera televison. Many who saw the shooting are convinced the soldier committed a willful killing, a war crime.

The Headquarters of the United States Central Command announced that the First Marine Division had initiated an investigation “to determine whether the Marine acted in self-defense, violated military law or failed to comply with the Law of Armed Conflict [Geneva Convention].”

In order to mount a successful self-defense, the Marine would have to demonstrate he had an honest and reasonable belief in the need to defend himself or his fellow Marines against imminent death or great bodily injury, just before he fired the fatal shot.

His lawyer might argue that when he shot the Iraqi in the mosque, the Marine was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which afflicted 30 percent of Vietnam veterans. PTSD can occur following exposure to an extreme traumatic stressor involving direct personal experience of an event that involves actual or threatened death or serious injury during military combat. The person can experience a dissociative state lasting from a few seconds to several hours or days. “Psychic numbing” or “emotional anesthesia” usually begins soon after the traumatic event. An “exaggerated startle response” may occur.

One in six soldiers returning from Iraq are suffering from PTSD, according to mental health experts. A study by the Walter Reed Army Institute found that 15.6 percent of Marines and 17.1 percent of soldiers surveyed may suffer from PTSD.

Seymour Hersh uncovered the cover-up of the My Lai Massacre during the Vietnam War, where U.S. soldiers killed up to 500 unarmed old men, women and children. Hersh, in interviews on MSNBC, PBS and Fox News, is now talking about what happens when we send young kids off to war. He does not deny that these kids can do bad things. But, “the Army is in loco parentis,” he says. “They’re your mother and father. And they have an obligation to protect you from yourself, almost, from some of your instincts.”

A senior Pentagon consultant told Hersh that George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld and Steven Cambone, undersecretary of defense for intelligence, “created the conditions that allowed transgressions to take place.” The consultant was referring to torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. He could just as well have been talking about Operation Phantom Fury.

November 22, 2004

Litigating the Election

Without much fanfare, a number of lawyers are busy mounting court challenges to the election. Lawsuits have been filed and other actions are being taken in Ohio and Florida, the two key electoral states. Members of Congress have demanded a General Accountability Office investigation of the election. The largest Freedom of Information Act request in the nation’s history has been launched, and other efforts are in the works.

Is there substance to these challenges? On Thursday, the University of California’s Berkeley Quantitative Methods Research Team released a statistical study – the sole method available to monitor the accuracy of e-voting – reporting irregularities associated with electronic voting machines may have awarded 130,000-260,000 or more excess votes to Bush in Florida. The three counties where the voting anomalies were most prevalent were also the most heavily Democratic: Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade, respectively. The official tally in Florida shows Bush with 380,978 more votes than Kerry.

Recount, Lawsuits, Hearings in Ohio

Green Party candidate David Cobb and Libertarian Party candidate Michael Badnarik have sought a recount of the votes in Ohio. A demand for a recount can only be filed by a presidential candidate who was on the ballot or a certified write-in candidate. Alleged improprieties in Ohio include mis-marked and discarded ballots, problems with electronic voting machines, and the targeted disenfranchisement of African-American voters. Although a recount doesn’t typically begin until after the vote has been certified (December 6), Cobb and Badnarik have asked for the recount to proceed forthwith for fear there won’t be sufficient time to complete the recount in time for the December 13 date on which the Ohio presidential electors will meet.

Bush now leads Kerry by about 136,000 votes in Ohio. A battle is looming over nearly 155,000 provisional ballots, which might decide who really won the election. The Ohio Democratic Party has joined a lawsuit by elector Audrey J. Schering, which asks U.S. District Judge Michael H. Watson to order Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell to impose uniform standards for counting provisional ballots on all 88 counties. The lawsuit cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Bush v. Gore, which “held that the failure to provide specific standards for counting of ballots that are sufficient to assure a uniform count statewide violates the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.” Attorney Donald J. McTigue, who filed the suit, told me that although many of the provisional ballots are being counted, his client is concerned about those that are not being counted. Blackwell has provided only limited instruction about which provisional ballots to count. But many doubts remain about how different election boards determine whether someone is a registered voter. Some may type the name in on a computer; others may look for typographical errors; still others may look at the hard copy. McTigue worries that there is no way of knowing what each board is doing. Do they go back to the purged files? Were they properly purged?

Of the 11 counties that had completed checking provisional ballots by Wednesday, 81 percent have been ruled valid. McTigue expects the counting of provisional ballots to last at least two more weeks.

On Election Day, Sarah White filed a class action against Blackwell and the Board of Elections of Lucas County, claiming they violated the Help America Vote Act, passed in the wake of the 2000 election debacle, that gives voters in federal elections a right to cast provisional ballots. White claimed that although she requested an absentee ballot one month before the election, she never received one. Blackwell ruled that persons who had requested, but not received their absentee ballots, would not be permitted to cast a provisional ballot. U.S. District Judge David A. Katz, however, ordered that “the Board of Elections of Lucas County shall immediately advise all precincts to issue provisional ballots to those voters who appear at the voting place and assert their eligibility to vote, including that the voter is a registered voter in the precinct in which he or she desires to vote, and that the voter is eligible to vote in an election for Federal office.”

Last week, the Ohio Election Protection Coalition held public hearings in Columbus. Extensive sworn and written testimony of Ohio voters, precinct judges, poll workers, legal observers, and party challengers revealed a widespread and concerted effort by Blackwell to deny primarily African-American and young voters the right to cast their ballots within a reasonable time. Precincts were deprived of adequate numbers of voting machines, so voters waited in lines from 2-7 hours, even though 68 electronic voting machines remained in storage and were never used on Election Day. Blackwell, who oversaw the election in Ohio, also served as co-chair of the Ohio Bush-Cheney reelection campaign. Lawyers for the Ohio Election Protection Coalition plan to use the testimony from the Columbus hearings to challenge the results of Ohio’s presidential vote in the state Supreme Court next week.

Lawsuits in Florida

On Election Day, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Florida Legal Services sued Miami-Dade County and Broward County election officials in U.S. District Court for denying voters sufficient time to mail in absentee ballots. The Broward County Supervisor of Elections sent 13,300 absentee ballots to voters late. Plaintiffs Fay Friedman, Adam Meyer, and Daniel Benhaim claimed the two counties violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the First and Fourteenth Amendments because they did not receive their absentee ballots until Election Day, and it was therefore impossible to comply with state law requiring persons who are out-of-state but present in the U.S. to submit absentee ballots by 7 P.M. on Election Day. Under Florida state law, a separate rule gives more time to absentee voters outside the U.S., who may postmark their ballots by November 2 as long as the ballot arrives within 10 days after the election. JoNel Newman, a Florida Legal Services attorney, says, “The rules governing absentee ballots should apply equally to every voter, whether they are temporarily in other parts of the country or overseas.” On Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Alan Gold denied plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction to include the late ballots in the final vote tally; however, the lawsuit remains alive for trial on a request to apply the late counting rule used for foreign absentees to domestic ballots.

Opponents of slot machines at South Florida pari-mutuels filed a lawsuit seeking an official recount of about 78,000 absentee ballots cast in Broward County on Amendment 4. About 94 percent of the new votes on the amendment were “yes” and only 6 percent were “no,” a “statistical anomaly.” No hearing has yet been scheduled on the case.

Recount in New Hampshire

Pursuant to a request by Ralph Nader, votes in some New Hampshire towns are being recounted. An analysis showed wide differences in voting trends between the 2000 and 2004 elections; about three quarters of precincts with severe changes used Diebold optical scanning machines. Last week, Diebold agreed to pay $2.6 million to settle a lawsuit with the state of California. Diebold officials misled state leaders about the security and certification of its products to get payments from the state, according to California Attorney General Bill Lockyer. Diebold is headed by Republican CEO Wally O’Dell. Last year, O’Dell wrote to Ohio Republican donors, saying he was “committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the President next year.”

Lawsuits Challenge Mayoral Results in San Diego

Election results in San Diego’s mayoral race remain in doubt. The unofficial tally shows Mayor Dick Murphy the victor. But write-in votes for Donna Frye have been excluded because voters did not darken the oval on the left of the line where they wrote in Frye’s name. A lawsuit seeks to force the county registrar of voters to count the excluded write-in votes, which many believe will tip the results in her favor. Two other lawsuits are attempting to have Frye’s candidacy ruled illegal and force a runoff between Murphy and Supervisor Ron Roberts. Frye ran on a platform critical of Murphy’s financial leadership and the culture of secrecy at City Hall.

Congressmen Request GAO Investigation

Three members of Congress – John Conyers, Jr., Jerrold Nadler, and Robert Wexler – wrote to the Government Accountability Office on November 5, requesting an immediate investigation of the efficacy of voting machines and new technologies used in the 2004 election, how election officials responded to difficulties they encountered, and what we can do in the future to improve our election systems and administration. The Congressmen cited an electronic voting system in Columbus, Ohio, that gave Bush 4,000 extra votes; an electronic tally of a South Florida gambling ballot initiative that failed to record thousands of votes; a North Carolina county that lost more than 4,500 votes due to a mistaken belief by officials that a computer that stored ballots could hold more data than it did; a substantial drop off in Democratic votes in proportion to voter registration in counties utilizing optical scan machines that was apparently not present in counties using other mechanisms; and numerous reports from Youngstown, Ohio, as well as Palm Beach, Broward and Dade counties in Florida, that voters who attempted to cast a vote for John Kerry on electronic voting machines saw their votes instead recorded as votes for Bush.

Freedom of Information Act Requests, a nonpartisan, nonprofit consumer protection group for elections, has filed the largest Freedom of Information Act request in history. It seeks the internal computer logs (which are public records ) from voting machines from every county that used electronic voting machines. The organization has initiated fraud investigations in selected counties. It needs lawyers to enforce public records laws, as well as computer security professionals and citizen volunteers.

Open Records Act Motions

Cindy Cohn, Legal Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in San Francisco, told me that independent testing of voting machines could shed light on why so many people who tried to vote for Kerry saw their votes registered for Bush. Her organization is moving under the Open Records Act, which allows people to see government records, to gather information, including the impoundment of voting machines, in some counties in Florida, Ohio, New Mexico and Pennsylvania that had serious problems with the machines. Local counsel are needed to help with this effort. Cohn can be contacted at

Results Not Final Until January

Although John Kerry conceded that George W. Bush won the election, a candidate’s concession is not legally binding. Electors will be certified on December 7, which gives a presumption of legitimacy to the vote; but electors actually vote on December 13. These votes are not opened by Congress until January 6, so there is still time to challenge the results in key states such as Ohio and Florida. A challenge requires a written objection from one House member and one senator. If that objection is recorded, both Houses separate again and they vote by majority vote as to whether to accept the slate of electoral votes from that state.

Bush is claiming he has a mandate, planning to spend his “political capital.” Curiously, virtually all of the so-called “anomalies” in the voting results favor Bush. The electors have not yet voted; the election results are not yet final. In the words of Yogi Berra, “It’s not over until it’s over.”