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October 17, 2004

The Least of These

You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone… Faith without deeds is dead.
– James 2:14-26

And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
– Matthew 25:31-40

Much of the support George W. Bush enjoys stems from people of faith who identify with his religious principles. Toward the end of the third presidential debate, Bush said, “I believe that God wants everybody to be free. That’s what I believe. And that’s one part of my foreign policy … And so my principles that I make decisions on are a part of me. And religion is a part of me.”

Sounds good. Freedom. Principles. Religion. Religious principles also guide John Kerry, who went to Catholic school and served as an altar boy. Like Bush, Kerry says “my faith affects everything that I do and choose.”

But that is where the similarity ends. Kerry, quoting James, said, “Faith without works is dead.” Whereas Bush stands on principle and religion, Kerry lives the word. “That’s why I fight against poverty,” Kerry added. “That’s why I fight for equality and justice.”

Equality and justice are two words that don’t often appear in Bush’s vocabulary – nor are they evident in his deeds. And his claim to value freedom is specious. Nowhere is this more evident than the way his administration treats the prisoners it has taken since September 11, 2001.

On Monday, Saudi American Yasser Esam Hamdi was “freed” and returned to his family after being held in solitary confinement as an “enemy combatant” for nearly three years by the U.S. government. Charges were never filed against him, and he was denied contact with an attorney for the first two years he was in custody. In June, the Supreme Court ruled that Hamdi is entitled to a hearing to contest the basis for his confinement. It was only then the U.S. government began to negotiate conditions for his release. The Bush administration decided to free Hamdi rather than explain to a neutral decision maker why it was holding him. Hamdi’s release amounted to a “blithe ‘never mind’,” according to the Washington Post.

In an interview with CNN from his parents’ home in Saudi Arabia, Hamdi maintained his innocence and denied he was an “enemy combatant.” He pleaded for the U.S government to release others being held without charges. “This thing drives human beings crazy,” Hamdi said. When asked how it felt to be free, he replied, “It’s something that I really can’t describe at all. Just to be let down and to be given freedom – you really know what the meaning of freedom [is].” Hopefully, George W. Bush, champion of freedom, was watching CNN when Hamdi made that statement.

The same day the Supreme Court ruled on Yasser Hamdi’s case, it also decided that hundreds of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba have the right to challenge their imprisonment in U.S. courts. Yet three and a half months later, none of them has appeared in court. Sixty-eight have petitioned for access to federal court; yet very few have even seen an attorney. The government has given myriad excuses, while these men linger in legal limbo.

Many of them, and others in Afghanistan and Iraq, have been tortured by military and mercenary personnel working for the Bush administration. Months after the graphic photographs emerged, and numerous reports have documented abuse and torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, there still has been no meaningful investigation of those up the chain of command who might be responsible. Indeed, Donald Rumsfeld has privately told colleagues he is determined to promote Army Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, who approved some of the harshest interrogation techniques, to four-star general.

Bush’s lawyers advise him on how to avoid the requirements of the Geneva Convention, and devise creative strategies to circumvent prosecutions under the federal torture statute. Bush’s Secretary of Defense calls rape, sodomy, and murder “abuse,” not torture. And Bush’s administration rewarded Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, overseer at Guantánamo, with a transfer to Abu Ghraib, where he transplanted his system of torture across the ocean.

Fyodor Dostoevsky once said, “The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons.” Our compassionate-conservative commander-in-chief’s favorite book is the Bible. He mouths the words but his deeds ring hollow. Sadly, Bush’s Bible has no room for “the least of these.”

October 12, 2004

U.S. Elections in Iraq & Afghanistan:

Officials in the Bush administration are singing in unison that the way to neutralize the terrorists is to spread democracy throughout the Middle East. They cite the election set for January 30 in Iraq, and yesterday’s election in Afghanistan, as Exhibits A and B.

At the second presidential debate in St. Louis on Friday night, George W. Bush hailed the Afghan election as a “marvelous thing,” claiming his rout of the Taliban set the table for the milestone in Afghanistan.

During the vice presidential debate, Dick Cheney tried to demonstrate his superior foreign policy acumen by drawing an analogy between the upcoming Afghan elections and those in El Salvador twenty years ago. Cheney claimed a “guerrilla insurgency controlled roughly a third of the country, 75,000 people dead, and we held free elections.”

It is noteworthy that Cheney said “we” held those elections, not the Salvadorans. The Salvadoran elections were as phony as a Yankee three-dollar bill. In fact, the United States – and Cheney as a Congressional election observer – was not supporting freedom in El Salvador at that time. Most of those killed were civilians murdered by the U.S.-backed junta and paramilitary “death squads.” The Salvadoran elections were not free elections. Only conservatives and right-wing parties fielded candidates; the leftist politicians had been assassinated or driven underground.

The Afghan elections are looking as bogus as the Salvadoran elections that Cheney touted. The day after the second presidential debate, all 15 presidential candidates running against U.S.-backed interim president Hami Karzai boycotted the race, alleging fraud. The Associated Press now reports that two of those candidates have withdrawn from the boycott. They want a commission to determine whether the voting was fair and will accept its decision. Their demands appear to have been met.

The only woman running refused to cast a ballot in protest. “In the morning I was prepared to vote,” she said, “but within the past three hours I’ve received calls from voters that this is not a free and fair election. The ink that is being used can be rubbed off in a minute. Voters can vote 10 times!” The day after the election, the Los Angeles Times reported that Major General Eric Olson, the operations commander for U.S. and coalition forces in Afghanistan, calls this problem, “Afghanistan’s hanging chad.”

“Today’s election is not a legitimate election,” said another candidate. “It should be stopped and we don’t recognize the results,” he added. An Islamic poet, also a candidate, complained, “Today was a very black day. Today was the occupation of Afghanistan by America through elections.”

His sentiment was echoed by Sonali Kolhatkar, President of the Afghan Women’s Mission. She told Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, “This whole election has been organized by the United States. The Afghan people have not had any hand in organizing their own election, the timeline of the election.”

Voter registration numbers were inaccurate or fabricated, according to Christian Parenti, journalist from The Nation. He was able to secure two valid voter registration cards and he’s not Afghan. Human rights organizations said some people received four or five cards; they thought they could use them to receive humanitarian aid.

Weeks before the election, several candidates charged that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalizad, known to many as “the Viceroy” or a “puppet-master,” pressured them not to run against Bush’s sweetheart Karzai. The New York Times reported Friday that Karzai’s close relationship with his “American overseers” has proved tricky. The interim prez controls nothing outside of Kabul, and only leaves his home under heavy American guard, due to attempts on his life.

Both Khalizad and Karzai happen to be former consultants to oil giant Unocal, which, backed by the Bush administration, negotiated with the Taliban for an oil pipeline to run through Afghanistan. It was when those talks broke down, long before September 11, that Bush set his sights on regime change in Afghanistan.

Sound familiar? That brings us to Iraq. There, also, the tactic of invasion followed by election is critical to Bush’s campaign for a second term in the White House. Bush paints a rosy picture for an American electorate nervous about the steady carnage in Iraq. The Bushies ceremoniously “transferred full sovereignty” to the Iraqis just before the end of June. They hand-picked Iyad Allawi, with close ties to the CIA, as interim prime minister. The Bush administration solemnly promises to hold elections in Iraq on January 30.

Allawi, recently on the campaign trail with Bush in New York, said that holding the elections on time was “the most important task entrusted to us.” Most likely, those elections will install Allawi as chief U.S. puppet in Iraq. Given the situation on the ground there, it is counter-intuitive to believe free and fair elections could take place on January 30. Fighting is fierce throughout Iraq. Jordan’s King Abdullah II said last week it would be “impossible to organize indisputable elections” in the midst of the current chaos in Iraq.

The Associated Press reports that when Donald Rumsfeld had a brief exchange with journalists in Baghdad yesterday, he grew agitated by questions about the possibility of needing extra U.S. troops before the Iraqi elections. “There’s a fixation on that subject!” he said, exasperated. “It’s fascinating how everyone is locked in on that.”

Why do reporters in Baghdad have that fixation? “Half of the country remains a ‘no go zone’ – out of the hands of the government and the Americans and out of reach of journalists,” Wall Street Journal reporter Farnaz Fassihi wrote in an email to friends last week from Baghdad. “In the other half,” she said, “the disenchanted population is too terrified to show up at polling stations. The Sunnis have already said they’d boycott elections, leaving the stage open for polarized government of Kurds and Shiites that will not be deemed as legitimate and will most certainly lead to civil war.”

U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan cautions there can be no “credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now.” Indeed, last week, two organizations representing more than 60,000 United Nations staffers urged Annan to pull all U.N. staff out of Iraq because of the “unprecedented” risk to their safety and security.

The Chicago Tribune reports that diplomats and military officials admit conducting elections in communities in at least six provinces would be extremely risky if not impossible. But Allawi advocates holding the election even if 300,000 people out of Iraq’s 27 million weren’t able to vote.

Donald Rumsfeld has suggested that communities like Fallujah can simply be skipped, so the election can proceed apace: “And let’s say you tried to have an election, and you could have it in three-quarters or four-fifths of the country, but some places you couldn’t because the violence was too great,” Rumsfeld said recently. “Well, that’s – so be it. Nothing’s perfect in life. So you have an election that’s not quite perfect. Is it better than not having an election? You bet,” he affirmed. Kinda like Florida in 2000 – close enough for government work.

October 5, 2004

Kerry Hits Nail on Head

We have no desire to dominate, no ambitions of empire.
– George W. Bush, State of the Union Address, Jan. 20, 2004

The [President] doth protest too much, methinks.
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet (III, ii, 239)

John Kerry cut to the heart of the matter when he said during Thursday’s debate with George W. Bush that, “a critical component of success in Iraq is being able to convince the Iraqis and the Arab world that the United States doesn’t have long-term designs on it.” Kerry cited the U.S. construction of 14 military bases in Iraq that are said to have “a rather permanent concept to them.”

Building these bases belies Bush’s protestations that he has “no ambitions of empire.”

In fact, the neoconservative cabal that drives Bush’s foreign policy has long advocated a strategy premised on worldwide U.S. military dominance. Their blueprint for aggressive war first appeared twelve years before George W. Bush tried to reassure the American people that his war on Iraq was not an imperialist endeavor.

Under the direction of Paul Wolfowitz, a 1992 draft of the Pentagon Defense Planning Guidance on post-Cold War Strategy explained, “We must maintain the mechanism for deterring potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role.” The draft went on, “Our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in [the Middle East and Southwest Asia] to preserve U.S. and Western access to the region’s oil.” The neocons reiterated this policy in the September 2000 document of the Project for the New American Century, Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century.

Bush and his minions began plotting how to remove Saddam Hussein from power as soon as Bush removed his hand from the Bible after Chief William Rehnquist swore him in as President, according to both former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and former Anti-Terrorism Czar Richard Clarke. This was 8 months before the September 11 attacks – the date the “war on terror” officially began.

After the U.S. attacked Iraq, Wolfowitz admitted to Vanity Fair in 2003 that weapons-of-mass-destruction was the agreed-upon “bureaucratic excuse” for seizing that country. He also said it would allow the U.S. to pull its troops out of Saudi Arabia and base them in Iraq.

It is not surprising that Iraqis and people throughout the Arab and Muslim world see the United States as an imperialist invader and occupier.

On the day of the Bush-Kerry foreign policy debate, 41 Iraqis were killed in car bombings, 34 of them children taking candy from U.S. troops. According to Farnaz Fassihi, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, based in Baghdad, insurgents now attack Americans 87 times a day. She describes the situation as “a raging barbaric guerilla war” where the numbers of dead are “so shocking” that the ministry of health has stopped disclosing them. “The genie of terrorism, chaos and mayhem has been unleashed onto this country as a result of American mistakes and it can’t be put back into a bottle,” Fassihi wrote in an email to friends.

Yes, as Kerry said, Bush made “a colossal error of judgment” when he invaded Iraq.

“I will make a flat statement,” Kerry declared during the debate. “The United States of America has no long-term designs on staying in Iraq.” With that promise, John Kerry turned the policy of Team Bush on its head.

Kerry was also right on when, responding to Bush’s debate mantra that Kerry sends mixed messages, the Senator said: “You talk about mixed messages. We’re telling other people, ‘You can’t have nuclear weapons,’ but we’re pursuing a new nuclear weapon that we might even contemplate using.”

Indeed, the Bush administration’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review expands options for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states. It identifies Russia, China, North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Libya as potential targets for U.S. nuclear weapons. Is it any wonder that countries like Iran and North Korea are trying to obtain nuclear weapons?

Also in 2002, Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which had been concluded between the United States and Russia in 1972. This was the first formal unilateral withdrawal of a major power from a nuclear arms control treaty after it had been put into effect.

Kerry pledged that as President, “I’m going to shut that program [to pursue a new tactical nuclear weapon] down, and we’re going to make it clear to the world we’re serious about containing nuclear proliferation.”

The debate transformed the dynamic of the campaign. John Kerry continues to have his work cut out for him. But one thing is certain. Four more years of Bush presidency will produce increasing danger to the United States and the entire globe.

September 27, 2004

Bush at the U.N.: Sugarcoating Failure

In his speech to the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday 21st September, Bush spoke of spreading ”freedom” and ”human dignity” in Iraq and Afghanistan. He decried dictators who “believe that suicide and torture and murder are fully justified to serve any goal they declare.” He accused the terrorists of seeking to destroy the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But he failed to say that the UDHR declares: “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.” And he forgot to mention the torture and murder of prisoners in U.S. custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

Bush claimed “the people of Iraq have regained sovereignty.” But he omitted any reference to the 150,000 U.S. troops on the ground there, who enjoy immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts for any crimes they might commit.

Bush maintained that the interim Iraqi government “has earned the support of every nation that believes in self-determination and desires peace.” But he didn’t say that the countries in the “coalition-of-the-willing” are becoming increasingly unwilling to support his failed Iraq policy, and no new countries are jumping on the occupation bandwagon.

Bush painted a rosy picture of an Iraq moving inexorably toward democratic elections in January. He didn’t acknowledge, however, the admonition of former President Jimmy Carter that free elections cannot occur when people are unable to safely walk down the street, or U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan’s warning that there can be no “credible elections if the security conditions continue as they are now.”

Bush didn’t state that well over 1,000 Americans and as many as 30,000 Iraqis have died and continue to die in a war that his administration single-handedly fashioned from whole cloth.

Bush’s speech did not refer to the utter absence of any weapons-of-mass-destruction, his rasion d’être for invading a sovereign country.

Bush overlooked the highly classified National Intelligence Estimate prepared by the government’s senior analysts that paints a pessimistic assessment of the prospects for a secure and stable Iraq. He said the CIA was “just guessing” when it predicted Iraq was in danger of civil war.

And Bush didn’t tell the General Assembly that Afghanistan is in chaos, with continuing violence, and the resurgence of the Taliban. He ignored the claims of several Afghan presidential candidates who seek to challenge U.S.-installed President Hamid Karzai in the upcoming “democratic” election there. They say that U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad, affectionately known as “the Viceroy” for the power he wields over the Afghan government, is pressuring them not to run against Karzai. Both Karzai and Khalilzad are former consultants to Unocal, the company with deep oil interests in the region.

The New York Times characterized Bush’s remarks to the General Assembly as “an inexplicably defiant campaign speech” that “glossed over the current dire situation in Iraq for an audience acutely aware of the true state of affairs, and scolded them for refusing to endorse the American invasion in the first place.”

The delegates from 191 nations at the U.N. were nonplussed by Bush’s assessment of the tragedy he’s created.

In his comments preceding Bush’s speech, Kofi Annan observed pointedly: “Those who seek to bestow legitimacy must themselves embody it, and those who invoke international law must themselves submit to it.” For example, Annan cited “Iraqi prisoners disgracefully abused.”

Annan finally took the gloves off last week when he declared the U.S. invasion of Iraq was illegal because it violated the U.N. Charter. Last September, Annan had criticized Bush’s new policy of preemptive self-defense, saying it would lead to a breakdown in international order.

Likewise, former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali last week blamed the Bush administration for the rising wave of terrorism, saying its unilateral approach has fuelled civil wars around the world. Boutros-Ghali advocated Bush remove his forces from Iraq and permit Arab countries to mediate a peaceful settlement in Iraq.

Bush’s appearance before the General Assembly Tuesday was followed by the kick-off of interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi’s maiden voyage to the U.S. with a soirée at the Waldorf-Astoria. Allawi, Bush’s selection to lead the new “sovereign” Iraq, had close ties to the CIA. The day after a car bomb near a police station in central Baghdad killed 47 people, and gunmen killed 12 in an attack on a police minibus, Allawi provided assurances that elections would proceed in January as planned: “If, for any reason, [only] 300,000 people cannot vote because terrorists decide so,” Allawi said lightly, “then frankly 300,000 people is not going to alter 25 million people voting,” he told The Times of London and the Guardian.

In a page from Bush’s playbook, Allawi said: “The war now in Iraq is really not only an Iraqi war, it’s a war for the civilized world.” He cautioned that the terrorists “will hit hard at the civilized world and in Washington and New York and London and Paris.” One wonders which countries Allawi would include as part of his “civilized world.”

As November 2 looms large, and Americans become increasingly wary of the quagmire that is Iraq, the Bush administration admits unabashedly that Allawi’s “visit is about getting the United States away from the front line and placing Allawi as the face of the Iraqi people and the head of the effort,” according to State Department spokesman Greg Sullivan.

The “transfer of sovereignty” from the U.S. to Iraq at the end of June, and the insistence that free elections can take place in January even in the face of a chaotic and bloody mess in Iraq, were carefully stage-managed by Karl Rove to favor Bush’s election. By all accounts, after the U.S. election, Bush will order the carpet bombing of Fallujah, where resistance to the occupation is particularly strong. We can expect to see human carnage unparalleled in the war thus far if Bush wins another term.

September 20, 2004

Bush & Co: War Crimes and Cover-Up

As the election approaches, we are bombarded with stories about swift boats, dereliction of duty, and who’s the most macho leader. Missing from the discourse is a critical examination of why George W. Bush failed to heed warnings before September 11, why he sat paralyzed for 7 minutes after being informed of the attacks, how he subsequently turned Iraq into a deadly cauldron, and committed – then covered up – war crimes in Afghanistan, Guantánamo and Iraq.

The central theme of the Republican Convention was Bush’s bona fides as a tough president who will save us from another terrorist attack. Instead of examining why we went to war with a country that posed no threat to us, the agenda was replete with rhetoric about fighting the terrorists in Iraq so we wouldn’t have to fight them here.

Significantly absent from the patriotic speeches was the “t” word. Not even a brief acknowledgement that prisoners in American custody were mistreated. Torture is on the back burner. Every so often, another official report comes out, with more disturbing revelations, but never directly implicates Bush, Cheney or Rumsfeld.

Even the release of Seymour Hersh’s new book, Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib, has garnered scant attention in the daily fare of television staples, where most Americans get their news. But Rumsfeld noticed. Four days before the book’s release, without having read it, the Department of Defense issued a rare but characteristically preemptive attack on the book.

Rumsfeld testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee that his department was alerted to the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in January 2004. Rumsfeld told Bush in February about an “issue” involving mistreatment of prisoners in Iraq, according to a Senior White House aide.

These claims are disingenuous. The roots of Abu Ghraib, writes Hersh, lie in the creation of the “unacknowledged” special-access program (SAP) established by a top-secret order Bush signed in late 2001 or early 2002. The presidential order authorized the Defense Department to set up a clandestine team of Special Forces operatives to defy international law and snatch, or assassinate, anyone considered a “high-value” Al Qaeda operative, anywhere in the world.

Rumsfeld expanded SAP into Iraq in August 2003. It was Rumsfeld who approved the use of physical coercion and sexual humiliation to extract information from prisoners. Rumsfeld and Bush set this system in motion long before January 2004. The mistreatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib was part of the ongoing operation.

Hersch quotes a CIA analyst who was sent to the U.S. military prison at Guantánamo in late summer of 2002, to find out why so little useful intelligence had been gathered. After interviewing 30 prisoners, “he came back convinced that we were committing war crimes in Guantánamo.”

By fall 2002, the analyst’s report finally reached Gen. John A. Gordon, the deputy national security adviser for combating terrorism, who reported directly to national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. Gordon was deeply distressed by the report and its implications for the treatment of captured American soldiers. He also thought “that if the actions at Guantánamo ever became public, it’d be damaging to the president.”

Gordon passed the report to Rice, who called a high-level meeting in the White House situation room. Rumsfeld, who had been encouraging his soldiers to get tough with prisoners, was present at the meeting. Yet Rice asked Rumsfeld “what the issues were, and he said he hadn’t looked into it.” Rice urged him to look into it: “Let’s get the story right,” she declared.

A military consultant with close ties to Special Operations told Hersh that war crimes were committed in Iraq and no action was taken. “People were beaten to death,” he said. “What do you call it when people are tortured and going to die and the soldiers know it, but do not treat their injuries?” the consultant asked rhetorically. “Execution,” he replied to his own question.

We should have seen it coming. In Bush’s January 2003 State of the Union Address, he said: “All told, more than 3,000 suspected terrorists have been arrested in many countries, and many others have met a different fate.” He added, “Let’s put it this way. They are no longer a problem for the United States and our friends and allies.”

Bush was admitting he had sanctioned summary execution, in direct violation of international, and United States, law.

The Bush administration has also admittedly engaged in the illegal practice of rendition, where people are sent to other countries to be tortured. The C.I.A. acknowledged in testimony before Congress that prior to 2001, it had engaged in about seventy “extraordinary renditions.”

In December 2001, American operatives kidnapped two Egyptians and flew them to Cairo, where they were subjected to repeated torture by electrical shocks from electrodes attached to their private parts.

Rapes, sodomy with foreign objects, the use of unmuzzled dogs to bite and severely injure prisoners, and beating prisoners to death have been documented at Abu Ghraib. Women beg their families to smuggle poison into the prisons so they can kill themselves because of the humiliation they suffered.

Allegations of routine torture have emerged from Mosul and Basra as well. “Some were burnt with fire, others [had] bandaged broken arms,” claimed Yasir Rubaii Saeed al-Qutaji. Haitham Saeed al-Mallah reported seeing “a young man of 14 years of age bleeding from his anus and lying on the floor.” Al-Mallah heard the soldiers say that “the reason for this bleeding was inserting a metal object in his anus.”

The army has charged one Sergeant with assault and other crimes, and is recommending that two dozen American soldiers face criminal charges, including negligent homicide for mistreatment of prisoners in Afghanistan.

Last week, three Americans, running a private prison, but reportedly working with the CIA, were convicted of kidnapping and torture and sentenced to 8-10 years in prison by an Afghan court. Afghan police had discovered three men hanging from the ceiling, and five others were found beaten and tied in a dark small room.

The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, a treaty ratified by the U.S. and thus part of our binding domestic law, defines torture as follows: the infliction of severe pain or suffering for the purpose of obtaining a confession, discrimination, coercion or intimidation.

Torture, inhuman treatment, and willful killing are grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions, treaties ratified by the United States. Grave breaches of Geneva are considered war crimes under our federal War Crimes Act of 1996. American nationals who commit war crimes abroad can receive life in prison, or even the death penalty if the victim dies. Under the doctrine of command responsibility, a commander can be held liable if he knew or should have known his inferiors were committing war crimes and he failed to prevent or stop them.

When John Walker Lindh was captured in Afghanistan in December 2001, his American interrogators stripped and gagged him, strapped him to a board, and displayed him to the press. He was writhing in pain from a bullet left in his body.

Although initially charged with crimes of terrorism carrying life in prison, John Ashcroft permitted Lindh to plead guilty to lesser crimes that garnered him 20 years. The condition: Lindh make a statement that he suffered “no deliberate mistreatment” while in custody. The cover-up was underway.

Lawyers from the Defense and Justice Departments penned lengthy memos and created a definition of torture much narrower than the one in the Torture Convention. They advised Bush how his people could engage in torture and avoid prosecution under the federal Torture Statute.

Relying on advice in these memos, Bush issued an unprecedented order that, as commander-in-chief, he has the authority to suspend the Geneva Conventions. In spite of Geneva’s requirement that a competent tribunal decide whether someone qualifies for POW status, Bush took it upon himself to decide that Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners in Afghanistan were not protected by the Geneva Convention on the POWs.

This decision was premised on the reasoning of White House Counsel Alberto Gonzalez, that “the war against terrorism is a new kind of war, a new paradigm [that] renders obsolete Geneva’s strict limitations on questioning of enemy prisoners and renders quaint some of its provisions.” Quaint!

A still-secret section of the recently-released Fay Report says that “policies and practices developed and approved for use on Al Qaeda and Taliban detainees who were not afforded the protection of the Geneva Conventions, now applied to detainees who did fall under the Geneva Conventions’ protections.”

The Schlesinger Report that came out a few weeks ago accused the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leadership of failing to exercise sufficient oversight and permitting conditions that led to the abuses. Rumsfeld’s reversals of interrogation policy, according to the report, created confusion about which techniques could be used on prisoners in Iraq.

Rumsfeld has admitted ordering an Iraqi prisoner be hidden from the International Committee of the Red Cross. Pentagon investigators believe the CIA has held as many as 100 “ghost” detainees in Iraq. Hiding prisoners from the Red Cross violates Geneva.

The Schlesinger Report confirmed 5 detainee deaths as a result of interrogation, and 23 more deaths are currently under investigation.

In May, when the Abu Ghraib scandal was on the front pages, there were demands for Rumsfeld to resign. But Cheney told Rumsfeld there would be no resignations. It was blatantly political. We’re going to hunker down and tough it out, Cheney said, so as not to hurt Bush’s chances for election in November.

Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, the American commander in charge of detentions and interrogations at Abu Ghraib prison, was sent from Guantánamo to Iraq last fall to transplant his harsh interrogation techniques. Miller recently conducted an overnight tour of Abu Ghraib for journalists.

He proudly displayed “Camp Liberty” and “Camp Redemption,” newly renovated in response to the torture scandal.

Under the new system in place at Abu Ghraib, an interrogation plan is submitted to a lawyer for approval before any interrogation begins. The time required to process prisoners has been reduced from 120 to 50 days. Since July, 60% of the reviews have led to releases.

Three hundred Iraqi prisoners were released Wednesday. Each walked away with $25 and a 12-page glossy pamphlet on Iraq’s interim government.

But evidence of war crimes by the Bush administration – notably Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush – continues to emerge. And in spite of Bush’s renunciation of the International Criminal Court, many people around the world are clamoring for Bush and his deputies to be held accountable. In the words of Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman: “It is one thing to protect the armed forces from politicized justice; quite another, to make it a haven for suspected war criminals.”

September 10, 2004

The Preemptive President

Under the guise of preempting – or preventing – threats to the American people, George W. Bush has acted aggressively to “jump the gun” throughout his presidency. By the use of extreme rhetoric and scare tactics, Team Bush convinced Congress – and nearly half the electorate – that the guns he was jumping were real. The guns, however, proved illusory, and indeed, backfired, making us less safe.

“The pool of people who really hate us is so much greater than it was on 9/11 because of this needless and counterproductive war in Iraq,” Bush’s former counter-terrorism chief, Richard Clarke, told a crowd of nearly 2,000 in Berkeley earlier this week.

Moreover, following our role model, Russia has just announced that it, too, will engage in preemptive strikes against terrorist bases in “any region of the world.” This announcement comes as the United States is issuing statements favoring a political settlement with Chechen separatists. The chickens have, in the prescient words of Malcolm X, come home to roost.

Preempting Saddam’s Continuing Presidency

Since the day Bush took office, his administration planned assiduously for the execution of regime change in Iraq. The September 11 attacks played right into Bush’s hands. From that day on, his masterful spinners spun – and continue to spin – a massive web of lies and deception to link Saddam Hussein with those attacks.

Declaring over and over again that we have to get the terrorists in Iraq so they don’t get us here, Bush secured Congressional authority to invade Iraq.

Never mind that there were no weapons of mass destruction, Saddam having been neutered by the Gulf War and 12 years of punishing sanctions.

Never mind that, vicious as Saddam was to his own people, al Qaeda never operated in Iraq until “Iraqi Freedom” became the Operation-du-jour.

Never mind that Bush sent our boys and girls to kill and be killed in a war that had no business ever happening. Never mind that the number of dead Americans has now topped 1,000, and the number of Iraqi dead is estimated at 20,000, with no end in sight.

And never mind that Bush’s theory of preemptive war violates the United Nations Charter.

The only thing Bush’s war on Iraq has preempted is the continuation of Saddam’s control of a country over which the neoconservatives itched to establish hegemony.

Preempting Dissent Against Bush Policies

Bush has sought to preempt the dissent that’s inimical to the democracy he claims to defend by systematically suppressing criticism of his dangerous policies.

Whenever the Bush administration has faced collective action challenging its policies, it has used law enforcement to preempt First Amendment activity. (See my editorial, Bush’s War on Democracy).

The police have employed collective preemptive punishment to keep dissenters off the streets and out of the media, most recently, in New York during the Republican Convention.

For months, the FBI preemptively identified and interrogated potential demonstrators, in an attempt to chill constitutionally-protected free speech. Agents surfed the Web, checking websites used by protest organizers.

The media was utilized to scare would-be protestors away from demonstrations. For example, two companion articles in the May 17, 2004 issue of New York Magazine hyped the upcoming protests. One headline read: “The Circus is Coming to Town: A Bush-hating nation of freaks, flash-mobbers, and civil-disobedients is gathering to spoil the GOP’s party.” The other headline taunted, “Cops to Protestors: Bring It On.”

Trying to paint protestors as potential weapons-of-mass destruction, the latter article depicts them as violent “wannabe revolutionaries and anarchists.” It describes the artillery the police would have in its arsenal: “vehicle checkpoints around the perimeter of the [Madison Square] Garden manned with heavy weapons, dogs, and portable Delta barriers, which are enormous metal contraptions that lie almost flat in the road and can be raised very quickly with the flip of a switch. They are substantial enough to stop a large truck.”

Police arrived at protest sites in advance of demonstrators, and preempted marches and rallies before they occurred.

The cops established “free speech” zones and used orange netting to unconstitutionally enmesh protestors and cart them off to jail. They conducted pretextual and “preventive” mass false arrests and detentions. A record number of arrests – nearly 2,000 – were made during the four-day GOP convention. This tops even those effectuated during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.

New York State Judge John Cataldo angrily ordered the City of New York to release more than 550 arrestees, who were illegally detained without being brought before a judge. When the city dragged its feet, Judge Cataldo held the city in contempt and ordered a fine of $1,000 for each person still held.

The National Lawyers Guild circulated an Internal Police Department memo suggesting that protestors be held as long as possible, presumably to keep them off the streets for the duration of the convention.

Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people protested Bush’s convention, swelling to half a million on the Sunday before it began.

Preempting Regime Change in America

The tactics of Team Bush in its drive to preempt a Kerry victory in November are setting a record for the dirtiest tricks in an election campaign.

In an attempt to shift the focus from Bush’s going AWOL in the National Guard, Karl Rove’s Brigade has smeared the battlefield credentials of a real war hero, John Kerry.

And in order to draw attention away from the fact that the September 11 attacks occurred on Bush’s watch, Dick Cheney blurted out that Americans face another terrorist attack if they elect Kerry: “It’s absolutely essential that eight weeks from today, on Nov. 2, we make the right choice, because if we make the wrong choice then the danger is that we’ll get hit again and we’ll be hit in a way that will be devastating from the standpoint of the United States.”

To get a clear reading on how well George W. Bush will protect us against a terrorist attack, one need only examine the just-released records from his service in the Texas Air National Guard. They show his unit joined a “24 hour active alert mission to safeguard against surprise attack” in the southern United States beginning October 6, 1972. That was a time when his pay records show that Bush failed to report for duty.

August 31, 2004

Bush’s War on Democracy

When George W. Bush’s weapons-of-mass-destruction rationale for invading Iraq evaporated, his excuse morphed into bringing democracy to the Iraqi people. But the way Bush has eviscerated our democracy in the United States is proof positive that his democratic credentials are phony.

We have seen our government assault First Amendment rights in the past – during the McCarthy era, and when the FBI instituted COINTELPRO to spy on and discredit civil rights activists.

But Bush has taken the attack on civil liberties to a new level. The most striking warning of his strategy to stifle dissent in an unprecedented way was former White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer’s admonition shortly after the September 11 attacks that Americans should “watch what they say, watch what they do.”

That statement is now the mantra of Team Bush.

The Bush administration depicts as public enemies, and even potential terrorists, those who speak out against U.S. government policies.

In an annual survey by the First Amendment Center in 2003, 93 percent of respondents agreed that individuals should be allowed to express unpopular opinions in this country. Two-thirds supported the right of any group to hold a rally for a cause even if offensive to others.

Three new developments on Bush’s watch have a chilling effect on protected First Amendment activity: 1) the shift from reactive to preemptive law enforcement; 2) the enactment of domestic anti-terrorism laws; and 3) the recent relaxation of FBI guidelines on surveillance of Americans.

From Reactive to Preemptive Law Enforcement

Like Bush’s new “preemptive” or “preventative” war strategy which led us into Iraq in violation of the United Nations Charter, law enforcement in the United States has moved from reaction to “preemption,” in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Collective preemptive punishment against those who wish to exercise their First Amendment rights has taken several forms: content-based permits, where permission to protest is screened for political correctness; pretextual arrests in anticipation of actions that haven’t yet occurred; the setting of huge bails of up to $1 million for misdemeanors; the use of chemical weapons; and the employment of less lethal rounds fired without provocation into crowds.

Protestors are painted by the government and the mainstream media as violent lawbreakers.

In this week’s demonstrations against the Republican Convention in New York, police are prepared to use sound, ostensibly to convey orders to the crowd. This Long Range Acoustical Device (LRAD) has been utilized by the U.S. military in Iraq, and during the Miami free trade protests last year.

When employed in the weapon mode, LRAD blasts a tightly controlled stream of caustic sound that can be turned up to high enough levels to trigger nausea or fainting. Even if LRAD is not used by the police, the warning that it might be was designed to frighten potential protestors from taking to the streets of New York.

New Domestic Anti-Terrorism Laws

The USA PATRIOT Act, rushed through a timid Congress a month after September 11, 2001, creates a new crime of “domestic terrorism,” defined so broadly that anyone who may have, at some time, participated in civil disobedience, or even a labor picket, could be targeted.

This provision has been used to label environmental and animal rights groups “terrorist.” Congressman Scott McInnis (R-Co) called Earth Liberation Front, which was responsible for major property damage in Colorado, a major domestic terrorist organization. Rep. George Nethercutt (R-Wash) suggested treating Earth Liberation Front like the Taliban: “I propose,” he said, “that we use the model that has worked so well in Afghanistan. Give them no rest and no quarter.” These politicians draw no distinction between human rights and property interests.

Relaxed FBI Surveillance Guidelines

During the McCarthy period of the 1950s, in an effort to eradicate the perceived threat of communism, the government engaged in widespread illegal surveillance to threaten and silence anyone who had an unorthodox political viewpoint. Many people were jailed, blacklisted and lost their jobs. Thousands of lives were shattered as the FBI engaged in “red-baiting.”

COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program) was designed, by its own terms, to “disrupt, misdirect and otherwise neutralize” political and activist groups. In the 1960s, the FBI targeted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a program called “Racial Matters.”

King’s campaign to register African-American voters in the South raised the hackles of FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, who disingenuously claimed King’s organization was being infiltrated by communists.

In fact, the FBI was really concerned that King’s civil rights and anti-Vietnam War campaigns “represented a clear threat to the established order of the U.S.” It went after King with a vengeance, wiretapping his telephones and securing very personal information, which it used to try to discredit him and drive him to divorce and suicide.

A congressional committee chaired by Frank Church documented the abuses of COINTELPRO. As a result, in 1976, Congress established guidelines to regulate FBI activity in foreign and domestic intelligence-gathering.

John Ashcroft, again using the excuse of September 11, has relaxed the 1976 guidelines on FBI surveillance, spying and infiltration of political groups and meetings. The probable cause requirement for initiating surveillance of individuals and organizations has been removed. FBI surveillance of all public meetings and demonstrations is now authorized.

An internal FBI newsletter encouraged agents to conduct more interviews with activists protesting the war “for plenty of reasons, the chief of which it will enhance the paranoia endemic in such circles and will further serve to get the point across that there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox.”

The national drive by the FBI to collect intelligence related to protests through local law enforcement has resulted in the harassment of people in places such as Denver, Fresno, CA, New York, and Drake University in Iowa.

In an October 2003 memo, the FBI urged law enforcement to monitor the Internet, because “protestors often use the Internet to … coordinate their activities prior to demonstrations,” reported The New York Times.

The Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) – the same group that wrote the memos advising Bush how to get away with torturing prisoners – blessed the 2003 FBI memo. The OLC said that interrogating and gathering evidence on potential political protestors raised no First Amendment concerns. But, it went on to say, any “chilling” effect would be “quite minimal” and far outweighed by the overriding public interest in maintaining “order.”

The Bad News and the Good News

As we approach the November election – and for the next four years if Bush secures another term – we can expect that opponents of the Bush administration’s repressive policies will increasingly be targeted.

But over 300 cities and four states have called for the repeal of the PATRIOT Act, and organizations like the National Lawyers Guild have filed lawsuits challenging the unconstitutional actions of the government.

And in the largest demonstration ever at a political convention, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators registered their protest Sunday against the assault on democracy by the forces of George W. Bush.

August 30, 2004

Command Responsibility: Playing Politics With Torture

As George W. Bush prepares to take center stage at Madison Square Garden, two reports released in tandem purport to represent thorough investigations of the ‘abuses’ at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

The near-simultaneous publication of the Schlesinger Report and the Fay Report is not coincidental. Following Senator John McCain’s admonition when the Abu Ghraib scandal broke back in April, the Bush administration wants to get all the bad news out now, so it will be overshadowed by the Grand Ol’ Party in New York next week.

The ‘Independent’ Panel to Review Department of Defense Operations, aka the Schelsinger Report, was prepared by a team Donald Rumsfeld selected from his own Defense Policy Board. Not surprisingly, it stops short of pointing the finger at the Secretary of Defense, or the President.

An Army panel headed by Maj. Gen. George R. Fay likewise accepts at face value Rumsfeld’s denial that he had any knowledge of the atrocities perpetrated by Americans against Iraqis.

After all, as Rumsfeld claimed Thursday,”if you are in Washington, D.C., you can’t know what’s going on in the midnight shift in one of those many prisons around the world.” The Secretary evidently hasn’t heard of telephones, faxes or email.

Rumsfeld hadn’t even read the reports – or even the executive summaries – when he denied in a radio interview in Phoenix that abuses took place during interrogations at Abu Ghraib: “I have not seen anything thus far that says that the people abused were abused in the process of interrogating them or for interrogation purposes.”

In fact, the Fay report found that 13 of the 44 instances of abuse took place during interrogations. And Rumsfeld would only have had to read the first paragraph of the Schlesinger report, which says: “We do know that some of the egregious abuses at Abu Ghraib which were not photographed did occur during interrogation sessions and that abuses during interrogation sessions occurred elsewhere.”

Nevertheless, the reports read like an apologia for the mistreatment: the prison was understaffed, personnel were not well-trained and lacked discipline, and they were under pressure to get information in the Global War on Terror. Yet only one-third of the documented atrocities took place during interrogations. And they don’t remind us that, according to the Red Cross, 70 to 90 percent of those held at Abu Ghraib were there by mistake.

Neither report discusses the well-established doctrine of “command responsibility.” Where a commander, even a commander-in-chief, knew or should have known about misbehavior committed by his inferiors, and the commander fails to stop or prevent it, he is just as liable as the soldier who committed the offense.

So the question is whether Rumsfeld or Bush should have known about the unleashing of dogs on two juveniles to see if they would defecate on themselves, the rape of a young screaming prisoner, or the man the CIA killed and left dead in the shower for others to smuggle out on ice as if he were still alive. Should the Secretary and the President have known that forced nudity around Abu Ghraib was commonplace?

The Schlesinger report adopts the well-worn adage that good news travels up the chain of command, but bad news does not. The suggested fix: Rummie needs a better pipeline.

Newly leaked secret portions of the Fay report confirm that Lt.Gen. Ricardo S. Sanchez “approved the use in Iraq of some severe interrogation practices intended to be limited to captives held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Afghanistan.”

The Schlesinger report uncritically agrees with Bush’s decision that the Geneva Conventions don’t apply to al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners; therefore, severe treatment was permissible in Gitmo and Afghanistan.

But unfortunately, according to the report, the Gitmo and Afghanistan practices somehow “migrated” with the interrogators to Iraq, where prisoners should have been protected by Geneva.

Missing from the analysis is a reminder that Geneva requires a competent tribunal – not George W. Bush – to decide whether a prisoner falls under the Geneva Convention on the protection of prisoners of war. Even if the prisoners at Gitmo and Afghanistan are not POW’s, they are still entitled to humane treatment under Geneva.

Even more forceful interrogation practices conducted by the CIA provided a role model for soldiers and civilians at Abu Ghraib. Although alluded to in the Fay report, the CIA insists on keeping secret the document that served as a template for unauthorized interrogation practices.

Although 44 allegations of brutality are chronicled in the Fay report, there is no thorough discussion of why many of them may actually amount to torture, not simply “abuse.” In fact, the executive summary classifies rape as “abuse,” even though it is well-accepted that rape constitutes torture. Yet Fay used the ‘t’ word at a Pentagon news conference. He admitted to reporters: ‘there were a few instances when torture was being used.”

The Schlesinger report, again walking in lockstep with the Bush administration, slams the venerable International Committee of the Red Cross for saying Bush’s classification of prisoners as ‘unlawful combatants’ violates the Geneva conventions.

While concluding the Secretary of Defense had no knowledge of the abuses, the Schlesinger report accuses the Pentagon’s top civilian and military leadership of failing to exercise sufficient oversight and permitting conditions that led to the abuses. Rumsfeld’s reversals of interrogation policy, according to the report, created confusion about which techniques could be used on prisoners in Iraq.

A major omission in the reports is mention of the effect of the ‘legal’ memos prepared by the Defense and Justice Departments that justify the use of torture during interrogations. Under U.S. law, torture is never permitted, even in wartime. Yet the memos advise Bush and Rumsfeld how they can avoid prosecution under the federal torture statute. This advice should surely figure in to a discussion of whether our leaders should have known what was happening on their watch.

Indeed, more than 300 lawyers, retired judges, and law professors, including a former FBI director and an ex-Attorney General, seven past presidents of the American Bar Association, and this writer, signed a statement denouncing the memos, which, we wrote,”ignore and misinterpret the U.S. Constitution and laws, international treaties and rules of international law.” The statement condemns the most senior lawyers in the DOJ, DOD, White House, and Cheney’s office, who “have sought to justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human beings.”

Even the conservative American Bar Association criticized what it called “a widespread pattern of abusive detention methods.” Those abuses, according to the ABA, “feed terrorism by painting the United States as an arrogant nation above the law.”

In July, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, part of the command structure at Abu Ghraib, alleged that Rumsfeld personally approved the transfer of harsher interrogation methods from Guantanamo to Iraq, a charge the Defense Secretary denied.

Karpinski also told the BBC she met an Israeli who worked at a secret intelligence center in Baghdad. The Israeli government has denied that charge, as well as FBI allegations yesterday that Larry Franklin, an Israeli spy in Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith’s office, supplied Israel with classified documents including secret White House policy deliberations on Iran. Before the war, Feith set up a special intelligence unit to link Iraq with Al Qaeda. Franklin also has ties with Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, architect of Bush’s Iraq policy. The FBI’s new bombshell may lead to evidence of Israel’s undue influence on Bush’s Iraq – and Iran – policy.

It’s secrecy as usual in the Bush administration.

A recent editorial in The New York Times about the Schlesinger and Fay reports found it “pretty obvious that Mr. Rumsfeld’s panel – two former secretaries of defense, a retired general and a former Republican congresswoman – was not going to produce a clear-eyed assessment of responsibility.” But the Times went on to say: ‘the two reports do make it starkly evident that President Bush’s political decision to declare the war over far too prematurely and Mr. Rumsfeld’s subsequent bungling of the occupation set the stage for the prison abuses.”

John Kerry has called on Donald Rumsfeld to resign, but added,”The buck doesn’t stop at the Pentagon.” James R. Schlesinger, a former defense secretary in two Republican administrations, had his marching orders, however. Rumsfeld’s resignation, Schlesinger told the media, would only help our enemies. Remember that when the photographs came to light last spring, Bush declared Rumsfeld was ‘the best secretary of defense the United States has ever had.”

The dots are all there to connect up the chain of command to the top. Next week, we will see more smoke and mirrors as the GOP launches its Texas sweetheart toward the White House once again. There will be additional studies of the “abuses” at Abu Ghraib. What is less certain is whether the Commander-in-Chief and his Secretary of Defense will be held accountable for a war that never should have been, and a policy that led to the torture of so many prisoners.

August 20, 2004

Chavez Victory: Defeat for Bush Policy

The Bush administration is gritting its collective teeth at the outcome of Sunday’s recall election in Venezuela, which overwhelmingly affirmed President Hugo Chavez’s tenure. If President Jimmy Carter had not lent his enormous credibility to the election results, Bush and his minions would surely be crying foul in unison with the opposition.

Chavez was popularly elected by his countrymen and women in 1998 and 2000. Yet in spite of Bush’s claims to support democracy around the world, his administration has given succor those trying to overthrow Chavez’s government before, during and since the aborted coup in April 2002.

Officials at the Organization of American States affirmed that the Bush administration had sanctioned the coup. Bush’s then-Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere, Otto Reich, met with leaders of the coup for months before it was executed. Elliot Abrams, one of the neoconservative policymakers in Bush’s inner circle, approved the coup, according to the London Observer. And John Negroponte, now our ambassador to Iraq, was in on it, too.

Reich, Abrams and Negroponte comprised the troika that administered the “Reagan doctrine” in the 1980s, which supported vicious dictatorships in Central America, including those in El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

As documented in the film, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” Chavez was forcibly removed from the presidential palace on April 11, 2002 by forces acting on behalf of Venezuela’s propertied class. Pedro Carmona, head of Venezuela’s confederation of business and industry, declared himself president. Within hours, Carmona purported to repeal laws enacted under Chavez that the executives of foreign oil companies opposed.

Forty-eight hours later, after thousands of workers and peasants stormed the palace demanding Chavez’s return to power, the military did an about-face and brought him back. The filmmakers, fortuitously present at the scene, were caught inside the palace and filmed the class struggle that played out with Chavez’s ouster and reinstatement.

Former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Wayne Madsen told the Guardian that our navy helped with communications jamming support to the Venezuelan military during the would-be coup. An American plane was present on the island to which Chavez was whisked away. The Bush administration provided financial backing to key participants in the coup attempt, which resulted in the deaths of 19 people.

Chavez incurred the wrath of Team Bush by championing the interests of the working class over the oil-igarchy in Venezuela. The fifth largest oil supplier in the world, Venezuela is a key provider of U.S. petroleum. By using oil profits to help his people instead of the multinational corporations, Chavez created an alternative model to Bush-backed neoliberal globalization.

Hugo Chavez’s plan of Bolivarianism – named after Simon Bolivar, father of Venezuelan independence – focused on a redistribution of the massive wealth generated by his country’s rich oil profits. He passed a law that doubled royalty taxes paid by ExxonMobil and other oil companies on new finds.

Chavez enacted the Ley De Tierras, which provided for unused land to be given to the landless; he instituted free health care and public education to all; he backed a new Constitution that enshrines rights for women and indigenous peoples; and he lowered the inflation rate.

Unlike the U.S.-backed Iraqi interim government, which shut down Al Jazeera for its broadcasts critical of the occupation, Chavez never shut down or censored private media controlled by tycoons trying to unseat him in the months leading up to Sunday’s election.

Nearly 95 percent of the electorate voted in the election, the largest percentage Jimmy Carter has ever seen. Carter and the Organization of American States have independently verified the validity of Sunday’s election results, and have even supported an audit, which Carter calls “infallible,” according to The New York Times. Nevertheless, the opposition refuses to sanction the results of the election or the audit.

Opposition exit polls, which Carter has dismissed as inaccurate and “deliberately distributed … in order to build up, not only the expectation of victory, but also to influence the people still standing in line,” were funded by the National Endowment for Democracy.

NED, a U.S. government organization purporting to promote democracy, was set up in the early 1980s by Reagan to counter negative revelations about the CIA’s covert operations in the late 1970s. NED successfully manipulated the Nicaraguan elections in 1990 and worked with right-wing groups in the late 1990s to oust Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Just last February, the Bush administration engineered a coup d’etat in Haiti, as I described in my editorial, Coup d’Etat – This Time in Haiti. The U.S. Marines put democratically elected President Jean-Bertrand Aristide on a plane out of Haiti after officials from the United States threatened him into signing a purported resignation letter. Aristide, like Chavez, fell out of favor with Bush by resisting neoliberalism.

Hugo Chavez is, according to The Wall Street Journal, “Washington’s biggest Latin American headache after the old standby, Cuba.” Indeed, Venezuela is Cuba’s top trading partner, selling it discounted oil, while Cuba has sent thousands of doctors, teachers and engineers to work in Venezuela.

Speaking of Cuba, NED donated a quarter-million dollars in the early 1990s to the Cuban-American National Fund, the terrorist anti-Castro group in Miami. CANF financed Luis Posada Carriles, notorious for his involvement in the blowing up of a Cuba airplane in 1976, which killed 73 people.

Chavez, now trying to reunify his country in the wake of a contentious election, says: “Violence can only be ended if actions are taken so that all human beings have access to the fundamental human rights, including education, housing, work and health.” In a déjà vu from a hot-button issue facing us in the United States, Chavez told journalist Greg Palast: “Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said, ‘You must pay your taxes.’”

Critical of the Bush administration’s covert activity against him and Fidel Castro, Chavez maintains: “They are also manipulating the U.S. people because there is a dictatorship in the United States.”

One would hope our election results in November are as reliable as Venezuela’s. If Bush is elected, we can expect him to go after Chavez again, and Castro as well. This would likely destabilize Latin America in much the same way Bush has destabilized the Middle East with his war on Iraq.

Leaders of countries throughout Latin America congratulated Hugo Chavez on his victory Sunday. Yet the Bush government, although grudgingly accepting the results, did not hail the exercise of democracy in Venezuela.

Bush’s agenda was roundly defeated with Chavez’s triumph. Chavez has opposed U.S. policy in Latin America, including military aid to Colombia and efforts to spread free trade agreements throughout the region. Voters who supported him understood that a vote to recall Hugo Chavez would be a vote for U.S. imperialism.

August 13, 2004

Lawful Resistance to Occupation in Najaf

Anyone who tunes in to the cable news channels these days would hardly realize our Commander-in-Chief is presiding over a new campaign of aerial terror against the Iraqi people in the holy city of Najaf. In his nightly prayers, George W. Bush should remember those prosecuting Scott Peterson’s murder trial, which is wall-to-wall fare on television this week.

For nearly a week, American troops and Iraqis under U.S. command have been battling the resistance led by the “radical” cleric Muqtada Sadr in Najaf. Hundreds have been killed. The U.S. forces are poised to strike the Imam Ali shrine. Such an attack on one of the holiest sites in Shia Islam could unleash a volcanic reaction among Shia Muslims throughout the Middle East.

Bush, however, continues to proclaim victory in Iraq, while the number of dead U.S. soldiers rapidly approaches the 1,000 mark. Our troops who haven’t yet been killed are sweltering in 130-degree Iraqi temperatures, with no end in sight.

Kais Alazawi, Editor-in-Chief of the Iraqi daily Al-Jareda, and General Secretary of the secular Arab Nationalist Movement, fears a civil war threatens Iraq.

“In Najaf, we’re witnessing the failure of the transfer of sovereignty process begun in June,” according to Alazawi. He calls the U.S.-chosen interim Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi “an American pawn who has revealed his true face” by capitulating to the United States’ military campaign against the resistance forces in Najaf.

“This offensive will not diminish the level of violence in the country, much to the contrary,” says Alazawi. “You cannot resolve a fundamental political problem by force. The main problem in Iraq remains the occupation, and when there’s an occupation, there’s resistance. The solution must be political,” in Alazawi’s opinion.

Deputy Governor of Basra, Salam Uda al-Maliki, plans to announce the secession of Basra, Misan and Dhi Qar from the central government in Baghdad, and the effective cessation of oil exports. The separation of these three southern provinces would likely encourage the Kurds in the north to seek greater autonomy, enhancing the possibility of civil war.

“This reaction comes in response to the crimes committed against Iraqis by an illegal and unelected government, and occupation forces who claimed they came to liberate Iraq, but it turned out that they have come to kill Iraqis,” Ali Hamud al-Musawi, head of the Misan governing council, told Al Jazeera Tuesday.

Even the U.S.-installed interim Iraqi government seems to be at odds with itself. In a broadcast on Al Jazeera television yesterday, Interim Vice President Ibrahim Jaafari said: “I call for multinational forces to leave Najaf and for only Iraqi forces to remain there.” Last week, Jaafari said there was “no justification” for the U.S. assault on Najaf. The Financial Times reports Jaafari is Iraq’s most popular politician, according to opinion polls.

The situation in Iraq is deteriorating because the Bush administration has permitted the country to lapse into chaos.

Under the Geneva Conventions, an occupying power has an obligation to protect civilians and enable humanitarian assistance. Thousands of civilians were killed – and continue to die – at the hands of the American military. Cluster bombs and depleted uranium, which indiscriminately target civilians, were used, in violation of Geneva. And the U.S. government’s insistence on hegemony over the provision of humanitarian aid prevented relief organizations from bringing crucial assistance to the suffering Iraqi people.

The Hague Regulations mandate that an occupying power restore and maintain public order and safety in the occupied territory. Yet the occupiers succeeded only in destabilizing the country and destroying its infrastructure. Many Iraqis are forced to drink contaminated water, resulting in epidemics of typhoid and hepatitis E.

When the media does mention the fighting in Iraq, we hear about the Iraqi “insurgents.” There are certainly terrorists operating in Iraq, thanks to Bush’s war, which has drawn them there like a magnet. Those who target civilians – be they suicide bombers, or cluster bombers – are terrorists.

Journalist and writer Paul-Marie de La Gorce said in an interview in Le Nouvel Observateur this week that the al-Qaeda forces, which have come to Iraq just to confront the United States, do not enjoy popular support among the Iraqi people.

But much of the opposition to the occupation appears to be legal under international law. People have a right to resist illegal occupation. In her report, “Terrorism and Human Rights,” United Nations Rapporteur Kalliopi Koufa cited with approval the 1999 Convention of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference on Combating International Terrorism:

“People’s struggles including armed struggle against foreign occupation, aggression, colonialism, and hegemony, aimed at liberation and self-determination in accordance with the principles of international law shall not be considered a terrorist crime.”

The Iraqi resistance goes beyond the followers of Sadr, standard bearer for Shi’ite resisters. De La Gorce says “the Iraqi resistance has won popular support, but is not unified, which is its weakness.”

Contrary to Bush’s claim that his regime change in Iraq has produced a more stable Middle East, his actions have opened a hornet’s nest of death and destruction.