Posts Tagged ‘John Conyers’

POLITICS-US: Democrats Divided Over “Reckoning” for Bush

February 25, 2009

Analysis by William Fisher | Inter Press Service

NEW YORK, Feb 16 (IPS) – With growing public support for a public investigation of crimes that may have been committed by the administration of former president George W. Bush in waging its “global war on terror”, policy makers and legal experts are deeply divided on how to proceed – and President Barack Obama seems ambivalent about whether to proceed at all.

The president has said his view is that “nobody is above the law, and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen, but that, generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backwards.”

Before his nomination to be Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder appeared to take a stronger view.

He said, “Our government authorised the use of torture, approved of secret electronic surveillance against American citizens, secretly detained American citizens without due process of law, denied the writ of habeas corpus to hundreds of accused enemy combatants and authorized the procedures that violate both international law and the United States Constitution… We owe the American people a reckoning.”

But at his confirmation hearing before the Senate, Holder tempered his responses to adhere more closely to Obama’s position.

The president initially refrained from commenting on a proposal from the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, for a “truth commission” to investigate abuses of detainees, politically inspired moves at the Justice Department, and a whole range of decisions made during the Bush administration. At the time, Obama said he had not seen the Leahy proposal, although he has not explicitly ruled it out.

Such a “truth commission” is one of several ideas being offered by those who see a comprehensive look-back as essential to cleansing the U.S. justice system and restoring the U.S.’s reputation in the world.

Leahy said the primary goal of the commission would be to learn the truth rather than prosecute former officials, but said the inquiry should reach far beyond misdeeds at the Justice Department under Bush to include matters of Iraq prewar intelligence and the Defence Department.

The panel he envisions would be modeled after one that investigated the apartheid regime in South Africa. It would have subpoena power but would not bring criminal charges, he said.

Among the matters Leahy wants investigated by such a commission are: the firings of U.S. attorneys, treatment and torture of terror suspect detainees, and the authorisation of warrantless wiretapping. He said that witnesses before such a commission might have to be granted limited immunity from prosecution to obtain their testimony.

Other Democrats have called for criminal investigations of those who authorised certain controversial tactics in the war on terror. Republicans have countered that such decisions made in the wake of the 2001 terror attacks should not be second-guessed.

An arguably stronger measure has been proposed by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, a Michigan Democrat, and nine other lawmakers. The measure would set up a National Commission on Presidential War Powers and Civil Liberties, with subpoena power and a reported budget of around 3.0 million dollars.

It would investigate issues ranging from detainee treatment to waterboarding and extraordinary rendition. The panel’s members would come from outside the government and be appointed by the president and congressional leaders of both parties.

This body would be much like the 9/11 Commission, set up after the Sep. 11, 2001 attacks, to examine failures within government anti-terror efforts. The commission’s investigation did not lead to any prosecutions.

Human rights advocacy groups and many legal experts have been more forceful in their proposals.

For example, Amnesty International is urging its supporters to press lawmakers to investigate the U.S. government’s abuses in the war on terror and hold accountable those responsible. The organisation is calling on Obama and Congress to create an independent and impartial commission to examine the use of torture, indefinite detention, secret renditions and other illegal U.S. counterterrorism policies.

But the organisation does not necessarily see a conflict between a 9/11-type body and a “truth and reconciliation” commission. In answer to a question from IPS, Amnesty International’s Tom Parker said, “I don’t think the two approaches are mutually exclusive. Both could go forward at the same time. The immunities that may have to be granted by a Truth and Reconciliation Commission would not be absolute.”

Marjorie Cohn, president of the National Lawyers Guild, does not favour the “truth and reconciliation” approach.

She told IPS, “As President Obama said, ‘No one is above the law.’ His attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute Bush administration officials and lawyers who set the policy that led to the commission of war crimes. Truth and Reconciliation Commissions are used for nascent democracies in transition. By giving immunity to those who testify before them, it would ensure that those responsible for torture, abuse and illegal spying will never be brought to justice.”

A similar view was expressed by Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University. He told IPS, “The immunities that might be granted in connection with a congressional or commission investigation of the Bush administration could well compromise the prospects for criminal prosecution, as our experience with the Iran-Contra affair demonstrates. There is likewise reason to fear that justice cannot be completely served without recourse to prosecution.”

“On the other hand,” he said, “I believe our paramount need as a country is for a full and fair airing of the historical record; democracies depend, I think, on an unblinking understanding of their past.”

“One would hope that immunity might be granted as narrowly as possible and that efforts would be undertaken to allow the Justice Department to preserve its investigative integrity based on independently developed evidence. Should push come to shove, however, I think history is more important than prosecution,” he added.

Brian J. Foley, visiting associate professor at Boston University law school, takes a harder line. He told IPS, “Until we have Truth and Reconciliation Commissions rather than prosecutions for drug offenders and others accused of non-violent crimes whom we promiscuously throw into our overcrowded prisons, we should not bestow ‘justice lite’ on our political leaders. It appears that laws designed with government actors in mind were broken. There should be prosecutions.”

And Georgetown University’s David Cole, one of the country’s preeminent constitutional lawyers, believes the Obama administration or Congress “should at a minimum appoint an independent, bipartisan, blue-ribbon commission to investigate and assess responsibility for the United States’ adoption of coercive interrogation policies.”

It should have “a charge to assess responsibility, not just to look forward”, he said.

This divergence of viewpoints – from doing nothing to appointing a special prosecutor – is putting President Obama in an uncomfortable position. The most recent Gallup Poll shows that a sizable majority of citizens favours an investigation into Bush-era misconduct.

But Obama appears reluctant to take any action that might further divide the country. Moreover, he may be loath to antagonise Republicans, whose support he may need on many other issues in the future.

The Democratically-controlled Congress does not need the president in order to act – it can hold extensive hearings, grant itself subpoena power and in effect take whatever action it desires short of legislation, which would require the president’s signature. But Congressional Democrats may well be reluctant to overtly defy the wishes of the president, who is the leader of their party.

So the form of the Bush-era retrospective – if there is to be one – is yet very much a work in progress that will continue to put pressure on the young Obama administration.

Who Is Wrecking America?

September 5, 2008

By Paul Craig Roberts | Information Clearing House, Sep 3, 2008

Does the liberal-left have a clue? I sometimes think not.

In his book, “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” Thomas Frank made the excellent point that the Karl Rove Republicans take advantage of ordinary’s people’s frustrations and resentments to lead them into voting against their best interest.

Frank’s new book, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule,” lacks the insight that distinguished his previous book. Why does Frank think that conservatives or liberals rule?

Neither rule. America is ruled by organized interest groups with money to elect candidates who serve their interests. Frank’s book does not even mention the Israel Lobby, which bleeds Americans for the sake of Israeli territorial expansion. Check the index. Israel is not there.

Does Frank think that rapture evangelicals are conservative, that Christian Zionists are conservative? If so, where did he learn his theology?

Frank can’t tell the difference between Ronald Reagan and Cheney/Bush. He conflates the collection of opportunists and fanatics that comprise the Bush Party with the Reagan conservatives who ended stagflation and the cold war. The adventurer, Jack Abramoff, is Frank’s epitome of a conservative. Abramoff is the most mentioned person in Frank’s story. In Frank’s view, conservatives are out to ruin everyone except the rich.

But it was the Clinton administration that rigged the Consumer Price Index in order to cheat retired people out of their Social Security cost of living increases.

It was the Clinton administration that vanished discouraged workers from the unemployment rolls.

It was the Clinton administration that wrecked “effective government” by encouraging early civil service retirements in order to make way for quota hires.

Why doesn’t Frank know that the “Reagan deficit” was due to the collapse of inflation below the forecast, thus reducing the flow of inflated revenues into the government’s budget, whereas the Bush deficit is a result of what Nobel Democrat economist Joe Stiglitz has calculated to be a $3 trillion dollar war in the Middle East?

Frank doesn’t want to know. Like so many fighting ideological battles, he just wants to damn “the enemy.”

But who is Frank’s enemy? He calls them “conservatives.” But the Bush regime is a neoconservative regime. Neoconservatives, despite the name, are not conservatives. They have taken over formerly conservative publications, think tanks, and foundations and driven out the conservatives.

Neoconservatives are in the tradition of the French Jacobins of the 18th century. Having had the French Revolution, the revolutionaries thought that they should take it to all of Europe. Napoleon exercised French hegemony over Europe. The American neocons desire American hegemony over the world.

The true American conservative does not believe in foreign wars. In US history, conservatives were derided by liberals as “isolationists.”

There is nothing conservative about launching wars of aggression on the basis of lies and deception in order to control the direction of oil pipelines and to enhance Israeli territorial expansion.

Frank misses all of this.

And what a pity that is. A false conservative-liberal fight distracts attention from the growing police state that is destroying civil liberties for all Americans. It obscures the real motives of policies in behalf of special interests that are leading to nuclear confrontation with Russia and China.

What is wrecking America is not conservatives, but a neoconservative ideology of US hegemony.

What is wrecking America is the “impeachment-is-off-the-table” twins, Nancy Pelosi and John Conyers.

What is wrecking America is the Democratic Party, which was put in control of the House and Senate in the 2006 congressional elections to stop the gratuitous wars and gestapo police, but, instead, has continued to cooperate with the Cheney/Bush regime in behalf of war and police repression, such as we witnessed at the Republican National Convention.

Frank’s book, “The Wrecking Crew” falls into the scapegoat category of blaming the innocent and irrelevant. The Democrat Party could impeach Cheney/Bush and cut off funding for the wars and corrupt military contracts. But they do nothing and get a free pass from Frank.

“The Wrecking Crew” does have one virtue. Frank shows that the Republicans have spawned a new generation of brownshirts that lust to imprison, torture, and kill people. These ignorant bloodthirsty thugs see enemies everywhere and fervently desire to nuke them all. The Republican brownshirts are equally willing to kill American critics of the Bush regime as to kill Taliban and al Qaeda.

The latest “enemy” is Russia. The Bush regime, complicit in its Georgian puppet’s war crimes against South Ossetia, is attempting to hide its responsibility for ethnic cleansing by demonizing Russia. With every threat the Bush regime issues against Russia, the war drums beat louder. Yet, the print and TV media and Democratic Party have jumped on the war wagon.

The rapture evangelicals and the neocons are euphoric at the prospect of nuclear war. Frank’s misguided barrage at conservatives, who are a brake on war and the police state, hastens end times.

Secret ‘torture memo’ gave legal cover to interrogators who acted in ‘good faith’

August 2, 2008

Jason Leopold | Online Journal, July 31, 2008


A Justice Department legal opinion issued in August 2002 advised the CIA that its interrogators would not be prosecuted for violating anti-torture laws as long as they acted in “good faith” while using brutal techniques to obtain information from suspected terrorists, according to a previously undisclosed memo released publicly last Thursday.

The closely guarded Aug. 1, 2002, memo provided the Bush administration with the legal framework to use “alternative interrogation methods” against suspected terrorists captured in the war on terror.

The heavily redacted document, obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under a Freedom of Information Act request, was signed by then Assistant Attorney General Jay Bybee and specifically outlined approved methods the CIA could use, such as waterboarding, during interrogations. Waterboarding has been regarded as torture since the days of the Spanish Inquisition.

“To validate the statute, an individual must have the specific intent to inflict severe pain or suffering,” the Aug. 1, 2002 memo says. “Because specific intent is an element of the offense, the absence of specific intent negates the charge of torture.”

The Bybee memo was written by John Yoo, a former deputy attorney general at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), and preceded a second August 2002 legal opinion about CIA interrogation methods leaked to the media in 2004. Both memos were later rescinded.

The Aug. 1, 2002, legal opinion was based on a statute governing health benefits when Yoo provided the White House with a legal opinion defining torture, according to a former Justice Department official.

Yoo’s legal opinion stated that unless the amount of pain administered to a detainee results in injury “such as death, organ failure, or serious impairment of body functions” than the interrogation technique could not be defined as torture.

Waterboarding, a brutal and painful technique in which a prisoner believes he is drowning, Yoo wrote, therefore was not considered to be torture.

“That statute defined an ’emergency medical condition’ that warranted certain health benefits as a condition ‘manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain)’ such that the absence of immediate medical care might reasonably be thought to result in death, organ failure, or impairment of bodily function,” Jack Goldsmith, the former head of OLC, wrote in his book, The Terror Presidency

“The health benefits statute’s use of ‘severe pain’ had no relationship whatsoever to the torture statute. And even if it did, the health benefit statute did not define ‘severe pain.’ Rather it used the term ‘severe pain’ as a sign of an emergency medical condition that, if not treated, might cause organ failure and the like. . . . OLC’s clumsily definitional arbitrage didn’t seem even in the ballpark.”

Yoo, who now teaches at the University of California at Berkeley, also drafted a March 14, 2003 document, nearly identical to the August 2002 memo he authored, that essentially provided military interrogators with legal cover if they resorted to brutal and violent methods to extract information from prisoners. The ACLU under a FOIA request also obtained that document earlier this year.

Continued . . .

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