Posts Tagged ‘Marjorie Cohn’

Marjorie Cohn: Close the Guantánamo Gulag

January 16, 2012
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by Marjorie Cohn, ZNet, Monday, January 16, 2012

Travelers to Cuba and music lovers are familiar with the song “Guantanamera”— literally, the girl from Guantánamo. With lyrics by José Martí, the father of Cuban independence, Guantanamera is probably the most widely known Cuban song. But Guantánamo is even more famous now for its U.S. military prison. Where “Guantanamera” is a powerful expression of the beauty of Cuba, “Gitmo” has become a powerful symbol of human rights violations—so much so that Amnesty International described it as “the gulag of our times.”

That description can be traced to January 2002, when the base received its first 20 prisoners in shackles. General Richard B. Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned they were “very dangerous people who would gnaw hydraulic lines in the back of a C-17 to bring it down.”  We now know that a large portion of the 750 plus men and boys held there posed no threat to the United States. In fact, only five percent were captured by the United States; most were picked up by the Northern Alliance, Pakistani intelligence officers, or tribal warlords, and many were sold for cash bounties.

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Losing in Afghanistan

July 7, 2010

Marjorie Cohn, Consortiumnews.com, July 7, 2010

Editor’s Note: Official Washington (including the mainstream news media) is thrilled that Gen. David Petraeus is now commanding U.S. forces in Afghanistan. There’s also a consensus that Republican National Chairman Michael Steele put his foot in his mouth by criticizing “the war of Obama’s choosing.”

But the conventional wisdom may be wrong again, as Marjorie Cohn argues in this guest essay:

Last week, the House of Representatives voted 215-210 for $33 billion to fund Barack Obama’s troop increase in Afghanistan. But there was considerable opposition to giving the President a blank check.

One hundred sixty-two House members supported an amendment that would have tied the funding to a withdrawal timetable. One hundred members voted for another amendment that would have rejected the $33 billion for the 30,000 new troops already on their way to Afghanistan; that amendment would have required that the money be spent to redeploy our troops out of Afghanistan.

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Cohn: Israel Murders Human Rights Workers Delivering Humanitarian Aid

May 31, 2010
by Marjorie Cohn,  CommonDreams.org, May 31, 2010

On Sunday, Israel murdered human rights workers who were attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, because Gaza has been virtually cut off from the outside world by Israel. At least 19 people were reportedly killed and dozens injured when Israeli troops boarded the 6-ship Freedom Flotilla convoy in international waters and immediately fired live ammunition at the people on board the ships. The convoy was comprised of 700 people from 50 nationalities and included a Nobel laureate, members of parliament from Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Malaysia, as well as Palestinian members of the Israeli Knesset and a Holocaust survivor.

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Marjorie Cohn: Obama’s Af-Pak War is Illegal

December 22, 2009

by Marjorie Cohn, CommonDreams.org, Dec 21, 2009

President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize nine days after he announced he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. His escalation of that war is not what the Nobel committee envisioned when it sought to encourage him to make peace, not war.

In 1945, in the wake of two wars that claimed millions of lives, the nations of the world created the United Nations system to “save succeeding generations from the scourge of war.” The UN Charter is based on the principles of international peace and security as well as the protection of human rights. But the United States, one of the founding members of the UN, has often flouted the commands of the charter, which is part of US law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Although the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan was as illegal as the invasion of Iraq, many Americans saw it as a justifiable response to the attacks of September 11, 2001. The cover of Time magazine called it “The Right War.” Obama campaigned on ending the Iraq war but escalating the war in Afghanistan. But a majority of Americans now oppose that war as well.

The UN Charter provides that all member states must settle their international disputes by peaceful means, and no nation can use military force except in self-defense or when authorized by the Security Council. After the 9/11 attacks, the council passed two resolutions, neither of which authorized the use of military force in Afghanistan.

“Operation Enduring Freedom” was not legitimate self-defense under the charter because the 9/11 attacks were crimes against humanity, not “armed attacks” by another country. Afghanistan did not attack the United States. In fact, 15 of the 19 hijackers hailed from Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, there was not an imminent threat of an armed attack on the United States after 9/11, or President Bush would not have waited three weeks before initiating his October 2001 bombing campaign. The necessity for self-defense must be “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” This classic principle of self-defense in international law has been affirmed by the Nuremberg Tribunal and the UN General Assembly.

Bush’s justification for attacking Afghanistan was that it was harboring Osama bin Laden and training terrorists, even though bin Laden did not claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks until 2004. After Bush demanded that the Taliban turn over bin Laden to the United States, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan said his government wanted proof that bin Laden was involved in the 9/11 attacks before deciding whether to extradite him, according to the Washington Post. That proof was not forthcoming, the Taliban did not deliver bin Laden, and Bush began bombing Afghanistan.

Bush’s rationale for attacking Afghanistan was spurious. Iranians could have made the same argument to attack the United States after they overthrew the vicious Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979 and the U.S. gave him safe haven. If the new Iranian government had demanded that the U.S. turn over the Shah and we refused, would it have been lawful for Iran to invade the United States? Of course not.

When he announced his troop “surge” in Afghanistan, Obama invoked the 9/11 attacks. By continuing and escalating Bush’s war in Afghanistan, Obama, too, is violating the UN Charter. In his speech accepting the Nobel Peace Prize, Obama declared that he has the “right” to wage wars “unilaterally.” The unilateral use of military force, however, is illegal unless undertaken in self-defense.

Those who conspired to hijack airplanes and kill thousands of people on 9/11 are guilty of crimes against humanity. They must be identified and brought to justice in accordance with the law. But retaliation by invading Afghanistan was not the answer. It has lead to growing U.S. and Afghan casualties, and has incurred even more hatred against the United States.

Conspicuously absent from the national discourse is a political analysis of why the tragedy of 9/11 occurred. We need to have that debate and construct a comprehensive strategy to overhaul U.S. foreign policy to inoculate us from the wrath of those who despise American imperialism. The “global war on terror” has been uncritically accepted by most in this country. But terrorism is a tactic, not an enemy. One cannot declare war on a tactic. The way to combat terrorism is by identifying and targeting its root causes, including poverty, lack of education, and foreign occupation.

In his declaration that he would send 30,000 additional U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Obama made scant reference to Pakistan. But his CIA has used more unmanned Predator drones against Pakistan than Bush. There are estimates that these robots have killed several hundred civilians. Most Pakistanis oppose them. A Gallup poll conducted in Pakistan last summer found 67% opposed and only 9% in favor. Notably, a majority of Pakistanis ranked the United States as a greater threat to Pakistan than the Taliban or Pakistan’s arch-rival India.

Many countries use drones for surveillance, but only the United States and Israel have used them for strikes. Scott Shane wrote in the New York Times, “For the first time in history, a civilian intelligence agency is using robots to carry out a military mission, selecting people for targeted killings in a country where the United States is not officially at war.”

The use of these drones in Pakistan violates both the UN Charter and the Geneva Conventions, which prohibit willful killing. Targeted or political assassinations-sometimes called extrajudicial executions-are carried out by order of, or with the acquiescence of, a government, outside any judicial framework.  As a 1998 report from the UN Special Rapporteur noted, “extrajudicial executions can never be justified under any circumstances, not even in time of war.” Willful killing is a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions, punishable as a war crime under the U.S. War Crimes Act. Extrajudicial executions also violate a longstanding U.S. policy.  In the 1970s, after the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence disclosed that the CIA had been involved in several murders or attempted murders of foreign leaders, President Gerald Ford issued an executive order banning assassinations.  Although there have been exceptions to this policy, every succeeding president until George W. Bush reaffirmed that order.

Obama is trying to make up for his withdrawal from Iraq by escalating the war on Afghanistan. He is acting like Lyndon Johnson, who rejected Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s admonition about Vietnam because LBJ was “more afraid of the right than the left,” McNamara said in a 2007 interview with Bob Woodward published in the Washington Post.

Approximately 30% of all U.S. deaths in Afghanistan have occurred during Obama’s presidency. The cost of the war, including the 30,000 new troops he just ordered, will be about $100 billion a year. That money could better be used for building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and creating jobs and funding health care in the United States.

Many congressional Democrats are uncomfortable with Obama’s decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. We must encourage them to hold firm and refuse to fund this war. And the left needs to organize and demonstrate to Obama that we are a force with which he must contend.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and past President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her anthology, The United States and Torture: Interrogation, Incarceration and Abuse, will be published in 2010 by NYU Press. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com

Agent Orange Continues to Poison Vietnam

June 16, 2009

by Marjorie Cohn | CommonDreams.org, June 14, 2009

From 1961 to 1971, the U.S. military sprayed Vietnam with Agent Orange, which contained large quantities of Dioxin, in order to defoliate the trees for military objectives. Dioxin is one of the most dangerous chemicals known to man. It has been recognized by the World Health Organization as a carcinogen (causes cancer) and by the American Academy of Medicine as a teratogen (causes birth defects).

Between 2.5 and 4.8 million people were exposed to Agent Orange. 1.4 billion hectares of land and forest – approximately 12 percent of the land area of Vietnam – were sprayed.

The Vietnamese who were exposed to the chemical have suffered from cancer, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity, and skin and nervous disorders. Children and grandchildren of those exposed have severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases, and shortened life spans. The forests and jungles in large parts of southern Vietnam have been devastated and denuded. They may never grow back and if they do, it will take 50 to 200 years to regenerate. Animals that inhabited the forests and jungles have become extinct, disrupting the communities that depended on them. The rivers and underground water in some areas have also been contaminated. Erosion and desertification will change the environment, contributing to the warming of the planet and dislocation of crop and animal life.

The U.S. government and the chemical companies knew that Agent Orange, when produced rapidly at high temperatures, would contain large quantities of Dioxin. Nevertheless, the chemical companies continued to produce it in this manner. The U.S. government and the chemical companies also knew that the Bionetics Study, commissioned by the government in 1963, showed that even low levels of Dioxin produced significant deformities in unborn offspring of laboratory animals. But they suppressed that study and continued to spray Vietnam with Agent Orange. It wasn’t until the study was leaked in 1969 that the spraying of Agent Orange was discontinued.

U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam have experienced similar illnesses. After they sued the chemical companies, including Dow and Monsanto, that manufactured and sold Agent Orange to the government, the case settled out of court for $180 million which gave few plaintiffs more than a few thousand dollars each. Later the U.S. veterans won a legislative victory for compensation for exposure to Agent Orange. They receive $1.52 billion per year in benefits.

But when the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange sued the chemical companies in federal court, U.S. District Judge Jack Weinstein dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Agent Orange did not constitute a poison weapon prohibited by the Hague Convention of 1907. Weinstein had reportedly told the chemical companies when they settled the U.S. veterans’ suit that their liability was over and he was making good on his promise. His dismissal was affirmed by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court refused to hear the case. The chemical companies admitted in their filing in the Supreme Court that the harm alleged by the victims was foreseeable although not intended. How can something that is foreseeable be unintended?

On May 15 and 16 of this year, the International Peoples’ Tribunal of Conscience in Support of the Vietnamese Victims of Agent Orange convened in Paris and heard testimony from 27 victims, witnesses and scientific experts. Seven people from three continents served as judges of the Tribunal, which was sponsored by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Testimony given by the witnesses showed the following:

Mai Giang Vu, a member of the Army of South Vietnam, carried barrels of the chemicals on his back. His two sons could not walk or function normally, their limbs gradually “curled up” and they could only crawl. They died at the ages of 23 and 25.

Pham The Minh, whose parents also served in the South Vietnamese Army, showed the Tribunal his severely deformed, crooked, skinny legs; he has great difficulty walking, as well as digestive and pulmonary diseases.

To Nga Tran is a French Vietnamese who worked as a journalist during the spraying. Her daughter weighed 6.6 pounds at the age of three months. Her skin began shredding and she could not bear to have skin contact or simple demonstrations of love. She died at 17 months, weighing 6.6 pounds. Ms. To described a woman who gave birth to a “ball” with no human form. Many children are born without brains; others make inhuman sounds.

Rosemarie Hohn Mizo is the widow of George Mizo, who served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam in 1967. He slept on contaminated ground and consumed food and drink that were also contaminated. George refused to serve after he was wounded for the third time; he was court-martialed and sentenced to 2-1/2 years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. George helped found the Friendship Village where Vietnamese victims live in a supportive environment. He died from conditions related to his exposure to Agent Orange.

Georges Doussin, co-founder of the Friendship Village, visited a dormitory where he saw 50 highly deformed “monsters,” who produced inhuman sounds. One man whose parent had been exposed to Agent Orange had four toes on each foot. Doussin said Agent Orange creates “total anarchy in evolution.”

Dr. Nguyen Thi Ngoc Phuong, from Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), sees many children born without arms and/or legs, without heads or faces, and without a brain chamber. According to the World Health Organization, only 1 – 4 parts per trillion (PPT) of Dioxin in breast milk can cause severe deformities in fetuses and even death. But up to 1450 PPT are found in maternal milk in Vietnam.

Dr. Jeanne Stellman, who wrote the seminal article about Agent Orange in the magazine Nature, testified that “this is the largest unstudied environmental disaster in the world (except for natural disasters).”

Dr. Jean Grassman, from Brooklyn College at City University of New York, testified that Dioxin is a potent cellular disregulator which alters a variety of pathways to disrupt many systems. Children, she said, are very sensitive to Dioxin; the intrauterine or post natal exposure to Dioxin may result in altered immune, neurobehavioral, and hormonal functioning. Women pass their exposure to their children both in utero and through the excretion of Dioxin in breast milk.

Many ecosystems have been destroyed and Dioxin continues to poison Vietnam, especially in the several “hot spots.”

Chemist Dr. Pierre Vermeulin testified that it was estimated that $1 billion would be required to restore one hectare of land in Vietnam. The cost of caring for the victims, many of whom need 24-hour care, is enormous.

In 1973, President Richard Nixon promised $3.25 billion in reconstruction aid to Vietnam “without any preconditions.” That aid was never granted.

There are only 11 Friendship Villages in Vietnam; 1000 are needed to care for the child victims of Agent Orange.

Last week, the Bureau of the IADL, meeting in Hanoi, presented President Nguyen Minh Triet of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam with the final decision of the Tribunal. The judges found the U.S. government and the chemical companies guilty of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and ecocide during the illegal U.S. war of aggression in Vietnam. We recommended that the Agent Orange Commission be established in Vietnam to assess the damages suffered by the people and destruction of the environment, and that the U.S. government and the chemical companies provide compensation for the damage and destruction.

I told the President that it always struck me that even as U.S. bombs were dropping on the people of Vietnam, they always distinguished between the American government and the American people. The President responded, “We fought the forces of aggression but we always reserved our love for the people of America . . . because we knew they always supported us.”

An estimated 3 million Vietnamese people were killed in the war, which also claimed 58,000 American lives. For many other Vietnamese and U.S. veterans and their families, the war continues to take its toll.

Several treaties the United States has ratified require an effective remedy for violations of human rights. It is time to make good on Nixon’s promise and remedy the terrible wrong the U.S. government perpetrated on the people of Vietnam. Congress must pass legislation to compensate the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange as it did for the U.S. Vietnam veteran victims.

Our government must know that it cannot continue to use weapons that target and harm civilians. Indeed, the U.S. military is using depleted uranium in Iraq and Afghanistan, which will poison those countries for incalculable decades.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd). Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com

Obama’s Guantánamo Appeasement Plan

May 27, 2009

by Marjorie Cohn | The Huffington Post, May 26, 2009

Two days after his inauguration, President Obama pledged to close Guantánamo within one year.  The Republicans, led by Senators John McCain, Mitch McConnell and Pat Roberts, immediately launched a concerted campaign to assail the new president.  They claimed his plan would release dangerous terrorists into U.S. communities and allow released terrorists to resume fighting against our troops.  Fox News agitator Sean Hannity and Bush team players like torture-memo lawyer John Yoo filled the airwaves and print media with paranoia.

The Republican attacks were bogus.  A 2008 McClatchy investigation revealed that the overwhelming majority of Guantánamo detainees taken into custody in 2001 and 2002 in Afghanistan and Pakistan were innocent of wrongdoing or bit players with little intelligence value.  A substantial number of those prisoners were literally sold to U.S. officials in exchange for bounty payments offered by the U.S. military. A Seton Hall Law Center report has debunked Pentagon claims that many released detainees have “returned to the fight.” And no one has ever escaped from one of the U.S. super-max prisons, which house hundreds of people convicted of terrorist offenses.

The Republicans have continued to oppose the effort to close Guantánamo. In an attempt to burnish his image and forestall war crimes charges, Dick Cheney now leads the charge, making ubiquitous attacks on Obama. Keeping Guantánamo open is “important,” Cheney declares. He claims that closing Guantánamo would endanger Americans, and warns that if detainees are brought to the United States, they would “acquire all kinds of legal rights.”  Obama is also taking heat from the intelligence community.  Those officials, like Cheney, seek to justify what they did under the Bush regime.

And now even the Democrats are piling on the bandwagon.  Reacting defensively to the Republican attack campaign, the Senate voted 90 to 6 to deny Obama funds to close Guantánamo until he comes up with a “plan” for relocating the detainees there. “We spent hundreds of millions of dollars building an appropriate facility with all security precautions on Guantánamo to try these cases,” said Democratic Senator Jim Webb on ABC News. “I do not believe they should be tried in the United States,” he added.

The pressure has caused Obama to buckle.  Timed to coincide with a Cheney speech to the right-wing American Enterprise Institute, Obama announced an appeasement plan to deal with the 240 remaining Guantánamo detainees.  Parts of his plan would threaten the very foundation of our legal system – that no one should be held in custody if he has committed no crime.  These are Obama’s five categories for disposition of detainees once Guantánamo is closed:

1) Those who violated the laws of war will be tried in military commissions.

Obama’s plan would backtrack on an early promise to shut down the military commissions.  Obama now claims that such commissions can be fair because they will no longer permit the use of evidence obtained by cruel, inhuman or degrading interrogation methods. He fails to mention, however, that the Pentagon is using “clean teams” to re-interrogate people who were previously interrogated using the prohibited methods. When they once again give the same information, it miraculously becomes untainted. Obama also fails to acknowledge that those tried in the military commissions are forbidden from seeing all the evidence against them, a violation of the bedrock principle that the accused must have an opportunity to confront his accusers.

Even the U.S. Supreme Court has disagreed with this part of Obama’s proposed plan of action.  In Ex parte Milligan, the Supreme Court declared military trials of civilians to be unconstitutional if civil courts are available.

Prisoners falling in this category should be tried in the courts of the United States, because the laws of war are actually part of U.S. law.  The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution says that treaties shall be the supreme law of the land. The Geneva Conventions and the Hague Convention, which the United States has ratified, contain the laws of war.

2) Those who have been ordered released from Guantánamo will remain in custody.

Seventeen Uighurs from China were ordered released after they were found not to be enemy combatants. But they continue to languish in custody because they would be imperiled if returned to China, which considers them enemies of the state. Suggestions that they be brought to the United States have been met with paranoid NIMBY (not in my backyard!) protestations.  So, under Obama’s plan they will remain incarcerated in a state of legal limbo.

3)   Those who cannot be prosecuted yet “pose a clear danger to the American people” will remain in custody with no right to legal process of any kind.

These are people who have never been charged with a crime. Obama did not say why they cannot be prosecuted. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates claims as many as 100 people may fall into this category. Included in this group are those who have “expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden.” They will suffer “prolonged detention.”

Obama’s plan for “prolonged detention” is nothing more than a newly-coined phrase for “preventive detention,” a policy that harks back to the bad old days of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 and the internment of people of Japanese extraction in the 1940’s.   If Obama succeeds in convincing Congress to legalize “prolonged detention,” the United States will continue to be a pariah state among justice-loving nations.  The U.S. Congress, still rendered catatonic by post-9/11 rhetoric, will probably capitulate along with Obama.

Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, noted that Obama’s new system of preventive detention will just “move Guantánamo to a new location and give it a new name.”

4) Those who can be safely transferred to other countries will be transferred.

Obama noted that 50 men fall into this category.  It is unclear what will happen to them when they reach their destinations.

5) Those who violated U.S. criminal laws will be tried in federal courts.

Obama cited the examples of Ramzi Yousef, who tried to blow up the World Trade Center, and Zacarias Moussaoui, who was identified as the 20th 9/11 hijacker. Both were tried and convicted in U.S. courts and both are serving life sentences.

This is the only clearly acceptable part of Obama’s plan.  All detainees slated to remain in custody should be placed into this category.  The federal courts provide due process as required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which does not limit due process rights to U.S. citizens: “No person . . . shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”

The federal courts are well suited to deal with accused terrorists. Indeed, federal judges who have presided over such cases say that the Classified Information Procedures Act can effectively protect classified intelligence in federal court trials.

If Mr. Obama proceeds with the plan he announced this week he will empower those who point to U.S. hypocrisy on human rights as a justification to do us harm. Obama’s capitulation to the intelligence gurus and the right-wing attack dogs will not only imperil the rule of law; it will actually make us more vulnerable to future acts of terrorism.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com

Stanford Anti-War Alumni, Students Call for Condi War Crimes Probe

May 7, 2009

Marjorie Cohn | CommonDreams.org, May 6, 2009

During the Vietnam War, Stanford students succeeded in banning secret military research from campus. Last weekend, 150 activist alumni and present Stanford students targeted Condoleezza Rice for authorizing torture and misleading Americans into the illegal Iraq War.

Veterans of the Stanford anti-Vietnam War movement had gathered for a 40th anniversary reunion during the weekend. The gathering featured panels on foreign policy, the economy, political and social movements, science and technology, media, energy and the environment, and strategies for aging activists.

On Sunday, surrounded by alumni and students, Lenny Siegel and I nailed a petition to the University President’s office door. The petition, circulated by Stanford Say No to War, reads:

“We the undersigned students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other concerned members of the Stanford community, believe that high officials of the U.S. Government, including our former Provost, current Political Science Professor, and Hoover Institution Senior Fellow, Condoleezza Rice, should be held accountable for any serious violations of the Law (included ratified treaties, statutes, and/or the U.S. Constitution) through investigation and, if the facts warrant, prosecution, by appropriate legal authorities.”

I stated, “By nailing this petition to the door of the President’s office, we are telling Stanford that the university should not have war criminals on its faculty. There is prima facie evidence that Rice approved torture and misled the country into the Iraq War. Stanford has an obligation to investigate those charges.”

After the petition nailing, I cited the law and evidence of Condoleezza Rice’s responsibility for war crimes – including torture – and for selling the illegal Iraq War:

As National Security Advisor, Rice authorized waterboarding in July 2002, according to a newly released report of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Less than two months later, she hyped the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq, saying, “We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” Her ominous warning was part of the Bush administration’s campaign to sell the Iraq war, in spite of the UN International Atomic Energy Agency’s assurances that Saddam Hussein did not possess nuclear weapons.

A week before the nailing of the petition, Rice made some Nixonian admissions in response to questions from Stanford students during a campus dinner designed to burnish Rice’s image on campus.

In October 1968, Stanford anti-war activists had nailed a document to the door of the trustees’ office which demanded that Stanford “halt all military and economic projects concerned with Southeast Asia.”

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild.  She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd).  Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com

Torture Used to Try to Link Saddam with 9/11

April 27, 2009

By MARJORIE COHN | Counterpunch, April 24 – 26, 2009

When I testified last year before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties about Bush interrogation policies, Congressman Trent Franks (R-Ariz) stated that former CIA Director Michael Hayden had confirmed that the Bush administration only waterboarded Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Abu Zabaydah, and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashirit for one minute each. I told Franks that I didn’t believe that. Sure enough, one of the newly released torture memos reveals that Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times and Zubaydah was waterboarded 83 times. One of Stephen Bradbury’s 2005 memos asserted that “enhanced techniques” on Zubaydah yielded the identification of Mohammed and an alleged radioactive bomb plot by Jose Padilla. But FBI supervisory special agent Ali Soufan, who interrogated Zubaydah from March to June 2002, wrote in the New York Times that Zubaydah produced that information under traditional interrogation methods, before the harsh techniques were ever used.

Why, then, the relentless waterboarding of these two men? It turns out that high Bush officials put heavy pressure on Pentagon interrogators to get Mohammed and Zubaydah to reveal a link between Saddam Hussein and the 9/11 hijackers, in order to justify Bush’s illegal and unnecessary invasion of Iraq in 2003. That link was never established.

President Obama released the four memos in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the ACLU. They describe unimaginably brutal techniques and provide “legal” justification for clearly illegal acts of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. In the face of monumental pressure from the CIA to keep them secret, Obama demonstrated great courage in deciding to make the grotesque memos public. At the same time, however, in an attempt to pacify the intelligence establishment, Obama said, “it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution.”

In startlingly clinical and dispassionate terms, the authors of the newly-released torture memos describe and then rationalize why the devastating techniques the CIA sought to employ on human beings do not violate the Torture Statute (18 U.S.C. sec. 2340).

The memos justify 10 techniques, including banging heads into walls 30 times in a row, prolonged nudity, repeated slapping, dietary manipulation, and dousing with cold water as low as 41 degrees. They allow shackling in a standing position for 180 hours, sleep deprivation for 11 days, confinement of people in small dark boxes with insects for hours, and waterboarding to create the perception they are drowning. Moreover, the memos permit many of these techniques to be used in combination for a 30-day period. They find that none of these techniques constitute torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Waterboarding, admittedly the most serious of the methods, is designed, according to Jay Bybee, to induce the perception of “suffocation and incipient panic, i.e. the perception of drowning.” But although Bybee finds that “the use of the waterboard constitutes a threat of imminent death,” he accepts the CIA’s claim that it does “not anticipate that any prolonged mental harm would result from the use of the waterboard.” One of Bradbury’s memos requires that a physician be on duty during waterboarding to perform a tracheotomy in case the victim doesn’t recover after being returned to an upright position.

As psychologist Jeffrey Kaye points out, the CIA and the Justice Department “ignored a wealth of other published information” that indicates dissociative symptoms, changes greater than those in patients undergoing heart surgery, and drops in testosterone to castration levels after acute stress associated with techniques that the memos sanction.

The Torture Statute punishes conduct, or conspiracy to engage in conduct, specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering. “Severe mental pain or suffering” means the prolonged mental harm caused by or resulting from either the intentional infliction or threatened infliction of severe physical pain or suffering, or from the threat of imminent death.

Bybee asserts that “if a defendant acts with the good faith belief that his actions will not cause such suffering, he has not acted with specific intent.” He makes the novel claim that the presence of personnel with medical training who can stop the interrogation if medically necessary “indicates that it is not your intent to cause severe physical pain.”

Now a federal judge with lifetime appointment, Bybee concludes that waterboarding does not constitute torture under the Torture Statute. However, he writes, “we cannot predict with confidence whether a court would agree with this conclusion.”

Bybee’s memo explains why the 10 techniques could be used on Abu Zubaydah, who was considered to be a top Al Qaeda operative. “Zubaydah does not have any pre-existing mental conditions or problems that would make him likely to suffer prolonged mental harm from [the CIA’s] proposed interrogation methods,” the CIA told Bybee. But Zubaydah was a low-ranking Al Qaeda operative, according to leading FBI counter-terrorism expert Dan Coleman, who advised a top FBI official, “This guy is insane, certifiable, split personality.” This was reported by Ron Suskind in his book, The One Percent Doctrine.

The CIA’s request to confine Zubaydah in a cramped box with an insect was granted by Bybee, who told the CIA it could place a harmless insect in the box and tell Zubaydah that it will sting him but it won’t kill him. Even though the CIA knew that Zubaydah had an irrational fear of insects, Bybee found there would be no threat of severe physical pain or suffering if it followed this procedure.

Obama’s intent to immunize those who violated our laws banning torture and cruel treatment violates the President’s constitutional duty to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.”

U.S. law prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and requires that those who subject people to such treatment be prosecuted. The Convention against Torture compels us to refer all torture cases for prosecution or extradite the suspect to a country that will undertake a criminal investigation.

Obama has made a political calculation to seek amnesty for the CIA torturers. However, good faith reliance on superior orders was rejected as a defense at Nuremberg and in Lt. Calley’s Vietnam-era trial for the My Lai Massacre. The Torture Convention provides unequivocally, “An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification for torture.”

There is evidence that the CIA was using the illegal techniques as early as April 2002, three to four months before the August memo was written. That would eliminate “good faith” reliance on Justice Department advice as a “defense” to prosecution.

The Senate IntelligenceCommittee revealed that Condoleezza Rice approved waterboarding in July 17, 2002 “subject to a determination of legality by the OLC.” She got it two weeks later from Bybee and John Yoo. Rice, Dick Cheney, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and George Tenet reassured the CIA in spring 2003 that the abusive methods were legal.

Obama told AP’s Jennifer Loven in the Oval Office: “With respect to those who formulated those legal decisions, I would say that is going to be more of a decision for the Attorney General within the parameters of various laws, and I don’t want to prejudge that.” If Holder continues to carry out Obama’s political agenda by resisting investigations and prosecution, Congress can, and should, authorize the appointment of a special independent prosecutor to do what the law requires.

The President must fulfill his constitutional duty to ensure that the laws are faithfully executed. Obama said that “nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.” He is wrong. There is more to gain from upholding the rule of law. It will make future leaders think twice before they authorize the cruel, illegal treatment of other human beings.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild and author of Cowboy Republic. and co-author of the new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent. Her articles are archived at www.marjoriecohn.com.

Spain investigates what America should

April 7, 2009

By Marjorie Cohn | , April 6, 2009

A Spanish court has initiated criminal proceedings against six former officials of the Bush administration. John Yoo, Jay Bybee, David Addington, Alberto Gonzales, William Haynes and Douglas Feith may face charges in Spain for authorizing torture at Guantánamo Bay.

If arrest warrants are issued, Spain and any of the other 24 countries that are parties to European extradition conventions could arrest these six men when they travel abroad.

Does Spain have the authority to prosecute Americans for crimes that didn’t take place on Spanish soil?

The answer is yes. It’s called “universal jurisdiction.” Universal jurisdiction is a well-established theory that countries, including the United States, have used for many years to investigate and prosecute foreign nationals for crimes that shock the conscience of the global community. It provides a critical legal tool to hold accountable those who commit crimes against the law of nations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. Without universal jurisdiction, many of the most notorious criminals would go free. Countries that have used this as a basis to prosecute the most serious of crimes should be commended for their courage. They help to create a just world in which we all seek to live.

Israel used universal jurisdiction to prosecute, convict and execute Adolph Eichmann for his crimes during the Holocaust, even they had no direct relationship with Israel.

A federal court in Miami recently convicted Chuckie Taylor, son of the former Liberian president, of torture that occurred in Liberia. A U.S. court sentenced Taylor to 97 years in prison in January.

Universal jurisdiction complements, but doesn’t supersede, national prosecutions. So if the United States were investigating the Bush officials, other countries would refrain from doing so.

When the United States ratified the Convention Against Torture, it promised to extradite or prosecute those who commit, or are complicit in, the commission of torture.

President Obama, when asked whether he favored criminal investigations of Bush officials, replied, “My view is also that nobody’s above the law and, if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen.”

“But,” he added, “generally speaking, I’m more interested in looking forward than I am in looking backward.” Preoccupied with the economy and two wars, Obama reportedly wants to wait before considering prosecutions that would invariably anger the GOP.

Evidence that Bush officials set a policy that led to the torture of prisoners at Guantánamo continues to emerge.

According to ABC News, Gonzales met with other officials in the White House and authorized torture, including waterboarding.

The Office of Professional Responsibility, which reports to the U.S. attorney general, drafted a report that excoriates Yoo and Bybee for writing the infamous torture memos. Haynes, Addington and Feith participated in decisions that led to torture. The release of additional graphic torture memos by the U.S. Department of Justice is imminent.

It is the responsibility of the United States to investigate allegations of torture. Almost two-thirds of respondents to a USA Today/Gallup Poll favor investigations of the Bush team for torture and warrantless wiretapping. Nearly four in 10 support criminal investigations.

Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora told Congress, “There are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo.” Providing impunity to those who ordered the torture will be the third recruiting tool.

If the United States refuses to investigate now, it will be more likely that some future administration will repeat this scenario. The use of torture should be purged from our system, much like we eradicated slavery.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and President of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and co-author of Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd). Her articles are archived at http://www.marjoriecohn.com (The views expressed in this article are solely those of the writer; she is not acting on behalf of the National Lawyers Guild or Thomas Jefferson School of Law)

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.