Posts Tagged ‘President-elect Barack Obama’

Pro-Palestinian Protesters at Obama’s Hawaii House

December 31, 2008

by Ross Colvin

KAILUA, Hawaii – A small group of placard-waving pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered near U.S. President-elect Barack Obama’s vacation retreat in Hawaii on Tuesday to protest against the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza.

[Protestor Ephrosine Daniggelis holds a placard in front of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama's vacation compound in Kailua, Hawaii December 30, 2008, during a protest against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. (REUTERS/Hugh Gentry)]Protestor Ephrosine Daniggelis holds a placard in front of U.S. president-elect Barack Obama’s vacation compound in Kailua, Hawaii December 30, 2008, during a protest against the Israeli attacks on Gaza. (REUTERS/Hugh Gentry)

Obama has made no public comment on the strikes, which Israel launched on Saturday. Aides have repeatedly said he is monitoring the situation and continues to receive intelligence briefings but that there is only one U.S. president at a time.Some critics, however, say Obama did choose to speak out after the attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai in November in which gunmen killed nearly 180 people, condemning them as acts of terrorism.

Obama, who takes office on January 20 from outgoing Republican President George W. Bush, has also spoken out on economic issues facing the United States.

“He is talking about how many jobs he is going to create but he is refusing to speak about this,” said one of the protesters, Carolyn Hadfield, 66.

Hadfield was one of eight protesters standing with placards reading “No U.S. support for Israel” and “Gazans need food and medicine, not war” near Obama’s rented vacation home in Kailua, an upmarket suburb on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, where Obama is in the second week of a vacation with his family.

Obama had not left the compound on Tuesday morning and did not see the protest.

Obama has in the past called Israel one of the United States’ greatest allies and has vowed to ensure the security of the Jewish state.

He has also said he would make a sustained push to achieve the goal of two states — a Jewish state in Israel and a Palestinian state.

Israel on Tuesday pressed on with air strikes in Gaza that it says are in response to rocket fire by Hamas militants deep inside the Jewish state. Medical officials put Palestinian casualties at 383 dead and more than 800 wounded.

The Bush administration has so far backed Israel’s actions in Gaza and demanded the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas stop firing rockets into Israel and agree to a lasting ceasefire.

“We are very upset with what is going in Palestine. There is a very great need for change in U.S. foreign policy toward Israel and Palestine. We need to stop giving Israel a blank check,” said another protester, Margaret Brown, 66.

The protesters were rebuffed when they tried to hand a letter signed by dozens of U.S. activist groups to a Secret Service agent guarding the access road to Obama’s beachfront compound.

Reporting by Ross Colvin; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

Up to 30,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan by summer

December 21, 2008

Reuters North American News Service

Dec 20, 2008 11:25 EST

KABUL, Dec 20 (Reuters) – The United States is looking to send 20,000 to 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan by the beginning of next summer, the chairman of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff said on Saturday.

Washington is already sending some 3,000 extra troops in January and another 2,800 by spring, but officials have previously said the number would be made up to 20,000 in the next 12 to 18 months, once approved by the U.S. administration.

“Some 20 to 30,000 is the window of overall increase from where we are right now. I don’t have an exact number,” Admiral Mike Mullen told reporters.

“We’ve agreed on the requirement and so it’s really clear to me we’re going to fill that requirement so it’s not a matter of if, but when,” he said. “We’re looking to get them here in the spring, but certainly by the beginning of summer at the latest.”

U.S. Army General David McKiernan has asked for the extra troops to halt a growing Taliban insurgency particularly in the east and south of Afghanistan.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged a renewed focus on Afghanistan, where U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban government in late 2001 after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.

The United States now has some 31,000 troops in Afghanistan, some of them operating independently and some operating as part of a 51,000-strong NATO-led security assistance force. (Editing by Ralph Boulton)

Source: Reuters North American News Service

Britain leaves Iraq in shame. The US won’t go so quietly

December 12, 2008

Obama was elected on the back of revulsion at Bush’s war, but greater pressure will be needed to force a full withdrawal

If British troops are indeed withdrawn from Iraq by next June, it will signal the end of the most shameful and disastrous episode in modern British history. Branded only last month by Lord Bingham, until recently Britain’s most senior law lord, as a “serious violation of international law”, the aggression against Iraq has not only devastated an entire country and left hundreds of thousands dead – it has also been a political and military humiliation for the invading powers.

In the case of Britain, which marched into a sovereign state at the bidding of an extreme and reckless US administration, the war has been a national disgrace which has damaged the country’s international standing. Britain’s armed forces will withdraw from Iraq with dishonour. Not only were they driven from Basra city last summer under cover of darkness by determined resistance, just as British colonial troops were forced out of Aden 40 years ago – and Iraq and Afghanistan, among other places, before that. But they leave behind them an accumulation of evidence of prisoner beatings, torture and killings, for which only one low-ranking soldier, Corporal Payne, has so far been singled out for punishment.

It’s necessary to spell out this brutal reality as a corrective to the official tendency to minimise or normalise the horror of what has evidently been a criminal enterprise – enthusiastically supported by David Cameron and William Hague, it should be remembered, as well as Tony Blair and his government – and a reminder of the dangers of escalating the war that can’t be won in Afghanistan. It was probably just as well that the timetable for British withdrawal from Iraq was given in a background military briefing, after Gordon Brown’s earlier schedule for troop reductions was vetoed by George Bush.

But in any case, in the wake of Barack Obama’s election on a partial withdrawal ticket, the latest plans look a good deal more credible. They are also welcome, of course, even if several hundred troops are to stay behind to train Iraqis. It would be far better both for Britain and Iraq if there were a clean break and a full withdrawal of all British forces in preparation for a comprehensive public inquiry into the Iraq catastrophe. Instead, and in a pointer to the shape of things to come, British troops at Basra airport are being replaced by US forces.

Meanwhile, the real meaning of last month’s security agreement between the US and Iraqi governments is becoming clearer, as Obama’s administration-in-waiting briefs the press and officials highlight the small print. This “status of forces agreement”, which replaces the UN’s shotgun mandate for the occupation forces at the end of this month, had been hailed by some as an unequivocal deal to end the occupation within three years.

There’s no doubt that Iraq’s Green Zone government, under heavy pressure from its own people and neighbours such as Iran, extracted significant concessions from US negotiators to the blanket occupation licence in the original text. The final agreement does indeed stipulate that US forces will withdraw by the end of 2011, that combat troops will leave urban areas by July next year, contractors and off-duty US soldiers will be subject to Iraqi law and that Iraqi territory cannot be used to attack other countries.

The fact that the US was forced to make such commitments reflects the intensity of both Iraqi and American public opposition to the occupation, the continuing Iraqi resistance war of attrition against US forces, and Obama’s tumultuous election on a commitment to pull out all combat troops in 16 months. Even so, the deal was denounced as treason – for legitimising foreign occupation and bases – by the supporters of the popular Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr, resistance groups and the influential Association of Muslim Scholars.

And since his November triumph, Obama has gone out of his way to emphasise his commitment to maintaining a “residual force” for fighting “terrorism”, training and protection of US civilians – which his security adviser Richard Danzig estimated could amount to between 30,000 and 55,000 troops.

Briefings by Pentagon officials have also made clear this residual force could remain long after 2011. It turns out that the new security agreement can be ditched by either side, while the Iraqi government is fully entitled to invite US troops to remain, as explained in the accompanying “strategic framework agreement”, so long as its bases or presence are not defined as “permanent”. And given that the current Iraqi government would be unlikely to survive a week without US protection, such a request is a fair bet. Combat troops can also be “re-missioned” as “support units”, it transpires, and even the last-minute concession of a referendum on the agreement next year will not, the Iraqi government now says, be binding.

None of this means there won’t be a substantial withdrawal of troops from Iraq after Obama takes over the White House next month. But how far that withdrawal goes will depend on the kind of pressure he faces both at home and in Iraq. The US establishment clearly remains committed to a long-term stewardship of Iraq. The Iraqi government is at this moment negotiating secret 20-year contracts with US and British oil majors to manage 90% of the country’s oil production. The struggle to end US occupation and control of the country is far from won.

The same goes for the wider shadow of the war on terror, of which Iraq has been the grisly centrepiece. Its legacy has been strategic overreach and failure for the US: from the rise of Iran as a regional power, the deepening imbroglio of the Afghan war, the advance of Hamas and Hizbullah and threat of implosion in Pakistan – quite apart from the advance of the nationalist left in Latin America and the growing challenge from Russia and China. But at its heart has been the demonstration of American weakness in Iraq, the three trillion-dollar war that helped drive the US economy into crisis.

No wonder the US elite has wanted a complete change of direction and Bush was last week reduced to mumbling his regrets about the “intelligence failure in Iraq”. For Obama, the immediate foreign policy tests are clear: if he delivers on Iraq, negotiates in Afghanistan and engages with Iran, he will start to justify the global hopes that have been invested in him. If not, he will lay the ground for a new phase of conflict with the rest of the world.

Obama’s first problem is US war crimes

December 1, 2008

The president-elect has to take a stand on Bush’s dark legacy

Asmall and largely unnoticed spat among the transition planners for the president-elect, Barack Obama, broke out last week. It was the first genuinely passionate debate among the Obamaites and it centres on a terribly difficult and terribly important decision that will be among the first that Obama has to make.

How does he deal with the legacy of criminal actions of his predecessor’s administration when it comes to detention, interrogation, abuse and torture of terror suspects? That has long hovered in the back of the minds of those of us who supported Obama, in large part because he alone had the moral authority to draw a line underneath the criminality of the George Bush-Dick Cheney years and restore credibility and hon-our to America’s antiterror policies.

And so when it emerged Obama was planning to appoint one John Brennan as CIA director, alarm bells went off. Brennan had been close to George Tenet at the time Tenet devised what he called “enhanced interrogation techniques”.

Brennan, a CIA company man who had left the agency for private employment, had made statements in the past couple of years suggesting some sympathy for the Bush-Cheney policy. “When it comes to individuals who are determined to destroy our nation, though, we have to make sure that we take every possible measure,” he said elliptically. Including torture?

When pressed, he kept emphasising the need for a “debate” without tipping his own hand about what he personally believed. Take this Brennan statement looking forward to a change in administration from Bush: “I’m hoping there will be a number of professionals coming in who have an understanding of the evolution of the capabilities in the community over the past six years, because there is a method to how things have changed and adapted.”

This plea for understanding for the Bush-Cheney era did not go down well with the Obamasphere – the network of bloggers who helped build momentum for Obama’s victory. The influential blogger Glenn Greenwald exploded in anger; the centrist Democratic blogger Scott Horton urged Brennan to clarify, and then urged Obama to reject him.

On my own blog The Daily Dish, I wrote that if Brennan were picked, Obama supporters “will, in fact, have to go to war with Obama before he even takes office. And if Obama doubts our seriousness, I have three words for him. Yes we can”.

Brennan, facing more protests, withdrew his name from consideration last week. In the first skirmish over the issue in the Obama era, the antitorture forces won.

But the question remains: what is to be done? It is not Obama’s style to launch into a prosecutorial investigation of intelligence officials or to open new partisan wounds by subjecting Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld and others to war crime charges. He is intent on unifying the country, not further dividing it. He needs the professionals running the antiterror effort and, after eight years of Bush-Cheney, it is hard to find people not tainted by torture.

There is also the possibility that Bush himself might make a preemptive strike and, upon his departure from Washington, issue a blanket pardon for all his aides and underlings who aided and abetted war crimes in the past seven years. Leaving those pardons in place while prosecuting low-level officials or CIA agents would be deeply unfair.

That was the rationale behind the 2006 Military Commissions Act, which gave retroactive immunity for war crimes to civilians in the administration, but not to the military grunts who enforced the policy, and which carved out a continuing exception for torture to CIA agents.

So perhaps the sanest way forward is a truth commission, modelled on those in Chile and South Africa that maintained governmental continuity for a while but set up a process that allowed for a maximal gathering of the relevant facts and names. The president could appoint a powerful and respected prosecutor to begin the process. The commission would focus not just on the military and CIA but also on the Bush justice department and Office of Legal Counsel, and the abuse of the law and its interpretation that gave Bush and Cheney transparently phoney legal cover for war crimes.

At the end of the second world war, US officials prosecuted Nazi lawyers and civilians who tortured no one themselves but came up with legal flimflam to turn war crimes into legal policy. Why not apply the same logic to Bush’s legal architects – the men who declared the president was bound by no law and no treaty in subjecting prisoners to torture up to the very edge of death?

The commission would need strong subpoena powers and the full backing of the president. Only once the commission has reported, the decision on whether to prosecute or not could be made, with much wider public awareness, and much deeper examination of the facts and documents now hidden. There is much, after all, we still do not know – and that information may make the war crimes seem less or more defensible.

There are some limits on transparency, of course, because of the sensitive intelligence matters that are involved. But when war crimes are at issue, it is more important for a democracy to seek transparency from its highest officials than to engage in anything but the most pressing concealment of the most vital secrets. In international law, there are no pardons for war crimes. And if America is going to regain moral authority in the world, it has to demonstrate it lives by the same standards it expects from everyone else.

Bush has even signalled that he will pardon no one because he does not believe they have committed any crimes. But the transparent way in which laughably sourced legal “cover” was provided by Bush’s own legal counsel proves the Bush administration knew full well it was breaking the law, and was willing to force the justice department to put its imprimatur on such illegality.

And the evidence we now have, undisputed evidence, proves already that war crimes were indeed committed – by the president and vice-president on down. I mean: why else Guantanamo Bay and secret black sites if the president believed he was obeying domestic American law?

There is, in the end, a simple and sobering truth: these people have to be brought to justice if the rule of law is to survive in America. In his constitutional soul, Obama knows this. He also knows, however, the political exigencies of taking over a national security apparatus where continuity and lawful vigilance against terrorism remain vital.

How he bridges the demands of the law with the pressures of politics will tell us much about him. And because every act performed by the CIA will soon become his responsibility as much as President Bush’s, he has no time to dither.

The constitutional crisis is in some ways deeper than the financial one. We will find out soon enough if this really is change we can believe in rather than merely hope for.

No Amnesty for Cheney, et al, Say Torture Opponents

November 27, 2008

Ali Gharib | Inter Press Service

WASHINGTON, 25 Nov (IPS) – Judging by the rare leaks from President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, investigations and prosecutions of high-level George W. Bush administration officials for torture and war crimes are a distant prospect. But likely or not, that won’t stop pundits from debating the question of whether those officials responsible should be held accountable.

Irrespective of whether Vice President Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld or others are dragged before juries, one glaring change seems absolutely certain: Obama stands unequivocally against torture, and the practice is likely to come to an end under his administration.

‘Even though I’ve been disappointed in other presidents in the past, I do listen and I do believe Obama when he says we won’t torture. I think that’s crucial,’ said Michael Ratner, the president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

But foreswearing controversial and harsh interrogation methods may not be enough to permanently reestablish the moral high ground that the Obama administration has promised to bring back to the U.S.’s interactions with the rest of the world.

If Obama doesn’t take on torture that occurred, as opposed to simply discontinuing the practice, the door may be left open for future administrations to resurrect the harshest of interrogation techniques, said Ratner at a recent forum at Georgetown University Law School.

‘If Obama really wants to make sure we don’t torture, he has to launch a criminal investigation,’ said Ratner, the author of ‘The Trial of Donald Rumsfeld: A Prosecution in Book.’

He said that the targets of such an investigation would be the easily identifiable ‘key players’ and ‘principals’ in the Bush administration who hatched plans to allow and legally justify harsh interrogation methods that critics allege are torture, including the controversial ‘waterboarding’ simulated drowning technique.

Those pursued, said Ratner, would include high-ranking administration officials such as Cheney, Rumsfeld, and former Central Intelligence Agency chief George Tenet, as well as the legal team that drummed up what is now regarded as a sloppy legal justification for torture.

Key Bush administration lawyers involved in providing legal cover to harsh practices, including the roundly criticised ‘torture memo’ from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), include former attorney general and earlier White House counsel Alberto Gonzales; Cheney’s chief of staff and former legal counsel to the vice president’s office David Addington; and the University of California, Berkeley law professor and former OLC lawyer John Yoo.

If the characters behind the questionable techniques are not held accountable for violating U.S. and international laws, said Ratner, presidents after Obama may simply say, ‘well, in the name of national security I can just redo what Obama just put in place. I can go torture again.’

Ratner also spoke to the concern that, from the view of the rest of the world, ‘to not do an investigation and prosecution gives the impression of impunity.’

But opposing Ratner on the dais, Stewart Taylor, Jr. argued that an investigation and prosecution were not appropriate.

‘The people who are called ‘war criminals by [Ratner] and others do not think they acted with impunity,’ said Taylor, a Brookings Institution fellow and frequent contributor to Newsweek and the National Journal.

In the Jul. 21 edition of Newsweek, Taylor called for Bush to preemptively pardon any administration official who could be held to account for torture or war crimes. Taylor’s rationale was that without fear of prosecution, a full and true account of what he called ‘dark deeds’ could never come to light.

Furthermore, at the Georgetown Law event Taylor said investigation and eventual prosecution would ‘tear the country apart’.

That may be the thinking of Obama, who, in addition to hints he wouldn’t investigate Bush administration malfeasance, declared his intention to govern as a political reconciliation president in his election victory speech.

In Grant Park in Chicago on Nov. 4, Obama rehashed a quote from slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., but instead of rhetorically bending the ‘arc of history’ towards ‘justice’, as King did, Obama called for it to be bent ‘toward the hope of a better day.’

But Ratner said that the country was already divided, and that divide is exactly what a future administration could politically exploit to reinstate torture. He said that Obama must close the divide and doing so is not rehashing the past.

‘You’re making sure that in the future, we don’t torture again,’ Ratner said. ‘This is not looking backwards.’

Another potential problem with investigation and prosecution, says Taylor, is that the Bush administration officials ostensibly had sought to find out whether the methods they were about to approve were justified, and, indeed, they were told they were in the legal clear.

‘There is no that high ranking officials acted with criminal intent,’ he said. ‘They were relying in good faith on the advice of legal counsel.’

Taylor said that since the legal advice originated from the Department of Justice, it would be wrong for the same Justice Department to ‘turn around’ and prosecute people for actions that its previous incarnation had explicitly told were legal.

But Taylor’s point misses two issues: that the crimes were allegedly given a legal green light because of collusion with the White House, and that Ratner proposes to investigate those selfsame Justice officials who were involved in giving approval.

Despite referring to John Yoo as a ‘gonzo executive imperialist’, Taylor said that ‘those officials, like them or not, were honourably motivated’ because they were ‘desperately afraid’ of another terrorist attack.

Ratner insists that the officials, part of a ‘group, cabal or conspiracy’, may be culpable because they were ‘aiders and abetters’.

‘[OLC] was not giving independent counsel,’ insisted Ratner. ‘They were shaping memos to fit a policy that had already been determined.’

And while Taylor was quick to point out that many U.S. administrations had been accused of war crimes by various sources, Ratner replied that it was the first time that any administration had actually ‘assaulted the prohibition on torture’.

That could be one reason why, if the U.S. does not take care of its own house, Bush administration officials will likely be pursued on charges in Europe and elsewhere.

In international courts, said Ratner, those officials will not be able to hide behind the legal shields of internal government memos or executive decrees.

‘They have no defence in international law,’ he said. ‘They’re finished.’

Guantánamo Justice After Seven Years

November 26, 2008
Since the Bush administration began transporting men and boys to Guantánamo Bay in January 2002, it has tried to prevent them from presenting their cases before a neutral federal judge. Indeed, the naval base was turned into a prison camp precisely to keep the detainees away from impartial courts. The government argued that federal courts had no jurisdiction over men detained on Cuban soil. Twice, the Supreme Court rejected that argument, finding that the United States exercises complete jurisdiction and control over the Guantánamo Bay base.

Finally, on November 20, in a stunning development, U.S. District Court Judge Richard J. Leon ordered the government to release five Guantánamo Bay detainees “forthwith.” Finding that the government failed to prove the men were “enemy combatants,” the judge, in a rare comment, urged senior government leaders not to appeal his ruling. “Seven years of waiting for a legal system to give them an answer . . . in my judgment is more than enough,” he said.

The five detainees the judge ordered released are Lakhdar Boumediene, Mustafa Ait Idir, Hadj Boudella, Saber Lahmar and Mohammed Nechla. Judge Leon did, however, find that a sixth detainee, Belkacem Bensayah, was properly classified an enemy combatant.

It was the Supreme Court’s June 12, 2008 decision in Boumediene v. Bush (see Supreme Court Checks and Balances in Boumediene, JURIST Forum, June 16, 2008) that allowed Judge Leon to review the enemy combatant classifications. The high court upheld the Guantánamo detainees’ constitutional right to habeas corpus and made clear they were “entitled to a prompt habeas corpus hearing.” Judge Leon adopted the definition of “enemy combatant” used by the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, which is “an individual who was part of or supporting Taliban or al Qaeda forces, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners. This includes any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported hostilities in aid of enemy armed forces.”

The six detainees in this case are native Algerians who were residing in Bosnia and Herzegovina, over a thousand miles from the battlefield in Afghanistan. All six held Bosnian citizenship or lawful permanent residence as well as native Algerian citizenship. Arrested by Bosnian authorities in October 2001 for alleged involvement in a plot to bomb the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, they were ordered released from prison on January 17, 2002 and then turned over to U.S. personnel who transported them to Guantánamo on January 20, 2002. They have been there ever since.

President Bush had withdrawn the alleged bomb plot as a basis for their detention. He argued instead that the men planned to travel to Afghanistan in late 2001 and take up arms against the United States and allied forces. Judge Leon found the government had failed to prove these allegations by a preponderance of evidence in the cases of all but Bensayah.

The judge said the Justice Department and intelligence agencies had relied solely on a classified document from an unnamed source. He wrote that “while the information in the classified intelligence report, relating to the credibility and reliability of the source, was undoubtedly sufficient for the intelligence purposes for which it was prepared, it is not sufficient for the purposes for which a habeas court must now evaluate it.” He added, “To allow enemy combatancy to rest on so thin a reed would be inconsistent with this Court’s obligation under the Supreme Court’s decision in Hamdi to protect petitioners from the risk of erroneous detention.”

The government did, however, present additional evidence which persuaded Judge Leon that Bensayah was “an al-Qaida facilitator” who planned to take up arms against the United States and facilitate the travel of unnamed others to do the same. That, wrote the judge, “constitutes direct support of al-Qaida in furtherance of its objectives” and “this amounts to ‘support’ within the meaning of the ‘enemy combatant’ definition governing this case.”

Bosnian authorities have indicated they are willing to take the five detainees once they are released.

In October, another federal district judge in Washington, Ricardo M. Urbina, ordered that 17 Uighur detainees be released from Guantanamo. The judge didn’t hold an evidentiary hearing because the government conceded the men were not enemy combatants. But the 17 men from western China languish in custody because the government has appealed Judge Urbina’s ruling.

President-elect Barack Obama has pledged to close the Guantánamo prison when he takes office. The National Lawyers Guild has urged Obama to ensure that the prisoners are released, repatriated, resettled, or brought to trial (if there is probable cause to believe they have committed a crime) in strict accordance with international human rights and humanitarian law, and the principles of fundamental justice pertaining to criminal proceedings. This includes but is not limited to, the Four Geneva Conventions of 1949, the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The United States has ratified all of these treaties which makes their provisions binding U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

The Guild opposes the creation of national security courts to try the detainees. Although Obama said in August, “It’s time to better protect the American people and our values by bringing swift and sure justice to terrorists through our courts and our Uniform Code of Military Justice,” three Obama advisers told the Associated Press that the President-elect is expected to propose a new court system to deal with “sensitive national security cases.”

Concerns have been cited about disclosure of classified information in civilian courts and courts-martial. However, the Classified Information Procedures Act (CIPA) provides an adequate method of protecting classified information in existing U.S. courts. CIPA allows a judge to assess the importance of sensitive evidence before it is disclosed in open court and, if necessary, create a nonclassified substitute for use at trial. Former federal prosecutors Richard B. Zabel and James J. Benjamin, Jr. studied the 107 post-9/11 cases and prepared a 171-page white paper for Human Rights First called In Pursuit of Justice: Prosecuting Terrorism Cases in the Federal Courts. They wrote, “[w]e are not aware of a single terrorism case in which CIPA procedures have failed and a serious security breach has occurred.” National security courts, they write, “would give the government more power and make it easier for the government to secure convictions.”

President-elect Obama should send those prisoners he intends to try to U.S. civilian and military courts, which are well-suited to protect national security concerns. He should eschew the creation of a new system of courts with reduced due process, which will raise many of the same concerns as Bush’s dreaded military commissions.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law and her new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd) will be published in March by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at

Afghans to Obama: End the Occupation

November 24, 2008

by Sonali Kolhatkar |, Nov 22, 2008

President Elect Barack Obama wants to increase the number of US troops in Afghanistan. But the US/NATO occupation is less popular than ever. Eman, an Afghan woman’s rights activist with RAWA tells Uprising host, Sonali Kolhatkar, that Obama must end the occupation. RAWA, the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan, is the oldest women’s political organization in Afghanistan, struggling non-violently against foreign occupations and religious fundamentalism for more than 30 years.

Sonali Kolhatkar: Many on the American left are celebrating the election of Barack Obama to the presidency of the US. But while he has pledged to end the Iraq war, he has also promised to increase troops in Afghanistan. What is your opinion of Barack Obama and his stated policy on Afghanistan?

Eman: We can easily judge Obama from what he said in one of his recent interviews that he does not feel the need to apologize to the Afghan people. We do not consider this [the result of] a lack of information. But didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the wrong policies of the US government for the past three decades in our country? Didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the fundamentalist-fostering policies of the US government in creating, arming, and supporting these brutal, misogynist groups like the Northern Alliance and other fascist groups during the past three decades? Didn’t he feel the need to apologize for the occupation of our country under the banner of democracy, the so-called “war on terror,” and women’s rights, but then compromise with terrorists like the Northern Alliance, who cannot be distinguished from the Taliban in the history of their criminal acts? In fact these murderers were the first to destroy our nation. And even after seven years of a very long and very costly “war on terror,” terrorism has not been uprooted in Afghanistan but has become stronger and the Taliban are becoming more powerful. Plus recently [the US is] talking about negotiating with the most wanted terrorist, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and with the Taliban, which is in contradiction with what they claimed and what their main objective was in occupying Afghanistan.

From his statements during his election campaign, we don’t think that Obama’s position is different from the Bush administration; it is the continuation of Bush’s foreign policy. As Obama’s first message to our country was that of war, we cannot be hopeful about him.

Kolhatkar: Do you think the troops should be withdrawn and if so, what will happen in Afghanistan if US/NATO forces leave Afghanistan?

Eman: RAWA strongly believes that whatever happens, a withdrawal of foreign troops should be the first step, because today, with the presence of thousands of troops in Afghanistan, with the presence of many foreign countries in our nation, for the majority of our people particularly poor people in the other provinces of Afghanistan outside Kabul, the situation is so bad that it cannot get any worse. Today they are also suffering from insecurity, killing, kidnapping, rape, acid throwing on school girls (as happened just last week), hunger, lawlessness, lack of freedom of speech (with journalist Parwiz Kambakhsh being imprisoned), After seven years of occupation [the US] failed to bring peace, security, democracy, and women’s rights that they claimed. I think seven years is quite enough time to prove that democracy and peace cannot be brought by foreigners. It can only be achieved by our own people by democratic organizations and individuals. It’s our responsibility to become united as an alternative against the occupation, to rise up, to resist and to organize our people.

Obviously it is very difficult. No one can predict how long it will take, how much blood, how much sacrifice, and what price should be paid. But this is the only solution, as RAWA has always emphasized.

Right now our people are under attack from different sides. From one side we have the Taliban, from the other side are the US air strikes, and from another side are the Northern Alliance warlords in different provinces. We are in a political confusion. With the withdrawal [of troops] our people will at least get rid of one of these enemies.

We believe that even with the withdrawal of the troops they have a moral duty towards Afghanistan as they have empowered these dangerous fundamentalist groups economically; and given them arms which were a big threat to the security of our country. If the US and its allies are kind enough to try to help us and they are honest in their claim of helping our people then they can prove it in other ways. They can prove it by the disarmament of armed groups. They can prove it by stopping any kind of support, help and compromise with any fundamentalist groups by helping our people to prosecute our war criminals of three decades. They can do this by supporting democratic voices. So they have other alternatives to help us if they really want to.

Kolhatkar: Hamid Karzai’s tenure is up next year and there are to be new elections. What do you think needs to happen before the elections, and is there any chance the elections could bring some positive change inside Afghanistan?

Eman: We have two kinds of elections ahead of us: parliamentary and presidential. About the presidential election, everyone knows that the White House determines who is going to be the next president. Our public’s votes are just used as a formality. But what we are sure of is that the next president will not be independent or a real democrat. So our people are not so hopeful about those elections.

About the parliamentary elections, it is important to state that this election, like the last one, will be conducted under the shadow of guns, airpower and money. So we cannot call it a fair and free election. For a fair and free election to be held we think that disarmament of the powerful warlords which have private armies in different provinces, is a necessary factor. Otherwise it will be a repeat of the last election. For example, according to a law made by the Election Commission, warlords cannot take part in the elections. The last time, our people appealed to the election commission against criminal candidates and drug lords with evidence but nobody paid attention to them and these most-wanted murderers found their way to parliament. There were just a very few exceptions who were really elected by the people. The majority were well-known murderers, criminals, and rapists.

Kolhatkar: In RAWA’s recent statement on the 7th anniversary of the US war on October 7th, you say “Our freedom is only achievable at the hands of our people.” How strong are democratic grassroots forces in Afghanistan, and are they capable of rising up and leading the country?

Eman: Unfortunately the democratic forces are very weak due to many reasons. The two main reasons are, firstly, financial problems because there is no government support at all, and powerful international forces like the United Nations have never been interested in supporting democratic groups, individuals, and voices. Secondly they are weak for security reasons, which have always suppressed these groups. We believe that the main source of power lies with our people. Today they have become hopeless with false promises from the West of establishing democracy. And moreover people are fed-up of the fundamentalism of the Taliban, Northern Alliance, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, etc. So today if we witness demonstrations organized by our suffering and tired people, tomorrow they will be much more organized under the leadership of democratic movements. So we should not lose our hope. The groups are weak but they exist. I think it’s the duty of democratic forces all over the world to support democratic movements in Afghanistan and they should show their practical solidarity with them.

Kolhatkar: When we started our conversation, you weren’t very optimistic about Barack Obama’s stated policy on Afghanistan. What advice would you give President Elect Barack Obama, when he takes office in January?

Eman: We believe that if the American government does not have any bad, expansionist, hidden intentions regarding our country then they have to accept and change their long-term mistakes and wrong policies in our country. In the early 1990s they supported the anti-democratic, anti-women forces and they still have not learned a lesson and still they rely on and compromise with the different fundamentalist groups, which makes the situation of our country even worse. So from one side they are still nourishing and working with those drug lords and warlords of the Northern Alliance. And from the other side they complain about drugs, corruption and insecurity which is a painful game with the destiny of our people, who do not want more troops and war. Our people want justice, peace, and democracy.

As the US failed with spending billions of dollars on the presence of thousands of troops for the past seven years, I’m sure that they will fail even if they bring millions more troops as long as the American government does not change its policies in Afghanistan.

Kolhatkar: Finally, what advice would you give the American anti-war movement on what Afghanistan needs from them?

Eman: Since the US government has always supported fundamentalist groups and ignored democratic voices in our country, I think that the US government does not represent all American people. But there are great American people and great peace movements who have always raised their voice against war and defended peace with justice. History shows that these movements have always affected government policies, for example on the Vietnam war. So I think that they have a great responsibility to put pressure on their government and especially its foreign policy, to change the policy and to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan. And they have to show their solidarity with the democratic movements in Afghanistan. It’s very very important for us and we need their voices. But I just read an article that some parts of the US peace movements are supporting the Iranian government. We condemn this position because we consider the Iranian government a fundamentalist, fascist government. But as long as the peace movement is concerned, we need their solidarity and we are very happy to have their support.

Find out more about RAWA at Sonali Kolhatkar is host and producer of Uprising, at KPFK, Pacifica Radio,

Obama Spells New Hope for Human Rights

November 15, 2008

Celebrations of Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States erupted in countries around the world. From Europe to Africa to the Middle East, people were jubilant. After suffering though eight years of an administration that violated more human rights than any other in U.S. history, Obama spells hope for a new day.

While George W. Bush was President, I wrote Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law, which chronicled his war of aggression, policy of torture, illegal killings, unlawful Guantánamo detentions, and secret spying on Americans. When the book was published, it seemed unimaginable that we could elect a President who would turn those policies around. But the election of Obama holds that potential.

This is the first in a series of articles in which I will suggest how the Obama administration can start undoing some of the damage Bush wrought, by ratifying three of the major human rights treaties and the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court.

Although the U.S. government frequently criticizes other countries for their human rights transgressions, the United States has been one of the most flagrant violators. We have refused to ratify the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR); the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). And while the United States worked with other countries for 50 years to create the International Criminal Court, it has failed to ratify that treaty as well. When we ratify a treaty, it becomes part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

In this article, I will explain why the United States should ratify the ICESCR, which is particularly relevant now that we are in the midst of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression.

In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, whose New Deal helped lift us out of the Depression, gave his famous Four Freedoms Speech, focused on freedom of speech and expression, freedom to worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. Roosevelt fleshed out the freedom from want and fear principles in his Economic Bill of Rights. It contained equality of opportunity, the right to a job and a decent wage, the end of special privileges for the few, universal civil liberties, and guaranteed old-age pensions, unemployment insurance and medical care.

FDR’s bill of rights formed the basis for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Eleanor Roosevelt helped draft, and which the U.N. General Assembly adopted in 1949. The Declaration embraced two types of human rights: civil and political rights on the one hand; and economic, social and cultural rights on the other.

These rights were codified in two binding treaties: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The United States ratified the ICCPR in 1992. But it has refused to commit itself to the protection of economic, social and cultural rights. Since the Reagan administration, there has been a policy to define human rights in terms of civil and political rights, but to dismiss economic, social and cultural rights as akin to social welfare, or socialism.

Indeed, the United States’ inhumane policy toward Cuba exemplifies this dichotomy. The U.S. government has criticized civil and political rights in Cuba while disregarding Cubans’ superior access to universal housing, health care, education and public accommodations, and its guarantee of paid maternity leave and equal pay rates.

The refusal to enshrine rights such as employment, education, food, housing, and health care in U.S. law is the reason the United States has not ratified the ICESCR. This treaty contains the right to work in just and favorable conditions, to an adequate standard of living, to the highest attainable standards of physical and mental health, to education, to housing, and to enjoyment of the benefits of cultural freedom and scientific progress. It also guarantees equal rights for men and women, the right to work, the right to form and join trade unions, the right to social security and social insurance, and protection and assistance to the family.

In the United States, more than 10 million people are unemployed, 2 to 3 million families are homeless each year, and 46 million have no health care benefits. Untold numbers lost their retirement savings when the stock market crashed. Obama has pledged to give the rebuilding of our economy top priority after he is sworn in as President. He promised to create jobs and to ensure that all Americans are covered by health insurance. When Obama said he would cut taxes for 95 percent of the people but end the tax cuts for the rich, he was criticized for wanting to “spread the wealth.” But Obama’s plan is fully consistent with our progressive income tax system. After the election, 15,000 physicians called for a single-payer health care plan, which Obama and Congress should seriously consider.

The United States’ flouting of the United Nations in its unilateral war on Iraq, and torture of prisoners in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and Iraq, has engendered widespread condemnation in the international community. Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh, citing Professor Louis Henkin, summarized the hypocrisy of the United States in the area of human rights as follows: “In the cathedral of human rights, the U.S. is more like a flying buttress than a pillar — choosing to stand outside the international structure supporting the international human rights system but without being willing to subject its own conduct to the scrutiny of the system.”

We should encourage President Obama to send the ICESCR to the Senate for advice and consent to ratification. Becoming a party to that treaty will help not only the people in this country; it will also engender respect for the United States around the world.

Marjorie Cohn is a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and the President of the National Lawyers Guild. Her new book, Rules of Disengagement: The Politics and Honor of Military Dissent (with Kathleen Gilberd), will be published this winter by PoliPointPress. Her articles are archived at The next article in this series will explain why the United States should ratify the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

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