Archive for July, 2010


Saturday, July 24th, 2010

Ray_McGovern.jpg  Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern, War Criminals Watch advisory board member, moderated a special World Can’t Wait conference call and began by congratulating Josh Herlands of the International Justice Network (IJN) for the appeal it filed in the case of Maqaleh v. Gates about three people held in Bagram’s Black Prison without charge for more than eight years.

Josh_Herlands.jpg  Josh Herlands

The men, not Afghan citizens, had been seized outside of Afghanistan and brought to Bagram Airbase, site of the infamous but still not widely known US torture site.

According to the IJN press release :

“… the petition seeks panel rehearing based on information that has come to light since the case was argued to the court on January 7, 2010, including the Executive’s decision to transfer custody of Afghan prisoners held in Bagram Prison to the Afghan Government in 2011, the Executive’s decision to allow Afghan prisoners to appear before joint US-Afghan detainee review proceedings, and the Executive’s proposal to retain control over a section of the new prison on the Airbase for the sole purpose of holding and interrogating men seized from third countries around the world.”

The petition was submitted on July 6, the day after the July 4th holiday weekend, when it is fitting to defend the US principle of right of access to justice.  You can read the actual petition itself and other documents on the IJN website.

Josh Herland of the IJN said that these prisoners have been allowed virtually no contact with the outside world, not even their families, which is a violation of the Geneva Conventions, which are also US law.  The lawyers from the IJN are not permitted any contact with their clients whom they represent based on what is known through families and others.

There is considerable evidence from the US military and government sources that, as at Guantanamo, most of the prisoners held at the Bagram prison and its black sites were sold to the US by bounty hunters and have done absolutely nothing against the US.

In addition to being held illegally, without charge, for over eight years, these prisoners continue to be tortured under the Obama regime, which has not repudiated the Bush regime abuses of power and its efforts to create prisons where it can do what it likes with people.  A New York Times editorial of May 31, 2010, says of the original ruling that the IJN appealed:

“What makes the ruling especially distressing is that the extravagant claim of executive power upheld by the court” to create a law-free zone at the Bagram lockup” was dreamed up by Mr. Bush and subsequently embraced by President Obama. The appellate court ruled that there was no right to federal court review for the detainees, who say they were captured outside of Afghanistan, far from any battlefield, and then shipped to Bagram to be held indefinitely in harsh conditions.”

Ray McGovern asked why the appeal at this time.  Josh responded that though the general US public is still not aware of the conditions at the Bagram sites and the continuation of torture under Obama, there is growing international support for the IJN clients.  He mentioned the Reprieve group, an international organization that supports people unjustly incarcerated.  Here is a link to the US affiliate. Clive Stafford Smith, a UK citizen who lived in the US and is licensed to practice law in several states, studied US civil rights and the death penalty. He founded Reprieve, which is an advocate for the prisoners at Bagram.  [Stafford Smith also supported Benyam Mohammed, a prisoner at Guantanamo whose lawyer spoke in New York earlier this year.]

Josh also mentioned Andy Worthington’s work that you can read here and here, and that of Julian Barnes in the LA Times that you can read by clicking on his name above, Eric Schmidt of the New York Times, and Marc Ambinder who just published an article in the Atlantic.  This media attention is helping create a climate in which the IJN hopes for progress and dared to appeal the judicial ruling.

Ray reported that he was in Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s office when Kucinich saw the Wikileaks video of the helicopter massacre of Iraqi civilians including two Reuters journalist and two children.  He remarked on the impact that the video had on Kucinich, as indeed it has on everyone who sees it.  Ray said that the rules of engagement of the US military forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and elsewhere are not in compliance with international law; and that, along with the habeas corpus issues that IJN and others are bringing to light, are evidence of US war crimes and crimes against humanity.

He thanked Josh and the others in the IJN who are working under the most appalling conditions to help their clients and to bring the US back into the world of lawful nations.  Josh said that though the IJN is based in the Law School of Harvard University, that it is joined in its work by groups from Yale Law School and the CUNY Law School.

I have encountered here in New York the legions of young lawyers and law students from CUNY who work for these issues, especially in the case of Fahad Hashmi.  Here again is the link to the blog post about the lawyers organized by Seton Hall Law School who represent the prisoners at Guantanamo whom I heard earlier this year.

In spite of the fact that it has been lawyers who have written the opinions and memos that have allowed US torture and illegal detention, I do not completely despair of the US legal profession when I see these lawyers and law school professors work to restore the rule of law in this country.  I am also profoundly grateful for the journalists who publish information about US war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Lamentably, most US citizens are not aware that torture goes on under the Obama regime.  People think that he stopped it.  I remember what he said early on, “America does not torture.” That is exactly what Bush said.  What Obama has not done is close the prisons and black sites and free the people imprisoned there, most of whom are also victims of torture, none of them charged with any offense.

As always, Ray McGovern, whose work is now dedicated entirely to peace and justice activism, urged those of us who were listening to continue to work on these issues.  I committed to this blog entry and to talking about Bagram, which has never gotten the attention even in the alternative media that Guantanamo receives.

Ray reminded us that we are not always called to be successful in our actions of resistance, but to be faithful–faithful to rule of law and to morality.  Debra Sweet, head of World Can’t Wait, closed the session by stating that torture is morally degrading to those who do it (and I would add to those of us who allow it to be done in our name) and morally repugnant to those who are tortured.

I have been waiting for the audio of this conference to be posted on the World Can’t Wait website, but it has not appeared yet.  When it does, I will link it here.

Links Between BP and US Agression

Saturday, July 10th, 2010


The oil sheen is said to be visible from the air as far as the eye can see.

Any sane government would have long ago seized BP, garnered support from world experts and placed the management of this disaster in their hands, including that from the nearly twenty countries which have offered help with the disaster, and monitored all operations closely. Instead, the US keeps BP in charge and aids and abets the expanding disaster.

Image BP does not want us to see, compliments of World Can’t Wait

What earthly good is served by such policy?  The petroleum needs of the US military and the opacity that surrounds it provide some answers.  Just as this current deepening and broadening economic depression is linked to US wars, occupations, and torture, the powerful and tyrannical relationships between oil companies, British Petroleum first among them, and the US military determine US policy and apparent failure to act.  Indeed, the government is a big part of the problem; it is acting on behalf of BP, not in the interests of US citizens, its land and waters, and wildlife resources, and its impact on other countries and the world.  The corporatocracy always values short term corporate profits over any other value.

Jeff Brady reported on NPR in November of 2007 that “the American military [is] the single-largest purchaser and consumer of oil in the world.”  British Petroleum gives millions to political campaigns, the largest amount in the past 20 years to Barack Obama in 2008, and spends even more millions on lobbying.  No wonder the government fails to take the company to task or intervene in any meaningful way with its operations, to the detriment of the Gulf of Mexico, the people and other living things there, and by extension to other countries and parts of the world that will be affected in ways we cannot yet determine.

So, in addition to everything else, a huge part of our taxes are subsidizing the profits of oil companies in order to provide the obscene amounts of oil that fill the maw of the US military’s aggressions, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

The World Can’t Wait hosted an emergency summit in New Orleans where scientists and activists met to begin strategies for taking back control of the Gulf of Mexico and stopping the disaster.  You can listen to the

Journalist Dahr Jamail and photographer Erica Blumenfeld put together a devastating essay called Mitigating Annihilation.


Erica Blumfeld, copyright 2010

Here is more about the serious legal consequences journalists risk for doing their work, quoted from Debra Sweet’s blog:

From Orpheus Reed: On July 3, 2010, the Coast Guard announced the federal government has imposed a new rule that will prevent journalists or anyone else from getting closer than 65 feet to any clean-up operations, equipment or vessels in the Gulf of Mexico without prior permission.  People violating this rule will be arrested and charged with a class D felony.

This rule will mean journalists will be essentially prevented from taking pictures of oiled birds and other wildlife or sea life contaminated or killed in areas where clean-up is being done. It will prevent the world from further seeing the scenes of marshlands fouled with oil if they are surrounded by oil booms, and from taking close-up pictures of oil booms laying ineffectually in the water as beaches are fouled. Now showing the world the impacts of the gulf oil gusher is punishable by jail and a fine of $40,000.

Read the full text of that blog entry here.