Posted by: quiscus | April 2, 2009

April 2, 2009

1.  “These are extraordinary times. With the United States and Britain on the verge of bankruptcy and committing to an endless colonial war, pressure is building for their crimes to be prosecuted at a tribunal similar to that which tried the Nazis at Nuremberg. This defined rapacious invasion as “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” International law would be mere farce, said the chief US chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, Supreme Court justice Robert Jackson, “if, in future, we do not apply its principles to ourselves.”

That is now happening. Spain, Germany, Belgium, France and Britain have long had “universal jurisdiction” statutes, which allow their national courts to pursue and prosecute prima facie war criminals. What has changed is an unspoken rule never to use international law against “ourselves,” or “our” allies or clients. In 1998, Spain, supported by France, Switzerland and Belgium, indicted the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, client and executioner of the West, and sought his extradition from Britain, where he happened to be at the time. Had he been sent for trial he almost certainly would have implicated at least one British prime minister and two US presidents in crimes against humanity. Home Secretary Jack Straw let him escape back to Chile.

These are extraordinary times. Blair, a perpetrator of the epic crime of the 21st century, shares a “prayer breakfast” with President Obama, the yes-we-can-man now launching more war. “We pray,” said Blair, “that in acting we do God’s work and follow God’s will.” To decent people, such pronouncements about Blair’s “faith” represent a contortion of morality and intellect that is a profanation on the basic teachings of Christianity. Those who aided and abetted his great crime and now wish the rest of us to forget their part — or, like Alistair Campbell, his “communications director,” offer their bloody notoriety for the vicarious pleasure of some — might read the first indictment proposed by the Blair War Crimes Foundation: “Deceit and conspiracy for war, and providing false news to incite passions for war, causing in the order of one million deaths, 4 million refugees, countless maiming and traumas.” 

These are indeed extraordinary times.

2.  “ Calling the US Bankrupt is Insulting

An empire that spends money it does not have on a hyper-bloated military it does not need might seem to fit the description of “bankrupt.”  However, calling the U.S. bankrupt is an insult to all those who actually file bankruptcy.

Now imagine a person filing for bankruptcy claiming that he could not repay his debts because he had the astronomical expense of maintaining at least 737 facilities overseas that provide exactly zero return on the significant investment required to sustain them.  These “bases” are filled with gas-guzzling vehicles as well as employees who, as compensation for their many sacrifices, understandably receive a lifetime of costly benefits.  This debtor could not possibly qualify for reorganization under the good faith requirements of bankruptcy until he stopped sinking funds into the overseas money pits.  He could not qualify for liquidation without turning over many of his assets for the benefit of his creditors, including the valuable foreign real estate on which he placed his bases.  In either case, for a debtor to be “bankrupt,” he or she must take affirmative action and admit that there is a problem.  

In addition to the apparent American inability to rein in military spending, another factor that might discourage the U.S. from being bankrupt is the sizeable amount of non-dischargeable debt it has amassed, much of which is not even officially recognized as debt.  One of the safeguards in bankruptcy for certain classes of creditors is the designation of certain types of debt as non-dischargeable, meaning a bankruptcy has no effect on the obligation.  Some debtors are discouraged from filing bankruptcy if a substantial amount of the debt will still remain even after filing.  An important type of debt traditionally recognized as non-dischargeable is injury caused by willful or malicious conduct of the debtor.  Clearly in just the past 8 years the U.S. has incurred large amounts of this type of debt, with a war of choice in Iraq, aerial bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and the torture regime from Guantanamo to Bagram and all Black Sites in between.

3.  “Unlikely pair on same civil liberties side

Former U.S. Reps. Bob Barr and Cynthia McKinney aren’t often on the same side, but both are speaking out on potential abuse of “fusion centers,” funded by the Department of Homeland Security to blend state and local law enforcement with national security aims.
The American Civil Liberties Union cited the two former House members from Georgia in a press release Wednesday expressing concerns that fusion centers create risks to privacy rights. Barr served in Congress as a conservative Republican and McKinney as a liberal Democrat.

The centers, operated by state and local governments, coordinate information between multiple agencies regarding terrorist threats, criminal activity and other dangers. There are dozens across the country, funded through a mix of local budgets and federal grants, including more than $327 million from the Department of Homeland Security from 2004 through 2008.

The ACLU asked Homeland Security to investigate five examples of alleged abuse, “from directing local police to investigate non-violent political activists and religious groups in Texas to advocating surveillance of third-party presidential candidate supporters in Missouri.”

Barr, the Libertarian candidate for president in 2008, issued a statement saying use of federal and state law enforcement resources “to encourage the citizenry to submit to the government information on the political, social and even religious views of other people, is in itself outrageous.”

“For the government to then data-base that information, disseminate it widely, and clearly imply that views with which it may disagree provide an appropriate basis on which to surveil citizens and collect information on them, is beyond the pale,” Barr said.

4.  “Lieberman and Wiping Countries off the face of the Map

Avigdor Lieberman, the Moldovan night club bouncer, is now foreign minister of Israel. The world has had a lot of fun laughing at the pronouncements of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who stands falsely accused of threatening to wipe Israel off the face of the map. But Ahmadinejad has protested that it would be wrong to kill large numbers of civilians.

In contrast, Lieberman has threatened to wipe at least two countries, Egypt and Palestine, off the map. Monstrously, he suggested bombing the Aswan Dam, which would have the effect of murdering all 80 million Egyptians and sweeping them into the Mediterranean in a vast continental African tsunami.

Lieberman promptly announced on assuming office that the Mideast peace process is dead. Well, at least we have an outbreak of frankness.

Whereas Ahmadinejad was humiliated by Columbia University president Lee Bollinger on his visit to that university, which provoked public protests, Lieberman’s acceptance into the Israeli government has been greeted mildly and he was allowed to come to the Brookings Institution and meet with Bill and Hillary Clinton. Lieberman is a Central/Eastern European ultra-nationalist in the mold of Slobodan Milosevic and Jorg Haider, and it is shameful that he was allowed into the government and more shameful that this travesty has passed without a peep in the civilized world.”

5.  “Congressional Committee on Financial Services: AIG Paid Full Amount to Foreign CDS Counterparties, But Demanded 70% Haircut of U.S. Counterparties

In a stunning development, Representatives Frank and Bachus are alleging that AIG might have paid the full amount of credit default swap contracts to foreign counterparties, but demanded that U.S. counterparties take a haircut of up to 70%

6.  “Truth, Crimes, Commissions, and Hope

Good news is being taken as bad. Vermont constituents of Senator Patrick Leahy report that he’s finding very little support for his proposed truth and reconciliation commission from Republicans or Democrats in the Senate. Numerous people have taken this as bad news and cause to despair. I disagree. Here are ten reasons why.

1. The idea was never reconciliation with Iraqis, Afghanis, Pakistanis, Palestinians, torture victims, spying victims, victims of political prosecutions, or anyone other than the commission members themselves. Real reconciliation is years away from even being comprehensible to, much less supported by, the U.S. Senate.

2. There are very useful things that Congress or an outside commission could do, but most of them have nothing to do with punishing or deterring crimes, or reconciling victims and abusers. The only thing that can deter future crimes of the sort that have been committed is criminal prosecution. Any commission begun before a special prosecutor is appointed would risk serving as a substitute for what is most needed, and risk having its requests and subpoenas ignored as Congress’s have been for the past two years. But once a prosecutorial investigation is begun, Congress will be able to take up related issues without creating a substitute for prosecution and with better public understanding that there are advantages to complying with subpoenas and other legal obligations.

3. A commission dedicated to truth would have a hard time ignoring ongoing criminal investigations in Spain and Britain, and likely indictments there and elsewhere. The reconciliation would almost inevitably develop into opposition to international law, which is of course exactly the offense we most need to correct and deter, not encourage.

4. A nonpartisan commission would be a bipartisan commission, with half of the members named by each of the two parties into which our government is now more fundamentally divided than it is into three institutional branches. Both parties would favor a commission designed to coverup congressional complicity in crimes. And if there is some hope that a congressional committee might be motivated to restore Constitutional powers to Congress, an outside commission would not be as likely to have that interest.

5. A commission unable to compel witnesses could be designed to bribe them with immunity for their crimes. But unless there are prosecutions and the serious threat of prosecutions, that immunity is not a valuable bribe. And the granting of immunity is not justified by the circumstances. Our justice system is not overrun by too many defendants to be processed. It is simply refusing to prosecute a small number of individuals against whom there is extremely powerful evidence and for whom trials could potentially be very, very swift.

6. While we will never have the complete “truth” about anything and should not encourage the false belief that we lack probable cause to prosecute, obtaining more information about crimes and abuses is certainly desirable. But more information is likely to be obtained by a criminal prosecution than anything else. And more information is likely to quickly be made public by demanding the release of memos, Emails, minutes, reports from the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility, from the CIA, from the Senate Armed Services Committee, etc., than from any hearing or panel or commission. If Congress wants the truth about the treatment of prisoners, it should demand their release and listen to them. If it wants whistleblowers to speak, it should legislate protections for them. If it wants new stories to break, it should bust the media monopolies.

7. The sort of discussion most needed from Congress is not a weak substitute for a criminal investigation, but rather a study of how to restore Constitutional powers to Congress that have been usurped by presidents. A committee or panel or commission could most profitably examine the treaty power, appointment power, pardon power, power of the purse, power of war, and power to legislate, signing statements, secret laws, secret agencies, secret budgets, state secrets claims, executive privilege claims, vice presidential powers, the power of impeachment, the power of subpoena, and the practice of inherent contempt. The most effective way to do this, and probably the only possible way to do it, would be with a House-only select committee. Not only is the Senate hopeless, but a proper list of democratizing reforms would include proposing the elimination of the Senate.

8. A public airing of the crimes and abuses, if it did not interfere with criminal proceedings, if it enforced (or persuaded the Justice Department to enforce) its demands, and if it was covered by the media would certainly be useful. It would be less useful, however, if it repeated the endless public airings of the past 2 years in hearings that have been largely ignored by the media, or if it refused to call the crimes crimes, or if it reinforced the loss by Congress of the power of subpoena. Again the best and probably the only possible way to make this happen would be with a House select committee, subsequent to the beginning of a criminal investigation.

9. Existing committees and subcommittees can also hold closed and open hearings without delay, and with the possible advantage of Democrats holding majorities over the Republicans on every committee, and some are planning to do so. Committees can, if they choose, reissue all of their subpoenas that were refused over the past two years. Enforcing those subpoenas, into which much thought and work was poured, would reveal more than any bipartisan commission would be likely to.

10. A movement is rapidly and impressively building to demand a special prosecutor, to prosecute locally and abroad as well, and to legislate reforms through Congress. The State Secrets Protection Act, a resolution challenging an unconstitutional treaty with Iraq, a bill to restrict the abuse of National Security letters, and other good bills expected just after the April recess mark a trend in the necessary direction. The possibility of impeaching torture memo author and now federal judge Jay Bybee is even under discussion, and the California Democratic Party will take the matter up in a resolution later this month. By impeaching Bybee, Congress could restore its primary power, the one that gives teeth to the others, and then nobody would be able to type fast enough to record all the truth and reconciliation that would start spilling forth.

7.  “the unambiguous success of Portugal’s 2001 decriminalization — which is what enabled the Portuguese Government to address their exploding drug problems in the 1990s and to achieve far better results than virtually every other Western country — provides a compelling empirical basis for understanding the profound failures of the American approach.”


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