Archive | December 15th, 2014

The Sordid Contra-Cocaine Saga

NOVANEWS

From the Archive: It’s been a decade since the big U.S. newspapers hounded journalist Gary Webb to suicide because he exposed their failure to stop one of Ronald Reagan’s worst crimes: drug trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contras. The sordid saga finally was told by a Hollywood movie, Robert Parry noted in October.

By Robert Parry

The movie, “Kill the Messenger,” is forcing the mainstream U.S. media to confront one of its most shameful episodes, the suppression of a major national security scandal implicating Ronald Reagan’s CIA in aiding and abetting cocaine trafficking by the Nicaraguan Contra rebels in the 1980s and then the systematic destruction of journalist Gary Webb when he revived the scandal in the 1990s.

Hollywood’s treatment of this sordid affair will likely draw another defensive or dismissive response from some of the big news outlets that still don’t want to face up to their disgraceful behavior. [It did at least at the Washington Post, see here and here.]

Journalist Gary Webb holding a copy of his Contra-cocaine article in the San Jose Mercury-News.

Journalist Gary Webb holding a copy of his Contra-cocaine article in the San Jose Mercury-News.

The New York Times and other major newspapers mocked the Contra-cocaine scandal when Brian Barger and I first exposed it in 1985 for the Associated Press and then savaged Webb in 1996 when he traced some of the Contra-cocaine into the manufacture of crack which ravaged American cities.

So, when you’re watching this movie or responding to questions from friends about whether they should believe its storyline, you might want to know what is or is not fact. What is remarkable about this tale is that so much of it now has been established by official government documents. In other words, you don’t have to believe me and my dozens of sources; you can turn to the admissions by the Central Intelligence Agency’s inspector general or to evidence in the National Archives.

For instance, last year at the National Archives annex in College Park, Maryland, I discovered a “secret” U.S. law enforcement report that detailed how top Contra leader Adolfo Calero was casually associating with Norwin Meneses, described as “a well-reputed drug dealer.”

Meneses was near the center of Webb’s 1996 articles for the San Jose Mercury-News, a series that came under fierce attack from U.S. government officials as well as major news organizations, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. The controversy cost Webb his career, left him nearly penniless and ultimately drove him to suicide on Dec. 9, 2004.

But the bitter irony of Webb’s demise, which is the subject of “Kill the Messenger” starring Jeremy Renner as Webb, is that Webb’s much-maligned “Dark Alliance” series eventually forced major admissions from the CIA, the Justice Department and other government agencies revealing an even-deeper relationship between President Reagan’s beloved Contras and drug cartels than Webb (or Barger and I) ever alleged.

Typical of the evidence that the Reagan administration chose to ignore was the document that I found at the National Archives, recounting information from Dennis Ainsworth, a blue-blood Republican from San Francisco who volunteered to help the Contra cause in 1984-85. That put him in position to witness the strange behind-the-scenes activities of Contra leaders hobnobbing with drug traffickers and negotiating arms deals with White House emissaries.

Ainsworth also was a source of mine in fall 1985 when I was investigating the mysterious sources of funding for the Contras after Congress shut off CIA support in 1984 amid widespread reports of Contra atrocities inflicted on Nicaraguan civilians, including rapes, executions and torture.

Ainsworth’s first-hand knowledge of the Contra dealings dovetailed with information that I already had, such as the central role of National Security Council aide Oliver North in aiding the Contras and his use of “courier” Rob Owen as an off-the-books White House intermediary to the Contras. I later developed confirmation of some other details that Ainsworth described, such as his overhearing Owen and Calero working together on an arms deal as Ainsworth drove them through the streets of San Francisco.

As for Ainsworth’s knowledge about the Contra-cocaine connection, he said he sponsored a June 1984 cocktail party at which Calero spoke to about 60 people. Meneses, a notorious drug kingpin in the Nicaraguan community, showed up uninvited and clearly had a personal relationship with Calero, who was then the political leader of the Contra’s chief fighting force, the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Democratic Force (or FDN).

“At the end of the cocktail party, Meneses and Calero went off together,” Ainsworth told U.S. Attorney Joseph P. Russoniello, according to a “secret” Jan. 6, 1987 cable submitted by Russoniello to an FBI investigation code-named “Front Door,” a probe into the Reagan administration’s corruption.

After Calero’s speech, Ainsworth said Meneses accompanied Calero and about 20 people to dinner and picked up the entire tab, according to a more detailed debriefing of Ainsworth by the FBI. Concerned about this relationship, Ainsworth said he was told by Renato Pena, an FDN leader in the San Francisco area, that “the FDN is involved in drug smuggling with the aid of Norwin Meneses who also buys arms for Enrique Bermudez, a leader of the FDN.” Bermudez was then the top Contra military commander.

Corroborating Account

Pena, who himself was convicted on federal drug charges in 1984, gave a similar account to the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to a 1998 report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich, “When debriefed by the DEA in the early 1980s, Pena said that the CIA was allowing the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. …

“Pena stated that he was present on many occasions when Meneses telephoned Bermudez in Honduras. Meneses told Pena of Bermudez’s requests for such things as gun silencers (which Pena said Meneses obtained in Los Angeles), cross bows, and other military equipment for the Contras. Pena believed that Meneses would sometimes transport certain of these items himself to Central America, and other times would have contacts in Los Angeles and Miami send cargo to Honduras, where the authorities were cooperating with the Contras. Pena believed Meneses had contact with Bermudez from about 1981 or 1982 through the mid-1980s.”

Bromwich’s report then added, “Pena said he was one of the couriers Meneses used to deliver drug money to a Colombian known as ‘Carlos’ in Los Angeles and return to San Francisco with cocaine. Pena made six to eight trips, with anywhere from $600,000 to nearly $1 million, and brought back six to eight kilos of cocaine each time. Pena said Meneses was moving hundreds of kilos a week. ‘Carlos’ once told Pena, ‘We’re helping your cause with this drug thing … we are helping your organization a lot.”

Ainsworth also said he tried to alert Oliver North in 1985 about the troubling connections between the Contra movement and cocaine traffickers but that North turned a deaf ear. “In the spring some friends of mine and I went back to the White House staff but we were put off by Ollie North and others on the staff who really don’t want to know all what’s going on,” Ainsworth told Russoniello.

When I first spoke with Ainsworth in September 1985 at a coffee shop in San Francisco, he asked for confidentiality which I granted. However, since the documents released by the National Archives include him describing his conversations with me, that confidentiality no longer applies. Ainsworth also spoke with Webb for his 1996 San Jose Mercury-News series under the pseudonym “David Morrison.”

Though I found Ainsworth to be generally reliable, some of his depictions of our conversations contained mild exaggerations or confusion over details, such as his claim that I called him from Costa Rica in January 1986 and told him that the Contra-cocaine story that I had been working on with my AP colleague Brian Barger “never hit the papers because it was suppressed by the Associated Press due to political pressure primarily from the CIA.”

In reality, Barger and I returned from Costa Rica in fall 1985, wrote our story about the Contras’ involvement in cocaine smuggling, and pushed it onto the AP wire in December though in a reduced form because of resistance from some senior AP news executives who were supportive of President Reagan’s foreign policies. The CIA, the White House and other agencies of the Reagan administration did seek to discredit our story, but they did not prevent its publication.

An Overriding Hostility

The Reagan administration’s neglect of Ainsworth’s insights reflected the overriding hostility toward any information – even from a Republican activist like Ainsworth – that put the Contras in a negative light. In early 1987, when Ainsworth spoke with U.S. Attorney Russoniello and the FBI, the Reagan administration was in full damage-control mode, trying to tamp down the Iran-Contra disclosures about Oliver North diverting profits from secret arms sales to Iran to the Contra war.

Fears that the Iran-Contra scandal could lead to Reagan’s impeachment made it even less likely that the Justice Department would pursue an investigation into drug ties implicating the Contra leadership. Ainsworth’s information was simply passed on to Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh whose inquiry was already overwhelmed by the task of sorting out the convoluted Iran transactions.

Publicly, the Reagan team continued dumping on the Contra-cocaine allegations and playing the find-any-possible-reason-to-reject-a-witness game. The major news media went along, leading to much mainstream ridicule of a 1989 investigative report by Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, who uncovered more drug connections implicating the Contras and the Reagan administration.

Only occasionally, such as when the George H.W. Bush administration needed witnesses to convict Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega did the Contra-cocaine evidence pop onto Official Washington’s radar.

During Noriega’s drug-trafficking trial in 1991, U.S. prosecutors called as a witness Colombian Medellín cartel kingpin Carlos Lehder, who — along with implicating Noriega — testified that the cartel had given $10 million to the Contras, an allegation first unearthed by Sen. Kerry. “The Kerry hearings didn’t get the attention they deserved at the time,” a Washington Post editorial on Nov. 27, 1991, acknowledged. “The Noriega trial brings this sordid aspect of the Nicaraguan engagement to fresh public attention.”

But the Post offered its readers no explanation for why Kerry’s hearings had been largely ignored, with the Post itself a leading culprit in this journalistic misfeasance. Nor did the Post and the other leading newspapers use the opening created by the Noriega trial to do anything to rectify their past neglect.

Everything quickly returned to the status quo in which the desired perception of the noble Contras trumped the clear reality of their criminal activities. Instead of recognizing the skewed moral compass of the Reagan administration, Congress was soon falling over itself to attach Reagan’s name to as many public buildings and facilities as possible, including Washington’s National Airport.

Meanwhile, those of us in journalism who had exposed the national security crimes of the 1980s saw our careers mostly sink or go sideways. We were regarded as “pariahs” in our profession.

As for me, shortly after the Iran-Contra scandal broke wide open in fall 1986, I accepted a job at Newsweek, one of the many mainstream news outlets that had long ignored Contra-connected scandals and briefly thought it needed to bolster its coverage. But I soon discovered that senior editors remained hostile toward the Iran-Contra story and related spinoff scandals, including the Contra-cocaine mess.

After losing battle after battle with my Newsweek editors, I departed the magazine in June 1990 to write a book (called Fooling America) about the decline of the Washington press corps and the parallel rise of a new generation of government propagandists.

I was also hired by PBS Frontline to investigate whether there had been a prequel to the Iran-Contra scandal — whether those arms-for-hostage deals in the mid-1980s had been preceded by contacts between Reagan’s 1980 campaign staff and Iran, which was then holding 52 Americans hostage and essentially destroying Jimmy Carter’s reelection hopes. [For more on that topic, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Finding New Ways

In 1995, frustrated by the growing triviality of American journalism — and acting on the advice of and with the assistance of my oldest son Sam — I turned to a new medium and launched the Internet’s first investigative news magazine, known as Consortiumnews.com. The Web site became a way for me to put out well-reported stories that my former mainstream colleagues ignored or mocked.

So, when Gary Webb called me in 1996 to talk about the Contra-cocaine story, I explained some of this tortured history and urged him to make sure that his editors were firmly behind him. He sounded perplexed at my advice and assured me that he had the solid support of his editors.

When Webb’s “Dark Alliance” series finally appeared in late August 1996, it initially drew little attention. The major national news outlets applied their usual studied indifference to a topic that they had already judged unworthy of serious attention.

But Webb’s story proved hard to ignore. First, unlike the work that Barger and I did for AP in the mid-1980s, Webb’s series wasn’t just a story about drug traffickers in Central America and their protectors in Washington. It was about the on-the-ground consequences, inside the United States, of that drug trafficking, how the lives of Americans were blighted and destroyed as the collateral damage of a U.S. foreign policy initiative.

In other words, there were real-life American victims, and they were concentrated in African-American communities. That meant the ever-sensitive issue of race had been injected into the controversy. Anger from black communities spread quickly to the Congressional Black Caucus, which started demanding answers.

Secondly, the San Jose Mercury-News, which was the local newspaper for Silicon Valley, had posted documents and audio on its state-of-the-art Internet site. That way, readers could examine much of the documentary support for the series.

It also meant that the traditional “gatekeeper” role of the major newspapers — the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times — was under assault. If a regional paper like the Mercury-News could finance a major journalistic investigation like this one, and circumvent the judgments of the editorial boards at the Big Three, then there might be a tectonic shift in the power relations of the U.S. news media. There could be a breakdown of the established order.

This combination of factors led to the next phase of the Contra-cocaine battle: the “get-Gary-Webb” counterattack. Soon, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times were lining up like some tag-team wrestlers taking turns pummeling Webb and his story.

On Oct. 4, 1996, the Washington Post published a front-page article knocking down Webb’s series, although acknowledging that some Contra operatives did help the cocaine cartels. The Post’s approach fit with the Big Media’s cognitive dissonance on the topic: first, the Post called the Contra-cocaine allegations old news — “even CIA personnel testified to Congress they knew that those covert operations involved drug traffickers,” the Post said — and second, the Post minimized the importance of the one Contra smuggling channel that Webb had highlighted in his series, saying it had not “played a major role in the emergence of crack.”

To add to the smug hoo-hah treatment that was enveloping Webb and his story, the Post published a sidebar story dismissing African-Americans as prone to “conspiracy fears.”

Next, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times weighed in with lengthy articles castigating Webb and “Dark Alliance.” The big newspapers made much of the CIA’s internal reviews in 1987 and 1988 — almost a decade earlier — that supposedly had cleared the spy agency of any role in Contra-cocaine smuggling.

But the first ominous sign for the CIA’s cover-up emerged on Oct. 24, 1996, when CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz conceded before the Senate Intelligence Committee that the first CIA probe had lasted only12 days, and the second only three days. He promised a more thorough review.

Mocking Webb

But Webb had already crossed over from being treated as a serious journalist to becoming a target of ridicule. Influential Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz mocked Webb for saying in a book proposal that he would explore the possibility that the Contra war was primarily a business to its participants. “Oliver Stone, check your voice mail,” Kurtz smirked.

Yet, Webb’s suspicion was no conspiracy theory. Indeed, Oliver North’s chief Contra emissary, Rob Owen, had made the same point in a March 17, 1986 message about the Contra leadership. “Few of the so-called leaders of the movement . . . really care about the boys in the field,” Owen wrote. “THIS WAR HAS BECOME A BUSINESS TO MANY OF THEM.” [Emphasis in original.]

Ainsworth and other pro-Contra activists were reaching the same conclusion, that the Contra leadership was skimming money from the supply lines and padding their personal wealth with proceeds from the drug trade. According to a Jan. 21, 1987 interview report by the FBI, Ainsworth said he had “made inquiries in the local San Francisco Nicaraguan community and wondered among his acquaintances what Adolfo Calero and the other people in the FDN movement were doing and the word that he received back is that they were probably engaged in cocaine smuggling.”

In other words, Webb was right about the suspicion that the Contra movement had become less a cause than a business to many of its participants. Even Oliver North’s emissary reported on that reality. But truthfulness had ceased to be relevant in the media’s hazing of Gary Webb.

In another double standard, while Webb was held to the strictest standards of journalism, it was entirely all right for Kurtz — the supposed arbiter of journalistic integrity who was a longtime fixture on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” — to make judgments based on ignorance. Kurtz would face no repercussions for mocking a fellow journalist who was factually correct.

The Big Three’s assault — combined with their disparaging tone — had a predictable effect on the executives of the Mercury-News. As it turned out, Webb’s confidence in his editors had been misplaced. By early 1997, executive editor Jerry Ceppos, who had his own corporate career to worry about, was in retreat.

On May 11, 1997, Ceppos published a front-page column saying the series “fell short of my standards.” He criticized the stories because they “strongly implied CIA knowledge” of Contra connections to U.S. drug dealers who were manufacturing crack cocaine. “We did not have enough proof that top CIA officials knew of the relationship,” Ceppos wrote.

Ceppos was wrong about the proof, of course. At AP, before we published our first Contra-cocaine article in 1985, Barger and I had known that the CIA and Reagan’s White House were aware of the Contra-cocaine problem at senior levels. One of our sources was on Reagan’s National Security Council staff.

However, Ceppos recognized that he and his newspaper were facing a credibility crisis brought on by the harsh consensus delivered by the Big Three, a judgment that had quickly solidified into conventional wisdom throughout the major news media and inside Knight-Ridder, Inc., which owned the Mercury-News. The only career-saving move – career-saving for Ceppos even if career-destroying for Webb – was to jettison Webb and the Contra-cocaine investigative project.

A ‘Vindication’

The big newspapers and the Contras’ defenders celebrated Ceppos’s retreat as vindication of their own dismissal of the Contra-cocaine stories. In particular, Kurtz seemed proud that his demeaning of Webb now had the endorsement of Webb’s editor. Ceppos next pulled the plug on the Mercury-News’ continuing Contra-cocaine investigation and reassigned Webb to a small office in Cupertino, California, far from his family. Webb resigned from the paper in disgrace. [See Consortiumnews.com’s Hung Out to Dry.]

For undercutting Webb and other Mercury News reporters working on the Contra-cocaine project – some of whom were facing personal danger in Central America – Ceppos was lauded by the American Journalism Review and received the 1997 national Ethics in Journalism Award by the Society of Professional Journalists.

While Ceppos won raves, Webb watched his career collapse and his marriage break up. Still, Gary Webb had set in motion internal government investigations that would bring to the surface long-hidden facts about how the Reagan administration had conducted the Contra war.

The CIA published the first part of Inspector General Hitz’s findings on Jan. 29, 1998. Though the CIA’s press release for the report criticized Webb and defended the CIA, Hitz’s Volume One admitted that not only were many of Webb’s allegations true but that he actually understated the seriousness of the Contra-drug crimes and the CIA’s knowledge of them.

Hitz conceded that cocaine smugglers played a significant early role in the Contra movement and that the CIA intervened to block an image-threatening 1984 federal investigation into a San Francisco–based drug ring with suspected ties to the Contras, the so-called “Frogman Case.”

After Volume One was released, I called Webb (whom I had spent some time with since his series was published). I chided him for indeed getting the story “wrong.” He had understated how serious the problem of Contra-cocaine trafficking had been, I said.

It was a form of gallows humor for the two of us, since nothing had changed in the way the major newspapers treated the Contra-cocaine issue. They focused only on the press release that continued to attack Webb, while ignoring the incriminating information that could be found in the full report. All I could do was highlight those admissions at Consortiumnews.com, which sadly had a much, much smaller readership than the Big Three.

The major U.S. news media also looked the other way on other startling disclosures.

On May 7, 1998, for instance, Rep. Maxine Waters, a California Democrat, introduced into the Congressional Record a Feb. 11, 1982 letter of understanding between the CIA and the Justice Department. The letter, which had been requested by CIA Director William Casey, freed the CIA from legal requirements that it must report drug smuggling by CIA assets, a provision that covered the Nicaraguan Contras and the Afghan mujahedeen.

In other words, early in those two covert wars, the CIA leadership wanted to make sure that its geopolitical objectives would not be complicated by a legal requirement to turn in its client forces for drug trafficking.

Justice Denied

The next break in the long-running Contra-cocaine cover-up was a report by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael Bromwich. Given the hostile climate surrounding Webb’s series, Bromwich’s report also opened with criticism of Webb. But, like the CIA’s Volume One, the contents revealed new details about serious government wrongdoing.

According to evidence cited by Bromwich, the Reagan administration knew almost from the outset of the Contra war that cocaine traffickers permeated the paramilitary operation. The administration also did next to nothing to expose or stop the crimes. Bromwich’s report revealed example after example of leads not followed, corroborated witnesses disparaged, official law-enforcement investigations sabotaged, and even the CIA facilitating the work of drug traffickers.

The report showed that the Contras and their supporters ran several parallel drug-smuggling operations, not just the one at the center of Webb’s series. The report also found that the CIA shared little of its information about Contra drugs with law-enforcement agencies and on three occasions disrupted cocaine-trafficking investigations that threatened the Contras.

As well as depicting a more widespread Contra-drug operation than Webb (or Barger and I) had understood, the Justice Department report provided some important corroboration about Nicaraguan drug smuggler Norwin Meneses, a key figure in Gary Webb’s series and Adolfo Calero’s friend as described by Dennis Ainsworth.

Bromwich cited U.S. government informants who supplied detailed information about Meneses’s drug operation and his financial assistance to the Contras. For instance, Renato Pena, the money-and-drug courier for Meneses, said that in the early 1980s the CIA allowed the Contras to fly drugs into the United States, sell them, and keep the proceeds. Pena, the FDN’s northern California representative, said the drug trafficking was forced on the Contras by the inadequate levels of U.S. government assistance.

The Justice Department report also disclosed repeated examples of the CIA and U.S. embassies in Central America discouraging DEA investigations, including one into Contra-cocaine shipments moving through the international airport in El Salvador. Bromwich said secrecy trumped all. “We have no doubt that the CIA and the U.S. Embassy were not anxious for the DEA to pursue its investigation at the airport,” he wrote.

Bromwich also described the curious case of how a DEA pilot helped a CIA asset escape from Costa Rican authorities in 1989 after the man, American farmer John Hull, had been charged in connection with Contra-cocaine trafficking. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “John Hull’s Great Escape.”]

Hull’s ranch in northern Costa Rica had been the site of Contra camps for attacking Nicaragua from the south. For years, Contra-connected witnesses also said Hull’s property was used for the transshipment of cocaine en route to the United States, but those accounts were brushed aside by the Reagan administration and disparaged in major U.S. newspapers.

Yet, according to Bromwich’s report, the DEA took the accounts seriously enough to prepare a research report on the evidence in November 1986. One informant described Colombian cocaine off-loaded at an airstrip on Hull’s ranch.

The drugs were then concealed in a shipment of frozen shrimp and transported to the United States. The alleged Costa Rican shipper was Frigorificos de Puntarenas, a firm controlled by Cuban-American Luis Rodriguez. Like Hull, however, Frigorificos had friends in high places. In 1985-86, the State Department had selected the shrimp company to handle $261,937 in non-lethal assistance earmarked for the Contras.

Hull also remained a man with powerful protectors. Even after Costa Rican authorities brought drug charges against him, influential Americans, including Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Indiana, demanded that Hull be let out of jail pending trial. Then, in July 1989 with the help of a DEA pilot – and possibly a DEA agent – Hull managed to fly out of Costa Rica to Haiti and then to the United States.

Despite these startling new disclosures, the big newspapers still showed no inclination to read beyond the criticism of Webb in the press release.

Major Disclosures

By fall 1998, Washington was obsessed with President Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, which made it easier to ignore even more stunning Contra-cocaine disclosures in the CIA’s VolumeTwo, published on Oct. 8, 1998.

In the report, CIA Inspector General Hitz identified more than 50 Contras and Contra-related entities implicated in the drug trade. He also detailed how the Reagan administration had protected these drug operations and frustrated federal investigations throughout the 1980s.

According to Volume Two, the CIA knew the criminal nature of its Contra clients from the start of the war against Nicaragua’s leftist Sandinista government. The earliest Contra force, called the Nicaraguan Revolutionary Democratic Alliance (ADREN) or the 15th of September Legion

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Jewish schools, institutions on lockdown across Australia amid Sydney siege

NOVANEWS

“Most likely the work of an Islamist terrorist organization.” The Jewish ethnic cleansing regime mouthpiece Haaretz, which quoted Yaalon, also documented that Jewish schools and institutions across Australia were locked down amid the Sydney siege 

Zio-Nazi defense minister says Jewish state helps on matters of counterterrorism ‘from afar;’ Zionist singer says he left Lindt café moments before gunman took hostages.

Hostages seen inside Lindt Cafe in Sydney.

Hostages seen inside Lindt Cafe in Sydney.
By Haaretz and Reuters

SYDNEY – Australia’s Jewish community went into official lockdown on Monday after a gunman held hostages inside an inner-city café in Sydney.

The siege began just before 10 A.M. Monday morning inside the Lindt chocolate café in Sydney’s central business district and was still continuing over 12 hours later.

TV pictures showed two hostages holding a black-and-white flag with the Arabic text of the Shahada – the affirmation of Islam – at the window of the cafe.

Counterterrorism agents swarmed the city center, evacuating the Opera House and other key sites as Prime Minister Tony Abbott told the media the gunman had a “political motivation.”

“This is a very disturbing incident,” he said. “It is profoundly shocking that innocent people should be held hostage by an armed person claiming political motivation.”

Abbott stopped short of describing it as a terrorist act and police, who are in contact with the gunman, have appealed to media not to publish his demands.

By nightfall, five hostages had escaped or been freed; the number of hostages who remain captive have not been confirmed.

A senior Jewish security official, who declined to be named, told Haaretz: “Jewish institutions across Australia are in lockdown, excursions have been canceled and tight security measures are in place.”

Children at Jewish schools who were on excursions during Monday were whisked back to campuses in Sydney, with one Jewish school texting parents to say they were “acting on the advice of the Community Security Group.”

Although Jewish leaders do not comment on security matters, several did confirm the threat level to the Jewish community had been elevated by the CSG as a result of the hostage crisis.

 

 

At least one major Jewish institution in Sydney issued a “code red” emergency alert; the building was sealed with no one allowed to enter or exit for several hours before the alert was lifted.

Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said it was “most likely the work of an Islamist terrorist organization.”

“We do, of course, maintain excellent relations with the Australians and are willing to assist with anything they need, We can also help from afar,” Ya’alon told Army Radio, adding, ” We are in touch with them.”

Gad Elbaz, an Israeli Sephardi singer who played a concert in Sydney on Sunday, said he was inside Lindt café moments before the hostages were taken captive.

On Facebook, his father, Benny Elbaz, who is also a singer, described it as a “Hanukkah miracle.”

“The worst almost happened,” he wrote. “A few minutes before the attack on the cafe in Sydney my friends and I left there. A Hanukkah miracle in Sydney.”

“While thankful, my father and I are praying and hoping for a quick release of all the hostages safely and without harm,” Gad Elbaz said.

American-born Levi Wolff, the rabbi of Sydney’s Central Synagogue, set a message to congregants on Monday afternoon. “We can only imagine the fear and anxiety being experienced by the hostages and by their dear families,” he wrote. “Australians are a people of peace and this wonderful country is not accustomed to terror such as this on its own soil. We will not allow these sorts of people to intimidate and overwhelm us.”

Islamic leaders condemned the incident, saying they received the news with “utter shock and horror.”

A screengrab taken from Australian Channel Seven shows the suspected gunman inside a cafe in Sydney, December 15, 2014.Photo by AFP
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott speaks at a press conference in the Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014. Photo by AP

“We remind everyone the Arabic inscription on the black flag is not representative of a political statement but reaffirms a testimony of faith that has been misappropriated by misguided individuals that represent no one but themselves,” they said in a statement signed by some 50 organizations, including the Australian National Imams Council and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils.

Australia’s government elevated its terrorist alert level to high in September, with authorities saying a terror attack was “likely” but not imminent.

The siege follows a series of anti-terror raids across Australia over the past few months. Authorities are tracking up to 200 people who have travelled to Syria and Iraq, apparently to join jihadist organizations. A number of them have returned to Australia.

A hostage runs to police officers for safety after escaping a cafe under siege at Martin Place, Sydney, Australia, Dec. 15, 2014.Photo by AP

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Senate CIA Torture Report Details ‘Ruthless’ Brutality of Bush Era

NOVANEWS

Posted by: Sammi Ibrahem, Sr

Senate Intelligence Committee’s report says CIA abuse violated ‘U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.’ Journalists, experts and human rights advocates say that torture program under the Bush administration was systematically orchestrated by top officials.

The Senate Intelligence Committee has released the 525-page executive summary of the six thousand page investigative report which looked at the CIA’s “Detention and interrogation Program.” (Image: Common Dreams)

The executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on CIA torture was released on Tuesday morning. As the document itself (pdf) was posted online, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chairperson of the committee, took to the Senate floor and to lay out the case made within the 500+ page report. Watch video of Feinstein’s  remarks here.

What the report shows, according to its introduction, is that the abuse performed by the CIA and documented by the investigation was found to be in direct “violation of U.S. law, treaty obligations, and our values.”

According to Feinstein, the four key findings of the report include:

1. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective.
2. The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
3. The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
4. The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.

Common Dreams posted updates following the release of the report, focusing on reactions and critical analysis from informed voices


On Twitter:


3:38 PM: Maher Arar, a Canadian victim of rendition and torture by the U.S. government, responded to the Senate report on his Twitter account with several salient points:


3:11 PM: Amnesty International: Release of Torture Report Must Not Be End of Story

Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director for Amnesty International, said in a statement:

“This report provides yet more damning detail of some of the human rights violations that were authorized by the highest authorities in the USA after 9/11. Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorizing or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes.

“The declassified information contained in the summary, while limited, is a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorized and used torture and other ill-treatment. This is a wake-up call to the USA, they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims. This is not a policy nicety, it is a requirement under international law.”


3:03 PM: Statement by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon):Report Shows CIA Torture Did Not Work and America Should Never Torture Again

Senator Wyden said:

“While I understand this is a dangerous world and am grateful to the rank-and-file intelligence professionals that keep our country safe, the facts show that torture did nothing to protect America from foreign threats.

“The current CIA leadership has been alarmingly resistant to acknowledging the full scope of the mistakes and misrepresentations that surrounded this program for so many years. I hope this report is the catalyst CIA leaders need to acknowledge that torture did not work and close this disgraceful chapter in our country’s history.”


2:59 PM: The Guardian: Rectal rehydration and waterboarding: how the CIA tortured its detainees

Reporter Oliver Laughland documents some of the most brutal torture tactics contained the report. Read his reporting here.


2:54 PM: ProPublica: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report‘ 

The Senate began investigating the CIA’s detainee program nearly six years ago. It completed a draft of its report two years ago. Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee has finally released the report’s blistering executive summary. (The full report remains classified.) What took so long? It’s a tale of White House indecisiveness, Republican opposition, and CIA snooping. Check out the timeline here.


2:47 PM: As journalists and analysts pour over contents of report, examples of some of the shocking details of CIA torture were being shared via Twitter:


2:38 PM: Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights: Those who sanctioned torture must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes

UN-appointed expert and investigator Ben Emmerson issued a statement today, which reads, in part:

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”


2:25 PM: Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch: Torture ‘Can Never Be Justified’

Roth said:

“The Senate report summary should forever put to rest CIA denials that it engaged in torture, which is criminal and can never be justified. The report shows the repeated claims that harsh measures were needed to protect Americans are utter fiction.”


2:19 PM: Trevor Timm at The Guardian: “Stop believing the lies: America tortured more than ‘some folks’ – and covered it up”

The executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation writes:

The torture defenders from the CIA and the Bush administration probably won’t even make a serious attempt to say they didn’t torture anyone – just that it was effective, that there were “serious mistakes, but that “countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure” – with a capital H.

This highlights the mistake of the Senate committee, in a way. Instead of focusing on the illegal nature of the torture, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s investigators worked to document torture’s ineffectiveness. The debate, now, is whether torture worked. It clearly didn’t. But the debate should be: Why the hell aren’t these torturous liars in jail?


2:11 PM: Glenn Greenwald: The Establishment Media’s role in torture

The U.S. media […] played a central role in first obscuring, then justifying, the Bush torture regime to the public. One of the most extreme examples was this Joe Klein column in The Guardian viciously mocking those who claimed the U.S. was torturing detainees (“total rubbish, of course”), and he even wrote this about detainees:

They wear orange jump suits, which are probably an improvement over their Afghan cave-wear (I would actually prefer they be dressed in pink tutus, to give them an appreciation of the freedoms accorded western ballerinas).

Liberal journalist Jonathan Alter wrote a Newsweek column expressly demanding that the U.S. Government use torture, headlined “Time to Think About Torture.” It began: “In this autumn of anger, even a liberal can find his thoughts turning to … torture.”

Now we have new examples. Today’s Senate Committee report describes how Douglas Jehl, then a New York Times reporter, now The Washington Post‘s Foreign Editor, promised the CIA positive coverage of its torture program (a common practice among some DC national security reporters).


2:03 PM: Moyers & Company editors have highlighted the twenty key findings of the report on their website:

“Moyers & Company is preparing a detailed analysis of the report for later publication. A quick overview of what the report contains can be found in the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 20 findings, reprinted here.”


1:28 PM: Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s official statement (pdf) highlights four key findings of CIA torture report

The study’s 20 findings and conclusions, according to Feinstein’s statement, can be grouped into four central themes, each of which is supported extensively in the Executive Summary:

1. The CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques” were not effective.
2. The CIA provided extensive inaccurate information about the operation of the program and its effectiveness to policymakers and the public.
3. The CIA’s management of the program was inadequate and deeply flawed.
4. The CIA program was far more brutal than the CIA represented to policymakers and the American public.


1:13 PM: Sen. Bernie Sanders: Report Details “Ugly Chapter in American History”

Independent Senator from Vermont Bernie Sanders said:

“A great nation must be prepared to acknowledge its errors. This report details an ugly chapter in American history during which our leaders and the intelligence community dishonored our nation’s proud traditions. Of course we must aggressively pursue international terrorists who would do us harm, but we must do so in a way that is consistent with the basic respect for human rights which makes us proud to be Americans.

“The United States must not engage in torture. If we do, in an increasingly brutal world we lose our moral standing to condemn other nations or groups that engage in uncivilized behavior.”


1:08 PM: Glenn Greenwald: Destruction of “Zero Dark Thirty” Scenario

The report utterly decimated the central claim of “Zero Dark Thirty” that torture played a key role in finding Osama bin Laden (h/t: Farhad Manjoo)


12:59 PM: Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) statement suggests he will not push for further, un-redacted disclosures

The statement released by Sen. Mark Udall following the Intelligence Committee’s report suggests he is satisfied with the report and will likely not follow through with threats, which followed urging from anti-torture and transparency activists, that he would read the full un-redacted report into the congressional record. In his official statement, Udall said:

“The release of the executive summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s study of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program is an historic victory for our nation, the Constitution, and our system of checks and balances. This study ensures that the truth about the CIA’s brutal torture program finally comes out and that the agency can learn from its repeated missteps and start to restore its integrity.My goal from day one has been holding the CIA accountable, shedding light on this dark chapter of our history, and ensuring neither the CIA nor any future administration would make these grievous mistakes ever again. The report released today achieves those goals and affirms that we are a nation that does not hide from its past, but learns from it.

“We can protect our national security without compromising who we are as Americans. This landmark study — and the millions of pages of agency documents and testimony it is based upon — shows that torture is not effective and does not make us safer.”


12:54 PM: Legal Director of Center for Constitutional Rights: “Criminal Prosecutions Must Follow Senate CIA Torture Report Findings”

CCR attorney Baher Azmy issued this statement:

The long-delayed Senate report proves what we have been saying since 2006: that the CIA engaged in a sophisticated program of state-sanctioned torture, notable for its elaborate planning and ruthless application. We have witnessed firsthand the devastating human consequences in meetings with our clients at Guantanamo. The report also exposes the CIA’s lies about how the program operated and the utility of the information obtained: False claims about the usefulness of that information were used to justify and cover up monstrous crimes. We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture program. They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under the principles of universal jurisdiction.


12:49 PM: The Intercept’s Dan Froomkin says Report’s Footnotes “Will Make You Weep”


12:45 PM: Former CIA analyst and Common Dreams contributor Ray McGovern responds:

“It is bizarre; the Executive and Congress both live in fear of the thugs of the CIA, who have now been joined by Secretary of State John Kerry (probably after checking with the White House) issuing spurious warnings regarding the dangers of releasing the report — as if the ‘bad guys’ have not yet heard of CIA torture! No one — Democrat or Republican — wants the truth to get out about torture techniques authorized by the Bush/Cheney administration, techniques actually demonstrated multiple times in the White House itself to the administration’s most senior national security and justice officials, and then implemented by CIA thugs.

“Far too many ‘notables’ approved the torture or, at least, had guilty knowledge — House minority leader Nancy Pelosi, for example. Likely, an eviscerated (‘redacted’ is the euphemism) Senate report on CIA torture is all we will be permitted to read. At that point, the ball will be squarely in lame-duck Sen. Mark Udall’s court. Will he feel bound by the Omerta-style oath of silence typical of Establishment Washington, or will he have the courage to get the truth out, using his Constitutionally protected right to do so without legal jeopardy?”


12:27 PM: The Guardian reports: CIA’s brutal and ineffective use of torture revealed in landmark report

Spencer Ackerman reports:

After examining 20 case studies, the report found that torture “regularly resulted in fabricated information,” said committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, in a statement summarizing the findings.

“During the brutal interrogations the CIA was often unaware the information was fabricated.”

The torture that the CIA carried out was even more extreme than what it portrayed to congressional overseers and the George W Bush administration, the committee found. It went beyond techniques already made public through a decade of leaks and lawsuits, which had revealed that agency interrogators subjected detainees to quasi-drowning, staged mock executions, and revved power drills near their heads.

At least 39 detainees, the committee found, experienced techniques like “cold water dousing” – different from the quasi-drowning known as waterboarding – which the Justice Department never approved. The committee found at least five cases of “rectal rehydration”, and cases of death threats made to detainees. CIA interrogators, the committee charged, told detainees they would hurt their children and “sexually assault” or kill their wives.


12:14 PM: ACLU responds: Senate Torture Report Shows Need for Accountability

Responding to the report, the American Civil Liberties Union released a detailed plan for full accountability, and ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero had this reaction:

This is a shocking report, and it is impossible to read it without feeling immense outrage that our government engaged in these terrible crimes. This report definitively drags into the light the horrific details of illegal torture, details that both the Bush and Obama administrations have worked hard to sweep under the rug. The government officials who authorized illegal activity need to be held accountable. The administration’s current position – doing absolutely nothing – is tantamount to issuing tacit pardons. Tacit pardons are worse than formal ones because they undermine the rule of law. The CIA’s wrongful acts violated basic human rights, served as a huge recruiting tool for our enemies, and alienated allies world-wide. Our response to the damning evidence in this report will define us as a nation.

This should be the beginning of a process, not the end. The report should shock President Obama and Congress into action, to make sure that torture and cruelty are never used again. The Department of Justice needs to appoint a special prosecutor to hold the architects and perpetrators of the torture program accountable for its design, implementation, and cover-ups. Congress must assert its constitutional role in the system of checks and balances, and oversee the CIA, which in this report sounds more like a rogue paramilitary group than the intelligence gathering agency that it’s supposed to be. The president needs to use the moral authority of his office to formally recognize both the torture program’s victims and those in government who resisted this shameful and illegal policy.


11:47 AM: Senate Intelligence Committee Releases unclassified, redacted version of executive summary

The official unclassified version of the executive summary of the report is here (pdf).


9:17 AM: America can’t handle the truth – about Guantánamo, torture or a man now free from both

In an op-ed in the Guardian, Cori Crider, a lawyer with the UK-based human rights legal group Reprieve, describes why her client Abu Wa’el Dhiab, released from Guantanamo just days ago after more than 12 years without trial, is a prime example of how deep the U.S. government’s “indifference to human suffering” and obsession with keeping evidence of its abuses out of the public domain has run since 2001.

…if you think you’re going to get the truth about torture out of the so-called War on Terror’s wall of silence when the long-anticipated CIA torture report finally gets released on Tuesday, consider that we can’t even see that photo of my shackled client getting on a plane – that I am not even allowed to tell you about 10 hours of video of him getting force-fed by military service members.

Perhaps the American government can’t handle the truth about itself, from torture in secret CIA prisons to my client’s torture at the world’s most notorious prison, even after he is finally free. But I believe the American people can.


9:00 AM: Two must-read backgrounders on CIA torture program

On Monday, independent journalist Marcy Wheeler, aka @Emptywheel, released this 13-part timeline via Twitter which explains the rise of the torture program under the Bush administration.

Also on Monday, Marcelene Hearn, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s national security project published this piece, titled Required Reading: Prequels to the Torture Report on the Blog of Rights.

7:59 AM: Ahead of Senate panel’s report, torture opponents challenge coordinated misinformation campaign

Ahead of the report’s release, opponents of the brutal practices authorized by the Bush administration are preparing to pour over the report to see just how far the six-year long probe goes in identifying the real perpetrators of the programs which saw individuals in the custody of the U.S. government beaten and mistreated in ways that other investigators of the program have identified as “war crimes” and members of the committee have said will make Americans “disgusted.”

In recent days, as previously reported, current and former CIA officials, lawmakers, and members of the Bush administration have come out in defense of the CIA’s brutal tactics while also attempting to discredit the Senate report.

In an interview with the German newspaper Deutsche Welle published Tuesday morning, (Ret.) Col. Morris Davis, who once led the government’s prosecution team at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, said the Senate report may not reveal things not already documented elsewhere, but that’s its publication is vital nonetheless. “I don’t anticipate that the report will reveal some additional practices that have not been discussed in some way already,” Morris said in the interview. “What it will do though is officially confirm what’s been talked about in the media for years. Having that official record is important.”

Staking out his position on the report prior to its release, journalist Glenn Greenwald, who has covered the CIA torture program that took place under former President George W. Bush extensively, said that the American people should not succumb to the “worst myths official Washington and its establishment media have told” the public over the course of recent years. The program was not isolated to just a few cases, as if often suggested, writes Greenwald, but rather “was an officially sanctioned, worldwide regime of torture that had the acquiescence, if not explicit approval, of the top members of both political parties in Congress.”

Posted in USA, Human RightsComments Off on Senate CIA Torture Report Details ‘Ruthless’ Brutality of Bush Era

Giveaways To Wall Street

NOVANEWS

Nation’s Wealthiest in Spending Bill Make ‘Great Train Robbery Look Like a Misdemeanor’

Wealthy donors and Wall Street score big with eleventh-hour federal omnibus budget being rushed through Congress

Campaign finance reform advocates protest outside the Capitol building in Washington D.C., 2011. (Photo: takomabibelot/cc/flickr)

Watchdog groups are sounding the alarm as congressional lawmakers finalize an eleventh-hour omnibus bill, which observers say contains gifts to both big monied banks and donors.

Thanks to a provision slipped into the more than $1 trillion congressional funding bill, which lawmakers agreed to late Tuesday evening, wealthy donors will now be legally permitted to contribute even more funds to political parties.

“The last thing the American people want is for Congress to give big donors even more influence in politics, but that’s exactly what this provision will do.” —Nick Nyhart, Public CampaignThe behemoth spending bill funds a wide variety of government programs, from school lunches to environmental protections.

The spending package (pdf), which is expected to be voted on by before the weekend, includes a provision (see page 1599) to create three separate accounts within the Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee, each for reportedly different purposes such as operating costs, legal proceedings, and each party’s nominating convention.

Each donor would now be permitted to to contribute $97,200 to each fund annually, meaning that a single donor could contribute up to $324,000 per year to finance a party’s operations. For comparison, the current maximum limit a donor can give to a national party committee each year, which was set by 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform law, is $32,400, plus an additional $32,400 in the event of an election recount.

“This makes the Great Train Robbery look like a petty misdemeanor,” Fred Wertheimer, president of the advocacy group Democracy 21, told the Washington Post. “These provisions have never been considered by the House or Senate, and were never even publicly mentioned before today.”

“Congress should act to reform campaign finance law, through a public debate with an eye toward increasing the electoral participation of ordinary citizens. Instead, they agreed on changes at themidnight hour increasing the power of a few wealthy people to exert outsize control over our elections and political parties.” —Lawrence Norden, Brennan Center for Justice

“The last thing the American people want is for Congress to give big donors even more influence in politics, but that’s exactly what this provision will do,”agreed Nick Nyhart, president of the election reform nonprofit Public Campaign. “The biggest donors will be able to buy more access and influence and everyone else back home will continue wondering who their elected officials are working for.”

Lawrence Norden, who heads the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said it is deplorable that such radical changes to campaign finance reform rules are being attempted without public input or broad discussion.

“Congress should act to reform campaign finance law, through a public debate with an eye toward increasing the electoral participation of ordinary citizens,” Norden said. “Instead, they agreed on changes at the midnight hour increasing the power of a few wealthy people to exert outsize control over our elections and political parties. This raises the suspicion that politicians are trying to manipulate the campaign finance system for their own benefit, which will serve only to decrease average citizens’ participation in our electoral process.”

Further sticking it to the American people, Wall Street was also able to tuck into the omnibus bill a provision that will allow the country’s too-big-too-fail banks to return to the practice of gambling on derivatives—the same high-risk activity that precipitated the 2008 crash—with funds that are insured by taxpayers.

As former Wall Street executive and senior fellow at Campaign for America’s FutureRichard Eskow explains, the amendment in question, which would repeal a key protection in the Dodd-Frank Act known as the ‘swaps push-out rule,’ was largely written by lobbyists for Citigroup.

“We are at a pivotal moment in the struggle to restrain the financial industry’s toxic blend of recklessness and political influence,” Eskow writes. “Bankers have had many political victories since their moment of financial failure, but those victories have been incomplete — until now. Has their hour come around at last?”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) said in a statement: “Middle-class families are still paying a heavy price for the decisions to weaken the financial cops, leaving Wall Street free to load up on risk.”

“Congress should not chip away at important reforms that protect taxpayers and make our economy safer,” added Warren, who—alongside fellow Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Jeff Merkley (Ore.), and Carl Levin (Mich.)—has fought the rule change.

Politico details some of the other provisions included in the spending bill.

The House Rules Committee is expected to mark up the compromise spending bill Wednesday afternoon, with a likely House vote on Thursday, the day of the bill’s deadline.  However, The Hill reports, the vote may not occur in the Senate until Friday or over the weekend.

Posted in USAComments Off on Giveaways To Wall Street

The US’s Story of Torture Doesn’t Have to End With Impunity

NOVANEWS

‘The crime of torture,’ writes Shamsi, ‘has no statute of limitations when torture risks or results in serious injury or death, and the U.S. government has the obligation under international law to investigate any credible evidence that torture has been committed.’ (Image: ACLU)

After five long years of investigation, declassification, and redaction – not to mention outright obstruction by the CIA – the Senate Intelligence Committee today shone more light on CIA torture and made a historic and necessary contribution to public scrutiny, debate, and our nation’s values.

The release of the Senate torture report’s 525-page executive summary confirms that state-sanctioned torture is an American story, and no longer one we can ascribe only to odious foreign regimes. It’s a story the CIA wrote on the minds and bodies of its victims, documented in thousands of cables, and lied about to its oversight institutions and the public. It’s a story not just of perpetrators, but also torture architects in the upper echelons of the Bush administration who authorized the torture program and wrote memos seeking to justify it. It’s also a story about other Americans officials who risked their careers and objected to torture because they knew it violated basic human decency, corrupted the nation’s ideals, and undermined our national security. And it’s a story about those who were tortured in horrific ways by a government that broke the very laws it’s responsible for upholding.

This story isn’t complete. Maybe, in fact, we’re only reaching its climax.

The release of the Senate’s torture report summary is a tipping point and a reminder that the United States has never fully reckoned with a past that includes waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation, threats of harm to children and other family members, among many devastatingly cruel acts. Once again, Americans, all of us, have an opportunity to choose how we end this story, whether that’s responsibly, with a full return to our laws and values, or shamefully, by failing to act now that the report summary is released. A conclusion that begins to heal wounds and rebuild U.S. credibility as a defender of rights instead of a perpetrator of rights violations consists of five parts, all of which work together to ensure that our nation never tortures again.

Here is a blueprint for accountability:

Appoint a Special Prosecutor. The attorney general should appoint a special prosecutor with the full authority to conduct an independent and complete investigation of Bush administration officials who created, approved, carried out, and covered up the torture program. The crime of torture has no statute of limitations when torture risks or results in serious injury or death, and the U.S. government has the obligation under international law to investigate any credible evidence that torture has been committed. If there’s sufficient evidence of criminal conduct – and it’s hard to see how there isn’t –the offenders should be prosecuted. In our system, no one should be above the law, yet only a handful of mainly low-level personnel have been criminally prosecuted for abuse.

That is a scandal.

CIA Reform. The CIA’s spying on Senate Intelligence Committee staffers investigating the agency’s use of torture is one more damning piece of evidence that the CIA urgently needs to be reformed. Congress should ensure the CIA never tortures again by taking two steps. First, Congress must prohibit the CIA from operating any detention facility or holding any person in its custody. Second, Congress should subject the CIA to the same interrogation rules that apply to the military. President Obama rightly ended the torture program when he assumed office. Now it’s Congress’ turn to make sure the CIA never again operates free of the checks and balances our democratic system demands.

Apologize to Victims. With only a handful of exceptions, the U.S. government has not officially acknowledged its torture victims let alone extended formal apologies to those men, women, and children for the horrors our nation inflicted on them. With the Senate torture report’s release, President Obama should rectify this.

Apologies alone won’t do, however.

The United States has a responsibility under international law to provide compensation and rehabilitation services to those who suffered torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment at its behest. Restitution is necessary for healing to start. It will also signal to the rest of the world and future generations that torture as U.S. state policy was an aberration that America promises never to repeat.

Honor Courage. Many U.S. service members and civilian officials risked their careers and reputations by objecting to torture after learning it was official U.S. policy. They understood that torture would harm lives, violate the law, undermine national security, and corrupt our institutions – including the military as well as the CIA.

These largely unsung men and women are heroes, and President Obama should formally honor their courage and their commitment to our most fundamental ideals of treating captives with dignity and respect, which stretches back to the Revolutionary War. By honoring these men and women of conscience, the president will also send a strong message to other public servants and officials that they need not fear coming forward when their government does wrong.

Full Disclosure. Even with the release of the redacted Senate report, secrecy still obscures the full extent of U.S. government abuse. If the Obama administration is serious about transparency, it will remove the redactions it forced the Senate to include in the torture report and publicly release all 6,700 pages in full. Complete transparency, however, cannot occur until the government releases President Bush’s 2001 memo authorizing the creation of CIA black sites, the CIA’s cables on the use of waterboarding and other brutal interrogation techniques, and the photographic evidence of U.S. prisoner abuse at Iraqi and Afghan detention facilities.

The other, shameful option is to continue doing what America has done all along on accountability: next to nothing.

If we choose to end the story that way, and it is a choice, there will be serious consequences for who we are as a nation. As torture survivor Juan E. Méndez, the United Nations special rapporteur on torture, has shown, history teaches that countries that try to bury or ignore their serious human rights abuses are more likely to commit the same transgressions again.

How the story of America’s descent into the torture chamber ends hasn’t been written yet. We can start righting the wrongs of the past, but only if we have the courage to face our demons fully, and show the world our commitment to putting the darkness behind us.

Posted in USAComments Off on The US’s Story of Torture Doesn’t Have to End With Impunity

For Protesting US Drone Strikes, Prosecutor Told Judge I Must “Be Rehabilitated”

NOVANEWS

On drones, discrimination, and kicking bad habits

“A group of Afghan friends,” writes Kelly, “had entrusted me with a simple message, their grievance, which they couldn’t personally deliver:  please stop killing us.” (Image: MettaCenter)

On December 10, International Human Rights Day, federal Magistrate Matt Whitworth sentenced me to three months in prison for having crossed the line at a military base that wages drone warfare. The punishment for our attempt to speak on behalf of trapped and desperate people, abroad, will be an opportunity to speak with people trapped by prisons and impoverishment here in the U.S.

Our trial was based on a trespass charge incurred on June 1, 2014.  Georgia Walker and I were immediately arrested when we stepped onto Missouri’s Whiteman Air Force where pilots fly weaponized drones over Afghanistan and other countries.  We carried a loaf of bread and a letter for Brig Gen. Glen D. Van Herck.  In court, we testified that we hadn’t acted with criminal intent but had, rather, exercised our First Amendment right (and responsibility) to assemble peaceably for redress of grievance.

“The prosecution recommended the maximum six month sentence.  “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated,” said an earnest young military lawyer. The judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions and agreed that I hadn’t yet learned not to break the law.”A group of Afghan friends had entrusted me with a simple message, their grievance, which they couldn’t personally deliver:  please stop killing us.

I knew that people I’ve lived with, striving to end wars even as their communities were bombed by drone aircraft, would understand the symbolism of asking to break bread with the base commander.

Judge Whitworth said he understood that we oppose war, but he could recommend over 100 better ways to make our point that wouldn’t be breaking the law.

The prosecution recommended the maximum six month sentence.  “Ms. Kelly needs to be rehabilitated,” said an earnest young military lawyer. The judge paged through a four page summary of past convictions and agreed that I hadn’t yet learned not to break the law.

What I’ve learned from past experiences in prison is that the criminal justice system uses prison as a weapon against defendants who often have next to no resources to defend themselves.  A prosecutor can threaten a defendant with an onerously long prison sentence along with heavy fines if the defendant doesn’t agree to plea bargain.

In his article “Why Innocent People Plead Guilty,” Jed S. Rakoff draws attention to the institution of plea bargaining which now ensures that less than 3% of federal cases go to trial at all.  “Of the 2.2 million U.S. people now in prison,” Rakoff writes, “well over 2 million are there as a result of plea bargains dictated by the government’s prosecutors, who effectively dictate the sentence as well.”

“In 2012, the average sentence for federal narcotics defendants who entered into any kind of plea bargain was five years and four months,” Rakoff writes, “while the average sentence for defendants who went to trial was sixteen years.”

It’s one thing to read about the shameful racism and discrimination of the U.S.  criminal justice system. It’s quite another to sit next to a woman who is facing ten or more years in prison, isolated from children she has not held in years, and to learn from her about the circumstances that led to her imprisonment.

Many women prisoners, unable to find decent jobs in the regular economy, turn to the underground economy. Distant relatives of mine knew plenty about such an economy several generations ago, in Boston. They couldn’t get work, as Irish immigrants, and so they got into the bootlegging business when alcohol was prohibited. But no one sent them to prison for 10 years if they were caught.

Women prisoners may feel waves of guilt, remorse, defiance, and despair. In spite of facing extremely harsh punishment, harsh emotions, and traumatic isolation, most of the women I’ve met in prison have shown extraordinary strength of character.

When I was in Pekin Prison, we would routinely see young men, shackled and handcuffed, shuffling off of the bus to spend their first day in their medium-high security prison next door.  The median sentence there was 27 years. We knew they’d be old men, many of them grandfathers, by the time they walked out again.

The U.S. is the undisputed world leader in incarceration, as it is the world leader in military dominance.  Only one in 28 of drone victims are the intended, guilty or innocent, targets.  One third of women in prison worldwide, are, at this moment, in U.S. prisons.  The crimes that most threaten the safety and livelihood of people in the U.S. of course remain the crimes of the powerful, of the corporations that taint our skies with carbon and acid rainfall, peddle weapons  around an already suffering globe,  shut down factories and whole economies in pursuit of quick wealth, and send our young people to war.

Chief Executive Officers of major corporations that produce products inimical to human survival will most likely never be charged much less convicted of any crime.  I don’t want to see them jailed.  I do want to see them rehabilitated

Each time I’ve left a U.S. prison, I’ve felt as though I was leaving the scene of a crime. When I return to the U.S. from sites of our war making, abroad, I feel the same way. Emerging back into the regular world seems tantamount to accepting a contract, pledging to forget the punishments we visit on impoverished people.  I’m invited to forget about the people still trapped inside nightmare worlds we have made for them.

On January 23, 2015, when I report to whichever prison the Bureau of Prisons selects, I’ll have a short time to reconnect with the reality endured by incarcerated people.  It’s not the rehabilitation the prosecutor and judge had in mind, but it will help me be a more empathic and mindful abolitionist, intent on ending all wars.

Posted in USAComments Off on For Protesting US Drone Strikes, Prosecutor Told Judge I Must “Be Rehabilitated”

Obama: America “Exceptional” So We Don’t Prosecute Torturers

NOVANEWS

Legal experts and human rights advocates says prosecutions must follow Senate’s report on CIA torture as president says grave violations of domestic and international law should be kept “where they belong—in the past”

Despite executive summary of Senate panel’s report on Tuesday, President Obama is still unwilling to pursue real accountability for those who designed, approved, and executed the CIA’s torture program under his predecessor, George W. Bush. (Photo: AP file)

In his first official remarks following Tuesday’s release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the torture program conducted by the CIA during the presidency of George W. Bush, President Barack Obama on Tuesday night indicated that the abuses detailed in the report conducted in the name of the American people—described as “horrific,” “ruthless” and “much more brutal than previously thought”—should not be followed by further inquiries or prosecutions as many have long urged.

In his remarks, Obama acknowledged that “no nation is perfect,” but argued that “one of the strengths that makes America exceptional is our willingness to openly confront our past, face our imperfections, make changes and do better.”

“This is a wake-up call to the USA, they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims. This is not a policy nicety, it is a requirement under international law.”
—Erika Guevara, Amnesty International

Backed by his interpretation of “American Exceptionalism,” Obama suggested that the release of the report—which his administration fought tirelessly to restrict—was all that was necessary in order for the nation to move forward.

“Rather than another reason to refight old arguments,” Obama continued, “I hope that today’s report can help us leave these techniques where they belong—in the past.”

Legal experts and human rights advocates, however, have taken a decidedly different approach to the report as many renewed a simple message in the wake of Tuesday’s release, saying: If gross crimes were committed, prosecutors should be assigned and the criminals should be tried and punished.

The executive summary of the committee’s investigative report (pdf) spans 525 pages and chronicles many of the internal machinations and communications relating to how the CIA conducted its abuse of suspected terrorism suspects—including tactics and abuses much more brutal than previously been acknowledged by any government agency. Though many of the lawmakers who have endorsed the report, as well as current and former U.S. officials, have mirrored Obama’s position by saying or suggesting its release should “close this disgraceful chapter” of American history, organizations like the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Amnesty International, and a host of other groups and individuals argue that if justice and the rule of law mean anything, the report should be the beginning—not the end—of accountability for those who designed, approved, and executed this program.

“The long-delayed Senate report proves what we have been saying since 2006: that the CIA engaged in a sophisticated program of state-sanctioned torture, notable for its elaborate planning and ruthless application,” said Baher Azmy, the legal director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. “We renew our demand for accountability for those individuals responsible for the CIA torture program. They should be prosecuted in U.S. courts; and if our government continues to refuse to hold them accountable, they must be pursued internationally under the principles of universal jurisdiction.”

“Instead of focusing on the illegal nature of the torture, investigators worked to document torture’s ineffectiveness. The debate, now, is whether torture worked. It clearly didn’t. But the debate should be: Why the hell aren’t these torturous liars in jail?”
—Trevor Timm, Freedom of the Press FoundationThe ACLU has put forth a blueprint for accountabilitywhich includes appointing a special prosecutor; deeply reforming the CIA; apologies and compensation to the victims of torture; honoring those officials who resisted or refused to participate in the program; and pushing for transparency beyond what is contained in the Senate report. The full Senate report is more than 6,000 pages, and thousands of other pages of documents related to the CIA program were withheld by the White House for review.

Hina Shamsi, who heads the ACLU’s national security project, said the story of U.S. torture under the Bush presidency should not end with impunity for those involved.

“The release of the report is a tipping point and a reminder that the United States has never fully reckoned with a past that includes waterboarding, stress positions, beatings, sleep deprivation, threats of harm to children and other family members, among many devastatingly cruel acts,” Shamsi said. “Once again, Americans, all of us, have an opportunity to choose how we end this story, whether that’s responsibly, with a full return to our laws and values, or shamefully, by failing to act now that the report summary is released.”

Erika Guevara, head of the Americas division of Amnesty International, said that under international law, the U.S. really should have no choice other than to prosecute.

“The declassified information contained in the summary, while limited, is a reminder to the world of the utter failure of the USA to end the impunity enjoyed by those who authorized and used torture and other ill-treatment,” Guevara said in a statement. “This is a wake-up call to the USA, they must disclose the full truth about the human rights violations, hold perpetrators accountable and ensure justice for the victims. This is not a policy nicety, it is a requirement under international law.”

Though the Senate’s exhaustive report has been praised by many, those advocating for prosecutions of the torture program’s architects—including high-ranking officials like former president George W. Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, and others—point out the panel’s investigation into torture spent too much time obsessing over whether or not torture garnered “actionable” or “valuable” intelligence information, a question that should have no bearing when it comes to violations of domestic and international law, not to mention deep moral codes.

As Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, wrote in the immediate wake of the report’s release: “Instead of focusing on the illegal nature of the torture, Senator Dianne Feinstein’s investigators worked to document torture’s ineffectiveness. The debate, now, is whether torture worked. It clearly didn’t. But the debate should be: Why the hell aren’t these torturous liars in jail?”

As the ACLU’s Shamsi points out, “The crime of torture has no statute of limitations when torture risks or results in serious injury or death, and the U.S. government has the obligation under international law to investigate any credible evidence that torture has been committed. If there’s sufficient evidence of criminal conduct—and it’s hard to see how there isn’t—the offenders should be prosecuted. In our system, no one should be above the law, yet only a handful of mainly low-level personnel have been criminally prosecuted for abuse.”

Posted in USA, Human Rights1 Comment

‘The Alarm Bells are Ringing’: From Athletes to Environmentalists, a Universal Call for Racial Justice Emerges

NOVANEWS

While the protests over deaths of Eric Garner and Mike Brown refuse to stand down, leading environmentalists, labor protesters and others show their solidarity saying: “These issues are not separate.”

A protester in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania holds a sign quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: "An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." (Photo: Mark Dixon/cc/flickr)

A protester in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania holds a sign quoting Dr. Martin Luther King: “An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” (Photo: Mark Dixon/cc/flickr)

With the nation’s streets still filled with protesters and a plan for thousands to march on Washington brewing, the call for justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and other black victims of police violence has only grown stronger. In the days and weeks since two grand juries failed to indict the police officers who killed the two men, expressions of solidarity have poured in from all corners—from professional athletes to fast food workers, education leaders and environmental groups, with the message that an injustice against one is an injustice against us all.

On Monday evening, several NBA players took the court wearing t-shirts that read, “I can’t breathe,” a reference to the final utterance issued by Eric Garner, who was forced into a chokehold by New York Police Officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17. “It’s not a Cavs thing,”said Cleveland Cavaliers star Lebron James, who was one of the players to don the shirt, before the game. “It’s a worldly thing.”

The symbolic action was not the first expression of support by a professional sports team. Members of the Ferguson community’s hometown football team, the St. Louis Rams, alsosignaled their solidarity with the movement when they walked on the field on November 30 holding their hands in the air in what has become the signature “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture of the Ferguson protests.

The idea that the demonstrations—sparked by incidents of police violence against black individuals in the communities of Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and elsewhere—have “worldly” resonance is a connection that the environmental movement has also been quick to make.

The argument that environmental issues are inherently intertwined with social justice issues is one that has been voiced repeatedly. But in the wake of the recent grand jury decisions, leading environmental groups have come out strong in support of those in the streets, arguing that a world that breeds such inequalities is fundamentally opposed to the idea of a sustainable society.

“We cannot lead a meaningful fight for the environment without first taking steps to address the unequal valuation of life within it.”
—Erich Pica, Friends of the Earth

“We cannot lead a meaningful fight for the environment without first taking steps to address the unequal valuation of life within it,” Friends of the Earth President Erich Pica wrote in a statement this weekend. “The preventable deaths of Mike Brown, Darrien Hunt, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Aiyana Jones, Oscar Grant and dozens of others bespeak not just a systematic injustice, but of a cancer in our national consciousness that seems to place little value on the lives of black and brown people.”

“Our mission is to create a healthier and more just world, but we have little hope of success if our nation cannot agree on the definitions of chokehold, unarmed and murder; let alone clean air and water,” Pica concluded.

Following the Ferguson grand jury decision last month, 350.org Executive Director May Boeve issued a call to the climate movement to stand in solidarity with the protesters there, saying, “their fight is fundamentally linked with ours for a healthy and livable future for all. It’s past time to replace the broken system that continually devastates communities of color, and reform the bankrupt laws that put over-reactive self-defense above the dignity of life.”

And Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune agreed, saying: “These issues are not separate.”

“The Sierra Club’s mission is to ‘enlist humanity’ to explore, enjoy, and protect the planet. That mission, which applies to everyone, cannot be achieved when people’s rights are being violated and their safety and dignity are being threatened on a routine basis,” Brune wrotethis weekend. “This must stop.”

Low wage workers protesting for a higher minimum wage also threw their support behind the protests against racial profiling and police brutality, staging solidarity “die-ins” and chanting “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” during last week’s national day of action.

Journalist Sarah Jaffe, who wrote about the converging demonstrations for Salon, spoke with St. Louis Burger King worker Carlos Robinson who said that the actions last week “felt different because we were doing it for the Mike Brown situation and trying to show people the significance between injustice in our workplaces and injustice in our communities.” Robinson, who had been organizing for $15 an hour and a union for about seven months, said the demonstrators “know just as well as we do that there’s injustice in our communities and there’s injustice in our fast food places and we need to do something about it.”

And labor leader Randi Weingarten, head of the American Federation of Teachers, wasarrested along with her partner Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and several other prominent rabbis while protesting in New York City following the Eric Garner grand jury announcement last week.

“Today, the alarm bells are ringing in town squares and city streets everywhere, urging everyone still holding out hope for a more just world to rise up and get busy making it.”
—Randall Amster, Georgetown University

Meanwhile, the demonstrations have yet to cease. For the third night in a row, protesters on Monday night rallied in the streets of Berkeley, California and organizers have called for a mass mobilization in New York City on Saturday, December 13. Further, Reverend Al Sharpton and his National Action Network is organizing a march on Washington, D.C. on Saturday to demand congressional action on police brutality.

Onlookers believe that this moment, the growing call for racial justice which continues to sweep the nation, has the potential to make significant change if enough people join that cry.

“Martin Luther King Jr. once spoke of the perils of ‘sleeping through a revolution,'” writesRandall Amster, Director of the Program on Justice and Peace at Georgetown University. “Today, the alarm bells are ringing in town squares and city streets everywhere, urging everyone still holding out hope for a more just world to rise up and get busy making it.”

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Ferguson Is Baghdad Is New York Is Kabul

NOVANEWS

Our wars abroad are mirror images of the war at home.

Police with wooden sticks stand guard next to a protester with a sign that reads “Justice for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and justice for us all” Monday in downtown Seattle. (Photo: AP/Ted S. Warren)

There is a pattern emerging in my Facebook feed this week. One group of friends has been posting stories of police brutality and protests accompanied by personal statements of outrage. Another group has been remarking on the disgusting revelations from the Senate Intelligence Committee’s CIA torture report and the need for accountability. There is little overlap between the two groups, and yet the common threads between the U.S.’ foreign and domestic policies are disturbingly uncanny.

Whether on the streets of Baghdad or Ferguson, soldiers and militarized police forces have historically enforced control, not law. Behind the prison walls of Guantanamo and Texas, some authorities have tortured and brutalized rather than interrogated. They have not protected nor served; they have attacked and killed. They have not gathered intelligence; they have violated people’s humanity.

I am an immigrant to the United States. The names of those killed and tortured in Iraq and Afghanistan invoke in my imagination people who look like me, people I could have known, who could be my family. In the faces of those killed and tortured in Ferguson and Los Angeles, I see my neighbors and friends, people I know and love and think of as family. These are not separate and distinct. The pain I feel while reading the CIA report is as strong as the grief that comes from perusing the images of unarmed people of color who have been killed by U.S. police. The U.S. tortures and imprisons people of color both at home and abroad.

Mass incarceration disproportionately impacts people of color, in particular black men in the U.S., while detainees from the “war on terror” in Guantanamo, Bagram, Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, have been almost entirely brown, Muslim men. Just as people of color, in particular black men, are disproportionately more likely to be killed domestically by police officers, U.S. soldiers have been deployed in poor countries such as Iraq and Afghanistan, where the nonwhite populations of Muslim men, women and children are victimized through shootings and raids.

Among the revelations in the report on CIA tactics is the story of an Afghan man named Gul Rahman who literally froze to death while in U.S. custody. Rahman was chained with only a single piece of clothing covering the top half of his body and “died of hypothermia.” In 2012, at least 10 inmates in the Texas prison system died of heat stroke. An unnamed corrections officer told The New York Times that he worried about “boiling [inmates] in their cells.”

Also revealed in grisly detail in the report on CIA practices is the barbarism of waterboarding detainees such as Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad. But water torture is an age-old American tradition, historically practiced domestically, as professor Anne-Marie Cusac discussed in her 2009 book “Cruel and Unusual: The Culture of Punishment in America.” Inmates in CIA custody were also subjected to a horrific practice called “rectal feedings,” which resulted in serious injuries. But similar techniques have been used on U.S. inmates domestically, as this report on torture in American prisons reveals. Inmates in federal and state prisons describe being sodomized by flashlights and even having chemical fire extinguishers sprayed inside them.

The brutality of CIA interrogators as revealed in the Senate committee report was part of the project of war that includes the open aggression of U.S. troops on the streets of Baghdad and Kabul in the post 9/11 years. Similarly, the savagery inside U.S. prisons goes hand in hand with the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the countless slayings of unarmed black men in the U.S. Our wars abroad are mirror images of the war at home.

Simply comparing photographs of police in Ferguson to U.S. troops on the battlefield is instructive. We have turned cities into war zones and those cities could be either here in the U.S. or in Iraq or Afghanistan. It is not the case that U.S. police are simply hoping to emulate the military. In fact, the Pentagon has literally outfitted domestic law enforcement with the weapons of war.

Often used to justify the trigger-happy behavior of U.S. police is an assertion that policing is a dangerous and “thankless” job and that, in facing off with potential criminals at every turn, “it’s either you or them.” Similarly, U.S. soldiers in the battlefield have fired at civilians, claiming they were under attack. This siege mentality is a convenient cover by armed men using the authority of their badge or uniform to condone their killings.

Just as police officers such as Darren Wilson and Daniel Pantaleo are almost never convicted for killing people, it is similarly rare for U.S. soldiers to face justice despite overwhelming evidence of their wrongdoing. For example, Amnesty International maintains that of the 1,800 Afghans killed by U.S. troops in the five year period 2009-2013, only six cases actually went to trial.

None of this should surprise us. After all, presidents have explicitly declared wars on both domestic and foreign fronts. After Nixon pronounced a “war on drugs” in 1971 during the late stages of the Vietnam War, that domestic war has been extended by every president since. Criminalizing drug use and sales has driven much of the U.S.’ domestic incarceration. And with the advent of the post 9/11 war on terror, our imprisonment of “terror suspects” and foreign fighters has increased dramatically. The two wars have occurred in parallel with each other. Armed men have been perpetrators, protected by elites, while poor people of color have been the primary targets and victims.

Not enough progressive Americans make the connection between these wars we wage simultaneously. Whether it is our federal or state officials that are responsible for killings and torture at home or abroad, ultimately we fund it all through our tax dollars and sanction it all through our silence. Too many liberal activists fixate on the effects of U.S. foreign policy while ignoring what is happening on our doorstep. And too many of us who work for justice domestically overlook what is done to our brothers and sisters abroad. If we are to transform the U.S.’ approach to violence we need to draw links between right here and far away. Ferguson is Baghdad is New York is Kabul.

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What Ferguson, Eric Garner, and CIA Torture Have in Common

NOVANEWS

From black sites to #BlackLivesMatter, it’s time to end impunity for criminals with badges.

(Photo: Shane T. McCoy/Wikimedia)

There’s no better way for Washington to commemorate Human Rights Day than by letting the public finally learn the truth about torture. And there’s no better way for concerned Americans to do so than by raising our voices to challenge the compounding crimes of our lawless agencies.

Washington promised that, after years of stonewalling by the CIA and White House transcending both of the major political parties, we would finally learn some glimmers of truth when the Senate released a heavily redacted summary of its historic 6,000-page report on CIA torture crimes.

The timing could not be more poignant. The report was released on the eve of Human Rights Day, and in the wake of an ongoing, diverse, and energetic national grassroots movement for police accountability.

Parallels between CIA torture and police murders in New York, Ferguson, Cleveland, and elsewhere may be easy to overlook. Unfortunately, both sets of abuses reflect similar patterns: severe crimes committed by powerful people, officially endorsed cover-ups, and formal legal impunity that compounds the original crimes.

This week, on Human Rights Day, people in a dozen U.S. cities will take action to connect these abuses. We insist on nothing more than justice for all, including public servants.

A problem with many faces

CIA torturers and police officers who murder innocent unarmed Americans share one thing in common: impunity for violent crimes that violate global human rights commitments. The impunity they share reveals systems of separate — and unequal — justice across the United States.

Communities responding to impunity for police murders in Ferguson, New York City, and elsewhere across the country seek goals including federal laws to end racial profiling. Incidentally, body cameras are not a solution. They will neither ensure accountability for discrete cases — remember Eric Garner? — nor will they offer even transparency for abusive patterns & practices.

At root, we seek accountability for the arbitrary use of force.

Police violence in our communities is one example. CIA torture, or the Agency’s documented assassination of U.S. citizens (even their children) without trial, is another.

The Senate’s report revealed previously secret details about human rights abuses committed in our names — and with our resources — vastly beyond the little known to this point.

Crimes, whoever commits them

It confirmed, for example, that CIA personnel violated even the illegally permissive limits contrived by the Bush-era Justice Department to enable torture. In other words, the report confirmed that CIA officials broke the law. That’s why it was secret so long.

The illegality of torture is obvious to anyone who recalls the Second World War, when our nation waged a sustained global struggle before sending a Supreme Court Justice to establish the legal precedent that torture is a crime: full stop, with no exceptions.

But the only CIA official to ever face justice related to torture, John Kiriakou, was one who tried to blow the whistle.

Acts of torture are real crimes with actual victims, including U.S. service members who died at the hands of militants inspired by torture to take up arms against the United States. Police murders are also real crimes with actual victims, including surviving families who visited Washington recently to plead for justice.

Failing to indict murderers because they wear a badge is no different than covering up details of torture by government secret agents. In both cases, our system turns a blind eye to crimes by officials — even violent crimes that offend our species’ most fundamental commitments.

Justice in America: Protecting the powerful

In both St. Louis and New York, grand juries swayed by prosecutors masquerading as defense attorneys failed to even indict killer cops — including one caught on videotape, suggesting that proposals for body cameras are a red herring.

Similarly, the CIA’s ongoing history of lies, destruction of evidence, and even espionage against the people’s representatives has allowed grave crimes to go unpunished.

Despite their explicitness, legal prohibitions on torture, or police murdering innocents (or for that matter, our rights once guaranteed under the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution) have been reduced in reality to mere legal formalisms ignored in practice.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve helped peacefully seize shopping malls in St. Louis, occupy Union Station in Washington, DC, and block highways and major intersections because, as a lawyer, I swore an oath to “support the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Senators also swear a similar oath, but violate it every time they decide to “look forwards, not backwards” to ignore official crimes.

I also helped deliver a quarter million petitions to retiring Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), whose seat on the Intelligence Committee has given him a chance to read the secret report and grow outraged by its findings.

When the rest of us come to understand just how far torture extended, we should remember that “power concedes nothing without a demand” and make our voices heard.

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