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November 13, 2005 - Trying to Hold It all Together and Facing Facts

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Last weekend in these pages, in Prisons That Don't Exist for Those Who Don't Exist, after the long preamble setting the political context, you'd find a discussion of the Washington Post revealing that we seem to have a gulag of "black sites" - secret prisons where we have "disappeared" people and used "enhanced interrogation" to find out if they know anything.  And in Our Richelieu you'd find a discussion of all the reports that our policies regarding 1.) "Extraordinary rendition" (grabbing folks anywhere in the world and sending these suspects off to places where torture can be done by cooperating governments, a sort of outsourcing), 2.) Hiding the fact we have any particular person at all from any agency like the International Red Cross, or any one else who's picky, and 3.) The nature of the "enhanced interrogation" that periodically causes the death of those we detain - all this seems to be decided in the office of the Vice President.  In 2002 the president signed an order directing the military to abide by the Geneva Conventions against torture.  The Vice President seems have directed everyone to do otherwise.

Ignore the kid from Texas in the expensive suit?  Something like that.

See this for a discussion of the implications:

President Cheney
His office really does run national security.
Daniel Benjamin - Monday, Nov. 7, 2005 at 5:06 PM ET - SLATE.COM

Well, there is too much evidence this is so.

But here's where it gets interesting.

Returning the summit in Argentina by way of Brazil, the president in Panama said, Monday, November 7, "There's an enemy that lurks and plots and plans and wants to hurt America again. So you bet we will aggressively pursue them - but we will do so under the law. We do not torture."

So the kid from Texas in the expensive suit wants to clarify things?  Uncle Dick must have let out a loud groan.  (The president also proposed the Panama Canal be widened for bigger ships, and may have strayed from the script, given all the bad press from this secret prison and torture business.)

Other possibilities?


There are these:


... we have a few possible interpretations in front of us. Either the president simply does not know what is being done in his name in his own military or he is lying through his teeth to the American people and the world. I guess there is also a third possibility: that he is simply unable to acknowledge the enormity of what he has done to the honor of the United States, the success of the war and the safety of American service members. And so he has gone into clinical denial. Or he is so ashamed he cannot bear to face the truth of what he has done. None of these options are, shall we say, encouraging.


That was Andrew Sullivan. He's not a happy camper. As in this:


If that's the case, why threaten to veto a law that would simply codify what Bush alleges is already the current policy? If "we do not torture," how to account for the hundreds and hundreds of cases of abuse and torture by U.S. troops, documented by the government itself? If "we do not torture," why the memos that expanded exponentially the leeway given to the military to abuse detainees in order to get intelligence? The president's only defense against being a liar is that he is defining "torture" in such a way that no other reasonable person on the planet, apart from Bush's own torture apologists (and they are now down to one who will say so publicly), would agree. The press must now ask the president: does he regard the repeated, forcible near-drowning of detainees to be torture? Does he believe that tying naked detainees up and leaving them outside all night to die of hypothermia is "torture"? Does he believe that beating the legs of a detainee until they are pulp and he dies is torture? Does he believe that beating detainees till they die is torture? Does he believe that using someone's religious faith against them in interrogations is "cruel, inhumane and degrading" treatment and thereby illegal? What is his definition of torture?


Well, don't expect an answer.  That would require some subtle chopping of logic, and that dreaded "nuance" stuff the man doesn't do.
Of course you could just take him at his word.  We don't do torture.  And Kevin Drum suggests calling his bluff, here


Fine. Then shut down the black sites, tell Dick Cheney to stop lobbying against the McCain amendment, and allow the Red Cross unfettered access to prisoners in our custody. After all, if the events of the past four years had happened in any other country in the world - the abuse, the memos, the photos, the relentless opposition to independent inspections - isn't that the least it would take for any of us to believe it when that country's head of state declared "We do not torture?"


That's not going to happen.  You'll just have to trust the man's word.  Has he ever misled you?

This topic should have gone away, but it didn't.  It seems to have legs, as they say. 

Jane Mayer had a new article in the New Yorker - A Deadly Interrogation - which, in its subhead, asks an interesting question. 

Can the CIA legally kill a prisoner?

Maybe so –


Mark Swanner, a forty-six-year-old C.I.A. officer who has performed interrogations and polygraph tests for the agency, which has employed him at least since the nineteen-nineties. (He is not a covert operative.) Two years ago, at Abu Ghraib prison, outside Baghdad, an Iraqi prisoner in Swanner's custody, Manadel al-Jamadi, died during an interrogation. His head had been covered with a plastic bag, and he was shackled in a crucifixion-like pose that inhibited his ability to breathe; according to forensic pathologists who have examined the case, he asphyxiated. In a subsequent internal investigation, United States government authorities classified Jamadi's death as a "homicide," meaning that it resulted from unnatural causes. Swanner has not been charged with a crime and continues to work for the agency.

The harsh treatment of Jamadi and other prisoners in C.I.A. custody, however, has inspired an emotional debate in Washington, raising questions about what limits should be placed on agency officials who interrogate foreign terrorist suspects outside U.S. territory.


We know the Cheney answer.  Things have changed.

This is not November 21, 1943, when Winston Churchill said this in a speech - "The power of the Executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist."

There are no limits now.

See Laura Rozen here:


If he had been supporting the very same policies he is now advocating while representing a regime like Serbia's, the big man would be in a Hague jail cell. The same support for torture. The same naked contempt for democratic processes. The same contempt for law. The same contempt for their people.


Yeah, she's ticked, but Fareed Zakaria over at Newsweek was just helpful - "I have a suggestion that might improve Bush's image abroad. ... It's simple: end the administration's disastrous experiment with officially sanctioned torture."

It's a thought.

And that leads to the hot political story of Monday, November 7, also from the Washington Post.  Talk of it went on all week.

Dana Priest and Robin Wright reported that Vice President Cheney is now starting to find himself isolated on this issue - government sponsored torture of prisoners - "Cheney's camp is a 'shrinking island,' said one State Department official who, like other administration officials quoted in this article, asked not to be identified because public dissent is strongly discouraged by the White House."

But the story got out.  Dana Priest was responsible for the previous Post story about how we had that chain of secret prisons, and according to this, the president ordered an internal inquiry of how she found out about that stuff.  Of course the senate followed.

And now we have this tail of Cheney losing his power base. 


We learn Condoleezza Rice opposes torture, but not because its wrong.  She thinks we ought to close the secret prisons and not work on new "exceptions to the law" to "get out of the detainee mess."  She's a diplomat now.  See sees a PR problem. C hange the de facto policy allowing anything at all.


And it seems there are "other administration officials, including Cabinet members, political appointees and Republican lawmakers who once stood firmly behind the administration on all matters concerning terrorism" who are not happy with Cheney's position.

Attorney General Gonzales and White House counsel Harriet Miers are sitting on the fence.  Cheney's guys are working on them.

But the there is the problem of definitions –


Cheney's camp says the United States does not torture captives, but believes the president needs nearly unfettered power to deal with terrorists to protect Americans. To preserve the president's flexibility, any measure that might impose constraints should be resisted. That is why the administration has recoiled from embracing the language of treaties such as the U.N. Convention Against Torture, which Cheney's aides find vague and open-ended.


That's an interesting argument.  We'd never do these evil things, but we should have the power to do these evil things.  "The option to treat prisoners harshly must not be taken from interrogators."

And it's getting hot - Rice versus Cheney –


Cheney's staff is also engaged in resisting a policy change. Tactics included "trying to have meetings canceled ... to at least slow things down or gum up the works" or trying to conduct meetings on the subject without other key Cabinet members, one administration official said. The official said some internal memos and e-mail from the National Security Council staff to the national security adviser were automatically forwarded to the vice president's office -- in some cases without the knowledge of the authors.

For that reason, Rice "wanted to be in all meetings," said a senior State Department official.


Oh my, what next?


Try this from Knight-Ridder –


The Supreme Court on Monday agreed to hear a challenge to President Bush's war powers, taking on a case to decide whether Osama bin Laden's Yemeni driver should face a war crimes court at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

In an unusual move, the justices agreed to review a federal appeals court decision by their new chief justice, John G. Roberts, who with two other federal judges had earlier upheld the president's Military Commissions in the case of Salim Hamdan v. Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense.

Roberts disqualified himself, and is expected to do the same when the court hears arguments in the case, probably in March.


The fun never stops. The new chief justice knows he cannot review his own decision. This could be a four-four tie, leaving the lower court ruling stand, or not.

Cheney's world is crumbling. Expect him to lash out.

But wait! There's more!

The Italians are on our case!  And this, below, was in the news all week.

Fallujah. La strage nascosta (Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre) was shown on RAI News, November 8th at 07:35 (via HOT BIRD satellite, Sky Channel 506 and RAI-3), and rebroadcast by HOT BIRD satellite and Sky Channel 506 at 17:00 [5 pm] and over the next two days.

What's that about?

See this, an English translation from the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, Monday, November 7 (emphases added) –


In soldier slang they call it Willy Pete. The technical name is white phosphorus. In theory its purpose is to illumine enemy positions in the dark. In practice, it was used as a chemical weapon in the rebel stronghold of Fallujah. And it was used not only against enemy combatants and guerrillas, but again innocent civilians. The Americans are responsible for a massacre using unconventional weapons, the identical charge for which Saddam Hussein stands accused. An investigation by RAI News 24, the all-news Italian satellite television channel, has pulled the veil from one of the most carefully concealed mysteries from the front in the entire US military campaign in Iraq.

A US veteran of the Iraq war told RAI New correspondent Sigfrido Ranucci this: "I received the order use caution because we had used white phosphorus on Fallujah. In military slag it is called 'Willy Pete'. Phosphorus burns the human body on contact - it even melts it right down to the bone."

RAI News 24's investigative story, Fallujah, The Concealed Massacre, will be broadcast tomorrow on RAI-3 and will contain not only eyewitness accounts by US military personnel but those from Fallujah residents. A rain of fire descended on the city. People who were exposed to those multicolored substance began to burn. We found people with bizarre wounds - their bodies burned but their clothes intact, relates Mohamad Tareq al-Deraji, a biologist and Fallujah resident.

"I gathered accounts of the use of phosphorus and napalm from a few Fallujah refugees whom I met before being kidnapped," says Manifesto reporter Giuliana Sgrena, who was kidnapped in Fallujah last February, in a recorded interview. I wanted to get the story out, but my kidnappers would not permit it.

RAI News 24 will broadcast video and photographs taken in the Iraqi city during and after the November 2004 bombardment which prove that the US military, contrary to statements in a December 9 communiqué from the US Department of State, did not use phosphorus to illuminate enemy positions (which would have been legitimate) but instead dropped white phosphorus indiscriminately and in massive quantities on the city's neighborhoods.

In the investigative story, produced by Maurizio Torrealta, dramatic footage is shown revealing the effects of the bombardment on civilians, women and children, some of whom were surprised in their sleep.

The investigation will also broadcast documentary proof of the use in Iraq of a new napalm formula called MK77. The use of the incendiary substance on civilians is forbidden by a 1980 UN treaty. The use of chemical weapons is forbidden by a treaty that the US signed in 1997.


Oh crap. 


And you remember this Giuliana Sgrena, the investigative reporter here, the woman who was kidnapped.  After her release on March 4, 2005, she and the two Italian intelligence officers who had helped secure her release came under fire from our guys while on their way to Baghdad International Airport.  Nicola Calipari, a Major General in the Italian military intelligence service was killed, and Sgrena and one other officer were wounded - and lots of folks were ticked off.  We investigated and found our soldiers did nothing at all wrong.

Did they know about her notes, or is this all made-up stuff because she's still mad about us shooting her and killing her friend.

Who knows?

Bad news is coming out of the woodwork. The administration just cannot catch a break.

Well, the administration can say she's just an unhinged, angry Italian hothead who shouldn't be trusted.  I'm not sure how they'll explain the stills from the show posted at the link above.  Maybe Cheney will explain this is all a bunch of lies on Fox News or the Rush Limbaugh Show.

But wait!  There's more!

And that would be the local angle on how to make people keep their mouths shut about what we do, even the Episcopalians in Pasadena.

Antiwar Sermon Brings IRS Warning
All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.
Patricia Ward Biederman and Jason Felch - Los Angeles Times - November 7, 2005


The Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

Rector J. Edwin Bacon of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena told many congregants during morning services Sunday that a guest sermon by the church's former rector, the Rev. George F. Regas, on Oct. 31, 2004, had prompted a letter from the IRS.

In his sermon, Regas, who from the pulpit opposed both the Vietnam War and 1991's Gulf War, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-candidates George W. Bush and John Kerry. Regas said that "good people of profound faith" could vote for either man, and did not tell parishioners whom to support.

But he criticized the war in Iraq, saying that Jesus would have told Bush, "Mr. President, your doctrine of preemptive war is a failed doctrine. Forcibly changing the regime of an enemy that posed no imminent threat has led to disaster."

On June 9, the church received a letter from the IRS stating that "a reasonable belief exists that you may not be tax-exempt as a church … " The federal tax code prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.


Yeah, yeah, they never go after Falwell and Pat Robertson and all the rest, but you have to understand that Desmond Tutu was in the Pasadena pews that Sunday morning. We're talking subversion here, it seems.

The Times says its telephone calls to IRS officials in Washington and Los Angeles were not returned. Rector Bacon said the church had retained the services of a Washington law firm with expertise in tax-exempt organizations.

And this:


In an October letter to the IRS, Marcus Owens, the church's tax attorney and a former head of the IRS tax-exempt section, said, "It seems ludicrous to suggest that a pastor cannot preach about the value of promoting peace simply because the nation happens to be at war during an election season."

Owens said that an IRS audit team had recently offered the church a settlement during a face-to-face meeting.

"They said if there was a confession of wrongdoing, they would not proceed to the exam stage. They would be willing not to revoke tax-exempt status if the church admitted intervening in an election."

The church declined the offer.


The Times gives details of what was in the sermon. No one was told how to vote, or even to vote. It seems to be a sermon full of stuff about love and not killing people and not overreacting. The church would rather not confess that was any kind of wrongdoing. It seems they're "the other kind of Christians" - no big American flags in the sanctuary, or giant portraits of Bush and Cheney, thus the trouble. These are the kind of Christians who don't like useless wars.

Ah well, on this side of town, All Saints Episcopal, just off Rodeo Drive, seems to have no position on much of anything. When I was married there in 1984 I remember smiling because in that 1979 Blake Edwards movie 10, Bo Derek was married right where I was standing. Hollywood. Should have driving out to Pasadena.

In any event, on last Monday the week opened with tales of "the masters of war" trying to hold it all together. That's getting harder every day.


Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
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