Monday, June 23, 2008

Go down fighting.

The compromise capitulation FISA bill is horrible, but at least the provisions of Part I relating to the executive branch can, in theory, be reversed in the next Congress.

Retroactive immunity for lawbreaking telecoms is forever. The precedent it would set is also permanent. That makes it worth fighting hard to strip immunity from the Senate version of the bill.

An amendment to do that will probably [see Update] be offered, even if only to give Sen. Obama and others a chance to register opposition to immunity before voting for the bill as a whole. But calls and faxed letters to Senators are needed now to make sure that an amendment to remove telecom immunity materializes.

There is currently no sign of any filibuster planned, by Sen. Dodd or anyone else. Nor will there be. [see Update] Majority Leader Reid filed and 17 Democrats signed a cloture petition today. Together with 49 Republican votes, that's well more than the 60 needed to limit debate. So it's on.

Update: 6:15 pm, 24 June - Sens. Dodd and Feingold issued a statement today [emphasis added]:

This is a deeply flawed bill, which does nothing more than offer retroactive immunity by another name. We strongly urge our colleagues to reject this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation and oppose any efforts to consider this bill in its current form. We will oppose efforts to end debate on this bill as long as it provides retroactive immunity for the telecommunications companies that may have participated in the President’s warrantless wiretapping program, and as long as it fails to protect the privacy of law-abiding Americans.

If the Senate does proceed to this legislation, our immediate response will be to offer an amendment that strips the retroactive immunity provision out of the bill. We hope our colleagues will join us in supporting Americans’ civil liberties by opposing retroactive immunity and rejecting this so-called ‘compromise’ legislation.

So it's still on. The filibuster will almost certainly fail; every effort has to be made to get the votes to kill immunity. End update.

As to timing, commenter cboldt at Firedoglake watched today's Senate proceedings on C-SPAN2 so you didn't have to and reports [my emphasis]:

I was looking for (and saw) a procedural move that sets some parameters for handling of FISA. A cloture vote will happen Wednesday (unless the objectors agree to compress the time provided for in the rules), and then, if the objectors stick to the time frame provided in the rules, the FISA bill won’t be made formally pending until an additional 30 hours have elapsed.

Make the most of the time between now and Wednesday at 10:00 am, by getting your Senators on the record on their position on a no-immunity amendment. Sen. Specter (R-PA) spoke out against immunity today, for what it's worth, but also announced his intention to vote for the overall bill whatever happens. (This recapitulates his performance on the Military Commissions Act two years ago, when he introduced and voted for the amendment to restore habeas corpus protections, and then, when the amendment failed narrowly, voted for the bill anyway.)

Toll-free phone numbers for Congress and other useful links are at the end of this post by Christy Hardin Smith. She offers another helpful tip in comments:

it’s a good idea to contact these folks at local offices — which don’t often get calls and FAXes, so when they do get several on a single issue, they get a bit more notice. And sometimes you get a much more receptive ear from the staffer on the issue as well.

It can be especially useful to talk with the local office because, occasionally, you’ll get a heads up on a potential local appearance and information on how to get a sit-down or at least an opportunity to talk with your Senator in person when they are in the area. THAT can be very, very useful.

Senators' web site URLs are all in the form of [lastname]; find their listing of offices and start now to build a relationship with the staffers nearest you.

There is no grassroots constituency for immunity to lawbreaking telecoms; it's only money talking. That, and the desire of everyone who was complicit in warrantless spying on American citizens to shut down any chance that we'll discover what was done to us.

Update 2: 28 June, 9:10 am - Via Emptywheel, the vote will come on July 8th, and three amendments will be offered:

  • Dodd-Feingold-Leahy to strip the immunity provisions. Needs 51 votes to pass; we got 32 in February (I'm glaring at you, Jim Webb).

  • Specter to do I'm not sure what "allow the court [what court?] to deny telcoms immunity if it found that the government's surveillance activities were unconstitutional" (EFF, see below); 60 votes needed.

  • Bingaman to stay the court cases until I'm not sure when the report of an investigation into the program by the Dept. of Justice Inspector General is released; the investigation is mandated by the FISA bill. 60 votes needed.

    Update 3: 6:45 pm, July 1 - Electronic Frontier Foundation explains the amendments here. EFF urges all Senators to support the Bingaman amendment if the Dodd-Feingold-Leahy amendment to strike the immunity provision fails, so that Congress can know what it's immunizing before doing so. The hope is that Congress might revisit and reverse the immunity decision then; the idea is to keep the cases against the telcoms alive to allow for that possibility.

    Image by Mike Harding used by permission.

    Labels: ,

  • Sunday, June 22, 2008

    Zimbabwe opposition forced out of rigged runoff

    Capping a week I wish I could wipe out of existence, the MDC has reluctantly pulled out of the runoff election for the Zimbabwean presidency scheduled for June 27. Morgan Tsvangirai, who was almost certainly elected president free and clear in the voting on March 29, lays out the obstacles that made it impossible to continue. The list makes me ashamed of my readiness to throw up my hands in the face of setbacks.

    The failure of the governments of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia, and South Africa to provide real security for the elections is particularly sad. Liberation struggles that built people-to-people ties of solidarity continue to be sold out by cronyism among "leaders."

    One-party rule is poison, whether official or de facto.

    Labels: ,

    Thursday, June 19, 2008

    Gutless pukes

    The House and Senate Democratic leadership are quietly colluding with Rep. Steny Hoyer and Sen. Jay Rockefeller to legalize Bush's warrantless spying on Americans, and to give retroactive immunity to the telcom corporations who broke the law by cooperating with it. A vote on this cave-in may come as early as tonight tomorrow.

    Update: 11:05 am, 20 June - Or, as I put it in a comment section yesterday: We're going back to Nixonland, where the law is what the president says it is, and Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid are taking us there on an express train. Today. End update.

    Immunity will end the court proceedings against the telcoms, which at this point appear to be the only route through which the public has any hope of discovering the extent and nature of the criminal invasion of privacy conducted by the ruling regime. Last-ditch, bipartisan efforts to stop this are underway, but the complicity of Pelosi, Emanuel, Reid, and Durbin in rushing the calendar means they come too late for anything but retribution.

    George W. Bush has clearly violated the law and contravened the Fourth Amendment in spying on U.S. citizens without a warrant. But impeachment is "off the table."

    Bush has also clearly violated the law in authorizing the torture of detainees. He's admitted to doing so. This is not only an eminently impeachable offense, but a war crime. Still, impeachment is "off the table."

    So is democracy.

    Democratic strategists (so-called) are apparently willing to risk the certain demobilizing and demoralizing effect of this sellout on the party's activist liberal base and on potential supporters among libertarian-minded independents and Ron Paul Republicans. They claim to believe that caving will take the spying issue "off the table" and prevent Republican Congressional candidates from running ads charging Democrats with tying our hands against terrorists. They're idiots if they really believe that. And they're cowardly and idiotic not to see that this line of attack isn't even working the way it used to.

    The party's presumptive presidential nominee is blessing this telcom-written sellout with his silence and his active support of a Bush-voting Blue Dog Democrat against a progressive African-American primary challenger. Brave Sir Lancelot, Knight of Change You Can Believe In.

    I give up. I'm not giving a dime, I'm not lifting a finger, I'm not making a phone call for Democrats. I'll vote to prevent the greater evil, but that's all.

    Update: 22 June, 11:45 am - The leaders of the party appear determined to stifle any inclination I might have had to pull myself together and focus on other issues on which there is some daylight between the Ds and Rs by insulting the intelligence of friends of the constitution in their "explanations" of support for this cave-in. Obama's statement adopts Bush's must-give-up-liberty-to-stop-terror framework and flatly lies about the effects of the bill, as does Hoyer's, Rockefeller's, and Pelosi's. They're aiming at the rubes and plainly don't think they have to deal with us at all. Message received and understood.

    Labels: , ,

    But it wasn't about the oil. Not at all.

    On blogs where the Bush administration's proposed "security framework agreement" with Iraq has been discussed, the question has come up of why the July 31st deadline. My answer has been electoral politics: An agreement that extends the U.S. military presence indefinitely is the "victory" and "success" that the regime would like to show for its policy, and that McCain can run on.

    But if it's not politics, it's business, Bush's base. Today's New York Times business section brings the news that four oil majors are close to returning to Iraq, having almost wrapped up negotiations on no-bid foothold contracts:

    Exxon Mobil, Shell, Total and BP — the original partners in the Iraq Petroleum Company — along with Chevron and a number of smaller oil companies, are in talks with Iraq’s Oil Ministry for no-bid contracts to service Iraq’s largest fields, according to ministry officials, oil company officials and an American diplomat.

    The deals, expected to be announced on June 30, will lay the foundation for the first commercial work for the major companies in Iraq since the American invasion, and open a new and potentially lucrative country for their operations. [emphasis added]

    So there'll be plenty for President Obama's residual force to do:

    Any Western oil official who comes to Iraq would require heavy security, exposing the companies to all the same logistical nightmares that have hampered previous attempts, often undertaken at huge cost, to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure.

    And work in the deserts and swamps that contain much of Iraq’s oil reserves would be virtually impossible unless carried out solely by Iraqi subcontractors, who would likely be threatened by insurgents for cooperating with Western companies.

    Labels: , , ,

    Monday, June 09, 2008

    Torture Awareness Month Update

    Everyone's observing Torture Awareness Month in their own way.

    The clique of criminals who rule us are making efforts to cover up the extent and specifics of the tortures to which prisoners at Guantanamo have been subjected, while doing so in a way that actually calls attention to the cover-up:
  • Urging interrogators in a printed operations manual to destroy their notes to avoid revealing torture.
  • Using a sound delay and mute button to prevent observers at the arraignment of five defendants in Guantanamo from hearing the men describe their treatment, while allowing several outright references to torture.

    The crudeness of these evasions makes it hard for those who want to deny that a systematic policy of torture is in effect to keep up the pretense.

    Carol Rosenberg's coverage for the Miami Herald of the show trials underway at Guantanamo is the best in the corporate media. Her account of the recent arraignment of Khaled Sheikh Mohammed and four other defendants makes vivid the surreal, Soviet atmosphere in which prosecutors and defendants cooperated to shed the defense lawyers who might slow down the express train to judicial murder/martyrdom/permanent destruction of witnesses to torture.

    Some other journalists who've already earned respect are about to mark this month by strengthening their reputation for putting the truth in front of the public. Here's a preview from one of them, John Walcott:

    Next Sunday, June 15, McClatchy will begin publishing the most extensive investigation to date of the treatment of detainees, not only at Guantanamo but also at Bagram and Kandahar in Afghanistan. Reporters Tom Lasseter and Matt Schofield tracked down and interviewed 66 former detainees -- more than any other organization, media or NGO, we think -- in 11 countries on three continents. They also interviewed former prison guards, interrogators, translators, Pentagon and administration officials, defense lawyers and Afghan intelligence and security officials to paint the most complete picture we could of who U.S. picked up, how and why, what happened to “suspected enemy combatants” and who’s responsible.

    The package was overseen by the McClatchy Washington Bureau’s Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign editor, Roy Gutman, the editor of "Crimes of War" and the author of a new book on U.S. policy toward Afghanistan before 9/11. It includes five main stories, a video, photos, numerous sidebars, the stories of all 66 former detainees and an online database.

    If you don’t live in an area served by one of our papers, or even if you do, you can find the whole package at starting on Sunday, June 15 and running for five days.
    [A heartfelt hat tip to bmaz at Emptywheel for all the items above.]

    The Supreme Court is observing Torture Awareness Month by upholding, narrowly, the principle of habeas corpus that is fundamental to preventing indefinite detention and torture: the guarantee of access to civilian federal courts to contest the basis of the detention. As Human Rights First pointed out in fighting Congress's craven passage of the habeas-stripping Military Commissions Act in September 2006, virtually everything known about the mistreatment of prisoners up to that point was made public only through the process of their habeas appeals.

    The Boumediene/Al Odah decision is not as far-reaching as some had hoped, but not as narrow as some had feared. It is resoundingly Constitution-affirming. A sigh of relief, a small sip of champagne.

    Speaking of affirming the Constitution, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and three co-sponsors this week made Bush's policy of torture two of the central articles of impeachment (pdf) introduced against him, along with 33 other high crimes and misdemeanors. The House Judiciary Committee has to take the next step.

    So. What are you doing for Torture Awareness Month?

    Update: 15 June, 2:00 pm - The McClatchy series has begun. Bless them for including photos of each of the detainees in their 'detainee database', a degree of humanization that even many sympathetic accounts have not reached.

    Labels: ,

  • Tuesday, June 03, 2008

    News from the Ministry of Love

    Walter Pincus commits old-school journalism by actually watching what the ruling clique does rather than reporting what they say. In a story that the Washington Post editors place on A11 today, he examines the Iraq-related contracts now being put out and shows how they paint a picture of U.S. occupation stretching far into the future, carried out by contractors with a minimum of overt military presence.

    The article deserves to be read in full. But this is the passage that chilled me most (my emphasis added):
    Another contract noticed last week previews the opening, apparently in September, of a U.S.-run prison, now labeled a Theater Internment Facility Reconciliation Center, which is to be located at Camp Taji, 12 miles north of Baghdad. The new contract calls for providing food for "up to 5,000 detainees" and will also cover 150 Iraqi nationals, who apparently will work at the facility. The contract is to run for one year, with an option year to follow.

    The U.S. holds about 20,000 Iraqis at two facilities today, mostly in Camp Bucca in southern Iraq and the rest at Camp Cropper near Baghdad. Along with the facility at Camp Taji, which is expected to hold Iraqis detained in Baghdad, another new reconciliation center, mainly for Sunnis, is being built at Ramadi in Anbar province, where many of these detainees were captured.

    In March, Marine Maj. Gen. Douglas Stone, who runs the detainee program, told reporters that, on average. Iraqi detainees remain in a U.S. facility for 11 months.

    But that might not be the case for the roughly 9,000 Iraqis whom he described as having "a very rigorous view of an ideology that we would broadly categorize as al-Qaeda." They are headed to the new reconciliation centers for what could be longer stays.

    Did the editors remove scare quotes, or does Pincus assume that his ironic use of the new euphemism is clear?

    Labels: ,

    Sunday, June 01, 2008

    June: Torture Awareness Month

    June 26th is the International Day in Support of Survivors and Victims of Torture. In recent years the month of June has become a time in which to undertake actions to raise awareness of this country's use of torture, and to end it.

    The month of June in a presidential election year presents a specifically political opportunity to help end U.S. torture: No Torture. No Exceptions. is an initiative to get both political parties to adopt comprehensive no-torture provisions as part of their platforms at this year's national conventions. The admirable Scott Horton is involved in the effort, and in my opinion makes a more effective case for it than its originators. (Whoever they are; I've guest-posted about that and my other reservations at A Tiny Revolution.)

    Torture is a moral issue. Torture is wrong. These are the fundamental truths about this grave crime against humanity, no matter what other kinds of arguments have to be employed in the compromised political arena. The National Religious Coalition Against Torture and Rabbis for Human Rights are partnering to spread this message by way of banners in every state, in as many communities as possible. Get a banner for your church, synagogue, mosque, school, business, organization, or home here.