Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Prosecute Bush and Cheney for their crimes

Hell, yes:

We urge Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a non-partisan independent Special Counsel to immediately commence a prosecutorial investigation into the most serious alleged crimes of former President George W. Bush, former Vice President Richard B. Cheney, the attorneys formerly employed by the Department of Justice whose memos sought to justify torture, and other former top officials of the Bush Administration.

Our laws, and treaties that under Article VI of our Constitution are the supreme law of the land, require the prosecution of crimes that strong evidence suggests these individuals have committed. Both the former president and the former vice president have confessed to authorizing a torture procedure that is illegal under our law and treaty obligations. The former president has confessed to violating the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

We see no need for these prosecutions to be extraordinarily lengthy or costly, and no need to wait for the recommendations of a panel or "truth" commission when substantial evidence of the crimes is already in the public domain. We believe the most effective investigation can be conducted by a prosecutor, and we believe such an investigation should begin immediately.

Signed by a collection of organizations I admire greatly, led by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

More kudos for CCR's timely pushback to Admiral Walsh's misleadingly reassuring report on conditions at Guantanamo, criticism effective enought to generate actual coverage. Though I'm puzzled by this bit from the NY Times story:

Rear Adm. Frank Thorp IV, the Navy’s chief of information, said the criticism of Admiral Walsh’s report did not take note of its detailed nature or the fact that it had been made public.

Maybe printed copies of the report were distributed to reporters, but it's not available online anywhere I can find. As a result, it's difficult for most of us to appreciate its "detailed nature." (Will link the report if I find it.)

At any rate, the time for pussyfooting around with the new administration is over.

Update: 6:40 pm, 25 Feb - Sometimes you just can't muster enough cynicism to do the politicians justice. This morning, I made a snarky prediction in the comments to a post by Avedon that noted Sen. Leahy being quoted by Scott Shane in the Sunday NY Times saying the proposed Truth Commission's work should include the role of Democrats in Congress in approving the Bush policies. Great, if so, I said, because it would quickly move the Democratic "leadership" over to support for prosecution -- something only contemplated (even by fire-breathing lefties) against Bush administration officials.

Today, Speaker Nancy "Impeachment is off the table" Pelosi was on Rachel Maddow's show criticizing Leahy's commission idea and favoring prosecutions instead. Hmmmmmmm...

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Plus ça change

Torture continues at Guantanamo. Fifty prisoners on hunger strike are being strapped down and force fed. They are also being beaten and abused as they are "extracted" from their cells.

No prisoners have been released, even those, like Binyam Mohamed, against whom charges have been dismissed and who have been cleared for release for months. The only reason why Binyam Mohamed is not on his way back to England now is that the U.K. and U.S. governments want to silence his potential testimony about torture.

In furtherance of that end, the Obama Justice Department has today maintained with no change at all the Bush administration's claim of 'state secrets' privilege to block accountability for rendition to torture in a suit in which Mohamed is the lead plaintiff. ACLU spokespeople are disappointed and shocked. I am only disappointed. And disgusted.

If you know nothing about force feeding and prison hunger strikes, your mental health is no doubt the better for it, but there's a significant gap in your grasp of political history. This article provides some context. This interview with al-Jazeera journalist Sami El-Hajj a few months after his release this past May after more than six years of imprisonment and torture, makes it impossible to find excuses for the new custodian of the torture regime.

Update: 7:30 pm, 10 February - Thanks to the Military Commissions Act, U.S. judges cannot affect the conditions under which Guantanamo prisoners are held. So one has just ruled that she cannot stop the force feedings, leaving it up to the Obama administration. As I said, there are no excuses for the new custodian. Disturbingly, Judge Kessler also said
even if she had authority to consider the case, she would not have stopped the force feeding process because the government’s actions do not violate an established legal standard.

Update 2: 2:15 pm, 15 February - The new administration is either very far from having established control of the prison, or they are affirming that they have the same understanding of "humane" treatment as the Bush regime.

A letter from the ACLU on the issue of force feeding was answered by the Bush holdover in the Defense Department who is still in charge of detainee affairs. Written after the Obama executive orders were issued, it reads in exactly the same way as it would have if Bush and Cheney were still in charge.

Reporting on Guantanamo is sketchy at best, due to the difficulties of access. The Miami Herald's reporting has been consistently the most detailed, but contains no sign that Obama's choice for new commander of the base has taken over nor any indication when he will. Apparently, the visit of the Navy's second-ranking admiral last week was something in the nature of advance work.
I see no sign of any broom being taken to the operation, and am growing less and less optimistic than anything will change for the prisoners as a result of the review now happening.

Update 3: 4:30 pm, 20 February - Finally, something to cheer. Binyam Mohamed may be released to Britain as soon as Monday. White House Counsel Greg Craig was at the prison this week. Privately, a lawyer recently at the prison says that conditions have improved somewhat, though not enough, for prisoners; he's forbidden to go into details.

Another extremely easy-to-accomplish release would be that of the 17 Uighurs, who were just failed by the D.C. Circuit court of appeals. It's solely up to the executive branch, apparently. Call the White House and urge their release (background here). Although VP Biden said in the first week in office that he doesn't expect that any prisoners will be released to the U.S., the reality is that, partly due to threats from China, there is no other country that will accept the Uighurs. There are communities here ready to take them. If we do not accept some men released from Guantanamo, it will be that much harder to expect other countries to do so.

Image: drawing by Lewis Peake based on censored drawings of Sami El-Hajj, originally published by Reprieve and reproduced by Andy Worthington, whose site and book are definitive sources for information on Guantanamo prisoners.

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Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Salam Pax is back!

And he has been since mid-January. Back to being a blogger from Baghdad, and back in full, with archives from the beginning in late 2002.

Who knew? In a bit of bloggy serendipity, I found out about the return in my first visit to Needlenose in almost a year.

I alternate between hope and dread in thinking about the results of the Iraqi provincial elections, and in thinking about Iraq generally. Being able to read Salam's reflections from on the scene makes the news more approachable. It also deepens the feeling of circles closing, new eras beginning -- but with a strong undercurrent of sadness at the unchangingness of so much.

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