Friday, December 19, 2008

Thinking About Spring – Ready to March?


It appears that an early spring national protest schedule is taking shape.

United for peace & Justice (UFPJ) is calling for a 3 month antiwar campaign, with LOCAL ACTIONS on Thursday March 19th, and a culminating national rally in New York City on April 4 2009.  More information about the campaign outline is here.

Meanwhile, the rival ANSWER coalition is calling for A NATIONAL MARCH on the Pentagon on Saturday March 21. Their information is here.  

A couple of comments: Lots of deja vu all over again here. The two big names of the national peace scene are not co-operating; so what else is new? There’s no mention of April 4 in NYC on the ANSWER site, and UFPJ says zilch re: March 21 at the Pentagon.

But there’s more involved here than the old leftie sectarian competition. On the one hand, UFPJ’s Call for action notes that last fall it urged planning for a big DC rally next March. But given the economic crisis and Obama’s election, they say they feel a need to “change gears.” 
They say that much of their constituency will likely not want to be protesting the new president only two months after he’s inaugurated. (I think they’re right.) They don’t say, but there is reason to believe, that ANSWER has once again scooped up all the permits for  DC sites on March 21, so they’d have to join them to do something in DC, and they don’t want to do that.

One other internal item is also significant: UFPJ’s longtime national coordinator Leslie Cagan is stepping down. A “help wanted” notice for her successor is on their site.

My view: both these groups are very weak. Neither has organized a successful large action since January 2007. And UFPJ is right that many activists will want to “wait and see” what the new president will do, and March will feel too soon to know. 

Plus, the fact is that another BIG chunk of progressive folks worked their hearts out and their butts off for that same new president as the hope 
of change.  And these and other folks already seem bound to put on what will be the biggest “rally” and “demonstration” maybe ever seen in DC on Jan. 20. 

The notion that lots of those folks will then turn right around and go protest the object of all that adulation in mid-March – well, I wouldn’t bet on it. 

It will take some mental adjustment for some of us to not have the man in the White House as the object of rage the way so many of us have (with reason) gone after the current lame duck resident these past eight years.  But it’s an adjustment we need to start making, if only to avoid splintering our own base.

Here I’m recalling what I’ve read about when FDR came in. The New Deal sucked the air (and the mass base) out of the socialist groups, and the key struggles of those years went on in other, more specific contexts – such as union organizing. Not that FDR was 
beyond criticism (far from it). But the political situation had changed dramatically with his arrival. I wonder if we’re entering into a similar period now.

Anyway, unless something big changes, my prediction is that the Pentagon march will be no big deal. NYC could be somewhat different, because the city is so large one can gather a hundred thousand without drawing from much beyond the suburbs. Yet what would be a huge crowd anywhere else will be merely respectable in NYC, and media attention will likely be tepid.  

I would see the NYC rally as a kind of holding action, something to do that keeps UFPJ on the game board, but not much more, til maybe there’s a turn against the new administration. It might be interesting, if the weather is good.

So, several options seem possible for local groups like those here in North Carolina (or wherever you are, Friend).

1. Ignore all these machinations entirely, do our own thing here, when we want, with whom we want, focused on the issues we want. 

2. Or maybe pick Thursday March 19 for some local-regional event (s).

3. Or even do a local-regional action on Saturday March 21, ignoring the Pentagon march.

4. & 5. Buy train/bus/plane tickets for DC on March 21 and NYC on April 4.

What do folks think?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Rise of the Torture "Accountability Movement": New York December 4, 2008

Here's a first-cut report on “After Torture: A Harper’s Magazine Forum on justice in the post-Bush era, held at the New York University Law School Center on Law & Security in Manhattan, December 4, 2008. I rode up on Amtrak from Fayetteville to be there.
The occasion of this forum was the publication of an article by humans rights attorney Scott Horton, “Justice After Bush,” in the December 2008 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

Key topics: An “Accountability Movement”? A special Commission? Pardon Poker playing? Opening Up Victim Lawsuits? And What can This Mean for Anti-torture activists??

The Harper's article is not online, but has been widely discussed. (Transcripts of two interviews with Horton about the piece are here and here ; an online video conversation with Horton and fellow panelist Michael Ratner is here .)
In sum, Horton argues for creation of a special federal commission to investigate torture and related crimes in the past eight years, and thus lay the groundwork for later accountability actions, including prosecutions. The commission’s structure and selection process would be complex, and this complexity became a point of contention, but I won’t try to tease out those technicalities here.
The forum brought together a number of major players in what might be called the “accountability movement,” including, besides Horton: Michael Ratner of the Center on Constitutional Rights, US Rep. Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, which would have a major role in any congressional action; Retired Army general Antonio Taguba, who led the investigation o the Abu Ghraib torture scandal; Former US Rep. And prosecutor Elizabeth Holtzman; Burt Neuborne, Legal Director, Brennan Center for Justice, New York University.
Heavyweights all, but not ponderous, and all articulate.

A summary of the discussion could best begin with Neuborne, because he put the accountability movement vividly in historical context. He argued that in practice, the US has had a “folding chair” attitude toward our constitution and bill of rights. Especially in times of real or perceived crisis, our rulers have “folded up” these guarantees and put them away for quieter times:

The jailing of dissidents under the Alien & Sedition Acts in the John Adams administration (1798-1800); Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus in the Civil War;
Persecution of war critics and Conscientious Objectors during World war One; and
The internment of Japanese-Americans in World War Two ; etc.

Moreover, those who carried out these policies of repression generally got away with it, Neuborne noted. In line with this history, such impunity is clearly what the current perpetrators expect to maintain. So the current accountability movement is among other things an effort to interrupt this long line of unhappy precedents.

To achieve such a reversal, Neuborne contended that the movement will need an overall accountability strategy, which is likely to encompass a range of initiatives. I’ll say more about some ideas he mentioned later.

Special Commission: Regarding Scott Horton’s special commission proposal, Michael Ratner’s response was the most critical, insisting that a special prosecutor and early indictments were the most urgent priority. Jerrold Nadler, as might be expected from a member of Congress, argued that Congressional hearings were also important, and perhaps a better way to find out the hidden facts needed for further action.

Burt Neuborne was ambivalent; one the one hand, he said the record of such commissions is that they can be used to cover up the truth as much as to reveal it. But on the other hand, he recalled the work of the US Civil Rights Commission in the 1950s, when it held highly-publicized hearings in various states and cities, where both the practices and key protagonists of racism and segregation were exposed and shamed.
Such “shaming,” he said, was an important non-criminal tool for accountability, and needed to be part of the accountability strategy.
And let me put in an oar here briefly: While I’m unsure about the practicality of Horton’s specific commission model, I do agree with him on its purpose. It is the proper preliminary to prosecution, by getting the facts of the torture regime, making them known in an official way in the glare of the media, and thereby educating the public about the extent and depth of the lawbreaking and general evil of it all.
Call this Overcoming the “24" effect, the glamorization of torture --by US agents--in popular media over the past several years. Such a process will be needed to make prosecutions of former high officials publicly and politically acceptable. And it will take time, a few years I would guess.
I differ from Horton in that I don’t want to see inquiries limited to one avenue, such as a commission. I say, let a dozen investigative flowers bloom, in Congress, a commission, the courts, inspectors general, even the states (Hello, NC Attorney General Roy Cooper? Paging Roy Cooper!) If one investigation is a whitewash, another can rinse the whitewash off.
Now, about pardons: Horton said he believes a high stakes “poker game” is underway about pardons for torturers. On the one hand are the recent statements by AG Mukasey that no pardons are needed ) , because no crimes were committed by administration officials. Horton noted that it’s highly improper for an Attorney General to be speaking in such a way, publicly pre-judging the merits of potential future prosecutions. So why was Mukasey doing it?

Horton thinks Mukasey and his masters are trying to goad Obama and his team into making some kind of calm-the-waters statement about letting bygones be bygones, looking forward and not backward, and ruling out prosecutions too. There have been reports that some Obama insiders are pushing just this line .Which would put Obama in the no-prosecutions camp too.
Neuborne, by the way, agreed such a move was possible. He said he had voted for Obama with pleasure – but that every president is forced to make political compromises. Thus, Neuborne said, he had also filed civil liberties lawsuits against every president since LBJ (that’s forty-plus years and eight presidents, for those who forgot the math), and he fully expected to end up filing suits against the Obama administration too.
But Horton said he figured Obama for a smart poker player too, and expected him to make no clear statement at all about the possibility of prosecutions. That way, his options remain open, and he avoids taking flak about any specific plan.
There was also division among the panelists about the extent of pardons. Neuborne said he thought GWB would issue pardons, but aim them “too low,” mainly at those who had actual involvement in carrying out torture programs, in the CIA, military, etc. Neuborne figured GWB would buy Mukasey’s argument about higher-ups not needing pardons and would skip them. This would, Neuborne felt, be a boon to the accountability movement, by leaving high officials more vulnerable to future enforcement actions.
To Michael Ratner, this was wishful thinking. GWB will pardon everybody including himself, Ratner predicted. Horton added that he did not expect any pardons to be announced until the last possible minute, the morning of January 20 itself.
One other reason for Obama to stay cool about prosecutions and pardon talk, Horton argued, is that when the pardons come, there is likely to be a big uproar in the media and Congress, and if Obama has steered clear, all this negative attention will fall on GWB and the other conspirators.

A Brief Sidebar on Victim Lawsuits: During the Q&A, I asked Horton and Ratner about lawsuits and the “state secrets” defense. Could the Obama administration open the courts to lawsuits by victims like Khaled el Masri by simply NOT raising the “state secrets” defense? GWB has used this consistently to squash any such redress.
It seemed to me that this would be an easy thing politically for the new team – NOT doing something rather than taking some big initiative. Obviously, though, there ought to be pressure for the administration to stop raising the state secrets defense, or to sharply limit its use; and if that happens, then we can call for more victim lawsuits to be filed and supported.
To my gratification, both Horton and Ratner responded that this indeed could be done, and it WOULD open the US courts to victims. But also in response to my query, Elizabeth Holtzman, ever the prosecutor, dismissed this matter as irrelevant. Prosecuting GWB was what she felt was important. (She has even published a book on the topic.)
While I admire Holtzman’s go-for-the-jugular instincts, and I’m fine with prosecuting GWB, I still think the victim lawsuits concern has much merit. For one thing, as Rep. Nadler had said earlier, torture victims need and deserve redress; that’s simple justice. But for another, as these lawsuits proceed to discovery, many documents will come to light. What is learned in one case can be useful to another, and to the larger effort to get the truth which a commission, and other investigations will also be seeking. The information-gathering will be cumulative. Every revelation will help.
Now what does any of all this brilliant talk mean for those of us on the ground, in my case here in North Carolina, and the groups I work with, Quaker House and NC Stop Torture Now? Here are a few early ideas that have occurred to me; but clearly all this needs more discussion. Readers from other areas can make appropriate adjustments.

1. Add the phrase “Accountability Movement”to our action vocabulary. I’m not sure now whether someone on the panel used this phrase as such, or it just emerged; but I believe it’s now “in the air.”
Maybe it was spoken by Karen Greenberg, the Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security at NYU, in her introduction to the panel. She did say that in her view the discussion of torture had shifted in recent weeks from whether the US had engaged in torture, and whether that was bad, to an assumption that it had happened, it was wrong, and the issue now was HOW to institute a process of accountability for it.
I think Greenberg is right, but this shift has only begun, and I believe we can assist it, in particular by speaking about the “accountability movement,” and identifying our work as part of it.
2. Join the chorus against the pardons. I hope we’ll get ready to help raise hell about the pardons, to increase the pressure for an investigative response, in Congress and elsewhere. This ought to be a big opportunity.
3. Ramp up state and local-level actions. Most on the panel seemed to see only the federal courts and agencies as potential venues for the accountability movement. For such heavy hitters, that’s their typical milieu. But it’s not the only one. For instance, for three years now we’ve been productively active here protesting the presence of “torture taxi” planes used for rendition, as well as other aspects of the system , and we’re not about to stop. There are many other localities where similar parts of the “Torture Industrial Complex” are located, that could likewise be targets for local and state action.
After the session, I approached Michael Ratner, identified myself as working with STN and against Aero Contractors, the NC-based CIA shell company that is the main torture taxi outfit. He knew Aero instantly – and I asked if there were any possibilities for state-level action. He expressed interest in exploring this side of possible accountability action, and I hope some collaboration will develop.
If I have one criticism of the nascent accountability movement, it is that thus far it is too Washington and New York centered. Of course, the brainpower and institutional weight of the NYU panel will be indispensable to its success. But I think they will also need active support from below as well, the sort of action being spearheaded by NC Stop Torture Now.

Addendum: Here are a couple points I didn't get to in the initial report, about the military aspect, and some legislative possibilities:
#1. Panel member Gen. Antonio Taguba.
He is or should be a hero to "accountability movement" folks, not only for his pioneering probe of Abu Ghraib, which he carried out even though it cost him the end of his military career, but also his clear declaration last summer of the truth of war crimes by the current administration, and a call for accountability .

He spoke at the panel on behalf of military folks, and pointed out that, however incomplete, there HAS been corrective and punitive action in the military, in response to cases of torture; upwards of 200 soldiers have been disciplined for involvement in torture, and their current orders are not to do it. (This does not apply to the CIA and other secret outfits.)
Sure, there are more soldiers, especially generals, who should face such action; when I spoke to him about this after the panel, he agreed, and mentioned a couple of names of retired generals as potential candidates for legal action.
But his point was that while some accountability action has been taken within the military, the civilian higher-ups are scrambling to avoid the same thing. He mentioned in this connection an executive order by GWB which, in the same order, declared administration officials exempt from any penalties for violating the Geneva Convention, while directing the military to follow it, or else.
He added that we are in a time of "persistent conflict" (kudos to him for NOT calling it the "war on terror") when US troops will frequently be in danger, so one of the things they deserve is a single standard of behavior and accountability, from top to bottom.
So another way of putting this would be: "Support the troops: hold civilian torturers accountable, too!” (As a slogan, that may need some work, but you get the idea.)

#2. Some legislative possibilities.
Much of this came from Rep. Nadler, and it's not entirely clear which things he DEFINITELY plans to introduce, and which ideas are in the "thinking out loud" stage.
First, Nadler repeated the point about how the new administration will come under lots of pressure from many of its "friends" and allies to leave all this accountability stuff alone. (After all, many high muckety-muck Dems are complicit to varyng degrees.) So pressure FOR accountability needs to continue. Nothing new there, but it was good to hear him say it.
As to specific proposals, here are some Nadler mentioned; keep in mind that he did not go into many technical details, and those are mostly above my pay grade anyway, so think about following up with him . And for brevity I'll refer to Nadler as "N" below:

A. Reviving the Special Prosecutor law, which lapsed after the disgraceful Ken Starr impeach Clinton fiasco. N wants to revive it with limits to prevent another unlimited Starr-type witchunt.

B. State Secrets doctrine: he wants to put limits on its use, particularly as a tool for completely shutting down court actions. N said he already had a state secrets reform bill, but didn't mention a bill number or name.

C. Pardon power: N said he plans to offer a Constitutional amendment limiting the president's pardon power, especially regarding high members of the incumbent administration, and to prohibit pre-emptive pardons for persons not yet charged with a crime. Alaso, no pardons could be given in the last 6 months of an administration. There was more, that I didn't catch.
One other call for new legislation came from Elizabeth Holtzman. She noted that the War Crimes Act of 1996 made much of what the current gang did criminal. She said Gonzalez warned GWB about this in a memo that has been uncovered.
So to protect themselves, they put a section into the Military Commissions law which gutted the War Crimes act, and did so RETROACTIVELY so that everything they've done was NO LONGER A CRIME.
(Makes me wanna barf.) This section, she said, was unnoticed amid all the hubbub about habeus corpus. So Holtzman is calling on Congress to repeal that change and REINSTATE the War Crimes Act.
Listening to all this legislative stuff, and weighing all the difficulties it will face, made me think favorably of the idea of shaming the perps, lawsuits, other state-level initiatives, and foreign actions as avenues for folks like us to keep exploring.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Reporting on the Work of Ending Torture


Here are some excerpts from a piece in the Washington Post of December 3 2008 about the hazards facing the new administration in attempting to dismantle the Torture Industrial Complex.

I assume that all such pieces, and there have been several others recently in prominent news outlets, are as much trial balloons as they are hard reporting, since few actual decisions are being reported.

In the balloon context, this piece seems to me more hopeful than some earlier ones. It speaks more favorably of several issues, like closing Guantanamo and stopping rendition flights.

But it is very weak and wobbly on the matter of secret prisons, and whether to permit torture in "special" circumstances. The comments by Senator Dianne Feinstein, for instance, also indicate that such wobbliness extends to many in Congress as well.

Such weakness should be no surprise. Most Democrats on the Hill went along with all this torture mess, and at least a few cheered for it.

But no one should be fooled by such concern for loopholes. The secret agencies have a record of driving trucks (and renditions airplanes) through every such allowed exception.

Certainly the prospects for reform now are more promising than they were before the election. But as this piece and others should make clear, those who want to REALLY end torture have our work cut out for us, and plenty of it.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Washington Post December 3, 2008

After Sharp Words on C.I.A., Obama Faces a Delicate Task

WASHINGTON — For two years on the presidential campaign trail, Barack Obama rallied crowds with strongly worded critiques of the Bush administration’s most controversial counterterrorism programs, from hiding terrorism suspects in secret Central Intelligence Agency jails to questioning them with methods he denounced as torture.

Now Mr. Obama must take charge of the C.I.A., in what is already proving to be one of the more treacherous patches of his transition to the White House.

One of the first issues Mr. Obama must grapple with is the future of C.I.A. detention: will the agency continue to hold prisoners secretly, question them using more aggressive methods than allowed for military interrogators, and transfer terrorism suspects to countries with a history of using torture?

During the presidential campaign, a constant theme for Mr. Obama was the need to restore “American values” to the fight against terrorism. He pledged to banish secret C.I.A. interrogation rules and require all American interrogators to follow military guidelines, set out in the Army Field Manual on interrogation.

In a speech last year, Mr. Obama cast the matter as a practical issue, as well as a moral one. “We cannot win a war unless we maintain the high ground and keep the people on our side,” he said. “But because the administration decided to take the low road, our troops have more enemies.”

On Wednesday, a dozen retired generals and admirals are to meet with senior Obama advisers to urge him to stand firm against any deviation from the military’s noncoercive interrogation rules.

But even some senior Democratic lawmakers who are vehement critics of the Bush administration’s interrogation policies seemed reluctant in recent interviews to commit the new administration to following the Army Field Manual in all cases.

Senator Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who will take over as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee in January, led the fight this year to force the C.I.A. to follow military interrogation rules. Her bill was passed by Congress but vetoed by President Bush.

But in an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were “legal, humane and noncoercive.” But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.

C.I.A. officials have long argued that publishing a list of interrogation techniques only allows Al Qaeda to train its operatives to resist them. But they say the secrecy has led to exaggeration and myth about the agency’s detention program. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Obama’s aides said he would consider allowing the C.I.A to continue holding prisoners in overseas jails, but would insist that inspectors from the International Committee of the Red Cross be allowed to visit them.

They also said he would end the practice of “rendering” terrorism suspects to countries that have used torture.

One of the retired generals meeting with the Obama team on Wednesday, Paul D. Eaton, who oversaw the training of Iraqi forces for the Army in 2003 and 2004, said in an interview Tuesday that it was crucial for leaders to send the right message on the treatment of prisoners.

General Eaton pointed out that Vice President Dick Cheney once dismissed waterboarding, the near-drowning tactic considered by many legal authorities to be torture, as a “dunk in the water” and said such statements influenced rank-and-file soldiers to believe that brutality was not really prohibited.

“This administration has set a tone problem for the military,” General Eaton said. “We’ve had eight years of undermining good order and discipline.”

The flap over Mr. Brennan, who served as a chief of staff to George J. Tenet when he ran the C.I.A., was the biggest glitch so far in what has been an otherwise smooth transition for Mr. Obama.

Some C.I.A. veterans suggest that the president-elect may have difficulty finding a candidate who can be embraced by both veteran officials at the agency and the left flank of the Democratic Party. . . .

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Torture Debate: Laying Out the Terms


You may or may not follow "Talking Points Memo"
<< >> which is one of the most widely-read political blogs.
Anyway, under a recent report about the president-elect naming a Department of Justice transitional chief, the first two comments seemed to me to be important background items as we look ahead, because they lay out the terms of an ongoing debate.
Here they are.
First Comment: I realize I'm in the minority, but I believe it is of the utmost importance that the DOJ go after any and all that worked to undermine our civil rights. The acts of spying on Americans without a warrant, among many other criminal acts need to be investigated and brought to trial. That includes Torture and the murder of prisoners in our custody. The violation of the Geneva Convention cannot be allowed to go unpunished . . . no matter how politically dangerous it may be.

Second Comment: <<< "The violation of the Geneva Convention cannot be allowed to go unpunished .no matter how politically dangerous it may be." >>>
No. People want to move on. They shouldn't want to...they should be hungry for blood, for justice, to right the wrongs and all that, but half the country was (voting-wise) complicit in the madness of the last regime, and folks don't like having their noses rubbed in it.
The bureaucratic purification should occur, but quietly. The focus should be on nuts 'n bolts stuff: antitrust, securities, and the like. There are lots of good antitrust lawyers out there who have been twiddling their thumbs since 1978. Give 'em some work, especially now that the spotlight is on corporate malfeasance.>>

These two comments lay out concisely the ongoing debate over what to do about torture in the coming years: Forget It and Move On, versus Enforce the Law Come What May.

My own personal view is that, while there are certainly plenty of other critical problems to be dealt with (see under: "Economy, Collapse"; "Iraq, Quagmire," etc.), giving impunity to those who planned, carried out, and justified torture creates a problem of a different, and very grave magnitude. It cuts at the very root of our constitutional order.Impunity (which is the outcome of the "Move On" approach) will accelerate what I have dubbed "The Torture Transition," the extremely dangerous shift from regarding it as a shocking anomaly to accepting it as a regrettable but tolerable precedent. This concern has occurred to others involved in this issue as well.
This "Torture transition" should be resisted and stopped. I’ve written about this task in more detail in an article, ‘Torture & Impunity," just published in Friends Journal’s December 2008 issue. That article is available online here: Torture & Impunity.

"The Torture Transition." How do we stop it? This question is also part of the basis for the "START NOW" program for ending torture discussed below.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Got It Goin' On In Carolina!

These are my homeys, kicking torture-complicit derriere last Monday night. . . .

From the [North Carolina] Independent Weekly website


Johnston County Airport: Stop what torture?

By Bob Geary

For three years, the activist group N.C. Stop Torture Now has blanketed the Johnston County Airport with vigils, reports that CIA rendition flights may originate there and warnings about a half-dozen planes implicated in "torture flights" that are operated by a private carrier based there.

The group wants the county-owned airport to investigate. Start paying attention, members say. Adopt a policy against abetting torture. Call in the sheriff or the State Bureau of Investigation to help.

Airport Authority Chairman John Bullock's latest response,: Investigate what?

"We have no facts," Bullock told Stop Torture Now members who attended the authority's Nov. 17 meeting in Smithfield. Aero Contractors, the private carrier, he added, "is a good tenant, good client; they've been here for years."

At the authority's meeting a month ago, Stop Torture Now members distributed a thick packet of information, including accounts from The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and The Washington Post, about the CIA's secret renditions and the role private air carriers, including Aero Contractors, play. According to the reports, terrorism suspects captured in countries where torture is outlawed are "rendered" to other countries—Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan—where torture is practiced.

One case, involving a German citizen mistakenly arrested in Macedonia and tortured in Afghanistan, resulted in the indictment of three Aero pilots on charges of kidnapping by a German grand jury.

In another, the Swedish government agreed to pay $450,000 to an Egyptian citizen seeking asylum who was rendered back to Egypt, allegedly by Aero pilots, and imprisoned and tortured.

"Did you find [the information] compelling?" Allyson Caison, a county resident, asked Bullock.

"I found it interesting," Bullock said, smiling uncomfortably. "I'm not in favor of torture."

Ironically, the 30-minute meeting Monday was dominated by Airport Director Ray Blackmon's revelation that folks are driving too fast around the hangars, where airplanes have the right-of-way. Lest the county be sued for negligence if there's an accident, the authority voted to reduce the speed limit from 20 mph to 10.

"I was happy to hear Ray mention his concern about negligence and liability," Caison told authority members. She urged them to think hard, however, about the liability of allowing a company to use the airport in the commission of kidnappings and torture.

"Winds of change blew through this country on Nov. 4," she said. "There may soon be congressional and international investigations of the rendition program. Johnston County needs to get on the right side of history before these investigations shine the spotlight on us. At that point, it will be too late to claim we didn't know what was going on here."

Bullock said he asked the county attorney for advice but hasn't gotten any yet.

N.C. Stop Torture Now received an "Indy Citizen Award" for its work in 2007. AND An ACLU Award this year.

For more about protests at Aero Contractors, the primo Torture Taxi company:

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

To End Torture: START NOW


I've been reflecting on how most of the proposals I've seen for opposing torture in the coming years seem too narrow and oriented to one or another "silver bullet" idea.

The problem is more complex, and more entrenched, it seems to me. So I've been drafting an outline that I think is more comprehensive. The working title is "START NOW," an acronym for the main elements.

The current draft is pasted below for your review. It's a working document now, but when it's finalized, and with approval of our board, I hope it could be published as a flyer or brochure, as well as posted online.

I'd appreciate your thoughts.

Chuck Fager

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President-Elect Barack Obama, November 16, 2008:

“I have said repeatedly that America doesn't torture.
And I'm going to make sure that we don't torture.”

To Make Sure: START NOW

START NOW is a comprehensive outline of steps toward eradicating torture from the United States government and military system:


1. S = The first step is to STOP IT. Issue a presidential executive order, banning "enhanced interrogation techniques" in all U.S. agencies and facilities. Re-establish the restrictions in the Army Field Manual, apply to all military and intelligence services.

– Follow up to see that the order is followed.

– Identify and specifically revoke all secret memos and orders from the White House and agencies that authorize torture or inhibit investigations of torture allegations.

– Dismantle the torture infrastructure. Close Guantanamo. Identify and close other secret detention facilities. Terminate arrangements with third countries for torture-by-proxy. Cancel contracts with Aero and other CIA torture flight front companies. Follow up with investigations to ensure compliance.

– Preserve all relevant records, by impoundment if necessary.

2. T = TRUTH. Find and make public the actual record of U.S. agencies and contractors relating to abuse and torture. To do so, launch investigations into allegations of torture, other war crimes, and conspiracy to commit these acts. The principal investigative focus would be the period since the beginning of 2002; but relevant earlier events will be included.These investigations to proceed on numerous fronts, to include:

– Inspectors General in the relevant intelligence and federal agencies;

– The Government Accountability Office;

– The Justice Department, including independent counsels where advisable;

– Congressional hearings and probes, using subpoena power;

-- Specially-created investigative bodies ("Truth Commission")

– State-level reviews into possible violations of state laws by front companies and contractors.

– Cooperate with investigations by international agencies and other governments

– Encourage journalists and independent investigators in their fact-finding efforts.

3. A = ACCOUNTABILITY. Initiate enforcement actions for alleged war crimes and torture committed by U.S. citizens, agents or contractors. To this end:

– Rescind all exemptions for private contractors from applicable U.S. and international laws against torture and abuse.

– Convene grand juries in affected jurisdictions.

– In the military, initiate disciplinary procedures for those who took part in, gave orders for, or drafted policy guidance that permitted torture and abuse in contravention of the applicable field manuals, US laws and treaty obligations. Such procedures to begin at the top of the relevant commands.

– State officials to follow up when torture and conspiracy allegations involve violations of state laws.

4. R = RESTITUTION/COMPENSATION for victims of US torture, kidnaping, imprisonment without trial, and other related abuses, inflicted either directly by U.S. agents, contractors, or by proxy states. The cases of Maher Arar in Canada, who was granted $9 million in compensation by the Canadian government, and Ahmed Agiza in Sweden, of $377,000, are early examples of restitution payments.Open US courts to such claims. Withdraw or severely restrict the doctrine of "state secrets" as a way of avoiding this litigation.

5. T = TREATMENT: Medical, psychological, and social welfare services to be provided to victims and their families, at government expense. This may be the one part of this program where the country is already reasonably well-prepared. A network of treatment centers for torture survivors is already in place. To meet the scale of the need, this network may require expansion.


1. NEVER let up: ending torture is a long-term project. Stay informed about torture issues.

2. ORGANIZE: Keep the issue of torture in the public arena:

– Form or join local committees and coalitions to pursue the end-torture agenda.

– Conduct public witness: vigils demonstrations, protests

– Organize forums and conferences

– Write letters to the editor; Op Eds, articles in local/regional media. Blog!

– Work in churches and professional groups for statements and actions to end torture.

– Press local and state officials for action at these levels

3. WORK on the government: Lobby Congress, the White House, and federal agencies to eradicate the roots and legacy of official torture

– Find supportive organizational partners among national groups; collaborate.

– Stay in touch with your US. Representatives & Senators; don’t let them evade the issue.

– Monitor international efforts, support and join with them when practical.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lots of Bad News

"Welcome Home" banners at Camp Lejeune, NC Marine base.

Maybe you've seen the items cited here, but they could easily be overlooked among all the hullabaloo of the campaign.

All of them relate to the military situation that the new president will confront as of January 20.

And all of them, in my view, are gloomy clouds on the new administration's horizon. They point to an American future likely to be marked by more war and a bigger military.

How so? Let's take a look:

First, from Congressional Quarterly comes news that

Pentagon officials have prepared a new estimate for defense spending that is $450 billion more over the next five years than previously announced figures.

The new estimate, which the Pentagon plans to release shortly before President Bush leaves office, would serve as a marker for the new president and is meant to place pressure on him to either drastically increase the size of the defense budget or defend any reluctance to do so, according to several former senior budget officials who are close to the discussions.

Experts note that releasing such documents in the twilight of an administration is a well-worn tactic, and that incoming presidents often disregard such guidance in order to pursue their own priorities.

"Pursue their own priorities." Sure he will. But these priorities will be pressed from several directions, all pointing toward more war and a bigger military.

One example came last spring, when a retiring army general told Congress about the size and condition of our army. Here's part of what he testified, as reported in the New Yorker:

General Richard A. Cody graduated from West Point in 1972, flew helicopters, ascended to command the storied 101st Airborne Division, and then, toward the end of his career, settled into management; now, at fifty-seven, he wears four stars as the Army Vice-Chief of Staff. This summer, he will retire from military service.

[In April], the General appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee and testified that this method of engineering has failed. "Today's Army is out of balance," Cody said. He continued:
The current demand for our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan exceeds the sustainable supply, and limits our ability to provide ready forces for other contingencies. . . . Soldiers, families, support systems and equipment are stretched and stressed. . . . Overall, our readiness is being consumed as fast as we build it. If unaddressed, this lack of balance poses a significant risk to the all-volunteer force and degrades the Army's ability to make a timely response to other contingencies.

Cody spoke last spring. Last week [0ctober 14], his estimate was echoed by a batch of strategic consultants. The Christian Science Monitor's Gordon Lubold had that story:

Is US fighting force big enough?

Washington - American's armed forces are growing bigger to reduce the strains from seven years of war, but if the US is confronting an era of "persistent conflict," as some experts believe, it will need an even bigger military.

A larger military could more easily conduct military and nation-building operations around the world. But whether the American public has the appetite to pursue and pay for such a foreign-policy agenda, especially after more than five years of an unpopular war in Iraq, is far from clear.

The Army currently has about 540,000 active-duty soldiers and is expected to attain its goal of 547,000 by 2011. The Marine Corps, also tapped to expand, should top 202,000 within the next couple of years. The total American force – including active-duty, reserve, and guard – is about 2.2 million.

John Nagl, a counterinsurgency expert and a retired Army officer, says in coming years the Army should grow to 750,000 and the Marine Corps to 250,000. Demand for troops is already high, and it won't abate anytime soon even if substantial numbers of troops return from Iraq, he recently said at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington.

Meanwhile, the top US commander in Afghanistan has asked for more American troops that the US simply can't produce until more leave Iraq.

"We don't have enough brigades to fight – that is an inconvertible fact," says Mr. Nagl.
If the US is to remain a superpower in a world in which weak nations, not strong ones, are the big threats, then it must expand its forces so it won't again enter a conflict using too few troops, as it did in Iraq, say other experts. America must stay engaged in nations with weak or nonexistent governments to prevent extremism from taking root and threatening the US.

"This is not a prediction of conflicts to come, but a recognition that the potential for stabilization and reconstruction missions remains high," writes Fred Kagan, a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a think tank here, in a book he cowrote called "Ground Truth." Mr. Kagan and Thomas Donnelly argue for a total force of about 2.8 million, which includes an active Army of about 800,000 and a Marine Corps of about 200,000.

"We may not want these missions, but they might be thrust upon us; and they certainly might appear to a future president as the least-bad outcome," Kagan writes.

Where are all these additional troops supposed to come from? Recruiters haven't been having an easy time in recent years, despite huge budgets for ads and signup bonuses

But not to worry. Now they've gained a crucial ally, as a Pentagon bigwig explained to Robert Burns, military writer for the Associated Press:

For military, bad economy aids recruiting

WASHINGTON—The tough economy could make it easier to sign up soldiers.

Fewer civilian jobs mean less competition for military recruiters.

"We do benefit when things look less positive in civil society," David Chu, the Pentagon's personnel chief, told a news conference Friday. "I don't have the Dow Jones banner running up behind me here this morning, but that is a situation where more people are willing to give us a chance."

For several years, as the Army in particular struggled to meet its recruiting needs, military officials have cited a strong economy as one obstacle to attracting young people looking at their employment options. It is one reason that over the past year the Army and Marine Corps felt compelled to pay more than $600 million, combined, in bonuses and other financial incentives to entice recruits.

Another negative factor: Parents and others who influence the decisions of enlistment-age men and women have, since the outset of the Iraq war, become less inclined to recommend military service.

In announcing that the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force all met their recruiting goals for the budget year ended Sept. 30, Chu said the economic downturn offers new possibilities for recruiters.

"What more difficult economic times give us, I think, is an opening to make our case to people (potential enlistees) that we might not otherwise have," Chu said. "And if we make our case, I think we can be successful."

The military needs any break it can get on recruiting, particularly since it is in the midst of a push to substantially increase the size of the nation's ground forces—a decision driven by an urgent need to reduce the strain on troops and their families from repeated deployments to Iraq.
And one more item. Here are snippets from some reports that will be delivered to the new occupant of the Oval Office about rising military challenges, as leaked to McClatchy Newspapers:

A new National Intelligence Estimate concludes that Pakistan is "on the edge."

Washington - A growing al Qaida-backed insurgency, combined with the Pakistani army's reluctance to launch an all-out crackdown, political infighting and energy and food shortages are plunging America's key ally in the war on terror deeper into turmoil and violence, says a soon-to-be completed U.S. intelligence assessment.

A U.S. official who participated in drafting the top secret National Intelligence Estimate said it portrays the situation in Pakistan as "very bad." Another official called the draft "very bleak," and said it describes Pakistan as being "on the edge."

The first official summarized the estimate's conclusions about the state of Pakistan as: "no money, no energy, no government."

Six U.S. officials who helped draft or are aware of the document's findings confirmed them to McClatchy on the condition of anonymity because NIEs are top secret and are restricted to the president, senior officials and members of Congress. An NIE's conclusions reflect the consensus of all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies.

The NIE on Pakistan, along with others being prepared on Afghanistan and Iraq, will underpin a "strategic assessment" of the situation that Army Gen. David Petraeus, who's about to take command of all U.S. forces in the region, has requested. The aim of the assessment - seven years after the U.S. sent troops into Afghanistan - is to determine whether a U.S. presence in the region can be effective and if so what U.S. strategy should be.

The findings also are intended to support the Bush administration's effort to recommend the resources the next president will need for Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan at a time the economic crisis is straining the Treasury and inflating the federal budget deficit.

The Afghanistan estimate warns that additional American troops are urgently needed there and that Islamic extremists who enjoy safe haven in Pakistan pose a growing threat to the U.S.-backed government of Afghan Prime Minister Hamid Karzai.

The Iraq NIE is more cautious about the prospects for stability there than the Bush administration and either John McCain or Barack Obama have been, and it raises serious questions about whether the U.S. will be able to redeploy a significant number of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan anytime soon.

Together, the three NIEs suggest that without significant and swift progress on all three fronts - which they suggest is uncertain at best - the U.S. could find itself facing a growing threat from al Qaida and other Islamic extremist groups, said one of the officials.

So where does this leave the US as we look ahead to a new year and a new administration?

Facing a need for more troops – and not just a few more, but hundreds of thousands. Recruiters are counting on the coming depression to fill the ranks. Will it be enough?

And what will all these additional troops face? How about:

Trouble in Iraq. Big trouble in Afghanistan. And the threat of even bigger trouble in Pakistan. (And Iran? Russia? Don’t ask.)

I don’t know about you, but here at Quaker House, this data indicates that we’ll continue to be busy.

But beyond all this, there is yet another important aspect of this situation to consider, namely the impact of the current US financial decline on its international military-strategic standing.

We’ll look at that in another post.

(A reminder: Quaker House depends on your contributions. There is a "Donate Now" link on our home page.)
Photos copyright by Chuck fager.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Struggling to End Domestic Violence &Sexual Assaults in the Military

Working against domestic violence has not traditionally been a program priority for Quaker House. We already have plenty to do with the GI Rights Hotline, the succession of peace events, and Truth In Recruiting.

But living in this military community, some other issues have forced their way onto our agenda. Torture is one. And domestic violence is another.

In the summer of 2002, the first year I was here, there were seven domestic murders and suicides in as many weeks. And as we surveyed the carnage, the reality that these were but the top of an iceberg of family trouble became impossible to ignore.

So we wrote a report on that experience, here:
And while sticking to our main priorities, we’ve still stayed mindful of the steady toll taken by this "war at home."

In early autumn 2007, Christine Horne (that's her, by the display in our dining room) read our 2002 report and called Quaker House. Her mother, Beryl Mitchell, had been murdered in 1974 by her Green Beret officer father, at Ft. Bragg, when Christine was a child.

Now, as part of her healing, she was coming to Fayetteville to pay a proper tribute to her mother, and the other victims like her. Could we help?

We did, and the resulting memorial drew extensive media and community response. (See the report in our fall Newsletter at: )
Unfortunately, the toll of family violence and sexual assault continues: four women soldiers have been murdered in North Carolina in the past nine months.
(They are, from top to bottom below: Maria Lauterbach, murdered in December 2007 at Camp lejeune; Megan Touma, killed in Fayetteville in June 2008; Holley Wimunc, an Army nurse murdered in Fayetteville in July; and Christina Smith, stabbed to death in Fayetteville in October 2008. All four were soldiers, and in all cases, male soldiers have been charged with the crimes.)
And last month, our phone rang again. This time, it was from retired Army Col. Ann Wright. We knew Ann from her participation in our peace rally in 2007.
But Ann was not calling about an antiwar action. She was concerned about the murders of female soldiers. Could we help with a public action about that?
Of course. The outcome was a vigil, luncheon discussion, and wreath-laying memorial, on October 8, 2008. Again the press came out in force. The Fayetteville Observer hit the right note about the vigil, held outside one of the main gates to Fort Bragg:

The crowd hovering outside one of Fort Bragg’s gates Wednesday was a protest of sorts.

But it was not the anti-war kind that Fayetteville sometimes sees.

This was a protest with purple ribbons and signs about soldiers killed by their husbands or boyfriends, not by insurgents.

In a way, it was a protest against the military. But not against the people who serve. Against the military culture that, the protesters think, makes it difficult for a woman in the military to tell her commanders that her soldier husband is threatening her. Against the military bureaucracy that, the protesters think, hides sexual assault complaints and brushes victims to the side.

"I am here to say that our military must address this," said retired Army Col. Ann Wright, who served 29 years in the Army and now speaks around the country about violence against women in the service.

The response of an army press spokesman was dismissive:

Fort Bragg officials say the military’s programs to prevent sexual assault and domestic abuse work.

They do? Tell that to the families of the four women who won’t be coming home.

"Nothing could be further from the truth that we don’t attempt to be proactive in reducing domestic violence," said Tom McCollum, a Fort Bragg spokesman.

McCollum said when soldiers and families come to Fort Bragg they are told about the different places on post they can get counseling. He said soldiers preparing to deploy are briefed about stress and domestic violence as part of the things they receive. Those same soldiers are briefed again before they return to the U.S. and again after they come home.

"They can go to our chaplains, Womack Army hospital and to the Army Community Services," McCollum said. "We are sometimes baffled — why would someone do that and especially with all the help that is available? A divorce is so much easier."

Unfortunately, this statement mainly rebutted assertions that the vigilers hadn’t made. Ann Wright laid out the concerns in an OpEd column for the same newspaper on October 3rd:

In 2002, four Army spouses were murdered here by their military husbands after they returned from Afghanistan. But Fort Bragg, even aside from these infamous cases, has had a "disproportionately high number of domestic homicides, the highest in the country", according to "Murder in the Military," a July 20, 2008 article in this newspaper.

The sad roster of such victims stretches back over the decades. Thus we’ll also be laying a wreath at the grave of Beryl Mitchell, murdered here in 1974 by her Special Forces officer husband.
Rape is a parallel plague. Veterans Administration statistics reveal that one in three women servicemembers are raped or sexually assaulted while in the military. Further, the Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff of Personnel recently told Congress that of the reported rapes in the Army in 2007, ten percent were reported by male victims.

Nor are wives the only victims. In 2004 the North Carolina Child Advocacy Center issued a shocking report, "Reducing Collateral Damage on the Home Front," which showed that in a sixteen year period, the rate of fatal violence against children was twice as high in the counties around Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune as in the rest of the state.

In short, however much the Army is doing, it isn’t enough.

Keeping Up the Pressure on Torture

If I seem preoccupied with torture, that's due to two factors above all:

First, Fayetteville-Fort Bragg is surrounded by major components of what I call the "Torture Industrial Complex." So it's hard to ignore.

And second, in my study of this gruesome subject, it's become clear that legitimizing torture is a key step in the creation of a police state.

Anyway, here's another OpEd on the topic that I sent to the local paper.

Fayetteville NC Observer – published Sunday, September 28, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Don’t forget Torture Migration Day
By Chuck Fager

In this military town, much attention is given to important dates in military history: June 6, D-Day; Nov. 11, formerly Armistice, now Veterans Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.

Earlier this month, another major anniversary passed, with no notice but of huge importance, especially locally: Sept. 16. Migration Day. Torture Migration Day.

On Sept. 16, 2002, a conference began at the Special Warfare Center on Fort Bragg. At the session, the staff of the rapidly filling detention camp at Guantanamo were treated to detailed "demonstrations" of the Special Forces’ SERE techniques.

SERE: Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape. It’s the part of Special Forces training where aspiring operators are "captured" and then abused, under controlled conditions, to see how long they can resist breaking down and signing false confessions.

Reports are that the techniques, which grew out of the abuse of U.S. prisoners of war in the Korean War, can include waterboarding, religious assaults, sensory and sleep deprivation, and extremes of heat and cold. Reports also say they are extremely effective at breaking down the trainees’ will to resist, usually quickly.

The goal of the Bragg demonstration, according to Army investigators and the important new book, The Dark Side, by New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer, was to show the Guantanamo officials how to get their prisoners to talk. Until then, the complaint was that the hundreds of detainees there were producing very little useful information.

From that fateful Sept. 16 meeting here, the SERE techniques, say investigators, "migrated" to Gitmo. And then to Afghanistan and Iraq, at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. And then to the "black sites" operated by various OGAs, or Other Government Agencies — read CIA.

With this "migration," evidently many detainees started to talk, and didn’t stop.

That’s not surprising because these techniques really are not about interrogation. They’re about torture. So yes, those subjected to them talked. And talked. They spewed reams of "confessions" and detailed "intelligence."

But over time, as numerous investigations have shown and Jane Mayer’s book chillingly summarizes, little of this "intelligence" has proven authentic or useful.

And hundreds of the detainees, after such abuse, were released without charges — because they had no involvement with terrorism.

That is, they were not only innocent, they also were ignorant of the details of terror. Their confessions were mostly fabricated, to get the torture to stop.

Also in The Dark Side, Mayer recounts that numerous administration officials — solid anti-terror conservatives and high military officers — came to see this "migration" as a tragic wrong turn and tried to stop it.

Without success.

There are many reasons to deplore the torture migration that was launched Sept. 16, 2002. Some, such as respect for the Geneva Conventions, the Constitution, U.S. federal anti-torture laws, and God, can be dismissed as the cavils of bleeding hearts such as myself.

But others come from battle-seasoned military leaders.

One of these was former Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. John Shalikashvili. He said that such practices "fostered greater animosity toward the United States, undermined our intelligence-gathering efforts, and added to the risks facing our troops serving around the world."

That’s right: torture or "enhanced interrogation" by U.S. authorities endangers American troops.

This is "the Golden Rule" argument: if it’s OK for the U.S. to torture and abuse detainees and prisoners — that makes it OK for our adversaries to do the same to our forces. "Do unto others ..."

Shalikashvili also states what can be called "the Bad Seed" argument:

Remember all those hundreds — more like thousands — of released detainees who weren’t part of al-Qaida or other terror groups when they came in? Whose side do you suppose they’re on now?

Right again: Torture helps recruit new terrorists and sympathizers. Which means, torture not only increases risks to our soldiers. It also endangers our national security.

While I hope the tide is beginning to turn against torture and so-called "enhanced interrogation," it’s clear that this matter is far from over. The efforts to root it out will likely take years.

So while those efforts continue, I propose we add Sept. 16 to the calendar of unhappily memorable days on the military history calendar.

Torture Migration Day.

Let it not be forgotten.

And may it never happen again.

Dodging a Bullet – For Now

Private Jeremy Hinzman was one of the first soldiers I worked with after arriving at Quaker House at the end of 2001. He filed an application for conscientious objector status, which was turned aside, and he was deployed to Afghanistan. Several months after his return, in December 2003, he was ordered to head for Iraq.

Instead, he, his wife and infant son went to Canada, where they have been fighting ever since to stay. Last summer, a second child, a daughter, joined their family.
We’ve published numerous reports in our newsletters on this struggle. In sum, Jeremy has lost all his legal battles, and was issued a deportation order, to leave Canada on September 23, 2008.
But with one day to go, Jeremy won a round, as the newsclip below indicates. So this story is far from over.

Judge grants U.S. deserter's last-ditch effort to stave off deportation
Canadian Press -- 4:10 PM Monday September 22, 2008
TORONTO — A high-profile American deserter has won a last-minute stay of deportation.
A [Canadian] Federal Court judge says Jeremy Hinzman can stay in Canada for now. Hinzman was due to get the boot to the U.S. Tuesday morning, where he would face prosecution for fleeing to Canada rather than deploying to Iraq. Ottawa has refused his family's application to remain in Canada on humanitarian and compassionate grounds.
The 29-year-old Hinzman, his wife and two young children asked for the stay while the courts decide if they will review that decision.
His lawyer argued today that deserters who have been publicly critical of the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq have received harsher punishment.

Good news for Psychologists, and their Clients

Among the many shocking realities that emerge as one studies the evolution of the US torture system, one of the most shocking to me was to learn of the deep, and decades-long involvement of psychologists in the process.

And not just a few obscure practitioners here and there – this roll of shame included presidents of the American Psychological Association. (An eye-opening summary of these facts is here: )

Professor Alfred McCoy of the University of Wisconsin has also detailed the history in his indispensable book, A Question of Torture:

But in late September, there was finally a piece of good news on the psychological front. This release tells the story:

American Psychological Association Members Pass Historic Ban on Psychologist Participation in U.S. Detention FacilitiesWednesday, September 17, 2008Today, the membership of the American Psychological Association (APA) passed a referendum banning participation of APA member psychologists in U.S. detention facilities, such as Guantanamo or the CIA’s secret "black sites" operating outside of or in violation of international law or the Constitution.Dan Aalbers, one of the referendum’s authors, stated: "This is a decisive victory for the membership of the APA and for human rights advocates everywhere. This new policy will ensure that psychologists work for the abused and not the abusers at places like Guantanamo Bay and the CIA black sites. We expect that the APA’s leadership will immediately take action to ensure that psychologists are removed from the chain of command at places where human rights are violated or said not to apply."

More on this at the blog of Stephen Soldz, a Boston psychoanalyst who was at the UNC Torture Symposium last week, and has been a strong anti-torture activist in the APA:

The Greening of Quaker House

At Quaker House, we’re an outpost of peace witness, not an environmental demonstration project. But in all the repairs and renovations of the past few years, we’ve tried to do our bit to moderate our carbon footprint. Here are some of the changes we’ve made:

– In 2003, when we had to replace our HVAC system, we paid extra to get a system rated at 93 per cent efficiency.
– In 2007 the old water heater went kaput, and we replaced it with a tankless model, which saves energy and water. It turned out to be one of the first tankless heaters installed in the city!
– All but a few of our incandescent light bulbs have been replaced with low-energy flourescents.
– Our new toilets are low-water usage types.
–We installed more storm windows and beefed up the insulation in our attic, to save energy in both summer and winter.

As we said, our main mission here is peace work. And while none of this is radical, we think the combination is significant. And we’ll be watching for other ways to enhance this effort.

Read Our Latest Newsletter!

Our Quaker House newsletter for early Autumn is now uploaded on the newsletter page, here. It features a review and report on two new books, which strike very close to home for us: The Dark Side, by New Yorker writer Jane Mayer, and Never Surrender, by retired army General William G. "Jerry" Boykin. (That's him, with the flag, in a Fayetteville megachurch.)

Mayer’s book brings together the pioneering work she has done over the years since 2001, lifting the curtain on the developing U.S. government-sponsored torture program. Much of the supporting apparatus of this "Torture Industrial Complex," is located around the Ft. Bragg-Fayetteville area. We have been actively joining in protests aimed at exposing and dismantling this apparatus.

Boykin’s role in this project is still shrouded in secrecy, but it was likely significant. He served as a founding member and then commander of the fabled, super-secret, Ft. Bragg-based Delta Force, and later in a very high Pentagon position involved with missions targeting suspected jihadist leaders in Iraq and elsewhere. He describes a number of his combat missions in the book.

Boykin also attracted public attention for giving fiery, controversial sermons in uniform to large churches, hailing the divinely-sanctioned American role in leading the fight against evil in Islam, and declaring that our current chief political officeholders were placed in office by special divine intervention. In Never Surrender he tells his side of the story.

Boykin returned to Fayetteville to rally the troops in this ongoing apocalyptic battle. As the newsletter tells in detail, we were there, watching and reading and listening.

There’s more in the issue. Check it out.

Election Talk Across the Pond

Another piece of commentary dealt with the 2008 election, and was published across the pond, in a British Quaker weekly, The Friend, of London, in its August 8, 2008 issue.
Here’s a slightly edited version:

Qpinion - - Dismal predictions: a commentary on the US election

In the US, it’s the season for election predictions, so here are mine.

Not about the horse race. We all read the same polls and I have nothing to add.

And not about endorsements: make up your own minds, Friends.

Instead, this forecast is about some post-election developments, events I consider highly likely, regardless of who is inaugurated next January.

Three such developments, to be exact. First the list, and then the explanation.

One: The war-swap. We’ll start getting out of the ‘bad’ war (Iraq) to make more room for the ‘good’ one (Afghanistan).
Two: A return to conscription, on the salami plan - a slice at a time, disguised as ‘national service’.
Three: The torture transition: It will appear to be ‘stopped’, but behind the scenes will gain acceptance as a ‘last resort’ tactic of American statecraft.

No doubt the rhythm and character of these events will differ depending on the election outcome. But that said, I still see them looming on the horizon after the campaign hoopla dissipates.

Why? Because of a maxim which sums up many years of experience, observation and study, namely: in the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

For me this principle manifested in 1964 - my first election. One candidate told us he would not send American ‘boys’ to Vietnam to do what those ‘boys’ should do for themselves, as his rival threatened.

As one of those American ‘boys,’ I said, "That’s for me!" I wasn’t alone: that candidate was swept into office, winning all but four states.

But within a year of his huge landslide victory, this same president had us in exactly the war he’d promised to avoid. The war lasted ten years, and it was just as bad as - nay, worse than - we had imagined.

In 2008, this principle is galloping toward re-verification in the current contest. Look closely and you will see that both candidates are in substantial agreement on each of these matters.

There’s not much mystery as to why. The momentum of our military industrial complex is massive, pervasive, non-partisan - and it hates failure.

Iraq has become the template and archetype of military failure; so we are being prepared to trade it in for a promised victory in Afghanistan. This ‘forgotten war’ has been sold much more successfully, not only to Americans but to many other governments as well.

Nevertheless, the transition will be difficult, because in truth the US combat forces are desperately over-stretched worldwide. The gap between supply and demand is huge and growing. (See the chart at left) Shifting some divisions from Iraq will hardly close the gap. The relentless demands of imperial adventurism, even without Iraq, require a massive rise in US troop strength. And both major candidates are promising such expansion.

Where will such an increase come from?

Recruiting, contractors, immigrants - none has filled the gap.

Enter the draft - renamed, repackaged and with the usual unobtrusive escape hatches for the more affluent.

As for torture, I fully expect the new president to denounce it and pledge that the US will not let it happen again.

But then I also expect we will be told that we must look ahead, there’s no time for recriminations, so there will be no penalties for those who created our gulags; nor, beyond symbolism (closing Guantanamo?), will the system be dismantled or even closely examined.

In other words, this most repulsive of weapons will be put on the shelf - but kept handy for use the next time a ‘ticking bomb’ scenario or some other temptation of power becomes irresistible. Torture will be rejected rhetorically, but accepted as precedent.

I find this last prospect the most odious on this gloomy list.

Let’s hope I'm mistaken. And hey - I’m a Christian, so I do believe in miracles.

But short of that, the rule still applies: In the US, our militarism affects politics more than politics affects our militarism.

I don’t see that changing this year.

Speaking Against Torture -- A Continuing Series

For part of the period of renovations, I was able to travel in Europe, speaking about torture. One outcome of that journey was a commentary published in our local daily paper, the Fayetteville Observer.

The Observer has editorialized strongly against torture, not once but several times. This is remarkable in itself; it’s more remarkable because of the paper’s military locale; and it’s downright distinguished given the stony silence on this subject in the editorial columns of larger papers in this state.

So kudos to them for speaking the truth. And below, slightly edited, is my first OpEd chiming in:

Fayetteville NC Observer– Thursday, July 10, 2008 in the Opinion category.

Torturers may see justice
By Chuck Fager

What are the chances that those responsible for torture in the so-called U.S. "war on terror" will escape punishment?

According to Dick Marty (that's him below), right now the chances are good.

Very good, in f

And Dick Marty should know. He’s the Swiss equivalent of a U.S. senator — and the chief anti-torture investigator for The Council of Europe, that continent’s official human rights monitoring group.

Marty produced two groundbreaking investigative reports that disclosed loads of hidden details about illegal U.S. torture flights to and across Europe. They also named Poland and Romania as the sites of similarly unlawful secret U.S. prisons.

The CIA shrugged off Marty’s reports, and they got little notice in the U.S. But elsewhere they are recognized as landmarks, and haven’t exactly burnished the U.S. image abroad.

I visited Europe last spring, giving talks to church groups, urging international action to stop torture. While there, I sought an appointment with Dick Marty. Having done investigative reporting myself, I wanted to give him props for a superb job, and talk about how he pulled it off.

More important, I hoped to get his candid view about the road ahead. I interviewed him in Lugano, his home town.

Knowing what he knows, I asked, is there any way to stop the perps from skating into the sunset on rollerblades of impunity?

Pardon the amateur crime-fighter argot, but it fits. Before Marty was elected to the Swiss parliament, he was a tough prosecutor who bested mobsters and drug barons in his home canton of Ticino, which adjoins Italy.

Marty’s English was limited, but his response was unmistakable: "That’s exactly the right question to be asking," he said.

After that, he didn’t have much immediate encouragement to offer. But then, he’s not in the optimism business.

Sure, he agreed, torture is already outlawed under both international and national laws. But, he added, at a secret NATO meeting in Athens in late 2001, the U.S. demanded and got assurances from all other member nations of impunity for its military and intelligence agencies, for any actions related to the "war on terror" on their territories. Several non-NATO nations, such as Ireland, later signed on as well.

Meanwhile, in U.S. courts, repeated assertions of the doctrine of "state secrets" have thus far stymied efforts, even by certifiably innocent torture victims like Khaled El Masri, to gain any redress.

So right now, it looks pretty well sewn up: tough luck, torture victims. And as for us lily-livered lovers of the Bill of Rights, better luck next time.

But that’s the short-term view. Marty wasn’t suggesting I go home and give up. "This will be a long work," Marty said. "It will require patience and determination."

Which means that the current forecast for torturers may be sunny, like Fayetteville weather. But that can change.

How? In a lot of ways, mostly a bit at a time. Public pressure could continue to build, investigations begin, half-hearted at first, but picking up steam as the depth of the problem became clearer.

And eventually, prosecutions — most likely these would start outside the United States. (Reliable reports are that cases are already being prepared in several countries, to surface in January.) And maybe a different U.S. president might just decide to keep out of their way.

Where would such a buildup of public pressure in the U.S. come from?

Believe it or not, the most likely place is American churches.

That’s what happened, by the way, in the most famous anti-impunity case so far: the arrest of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London in 1998. That bust took 10 years of persistent work, and the Catholic Church was a major factor.

There are already several inter-church, anti-torture coalitions at work in the U.S. And they include more than the usual liberal suspects. An evangelical conference against torture is planned for Atlanta in September.

I’ll be there. I figure it’s the least a follower of Jesus could do.

Any other Fayetteville Christians care to come along?

We can send Dick Marty a postcard.

How do you say "patience and determination" in Swiss-accented Italian?