Thursday, December 24, 2009

Merry Wartime Christmas Eve . . .

Afghanistan Bomb kills paratrooper

Fayetteville NC Observer December 23, 2009
A Fort Bragg soldier on his second deployment to Afghanistan was killed Friday when his vehicle struck a homemade bomb, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Sgt. Albert D. Ware, 27, of Chicago, died in the Arghandab River Valley in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan.
He is the 10th soldier from the 82nd Airborne Division’s 4th Brigade Combat Team killed since the brigade went to Afghanistan in the summer.

Canadian Soldier Killed In Afghanistan . . . .

Washington Post - ‎2 hours ago‎
AP KABUL -- The NATO-led military mission in Afghanistan says a Canadian soldier has been killed in the southern part of the country. ...

Afghanistan: Latest British Casualty Named . . . . - ‎2 hours ago‎
UK Special forces comrades have paid tribute to Lance Corporal Tommy Brown, the Paratrooper who became Britain's fourth fatality in four days in Afghanistan. ...

NC-Based Marine killed in Afghanistan . . . .

San Jose Mercury News - ‎1 hour ago‎
AP CAMP LEJEUNE, NC—The Department of Defense has identified a North Carolina-based Marine from California killed in Afghanistan.

US admits failure in curbing drugs in Afghanistan....

Thu, 24 Dec 2009 Press TV
The US administration has admitted that Washington has failed to curb narcotics production and trafficking in Afghanistan.
The US State Department on Wednesday criticized Washington's 2-billion-dollar plan to combat the drug trade in Afghanistan for poor oversight and lack of strategy.

Afghan police mistakenly kill parliament member . . .

Lo Angeles Times, Dec. 24
The lawmaker and his son are killed in an ambush that had been set to find a wounded insurgent commander in Baghlan province, in Afghanistan's north.

National police hunting for a wounded insurgent commander mistakenly ambushed a vehicle carrying a member of the Afghan parliament, killing him and his son, provincial officials said Wednesday.

President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation of the incident, which took place overnight in Baghlan province in Afghanistan's north.

Taliban fighters and other insurgents have made significant inroads in the province over the last year. A new NATO supply route runs through the area, making it a magnet for militant strikes.

The lawmaker, Mohammad Yunos Shirnagha, was returning home after a late-night meeting with constituents when the shootout with police erupted, said Gen. Kabir Andarabi, the provincial police chief.

The War At Home . . . .

Baltimore police locate where Fort Bragg soldier was shot

Fayetteville NC Observer
Baltimore police have located the crime scene where a Fort Bragg soldier was fatally shot Sunday night while home on leave from Afghanistan.
Detectives initially were unable to determine exactly where Pfc. Clifford J. Williams, 22, was shot in a sport utility vehicle because of the weekend's huge snowstorm, police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said Wednesday.
"It's premature to speculate on any type of motive," Guglielmi said.
Police said Williams was shot on the way home from grocery shopping.
Williams' wife was at the crime scene but not in the vehicle as earlier reported, he said.
News reports said investigators believe a single gunman approached the vehicle and shot Williams through the driver's-side window. . . .
Williams went to Afghanistan in April and was scheduled to return to Fort Bragg in April 2010. The deployment was his first.

U.S. steps up special operations mission in Afghanistan

By Julian E. Barnes
December 16, 2009

Reporting from Washington - The U.S. military command has quietly shifted and intensified the mission of clandestine special operations forces in Afghanistan, senior officials said, targeting key figures within the Taliban, rather than almost exclusively hunting Al Qaeda leaders.

As a result of orders from Army Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. and allied commander in Afghanistan, the special operations teams are focusing more on killing militants, capturing them or, whenever possible, persuading them to turn against the Taliban-led insurgency.

The number of raids carried out by such units as the Army's Delta Force and Navy's SEAL Team Six in Afghanistan has more than quadrupled in recent months. The teams carried out 90 raids in November, U.S. officials said, compared with 20 in May. U.S. special operations forces primarily conduct missions in eastern and southern Afghanistan.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

A welcome Message: Saying NO to the Af-Pak "Surge"

We held a vigil on December 3 2009 in downtown Fayetteville NC, near For Bragg, to express dissent from the Afghanistan-Pakistan "surge" announced earlier this week.

Turnout peaked at ten, not bad for here, especially since we haven't had one in months. Most peace folks in town have been quiet for awhile, in the wake of last year's election.

But we had a BIG surprise when we lined up and showed our signs: they were POPULAR.

Traffic was busy around the traffic circle where we gather, and the cheers, thumbs up, smiling honks and waving peace Vs overwhelmingly outnumbered the few thumbs down from passersby. Even a couple carloads of GIs in uniform joined in the acclaim.

The conclusion? It looks like there is VERY LITTLE enthusiasm for this "surge," even among the troops here.

To be sure, soldiers at Ft. Bragg will follow orders; that's what they do. But could this lack of enthusiasm result in an uptick of GI resistance??

Stand by for updates . . .

Monday, October 5, 2009

Take Up Obama's Burden--With Apologies to Kipling

Apropos of the Afghanistan escalation plans, I recently re-read Kipling's 1899 poem "The White Man's Burden."
Much of it still rings eerily true compared to what's being pressed on Obama today. So I prepared this humble update, which is offered herewith.
Beneath it are some stanzas of Kipling, which show his prescience, even 120 years, and several versions of political correctness later.
If this doggerel speaks to you, please pass it on, link to it, spread it around!

Chuck Fager

The New Person’s Burden, 2009

(with apologies to Kipling)

No more the White Man’s Burden,
That phrase won’t fly today.
It has to be re-packaged
If we’re to make it play.

Let’s speak of “the Imperative,”
And “nation-building” too,
A bow to Nine-Eleven
Should help to push it through.

Be sure to mention brand-new schools,
Young girls who shed the veil;
The sacred war for “hearts and minds’ --
How could we let that fail?

The Afghans, they can’t help themselves,
Else they’d be done by now.
But Bagram and Guantanamo,
Will help to show them how.

So take up Obama’s burden,
Send our best of every hue
To a fruitless war in a distant land --
Say they died for me and you.

The drone strikes here, the rockets there,
The Rangers’ slashing blade;
The bodies in a village square
Mark progress that we’ve made.

What if it takes a score of years
A flood of casualties?
At tunnel’s end a light will show
Our exit strategies.

We’re sure to win this Afghan war,
Our generals know it well.
But what’s the toll, the price-tag there?
On that, “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

So fie on the poppy-growing warlord,
The scheming Taliban.
Where England stumbled, Russia failed–
We’ll triumph: Yes, we can.

-- By Chuck Fager
[As read on the Mike Malloy radio show on October 5, 2009. Thanks, Mike!
One correction: Mike Malloy described me as a Vietnam Veteran;
I am not. But I say YES to the troops who served there, as I also say NO to that war.]

- - - - - - - - - -

The White Man’s Burden, 1899

Rudyard Kipling

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.

Take up the White Man's burden--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better,
The hate of those ye guard--
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah, slowly!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Holder-Prosecutor Update #1

Glenn Greenwald of Salon is on top of the Holder/prosecutor story (or more likely, trial balloon):
He says:

. . .such an approach -- targeting low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy-makers from prosecution -- would be "something close to the worst of both worlds." That's true not only because it would replicate the disgraceful whitewashing of the Abu Ghraib prosecutions. It would do that, but even worse, it would bolster the principal instrument of executive lawlessness -- the Beltway orthodoxy that any time a President can find a low-level DOJ functionary to authorize what he wants to do, then it is, by definition, "legal" and he's immune from prosecution when he does it, no matter how blatantly criminal it is.

. . . just as was true for the Abu Ghraib abuses, many of the worst instances of detainee abuse cannot be extricated from -- but rather are directly attributable to -- the torture policies authorized at the highest levels of the government. To target low-level interrogators while shielding high-level policy makers would further bolster America's two-tiered system of justice, in which ordinary Americans are subjected to merciless punishment while the most powerful elites are vested with virtual immunity from the consequences of their lawbreaking. . . .

Prosecuting only obscure "rogue" interrogators while immunizing powerful, high-level officials would not be an act of courage but of cowardice. It would not strengthen the rule of law but would pervert it further. And rather than deter future lawbreaking, it would signal -- yet again -- that our most powerful political officials are free to break the law with impunity.

However, Scott Horton, one of the top accountability activists, is more hopeful that such a probe would not be as narrow:

One source told me that he would be surprised if Holder “set blinders” on the special prosecutor. Still, the scope of the investigation would clearly be limited to the authorization and use of Bush-era “enhanced interrogation techniques” such as waterboarding, longtime standing, stress positions, and prolonged sleep deprivation. Moreover, President Obama’s assurance to CIA officials who relied on the opinions of government lawyers in implementing these programs, an assurance that Holder himself repeated, would have to be worked in. That suggests that the focus would likely be on the lawyers and policymakers who authorized use of the new techniques.

Yet Horton is also restrained and tentative about the prospects:

Observers caution that even if a special prosecutor is appointed, actual indictments would still be far off. The Bush torture policy was implemented with the advice of lawyers well skilled in the ways of Washington bureaucracy. Any prosecutor would face considerable legal obstacles in bringing charges. A review of the torture memoranda themselves shows that a consuming concern was thwarting the possible bringing of charges by a future prosecutor. Now, perhaps, the defenses they devised may be put to the test.

How is this report going over in the MSM? Here's the blogger Digby on its reception on the major Sunday Beltway pundit show "This Week":

Stephanopoulos reported on This Week that the possible Holder investigation is going to be very narrow and will not pursue policy makers or anyone who took orders directly from the policymakers. He's going after "rogue interrogators" who inflicted more torture than was strictly allowed.

The Village roundtable all gasped in horror anyway because who knows where such an investigation might lead and as Cokie [Roberts] complained, it would mean that the whole town would be mad at each other again and nobody wants that! "Everybody hates each other and the poison gets very thick." She did finally come down on the side of following the ru le of law even though it would make her uncomfortable at cocktail parties, but it was a close thing.

Bob Woodward was very upset at the idea that the government can't keep secrets because "we need them!" Besides, Holder shouldn't be like Janet Reno and just initiate investigations willy nilly. (He seems to think that Reno authorizing independent counsels to investigate her own president for trivial political reasons is the same thing as investigating whether the previous administration tortured prisoners.) They all chuckled at the notion that Holder was really independent and if he is, that means he's a rogue interrogator himself.

George Will thought it was all just a bunch of balderdash because nothing bad ever happened during the Bush administration. Sam Donaldson said that reporters should probably pursue stories and Donna Brazile added that these things were coming out anyway so they might as well be investigated.

They all snorted and giggled and laughed throughout the whole segment about how silly it was to be upset that the CIA lied because well, that's what it does. And they all thought it was a ripping good joke that Cheney kept everything secret because well, everyone knows that's what he does. Hahahahaha.

And then they talked about Michael Jackson.

Greenwald comments:
That's a major reason why we have such a depraved and lawless political class.

Maybe a Special Prosecutor for Torture??

    From the NY Times on July 13. Some comments follow:
New York Times -- July 13, 2009

Obama Faces a New Push to Look Back


President Obama is facing new pressure to reverse himself and to ramp up investigations into the Bush-era security programs, despite the political risks.
   Leading Democrats on Sunday demanded investigations of how a highly classified counterterrorism program was kept secret from the Congressional leadership on the orders of Vice Presid ent Dick Cheney.
  Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Fox News Sunday called it a “big problem.” Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, on “This Week” on ABC, agreed that the secrecy “could be illegal” and demanded an inquiry.
  Mr. Obama said this weekend that he had asked his staff members to review the mass killing of prisoners in Afghanistan by local forces allied with the United States as it toppled the Taliban regime there. The New York Times reported Saturday that the Bush administration had blocked investigations of the matter.
    Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is also close to assigning a prosecutor to look into whether prisoners in the campaign against terrorism were tortured, officials disclosed on Saturday.
    And after a report from five inspectors general about the National Security Agency’s domestic eavesdropping said on Friday that there had been a number of undisclosed surveillance programs during the Bush years, Democrats sought more information.
  That makes four fronts on which the intelligence apparatus is under siege. It is just the kind of distraction from Mr. Obama’s domestic priorities — repairing the economy, revamping the health care system, and addressing the long-term problems of energy and climate — that the White House wanted to avoid. . . .
 The attorney general would prefer to keep such an inquiry narrowly focused and assign it to a line prosecutor, if possible, rather than appoint a special prosecutor, the person [an inside source] said. >>

This last sentence flashes with warning lights, I believe, for two reasons:
A. Such a "narrowly focused" inquiry could well end up going after no more than the 2010 version of Lynndie England, small-fry underlings, while letting the bigger fish skate. Definitely a BAD idea. And
B. A "line prosecutor" can be more easily controlled and quieted than an independent prosecutor, who would be, at least to some extent, "independent."
So this report contains some potentially very good news, but needs to be treated guardedly. High stakes stuff, and even if Holder pulls the trigger, our task will not be lessened, because pressure needs to continue on many fronts, if there's to be any hope of actually dismantling the TIC (Torture Inductrial Complex), rather than giving a few low-level spooks a slap-on-the-wrist and leaving the overall structure and operation in place.
Note that
<<>Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, who is the chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, on Fox News Sunday called it a “big problem.” >>
Feinstein is a big player in this; she's already conducting a secret inquiry. She's also Establishment all the way; but maybe her probe has uncorked such a seething bottle of liquid poop that it's more than even she can handle behind closed doors.
The fact that the article identifies four separate investigations underway is also encouraging: to avoid the smokescreens and pierce the coverups, we need to press for numerous investigations. The Times failed to mention al the foreignprobes underway too, from the UK to Poland. The MSM may not pay them much attention, but they are NOT irrelevant.
More to come on this.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Understatement of the Day. The Month. The Year.

From an AP Dispatch today, March 23, 2009:

    US officials said earlier this month that Iraq was experiencing its lowest levels of violence since 2003.

    But since then there have been several major bombings.

The AP dispatch told of a suicide bombing in Diyala province, which killed 25. earlier, in the Abu Ghraib district, another bombing killed 8.  And, AP added--

    Another attack in Abu Ghraib on 10 March killed 33 people.

    In the same week, more than 30 people died in an attack on a police recruitment centre and another 10 were killed in an explosion at a cattle market in Babel province.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Six years Too Long - End the War

I'm feeling more than a little embarrassed as I write this post. Six years ago tonight, bombs and missiles began crashing down on Baghdad and other targets, in what was arrogantly billed as the "Shock & Awe" opening to the Iraq war.  
Each year since, we've had some kind of protest or vigil. From 2004 through 2007, we helped organize sizeable peace rallies here in Fayetteville.

But this year, the anniversary crept up on me, and as I write we are scrambling to put on a small vigil downtown tomorrow. It's bound to be small; but as far as I can tell, it will be pretty much all the local action there is.

We're still pretty busy otherwise: our GI Rights Hotline is taking lots of calls; our "Sgt. Abe" character is still working to bring more Truth into Recruiting; and we're pressing for
 accountability for the torture that so 
disgraced the nation in recent years.

Yet there's no denying that the peace movement in March 2009 is in deep disarray. National groups are fading; uncertainty is widespread about how to project a strong peace message given the changes in Washington. And it seems that everything, even wars and rumors of war, is being swept from our field of vision by the noise and impact of the economic collapse.

No wonder it's been hard to stay focused lately. But here it is, the beginning of Year Seven of the Iraq war, and at Eugene O'Neill wrote in "Death of a Salesman," Attention must be paid.
So tomorrow I'll be carrying the poster I made in the summer of 2003, when the number of US casualties was about 250, a figure that was updated for each new vigil.

The sign is scuffed, smudged and battered now, held together with tape. But the message still appplies, the numbers are current, and the totals are depressingly familiar: 4200+ US troops killed; 500,000+ Iraqi civilians dead.

And there are more unhappy numbers that don't fit on the sign:

     -- Five million Iraqis turned into homeless refugees in their own homeland;
     -- More than 50,000 US troops seriously wounded;
     -- Hundreds more dead by suicide, in Iraq and afterward;
     -- Un-numbered military families torn apart by the stresses of repeated deployments;
     -- The financial costs of the war are well into multiple trillions of dollars (which 
used to be a lot of money), with no end in sight.

And despite announced plans to pull out some troops from Iraq, there's another war in afghanistan waiting to claim them.

Which reminds me -- I was against the Afghanistan war first, all the way back in late 2001. And now, more than seven years later, this response has not dimmed: Afghanistan is a quagmire. Despite the skill and courage of US troops, I agree with military columnist and Vietnam veteran Joseph Galloway, who recently wrote:
  "The Taliban insurgents now have a chokehold on as much as 70 percent of Afghanistan, and they're proving to be flexible and adaptive in their attacks on American, NATO and Afghan forces.

If the new American team has some new ideas about how to succeed in Afghanistan, now would be the time to lay them out. Nothing that Alexander the Great, Queen Victoria or Leonid Brezhnev tried in their attempts to subdue the quarrelsome Afghan tribes worked, and nothing we’ve tried in the last eight years has, either.

While we're waiting for a new strategy, perhaps we should break out some old Kipling:

"When wounded and left on Afghanistan's plain

"And the women come out to cut up your remains . . . ."

Etc., etc."

Current plans call for leaving at least 50,000 US troops in Iraq for the indefinite future. To me, that suggests that there may well be many more such anniversaries to mark, before the sentiment we saw on this Welcome Home banner at Camp Lejeune is fulfilled.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Accountability Curtain-Raiser: First "Truth Commission" hearing led by Sen. Leahy

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the March 4 2008 US Senate hearing chaired by Pat Leahy on a Truth Commission (or TC), to me at least, was the preview it offered of the legal fights that are almost certain to surround the accountability movement’s efforts. It also gave viewers glimmpses of some of some figures who will likely be central to the upcoming battles.

The four supportive witnesses laid out arguments familiar to most of us who have been following this debate: torture and other crimes disgrace the US in the eyes of the world, make our soldiers less safe, and undermine the Constitution. They have also very likely involved actual violations of numerous existing US and international laws – i.e., crimes. We need to get the truth, all the truth.

I won’t repeat these arguments in more detail here, as they are likely familiar to most readers. (The list of favorable witnesses is at the end of this post.) And a more detailed summary of the testimony and questioning is here.
    And if you missed the hearing, you can watch a video of the whole thing -- about two hours-- here .)

Much more interesting were the challenges to a TC, as laid out by the two witnesses added to the panel at the request of Republican Senators: lawyer David Rivkin and law professor Jeremy Rabkin.

Rivkin has already published an Op-Ed in the Washington Post blasting any “truth commission” idea as a constitutional travesty. 
He has also vigorously defended the overall Bush “war on terror” approach to prisoners, insisting that “detainees in U.S. custody today enjoy the most fulsome due process procedures of any detainees or prisoners of war in human history.

Hmmm. “Fulsome”?? What does that mean?

Webster’s offer an intriguing range of definitions:

1: characterized by abundance : copious. (This is probably how Rivkin meant it.)

But Webster’s also offers more. "Fulsome":

2: aesthetically, morally, or generally offensive.

3: exceeding the bounds of good taste : overdone.

In line with #3 above, Rivkin fulsomely called the Leahy TC proposal a “profoundly bad idea,” and “a dangerous idea,” He said it would involve an extra-constitutional “out-sourcing” of law enforcement functions that properly belong to regular government agencies such as the Department of Justice. He also contended that the TC’s investigations would encroach upon the civil liberties and privacy of the former officials who would be investigated.

Significantly, Rivkin also asserted that the TC’s work would be bad in another way: even if it did not result on prosecutions, he argued – or perhaps especially if it did not – its findings would encourage foreign prosecutors to ramp up potential criminal cases against former US officials in their countries. This risk would be the greater, he correctly noted, because some of the potential criminal charges – such as torture – are subject to claims of “universal jurisdiction” under international law.

Such foreign prosecutions, Rivkin insisted, would amount to a “soft form of rendition” for those implicated.  He speaks with some knowledge in this area: besides working for the Reagan and first Bush administrations, his experience includes defending the government of Croatia against war crimes charges in the International Criminal Tribunal.

Jeremy Rabkin, the other Republican witness, is a law professor at George Mason University near Washington. As a writer he has been especially vocal in denouncing international legal efforts, as two titles of his articles suggest: “Global Criminal Justice: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed,” and “The Case Against the World Court.”

He declared that a Truth Commission is what a government does with war criminals when for various reasons it is unable to prosecute them. Despite Leahy’s protestations that he only wants to get at the facts, Rabkin said the supporters of the TC idea see it as a forum for branding former Bush administration officials as war criminals, while leaving them no way of defending themselves, as in a real court proceeding. 

Rabkin said that if there needed to be actual prosecutions, there are agencies already available to undertake the prosecutions. Congress should not be involved in setting up platforms for “shaming people.”

Between the two hostile witnesses, Rivkin’s points were the ones most likely to end up entangling accountability efforts in years of delaying litigation. Rabkin’s main complaint, that it would be an exercise in public humiliation, is not a legal objection; shaming someone, so far as I know, is not a crime.

I expect to hear Rivkin's assertions again: that a TC would be unconstitutional and illegitimate; that its proceedings would violate the civil liberties of those called before it; that its conclusions would promote foreign meddling in matters of US law. (And behind these legalities is Rivkin’s stated belief that the Bush administration did nothing wrong in its “war on terror.”)

Leahy did not really debate Rivkin and Rabkin at any length. Instead, he remarked dismissively that the largest hayloft in his home state of Vermont could not produce as many straw men as this pair had presented. (Scott Horton has also posted a more nuanced but more scathing analysis of their line of argument. )

Most impressive to me at the hearing was the performance of Rhode Island Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. Whitehouse is my pick to become the star of the congressional accountability process. His statement on February 25, announcing the hearing with Leahy, was easily the most eloquent declaration on the topic I have seen from an elected official. 

Whitehouse took on Rivkin and Rabkin with a combination of controlled fury and cool mockery. After dissecting what he called Rivkin’s “gallery of horribles,” he rebuked their fallback “everybody does it” line of defense with, “Until you know and we all know what was actually done, do not be so quick to throw other generations under the bus and assume they did worse.”

We shall hear more from Whitehouse, and doubtless Rivkin too. Indeed, as the accountability process picks up momentum, I expect it will supply Rivkin and his right-wing lawyerly ilk with plenty of high-ticket billings for years to come – both, as Rivkin noted, in this country and others.

Other witnesses: Thomas Pickering, a retired career diplomat.
Admiral Lee Gunn(ret.): former Inspector general of the Navy.
John J. Farmer Jr., former Attorney general of New Jersey and Senior Counsel to the 9-11 Commission.
Frederick A. O. Schwarz, Jr. Chief Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activity (1975-1976), widely known as the Church Committee.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Back from the Dark Side: Hello, Johnston County: Torture Accountability Is Coming. Time to Get Ready.

I joined our partners in NC Stop Torture Now Monday night to visit with the Johnston County Commissioners at their monthly meeting. Stop Torture NOW is a terrific group, which all concerned with this issue could well learn from.
Johnston County is home to Aero Contractors, the notorious CIA front company that has been linked to many of the "torture taxi" flights called "extraordinary rendition" in official euphemistic parlance.
The report in the March 3 edition of the Clayton NC Star-News makes it sound like our mission was a failure:

  "Despite impassioned pleas and warnings of irreparable damage to Johnston County’s image, the county’s Board of Commissioners on Monday refused to ask for an investigation of a local company accused of participating in the kidnapping and transportation of suspected terrorists to foreign countries for interrogations that allegedly include torture . . . ."

This report was entirely accurate in a journalistic sense. Yet despite the board's official refusal to act on our proposal, I came away feeling almost triumphant. That's because I felt able to read between the factual lines, and somehow take the temperature of the group before us.
And what I think I read was an underlying nervousness and unease.
That's because, while they could easily say no to us last night, there's just no question that after so many years of a cozy connection to Aero and its shadowy patrons, which has yielded many millions of dollars of income for a poor county, the ground has suddenly shifted, the winds have changed.
The Clayton Star summed up this perception well:

 "Other speakers warned the commissioners that investigations currently being lobbied for in Congress could lead back to Johnston County, with dire results for this area’s public image in the rest of the nation and world. “The engine of accountability is gearing up in Washington,” Fayetteville resident Charles Fager said. “What we’re offering you is the opportunity to get out in front of that train before it runs you over.” 
 I'm almost certain that there were those among the Commissioners who have an increasingly ominous sense that just such unsettling changes are getting underway. In fact, a high county official approached me at the end of the session to express a kind of sotto voce agreement with this assessment.

Another hint of this came when the Chairman, Wade Stewart, who had earlier said he approved of waterboarding and thought that torture was often effective, agreed that he would take up the matter of possible future accountability actions with the U.S. Representative from that district, Robert "Bobby" Etheridge. 
Members of Stop Torture Now have approached Etheridge on several occasions, trying to raise questions about Aero, and have been met with stonewalling and anger.
But if Etheridge responds to Commissioner Stewart (who said he talks with Etheridge "all the time"), the Congressman will speak of such items as:  

      >>the fact that the U.S. Senate is beginning hearings on a "Truth Commmission" (scheduled for Wednesday March 4);
      >>the fact that the Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. John Conyers, is also readying a plan for an investigation;
      >>the fact that there is a growing stream of shocking public revelations about illegalities and torture being planned and carried out by previous high officials, many of which implicate such entities as Aero Contractors. And
       >> last but hardly least, there is likely to be much more of this to come.

No one has spoken of this prospect more tellingly than U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, a former prosecutor who is deeply involved in the burgeoning accountability work in Congress. Read this excerpt from his statement of February 25, 2009, announcing plans for the Senate investigation:

We also have to brace ourselves for the realistic possibility that as some of this conduct is exposed, we and the world will find it shameful, revolting. We may have to face the prospect of looking with horror at our own country's deeds. We are optimists, we Americans; we are proud of our country. Contrition comes hard to us.

But the path back from the dark side may lead us down some unfamiliar valleys of remorse and repugnance before we can return to the light. We may have to face our fellow Americans saying to us, "No, please, tell us that we did not do that, tell us that Americans did not do that" - and we will have to explain, somehow. This is no small thing, and not easy; this will not be comfortable or proud; but somehow it must be done.
(Emphasis added.)

The engine of accountability for torture is indeed gathering steam. And it will soon have in its sights what has gone on, not only at Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, but also what has happened at Aero Contrators in Johnston County North Carolina.

I hope Bobby Etheridge will speak plainly to Wade Stewart about this.  And for the good of the county they have in trust, I hope Stewart and his colleagues will reconsider and get out in front of of this process while there is still time.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

What The President Can See at Camp Lejeune

When top officials come to bases like Camp Lejeune, they are usually treated to a rigmarole of miitary ceremony: parades, demonstrations of boom-boom war tools, powwows with base and area notables, and of course, press conferences. It's a drill that may be new to this president, but will soon become familiar, even routine.

Yet when our new President comes to Camp Lejeune on February 27, he has a chance to see something different. 
At Camp Lejeune there's a custom that is different from what happens here at Fort Bra
gg. When marine units return from combat
deployments, family members are encouraged to make "Welcome Home" banners for them, mainly on bed sheets.

These banners are hung on a fence that runs along North Carolina Route 24, a public highway that crosses a piece of Camp Lejeune. The returning Marines land at a nearby airfield, then are bused to the base, down NC 24 and in clear sight of these banners. They are an obvious boost to morale for the war-weary.
Many of these colorful displays hang for weeks, until wind and weather bring them down. They are visible enough to those who drive past the base, but are likely to be missed by someone coming in by helicopter, as
 the Commander In Chief is likely to do.
I've been taking photos of some of these banners for several years. They are a form of ephemeral public folk art and shared storytelling that often pack a lot of meaning into a small space. 

A group of several hundred Marines returned home earlier in February, and fortunately they did not suffer any fatal casualties. The president could do well to see and reflect on the batch of banners that was put up to welcome them back. So could other Americans.
As a public service, this post offers him and others several examples.
NOTE: There are more photos of these Marine banners inn a special section of our website, here.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

NEW On Our Site: Newsletter & Book Information

Two new items have just been uploaded to our website.

First is our latest Newsletter, which you'll find on the Newsletter page.
a description of and excerpts from our new book, YES To The Troops, NO To The Wars.
The book is part of our 40th anniversary observances. Yep, Quaker House has been witnessing for peace since 1969. 

 From the street, Quaker House is merely a modest bungalow on a quiet residential street.
But looks are deceptive.
Since 1969, Quaker House has been a persistent and visible witness for peace, close by Fort Bragg, one of the largest US military bases:
More than fifty thousand GIs have called its GI Hotline for help getting out of the m
And under its traditional cedar shingle roof, two generations of activists have hatched peace protests large and small, quiet and noisy, with more to come. 
When it started during the Vietnam War, there were dozens of similar projects near military bases. But Quaker House is the only one that’s still going.
Fire-bombing couldn’t stop it.
Military spying didn’t intimidate it.
Even fallow periods “between” wars haven’t withered it.
Now, on its 40th anniversary, a new book: YES TO THE TROOPS – NO TO THE WARS, tells the exciting and improbable Quaker House story.
YES TO THE TROOPS – NO TO THE WARS describes how Quaker House not only survived next door to one of the largest US military bases, but in 2009 is still going strong.
It's been quite a ride. Jane Fonda came and went. So did Sixties radicalism, and official harassment. Founding organizers died in a car wreck. Money was often so tight it squeaked. Many staff didn't want to live in a tough military town. The Board repeatedly wondered if the venture was still needed or useful. The roof leaked. 
But Quaker House stayed afloat.
One reason was because Quakers can be stubborn. Harassment toughened their resolve.
But another was that, after Vietnam, other wars followed: Central America. Desert Storm. Iraq again; Afghanistan. (And new wars are waiting: Iran? Pakistan?)
So while dozens of similar projects died out, Quaker House stayed alive and kept working.
Since September 11, it's been busier than ever: 
The GI Rights Hotline. Iraq. Afghanistan. Torture flights from nearby airports. GI resisters and AWOLS. Violence and suicide within the military. Truth In Recruiting. You name it.
The recent changes in Washington haven’t ended the wars. So there's still need for an active, long-term peace witness "up-close and personal" with a military hub like Fort Bragg. That's why, with 2009 marking its 40th year, Quaker House is looking back i
n order to look ahead. Its anniversary slogan is: Forty Years of Front-Line Peace Witness – And Just Getting Started.”
Author Chris McCallum and Editor Chuck Fager spent nine months researching and writing YES TO THE TROOPS – NO TO THE WARS.
This remarkable saga of persistent, creative peace action is full of implications for future work to end war and find alternatives to militarism.
For more about the book, including excerpts, you can find them here.

A Shining Testimony Against Torture

Here's an Op-Ed column I submitted to the Fayetteville Observer. It was published there on February 18, 2009. 

Anti-torture stand deserves recognition

By Chuck Fager


OK, so the Observer won a bunch of awards recently, from the North Carolina Press Association. Mostly seconds and thirds.
Congratulations, I guess.
But, if you ask me, the NCPA dropped the ball. They missed one at their rubber chicken confab. And it was a biggie.
A real biggie.
They forgot to hand the Observer the Special Citation for Editorial Courage and Excellence in the Fight to End Torture.
That’s one award the editors earned, in spades. It should be hanging on the office wall right now, in a big shiny frame, in front of God and everybody.
Why? Do the math: Since 2005, this newspaper has published 10 — count ’em — editorials denouncing torture in the now obsolete “war on terror.”
They have also printed a batch of anti-torture op-ed pieces, including two very powerful columns by Vietnam vet and military writer Joe Galloway, who knows what he’s talking about.
That makes a dozen, and there were more. (Full disclosure: I wrote a couple of
 the other op-ed pieces, so we won’t include them in the tally.)
How could the NCPA have missed out on recognizing this amazing record? Not only were the Observer’s editorials consistent, they were eloquent as heck.
Recall just a few of these headlines:

“Our View: The only good policy regarding torture is zero tolerance” (Sept. 29, 2005).
“Our View: Americans can win wars without becoming what they despise” (Sept. 17, 2006).
“Our View: It’s water torture, not an ‘enhanced technique’” (Feb. 12, 2008).
“Our View: ‘Abstinence only’ is the sole honorable torture policy” (April 18, 2008).

There’s lots more, but you get the idea.
This stunning achievement required more than mere eloquence and clear moral vision. In the America of working “the dark side, if you will,” sneering at the Geneva Convention, and “All Hail Jack Bauer, Superstar,” it took guts.
How lonely a stand was it? Well, for three years now, I’ve been making jaws drop on all my anti-torture activist buddies from the Triangle and other big cities, as I’ve shown them these clearly reasoned cris de couer, one after another, after another, after another.
You see, in those bigger, supposedly more sophisticated, cultured, and, well, “progressive” N.C. towns, the editorial voices against torture in their bigger, supposedly more sophisticated, etc., dailies have been mighty few and far between. One would think that for them, challenging torture was right up there with dissing NASCAR, basketball, barbecue and other timeless Tar Heel taboos.
So, maybe I can understand the NCPA’s reluctance to honor the Observer’s principled consistency; to do so would show up too many of their colleagues around the state as the moral midgets they’ve been on this issue. For years.
And besides, that’s all behind us now anyway, right? The New Order in Washington has declared torture off-limits, thank goodness. Let’s move on, folks — nothing to see here. Especially not that pesky “accountability” aspect that Joe Galloway wrote about so forcefully in these pages just weeks back.
So no citation for the Observer. Oh, well. Yet, there is one consolation: If their fellow editors haven’t been listening, maybe someone else has.
Come to think of it, those ringing declarations from the new White House resident about how America will no longer tolerate torture sound ed like they were cribbed from the editorial columns of a small-city daily in the Sandhills. If they weren’t, they sure could have been.
These echoes from the White House of what our paper has been saying for years ought to make local folks swell with pride.
And make a lot of other editors hang their heads in shame.
For that matter, maybe the NCPA isn’t the Observer’s last chance to get its props.
Hello, Pulitzer Prize jury? Take note.

The Torture Accountability Spectrum – A Summary of Current Views

As the first month of the new administration passes,
 discussion of efforts at achieving accountability for torture and other crimes is both extensive and intensive, inside and
 outside of Washington. It has also gained momentum from recent po
 possible torture and other abuses.

Here’s a brief overview
 of the range of views on
 accountability, as best I’ve been able to determine it. While I’ll not conceal my own
 preferences here, the purpose is not to argue for them. Rather the hope is that this sketch c
an help participants keep their bearings as this
 rapidly-unfolding debate unfolds.

I’ve found four major positions on this spectrum:

First, at one end, are those we might call the “Do Nothings.” They argue that no action regarding torture or war cri
mes should be taken. Their case appears to be based on one of two rationales: either that whatever the previous administratio
n did was right, or at least justified; or, that it would be impossible to make a cas e that would convince a jury, and henc
e the result would only be years of divisive rancor, and thus a waste of time.

Champions of the “Do Nothing” view include som
e prominent figures, such as Jack Goldsmith, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel which prod
uced the infamous “torture memos.” Of the various proposals for investigation or prosecution he says flatly,

Others include a distinguished father-son duo. The pere is federal appeals
 court judge Richard Posner, whose 2006 book, “Not A Suicide Pact, The Constitution in a Time of National Emergency,” justifi
ed all the previous regime did, and more.
The fils is Eric Posner, law professor at the University of Chicago, who is convinced th
at no convictions would be possible, and prosecutions are unnecessary.

The second definable position could be dubbed “Investigate & Move On.” Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy and retired Army General Anthony Taguba are
 among those who advocate for such an inquiry. The specific form and mandate of this type of probe could vary from a
 Congressional panel to a White House-appointed independent commission. But the outcome, beyond some form of a detailed report, would specifically not
 include any effort at prosecutions, except possibly for perjury before the commission itself. Many nonprofit advocacy
 groups appear to be lining up behind this idea.

The third position is more forceful; these are the “Investigate and T
 the most visible champion of such an effort. He argues that official investigations should not rule out in advance the prosecution
 of those responsible for what are very serious offences. If we prosecute “petty” crimes, it would be hypocritical to fail t
o prosecute war crimes and torture. Scott Horton, a well-known human rights attorney, has also
 strongly supported this approach.

The fourth and most assertive position on the current spectrum is the call
 to “Prosecute Now.” One way to do this would be for the US Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor, right away,
 regardless of what happens on the investigation/commission front.

This is the demand of Michal Ratner, Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights, (at right) which is representing some Guantanamo prisoners. It has also been advanced by David Swanson, formerly an impeachment activist, who ha
s a petition at calling for the new US Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor immediately. (The
 petition had almost 43000 signatures as of February 21)

A variation of this approach is that of former prosecutor and author Vincent Bugliosi author and former prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi has made a case for prosecuting G eorge W. Bush for murder based on taking the US into the Iraq War under false pretenses. The murder victims would be any US soldier killed in Iraq; and as murder is mainly a state offense, the charges would be brought by a local District Attorney.

Bugliosi has sent his book, “The Prosecution of George W. Bush For Murder,” to all 2200 local district attorneys around the country, hoping to find one or more to bring a case. More information about this effort is at the website:

That’s the current accountability spectrum as I see it. The outcome of this debate is impossible to predict, but it does seem that momentum is building for some kind of accountability effort, and the “Do Nothing” stance is, at this point at least, losing ground.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The New President vs. Torture: Great Start, Much More To Do

First, credit where it is due: on torture, the new president has changed the game and the
 momentum. His executive orders are landmarks,  and their repudiation of the lawbreaking that’s been going on for the past eight years is historic.

But who’s perfect? There are some holes in the orders; and even in the best case scenario, there’s plenty more to be done.  On this continuing agenda, four tasks are top priorities.

First, plug up the holes: Two stick out: a “special task force”  will decide if there is to be “additional or different guidance” (e.g., exceptions to the anti-torture rules) for “depar
tments or agencies outside the military” (e.g., the CIA and its ilk). Will this result in some kind of “Jack Bauer” loopholes? It shouldn’t, but it’s distinctly possible; stay tuned. 

Also, the president is evidently keeping “rendition,” which means a green light to continued covert kidnapings, particularly in foreign countries.
This does not surprise me. Working next door to Fort Bragg NC, we’re smack in the middle of what can be called the “Torture Industrial Complex.” Two reputed CIA front co
mpanies, Centurion Aviation Services in Fayetteville  , and Aero Contractors in nearby Smithfield ,   have been linked to many, if not most of the “torture taxi” flights.

Over the past year, local anti-torture activists have watched both these companies e
xpand their facilities, with more growth on the boards. So while most other sectors of the economy here are collapsing, the rendition flight industry’s outlook seems quite sunny, thank you very much; new executive orders or no.

To be sure, we are told that future “renditions” will not include, or culminate in, torture or “black sites” imprisonment. Yet in the new executive orders, there is another exception, permitting captives to be held in foreign safe houses “on a short-term, transitory basis.” (But there’s no definition of “short-term” or “transitory” either.)

Thus the first priority is to keep these chinks of wiggle room from being stretched into actual loopholes.

This points us to the second major concern. How will we know if these good new policies are
 adhered to? More important, how will the president know?

Take the notorious “black sites,” secret CIA prisons. The one thing we know about them for sure is that they exist, because the president has ordered them to close, along with Gitmo.

But we don’t know how many of these prisons there are. We don’t know where they are. And we don’t know how many prisoners are being kept in them. (My guess: thousands since 2002.)

The chances are that very few people in Washington know either. Will that number include the President?

Keep in mind that we’re talking about a group of people (not just the CIA, but a whole sub-culture of “OGAs” -- Other Government Agencies) that encompasses an undetermined number of private contractors.

Secrecy is their reason for being. Concealment and deception are basic tools of their trade. And keeping higher-ups as ignorant as possible
 is standard procedure, either with their superiors’ connivance (“plausible deniability”), or not (Bay of Pigs).

So Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will check to make sure – really sure – that all these hellholes have been shut down (and not replaced with others) and their inmates – all of them, living or (maybe more important) dead – are accounted for? The CIA? The OGAs? The contractors? Can they be trusted to clean up their mess and own up to any “issues” such as, say, war crimes? 

As a practical matter, my nominee for this watchers’-watchman-and-cleanup role would be the FBI. The record as we now know it indicates that the Bureau steered clear of the torture business, hence they may be the only outfit with clean enough hands to do a reliable job.

And of course, the chance to really stick it to the arch-rival CIA after years of being sidelined would be a spur to the FBI getting as close to the bottom of this bottomless pit as may be bureacratically possible. Creative tension; checks and balances. What a concept.

Making sure torture has stopped; that’s the second priority. The third is accountability. Will there be any?

At this point, the jury is still out. From my perch in the boondocks, it seems the new president is torn: on the one hand, his conscience tells him there has to be consequences for war crimes, else the ability to torture with impunity will become an established White House perk, which is intolerable.

Yet doing the necessary investigations and then even the minimum number of prosecutions will surely set off a political firestorm, which at best will be a huge distraction from the work of pulling us out of the second great depression. 

Let me not discount or dismiss this dilemma. I don’t blame him for hesitating. Still, while ready to cut him some slack for timing, accountability is a bullet I believe the president must eventually bite. In the eyes of the world, it’s a make-or-break question, and I think he knows that.

Numerous weighty inside-the-beltway pundits have already been pleading the case for doing nothing, and letting their governing class buddies walk. Such defenses of the indefensible are beneath contempt, and to my mind were definitively discredited by Glenn Greenwald in Salon.

Yet even a round of war crimes trials would not be the end. Imagine that the black sites had been closed; the accountability probes were complete, and at least a handful of the main perps had been shipped off to Club Fed, or perhaps even the Hague. What will remain?

The victims will remain.

Hundreds. No, thousands. And their families.

What of them? They would doubtless find a measure of vindication-by-prosecution if some infamous ex-politicians and apparatchiks wound up wearing stripes. But that would hardly be sufficient.

The victims deserve a formal apology from the US government. They need compensation – reparations, restitution, damages, pick your term. And they require treatment.

These are the practical manifestations of justice, and the last is the one area in which the US may in fact already be equipped to do its duty. Numerous centers for the treatment of torture victims are already in operation. (A directory is here. ) This network may need to be expanded, however, if we ever do something like justice to the scale of victimization that has been involved.

In sum: the first crucial blows have been struck against the odious and criminal “Torture Industrial Complex,” and kudos to the new president for that. 

Now let’s continue to press him – and Congress – to make good on the necessary followups: 
-- to slam shut any creeping loopholes
-- to make sure it has stopped; 
-- to get to the truth and require accountability; and 
-- to offer practical justice for the many victims and their families scarred by these atrocities.

In the past couple weeks, I’ve heard numerous comments to the effect that, “Thank god torture is over with; great work, folks!”

The new president certainly has begun a great work; even so, those of us concerned to uproot and eradicate torture from the American system expect to be busy for awhile yet. 

Quite busy.