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.