Senate Votes for Retroactive Immunity

The Senate voted today on the Dodd/Feingold amendment, which would have struck provisions providing immunity from civil liability to members of the telecom industry that participate in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Despite the best efforts of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate voted 67-31 against the bill; Hillary Clinton and Lindsey Graham did not vote. Dodd was quite disappointed with the outcome and claimed: “We’ve just sanctioned the single largest invasion of privacy in American history.”

telecom immunity

Senate Postpones Domestic Spying Bill

Thanks to the efforts of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate has postponed a vote that could have permanently expanded the government’s ability to carry out domestic surveillance. The FISA bill would have given immunity to telecommunication companies that have assisted in the government’s illegal spying program. This ‘retroactive immunity’ caused Senator Dodd to threaten a filibuster, and after a day-long debate, Majority Leader Harry Reid tabled the bill.

This will postpone any vote until January. Dodd’s courageous efforts are a refreshing victory for American civil liberties, and he threatens to filibuster again next month if retroactive immunity is still included in the bill.

 

Mid-week Roundup 12/12

Losing our minds over Illegal Immigration

NAFTA has the power to trump state laws!

The Historical Truth of Our Relations with Iran

Report shows Bush manipulated climate science, suppressed scientists.

Nigeria battles Pfizer in court for conducting an illegal, unauthorized drug trial on Nigerian children.

Bad News for Prescription Drugs: pharmaceutical sales reps may be given licenses.

Murdoch Ready to Makeover the Wall Street Journal

Did you know Venezuela is a Constiutional Democracy?

Taiwan and mainland China: conflicting amnesiacs

New Orleans Homes to be Demolished (with video)

Why Won’t the Candidates talk about Americans’ Economic Pain?

Nuclear Disarmament and Peace on Earth…what’s that?

A Decent Article by Sean Penn calling on Americans to do what’s right

Meet a Millionaire with a Lower Tax Rate than You! (with video)

Chicago to Pay $20mil for Police Torture

A bit of hometown news, from Democracy Now, 12/10/2007:

The city of Chicago has agreed to pay nearly $20 million to four former death row prisoners who gave false confessions after being tortured by Chicago police. The four men are all African-American. They sued former Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge and more than 20 officers who worked with him alleging that they were coerced into falsely confessing to murder.

In 2006 special prosecutors released a long-awaited report stating there was proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Burge and four other former officers abused suspects to extract confessions in the 1980s. Charges have never been filed against Jon Burge who oversaw the torture. He was fired in 1993 but is still receiving a $30,000 a year police pension from the city.

Meanwhile, the Chicago Reader has laid off the investigative reporter who was most responsible for uncovering the police torture story. John Conroy was one of four reporters at the Chicago Reader dismissed last week in a cost-saving measure by the paper’s parent company Creative Loafing. Conroy had been covering the torture story since 1990.

CIA Destroys Interrogation Tapes

The CIA has admitted to destroying video tapes showing interrogation methods used on suspects at secret prisons. The New York Times reports that lawyers within the clandestine branch of the CIA gave written approval to the destruction of hundreds of hours of videotapes documenting interrogations of two prisoners at secret CIA prisons. The techniques shown allegedly include the use of water-boarding on suspected al-Qaeda operatives.

A former CIA agent involved in the interrogations, John Kiriakou, said recently that water-boarding is “torture” but defended it as necessary at the time. Kiriakou told NBC that the decision to use water-boarding is “a policy made at the White House, with concurrence from the National Security Council and the Justice Department.” He considers the destruction of the video tapes to be “a serious mistake“.

CIA Director Michael Hayden said the tapes were destroyed because they posed a “serious security risk.” He said that if they were to become public they would have exposed CIA officials to “retaliation from Al Qaeda and its sympathizers.”

The ACLU accused the CIA of deliberately destroying evidence that could have led to the criminal prosecution of CIA agents for the torture and abuse of prisoners. Presidential hopeful Joe Biden has called on the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel to investigate the destruction of the interrogation tapes.

More on the story here.

Diego Garcia

I’d like to take you around the world to a small island in the Chagos Archipelago of the Indian Ocean, a British colony by the name of Diego Garcia.

Diego Garcia

In the 1960s and 70s, the US and British governments collaborated to secretly expel the population of Diego Garcia in order to make way for an American military base.

First they made a policy decision to deprive the island of basic needs: salt, sugar, dairy products, oil, medicine. Then they rounded up and killed nearly one thousand of the pet dogs and warned the island of bombing, in order to encourage the native population to leave out of fear.

Those that left the Chagos Islands were not allowed to return home. Others that stayed were corralled onto boats, expelled, and dumped in the slums of the nearby island of Mauritius.

After living for years in intense poverty conditions, in 1982 the Chagos Islanders demonstrated in the streets of Mauritius. They managed to gain a small settlement of less than 3000 pounds per person, which would fail to cover their debts. In order to receive the sum, they were forced to thumb-print an English legal document that renounced their indigenous rights.

The British have falsely claimed that the islands were uninhabited when they first obtained them, that there was no indigenous population. Yet the British High Court has found this atrocity to be in defiance of the Magna Carta on three separate occasions and ruled the population to be returned to their homeland. But a royal decree during the Blair administration put those hopes to rest by ensuring the native peoples will never return home.

Today, the island of Diego Garcia (known as a British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) or Fantasy Island) is home to one of the United States’ largest military bases and part of the space surveillance network. It has been used as a launching pad for the bombing campaigns of Iraq and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda suspects are also rendered to “Camp Justice” on the island for “interrogation.” The Pentagon has referred to the island as “an indispensable platform for policing the world.

If you’d like to hear more about the experiences of the Chagossian people, you can watch this one-hour documentary.

Extraordinary Rendition

Extraordinary rendition describes the kidnapping and extrajudicial transfer of a person from one state to another. The term has become prevalent in the Bush administration’s prosecution of the “war on terror.”

Amy Goodman reports one of the many examples of this practice with the story of Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen:

The U.S. government also engages in “extraordinary rendition.” This Orwellian phrase describes how foreigners are grabbed off the street or from their home and secretly delivered to some other place, outside the U.S. (in Arar’s case, Syria), where illegal and brutal interrogations can take place beyond the reach of Congress and the courts.

Arar’s Kafaesque nightmare began Sept. 26, 2002. He was returning to Canada from a family vacation, with a plane change at New York’s JFK Airport. There he was pulled aside, searched, questioned and imprisoned. Two weeks later, U.S. authorities sent Arar to Syria.

Arar spent the next 10 months enduring brutal beatings and psychological torture, kept in a cell the size of a grave. Arar was accused of being connected to al-Qaeda, and of having been to a training camp in Afghanistan. Neither was true, but after weeks of beatings, he admitted to everything. Worse than the beatings, Arar said on “Democracy Now!,” was how he suffered while isolated in the dank, windowless cell:

“The psychological torture that I endured during this 10-month period in the underground cell is really beyond human imagination. I was ready to confess to anything. I would just write anything so that they could only take me from that place and put me in a place where it is fit for a human being.”

As inexplicably as Arar was kidnapped to Syria, he was released home to Canada, a broken man. Canada just finished a thorough inquiry that completely exonerated him and supported his request for financial damages. Conservative Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Bush ally, has asked Bush to “come clean” on the Arar case.

Leahy is demanding action: “The Bush administration has yet to renounce the practice of sending detainees to countries that torture prisoners, and it has yet to offer even the hint of an apology to Mr. Arar for what he endured with our government’s complicity.”

Leahy also pressed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on the issue back in January.

Maher Arar’s case is not an isolated incident. The procedure of extraordinary rendition, though not exclusive to the Bush administration, has become quite prevalent in the ‘war on terror’. Other cases include:

  • Abu Omar: kidnapped in Italy in 2003, rendered to Egypt for interrogation, held for four years before being released
  • Khaled Masri: detained in Macedonia in 2003, drugged and rendered to an American-run prison in Afghanistan for interrogation, held for five months, then released on a road in Albania, where he made his way home to Germany
  • Mamdouh Habib: detained in Pakistan in 2001, transferred to Egypt, then Afghanistan, tortured, transferred to Guantanamo and released without charge 3.5 years later
  • Muhammed al-Zery: arrested in Sweden in 2001, flown on American jet to Egypt, tortured and beaten, imprisoned for two years, then released without charge

In the case of Abu Omar, an Italian court has issued an arrest warrant for twenty-two CIA agents suspected of the kidnapping. Hopefully that will help to remind US authorities that these practices are in violation of international law.

Guantanamo: Standard Operating Procedure 2004

A few interesting documents have been published by Wikileaks this week.

One is a Standard Operating Procedures manual for guards at Guantanamo Bay from 2004. It details the operating instructions for treatment of detainees at Guantanamo’s Camp Delta. There was also one previously published from 2003.

Furthermore, Wikileaks also published a large document detailing instructions for extraordinary rendition procedures, involving the air transport of detainees.

Health Care for All

One of the most critical issues for the vast majority of Americans is the rising cost of health care coverage in our country. Forty-seven million Americans have no health care coverage at all.

For those fortunate enough to receive coverage, many have inadequate, bare-bones policies that fail to cover them when they need it most. Others are dropped from their plans when they become problematic.

The main problem is the health insurance industry, which is composed of large corporations whose only concern is to maximize profits. They learned very early on that the less health care they provide, the more money they make. So they screen people and deny coverage to those with pre-existing conditions and illnesses. One third of every dollar spent on private health insurance goes to the administrative costs and profits of the industry.

As a field canvasser fighting for state-wide health care in Washington, I’ve heard personal horror stories about the costs of health care. One lady was forced to sell her house to pay for her open-heart surgery after her insurance company dropped her coverage plan. Another could not get coverage at all because the insurance provider considered her pregnancy to be a pre-existing condition.

Many rely on their large employer to cover their health care costs. But what protection do they have when the employer moves abroad in search of higher profits? And what of the self-employed people and the small-business owners who get crushed by covering health care costs for their employees? Half of all bankruptcies in our country are caused by medical bills.

Each year in our great country, approximately 18,000 people die because they lack access to health care. That’s six times as many as were killed on 9/11. In the meantime, the health care and pharmaceutical industries spend billions each year lobbying the US government. How is it that we live in the wealthiest country in the world, yet nearly a third of our citizens have insubstantial health-care coverage?

The issue of health care was hardly mentioned at all in the 2004 Presidential debates. Fortunately, this year it is actually on the lips of our projected leaders. The Republicans speak of ‘tax deductions‘ and ‘free-market solutions‘ to solve the problems of American health care costs, while warning of the evils of ‘socialized medicine‘. And the Democratic front-runners all boast about ‘universal health care coverage‘.

But the fact is that there is only one candidate running with the proper solution to save America from its enormous medical costs and failures. He usually doesn’t receive questions about the issue during presidential debates, so in the most recent Democratic forum, Dennis Kucinich took the opportunity to ask himself a question:

That’s right; Dennis Kucinich is the ONLY candidate running with a single-payer, not-for-profit health-care plan. There is overwhelming public support for this system, yet the plans of all the other Democratic candidates still rely on the for-profit health insurance industry.

Did you notice the smug Hillary Clinton laughing it up? She happens to be the largest acceptor of donations from the private health care industry. Check here for an analysis of the health-care plans of the Democratic front-runners.

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Girl Punished for Being Raped

Recently in Saudi Arabia, a nineteen-year old gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison and two hundred lashes. You read that correctly. A gang rape victim was sentenced to six months in prison! The Shiite Muslim woman was convicted of violating Sharia law on contact between men and women.

The 19-year-old girl was traveling in a car with a male friend last October when the car was attacked by a gang of seven men who raped both of them. Four of the attackers were convicted of kidnapping, but the court also sentenced the rape victim and her friend to receive 90 lashes each for the crime of “illegal mingling”. Recently, the court increased the woman’s sentence to 200 lashes and six months in jail.

There has been little response from the US government, who considers King Abdullah and Saudi Arabia to be a key strategic ally in the region.

What does this say of our desire to promote human rights and “spread democracy in the Middle East“? We complain of the Taliban’s poor treatment of women, yet Saudi Arabia (our trusted ally) is the world’s most repressive regime. Women in the country are denied normal rights; they are not allowed to drive, vote, study engineering or law, travel without approval, testify in most courts, or work in most government offices.

The fact is that the United States government has a long history of supporting dictators and human rights violators, as will be shown concretely in future posts.