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.

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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.

The Power of Money

We have seen that our political choices in this country are quite limited, but how did this occur? What are the forces that prevent the United States of America from becoming the model of democracy it claims to be?

The founders of our nation laid out a structure of government designed to preserve the power of wealthy landowners. As James Madison said at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, the new government must “protect the minority of the opulent against the majority.” Control of political power in the new system was to be maintained by the “wealth of the nation,” for they understood the risk in losing their wealth for the benefit of society.

In the early years, only these white, wealthy landowners could elect their representative government. Over the next two centuries, the masses began to organize and exercise their Constitutional rights. Women’s suffrage, the Civil Rights Movement, and trade unions all struggled to increase the rights of the individual; they ended slavery and segregation, established minimum wage and the eight hour work day, and gave the majority of the population their first chance to vote. Despite these popular stuggles’ advance towards democracy, the wealthy classes remain in control of political power in our country.

The aristocrats of yesterday (those wealthy landowners) have been replaced by more powerful entities, known commonly as ‘corporations’. While they possess the legal rights of an individual person, corporations cannot be prosecuted as such and are only partially liable for debts. Their reach of power extends far beyond our borders, to the international markets of a globalized world, yet there is no set of international laws to keep them in check.

They use their influence to convince foreign politicians to privatize their country’s resources, auctioned off to the highest corporate bidder at the expense of the local community: public water in Bolivia, bananas in Guatemala, oil in Nigeria or Burma, just about everything in Indonesia, etc. Not only do these mega-corporations have a strong hold on world power, they have a stranglehold on US politicians and control our entire ‘democratic’ election process.

We have seen that our election choices are usually limited to two wealthy, business elites. The structure of this bipartisan system reinforces a sense of defeatism among the American people, making them feel as if their vote makes no difference or that they are forced to choose between the lesser of two evils. In fact, we have one of the lower voter turnouts in the world; only 50% of eligible voters make it to the polls, compared with some other countries where voting is compulsory.

In reality, the system of government in the United States is what is called a polyarchy, in which mass participation is confined to choosing leaders in elections managed by competing elites of the business or corporate sector. This sector is in control of nearly all power and money in our country: banks, investment firms, oil companies, insurance providers, pharmaceutical companies, the technology industry, advertising, and let’s not forget, the corporate media.

We are told of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” but is it the will of the people guiding this great country to a better future? For now it may the almighty dollar that has the grip of power in our country, but we citizens cannot afford to sit on the sidelines while our quality of life is being deteriorated.

As the Declaration of Indepedence reveals, when our government becomes destructive to the will of the people, “it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government.” Our politicians and their corporate companions do not control the people; we control them, and we have an obligation to stand up and speak out when our government fails us. The crucial time has arrived for each one of us to pay close attention, get organized, and exercise our rights if we care to to see a better world for our children.