George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part II

GeorgeWBushHIjoIn my last blog [George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part I] I laid out the case charging that the invasion of Iraq under former President George W. Bush was illegal under both domestic and international law, and that Bush along with his top advisors were liable to charges of war crimes.

I listed actions taken in other nations that give substance to these charges: In September 2005 a German court declared that the Iraq war violated international law. In March 2007 a Spanish judge called for the architects of the Iraq invasion to be tried for war crimes.

In October 2011 when Bush attended an economic summit in British Columbia, Amnesty International submitted a detailed legal brief to Canada’s Attorney General arguing that

Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture.

Bush cancelled an earlier visit to Switzerland in February 2011, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

These actions all took place outside the United States and are generally regarded as unenforceable within American borders.

However, I noted at the end of that blog that in August 2013 a class action civil suit was filed against George W. Bush and five officials of his administration within the United States – in the U. S. District Court of the Northern District of California, which is currently slowly proceeding to trial. That suit is the focus of the present blog.

gavelThe lawsuit being discussed was filed by Inder Comar of Comar Law based in San Francisco on behalf of the lead plaintiff in the case, Sundus Shaker Saleh an Iraqi mother of three who is now a refugee in Jordan, “and those similarly situated.”

The defendants named in the case are former President George W. Bush, former Vice-President Richard Cheney, former Secretary of State Colin Powell, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, former National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, and former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.

Citing the precedent laid down at the post-World War II Nuremburg trials, the suit specifically charges that the

Defendants violated the rule of Nuremberg by attacking another country without legal justification, and specifically, by committing the crime of aggression against Iraq on March 19, 2003. Defendants violated the rule of Nuremberg by using fraudulent and untrue statements in an attempt to convince diplomats, world leaders and the American public that Iraq posed a threat to the United States and/or that Iraq was in league with al-Qaeda, when neither of these things was true.

Furthermore, the suit charges that the

Defendants violated the Kellogg-Briand Pact, a treaty signed in 1928, to which the United States is still a signatory. The Kellogg-Briand Pact requires signatory nations such as the United States to “condemn recourse to war for the solution of international controversies, and renounce it, as an instrument of national policy in their relations with one another.” The Kellogg-Briand Pact requires signatory nations such as the United States to resolve all disputes or conflicts through “pacific means.” As a Treaty of the United States, the United States Constitution incorporates this principle into its law under Article VI, clause 2, which declares “treaties made . . . to be the supreme law of the land.”

And that the

Blue_UN_logoDefendants violated the United Nations Charter by planning to commit the crime of aggression. Article II, Section 4 of the United Nations Charter requires countries to “refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nation.” As a Treaty of the United States, the United States Constitution incorporates this principle into its law under Article VI, clause 2, which declares “treaties made . . . to be the supreme law of the land.”

It is quite possible that the case will not succeed in the courts. The defendants may argue that they were acting properly under their “scope of employment” with the United States government.

Paul Stephan, who teaches law at the University of West Virginia and has served as a consultant to the Department of State on international law, states that

The Westfall Act of 1988 permits the United States as an entity to substitute itself in for individuals who were acting in their “scope of employment

and

it’s difficult to sue a U.S. employee acting under the “scope of employment.”

Even if no culpability is declared, the charges that are documented in the lawsuit are chilling. You can read the entire 27 page legal complaint here. It portrays a deliberate strategy to intentionally deceive the American public and to operate outside the scope of American and international law in launching an invasion against a foreign nation.

Details of the Lawsuit

New American CdnturySpecifically, the suit charges that Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were all members of “The Project for the New American Century” [or PNAC] formed in 1997, which over the next three years produced a number of documents advocating the military overthrow of Saddam Hussein. [5; footnotes are as they appear in the lawsuit; the reader is encouraged to check the information sources detailed in the links] Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz actively promoted this objective in Congress. [6, 7]

President Bush received a briefing from the CIA on August 6, 2001 warning of Bin Laden’s determination to mount a major strike against the U.S. [13] However, Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, later reported that the Bush administration was so focused on Iraq at that time that it failed to heed these warnings about an imminent attack from al-Qaeda.

The day after the 9/11 attacks, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld “openly pushed for war against Iraq – despite the fact that the 9/11 hijackers were Saudi Arabian and had been based out of Afghanistan.”

alqaeda-iraqlinkClarke reports an astonishing conversation that took place at the White House that day. President Bush approached him saying, “See if Saddam did this. See if he’s linked in any way.” When Clark replied, “But, Mr. President, Al Qaeda did this,” Bush responded, “I know, I know, but – see if Saddam was involved. Just look. I want to know any shred-” Clarke replied, “But you know, we have looked several times for state sponsorship of Al Qaeda and not found any real linkages to Iraq. Iran plays a little, as does Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia, Yemen.” “Look into Iraq, Saddam,” Bush repeated. [10]

Clarke concludes that Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Bush all sought to use 9/11 as a pretext to attack Iraq. [9]

In July 2002 the British government learned that the Bush administration was planning to attack Iraq and was “fixing” its intelligence around that policy. [14]

The suit charges that

In August 2002, the White House established a group called the White House Iraq Group (“WHIG”), the purpose of which was to convince the American public into supporting a war against Iraq. Defendant RICE was a member of WHIG, along with Karl Rove, I. Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, and other high-ranking Bush Administration officials.

boomAs reported by the New York Times, the centerpiece of their strategy was to use Mr. Bush’s upcoming speech on September 11 “to help move Americans towards support of action against Iraq, which could come early next year.” [16] Leading up to this event, on September 8, 2002 National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice asserted on CNN’s Late Edition that Saddam Hussein was “actively pursuing a nuclear weapon,” and warned that “we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.”

Former press secretary Scott McClellan would later state that Bush’s staff actively engaged in a “political propaganda campaign” aimed at “manipulating sources of public opinion.” [18]

On October 7, 2002 President Bush told the American people that

Iraq and al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. Some al Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq …who have been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks. We’ve learned that Iraq has trained as Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases. [19]

In the same speech Bush claimed that Saddam Hussein had a group of “nuclear mujahaideen – his nuclear holy warriors.” A week later Bush repeated his charge that Saddam Hussein “has had connections with al Qaeda,” adding that, “This is a man who, in my judgment, would like to use al Qaeda as a forward army.” [20]

Bush made these statements despite the fact that “ten days after the 9/11 attacks, he was told in his daily brief (“PDB”) from the CIA that there was no evidence linking Iraq to 9/11 and scant evidence that Iraq had any collaborative ties with al Qaeda.” [21] In addition, “A Defense Intelligence Agency document from February 2002 confirmed that the source of the intelligence linking Iraq to al Qaeda was a likely fabricator and “intentionally misleading” his interrogators.” [22] [This has been reported on elsewhere in detail]

iraq-powellIn February 2003, Colin Powell gave a speech to the United Nations Security Council that was considered to be crucial for winning approval for military action against Iraq. In his speech, Powell alleged that Iraq “harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, an associated collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants,” that Saddam Hussein was “more willing to assist al-Qaida after the 1998 bombings of [US] embassies in Kenya and Tanzania,” and that, “From the late 1990s until 2001, the Iraqi Embassy in Pakistan played the role of liaison to the Al Qaeda organization.” [26] All of this was untrue. Powell later admitted, “I have never seen a connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda. … I’d never seen evidence to suggest there was one.”

On March 18, 2003, acting on the orders of President Bush, the United States invaded Iraq. The lawsuit against George W. Bush and his co-defendants notes that the

Iraq warDefendants failed to secure United Nations authorization for the war. Article 39 of the United Nations Charter requires the United Nations Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression and shall make recommendations, or decide what measures shall be taken in accordance with Articles 41 and 42 to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

Furthermore,

On September 14, 2004, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan stated, “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.” [28]

Based on the evidence contained in the suit, the plaintiff calls

1. For an order finding that Defendants planned and committed the crime of aggression.

2. For an award of compensatory damages against Defendants in an amount sufficient to compensate Plaintiff and all members of the Iraq Civilian Victims’ Class for damages they sustained as a result of Defendants’ illegal actions in planning and mounting a war of aggression against Iraq.

Should the defendants’ assets not be sufficient to cover these damages, the suit asks that the defendants

set up, manage and obtain other funding at their expense a restitution fund to provide for proper compensation to any and all Iraqi civilians who were damaged because of Defendants’ commission of the crime of aggression against Iraq.

It should be interesting to follow this case as it proceeds through the courts to see what the final determination will be.

Footnotes:

[5] http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqmiddleeast2000-1997.htm

[6] http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqletter1998.htm

[7] http://www.newamericancentury.org/iraqsep1898.htm

[13] http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB116/index.htm

[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/28/books/chapters/0328-1st- clarke.html?pagewanted=all

[9] This information is lifted from press articles and Richard A. Clarke, Against All Enemies – Inside America’s War On Terror (Free Press 2004).

[14] http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB328/II- Doc14.pdf

[16] http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/07/us/traces-of-terror-the-strategy-bush- aides-set-strategy-to-sell-policy-on-iraq.html

[18] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp- dyn/content/article/2008/05/27/AR2008052703679.html

[19] http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021007- 8.html

[20] http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2002/10/20021014- 3.html

[21] http://www.nationaljournal.com/whitehouse/key-bush-intelligence-briefing- kept-from-hill-panel-20051122

[22] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/06/politics/06intel.ready.html?pagewanted=all &_r=0

[26] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2003/feb/05/iraq.usa3

[28] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2004/sep/16/iraq.iraq

Photo credit:  Mario Tama, AFP/Getty Images

George W. Bush’s Criminal Legacy – Part I

US flag-TortureOn December 9th the Senate Intelligence Committee released its report on the torture of detainees by the CIA during the Bush administration. Reaction to the report has been swift and harsh. CIA officials and some Bush era appointees have tried to discredit the report, while others have demanded that those responsible for these crimes be brought to justice.

As disturbing as the findings in the Senate report are, Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch notes that the scope of the report is actually quite limited. It only

deals with one aspect of one part of the detainee mistreatment in the war on terror [namely,] CIA prisoners held in black sites. … [I]t doesn’t talk about what the Pentagon was doing. It doesn’t talk about the programs approved by Donald Rumsfeld. And … it tends to kind of let off the hook all those people above who authorized these programs.

In my last post [Taking Action Against Torture] I laid out the grounds for pursuing criminal charges not only against George Tenet, the CIA Director during the Bush administration (who oversaw these torture practices) as well as those agents under his command, but also former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (who approved these illegal interrogation methods), former Vice-President Dick Cheney (who was the driving force behind these illegal detention policies), and President George W. Bush (who authorize the CIA secret detention program and had ultimate authority over its operations). [See link]

But even this does not address the full scope of the illegal and criminal actions carried out on the international stage during the Bush administration.

The Case for War Crimes

Iraq warIn March 2003 the United States launched its invasion of Iraq to overthrow the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein. President George W. Bush explained at the time that this was necessary since Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction and was known to be in league with al-Qaida.

His statements, and those of other top White House officials who orchestrated the invasion of Iraq, were later revealed to be false. President Bush lied to the American people. More importantly, it has been argued that his actions not only violated the U.N. Charter that forbids wars of aggression, but violated U. S. law as well.

As former federal prosecutor Elizabeth De La Vega wrote in a cover story for the Nation magazine in October 2005 detailing this deception:

The evidence shows, then, that from early 2002 to at least March 2003, the President and his aides conspired to defraud the United States by intentionally misrepresenting intelligence about Iraq to persuade Congress to authorize force, thereby interfering with Congress’s lawful functions of overseeing foreign affairs and making appropriations, all of which violates Title 18, United States Code, Section 371.

Appeals were made for the Justice Department to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate the administration’s involvement in this deception much like the investigation into president Nixon’s cover-up of the Watergate break-in. But no action was taken. Some called for President Bush to be impeached, but nothing came of this during Bush’s remaining time in office.

international-flag1Actions were taken on the international stage, however. In September 2005 a German court declared that the Iraq war violated international law. In March 2007 a Spanish judge called for the architects of the Iraq invasion to be tried for war crimes.

In October 2011 when then ex-President Bush attended an economic summit in British Columbia, Amnesty International submitted an extensive legal brief to Canada’s Attorney General arguing that

Canada is required by its international obligations to arrest and prosecute former president Bush given his responsibility for crimes under international law including torture.

Although the Canadian government declined to take such action, the National Post (Canada’s national conservative newspaper) reported that

Bush cancelled a visit to Switzerland in February, after facing similar public calls for his arrest.

amnesty_logoLest anyone take Amnesty International’s charges lightly, it should be noted that its charges are well documented.

Amnesty’s case, outlined in its 1,000-page memorandum, relies on the public record, U.S. documents obtained through access to information requests, Bush’s own memoir and a Red Cross report critical of the U.S.’s war on terror policies.

We should also note that

In Kuala Lumpur, after two years of investigation by the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Commission (KLWCC), a tribunal (the Kuala Lumpur War Crimes Tribunal, or KLWCT), consisting of five judges with judicial and academic backgrounds, reached a unanimous verdict [in November 2011] that found George W. Bush and Tony Blair guilty of crimes against peace, crimes against humanity and genocide as a result of their roles in the Iraq War.

And finally,

In January 2014 a devastating 250-page dossier, detailing allegations of beatings, electrocution, mock executions and sexual assault, was presented to the International Criminal Court (ICC) … . This formal complaint to the ICC is the culmination of several years’ work by Public Interest Lawyers (PIL) and the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR). It calls for an investigation into the alleged war crimes, under Article 15 of the Rome Statute.

All of the actions reported above have taken place outside the United States and, many would argue, are unenforceable within American borders.

However, in August 2013 a domestic class action civil suit was filed against George W. Bush and five officials of his administration that is proceeding to trial. I will provide a detailed examination of that case of my next blog.

Photo credit: RAMZI HAIDAR/AFP/Getty Images

Taking Action Against Torture

Feinstein-anti-terrorism reportOn Tuesday the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released its long-awaited report on the aggressive “enhanced interrogation” program carried out by the CIA in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The report, which is described as

an exhaustive five-year Senate investigation of the CIA’s secret interrogations of terrorism suspects

is a 528 page redacted summary of the committee’s full 6,700-page report on the CIA’s detention and interrogation programs carried out between 2002 and 2006 under President George W. Bush. The larger report remains classified, and is not slated for public scrutiny.

The release of the summary report had been held up by months over disagreements between the Committee’s Chairperson, Dianne Feinstein, and the Obama Administration over the amount of information in the report that the Administration wished to have censored.

CIA seal1The CIA also made attempts to smother the report and engaged in various obstructionist activities, including hacking into the Senate computers, spying on committee staffers, and filing baseless criminal reports with the Justice Department to halt the investigation.

The released report received massive coverage by the media on Tuesday, with many news agencies providing links to the full text of the report (e.g. The New York Times and the Washington Post. The full text is also available here.

The New York Times called the report

a sweeping indictment of the Central Intelligence Agency’s program to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects in the years after the Sept. 11 attacks

revealing practices that

were more brutal — and far less effective — than the agency acknowledged either to Bush administration officials or to the public.

The Washington Post reported that

The 528-page document catalogues dozens of cases in which CIA officials allegedly deceived their superiors at the White House, members of Congress and even sometimes their peers about how the interrogation program was being run and what it had achieved

United_States_Senate_Select_Committee_on_IntelligenceVarious summaries and overviews of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report have been provided to help the reader to digest its findings. The Moyers & Company website has produced a 20 point overview of the report’s findings and the New York Times has produced an even more succinct summary of “7 Key Points” of the report, with links to the sections of the report where these points are specifically discussed.

Human Rights Watch summarizes the findings this way:

The summary concludes that CIA abuses were far more brutal, systematic, and widespread than previously reported; that many of the CIA’s interrogation techniques went beyond even those authorized by the Justice Department; and that the CIA began using the techniques long before they had obtained authorization for them.

The summary describes many previously reported facts about the CIA torture program, including the agency’s use of painful stress positions, forced standing, extended sleep deprivation, extensive bright light and loud noise exposure, waterboarding, and throwing detainees against walls or closing them into coffins.

It also contains new details showing that CIA torture was even more brutal than previously thought. The agency used painful restraints, imposed punitive “anal feeding” or “anal rehydration,” and forced detainees with broken leg bones to stand shackled against walls.

In an introduction to the report, Senate Committee Chairperson Dianne Feinstein states,

it is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured. … I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.

John McCainRepublican Senator John McCain, himself a survivor of capture and torture during the Vietnam War, responded to the report on the floor of the Senate saying,

I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values.

I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.

The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

McCain then went on to state,

I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored. …

But in the end, torture’s failure to serve its intended purpose isn’t the main reason to oppose its use. I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us. It’s about who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be. It’s about how we represent ourselves to the world.

obama-madPresident Obama echoed McCain’s words in his own statement on the Spanish-language television network, Telemundo, in which he stated that

some of the tactics written about in the report were brutal, and as I’ve said before, constituted torture, in my mind. And that’s not who we are.

A Question of Accountability

The acts committed by CIA operatives in these detention centers clearly amounted to torture. And the United States is a signatory to several international treaties forbidding torture. That makes these actions criminal offenses under international law.

President Obama, in his address on Telemundo, spoke of these acts as “mistakes” saying that it was important for this report to be made public to “hopefully make sure that we don’t make those mistakes again.

But this avoids the issue of culpability. As Reed Brody of Human Rights Watch notes,

These aren’t mistakes. These are crimes.

In her introduction to the Senate Intelligence Committee report, Diane Feinstein admitted that

the detention and interrogation program was conducted in “violation of US law, treaty obligations and our values.”

Citing the U.N. Convention Against Torture, Brody notes that in addition to stating that torture can never be justified under any circumstances, the Convention also explicitly states that

torture must be prosecuted, that when someone is alleged to have committed torture, the state concerned must refer that case to their competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.

He adds,

it’s not enough … to say, “Well, we tortured some folks, this was a bad policy choice, I’m going to put a stop to the torture.” … It is not a policy choice. … It is a crime. And … if there [is] really going to be any deterrence for this not happening again, there needs to be prosecutions.

In August 2009 Amnesty International stated the case far more bluntly:

What do we know about the secret detention programme operated by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) under authority granted by President George W. Bush on September 17, 2001?

  • We know that detainees in secret CIA custody were tortured. Torture is a crime under international law.

  • We know that detainees were subjected to enforced disappearance, also a crime under international law.

  • We know that no one has been prosecuted for authorizing or committing these crimes.

It has been suggested by some, that rather than taking the nation through the difficult and wrenching process of publicly prosecuting high ranking individuals from the Bush administration (including George W. Bush himself), President Obama should grant pardons to those involved and move on. Anthony Romero, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), stated that

Pardons would make clear that crimes were committed; that the individuals who authorized and committed torture were indeed criminals; and that future architects and perpetrators of torture should beware.

However, Ben Emmerson, the independent British Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, warns that under international law,

governments are not free to maintain or permit impunity for such grave crimes.

He notes that

International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the US Government who devised, planned and authorized these crimes.

The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the US Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.

Therefore,

The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes.

And,

The US Attorney General is under a legal duty to bring criminal charges against those responsible

human-rights-watch-logoHuman Rights Watch had also warned that

the US commitment to human rights in combating terrorism will remain suspect unless and until the current administration confronts the past. Only by fully and forthrightly dealing with those responsible for systematic violations of human rights after September 11 will the US government be seen to have surmounted them.

It states,

Without real accountability for these crimes, those who commit abuses in the name of counterterrorism will point to the US mistreatment of detainees to deflect criticism of their own conduct. Indeed, when a government as dominant and influential as that of the United States openly defies laws prohibiting torture, a bedrock principle of human rights, it virtually invites others to do the same.

And it adds that,

The US government’s much-needed credibility as a proponent of human rights was damaged by the torture revelations and continues to be damaged by the complete impunity for the policymakers implicated in criminal offenses.

In fact, the very same day that the Senate report was released, China’s state-run Xinhua news agency issued a statement saying that, “America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries,” and that instead of criticizing China’s human rights record, “the United States needs to clean up its own human rights problems.”

The Case for Prosecution

Is there enough evidence to mount a case for prosecuting those involved? Emmerson believes so, saying,

Prosecution should not be problematic because the Senate Committee members know the perpetrators’ identities and many other details that were redacted.

He adds that,

It is no defense for a public official to claim that they were acting on superior orders. CIA officers who physically committed acts of torture therefore bear individual criminal responsibility for their conduct, and cannot hide behind the authorization they were given by their superiors.

But it will be insufficient to merely charge a few lower level agents who acted on orders from above. Accountability must go all the way to the top.

In 2011 Human Rights Watch released a report based on over 100,000 pages of government documents that have been declassified and are now part of the public record. It concluded that there was compelling evidence warranting a criminal investigation into the actions of the following key individuals:

George W BushPresident George W. Bush, [who] had the ultimate authority over detainee operations and authorized the CIA secret detention program, which forcibly disappeared individuals in long-term incommunicado detention.

richard-dick-cheneyVice President Dick Cheney, [who] was the driving force behind the establishment of illegal detention policies and the formulation of legal justifications for those policies.

010920-D-9880W-043 Secretary of Defense Donald H. RumsfeldDefense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, [who] approved illegal interrogation methods that facilitated the use of torture and ill-treatment by US military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq.

George TenetCIA Director George Tenet, [who] authorized and oversaw the CIA’s use of waterboarding, near suffocation, stress positions, light and noise bombardment, sleep deprivation, and other forms of torture and ill-treatment.

In addition, Human Rights Watch reports that

there should be criminal investigations into the drafting of legal memorandums seeking to justify torture, which were the basis for authorizing the CIA secret detention program. The government lawyers involved included Alberto Gonzales, counsel to the president and later attorney general; Jay Bybee, assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC); John Rizzo, acting CIA general counsel; David Addington, counsel to the vice president; William J. Haynes II, Defense Department general counsel; and John Yoo, deputy assistant attorney general in OLC.

All of these individuals are complicit in approving these acts of torture, which are condemned under the U.N. Convention Against Torture and other international treaties that the United States is a signatory to.

Although U.S. agencies may be hesitant to prosecute these individuals, they will have no immunity from international law. If convicted, they may remain free within the boundaries of the United States, but will never be free to travel outside the U.S. again.

Photo credits: Reuters; Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

“We Can’t Breathe”

Times Square protestFor the second time in two weeks a grand jury has refused to indict a police officer involved in the needless death of an unarmed Black American male.

Two weeks ago a grand jury decided not to take any action against Officer Darren Wilson who shot and killed Michael Brown on the streets of Ferguson, Mo. It was an unusual hearing with many blatant irregularities that called the entire judicial process into question and kept justice from being served.

Then on Wednesday of this week a grand jury in Staten Island, N.Y. decided not to pursue charges against Officer Daniel Pantaleo in the death of Eric Garner. A video, now widely circulated, clearly showed the officer holding Garner in an illegal chokehold and disregarding Garner’s pleas saying, “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.”

New York protestsTo these two deaths, we can add many others:

Twelve year old Tamir Rice who was gunned down on sight by a police officer two weeks ago while playing with a toy gun in a park in Ohio.

John Crawford III who was shot on sight in August while holding a packaged BB gun in a Walmart store near Dayton, Ohio.

Levar Jones who was shot by a trooper without provocation in his car for a seat belt violation in Columbia, S.C.

And the list goes on and on. These are not isolated incidents. An analysis of FBI data shows that

White officers kill black suspects twice a week in the United States

In addition, the ACLU has documented a disturbing pattern in which

SWAT teams and other heavy-handed tactics are much more likely to be used against minority suspects than white ones

I have commented on the scope of this targeting of minorities by police in other posts

4 Disturbing Revelations in the Wake of Ferguson

Still Waiting for Justice in Ferguson and Beyond, and

[5 More Revelations Following Ferguson], so will not go into further detail here.

We should note that this blatant miscarriage of justice in now receiving international attention. In August, the U.N. Committee on the elimination of Racial Discrimination urged the U.S. to halt the excessive use of force by police in dealing with racial minorities. And last week the U.S. Committee Against Torture harshly criticized the U.S. over “police brutality and excessive use of force by law enforcement officials.”

With such widespread and persistent abuse of police authority in the U.S. the real casualty is not just the racial minorities who are targeted, but Justice itself.

Justice - I can't breatheWhen I was a kid growing up in the U.S. I would recite the Pledge of Allegiance every day in school:

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible. with liberty and justice for all.

These days the last part of that pledge rings rather hollow.

Photo credit: Julia Cortez/AP

Trusting the Media

watching TVIt is an unfortunate truth that the majority of Americans are poorly informed about national and world affairs. Newspapers are folding all over the country and even the major television networks are having problems attracting loyal followers. When people do become aware of certain issues it is largely through a few sound bites, video clips, or comments by celebrities that fail to provide much depth.

As Robert G. Kaiser, the former Senior Editor of the Washington Post, stated in an extended Brookings Essay this past summer,

Today’s young people skitter around the Internet like ice skaters, exercising their short attention spans by looking for fun and, occasionally, seeking out serious information.

Audience taste seems to be changing, with the result that among young people particularly there is a declining appetite for the sort of information packages the great newspapers provided, which included national, foreign and local news, business news, cultural news and criticism, editorials and opinion columns, sports and obituaries, lifestyle features, and science news.

The same can be said of televised reporting. Much of what does appear on the national networks is of poor informational quality. Yet it is quite revealing to see how much trust viewers place in the information presented by these broadcasters.

A Cooperative Congressional Election Survey done in 2006 showed that 77.5% of Republicans thought Fox News gave the fairest coverage of national news. CNN came in second with only 4.2%, and all others fared far below that. This shows either incredible trust by conservatives in Fox News reporting or incredible distrust of the other networks.

Independents, on the other hand split their favourability ratings between Fox News (30%), PBS (21.4%) and CNN (15.7%) while Democrats preferred PBS (29.5%) and CNN nearly equally (27.2%). MCNBC received much smaller rankings among both Independents and Democrats, and only 4.0% of Democrats trusted Fox News..

survey-foxA more recent survey done in June of this year by Brookings and the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI), showed similar results. Their survey focused mainly on attitudes toward immigration reform, but included questions on the respondents’ news preferences. When asked which television new source they trusted most to give accurate information about politics and current events they answered as follows:

trust_in_television_news_sourcesWhat do these charts tell us? They basically confirm that most Republicans who tune into network news coverage favor Fox News over all other sources, while both Democrats and Independents tend to trust a broader variety of news sources. [It’s nice to have solid data to back up these things.]

tv cartoon 1A further question needs to be asked: Just how trustworthy are these news sources that shape voters’ opinions? This summer PunditFact reported on its latest fact checking of statements made by network news personalities and their guests on various television networks. The results are rather discouraging.

foxpunditOf the statements made by various pundits and commentators appearing on Fox News that they decided to fact check, they found 60% of those statements to be either False, Mostly False or ‘Pants on Fire’ False, while only 18% of statements were categorized as True or Mostly True. That’s what happens when political punditry substitutes for news content and “infotainment” replaces real news analysis.

On the other side of the political spectrum, MSNBC didn’t do a whole lot better.

msnbcpunditA full 46% of the statements they fact checked were found to be either False, Mostly False or ‘Pants on Fire’ False, while only 31% of statements came out as True or Mostly True.

CNN, on the other hand, came out much better with only 18% of the statements they fact checked being False, Mostly False or ‘Pants on Fire’ False, and 60% of statements being True or Mostly True.

cnnpunditNevertheless, these numbers overall are horrible. Is it any wonder, then, that a Gallup poll released this September reported that Americans’ confidence in the media’s ability to report “the news fully, accurately, and fairly” is at an all-time low of only 40%?

Gallup1That is the principle reason why I do not watch American (so-called) news programs.

On a related matter, Gallup notes that Americans historically have believed the new media as a whole to be “too liberal” rather than “too conservative.” But that is changing, as in 2014 Gallop recorded “the sharpest increase in the percentage of Americans who feel the news skews too far right since Gallup began asking the question in 2001.”

Gallup3When one breaks down the overall percentages by political orientation, it is found that 71% of Conservatives believe the media are too liberal, which might explain their distrust non-Fox News messaging. Liberals talk a lot about conservatives operating within a self-contained “media bubble” in which they only tune in to views that reinforce their own ideas. That can be true of some liberals too, but remember that they do not tend to lock themselves in to only one news source or one point of view.

Nevertheless, as Kaiser states in his lengthy essay cited earlier,

Surveys by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press show that increasing numbers of American get their “news” from ideologically congenial sources. The news media are fragmenting just as American society is fragmenting—by class, by region, by religious inclination, by generation, by ethnic identity, by politics and more.

tv cartoon 3Kaiser also laments the disappearance of the kind of balanced in-depth reporting that used to characterize the print and broadcast media.

“[F]or those who continue to want access to that kind of product, there is no right to reliable, intelligent, comprehensive journalism. We only get it when someone provides it. And if it doesn’t pay someone a profit, it’s not likely to be produced.”

Veteran CBS news anchor Dan Rather is another critic of present-day television journalism. In a recent interview with The Star he stated that,

[O]ver the last 15 to 20 years … [t]he standards of what is accepted as quality journalism have dropped precipitously. … There was a time when, if you were covering foreign news that meant you sent reporters to a place to actually cover it. Now, so often covering international news is, “Put four people in a room and have them shout at one another.”

Another very revealing exchange occurred recently when Dan Rather along with former MSNBC host Dylan Ratigan were guests on CNN’s Reliable Sources program. When Ratigan suggested that to keep audience share the networks should “play up more culture and less Washington,” Rather jumped in and said, “[N]obody is asking me but if I were running either one of these outfits, I would do away with a lot of money spent on graphics and in-house opinion giving, and do deep digging investigative reporting …” – at which point Ratigan interrupted and said, “That’s why they’re not calling you, Dan.”

It’s sad to see solid, probing, and fact-laden news journalism passing from the scene in this way and being replaced with celebrity commentators in the place of real news anchors.