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This commentary was broadcast on JATV, the public access television station in Janesville, Wisconsin early in 2006.
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"America Be Beautiful."
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God mend thine every flaw
Confirm thy soul in self control
Thy liberty in law.
Anne-Marie writes, “Perhaps the second verse of America the Beautiful should be the first. In a week in which the vice president is openly trying to convince a U.S. senator held captive and tortured by the North Vietnamese, that CIA officials should be allowed to abuse detainees as they like, it is worth remembering that the rule of law is not just a ‘value’ much less a luxury, confined to more peaceful times. The rule of law is both the fundamental safeguard of our liberty and a discipline linked, as the verse says, to our very soul as a nation.
Senator John McCain said that when he was held captive in Hanoi he took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies, that we were better than them, and if the roles were reversed, we would not disgrace ourselves by committing such mistreatment on them.
The law is the safeguard of liberty, but only if it is not twisted beyond all recognition. Yet George Bush uses law as a prop for power. Unless we as a nation rise up and insist on the constraints of law, America will no longer be so beautiful.”
Powerful words Ms. Slaughter – thank you for writing them.
I’m Norman Aulabaugh. Welcome to episode thirteen of Stormin’ Norman titled, “America be beautiful.” Stormin’ Norman is a series of commentaries on public policy. The opinions I present here are mine and may not be shared by JATV or any individual associated with this or any other public access television station.
Last week I received an e-mail containing a piece reportedly written by a retired U.S. military officer. I have been unable to verify the authorship – like many items that circulate on the internet - its origins are in doubt. But the message it portrays is not in doubt. I quote:
For good and ill, the Iraqi prisoner abuse mess will remain an issue. Deep down inside, when most Americans saw this reported in the news, we were like - so what? Sure, it was wrong, sure, it dramatically hurts our cause, but until captured we were trying to kill these same prisoners. Now we're supposed to wring our hands because a few were humiliated?
If this is really what Americans believe, America is in deep trouble.
Dana Priest wrote an article titled “Below the Radar” concerning the death of an Afghan detainee under CIA custody that was kept secret for two years.” This article appeared in the Washington Post National Weekly Edition of March 7 to 13, 2005. “In November 2002, a newly minted CIA case officer in charge of a secret prison just north of Kabul allegedly ordered guards to strip naked an uncooperative young Afghan detainee, chain him to the concrete floor and leave him there overnight without blankets, according to four U.S. Government officials aware of the case.
The Afghan guards, paid by the CIA and working under CIA supervision in an abandoned warehouse, code named the Salt Pit – dragged their captive around on the concrete floor, bruising and scraping his skin before putting him in his cell, two of the officials say. As night fell, so, predictably did the temperature. By morning, the Afghan man had frozen to death.”
Let’s reflect once again on the words of Senator John McCain. “Many of my comrades were subjected to very cruel, very inhumane and degrading treatment, a few of them even unto death. But every one of us – every single one of us – knew and took great strength from the belief that we were different from our enemies. “
I stare in disbelief again at the words in the e-mail my friend sent me. Now we're supposed to wring our hands because a few were humiliated? Next I look at an article from the March 26, 2005 Janesville Gazette – “Twenty-seven detainees were killed in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan in suspected or confirmed homicide cases between August 2002 and November 2004, the Army said Friday in its first comprehensive accounting.”
Now I quote from the Washington Post National Weekly edition of August 8 to 14, 2005. Josh White writing in article titled, “Secret Documents Tell a Brutal Tale.”
“Iraqi Major General Abed Hamed Mowhoush, a high ranking general in Saddam Hussein’s Republican guard, was being stubborn with his American captors and a series of intense beatings and creative interrogation tactics were not enough to break his will. On the morning of November 26, 2003, a U.S. Army interrogator and a military guard grabbed a green sleeping bag, stuffed Mowhoush inside, wrapped him in an electrical cord, laid him on the floor and began to go to work. Again.
It was inside the sleeping bag that the 56 year-old detainee took his last breath through broken ribs, lying on the floor beneath a U.S. soldier in Interrogation Room 6 in the western Iraqi desert.”
The article goes on to state that “Hours after Mowhoush’s death, military officials issued a news release stating the prisoner had died of natural causes after complaining of feeling sick.”
Further on, this article states, “The U.S. military had initially told reporters that Mowhoush had been captured during a raid. In reality, he had walked into the Forward Operating Base “Tiger” in Qaim on November 10, 2003, hoping to speak with U.S. commanders to secure the release of his sons who had been arrested in raids 11 days earlier.”
Still further on in this article, Josh White writes, “If they did not get what they wanted, the interrogators would deliver the detainees to a small team of CIA sponsored Iraqi paramilitary squads code-named Scorpions, according to a military source familiar with the operation. The CIA has tried hard to conceal the existence of the Scorpions.”
Andrew Rosenthal writing in the International Herald Tribune weekend edition of January 1 and 2, 2005 said, “When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld approved the initial list of interrogation methods for Guantanamo Bay in late 2002 – methods that clearly violated the Geneva conventions and anti-torture statutes – there were no protests from the legal counsels working for the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the president, the Central Intelligence Agency or any of the civilian secretaries of the armed forces.”
I quote now from a Washington Post National Weekly edition editorial appearing in the January 3 to 9, 2005 edition: “. . . thousands of pages of government documents released last month have confirmed some of the painful truths about the abuse of foreign detainees by the military and the CIA – truths the Bush administration implacably has refused to acknowledge. . . .the administrations whitewashers – led by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld – have contended that the crimes were carried out by a few low ranking reservists, limited to the night shift during a few chaotic months at Abu Ghraib in 2003. The new documents established beyond any doubt that every part of this cover story is false.”
Neal Lewis and David Johnston writing in the International Herald Tribune, on December 22, 2004 said, “FBI agents witnessed abuses of prisoners by U.S. military personnel in Iraq that included detainees being beaten, choked, and having lighted cigarettes placed in their ears. FBI agents saw detainees in Guantanamo Bay Cuba chained and left to urinate and defecate on themselves. An agent wrote that in one case, a detainee who was nearly unconscious had pulled out much of his hair overnight.”
I’d go on with more articles like this, but it’s making me sick.
In July of 2005, when Senator McCain was pushing for legislation banning the torture of prisoners by U.S. troops, the Bush administration pledged to veto the legislation! McCain was persistent. So was Bush. Brian Knowlton wrote in the International Herald Tribune, of October 7, 2005, “The White House repeated an earlier veto threat Thursday after the Senate voted by an overwhelming bipartisan margin for a measure to prevent mistreatment of prisoners held by the U.S. military.” Bush finally withdrew his veto threat. Why was a veto even considered?
Let’s move from torture to renditions, the practice involving forcible kidnapping and highly secret transfer of terrorism suspects to nations where they can be interrogated with few legal protections.
Craig Whitlock writing in the Washington Post national weekly edition of May 30 to June 6, 2005 documented this CIA rendition just outside Stockholm, Sweden. “The CIA Gulfstream jet touched down at a small airport west of here just before 9 p.m. on a sub freezing night in December 2001. A half dozen agents wearing hoods that covered their faces, stepped down from the aircraft and hurried across the tarmac to take custody of two prisoners, suspected Islamic radicals from Egypt. Inside an airport police station, Swedish officers watched as the CIA operatives pulled out scissors, sliced off the prisoner’s clothes, dressed the pair in sweat suits and draped hoods over their heads. The suspects were then marched in chains to the plane, where they were strapped to mattresses.”
From an editorial appearing in the International Herald Tribune on March 9, 2005, “After the attacks in New York and Washington, President George W. Bush gave the (CIA) broad authority to export prisoners without getting permission from the White House or the Justice Department. Rendition has become central to antiterrorism operations at the CIA, which also operates clandestine camps around the world for prisoners it doesn’t want the International Red Cross or the American public to know about.”
An article in the Janesville Gazette on December 11, 2005 reported on Condoleezza Rice’s trip to Europe. “Rice assured allies that the U.S. does not condone or practice torture or interrogation practices that look very much like torture. She said no European airport or airspace was used to move suspected terrorists to places where they may be tortured.”
My god! How can this woman say things like this with a straight face?
It’s not just suspected terrorists that are subjected to renditions by the CIA. Mistakes are made, and innocent civilians are abducted. Bob Herbert writing in the weekend edition of the International Herald tribune of February 26 and 27, 2005 wrote about such a mistake. “In the fall of 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, suddenly found himself caught up in the cruel mockery of justice that the Bush administration has substituted for the rule of law in the post-September 11 world. While attempting to change planes at New York’s Kennedy airport on his way home to Canada from a family vacation in Tunisia, he was seized by U.S. authorities, interrogated and thrown in jail. He was not charged with anything, and he never would be charged with anything.
Arar was surreptitiously flown out of the United States to Jordan and then driven to Syria where he was kept like an animal in an unlit, underground, rat-infested cell. From time to time, he was tortured.
He wept; He begged not to be beaten anymore. He could hear other prisoners screaming as they were tortured. The Syrians finally concluded that Arar was not linked in any way to terrorism. A lawsuit on Arar’s behalf has been filed against the United States by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.”
Just a fluke you say – listen to more!
International Herald Tribune December 7, 2005 reported on the abduction of a German citizen. “The American Civil Liberties Union has filed a suit in the U.S. court in Alexandria Virginia on behalf of Khaled Masri for his abduction when he was on vacation in Macedonia and ended up being detained for months in Afghanistan. Masri said that after being taken from a bus in Macedonia in December 2003, he was beaten; drugged, and threatened, first in a hotel in Macedonia, then in what he said was a squalid cell in Afghanistan. The suit alleges that this was in an abandoned brick factory in northern Kabul used by the CIA and known as the ‘salt pit’.” Remember the salt pit from the earlier story in this commentary? “After interrogators determined his innocence, Masri was freed in May 2004 – at night, without explanation, on a hillside in Albania.”
This story continues with information I gathered from an article in the Washington Post National Weekly Edition of December 12 to 18, 2005. “In May 2004, the White House dispatched the U.S. ambassador in Germany, Daniel Coats, to pay an unusual visit to that country’s interior minister. Coats informed the German minister that the CIA had wrongfully imprisoned one of its citizens, Khaled Masri for five months, and would soon release him. There was also a request: that the German government not disclose what it had been told, even if Masri went public.”
Now back to the December 7, 2005 International Herald Tribune story. Concerning the suit the American Civil Liberties Union has filed on Masri’s behalf, “Masri himself was unable to take part Tuesday in the news conference here where the suit was announced. ACLU officials said that Masri and his German lawyer were stopped at Hartfield International Airport in Atlanta on Saturday. Masri was denied entry by immigration officials, the ACLU said, but his lawyer was allowed to continue. An ACLU lawyer said the two men were stopped before they reached the usual passport control station. The reason for Masri’s expulsion was unknown.”
And now the kicker – and again, I’m quoting from the December 7, 2005 International Herald Tribune story. “President George W. Bush addressed the matter in general terms Tuesday at the White House. We do not render to countries that torture, he said. That has been our policy, and that policy will remain the same.”
My god! What a lie! Condoleezza Rice lies, George Bush lies, Scooter Libby lies, Dick Cheney lies, Donald Rumsfeld lies – everybody in this administration LIES!
Bob Herbert writing in the International Herald Tribune on November 4, 2005 said this about the Bush administration throwing out the rule book, “None of this has given the administration pause. This is the border along which democracy bleeds into tyranny.
Ultimately the whole truth will come out, historians will have their say and Americans will look in the mirror and be ashamed.”
An editorial in the Washington Post National Weekly Edition of December 13 to 19, 2004 said, “the worst aspect of the Abu Ghraib scandal is this: The system survived its public exposure. No senior officers have acknowledged fault for authorizing harsh interrogation techniques or been held accountable by prosecutors or Congress. By now it should be clear that Mr. Bush will perpetuate this systematic violation of human rights, and fundamental American values, unless checked by one of the other branches of government.”
That is very evident now that we have learned that Mr. Bush is also illegally spying on all of us without any oversight by the judicial branch of our government!
I served my country for four years as an officer in the United States Navy. That was many years ago. Back then, I looked with pride upon my country and what it stood for. Something terrible has happened in the last few years. My country has been hijacked by a group of people that don’t give a damn about the constitution, a persons rights, or the law. And worse, people spread stories on the internet proclaiming “Deep down inside, when most Americans saw this reported in the news, we were like - so what?” I just want you all to know, this is not how I feel! None of the officers I served with would have ever uttered such a statement.
Molly Ivins asked a good question in an article appearing in the Janesville Gazette some time ago. “My question is: what are YOU going to do about this? It’s your country, your money, your government. You own it, you run it, you are the board of directors. They are doing this in your name. Perhaps you should get in touch with them.”
Contact information follows. And I am Stormin’ Norman