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Happy Trails

I’ve always thought GBCW diaries were stupid. So this is not one.

But Buhdy has asked me to leave Docudharma and, as the proprietor here, I’ll comply with his wishes.

But before I do – I’d like to recall the good times that this blog has been to me. There were times in my life that those who participated here were a rock in what felt like an otherwise intolerable world. And besides that…I’ve learned alot that I’ll take with me. So I want to thank everyone that’s been a part of that.  

Confessions of an Obamabot

OK, I think its time for a confession…I am an Obamabot and I’ve played one on the internet. Its time for me to take the blinders off and admit the truth…I really am attached to the status quo and defending it against all you DFH’s. So I succumbed to the idea that if you all would just shut up and listen to the man, all would be well with the world.

Obama came along and blinded me to what’s really going on in the world…and I fell for it. You may wonder why I did, well that one goes deep.

On the cycle of fear and brutality

As we all know, the fear-mongering from Republicans about the possibility of Gitmo prisoners being transferred to federal prisons in the U.S. worked to convince all but 6 Democrats (Durbin,  Harkin, Leahy, Levin, Reed, Whitehouse) to vote against funding for shutting it down. Apparently, Harry Reid was so completely terrorized at the prospect that he had trouble explaining himself clearly without the help of reporters.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) declared in a press conference today, “We will never allow terrorists to be released into the United States.” In several tense back and forths with reporters, Reid said he opposes imprisoning detainees on U.S. soil, saying flatly, “We don’t want them around the United States”:

And now, just in time to play on that fear, we get the story of four Muslims who were arrested in New York for trying to blow up synagogues and shoot down airplanes.

The men, all of whom live in Newburgh, about 60 miles north of New York City, were arrested around 9 p.m. after planting what they believed to be bombs in cars outside the Riverdale Temple and the nearby Riverdale Jewish Center, officials said. But the men did not know the bombs, obtained with the help of an informant for the Federal Bureau of Investigation, were fake.<…>

The charges against the four men represent some of the most significant allegations of domestic terrorism in some time, and come months into a new presidential administration, as President Obama grapples with the question of how to handle detainees at the Guantánamo Bay camp in Cuba.

The Divide

I think Obama summed up the reason why so many in the progressive blogosphere are having trouble with his administration in his Saturday video address this week.

I have always believed that it is better to talk than not to talk; that it is far more productive to reach over a divide than to shake your fist across it. This has been an alien notion in Washington for far too long, but we are seeing that the ways of Washington are beginning to change. For the calling of this moment is too loud and too urgent to ignore. Our success as a nation – the future of our children and grandchildren – depends upon our willingness to cast aside old arguments, overcome stubborn divisions, and march forward as one people and one nation.

Since its inception a few years ago, the role of the progressive blogosphere has been to “shake our fist across the divide.” That was certainly what initially drew me to these kinds of conversations back in 2003/04. First of all, it helped us not feel so alone in our rage. And secondly, that’s about all we could do. It was clear that Bush and Cheney weren’t interested in anything we had to say. And Congress, even after the 2006 elections, wasn’t paying much attention either.

Obama is right that shaking fists across the divide is what those in Washington have also done. Its been interesting to watch the Republicans as they sometimes have to work to position the divide so that they can continue to shout across it.

But one of the things I have questions about these days is “where exactly is the divide we should be shouting across?”  

Quote for Discussion: Judge Learned Hand

Spirit of Liberty, 1944

We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion.

…What do we mean when we say that first of all we seek liberty? I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws, and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes. Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can save it; no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it. While it lies there, it needs no constitution, no law, no court to save it. And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women? It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow. A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few – as we have learned to our sorrow.

What then is the spirit of liberty?

I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith. The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the minds of those men and women; the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interest alongside its own without bias; the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded; the spirit of liberty is the spirit of him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned, but has never quite forgotten – that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side-by-side with the greatest. And now in that spirit, that spirit of an America which has never been, and which may never be – nay, which never will be except as the conscience and courage of Americans create it – yet in the spirit of America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all; in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying; in that spirit of liberty and of America so prosperous, and safe, and contented, we shall have failed to grasp its meaning, and shall have been truant to its promise, except as we strive to make it a signal, a beacon, a standard to which the best hopes of mankind will ever turn; In confidence that you share that belief, I now ask you to raise your hand and repeat with me this pledge:

I pledge allegiance to the flag and to the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands–One nation, Indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Judge Learned Hand

Mothers in the Shadows

Mother’s Day is usually not a big deal for me. I don’t have children and let’s just say that my mother and I have managed to put together the best superficial relationship that is possible, given what we have to work with.

But this Mother’s Day, I’m thinking of the thousands of mothers I’ve come to know over the years who are battling the odds, usually in the shadows, to do the best they can to heal broken lives (including their own).

Stubborn defiant nasty optimism

The words in my title are the one’s Bruce Springsteen used to describe Pete Seeger at his 90th birthday party. And he added to that description the fact that Pete, with his benign grandfatherly appearance, remains a “stealth dagger through the heart of our country’s illusions about itself.”

A feminist revolution

The other day I stumbled on a Kid Oakland diary titled for a women’s century that I had initially read almost 2 1/2 years ago, but has even more relevance to me today.

Here’s a few highlights.

…I think the feminist values of context, consensus and community will form the crux of how feminism will help move our society from one based, essentially, on war and greed…those twin obsessions of the the militarized state…to one based on sustainability and mutuality, on democratic community and interdependence on all levels. As we can see from around the globe, the current wave of feminism is very much about “fact-based” and “reality-based” pragmatism; the world powers must see that and understand it. This is a project as bold and necessary as any yet undertaken in our short history on this planet, even if, at the end of the day, it won’t look like ‘revolutions’ past.

Men throughout our history have priveleged a kind of rhetoric for change that is essentially full of machismo. Without dismissing the validity and heroism of previous sturggles for change, it is essential that we envision the possibility of a different kind of struggle, a different, and perhaps, more pragmatic way of making progressive change. Motherhood, femininity, and womanhood represent a direct connection to a kind of continuity, a sense of connectedness that for women is simply not abstract. It is those values we see in the worldwide movement for women’s empowerment. Continuity and connectedness are not ‘known traits’ of most previous movements for change, which privilege seismic shifts and dramatic breaks…It is high time that feminism and women’s empowerment help us look at the bigger picture and move our politics into one of making long term change based on a long term vision.

The Role of Secrecy in Democracy

One of the things that I think we will need to tackle in order to ensure that this country never again tortures is to think about the role of secrecy in a democracy. Last week I wrote a bit about the fact that, especially since the Cold War, our intelligence services have routinely been engaged in torture. The one difference between those incidents and the Bush administration is that the later had the hubris to make it official policy and tried to give it a ridiculous cloak of legality. Under previous administrations, it was practiced with even more secrecy and often took decades for the amount of information we know to become public.

It seems to me that there is an inherent contradiction between democracy – a form of government that is based on an informed citizenry – and secrecy. And I think the very nature of giving power to human beings to operate in secret is almost guaranteed to produce abuses of that power. If our intelligence services are allowed to continue to operate in secret, we are left with very little means to hold them accountable for what they do. As a matter of fact, it becomes incredibly circular. As I write this, I recognize that I know very little about how our intelligence services operate and it becomes difficult to proscribe solutions. So I am left to “trust” them and the oversight provided by elected officials to tell me where the lines about secrecy should be drawn. This is especially frustrating for those of us who have seen the abuses of power that are so often cloaked in secrecy.

Creators of SERE called it “torture”

The Washington Post just published a story about yet another memo (pdf) released by the Senate Armed Services Committee. Its from the  Joint Personnel Recovery Agency, who are responsible for the SERE program.

The military agency that helped to devise harsh interrogation techniques for use against terrorism suspects referred to the application of extreme duress as “torture” in a July 2002 document sent to the Pentagon’s chief lawyer and warned that it would produce “unreliable information.”<…>

The cautionary attachment was forwarded to the Pentagon’s Office of the General Counsel as the administration finalized the legal underpinnings to a CIA interrogation program that would sanction the use of ten forms of coercion, including waterboarding, a technique that simulates drowning. The JPRA material was sent from the Pentagon to the CIA’s acting General Counsel, John Rizzo, and on to the Justice Department, according to testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.<…>

“The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible — in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life — has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture,” the document said. “In essence, physical and/or psychological duress are viewed as an alternative to the more time-consuming conventional interrogation process. The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate information. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption.”

So the creators of the techniques not only called it “torture,” they warned, as early as July 2002, that it would not produce reliable intelligence.  

FBI: An Ally????

Other than the fact that torture was used to extract confessions about a link between Iraq and al Qaiada, I think one of the most important things to come from the Senate Armed Services Report (warning: huge pdf) is the fact that the FBI refused to participate in the so-called “interrogations.”

From the report starting on page 18:

An unclassified version of the May 2008 report by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IP) confirmed that FBI agents “initially took the lead in interviewing Zubaydah at the CIA facility” but that “CIA personnel assumed control over the interviews” when they arrived at the facility.

The FBI agent told the DOJ Inspector General that he also “raised objections to these techniques to the CIA and told the CIA that it was ‘borderline torture.'”<…>

According to the DOJ Inspector General’s Report, FBI Counterterrorism Assistant Director Pat D’Amuro gave instruction to both FBI agents to “come home and not participate in CIA interrogation.” <…> The report said that around the time of Zubaydah’s interrogation, FBI Director Robert Mueller decided that FBI agents would not participate in interrogations involving techniques the FBI did not normally use in the United States, even though the OLC had determined that such techniques were legal.

Torture Timeline

The Washington Post just published a timeline on the CIA’s torture program approval process. Its from a report Holder provided to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Here are a few of the key points.

Rice gave a key early approval, when, as President George W. Bush’s national security adviser, she met on July 17, 2002, with the CIA’s then-director, George J. Tenet, and “advised that the CIA could proceed with its proposed interrogation of Abu Zubaida,” subject to approval by the Justice Department, according to the timeline…

A year later, in July 2003, the CIA briefed Rice, Vice President Richard B. Cheney, Attorney General Ashcroft, White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales and National Security Council legal adviser John Bellinger on the use of waterboarding and other techniques, it states. They “reaffirmed that the CIA program was lawful and reflected administration policy.”…

Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld were not briefed on the program until Sept. 2003, according to the narrative…

In the fall of 2002, four senior members of Congress, including  Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), now speaker of the House, were secretly briefed on interrogation techniques including waterboarding, according to U.S. officials…

A fresh legal review by the Justice Department prompted Ashcroft to inform the CIA in writing on July 22, 2004, that its interrogation methods — except waterboarding — were legal. The following month, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel added that even waterboarding would be legal if it were carried out with a series of safeguards according to CIA plans. By the following May, the department had completed two more reviews of the program that came to the same conclusion. These were among the memos released by President Obama this week.

A couple of thoughts I had:

1. Pretty damning for Condi – perhaps why we got all the bluster yesterday from Zeikelow, her legal counsel.

2. Pelosi and three other members of Congress knew in the fall of 2002.

3. Ashcroft says waterboarding isn’t legal – so OLC responds by writing memos that it is.

4. I think it might be important to remember that this is a timeline for CIA activities. Sounds like the report from the Armed Services Committee documented a whole different process.

5. That this came from Holder indicates that perhaps the investigation has been underway for awhile now.  

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