Monday, February 27, 2006

Democracy Now: Michael Ratner, Clive Stafford Smith, Maher Arar; Maureen Farrell, Danny Schechter

Defense Contractor Admits Giving GOP Congressman $1M in Bribes

  1. In political news, a defense contractor admitted on Friday that he paid former Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham of California more than one million dollars in bribes. Michael Wade, the former president of the defense contractor MZM, also admitted to making a total of $80,000 in illegal donations to other members of Congress. Press accounts have identified the two as Republicans, Katherine Harris of Florida and Virgil Goode of Virginia. Wade faces up to 20 years in prison.

    Army to Allow Halliburton Not to Repay Disputed Costs
  2. The New York Times is reporting the Army has decided to reimburse a Halliburton subsidiary for nearly all of its disputed costs on a $2.4 billion no-bid contract to deliver fuel and repair oil equipment in Iraq. Auditors had recommended the Army withhold $263 million from Kellogg Brown and Root, but the Army decided to withhold just $10 million. California Congressman Henry Waxman said "Halliburton gouged the taxpayer, government auditors caught the company red-handed, yet the Pentagon ignored the auditors and paid Halliburton hundreds of millions of dollars and a huge bonus."

    Over 200 Dead in Iraq Since Wednesday's Mosque Bombing
  3. In Iraq, at least 29 people died on Sunday even though security forces had imposed a rare daytime curfew barring all vehicular traffic in Baghdad and its suburbs. In the deadliest attack, a Shiite neighborhood came under mortar fire in Southwest Baghdad. 16 people died and another 53 were injured. Over 200 people have been killed since Wednesday's bombing at a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra. On Saturday gunmen broke into the home of a Shiite family northeast of Baghdad and killed 13 people. Three people also died on Saturday during the funeral of the Atwar Bahjat -- the well-known Al-Arabiya journalist who was killed last week.

    The above three items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Brad, KeShawn and Mia. Democracy Now! ("always informing you," as Marcia says):

    Headlines for February 27, 2006

- U.S. Holds 500 in Afghan Prison "Worse" Than Guantanamo

- Over 200 Dead in Iraq Since Wednesday's Mosque Bombing

- No Word on Kidnapped Journalist Jill Carroll

- UN: Shiite Militias Killing & Torturing Hundreds

- Katrina Evacuees Blocked From Voting at Out-of-State Polling Sites

- Texas Warns Half of Katrina Evacuees Have No Health Insurance

- Defense Contractor Admits Giving GOP Congressman $1M in Bribes

- Army to Allow Halliburton Not to Repay Disputed Costs- Science Fiction Writer Octavia Butler, 58, Dies

Los Titulares de Hoy: Democracy Now!'s daily news summary translated into Spanish

Total Information Awareness Lives On Inside the National Security AgencyMore than two years ago Congress halted plans for a controversial plan called Total Information Awareness to create the world's largest surveillance database to track your phone calls, purchases, Internet usage, reading material, banking transactions. The National Journal has now revealed the program has quietly continued inside the NSA.

"Worse" Than Guantanamo: U.S. Expands Secretive Prison Inside Bagram Air Base in AfghanistanThe U.S. is holding 500 at the base in wire cages at the Bagram Air Base, north of Kabul in Afghanistan. Some have been detained for up to three years. They have never been charged with crimes. They have no access to lawyers. They are barred from hearing the allegations against them. Officials describe the jail's conditions as primitive. We speak with human rights attorneys Clive Stafford Smith and Michael Ratner.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, can you, though, explain? I mean, it sounds like the reason Bagram is growing is because of all of the international outcry around Guantanamo, but also Guantanamo's legal relationship with the United States on a U.S. air base in Cuba. Can you explain the legality of Afghanistan, where Bagram is and Guantanamo, these two detention camps?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, both Clive and I were in the early case about Guantanamo, in which the U.S. tried to say Guantanamo was like Bagram, that there were no legal rights there. You couldn't go to court for people in Guantanamo. They had no constitutional rights, and the U.S. said it could do what it wanted to people at Guantanamo. We won a big case in the Supreme Court, the Rasul case in June of 2004, that opened the courts to people at Guantanamo and opened them so people like Clive and Center lawyers could go to Guantanamo.
Even with that, those set of rights, the administration, in the Graham-Levin Bill and the Detainee Treatment Act, is trying to eliminate even those rights we won in the Supreme Court. But as far as Bagram is concerned, the legal position of the administration is similar to what it was about Guantanamo. There are no legal rights, but they have the additional argument, that they would make, that because it's not on a U.S. permanent military base like the one in Cuba, that there's even fewer rights.
I don't think they're correct. I think that any person detained anywhere in the world has a right to go into a court, has a right to be visited by an attorney, but the administration's view is whatever Guantanamo rights are, the rights at Bagram are nil, absolutely none, and so what they did, according to the Times report, was a few months after we won the Rasul case, they said they stopped sending people to Guantanamo and started to send them to other places -- Bagram is the one that we know the most about at this point -- because the administration's view is that no court, no lawyer, no one, has any right to visit anyone in Guantanamo -- anyone in Bagram, and that nobody --and that the people at Bagram have no legal rights at all. An extraordinary statement in today's world.

"They've Ruined My Life": Torture Survivor Maher Arar Recalls how U.S. Sent Him to Syria Where He Was Jailed and Tortured For 10 MonthsCanadian citizen Maher Arar announces he will "most likely" be appealing a recent U.S. federal court ruling to dismiss his lawsuit challenging the U.S. government policy known as extraordinary rendition. The judge, David Trager, said he could not interfere in the case because it involves crucial national security and foreign relations issues. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: That's Professor Al McCoy. Maher Arar, from your experience of being held for almost a year in Syrian jail, your response?
MAHER ARAR: Well, I do agree 100% with what I just heard. I can tell you, for example, during the first two weeks of my stay in Syria, I was physically beaten. What happened during this initial period is I just wanted them to leave me alone, even in that dark and damp underground cell. But after a while, the psychological torture that I endured during this lengthy period, I was ready -- I was ready, especially by the end of my stay, by the end of the ten-month period in this underground cell, I was ready, frankly, 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. I was -- not only that, I was ready to endure more physical beatings, more physical beatings just to get rid of this place.
AMY GOODMAN: And what did --
MAHER ARAR: And I do agree 100% with what -- it's a personal experience I lived, and I think if you ask other torture victims who have been psychologically tortured, they will tell you the same thing.

Also, Karen notes that the report provides links to past Democracy Now! coverage of Maher Arar:

Maher Arar Fights to Keep Torture Suit Against U.S. Government Alive
U.S. Claims Maher Arar "Extraordinary Rendition" Lawsuit Jeopardizes National Security
Amnesty Calls for Release of Syrian Canadian Jailed in Damascus for Over 2 Years
Canadian Man Deported by U.S. Details Torture in Syria
Canadian Citizen Deported to Syria By U.S. Returns Home to Montreal After Spending A Year in Damascus Jail
Canada Warns Its Citizens About Traveling in the United States: Advisory Comes After U.S. Officials Secretly Detain a Canadian Citizen and Deports Him to Syria, Where He Hasn't Lived in 14 Years

Let's start highlights. Eddie notes Marueen Farrell's latest, "When Big Brother Gets Under Your Skin" (BuzzFlash):

In Sept., 2001, the late Hunter S. Thompson assessed the state of our Brave New World. "The 22 babies born in New York City while the World Trade Center burned will never know what they missed. The last half of the 20th century will seem like a wild party for rich kids,
compared to what's coming now," he wrote. While that seems true enough, what will the future hold for those babies' babies? Newborns are already being tracked via RFID technology, and it's not unfeasible that "chipping" could become as commonplace as circumcision. After all, when a former government official tells a major daily newspaper that RFID "will prevent babies from being picked up by the wrong people in a maternity ward and make sure people in nursing homes don't walk away" and announces plans to get "chipped" himself, the day might come when Big Brother could literally get under our skins.
After all, in the past few years, the notion of Big Brother has gone from
George Orwell's fantasy to mainstream acceptance. And though Mark of the Beast superstitions are often quite laughable, they become less humorous against the backdrop of today's Apocalyptic political climate. ("This is going to be just like the Book of Revelation said it was going to be -- the end of the world as we knew it," Thompson concluded in July, 2003 -- an assessment a surprising number of Americans seem to share.)
Is this technology something to be dreaded or welcomed? Time will tell. Fear of the unknown has existed peripherally alongside every advancement. Nearly 200 years ago, for example, Mary Shelley responded to the threats posed by the Industrial Revolution by writing
Frankenstein, sounding an enduring warning against the "over-reaching" of mankind.
And while RFID technology might not be as frightening as Frankenstein's monster, Ms. Albrecht seems to disagree. "This technology poses serious risks to privacy and civil liberties," she said in Oct. 2005. "These RFID spychips can be
read silently from a distance, right through your clothes, wallet, backpack or purse by anyone with the right reader device. Already these companies have developed ways to use RFID tags embedded in credit cards and sewn into clothing to identify and track people."
Our children, it appears, will have monsters to conquer, too.

Farrell's a voice the community knows from BuzzFlash. If you missed it, check out
"And the "tone" screamers scream on (smart people ignore them)" (The Third Estate Sunday Review) for how some useless sorts want BuzzFlash to start freting over "tone" a opposed to doing the very real business of informing the public that BuzzFlash does so well.

Billie notes "Federal Judge Orders Government to Release Guantanamo Detainees' Identities for the First Time As Attorneys Charge Violations of Due Process in New Review Boards" (Center for Contitutional Rights):

U.S. Federal Judge Orders Pentagon to Releases Identities of Hundreds of Prisoners and Uncensored Transcripts of Detainee Hearings by March 3 Center for Constitutional Rights Leads Effort to Challenge New Annual Review Boards
In New York, on February 24, 2006 a new round of reviews of the Guantánamo Bay detainees began, but attorneys say the United States government is flouting military and international law by preventing any meaningful consideration of proposed evidence and denying information to the detainees’ attorneys. Experts from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the organization currently overseeing 450 pro-bono attorneys representing the detainees, expressed outrage about this violation of due process and pointed to a new federal court decision vindicating their calls for transparent and fair hearings.
On February 23, U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff ordered the Department of Defense to release the names of hundreds of detainees and uncensored transcripts of their hearings by March 3, dealing a major blow to the government's attempts to maintain total secrecy over its detainment process. The Pentagon has said it will comply.
CCR Legal Director Bill Goodman explained why the U.S. government record on Guantánamo is drawing fire from the courts and many attorneys involved in the proceedings: "For five years now, the government has detained prisoners without due process; lied about who these people are; concealed their treatment from the public and denied basic information to the very people who are authorized to represent the detainees. This Administration prefers to operate in the shadows, but Judge Rakoff's ruling helps shine a light that can make this process to be more open and democratic. As the facts finally get out, we expect even more people will be outraged by this illegal process, which we continue to fight in court."
CCR is challenging the detentions during the government's Annual Review Board (ARB) meetings, arguing that the government has made a fair hearing impossible by denying access to the Guantánamo base or basic information and factual returns. Thus, attorneys have no information or notice to rebut the government's statements or potential findings against the detainees. The ARB's were designed to function like a parole board and have led to the release of a handful of detainees. In what is expected to be the largest number to date, CCR is filing ARB's for about 120 detainees, including a challenge to the lack of due process and the legitimacy of the proceedings.
CCR Deputy Legal Director Barbara Olshansky explained that the ARB proceedings are completely illegitimate: "These proceedings provide no due process, which reveals they are sham trials designed to prevent people from proving their innocence."
According to recent estimates, the government is currently detaining about 500 prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay prison camp. CCR won the Supreme Court case establishing the detainees' right to challenge their detention in U.S. court (Rasul v. Bush).

And let's make it a Michael Ratner day. Rachel notes that today on WBAI from four to six pm (EST; three to five Central; one to three Pacific). WBAI's in fundraising and Rachel thinks this may be a special broadcast. (Ratner day? Ratner was a guest on Democracy Now! today and he's the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights.)
Ruth heard the same thing Rachel does and "I'm hoping it's a special broadcast of Law and Disorder." Hopes aside, what Ruth knows is that the Center for Constitutional Rights is offering Articles of Impeachment Against George W. Bush.

Chad notes that a portion of Lewis Lapham's "The Case For Impeachment" (Harper's Magazine) is available online.

By early August [2001] the Bush Administration has sufficient confidence in its dommsday story to sell it to the American public. Instructed to come with awesome text and shocking images, thee White House hits upon the phrase "mushroom cloud" and prepares a White Paper describing the "grave and gathering danger" posed by Iraq's nuclear arsenal. [Lapham footnote: The Goup counted among its copywriters Karl Rove, senior political strategist, Andrew Card, White House chief of staff, National Security Advisor Condolezza Rice, and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff.] The objective is three-fold -- to magnify the fear of Saddam Nussein, to present President Bush as the Christian savior of the American people, a man of conscience who never in life would lead the country into an unjust war, and to provide a platform of star-spangled patriotism for Republican candidates in the November congressional elections. [Lapham footnote: Card later told the New York Times that "from a marketing point of view . . . you don't introduce new products in August."]
The ad campaign rolls out on September 7, when Britain's Tony Blair stands in front of television camers at Camp David, Maryland, with President Bush to say that a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency shows new activity at Iraq's nuclear weapons sites. [Lapham footnote: Bush confirms Blair's statement saying, "I don't know what more evidence we need. In Vienna, the day before the IAEA issued a statement saying that there was no such report.] On September 8, National Security Advisor Rice appears on Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, to picture a mushroom cloud in America's future, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, on Face the Nation, invits Bob Schieffer to "imagine a September 11 with weapons of mass destruction." On the same day, Vice President Cheney shows up on Meet the Press to assure Tim Russert that "first of all, no decision's been made yet to launch a military operation." The President stays on both messages, informing reporters gathered at an Oval Office photo op on September 25 that when discussing the War on Terror, "You can't distinguish between Al Qaeda and Saddam," and then on October 1, after meeting with members of Congress, "Of course, I haven't made up my mind if we're going to war with Iraq." [Lapham footnote: Collaborating in what was a team effort between March 2002 and March 2004 various high-ranking adminstration officials made 237 false or misleading statements (55 of them from President Bush himself) connecting Saddam to Al Qaeda, exaggerating Iraq's biological and chemical weapons capabilities, misrepresenting Iraq's nuclear activitis.]
The autom sales promotion reaches its crescendo on October 7, when the Presidnet, speaking to a live television audience from the Cincinnati Museum Center, pulls all the dead rabbits out of Karl Rove's magic hat -- Saddam possessed of "horrible poisons and diseases and gasses and atomic weapons . . . we know that Iraq and Al Qaeda have had high-level contacts that go back a decade. . . . America must not ignore the threat gathering against us. Facing clear evidence of peril, we cannot waot fpr the final proof -- the smoking gun -- that could come in the form of a mushroom cloud . . ."
[. . .]
Its war policy thus firmly established in all the major media markets, the Bush Administration cover the span of the next five months holds fast to the policy of deceiving itself as well as the American people and the Congress. While the Pentagon assembles its forces for Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 20, 2003, President Bush continues to present himself as the victim of outrageous circumstance. In answer to a reporter's question at a White House press conference, he says, "You said we're headed to war in Iraq. I'm the person who gets to decide, not you." Vice President Cheney tells Hans Blix, the chief U.N. weapons inspector, that unless his scouts soon find Saddam's WMD in Iraq, the United States "will not hesitate to discredit inspections in favor of disarmament"; meanwhile, having come to believe the lies stuffed into his mouth by informants paid to do just that, he appears on Meet the Press to say, mouth by informants paid to do just that, he appears on Meet the Press to say, "My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators." President Bush in his state of the Union Address on January 28 falsely informs Congress that Saddam has been trying to buy enriched unranium in Africa; at the U.N. Security Council on February 5, Secretary of State Colin Powell conjures up the "sinister nexus between Iraq and the Al Qaeda terrorist network." [Lapham footnote: Powell occasionally complained about the falsehoods the administration obliged him to tell; a few days before delivering the U.N. speech he mentioned his unhappiness to Cheney, who told him, "Your poll numbers are in the seventies, you can afford to lose a few points."]

It's an important essay so, if only a portion is available online, check your bookstores and libraries. (And on Collie The Blot Powell, check out "TV Review: Barbara and Colin remake The Way We Were.")

Now, DATE CHANGE: MARCH 15TH is the new date for and United for Peace and Justice's event.

From Danny Schechter's "Why Protest Media Coverage Mar 15?" (News Dissector,

The national day for local media protest announced last week on received such a positive response that the organizers of United For Peace and Justice, the country's largest anti-war coalition, decided to change the date from March 21 to March 15 to make a focus on the media the kickoff event for this years week-long "spring offensive" against the war to mark the third anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq.
Activists, peace groups and media reformers are being encouraged to organize protests in every city and community.
I wanted to add some personal comments to this campaign because journalists as a rule and Mediachannel until now has reported on protests, not helped organize them. Usually, media people are not activists but this case is different. Here the issue is not about politicians or causes, but our own profession and industry.
If we are not willing to speak out on a problem so close to home, who will? If we don't stand up for media freedom and against deceptive news practices, how can we lecture or editorializes other institutions to practice ethical standards, accountability and transparency?
I know there are colleagues of ours who find protests, well, unseemly, and likely to do no good. Some readers feel that way too. To these "nattering nabobs of negativity," to quote the late and great Spiro T Agnew, a politician with loose standards but clever language, I would respond, it is the duty of all of us who believe in the need for honest journalism to say so publicly.
Remember the phrase "my country right or wrong, my country!" The response is always "My country right or wrong, but when wrong, set it right." The same goes for the press.
I have been fighting this media battle for a long time. In his foreword to my book WHEN NEWS LIES on media complicity and the Iraq War, Michael Wolff calls me "the 2000 year old" media critic in the spirit of Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner’s hysterical 2000 year old man shtick.
Yes, I have been doing it a while but mostly in the media, dissecting news on the radio or producing TV and films. In the case of Iraq, I have written two books and made the documentary WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception). I think I know what I am talking about.
I have spoken on the issue all over this country and throughout the world. And yes, I know from painful personal experience, how easy it is to be ignored, or patronized and marginalized.
Speaking Truth to power has never been a well-rewarded vocation.
Now I will be joining the marches on the media on March 15th.
Over the last years, I have seen arrogant and aloof know it all media outlets forced to admit some of their mistakes and publish mea-culpas. I have seen public opinion shift against this war as it has against earlier military adventures. And now, I am pleased that United For Peace and Justice, the anti-war coalition is acknowledging the importance of taking on the media and setting a day aside for a long needed protest.
Most journalists and editors and media owners see themselves as serving the public even when they aren't. They should be confronted with the anger and concerns of their readers and viewers. It’s time for some feedback to penetrate the bubble of self-righteousness and unexamined media routines that they are encapsulated within.
Shaming the media is something we can do. Can it have any impact? Let's find out.

By the way, Danny's commenting on Dexter Filkins' book review. We'll note that either later today or tomorrow morning. (If you want to read it now, go to News Dissector now.) (And for those who needed no heads up because they'd already visited this morning, pats yourselves on the back. One of those would be Lynda who noted in her e-mail this morning that it looks like there are no more problems -- hackings -- at News Dissector.)

We've noted the event here last week (and will continue to note it) but you might also want to check out "Nancy Chang and Danny Schechter on Media Silence (add your own voice to the mix) " (The Third Estate Sunday Review).

On The Third Estate Sunday Review, Kayla writes to say that they recorded ABC's line up Friday and she and her husband made a point to watch again Sunday evening and they did hear what Ava and I noted in "TV Review: America's Funniest F**king Videos" -- the f-word is used twice. Beware of programs quick to assure you of their own goodness.

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