Friday, March 10, 2006

Democracy Now: Tony Benn, James Marriot; Helen Thomas, Tom Hayden . . .

250 Doctors Condemn U.S. Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo
More than 250 medical experts have co-signed a letter condemning the United States for force-feeding prisoners on hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The letter appears in the British medical journal The Lancet. The doctors wrote "We urge the US government to ensure that detainees are assessed by independent physicians and that techniques such as force-feeding and restraint chairs are abandoned." The doctors also said the American Medical Association should instigate disciplinary proceedings against any members known to have violated ethical codes while working at Guantanamo.
Protester to Condoleeza Rice: "Blood Is On Your Hands"
A protester was thrown out of the Senate hearing after disrupting testimony by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. The protester said "It's an Illegal and immoral war -- how many of you have children in the illegal and immoral war. Their blood is on your hands and cannot wash it away. Their blood is on your hands and you cannot wash it away."
Civil Liberties Groups Seek Court to Shutdown NSA Spy Program
Two civil liberties groups asked the federal courts on Thursday to force the Bush administration to end its warrantless domestic spying program because it violates the privacy and free speech rights of US citizens. The requests from the Center for Constitutional Rights and American Civil Liberties Union came just days after Republicans blocked a Senate investigation into the National Security Agency spy program. ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said "In America, no one is above the law, not even the president. The president's allies in Congress are preparing to cover up his illegal program, while others in Congress are standing on the sidelines. When the President breaks the law, Congress should not be giving him a get-out-of-jail free card."
Ex-Justice Attorney: "Weak Justification" for Warrantless Spying
A former high-ranking national security lawyer at the Justice Department has come forward to criticize some of the Bush administration's key legal justifications for the warrantless spying program. Former associate deputy attorney general David Kris says the Bush administration's contention that Congress had authorized the NSA program by approving the use of force against al-Qaeda was a "weak justification" unlikely to be supported by the courts. Kris oversaw national security issues at the Justice Department from 2000 until 2003.
The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Charlie, Tori, Kansas and CalebDemocracy Now! ("always informing you," as Marcia says):
Headlines for March 10, 2006

- Dubai Firm Pulls Out of U.S. Port Deal
- FBI Opposes Israeli Firm Buying Tech Firm w/ NSA Ties
- 250 Doctors Condemn U.S. Treatment of Prisoners at Guantanamo
- Civil Liberties Groups Seek Court to Shutdown NSA Spy Program
- Ex-Justice Attorney: "Weak Justification" for Warrantless Spying
- Pentagon Denies Report It Will Soon Close Abu Ghraib
- Rumsfeld: Iraq Security Forces Will Deal With Civil War
- Protester to Condoleeza Rice: "Blood Is On Your Hands"
- Woman Fired Over Air America Bumper Sticker
Former Labour MP Tony Benn on how Britain Secretly Helped Israel Build Its Nuclear Arsenal

We have an extended conversation with Tony Benn, one of Britain's most distinguished politicians and the longest serving MP in the history of the Labour party. Benn discusses the new revelations the British government helped Israel build the atom bomb. Benn also speaks about U.S. and U.K. relations, extraordinary rendition, Guantanamo Bay, torture, religion, and the state of the media. [includes rush transcript - partial]
The Next Gulf: London, Washington & the Oil Conflict in Nigeria

In recent months, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta -- MEND -- has intensified its conflict with the Nigerian government and its largest commercial partner, the oil giant Shell. Government forces have bombarded villages and oil rigs in its attacks on MEND’s ethnic Ijaw rebels. We speak with James Marriot, author of "The Next Gulf." [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: Ken Saro-Wiwa, who died just over ten years ago, who was a spokesperson for the Ogoni people, who were taking on Shell in the early 1990s.
AMY GOODMAN: And executed in a military tribunal with other minority rights activists in Nigeria.
JAMES MARRIOTT: Just after that, Shell instituted a whole series of what some people call Greenwash, the company called "social responsibility processes." And one of those was that there should be a series of letters, whereby the heads of the oil company in Nigeria, for example, would write to the head of the exploration and production unit in the Hague and London, and say that the company was abiding by the principles of the company -- the good -- the basic principles, which was respect for human life, respect for the environment, etc., which was laid down in a set of new principles published in 1997.
So every year the head of Shell Nigeria had to write a letter saying, "We're going to apply --– we're applying to those, we’re abiding by them." And every year, the head of Shell would say, "Good, we've received this letter. That's good." One of the interesting things about this new principle is that they had to accept personal responsibility for the accuracy of those letters. So, how come the heads of Shell in Nigeria, who we can name as Philip Watts, Basil Omiyi, Chris Finlayson, how come they can have written those letters in the circumstances that we’ve seen over the last ten years and get away with it? It's appalling.
What's on our mind today?  Iraq.  Lot of e-mails with plans and thoughts on how to be heard this month.  So we'll focus on Iraq with three highlights and for the fourth and fifth, we'll be on a new topic.  First up, Brandon notes Tom Hayden's "Hawks Block American Withdrawal Plan" (The Huffington Post):
The strong possibility that Pentagon commanders will recommend the beginning of American troop withdrawals this week is vanishing, derailed by the Feb. 22 bombing of the Shiite shrine in Samarra as well as the Democratic Party's default on the war.
The British press has been more forthright in reporting troop withdrawal plans since last September's peace rallies.
Just a month ago [Feb. 2] the London Times announced an "acceleration" of plans by Britain and America for pulling out one-third of their troops this year. On March 5, the Telegraph's defense correspondent followed up by reporting that "all" British and American troops will be withdrawn in the next 12 months. Two days later, the British commander in Iraq withdrew the withdrawal hints, saying instead that a pullout of most troops might be "reasonable" by summer 2008. [NYT, Mar. 8, 06]. The New York Times says that the "widely expected" announcement of US troop cuts now was "muted."[nyt, Mar. 2, 06]
The stated reason, or pretext, for suspending the withdrawal plan was the bombing of the Shiite shrine and several days of sectarian bloodletting at the end of February. The US ambassador delivered the message "just before key US decisions are expected on whether the situation in Iraq has improved enough to allow for a reduction in US forces this year", the LA Times reported.[mar 7, 06]
We may never know who blew up the mosque and, with it, the prospects for troop withdrawals. It is assumed that the villains were either deranged Sunnis acting on their own, or al-Zarqawi cadres intent on civil war.
There is another perspective for close observers of dirty wars, the possibility that the bombing was planned and handled by elements of Western counter-terrorism forces. Similar tactics were employed by British agents during the long conflict in Northern Ireland, and heavily-armed British commandos disguised as Arabs were captured in Basra just last year. One of the oldest imperial strategems is to divide and conquer, incite sectarian divisions, and justify military occupation to keep the natives from killing each other. This is precisely the justification for continued war that is heard from those who have admitted the original invasion was a "mistake."
So that's the situation n Iraq now.  Will we ever get honest, as a nation, about how we ended up there?  Some still persist in truth seeking and truth telling.  Lynda notes Helen Thomas' "Lap Dogs of the Press" (The Nation):
Of all the unhappy trends I have witnessed--conservative swings on television networks, dwindling newspaper circulation, the jailing of reporters and "spin"--nothing is more troubling to me than the obsequious press during the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. They lapped up everything the Pentagon and White House could dish out--no questions asked.
Reporters and editors like to think of themselves as watchdogs for the public good. But in recent years both individual reporters and their ever-growing corporate ownership have defaulted on that role. Ted Stannard, an academic and former UPI correspondent, put it this way: "When watchdogs, bird dogs, and bull dogs morph into lap dogs, lazy dogs, or yellow dogs, the nation is in trouble."
The naïve complicity of the press and the government was never more pronounced than in the prelude to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. The media became an echo chamber for White House pronouncements. One example: At President Bush's March 6, 2003, news conference, in which he made it eminently clear that the United States was going to war, one reporter pleased the "born again" Bush when she asked him if he prayed about going to war. And so it went.
After all, two of the nation's most prestigious newspapers, the New York Times and the Washington Post, had kept up a drumbeat for war with Iraq to bring down dictator Saddam Hussein. They accepted almost unquestioningly the bogus evidence of weapons of mass destruction, the dubious White House rationale that proved to be so costly on a human scale, not to mention a drain on the Treasury. The Post was much more hawkish than the Times--running many editorials pumping up the need to wage war against the Iraqi dictator--but both newspapers played into the hands of the Administration.
When Secretary of State Colin Powell delivered his ninety-minute "boffo" statement on Saddam's lethal toxic arsenal on February 5, 2003, before the United Nations, the Times said he left "little question that Mr. Hussein had tried hard to conceal" a so-called smoking gun or weapons of mass destruction. After two US special weapons inspection task forces, headed by chief weapons inspector David Kay and later by Charles Duelfer, came up empty in the scouring of Iraq for WMD, did you hear any apologies from the Bush Administration? Of course not. It simply changed its rationale for the war--several times. Nor did the media say much about the failed weapons search. Several newspapers made it a front-page story but only gave it one-day coverage. As for Powell, he simply lost his halo. The newspapers played his back-pedaling inconspicuously on the back pages.
Focusing on a deaf and scared Congress, Zach's highlight, here's Robert Parry's "Oversight by Capitulation" (Consortium News):
Despite a dip in his opinion polls, George W. Bush's transformation of the United States into an authoritarian society continues apace, with new "compromises" with Congress actually consolidating his claims to virtually unlimited executive power.
Bush's latest success came as part of a supposed "concession" to Congress that would grant two new Republican-controlled seven-member subcommittees narrow oversight of Bush's warrantless wiretapping of Americans.
While "moderate" Republican senators -- Mike DeWine of Ohio, Olympia Snowe of Maine, and Chuck Hagel of Nebraska -- hailed the plan as a retreat by the White House, the deal actually blesses Bush’s authority to bypass the courts in spying on Americans and imposes on him only a toothless congressional review process.
Indeed, the congressional plan may make matters worse, broadening the permissible scope of Bush’s wiretaps to include Americans deemed to be "working in support of a terrorist group or organization."
Given Bush's record of stretching words to his advantage – and his claim that anyone who isn't "with us" is with the terrorists -- the vague concept of "working in support" could open almost any political critic of the Bush administration to surveillance.
Plus, the only check on abuses would be the closed-door oversight work of the seven-member panels, which would only be informed of a warrantless wiretap after it had been in place for 45 days. Republicans also would have four of the seven seats on each subcommittee and any dissent from the minority Democrats would be kept secret.
In other words, the plan would let Bush and his Republican congressional loyalists conduct wiretaps of anyone whose activities might be called supportive of terrorists, while any Democratic critic would be muzzled from saying anything publicly under penalty of law.
In response to the first entry up here this morning, Zach notes that Parry isn't "going happily along."  No, he's not.  And none of us should.  Repeating, from this morning:
So is this what it's going to be? What we're going to accept? Our elected officials will work out "deals" with the White House on how an investigation will be conducted? We let Bully Boy set the agenda for the 9/11 investigation from the start. (Referring to the Congressional one, but it applies to the independent, or "independent," commission as well.) The administration breaks the law and our response is going to be to accept deals hammered out between the criminals and Congress? Is that how it's going to be? Is that how little our Constitution means to any of us?
Possibly, instead of buying up flags, Americans should be buying up copies of the Constitution and studying those. The difference is one is a totem and one's what's supposed to be the law of the land. We can have the government that people fought for (not referring to the military) or we can have the government we settle for. Right now, it seems like we're going to go along with futher dismantling the Fourth Amendment. What's next? The Thirteenth? The First? (We all know it won't be the Second.)

The law was broken. A Senate committee deciding that they can "fix" things by eliminating the judiciary from the process and retroactively legalizing a crime doesn't cut it.
Zach's right that Robert Parry's not going happily along or quietly.  Good for him.  Micah notes more on the "refuse to give up, keep fighting" front.  From
New York. March 9, 2005. The National Lawyers Guild (NLG) announced that its attorneys had joined in a motion requesting a summary judgment from the United States District Court in New York against President Bush and other defendants involved in illegal electronic surveillance without judicial warrants. The summary judgment motion asserts that no trial is necessary in the case because Administration officials have already made sufficient public admissions regarding the program for the court to rule that the President's actions are illegal and violate the Constitution.
The NLG is cooperating with other attorneys in the representation of lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), who are the plaintiffs in the case. The CCR lawyers allege that the government is likely to have listened to their conversations with international clients and others who have been targeted by the government.
NLG President Michael Avery, one of the attorneys handling the case, summarized the legal claims in the brief filed today. "The President simply has no power under our Constitution to conduct this surveillance and his actions violate the constitutional guarantee of separation of powers. What he has admitted to doing constitutes a criminal offense -- a felony under federal law."
The Guild also warned that the reported agreement between Republican Senators and the White House to amend federal statutes to authorize electronic surveillance for successive 45 day periods without court orders would result in a law that would be unconstitutional. NLG President Michael Avery explained, “When the President fails to seek judicial warrants before his agents listen to the conversations of American citizens, he violates the Fourth Amendment guarantee that only judges and not FBI or NSA agents can order such invasions of privacy. Congress cannot repeal the Bill of Rights by passing a statute -- that was the very purpose of putting these rights in the Constitution.”
The National Lawyers Guild is a bar association founded in 1937 and comprising over 6,000 members and activists in the service of the people. Its national office is headquartered in New York and it has chapters in nearly every state, as well as over 100 law school chapters. The Guild has a long history of litigating to protect the constitutional rights of people in this country.
Final highlight, Gareth notes James Mottram's "Susan Sarandon: Cause Celebrity" (The Independent of London):
It's a wonder Susan Sarandon is still standing. A natural successor to such campaigners as Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Fonda, the liberal actress has faced more pot-shots than a battery of clay pigeons. If it's not the Democrats and Republicans knocking her for supporting the independent candidate Ralph Nader during the 2000 US presidential elections, then it's the South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone mocking her and Tim Robbins, her long-time partner, in the puppet-powered satire, Team America: World Police. "Your powers have been weakened by time, Miss Sarandon," her marionette likeness is told as it is blown from a balcony. The truth is, as Sarandon approaches her 60th birthday this autumn, she is anything but frail. "I've been through Celebrity Death Match and I survived that!" she smiles, referring to the cult MTV show that pitted animated versions of her and Robbins against Warren Beatty and Annette Bening. "I've been on lots of things where I make fun of myself."
In town to promote her latest film, Romance & Cigarettes, Sarandon is sitting in the shade in the lush gardens of a luxury Venetian hotel, wearing a green crêpe dress, white trainers and a chunky gold bracelet. Witty and wise in equal measure, she is keen to prove that she has a sense of humour as well as a keen conscience. Yet she can't resist a dig at Team America, which she feels showed a "lack of sophistication" in its choice of who to pick on. "I thought it was one-dimensional to kill off all the actors who were activists, rather than people who, in my mind, would be better served as targets. I don't understand why they didn't kill off right-wing activists. It seems that only right-wing actors can become political figures. Progressive actors are never allowed to run for office. It's all those bad actors that get into politics!"
Sarandon, of course, is anything but a bad actor. Nominated five times for an Oscar, she finally won Best Actress in 1996 for her role as a nun who befriends a Death Row inmate in Robbins's Dead Man Walking. "Anything to kill my sex appeal, and my career, I've done," she laughs. "I can't account for it." It was a supreme irony to win the award for such a chaste role, for Sarandon had made a career out of playing characters defined by their sexuality. In Louis Malle's Pretty Baby, she played a New Orleans prostitute who abandons her child. Then there was the vampire movie The Hunger, which featured Sarandon in an infamous love scene with Catherine Deneuve. After she reignited her career at 42 by playing a sizzling baseball groupie in 1988's Bull Durham, she got to play a leggy coke-fiend (Light Sleeper), a femme fatale (Twilight) and, most famously, her Oscar-nominated feminist icon Louise (Thelma and Louise).
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