Tuesday, November 23, 2010. Chaos and violence continue, a US veteran struggles for needed health care, another veteran gets banned from his campus for writing an assigned paper, 2 US soldiers have died in Iraq since Friday, the targeting of Iraqi Christians continues, and more.
In the US, Thanksgiving will be celebrated on Thursday. Many families and friends will not be celebrating together for various reasons including work and distance. That's especially true for military families. Sadly, it's also true for veterans' families, for families where veterans have served, are out of the military and should be able to enjoy the day. Rosie and Le Roy Torres could be with their children having a nice Thanksgiving but he was exposed to toxins he never should have been exposed to and now Thanksgiving is another day where the family that should be able to focus on being together instead has to focus on survival:
This year our Thanksgiving holiday will not be celebrated with our children, instead we will be spending our Thanksgiving on the road after seeking specialized medical care for illness resulting from exposures to environmental hazardous toxins and chemicals from the Burn Pits at Camp Anaconda Balad, Iraq. Two years and over 20 medical visits later, both DOD and VA both continue to deny a chemically induced diagnosis. Our only option has been to seek specialized medical care at our own expense from Dr. Miller and Dr. Lambright at Vanderbilt University Hospital in Tennessee, who have been able to confirm a diagnosis. The expenses associated with Burn Pits include lodging (hotel rooms), food, Tri-care insurance co-pays, medications, travel (airline tickets, gas, car rental), time off of work (without pay status under service members family medical leave act), but most importantly it has costs us our family (time away from our children affecting them emotionally).
Senators Byron Dorgan and Evan Bayh have used the Senate Democratic Policy Committee (which Senator Dorgan chairs) as a bully pulpit to attempt to raise awareness and document this issue. Both men leave the Senate in January (both chose not to seek re-election). While they deserve strong applause for the work they did, there is so much work to be done as the Torres family well knows. Along with the Torres family's Burn Pits site, you can also refer to Gulfwarchemicals.com for more information. Le Roy Torres served in Iraq as a Captain in the US Army Reserve and was also a State Trooper. Now he's got to fight for treatment the government more than owes him. There's nothing 'thankful' about that and it goes to a Congress who would rather sit on their ass than address a problem because -- here's the big point -- it costs money. US Senator Jim Webb stabbed Vietnam veterans in the back with his attack on the VA's Agent Orange Registry and that all came down to money -- Webb is more than happy to spend the American tax payers' money on more weapons, he just wants veterans to foot the bill. He was also one of the big opponets to Evan Bayh's proposal for an Iraq and Afghanistan War Registry. Evan presented that himself to the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee where it was roped off and couldn't make it out of committee. One of the strongest objections to a registry was Jim Webb whining yet again about the costs. What about the costs the Torres family's paying? What about the cost of a holiday that the children won't spend with their parents because Le Roy and Roise Torres have to fight and battle just for him to receive NEEDED treatment?
And yet Webb votes to fund every War Supplemental. But the injuries in the war are supposed to be out-of-poket expenses after a service member discharges?
September 30th, a sparsely attended hearing -- which had already been scheduled -- was held. House Veterans Affairs Committee Chair Bob Filner and a few of his colleagues -- including some not even on the Committee -- remained as others did a mad dash out of DC to go hit the road campaigning. At the start of that hearing, Chair Filner delivered some important remarks.
Now a democracy has to go to war sometimes. But people have to know in a democracy what is the cost. They have to be informed of the true -- of the true nature -- not only in terms of the human cost, the material cost, but the hidden cost that we don't know until after the fact or don't recognize. We know -- Why is it that we don't have the mental health care resources for those coming back? Is it because we failed to understand the cost of serving our military veterans is a fundamental cost of the war? Is it because we sent these men and women into harms way without accounting for and providing the resources necessary for their care if they're injured or wounded or killed? Every vote that Congress has taken for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to take into account the actual cost of these wars by ignoring what we will require to meet the needs of our men and women in uniform who have been sent into harms way. This failure means that soldiers who are sent to war on behalf of their nation do not know if their nation will be there for them tomorrow. The Congress that sends them into harms way assumes no responsibility for the longterm consequences of their deployment. Each war authorization and appropriation kicks the proverbial can down the road and whether or not the needs of our soldiers wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan will be met is totally dependent on the budget priorities of a future Congress which includes two sets of rules: One for going to war and one for providing for our veterans who fight in that war. We don't have a budget for the VA today as we are about to enter the new fiscal year. We are trying to provide for those involved in atomic testing in WWII -- who were told would be no problems and yet they can't get compensation for cancers. We cannot -- This Committee and this Congress has a majority of people who say we should fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange for injuries in WWII -- I'm sorry, Vietnam. Yet was have a pay-go rule on a bill that's coming out of here. They say it's going to cost ten billion dollars or twenty billion over the next ten years. We don't have it. Why don't we have it? They fought for this nation. We're trying to deal with the Persian Gulf War still -- not to mention all the casualties from this one. So we have to find a pay-go. But the Dept of Defense doesn't have to. So the system that we have for appropriating funds in Congress is designed to make it much easier to vote to send our soldiers into harms way. That's much easier than to care for them when they come home. This Committee and everyone of the people here has had to fight tooth and nail to get enough money for our veterans. We got to fight for it every day. We've been successful in the last few years but we don't know if that will -- if that rate of growth will continue. This is morally wrong in my opinion and an abdication of our fundamental responsibilities as members of Congress. It is past time for Congress to recognize that standing by our men and women in uniform -- meeting their needs -- is a fundamental cost of war and we should account for those needs and take responsibility for meeting them at the time that we send these young people into combat.Every Congressional appropriation for war, in my view, should include money for what, I'm going to call it, a veterans' trust fund that will ensure the projected needs of our wounded and injured soldiers are fully met at the time that their going to war is appropriated.
If the cost was factored in, cheapskates -- when it comes to health -- like Jim Webb wouldn't be able to prevent veterans from receiving the care they need. It's amazing that Jim Webb has signed off on how many billions for war in his brief time as a Democrat and as a senator but getting him to back full medical treatment for veterans is about as difficult as getting him to pick a check. He should be ashamed of himself.
Motley Rice attorneys have joined with co-counsel Susan Burke and her firm Burke PLLC in the KBR, Inc., Burn Pit multidistrict litigation to represent clients against multiple defense contractors for allegedly exposing American soldiers, veterans and former employees of defense contractors who worked and lived on or near military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to toxic smoke, ash and fumes generated through the disposal of waste in open burn pits. The plaintiffs in Jobes v. KBR, Inc. et al.allege that prolonged exposure to the pits' smoke, ash, and fumes caused injuries such as chronic illnesses, risk of illnesses and wrongful death. The injured plaintiffs also allege that the defendants had a duty to warn U.S. service members and civilians working and living around burn pit fumes about health and safety issues but failed to properly do so.
Plaintiff's also allege that these contractors used open burn pits rather than clean-burning incinerators at the majority of U.S. Military facilities in the Middle East in order to increase profits. Items disposed of in the burn pits may have included hazardous medical waste, hydraulic fluids, lithium batteries, tires and trucks (see detailed list below).
On Friday, October 15, 2010, the US Government Accountability Office released the Afghanistan and Iraq Report, in response to a request by Congress. It states that of the four burn pits they surveyed in Iraq, all standards outlined in 2009 for burn pit operations are not being met.
On Wednesday, September 8, 2010, Honorable Roger W. Titus of the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland ruled that the lawsuits in In re: KBR Inc. Burn Pit Litigation may proceed after denying the defendants' motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The ruling allows the litigation to move forward and "carefully limited discovery" to take place.
The defendants who contracted to provide waste disposal services for United States operations in Iraq and Afghanistan are Texas-based contractors KBR, Inc.; Kellogg, Brown & Root Services, Inc.; Kellogg, Brown & Root LLC; and Halliburton Company. The plaintiffs seek monetary damages to compensate them for physical injuries, emotional distress, fear of future disease and the need for continued medical treatment and monitoring.
Thanksgiving will be Thursday and service members will remain in Iraq because that war didn't end. In addition, veterans of both it and Afghanistan will include many who are fighting for treatment, some even fighting for breath. That is violence, that is ongoing violence and Congress needs to start funding real and full benefits.
Violence continued today in Iraq as well . . .
Reuters notes a Kirkuk roadside bombing left two people injured, a Baghdad roadside bombing left one person injured, a second Baghdad roadside bombing injured an Iraqi soldier, 2 Tuk Khurmato roadside bombings claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldier and, dropping back to Monday, a Ramadi roadside bombing injured one person, a Samarra roadside bombing injured a police officer.
Reuters notes 1 Ministry of Higher Education worker was shot dead in Baghdad, 1 Ministry of Municipalities worker was shot dead in Baghdad (both murders used guns with silencers), an armed clash at a Mosul military checkpoint in which Iraqi soldiers returned fire (following grenade attacks) and shot dead 2 suspects, 1 suspect was wounded in Mosul when police shot him, and, dropping back to Monday, 2 "government employees" were shot dead in Baghdad.
Reuters notes 1 male corpse was discovered in Mosul late last night.
Since Friday, 2 US soldiers have died. Sunday, US military announced: "BAGHDAD -- A United States Forces -- Iraq Soldier died of wounds sustained from enemy small arms fire Sunday during advisory operations in Northern Iraq. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is currently under investigation." Yesterday DoD identified the fallen: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn. Sgt. David J. Luff Jr., 29, of Hamilton, Ohio, died Nov. 21 in Tikrit, Iraq, of wounds suffered when insurgents attacked his unit with small arms fire. He was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. For more information, media should contact the 25th Infantry Division public affairs office at 808-655-6361 or 808-655-6343."
Luff's death we noted in yesterday's snapshot. A friend pointed out to me that there was a death before that which I missed (my apologies). Friday USF announced, "BAGHDAD – A United States Forces – Iraq Soldier died during physical training at Joint Base Balad, Iraq on Friday. The name of the deceased is being withheld pending notification of next of kin and release by the Department of Defense. The names of service members are announced through the U.S. Department of Defense official website at http://www.defenselink.mil/releases/. The announcements are made on the Web site no earlier than 24 hours after notification of the service member's primary next of kin. The incident is under investigation." Yesterday, DoD identified the fallen: "The Department of Defense announced today the death of a soldier who was supporting Operation New Dawn. Staff Sgt. Loleni W. Gandy, 36, of Pago Pago, American Samoa, died Nov. 19 in Balad, Iraq, in a non-combat related incident. He was assigned to the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command, Des Moines, Iowa. For more information, media should contact the 103rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command public affairs office at 515-867-9858 or 515-285-4692, ext. 3071." That's two deaths. Currently, the (PDF format warning) DoD count of Americans killed serving in Iraq stands at 4432.
Staying with the violence, Iraqi Christians have been targeted since the start of the illegal war. The latest wave started on October 31st when assailants attacked Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad and at least 70 people died with at least another seventy wounded. Iraqis covered in the press -- in the foreign press, little coverage on this comes from the domestic press -- would state in that immediate aftermath that they were thinking of moving to Mosul but a relative or friend warned them that it wasn't safe there. Mosul was the focus of a 2008 wave of assaults on Iraqi Christians and, since the siege of the Church in Baghdad, Mosul's again become a place where Iraqi Christians are targeted. Yesterdaythree more Christians turned up dead in Mosul. The Los Angeles Times reports that a Ninawa Governorate source states there was also an attack on a family of Christians in Mosul that citizens were able to stop. Larisa Epatko (PBS' NewsHour -- link has text and videos) reports today on how this targeting is "driving fear into the hearts of the remaining members of this religious minority in Iraq, and causing many to seek sanctuary in other places." She speaks with the Tennessee-based Iraqi Christians in Need whose Susan Dakak states, "None of the Iraqi Christians want to leave their homeland, because that's their home and they want to stay there. They're leaving because they have to." Hamid Ahmed (Associated Press) reports today that Iraqi MP Younadem Kana is trashing "the nations that have offered asylum to" Iraqi Christians and he then opened up the full crazy as he began attackin France and Germany by saying their offers were part of "foreign agendas that aim to deplete Iraq's Christian community."
David Frost: Now obviously Christians in Iraq are getting two very different pieces of advice in various churches and so on. On the one hand, 'we must stay,' one bishop was saying, 'we must stay because we must bear witness to our faith in Iraq. We cannot be pushed out.' And then there are other bishops and others who say, 'No, it's crazy to stay in Iraq. We must persuade our people to leave because their lives are in danger and every day they stay there their lives are in more danger.' Which would be your advice?
Father Nizar Semaan: My advice, if the people -- My advice, it's my Church's advice -- Iraqi bishops, not just one bishop, many Iraqi bishops, they say the same thing: Encourage the faithful to stay there, to be a witness of their faith. We know it's hard, we know it's terrible time, we know it's difficult, we know a human being sometime cannot stand it, but we are Christian, we are original people of this land and I think our leaving now, exactly in this time, it's like giving a victory to a terroristic group.
By that 'logic,' the Jews who escaped the Nazis were handing the Nazis a victory. No, it's not really logic at all. The opinion of this site is that Iraqi Christians in Iraq will make the decision for themselves. And it takes a lot of gall for a priest living in London to claim 'we' should stay in Iraq. Father Nizar Semaan is always around to speak for Iraqi Christians in Iraq -- from London. I seem to recall his cheerleading the ILLEGAL WAR -- even the Church called it illegal -- and doing so throughout the first years of the war. I seem to recall his infamous statements on the capture of Saddam Hussein. I seem to recall his lamenting just a little while ago that Mosul had less and less Christians and less and less Churches -- and all of this, I seem to recall -- were observations he made from London.
I happen to know he is one of the ones who just 'knows' -- any day now -- Iraqi Christians are going to get their own land. That's highly unlikely. But could part of the reason for his insisting that Iraqi Christians remain in Iraq be due to the fact that he's angling for the government of Iraq to create a Christian region? Yeah, his motives are suspect. His intelligence is also in doubt. He spoke with Frost about the need for a fatwa. He also spoke about that with Rebecca Anderson on CNN International's Connect the World.
Rebecca Anderson: And, Father, you're calling on Islamic leaders to help protect Christians by issuing -- and I was quite surprised to hear this -- a fatwa against the killings. We welcome you to the show. Just explain why you've done that.
Father Nizar Semaan: Because we thought it was just. As we like to say in the Middle East, we have to cooperate with our brothers and sisters there. I mean it was the only way to be protected in that area. And if our Muslim brothers, I mean the head of our Muslim brothers, they will issue this kind of fatwa to prohibit to kill the Christians, I think this is -- it will be a big victory, not just for the Christians, but either for the Islamic religion itself, [. . .]
Rebecca Anderson: What sort of response have you had from the Islamic community?
Father Nizar Semaan: No one answered me positively. And I wish to hear the answer this.
No one answered him. Gee, what a puzzler.
Turning to real thought -- as opposed to delusional fantasies -- today the British think tank, one of the oldest surviving think tanks, Chatham House issues a new report by Dawn Chatty. Two pages [PDF format warning] entitled "Seeking Safety" cover Iraqi refugees.
Four million refugees have fled Iraq since the invasion of March 2003. Most are in the Middle East, a region which is now home to more than a third of the world's refugees. These numbers are now bound to grow as Iraq's Nestorian or Assyrian Christians -- nearly half a million -- are increasingly targeted by insurgents.
Jordan already provides shelter for over one million Palestinians and Syria nearly half that number. Crucially, despite the tolerance of their hosts, Iraqis' recent refuge in the neighboruing countries of Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon is rapidly becoming a protracted crisis. Unwilling to return and largely unable to emigrate further west or north, Iraq's refugees are in a perilous situation which needs to be recognised and addressed by the western powers whose military action created this humanitarian crisis.
It's a crisis and the same US government which refused to grant sanctuary to the passengers of the St. Louis in 1939 -- thereby dooming them to concentration camps -- with many dying in them -- now refuses to do a thing to help. The US president can't even call out the targeting of Iraqi Christians. Has thus far refused to publicly acknowledge it. Just like FDR refused to acknowledge the plea from the passengers of the St. Louis.
Washington, D.C. -- Today, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will release the 2010 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom, an annual examination of "the legal status of religious freedom as well as the attitudes towards it, in almost 200 countries and territories around the world." Human Rights First is urging the administration to use the report to strengthen efforts to protect religious minorities around the world -- such as the Iraqi Christians -- and to combat defamation of religion laws that are used to silence debate and dissent and persecute religious minorities.
[. . .]
In Iraq, the Christian community has recently been targeted for brutal attack. This fall, the United Nations General Assembly will engage in a debate over a contentious "defamation of religions" resolution. Human Rights First has found that defamation laws are frequently used to target individuals for the peaceful expression of political or religious views. A recent report issued by the organization, Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing "Defamation of Religions," details more than 50 recent cases from 15 countries that provide a window into how national blasphemy laws are abused by governments. The real-life stories in this report document how time and again, accusations of blasphemy have resulted in arrests and arbitrary detentions and have sparked assaults, murders and mob attacks.
As the State Department releases today's report, Human Rights First is urging the administration to maintain its position against such a measure at the United Nations and to urge other nations to join in opposing its passage.
It is also urging the administration to respond to a series of recent attacks targeting Christians in Iraq. Among the group's key recommendations are the following:
The United States should continue to support the protection of Iraqi refugees and displaced people, by leading the international community in providing assistance for Iraqis who have been displaced by the violence in Iraq and by encouraging other states to join more robustly in this effort.
The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should take additional steps to improve the pace of resettlement for Iraqi refugees -- at present, they can wait a year or more for their applications to be processed -- so that refugees are not left stranded in difficult or dangerous circumstances for extended periods of time;
The Department of State, with other relevant agencies, should enhance capacity to expedite the resettlement of refugees who face imminent harm by developing a transparent and formal expedited procedure for refugees who face an imminent risk of harm; and
The Department of State, working with the Department of Homeland Security and intelligence agencies, should improve the staffing, coordination, and timeliness of the security clearance process so that Iraqi refugees are not left stranded in difficult and dangerous situations.
"In many parts of the world, people are in danger because of how they choose to worship. The United States must fulfill its promise to protect those fleeing persecution," Stahnke concluded.
Like the targeting, the political stalemate continues.
March 7th, Iraq concluded Parliamentary elections. The Guardian's editorial board noted in August, "These elections were hailed prematurely by Mr Obama as a success, but everything that has happened since has surely doused that optimism in a cold shower of reality." 163 seats are needed to form the executive government (prime minister and council of ministers). When no single slate wins 163 seats (or possibly higher -- 163 is the number today but the Parliament added seats this election and, in four more years, they may add more which could increase the number of seats needed to form the executive government), power-sharing coalitions must be formed with other slates, parties and/or individual candidates. (Eight Parliament seats were awarded, for example, to minority candidates who represent various religious minorities in Iraq.) Ayad Allawi is the head of Iraqiya which won 91 seats in the Parliament making it the biggest seat holder. Second place went to State Of Law which Nouri al-Maliki, the current prime minister, heads. They won 89 seats. Nouri made a big show of lodging complaints and issuing allegations to distract and delay the certification of the initial results while he formed a power-sharing coalition with third place winner Iraqi National Alliance -- this coalition still does not give them 163 seats. November 10th a power sharing deal resulted in the Parliament meeting for the second time and voting in a Speaker. And then Iraqiya felt double crossed on the deal and the bulk of their members stormed out of the Parliament. David Ignatius (Washington Post) explains, "The fragility of the coalition was dramatically obvious Thursday as members of the Iraqiya party, which represents Sunnis, walked out of Parliament, claiming that they were already being double-crossed by Maliki. Iraqi politics is always an exercise in brinkmanship, and the compromises unfortunately remain of the save-your-neck variety, rather than reflecting a deeper accord. " After that, Jalal Talabani was voted President of Iraq. Talabani then named Nouri as the prime minister-delegate. If Nouri can meet the conditions outlined in Article 76 of the Constitution (basically nominate ministers for each council and have Parliament vote to approve each one with a minimum of 163 votes each time and to vote for his council program) within thirty days, he becomes the prime minister. If not, Talabani must name another prime minister-delegate. . In 2005, Iraq took four months and seven days to pick a prime minister-delegate. It took eight months and two days to name Nouri as prime minister-delegate. His first go-round, on April 22, 2006, his thirty day limit kicked in. May 20, 2006, he announced his cabinet -- sort of. Sort of because he didn't nominate a Minister of Defense, a Minister of Interior and a Minister of a Natioanl Security. This was accomplished, John F. Burns wrote in "For Some, a Last, Best Hope for U.S. Efforts in Iraq" (New York Times), only with "muscular" assistance from the Bush White House. Nouri declared he would be the Interior Ministry temporarily. Temporarily lasted until June 8, 2006. This was when the US was able to strong-arm, when they'd knocked out the other choice for prime minister (Ibrahim al-Jaafari) to install puppet Nouri and when they had over 100,000 troops on the ground in Iraq. Nouri had no competition. That's very different from today. The Constitution is very clear and it is doubtful his opponents -- including within his own alliance -- will look the other way if he can't fill all the posts in 30 days. As Leila Fadel (Washington Post) observes, "With the three top slots resolved, Maliki will now begin to distribute ministries and other top jobs, a process that has the potential to be as divisive as the initial phase of government formation." Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) points out, "Maliki now has 30 days to decide on cabinet posts - some of which will likely go to Iraqiya - and put together a full government. His governing coalition owes part of its existence to followers of hard-line cleric Muqtada al Sadr, leading Sunnis and others to believe that his government will be indebted to Iran." The stalemate ends when the country has a prime minister. It is now eight months, sixteen days and counting. Space limitations (I'm re-editing the snapshot in a second dictation attempt, it's just too long to 'hit' the site via e-mail) mean we'll just note it continues and pick up tomorrow when we will hopefully be able to note Ernesto Londono's article for the Washington Post.
Turning to the US, the latest Law and Disorder Radio began airing this week (on WBAI Monday morning and around the country throughout the week). Hosts Heidi Boghosian, Michael Ratner (click here for an ISR interview with Michael) and Michael S. Smith noted what to do when questioned by government agents.
Michael S. Smith: Heidi, congratulations, I'm holding in my hand this beautiful red and white and yellow pamphlet "You Have The Right To Remain Silent." Congratulations on getting this out. This National Lawyers Guild pamphlet is going to come in very handy.
Heidi Boghosian: Thanks, Michael, it's actually a Know Your Rights guide for law enforcement encounters and we designed it specifically so that it could fit in the rear pocket of someone's jeans or pants. It has basic know-your-rights information: what to do if the FBI comes to your door, what if you're not a citizen, I think there's something about rights at airports, if you're under 18. It's free of charge [to download] at www.nlg.org/ and if you want to get bulk amounts we will send you fifty free of charge and then we just ask for shipping & handling for orders above that.
Michael Ratner: It's interesting that it fits into your pocket because you know, Michael and I and you -- well you're not as old as us -- but when we used to give advice to people at demonstrations, we used to tell them to sew their pockets up so you couldn't plant -- the cops couldn't plant -- marijuana in their pockets. So you'd go to demonstrations with all your pockets sewn up. But at least -- Maybe they don't do that as much. You can carry this little book with you instead of writing the whole thing on your arm.
Heidi Boghosian: I'm speechless.
Michael S. Smith: She's speechless.
Heidi Boghosian: That's fascinating.
Michael Ratner: And about pockets, that's also interesting, my daughter once had to an assignment about clothes for boys or girls when she was a little girl. And, of course, what you notice is that girl's clothes have no pockets.
Heidi Boghosian: I know. I hate that.
Michael Ratner: It's terrible.
Heidi Boghosian: I only buy things with pockets.
Michael Ratner: And it's a weird sexual discrimination. Boys are supposed to carry all these things but girls --
Heidi Boghosian: I know they have to have a pocket book.
Michael Ratner: But back to the pocketing Guild pamphlet called?
Michael Ratner: Now Michael's going to say something about the substance of it.
Michael S. Smith: If you receive a subpeona call the NLG national office hotline at 888-NLG-ECOL I'll repeat 888-654-3265.
Michael Ratner: Or if the FBI starts to question you, don't answer even the first question. Just say "I don't want to speak to the FBI" or refer them to your lawyer. [laughing] And that's H-e-i-d -- No, no. But in any case, you should refer them to your lawyer or just say you're not talking to the FBI. And it's such a short little pamphlet, it's perfect for taking to demos, it doesn't have our basic position about the FBI which is: Once you start talking to the FBI or Homeland Security or any of these so-called law enforcement or police intelligence there's the potato chip example. Once you start eating potato chips, you can't stop. It's the same for talking. Heidi's waiving her arms.
Heidi Boghosian: Michael, that's a great point. And, in fact, we do have a section called "Standing Up For Free Speech." I just want to quote one sentence or two. "Informed resistance to these tactics and steadfast defense of your and others' rights can bring positive results. Each person who takes a courageous stand makes future resistance to government oppression easier for all." So just to remind listeners, if you'd like a copy or multiple copies, it's called "You Have The Right To Remain Silent: A Know Your Rights Guide For Law Enforcement Encounters" and it's available through the National Lawyers Guild, www.nlg.org/.
Two things on the above. One, you're being questioned and you don't have a lawyer? Doesn't matter. State your attorney will contact them or that you want to speak to an attorney first. Then you can contact the National Lawyers Guild at the number given above. Second, you've spoken to the officers already? You can stop at any time. It's better not to have spoken, to have immediately said you want to speak to your attorney but you can do that in the midst of answering the first time or the second time or whenever. You're on stronger ground for your own interests by sticking to that from the start; however, your answering questions earlier does not mean that you've surrendered the right to speak to an attorney. (We're talking about questioning, not being charged. When you're questioned, you have to find your own attorney. If you're charged and can't afford an attorney, the government has to provide you with one.)
Now the advice that the Michaels and Heidi are offering is important every day of the week but it has a special urgency since the US Justice Dept began targeting activist. Friday, September 24th FBI raids took place on at least seven homes of peace activists -- the FBI admits to raiding seven homes -- and the FBI raided the offices of Anti-War Committee. Just as that news was breaking, the National Lawyers Guild issued a new report, Heidi Boghosian's [PDF format warning] "The Policing of Political Speech: Constraints on Mass Dissent in the US." Heidi and Michael S. Smith and Michael Ratner covered the topic on WBAI's Law and Disorder Radio including during a conversation with Margaret Ratner-Kunstler which you can hear at the program's site by going into the archives and the program has also transcribed their discussion with Margaret and you can read it here. Nicole Colson (US Socialist Worker) spoke with Michael Ratner about the raids and you can also refer to that. Angela Davis knows more than a little about being targeted for activism. And those targeted today can realize that Angela survived it -- and it was wicked -- and went on to become one of the country's most respected professors. At ZNet last week, she shared her thoughts on the latest wave of targeting:
The FBI seized computers, cell phones, boxes of papers and personal possessions from all 14. They served grand jury subpoenas on many of them. The FBI announced they were investigating possible "material support" to terrorist groups. But it appears that their real purpose is to disrupt the growing unity of the majority of Americans who are critical of the wars and occupations being carried out today in Iraq and Afghanistan, who oppose U. S. support for violence against trade unionists in Colombia and against Palestinians by the Israeli government in Israel, on the West Bank, and in Gaza. The only way the FBI's actions make any sense at all is to see them as an attempt to isolate and intimidate any who would dissent from government policy or speak out against injustice. These raids violate the spirit and the letter of the Bill of Rights. They endanger the freedom of the entire U. S. population.
We learned bitter lessons from the FBI's COINTELPRO repression in the 1960s, in which African American leaders, including Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and leaders of the Black Panther Party such as Fred Hampton, were targeted for assassination. Progressive movements were targeted for disruption.
I urge President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to
·Direct the FBI to return the belongings seized.
·Dissolve the grand juries threatening an inquisition against peace and solidarity activists and movements.
·Cancel all subpoenas to appear before the grand jury in Chicago.
I would like to work with my Congressman Barbara Lee to support initiatives in Congress for the repeal of provisions of law that define solidarity with human rights abroad as "material support" for terrorism. The rights of all Americans must be preserved to peaceably assemble and petition their government to end support for repressive and militarist governments abroad, and states that commit war crimes and terrorist acts against their own or other people struggling for basic human rights.
Staying on legal but moving over to a class essay:
Over in Iraq and Afghanistan killing becomes a habit, a way of life, a drug to me and to other soldiers like me who need to feel like we can survive off of it. It is something that I do not just want, but something I really need so I can feel like myself. Killing a man and looking into his eyes, I see his soul draining from his body; I am taking away his life for the harm he has caused me, my family, my country.
Killing is a drug to me and has been ever since the first time I have killed someone. At first, it was weird and felt wrong, but by the time of the third and fourth killing it feels so natural. It feels like I could do this for the rest of my life and it makes me happy.
There are several addictions in war, but this one is mine. This is what I was trained to do and now I cannot get rid of it; it will be with me for the rest of my life and hurts me that I cannot go back to war and kill again, because I would love too.
That's a portion of an essay a student wrote. It's a brief essay, the Baltimore Sun has it here in full. The essay is well written and anything any student should be proud of and any professor should find a pleasure to read. This essay got more than high marks, it got Charles Whittington banned from campus. The Iraq War veteran attends Community College of Baltimore in Maryland and he's been barred from campus as a result of his essay. Jennifer Rizzo (CNN -- link has text and video) reports, "Concerned about school safety, the college's administration has temporarily removed Whittington from campus, issuing a notice of trespass that does not allow him to enter the campus or attend classes, according to a school spokeswoman." Charles Whittington has several defenses of his essay. In my opinion, he doesn't need any of them. Students aren't targeted or threatened in his essay. His essay is clearly an attempt at confessional writing and, to do that, you highlight a portion of yourself, bring it to the fore. It's not who you are, it is a part of who you are. It's not the overwhelming quality. You would expect that might be confusing to some people; however, we're talking higher education. Or is the faculty at Community College of Baltimore nothing but a bunch of rejects who couldn't grasp the basics of what they've been tasked to encourage the pursuit of?
He shared something he felt -- which was the assignment -- and he did so in a well written manner. How much a part of him this is only he knows. That's what happens when you go deep inside yourself. You pull out a few things and maybe they're dominant traits/memories/what have you, maybe they're not. (In fact, students have -- shocking though it may be to some -- faked things on writing assignments before.) To suspend him over this paper is appalling. He did the assignment, the professor like the paper. What message is the junior college sending when a student completes an assignment and completes it to satisfaction only to then be barred from campus because of the assignment? That doesn't encourage academic pursuit or any kind of respect for learning. We could and would say more but there's just not anymore space left in this snapshot.