Archive for October, 2009

  • Robert Taylor
  • 31
  • Oct
  • 09

One of the very first things President Obama did when taking office was sign an executive order promising to close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp within a year. This move was great news to civil libertarians, since the Gitmo Gulag* is one of the worst stains on the American legal system in its history.

The one year window that Obama gave is almost up, and his Attorney General Eric Holder has recently said that closing the prison by the January 22nd deadline may not be a done deal, thanks to a vote in the Senate last May that denied the Obama Administration the funds required to do so. But as the LA Times noted in a great article last Thursday, the 200 detainees that are still caged off the shores of Cuba may receive trials sooner than we think.

Last week, however, the Senate approved and sent to Obama a budget measure that allows the government to continue transferring detainees here as long as it develops new guidelines and provides 15 days’ notice before a prisoner is moved.

That legislation will make it easier to close the now infamous detention center, where the population has dwindled from nearly 800 to 220, 75 of whom have been cleared for release. But it won’t resolve the question of whether the remaining detainees will be tried in federal court, as they ought to be, or before military commissions. Nor does it clarify what Obama plans to do with detainees he says “cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.” As we have said before, indefinite detention is repugnant to the U.S. legal tradition and should be a last resort.

This legislation is definitely a step in the right direction, but as the article stipulates, there is an important question that is crucial to the fate of the detainees: where will they be tried?

If they are tried in civilian courts, then there will be an excellent chance that they will be freed due to the nearly non-existent evidence against over 90% of the people held there since 2002. Nearly all of the Gitmo prisoners are completely innocent, guilty of either being in the wrong place at the wrong time, the victims of unsubstantiated claims or bribes, or who defended their homes and families from US invasion.

Unfortunately, too many Americans view these detainees as “terrorists” who don’t deserve rights, let alone a fair trial. Our government would never persecute, torture, and even kill innocent people to advance its own agenda, would they? Just look at the rubble the US government left in Waco, Texas and Ruby Ridge, Idaho.

It is highly likely that when faced with this political climate, Obama will cave and try them in military courts, where they probably will be found guilty and locked up indefinitely. I hope I’m wrong, and Obama might do the right thing and restore some sanity to our fractured legal system.

If he does, it will benefit all of us, since the policy of “preventive detention” that the Bush Administration used to justify sweeping up thousands of people around the world and locking them away included Americans citizens as well. But considering Obama’s aggressive and reckless militarism (the increase of drone strikes and nation-building in Afghanistan, shelling Somalia), it’s hard not be a cynic.

*Andy Worthington, the brave Guantanamo Bay chronicler, will be in San Francisco next month promoting his new movie, Outside the Law: Stories from Guantanamo. There are also screenings in Berkeley. Worthington is an expert on US policy at Gitmo, and I urge everyone to see the movie, or at least visit his website.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 30
  • Oct
  • 09

It’ll happen sometimes, when no one is around ruin it.  When circumstance can foil the enormity of even my ego and force upon it some measure of humility. When the fire-snorting, blowhardy self-defense throwback of constant companion cockiness can take a breather and let decent human gratitude take the wheel for a change.  When I can look up at a moon as imperfect as me and know – not think, not believe, but know - how much smaller I am than it.

To think of all the moons hanging in all the skies I’ve seen on this planet, it began with this one in this sky over a trailer park in the middle of Bumfuck, Nowhere [no zip code].

She called it a “life like a rocket,” and that it was every bit.  Against the best judgments of plebeians and patricians, against the best work of magistrates and noblemen, it went up and up and up   The smart money frequently was against me ever seeing another birthday, let alone the ridiculous expanse of humanity that has been my good fortune to bear witness.  Genetics predicted a trainwreck in slow motion instead of the first-class express out of this one-horse town, the track being laid only just before the train rattled through.

O’ the stops it made for the meager fare I held.  The white maned breakers of an angry Atlantic.  The warm glow of The Bronx from a bridge blanketed in fog.  The catapulting sunrise of the Mexican Gulf from the deck of a oil barge longer than my neighborhood.   The face of one people’s God laid out in a square kilometer of glass two centimeters square.

The youthful fury of a circle pit swinging to a song that changed their lives forever.  The sympathetic stare of an overflowing church.  The flirtatious wink of a Sunset Boulevard transvestite.  The smirk from a savior into a self-made silo of snow.  The naked terror of a colleague shit-scared by a rough wave.  The approving grin of a tandem skydiver.

The blue of the Baltic just before the sun set.  The tendril of light sneaking its way into the oldest building man had ever made.  The embarrassed giggle of a 70-year-old serenaded atop the Sears Tower. The resigned sigh of a broken old man who could have been a grieving father.  And the astonished, teary-eyed exclamation of a mother thoroughly fooled.

Every one a miracle that would have made the little life this was supposed to be as full as could be expected.  Every other a priceless gift impossible to purchase for fair market value.

In the right light at the right time, the sum of those sights has mass.  What reaction is appropriate when it is considered?

Nothing, I suppose, but to sit quietly grateful under another full moon, in awe of the shadow of my own luck.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 28
  • Oct
  • 09

Lauded as a victory for equal rights, Barack Obama signed legislation today adding sexual orientation to the criteria constituting a federal hate crime.   Becoming law just over a decade after the bill’s eponymous victims – Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. – were both savagely killed because they were gay.  Many on the left welcomed it as a solid win for the agenda, one that was sorely needed following this summer’s shellacking.  Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solomonese went so far to call the law “our nation’s first major piece of civil rights legislation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

While the backs were patted and the champagne was popped in Washington over the landmark legislation, a community on the other side of the continent grapples with a tragedy of its own.  Outside a high school in Richmond, California, a 15-year-old girl was gang-raped for two and a half hours during a Homecoming dance.  Police are now reporting as many as 20 people were watching and no one – no one – did anything to stop it.

It was an act so obscene one is revolted by even speaking of it; a crime so hateful no language can adequately describe.

In anyone’s moral spectrum, the brutal beating of Matthew Shepard, the savage dragging of James Byrd Jr. and the gang-rape of a 15-year-old at her Homecoming dance are unimaginably evil.  Each are a vile uniquely human.  Each a trespass not only against one victim, but against the entire community in which he/she lives.

How is it, then, we would create a document declaring one more vulgar than the other?  How is it we can judge one of these criminals as more disgusting than the others?  In matters this grave, is creating a distinction between them not an obscenity itself?

The monsters capable of rendering such particularly despicable deeds seem to me to be beyond classification. They are a special evil for whom no laws can be made to discourage.  The motivations that drive these people aren’t going to be tempered by penalties and mandatory sentences.  They are so deeply seated and wrong they can not be fixed.  These people that did these things are broken.   Deciding the manner in which we cast them from society offers little repair.

I’ve never been able to reconcile the adjective and noun in “hate crime.”  Murder and rape are always crimes of hate, regardless of whatever thought was in the murderer’s and rapist’s head at the time.  Our laws can only broadly classify the severity of these broadly, with each case bringing with it a special horror, each sentence we levy a correction that came far too late.

For all the hours I’ve logged in the civil rights movement of our generation – equality for all – it is hard for me to view the Shepard law as a victory.  If we are going to distinguish socially-motivated violence then sexual orientation certainly belongs in that definition, but in so creating that distinction are we not implicitly cementing the differences we wish to eradicate into our laws?  Are we not conceding that little can be done to change the environments that allowed these tragedies to occur?

When considering these crimes, the element I find most nauseating are the communities that bore them.  The crowds that stood idly by, the voices that remained silent when that evil was perpetrated before them.  The people that did these things weren’t born wanting to visit this evil upon their victims.   That lack of regard for human life was learned in Laramie, Wyoming, in Jasper, Texas, in Richmond, California, and in all the depraved pockets of America that produce this kind of vile horror.  It was learned in these climates of hate, which remain beyond the reach of law to correct.

To give their work a new name seems to be postponing the effort to change the communities that enabled them to happen.  Just defining them feels to me like giving up.

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  • Robert Taylor
  • 27
  • Oct
  • 09

One of the most tragic times of the year occurs in early November, where the US publicly celebrates and honors the sacrifices of the armed forces on Veterans Day. It is terribly tragic in the sense that while we see flags being waved and the collective cries of “support the troops,” these gestures and mantras tend to ignore the fact that soldiers are still dying in treacherous mountains 7,000 miles away.

And they’re not just coming home in coffins either. They’re reuniting with their families riddled with horrific and mysterious symptoms like chronic breathing problems, sleep apnea, skin rashes, nerve damage, and cancer. This is due to the presence of “toxic burn pits” at military bases like Camp Taji and Balad Air Force Base, where 150 tons of trash is burned a day. Ever since the US began lighting up Mesopotamian skies with bombs, US troops have been consistently exposed to this toxic. Due to the great reporting of The Military Times, the cause of the symptoms becomes a little more clear.

The Pentagon denies that these burn pits have anything to do with the soldiers’ medical problems, of course, since the Five-Sided-Monster generally views 18 and 19 year-olds as mere cannon fodder anyway.

What’s pleasantly surprising though is that Congress is finally getting a backbone and proposing legislation that is setting some actual guidelines regarding this waste to help protect out soldiers. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Tim Bishop (D-NY) and will be part of the 2010 National Defense Authorization Act if President Obama signs it into law. Here are some of the key provisions:

  • Prohibit the use of burn pits for hazardous and medical waste except if the Secretary of Defense sees no alternative;
  • Require the Department of Defense (DOD) to report to the congressional oversight committees whenever burn pits are used and justify their use, and every six months to report on their status;
  • Require DOD to develop a plan for alternatives, in order to eliminate the use of burn pits; further, DOD must report to Congress how and why they use burn pits and what they burn in them;
  • Require DOD to assess existing medical surveillance programs of burn pits exposure and make recommendations to improve them;
  • Require DOD to do a study of the effects of burning plastics in open pits and evaluate the feasibility of prohibiting the burning of plastics.

In the grand scheme of things, these measures may not seem like much. It’s a small step, but any chink in the armor of our empire is a good and necessary one.

As Veterans Day approaches, we should not look to catchphrases and slogans to honor the thousands of veterans who have lost limbs, minds, and lives. While our “leaders” dismiss the disastrous effects that our perpetual war has on the military, truly honoring our veterans means insisting that our brutal and expensive empire (with its posthumous medals, knocks on heartbroken wives’ doors, and cross-covered graves) finally comes to an end.

_

For more of Robert’s work, please visit his Libertarian Examiner blog.

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  • Rob Spectre
  • 27
  • Oct
  • 09

Barely a heartbeat after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced the Senate healthcare reform bill would include the public option, the odds on his gamble started to look longer and longer.  The White House quietly pulled back its support of Reid’s state-level opt-out provision.  The early nose counts from the press said Reid was still shy of the 60 votes needs for a cloture motion.  It didn’t take long then for a certain Connecticut independent to exploit his former colleague’s weakness.

The buzz in Washington all morning was whether or not Joe Lieberman was going to filibuster healthcare reform.  He kicked off the day announcing that he intended to filibuster the bill due to Reid’s inclusion of the public option.  His aides would confirm such throughout the day, saying the former Democrat would vote against cloture.   By the end of the day, Lieberman had returned to his usual wishy-washiness.  Talking Points Memo had the direct word:

I told Senator Reid that I’m strongly inclined–i haven’t totally decided, but I’m strongly inclined–to vote to proceed to the health care debate, even though I don’t support the bill that he’s bringing together because it’s important that we start the debate on health care reform because I want to vote for health care reform this year. But I also told him that if the bill remains what it is now, I will not be able to support a cloture motion before final passage. Therefore I will try to stop the passage of the bill.

Source: Talk Radio News Service

Photo: Talk Radio News Service

So by the close of Congressional business, all we know is that Lieberman may or may not be inclined to filibuster a bill he may or may not end up voting for, depending on “where things end up.”

What caused Lieberman to waffle after such a strong public statement earlier in the day?  Undoubtedly the immediate furious outrage on the Internet helped tilt his notoriously flaky barometer.

Joe Lieberman has been drifting in and out of trending topics on Twitter all day and little of it has been praise.  He is despised on the left for his opportunism and disdained by the right for his inconsistency.    Despite pledging to support universal healthcare just three years ago, Lieberman’s recent change of heart generated the kind of rebuke only Hell’s own Internet can spew:

Joe Lieberman is a joke… wrinkled-faced bastardo!

Joe Lieberman:  Huge douchebag, or hugest douchebag ever?

Joe Lieberman deserves a punch in the dick.

Though not as colorful, mainstream press was similarly skeptical with many talking heads observing that the senator’s flip-flop came at an awfully convenient moment politically.  Though it cannot be denied that this vote is going to be close, it is hard for many to see Lieberman’s move as anything more than a play to stay in the spotlight as Congress’s most important independent.

Many are joining the White House with a reaction decidedly unimpressed.  If an afternoon’s outrage is enough to make Lieberman waffle, his participation in the healthcare bill is unlikely to have any significance.  I think we’ve seen this picture before and know how it ends.

Joe Lieberman’s headlines today just highlight what we’ve known for a while – he’s all hat and no cowboy.

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