Monday, May 4, 2009

'One More Bubble!'

'One More Bubble!'

By Robert Parry

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When I took an editing job at Bloomberg News in March 2000, my arrival coincided with the bursting of the Internet bubble. As once-hot IPOs tanked and the Nasdaq crashed. I would joke to other editors that what the U.S. economy needed was “to build a better bubble.”

Then, to my amazement that was pretty much what happened, except that the bubble moved from the peripheral world of dot.com startups to a cornerstone of the economy, the real-estate sector. Low interest rates, exotic financial instruments and speculation pumped up the economy again, with Wall Street operatives enriching themselves as never before.

Now, as the housing bubble has burst and taken with it trillions of dollars in wealth, President Barack Obama may be right that the future U.S. economy cannot be built on another bubble, that America must get back to manufacturing products that people need.

However, that goal is endangered not only by Republicans, who seem determined to sink whatever Obama proposes, but by the fact that speculative bubbles are what make possible the obscene levels of compensation – and Wall Street is not about to give up on the golden payday.

Without bubbles, Wall Street bankers and their many cohorts could make solid salaries – as they have historically – but not bonuses in the millions of dollars a year. So, there is a powerful incentive for Wall Street to push for a continuation of the bubble economy. Perhaps the new slogan could be, “One more bubble!”

The corrupting influence of the bubble economy also is not confined to Wall Street. While it’s true that Wall Street bigwigs have sipped at this giant champagne glass of riches the most, some wealth has trickled down – not to the average Americans, of course, but to other insiders from the worlds of politics and media.

In that way, former President Bill Clinton could leave office in 2001 – having overseen the expansion of “free trade” agreements and banking deregulation – and then make millions of dollars from speaking to corporate and leadership groups, plus millions more for serving as a front man for billionaire investor Ronald Burkle and other super-rich financiers.

Wall Street analysts for CNBC and other news outlets also can duck in and out of the banking and hedge fund worlds, a la Jim Cramer, sometimes leveraging their on-air advice to the benefit of their investments or their clients. CNBC often behaves more like a booster of Wall Street interests (and a defender of lucrative compensation) than a public watchdog.

Corrosive Effects

This insider world of the big bonuses, fat salaries and hot stock tips has other corrosive effects, as financial regulators and political advisers are tempted by the princely sums that might become available to them if they play their cards the right way.

Much like Pentagon bureaucrats who sign off on unnecessary weapons systems waiting for retirement day and a seat on the corporate board of a grateful military contractor, government overseers of the financial industry have similar – and arguably greater – temptations.

In recent weeks, for instance, the public has learned that key figures in devising Obama’s strategy for combating the financial crisis have been offered – or have received – enticements from this grand world of big money.

Chief economic adviser Lawrence Summers, who as Clinton’s Treasury Secretary helped implement key deregulation of the banks, made $5.2 million in 2008 for a one-day-a-week job at the D.E. Shaw hedge fund, while also pulling in $2.7 million in speaking fees from Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and other Wall Street titans.

Even more shocking to some observers, Summers strayed from his fulltime job as president of Harvard University to do moonlighting from 2004 to 2006 as a consultant for another hedge fund, Taconic Capital Advisers.

The case of Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is a bit different, since he has spent his career in government-related agencies as a “public servant,” including Clinton’s Treasury Department, the International Monetary Fund, and the New York Federal Reserve.

But Geithner appears to have had his head turned by the pleasant luxuries of the super-rich, too.

According to a New York Times article by Jo Becker and Gretchen Morgenson, his calendars from 2007 and 2008 were chocked full of professional and private contacts with executives of banks – Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley – whose activities were regulated by Geithner’s New York Fed.

The article reported that Geithner was especially tight with executives of Citigroup and that he met frequently with Sanford Weill, a major shareholder and former chairman.

“As the bank was entering a financial tailspin, Mr. Weill approached Mr. Geithner about taking over as Citi’s chief executive,” the Times said, adding:

“But for all his ties to Citi, Mr. Geithner repeatedly missed or overlooked signs that the bank — along with the rest of the financial system — was falling apart. When he did spot trouble, analysts say, his responses [as head of the New York Fed] were too measured, or too late.”

Given the magnitude of compensation available to top executives, Weill was not just offering Geithner a job as CEO, but rather was dangling the keys to the jewelry vault at the castle, assuming that Citi did not collapse first.

Now, as Treasury secretary, Geithner is the point man for arranging massive infusions of taxpayer dollars into Citi and other major Wall Street banks to ensure that they don’t go under, that the old financial system survives.

Throwing Off the TARP

Geithner’s strategy for salvaging the banks has been criticized by some economists and many citizens as too generous with the taxpayers’ money and too lenient toward the chief culprits of the financial debacle.

But – combined with the Federal Reserve’s decision to lend the banks money at nearly zero percent interest and other emergency measures – the bailouts have put some banks in a strong enough position that they already are chafing under the federal government’s demand that they cut their compensation.

Some banks are offering to pay back the direct federal bailout money to evade the compensation constraints, while their media allies – from CNBC and Fox to the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post’s editorial page – have complained about excessive government interference in the private sector.

By escaping from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, the bankers could return to the party-on days when they viewed themselves as “masters of the universe” who could buy pretty much anything or anyone they wanted.

The pressing question about Geithner is whether his personal contacts with Weill and other banking executives – and the prospect of landing a future job as CEO of Citi or some other major bank – influenced his policy decisions.

Given the staggering sums of money, it’s hard to believe that it wouldn’t have.

After four years as a Bloomberg News editor reading proxy filings that disclose executive compensation, I came away with a profound sense that the sums had gotten so crazy that almost everyone who could grab a piece would do whatever it took to get one.

Another one of my sayings became: “The closer you are to the money, the more you get to keep.”

The balance between integrity and compensation had gotten so far out of whack that it would require a saint to put doing the right thing over taking oodles of dough, so much money that it would mean you’d never have to worry about your personal finances again.

That’s why I disagree with some analysts – such as the editorial-page editors of the Washington Post – who keep insisting that compensation is only a small part of the problem and that the public is foolish to be so outraged about bailed-out companies like AIG continuing to dole out bonuses.

It’s true that the bonuses pale when viewed next to the total scope of the financial meltdown, but the compensation is the principal motive for the extraordinary risk-taking that started the meltdown.

The compensation also influences the policymakers and regulators whose job it is to stop the high-rollers from putting the economy in jeopardy. If some government bureaucrat sees the chance for a mammoth payday in the future, who’d be surprised if the money didn’t limit acts on the people’s behalf?

And there are also the campaign checks that financial industry PACs write to helpful legislators of both parties.

In short, the multi-million-dollar bonuses and all the other fat compensation packages have distorted the American system in big ways and small.

All that Wall Street money also has left many Americans wondering if anyone – in business, politics or media – cares about the larger fate of the nation or if the primary goal right now is to inflate “one more bubble.”

Combat Operations in Fallujah

Combat Operations in Fallujah

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Indicative of the rapidly deteriorating situation in Iraq, on May 1 the US military reported the death of a Naval petty officer who was killed "on April 30 while conducting combat operations in Fallujah, Iraq." The Department of Defense report went on to explain that the sailor "was deployed with an East Coast based Navy SEAL team." That same day, the military announced the deaths of two marines "killed while conducting combat operations against enemy forces here April 30." The dateline for the latter press release is "AL ANBAR PROVINCE, Iraq." Apparently, all is not well in Fallujah and al-Anbar province. The US military, having met the fiercest resistance throughout their occupation of Iraq in these areas, is once again conducting combat operations there.

The fact that the US military has largely hung the Sahwa out to dry, exposing the 100,000 strong Sunni militia to the ire of the Maliki government for ongoing assassinations and detentions, has taken the lid off the volcano that the Sahwa were keeping from erupting. Let us remember - it was the Sahwa who kept al-Qaeda in Iraq in check, not the US military or the Iraqi military. As members of the Sahwa continue to leave their security posts due to lack of pay and being targeted by the Iraqi government, they are returning to the resistance from which most of them had emerged to join the militia.

Let us also be clear about the fact that the Sahwa allied themselves with the US military so as to protect themselves from the Shia-dominated sectarian government of Prime Minister Maliki.

I asked a good friend of mine in Baghdad to interview a Sahwa leader in the Adhamiya district of Baghdad a few days ago. The leader asked to be identified as Abu Ahmed. He is 40 years old, married, has four children, and had this to say, "I would like to say that the Iraqi Government, and especially Mr. Maliki, are continuing to target us. They have been doing this from the beginning, and they continue to do this against the Sahwa. The reason is because we are Sunni and the Iraqi government are a sectarian government."

Abu Ahmed said he and his fellow Sahwa members support the immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces "and then we can change our government by ourselves and build a nationalist government to replace this current sectarian government."

He then added, succinctly, "Our purpose is to end the occupation, end al-Qaeda, and make a new Iraq that is safe."

Fate, as if to underscore his point, found rivers of blood filling the streets of Baghdad the very next day. Simultaneous bombings in largely Shiite districts of the capital city killed more than 51 people. After the bombings, residents of the areas threw shoes and stones at Iraqi soldiers who arrived at the scene, blaming the soldiers for failing to protect them. A resident, in the aftermath of the bombings, expressed his rage to a reporter while Iraqi soldiers continued shooting at innocent people, "Is that what we deserve, on top of the bombs, that they shoot at people? Is this Maliki's government? Instead of helping us evacuate the wounded, they started shooting at us. This is Maliki's government. Can you hear the shooting? They're shooting at people. People are lying underneath cars."

At the end of the day, over 70 Iraqis had died, with at least 116 wounded. Underscoring the sectarian nature of the government, Baghdad security spokesman Maj. Gen. Qassim Atta told reporters, "This series of bombings was supposed to be carried out on the 28th, the birthday of Saddam Hussein," referencing the former dictator executed in December 2006.

Meanwhile, that same day, roadside bombs targeted US patrols in two areas of Baghdad.

My Iraqi journalist friend in Baghdad, who interviewed Abu Ahmed, commented on the aftermath of the bombings that day, "The Iraqi situation is getting so much worse Mr. Dahr. So many car bombs explode in Baghdad now - it is daily. All the streets are closed today so the police and army can search every car, checking everything, and we can't move or work in this situation at all. And yet, the bombings continue nonstop."

As the calendar turned to May, April was the deadliest month since September for US troops, with at least 18 dead, doubling the previous month's total. April also found the most troops killed in combat in a month so far this year. April was also the deadliest month for Iraqis in over a year.

In a move strengthening US/Iraqi relations, Brig. Gen. Peter Bayer, the chief of staff for the US military's daily operations in Iraq, said that a US military raid in Kut that killed a man and woman, which had ignited tempers across the country and caused Prime Minister Maliki to demand the responsible soldiers to be handed over to Iraqi authorities, told reporters the raid was "lawful and legal," and responded to the question of whether American soldiers would appear in Iraqi courts with, "No. Absolutely not."

So much for Iraqi sovereignty.

On May 2, two more soldiers were killed in the northern city of Mosul, while US forces were attacked with roadside bombs in both Basra and Fallujah. Clearly, resistance against the occupation is once again nationwide, spanning from Iraq's northernmost and southernmost cities. Now that the British are pulling out of their area of control in Southern Iraq, US troops are filling the void - hence, the attack in Basra. Expect these to increase rapidly, particularly in light of events such as the Kut raid.

The signs of Iraqi government attacks against Sahwa members show no sign of abating either, as that day gunmen attacked a Sahwa checkpoint in Yusufiya, injuring a Sahwa fighter. Meanwhile, Iran was shelling northern Iraq - lobbing artillery shells into suspected Party of Free Life of Kurdistan (PJAK) locations there. The PJAK are supported by the US, as they have been conducting covert destabilization operations in Iran for months now. The northwestern area of Iraq that borders Turkey was not without violence either. There, Turkish forces launched an airstrike just hours after ten Turkish soldiers were killed in what was believed to be a Kurdish rebel strike in Turkey. Turkish airstrikes in northern Iraq are, however, nothing new. They've been a weekly or bi-monthly occurrence for several months running now.

The meat grinder that is the US occupation of Iraq is picking up speed once again. Attacks against both Iraqi civilians and US soldiers are increasing dramatically. At the time of this writing, five soldiers have been killed in the last four days, over a dozen innocent Iraqis have been slaughtered, and over a dozen have been wounded. Iraqi government attacks on the Sahwa continue, al-Qaeda is now operating largely at will, and attacks on US forces are now happening all over Iraq - including in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Iraq.

Combat operations in Fallujah. A recent UN report documenting ongoing US torturing of Iraqis in military detention facilities in Iraq. Roadside bomb attacks against US forces spanning the entire geography of the country. Iraqis being slaughtered in numbers not seen since George W. Bush still had eight months left in his second term.

What has changed in Iraq?


Obama administration indicates military commission trials to resume

Obama administration indicates military commission trials to resume

By Tom Eley

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Recent statements by top Obama administration officials and reports in the New York Times and Washington Post indicate that President Barack Obama plans to resume the system of military commission trials for some Guantánamo prisoners.

The articles, which are based on anonymous White House sources, and statements by Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Attorney General Eric Holder appear designed to prepare public opinion for a revival of the trials, which were temporarily suspended in an order issued by Obama on the day of his inauguration. The suspension is due to end May 20.

In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, Gates was asked whether the Guantánamo military commission system would be shut down, to which he responded, “not at all,” and added that “the commissions are very much still on the table.”

At a news conference last week, Holder said that “it may be difficult for some of those high-value detainees to be tried in a normal federal court.”

The Times and Post articles, published Saturday and Sunday, respectively, broadly indicate that military commission trials would be used for some of the 241 prisoners still held at Guantánamo.

New trials would likely be preceded by a congressional revision of the Military Tribunal Act of 2006, which sanctioned, with substantial Democratic support, the Guantánamo system of drumhead military courts. The purpose of such a change would be to lend the trials a veneer of legal legitimacy, while overcoming obstacles that prevented the Bush administration from obtaining convictions.

In congressional testimony last week, Holder said any new military commission trials “would be different from those that were previously in place” and would have “significant changes made to the manner in which they would be conducted.” The determination of whether to try detainees in US courts or in military tribunals would be decided on a case-by-case basis, Holder said.

In his testimony, Gates raised such changes rhetorically, asking, “Should there be any changes to the military commission law, if the decision is made to retain the military commissions?”

According an anonymous official cited by the Post, Obama will likely ask for a three-month delay in the scheduled resumption of military commission proceedings. The Post said the administration “planned to use the extra time” to ask Congress to “tweak” the Military Commission Act.

Obama finds himself in a quandary. Administration officials fear that prosecutions in the US court system could, according to the Times, founder because judges “could make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.”

In other words, the evidence which the government wishes to use against detainees is fatally tainted by the use of torture or by its hearsay character. Such “evidence” is disallowed in any civilian court that adheres to minimal principles of due process laid down by the US Constitution and by statute.

As the Times notes, such evidence “is central to many Guantánamo cases because they are based on intelligence reports and detainees may never be permitted to cross-examine the sources of those reports.”

Another problem for the administration in allowing cases to be heard in civilian courts is the possibility of more public revelations of the torture methods employed by the US government as well as the exposure of connections between alleged terrorists and US intelligence agencies.

The administration continues to explore other avenues. Ongoing efforts to find third-party nations willing to accept the Guantánamo inmates have largely failed.

In his Congressional testimony, Gates said the Obama administration might seek to place up to 100 of the Guantánamo inmates in US prisons without trial or judicial review. The administration has asked Congress to appropriate $50 million to construct new domestic prisons for terror suspects it claims cannot be tried in federal courts.

Human rights groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and Human Rights First were quick to raise objections to any resuscitation of the military tribunals. Jonathan Hafetz, an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) attorney, interviewed by the internet site Public Record, called military commissions a “failed experiment in lawlessness,” adding, “the only reason to perpetuate to military commissions in any form would be to circumvent the protections of the criminal justice system and insulate torture and other abuses from review.”

Francis A. Boyle, a professor at the University of Illinois law school and a specialist in international laws of war, called military tribunals “kangaroo courts” that “violate the Geneva Conventions and are thus a war crime.” He added, “There is no way they can be reformed.”

According to Boyle, the Geneva Conventions “require the use of regular, organized courts, which in this case would mean prosecution in United States Federal District Courts or else prosecution by means of formal US military court-martial proceedings with all the protections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. To do otherwise is a war crime.”

Obama’s moves toward continuing the Guantánamo military commission trials is the latest exposure of his rhetoric about “change” and his pretense of breaking with the anti-democratic practices of the Bush administration.

When Obama ran for president, he repeatedly pledged to shut down the Guantánamo prison camp, which he called a “legal black hole.” Obama said he would “reject the Military Commissions Act,” and try terror detainees in the US court system. Then, in his January 20 executive order, issued to great media fanfare, Obama temporarily suspended ongoing cases in the military tribunal system.

His evident moves to revive the tribunals follow the decision to release four Bush administration Office of the Legal Counsel memos justifying torture, in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU. In the face of denunciations from the Republican Party and the national security apparatus, Obama has promised that there will be no investigations of Bush administration officials who ordered torture, or the CIA operatives who carried it out.

The fundamental reason that Obama now seeks to make use of the military tribunal system is that his administration, no less than that of Bush, is an instrument of American imperialism.

The military tribunal system, along with torture, grew out of a more fundamental criminal act: the launching of illegal and aggressive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. These illegal wars enjoyed the support of the Republican and Democratic parties, as well as the media. As the World Socialist Web Site noted in a recent Perspective, “far from being an accidental or excessive byproduct, torture was an essential component in creating the web of lies and disinformation that allowed these wars to proceed.”

The centrality of the launching of aggressive war to other war crimes was established in the Nuremburg trials of Germany’s Nazi leadership in the wake of World War II. The victorious Allies who oversaw the trials defined this as the crime of crimes, from which all others flowed.

Obama is committed to carrying on the illegal war in Iraq and has escalated the war in Afghanistan and expanded it to neighboring Pakistan—like Bush, all in the name of fighting terrorism. It follows from this policy that Obama will not relinquish the anti-democratic and criminal methods of “the war on terror.”

Appeals court rejects Obama state secrets claim in rendition case

Appeals court rejects Obama state secrets claim in rendition case

By John Andrews

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On April 28, a three-judge federal appellate court unanimously reinstated the lawsuit brought by five men against a Boeing subsidiary for allegedly flying them to secret prisons around the world to be tortured as part of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition” program. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected arguments by lawyers, first from the Bush administration and later from the Obama administration, that the so-called “state secrets” doctrine bars the plaintiffs’ claims.

The five men, Ahmed Agiza, Abou Elkassim Britel, Binyam Mohamed, Bisher alRawi, and Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah, sued Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., under the Alien Tort Statute, which allows foreign citizens to file against US corporations in US courts for money damages based on human rights violations committed overseas. The case was brought in San Jose, the center of California’s high-tech industry, because Jeppesen maintains its headquarters there.

Before the company was required to respond, Bush administration lawyers intervened, filing a motion to dismiss supported by affidavits of then-CIA director Michael Hayden—one public and one classified. The public affidavit stated that “disclosure of the information covered by this privilege assertion reasonably could be expected to cause serious—and in some instances, exceptionally grave—damage to the national security of the United States and, therefore, the information should be excluded from any use in this case.”

United States District Judge James Ware dismissed the lawsuit, ruling that it could not proceed because “the very subject matter of this case is a state secret.” The plaintiffs appealed and Bush administration lawyers filed briefs defending the ruling.

By the time of the February 9 oral argument, however, Barack Obama had assumed the presidency and appointed Eric Holder as attorney general.

Despite Obama’s repeated campaign pledges to repudiate the Bush administration’s grotesque human rights violations and promote governmental “transparency,” lawyers from his Department of Justice defended the lower court ruling at oral argument. Afterwards, Ben Wizner, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer representing the plaintiffs, told the press, “We are shocked and deeply disappointed that the Justice Department has chosen to continue the Bush administration’s practice of dodging judicial scrutiny of extraordinary rendition and torture.” (See “Obama administration defends torturers”)

The World Socialist Web Site is neither shocked nor disappointed. Throughout the recent presidential campaign the WSWS warned that an Obama administration would defend the same social and class interests as the previous one, and would use similar methods.

Last week’s decision, authored by Clinton appointee Michael D. Hawkins—considered a Ninth Circuit moderate—squarely rejected the lower court’s “subject matter” argument, but left open the possibility that the US government could still refuse to turn over evidence to protect “state secrets,” forcing a later dismissal of the case if the evidence was essential either for the plaintiffs’ proof or Jeppesen’s defense.

Hawkins began his written opinion by presenting a record of stomach-churning abuses, perhaps unprecedented in any US judicial precedent addressing the consequences of actions taken by US government agents.

Agiza, an Egyptian, was arrested by Swedish authorities, transferred to US custody and then flown to Egypt. Held for five weeks “in a squalid, windowless and frigid cell,” Agiza was beaten and “subjected to electric shock through electrodes attached to his ear lobes, nipples, and genitals.” After two-and-a-half years of detention, he received a six-hour trial in a military court and was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. The Swedish government has publicly acknowledged Agiza’s rendition and torture.

Britel, an Italian citizen of Moroccan origin, was captured in Pakistan, turned over to US officials, and flown to Morocco. While being held incommunicado, “he was beaten, deprived of sleep and food, and threatened with sexual torture, including sodomy with a bottle and castration. After being released and re-detained, Britel was coerced into signing a false confession, convicted of terrorism-related charges, and sentenced to 15 years in Moroccan prison.”

Mohamed, an Ethiopian citizen and legal resident of the United Kingdom, was also arrested in Pakistan and flown to Morocco, where he was subjected to “severe physical and psychological torture,” such as cuts “with a scalpel all over his body, including on his penis,” followed by the pouring of “‘hot stinging liquid’ into the open wounds.” After 18 months, US officials flew him to a CIA “dark prison” in Afghanistan, “where he underwent further torture, including being kept in ‘near permanent darkness’ and subjected to loud noise, such as the screams of women and children, for 24 hours per day.” Finally, Mohamed was transferred to Guantánamo Bay, where he remained for nearly five years, until his release and return to the United Kingdom on February 23 this year.

AlRawi, an Iraqi with legal residence in the United Kingdom, was arrested in Gambia while on a business trip and flown to Afghanistan. “Detained in the same ‘dark prison’ as Mohamed, loud noises were played 24 hours per day to deprive him of sleep. AlRawi was eventually transferred to Bagram Air Base, where he was ‘subjected to humiliation, degradation, and physical and psychological torture by U.S. officials,’ including being beaten, deprived of sleep, and threatened with death.” AlRawi was finally sent to Guantánamo, released on March 30, 2007, and returned to the United Kingdom.

Bashmilah, a Yemeni, was arrested while visiting his sick mother in Jordan, and turned over to US officials who flew him to Afghanistan, where he “was placed in solitary confinement, in 24hour darkness, where he was deprived of sleep and shackled in painful positions. He was subsequently moved to another cell where he was held in 24hour light and loud noise. Depressed by his conditions, Bashmilah attempted suicide three times. Later, Bashmilah was transferred by airplane to an unknown CIA ‘black site’ prison, where he ‘suffered sensory manipulation through constant exposure to white noise, alternating with deafeningly loud music’ and twentyfourhour light.” Finally returned to Yemen, Bashmilah “was tried and convicted of a trivial crime, sentenced to time served abroad, and released.”

According to the allegations of the complaint, Jeppesen provided flight planning and logistical support services to the aircraft and crew on all of the flights transporting the plaintiffs to the various locations. These were referred to within the company as “torture flights” and “spook flights.” In most instances, the plaintiffs were dressed “in a diaper and overalls, and shackled and blindfolded.” Company officials justified their participation in these atrocities, according to an affidavit filed by one ex-employee, because “the rendition flights paid very well.”

That such a litany of horrors could even be found in a precedent of the second-highest court in the United States, in connection with a dispute over whether the executive branch has the right to engage in such conduct, is enough to cause a reader rub his or her eyes with astonishment.

The Obama administration’s assertion of the power to shut down a private lawsuit against a private company solely because the case threatens to expose US involvement in such activities underscores the extraordinary degree to which broad sections of the US ruling elite long ago abandoned any respect for the most basic human rights—freedom from arbitrary detention and torture.

“This sweeping characterization of the ‘very subject matter’ bar has no logical limit,” Hawkins wrote, “it would apply equally to suits by US citizens, not just foreign nationals; and to secret conduct committed on US soil, not just abroad. According to the government’s theory, the Judiciary should effectively cordon off all secret government actions from judicial scrutiny, immunizing the CIA and its partners from the demands and limits of the law.”

“Separation-of-powers concerns take on an especially important role in the context of secret Executive conduct,” Hawkins stated. “As the Founders of this Nation knew well, arbitrary imprisonment and torture under any circumstance is a gross and notorious act of despotism.”

Nevertheless, Hawkins left the door wide open for the Obama administration to assert claims of state secrets with respect to specific evidence, such as the contracts for the extraordinary rendition flights. The lower court can then decide to uphold the state secrets and dismiss the case on a finding that the “evidence is indispensable either to plaintiffs’ prima facie case or to a valid defense otherwise available to Jeppesen.”

The Obama administration is expected to seek review of the decision by an expanded 15-judge Ninth Circuit panel. If such review is denied, or the ruling upheld, the next step would be for the Obama administration to file a petition in the Supreme Court.

Media sensationalism, corporate power and the swine flu outbreak

Media sensationalism, corporate power and the swine flu outbreak

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The handling of the swine flu outbreak underscores the difficulty, in the present political environment, of separating medical science from corporate interests and the political agendas of governments that are beholden to them. The matter has been both sensationalized and mystified, to the detriment of any rational response to the health threat posed by swine flu.

The mass media and public authorities, particularly in the United States, have now subjected the population to constant, breathless coverage of the swine flu epidemic for over a week. But for all the hours of television reportage and reams of press commentary, little light has been shed on the nature of the virus or the underlying conditions of poverty and decay of the social infrastructure that play a huge role in the potential human toll of such a flu outbreak, should it, in fact, develop into a global pandemic.

On April 30, the media reported that the World Health Organization (WHO) was expected to soon designate the swine flu as a full pandemic, at level six on the WHO's six-point scale. WHO director-general Margaret Chan declared, "It is really all of humanity that is under threat during a pandemic."

Shortly afterwards, however, the WHO said that it would continue to use the term "pandemic" even if "the new virus turns out to cause mainly mild symptoms."

Currently, however, the swine flu outbreak shows little sign of imminently threatening all of humanity. The WHO's official count yesterday listed 787 confirmed human cases of swine flu, of which 506 are in Mexico, where the disease first appeared.

The Mexican government scaled back its tally of swine flu deaths from 176 to 100, of which 19 are "confirmed." The only swine flu death outside of Mexico so far was a Mexican toddler, who died after being brought to the US from Mexico.

References to pandemics, made without any serious explanation of the scientific meaning of the term, have created an atmosphere of public fear. Since 9/11, the American media and government, in particular, have adopted fear-mongering as a standard tactic for stoking up fear and politically disorienting the public, and then exploiting such moods to justify a militaristic foreign policy and attacks on democratic rights.

Media reports have explained the significance of a pandemic by citing the Black Death plague that wiped out a third of the population of 14th-century Europe, or the 1918 flu epidemic that killed 30-50 million people worldwide. In fact, the swine flu has until now caused far fewer deaths than even normal, seasonal flu.

The risk of a larger swine flu epidemic cannot be dismissed, though its spread is currently slowing and those newly infected are experiencing milder symptoms. Its transmission from pigs to humans, and between humans, causes concern among scientists that it might have the genetic structure, possibly after a further mutation, to trigger a larger epidemic. Passing through more human hosts could cause new mutations. These might make the virus more or less dangerous to humans.

Biologists point out that the 1918 epidemic began with a milder first wave, which by the onset of the normal flu season in the autumn assumed a far more virulent and deadly form.

Media invocations of the 1918 epidemic are confusing, however, absent the necessary historical context. Many essential tools of a contemporary response to a flu epidemic—anti-viral drugs, DNA analysis, Internet monitoring networks—were unknown in 1918, when modern sanitation was largely unavailable even to the popular masses in wealthy countries. Subsequent flu outbreaks caused far fewer deaths: 2 million in 1957 and 1-3 million worldwide in 1968, versus 250,000-500,000 in an average flu season.

Influenza can be dealt with by deploying medical resources and personnel in a timely fashion to isolate and treat an initial outbreak, before it becomes a global pandemic.

The greatest obstacles to this are not technical ones, but rather the social contradictions of world capitalism: poverty and lack of medical facilities in large parts of the world, the political influence of major corporations, including the giant pharmaceutical firms, the division of the world into competing nation-states, and the reactionary agendas of bourgeois politicians.

The physical state of the working class itself is a major issue. Many millions of workers lack access to a healthful diet, sanitary shelter and adequate sleep—all of which are needed to maintain a healthy immune system. Such issues, however, are almost never broached in the media commentaries and pronouncements of governments.

The current epidemic began in late March in a small Mexican town, La Gloria, that is the site of Granjas Carroll, an industrial pig farm largely owned by a US corporation, Smithfield Foods. Even after the flu epidemic began, Mexican officials threatened and arrested inhabitants who protested that the farm's open lakes of pig excrement and toxic chemicals were damaging their health.

Many of those who fell ill were too poor to afford treatment by medical professionals—which the Mexican government acknowledged were in short supply in that area—arriving at the hospital when severe pneumonia had set in, making anti-viral treatments no longer effective.

In NBC’s “Meet the Press” news program yesterday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and the acting director of the US Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Richard Besser, were asked why the mortality rate was so much higher in Mexico than in the US. None of the officials mentioned poverty or lack of access to medical care as factors in the Mexican swine flu deaths.

In another sign of the destructive role of corporate power, the pork industry has successfully lobbied the WHO and the US government to cease referring to the disease as “swine flu.” The manner in which these authorities respond—almost at command—to the demands of corporate interests is indicative of the subordination of all social considerations to private profit.

The response to swine flu in the US highlights a decay in social conditions that would pose significant dangers in the event of a serious epidemic. Government officials advise Americans to consult their doctor if they come down with flu symptoms, ignoring the fact that they preside over a country—“the richest in the world”—in which 47 million people, nearly one sixth of the population, have no health coverage.

Under these conditions, it is not surprising that several US cities have reported that their hospital emergency rooms have been flooded with people who feared that they had caught swine flu and who went to the emergency room because they lacked access to a private doctor.

Some local authorities have responded with panic measures that can only needlessly increase public apprehension and place additional economic strains on a population already reeling from the impact of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression. The entire school system in Fort Worth shut down, keeping 80,000 students at home, even as Texas Governor Rick Perry criticized "a substantial amount of media hype" around the swine flu.

US officials have lectured families to begin making arrangements for dealing with sustained school closures—this in a country that provides no paid leave for family health emergencies.

The US government's response to the swine flu reflects the immense growth in the political influence of the military-national security apparatus, and further bolsters that influence. Public opinion is conditioned to view any emergency, including an outbreak of flu, as a “national security” threat, by implication linked in some manner to the “war on terrorism.”

Thus Napolitano, a lawyer with no particular health experience, is brought forward as the Obama administration's main spokesperson on the crisis. The Obama administration is reportedly adopting Bush administration pandemic plans, which called for the use of the military to enforce quarantines against entire sections of the US.

US politicians and the media have repeatedly made reactionary proposals to close the US-Mexico border, even though health officials have repeatedly stated that such measures would do nothing to halt the spread of the disease. Such proposals are calculated to stoke up anti-Mexican prejudice and xenophobia.

This only underscores the immense contradiction between humanity's technical abilities to deal with a health crisis and the social priorities and class interests that hold sway under capitalism.

The New Homeless

The new homeless

By Elizabeth Leland
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Kenneth and Stacy Dowdy can't afford a place to live in Charlotte. Neither can Charles DuPree. But if you passed them on the street, you might not recognize them for what they are: Homeless.

They are among a growing number of newly homeless who don't fit old stereotypes. Many of them work regular jobs, or did until recently, nursing the sick, caring for other people's children, vacuuming offices, driving cabs.

They lived in apartments or houses, surviving paycheck to paycheck. One thing went wrong in this bad economy, and they didn't have far to fall before they ended up on the street.

Or in the cab of a pickup, where the Dowdys slept one night, treating it like a camping adventure for the sake of their young son.

Ten years ago, advocates warned that Charlotte needed more low-income housing for the working poor. Task forces convened, and city leaders promised action. A lot has been accomplished, but not nearly enough. After a decade of unprecedented prosperity, when Charlotte was better positioned to take on the problem, the city now finds itself unprepared.

“There are pockets of folks energized around their efforts,” said Bert Green, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte. “But there's no one organization that's trying to pull all these groups together and say: ‘This is our strategic plan.' We know what we need to do. I don't think there's a political will out there to do it.”

At least 5,000 people, likely as many as 8,000, are homeless every night. Mothers, fathers, the elderly and, the most staggering figure of all: 3,500 children in public schools, plus an untold number of their younger siblings. Homeless in Charlotte.

Many of the adults work, but don't earn enough to pay for an apartment or house. Their lives, as they move from by-the-week motels to emergency shelters and sometimes to the streets, are consumed in a desperate struggle to find a decent place to live.

Losing it all, bit by bit

As the economy began to falter last summer, the Dowdys' problems escalated. Stacy Dowdy said they fell behind on their $675-a-month rent because her fares as a taxi driver dropped off. Her husband, who had worked as a nightclub bouncer and truck driver, couldn't find a job.

“Charlotte is almost impossible to live in,” Stacy Dowdy said. “It's almost like they're charging high-end prices for middle class homes. Three-fourths of our income would go to rent and utilities. The utilities would almost get cut off because we'd have to choose between paying the bills and getting food.”

They were evicted from the apartment and moved into a motel, driving their son across town to school. Stacy gave away her cats, pawned her wedding band and sold her blood to buy food. They stored their furniture and other belongings, but ran out of money to pay the storage facility and, two weeks before Christmas, the company auctioned off everything.

They next sought refuge at the Salvation Army shelter and discovered only Stacy and their son could stay there. Kenneth would have to sleep apart from them at the Uptown Shelter.

After all their heartbreak, they refused to give up the one thing still intact: Their family.

They slept in a borrowed pickup. It was late January, a rainy night, but not too cold. On the floor rested one of the few possessions Stacy Dowdy had kept out of storage: an urn with her mother's ashes.

A friend invited them to move in with her family in Gaston County, four adults and two children sharing a two-bedroom apartment. Stacy found a temporary clerical job with a company she had worked for nine years ago. She sold blood one last time, to reimburse her friend for driving her places, to pay for a cake for her son's 9th birthday and to buy makeup to wear to work.

She hoped to save up for a car first, then a place to live. But now, after three months at her friend's place, she and Kenneth realize they've stayed too long, and it's time to move on.

“I feel like I am stuck in some kind of time warp that keeps sending me back to the same time I was in a week ago,” Stacy Dowdy said. She has no idea where they will go. But she tries to stay positive. “We're luckier than some people,” she said. “We're healthy and we have each other, and the only thing we can do is move forward.”

Lack of leadership

In the late 1980s, former President Jimmy Carter came to build Habitat for Humanity houses and said Charlotte had the potential “to become the first community in the whole United States to succeed in eliminating poverty housing.”

Habitat has built 825 homes. The nonprofit Housing Partnership has constructed and renovated hundreds more, and owns or manages about 1,100 affordable rental units. Despite those efforts and many others, the numbers of homeless in Charlotte kept growing even before the recession.

Chris Wolf, a former investment banker, helped draft a 10-year plan to end homelessness that has never been funded. The plan would reduce homelessness the way Atlanta and Asheville have, by putting people into affordable housing with support services. “Charlotte has been focused on its growth and its success,” Wolf said. “We just don't have the consolidated leadership to take on homelessness.”

As a result:

There were 1,125 fewer affordable housing units in 2007 for the very poor than there were in 2001, a study by developer John Crosland found. That's because 3,201 affordable housing units were demolished, he said, and only 2,076 new units built.

Around 7,000 families are on Charlotte Housing Authority waiting lists for housing.

Demand is so high, Charlotte now needs more than 15,000 units that rent for $499 a month or less. In three years, the city will need nearly 17,000 units.

The city's $67 million housing bond program has not helped as many poor people as advocates hoped, and several publicly funded nonprofit corporations failed to build dozens of houses they promised.

“I don't think homelessness is ignored,” said Jennifer Roberts, county commissioners chair. “I think the challenge is we have let developers have free rein and haven't worked well with them enough to try to increase housing stock, to make progress fast enough…. I don't think people have been silent about it, but we need to get to the next level.”

‘Everyday people'

Sheila McGregor had no idea about this downside to Charlotte when she arrived last fall.

She had lived 18 years in Greensboro, where Charlotte had a reputation as a prosperous city. After McGregor lost her job as a certified nursing assistant, a friend told her about a nurse's job here. McGregor caught a ride to Charlotte in November, mistakenly thinking she could stay with the friend.

She and her 12-year-old daughter spent a month and a half at the Salvation Army's uptown shelter before moving into Hall House, a temporary shelter that opened in January for women and children.

“I never expected this,” said McGregor, who is 49 and divorced. “It wasn't drug-related or because of alcohol or domestic violence. Mine was just pure and simple mismanagement and not being prepared. I've always worked. I thought I had a pretty good job.”

McGregor eventually got the job she came for, as a certified nursing assistant at Presbyterian Hospital. Four months later, she signed a lease on a 2-bedroom house, and she moved in a couple of weeks ago.

The federal government recommends spending no more than 30 percent of adjusted gross income on housing, including rent and utilities. Based on the government's guidelines, McGregor should spend around $546 a month. The house she's renting costs $600 a month so she is looking for a second job.

“I thought homeless people were the ones standing on the corner with a sign,” she said. “The people I met at Hall House were everyday people just like I was.”

It can happen, she now realizes, to anyone.

Beyond housing

A lack of affordable housing is only one reason people become homeless. Other reasons often apply, including poverty, mental illness, alcohol and drug addictions, domestic violence, health issues, disabilities, a criminal record.

Most homeless people need more than a house, said Darren Ash, who directs WISH, a nonprofit that provides social services, as well as rent subsidies, to the working poor.

“A city cannot build its way out of the problem,” Ash said. “When you have 100,000 residents who make $8 an hour, they're living on the edge every day regardless. We believe affordable housing is not the sole answer. You have to have supportive services that come with it. This population is way too fragile. They will be back on the street.”

With Charlotte's unemployment rate at 11.4 percent in March, one of the worst on record, some people are having trouble affording even the cost of emergency shelters.

Charles DuPree lost his house to foreclosure last year after what he described as a bad business deal, and said he slept on a loading dock before moving into the Uptown Shelter in the fall. He said he is months behind on the $30-a-week he is supposed to pay.

If you saw DuPree in his suit and tie, standing outside the courthouse, you might mistake him for a lawyer. DuPree, who is 57, is studying online to become a paralegal, volunteering at Hands Law Office and working part-time at a warehouse for $7.25 an hour.

After eight months at the overcrowded shelter, he said he's been told he'll have to leave next week.

DuPree is philosophical about his predicament: “I'm not wishing anybody bad times, but I think you're going to see a lot of people who don't have a drug history, who don't have alcohol problems, who simply don't have the funds to maintain their lifestyle. This whole homeless thing is going to swell.”

The Salvation Army, which once prided itself on never turning anyone away, sought emergency help from three churches this winter to house 77 extra women, and still the agency turned away as many as 10 women every night.

“It feels like the shelter is becoming a sort of permanent housing,” said Deronda Metz, the Salvation Army's director of social services. “Shelters are supposed to be where people come in and out. The problem with the continuum is there aren't enough places for them to go to.”

When working isn't enough

A single parent with two children in Mecklenburg County must make $3,479 a month to pay for necessities, according to the 2008 N.C. Living Income Standard. Even people working $2 above minimum wage earn only $1,482 a month.

The $2,000 shortfall is, for many, insurmountable.

Tanya Johnson, a single mother, worked two jobs at fast-food restaurants. Then she got pregnant. She worked through the first two hours of labor and returned to Quiznos two days later, but quit her nighttime job at Wendy's to stay home with her newborn. Without the second income, she could not afford her rent. She and her children moved in with her mother, but after a few months the landlord ordered them out.

That was November. Johnson and her children continued to eat and shower at her mother's house, but when bedtime approached, they retreated to her van. She gave her older children “writing assignments” to occupy them and ran the engine all night to keep them warm. She slept upright in the driver's seat, with her children sprawled across the back seats. In the morning, she sent the oldest to school, left the youngest with her mother and drove to Quiznos where she earns $7.50 an hour as a cashier, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

“I stay happy for the kids,” she said after a month of living that way, but there was a flatness to her voice, and the kids kept asking when they could sleep again in a home.

That day came early this year when A Child's Place, a nonprofit that aids homeless children, gave Johnson $400 toward a deposit on a rental house.

Johnson, who is 33, smiled as she talked about her good fortune, and you could hear her relief. She finally had the one thing most in Charlotte take for granted: A place to live.

60 anti-torture activists arrested at White House

60 anti-torture activists arrested at White House

U.S. Park Police have arrested about 60 anti-torture activists in front of the White House.

Sgt. David Schlosser says the protesters violated a permit regulation that required them to remain in motion on the center portion of a sidewalk. The protesters, wearing orange jumpsuits to represent Guantánamo Bay detainees who have been cleared for release, remain in custody.

Earlier, protesters marched from the U.S. Capitol to protest detention policies in the United States and what they call the government's refusal to prosecute torture.

Activists say they support a criminal inquiry into torture under the Bush administration. They say President Barack Obama has been reluctant to begin such an investigation.


Inflatable mortuaries and 'express' funerals planned for flu pandemic

Inflatable mortuaries and 'express' funerals planned for flu pandemic

Inflatable mortuaries, 24-hour cremations and "express" funerals could all be used to dispose of thousands of bodies in a flu pandemic, Whitehall papers show.

By James Kirkup

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In the worst-case scenario, the bodies of the dead could also be stored in refrigerator trucks. Coffins would be reused to cope with the huge numbers of fatalities.

Department of Health projections put the total UK death toll from a pandemic as high as 750,000. It was confirmed in 2006 that officials have ordered millions of extra body

A Home Office contingency planning document seen by the Daily Telegraph reveals the extreme measures that would be required to cope with the sheer number of extra corpses that are expected.

The 59-page report, "Planning for Possible Influenza Pandemic: A Framework for Planners Preparing to Manage Deaths" has been circulated to local councils, coroners and undertakers.

In the event if a mass-casualty pandemic, one of the biggest problems for planners is where to store the bodies when normal mortuaries become full.

Among the possible planning options set out the document is: "Inflatable Storage Structures, these come in various designs and can be customised and deployed to a range of terrains."

Shipping containers normally used at ports and freight terminals could also be used, the paper says, adding that: "These are likely to require shrouding, body racking and power generators."

Under normal circumstances, planners have been ordered not to store bodies in the chilled trucks normally used to transport slaughtered animals and frozen food.

But the paper concedes: "Non-use of refrigerated vehicles and trailers may become unsustainable during a pandemic.

"All options should feature in local plans – albeit some being backup or last resort options."

Funeral services for the dead would also pose a major challenge, and undertakers are put on notice to prepare for a huge extra workload during a pandemic.

Several measures are suggested in order to speed up funeral services.

Among the plans:

:: "Limited choice of types and sizes of coffins are offered to ensure manufacturers can supply to demand."

:: "Those arranging funerals are asked for basic and shorter services at the chapel – or for memorial services to be held at other venues (e.g. the home or place of worship)."

:: "Working hours are increased and businesses moving to seven-day week operation."

The plan envisages only around 30 per cent of Britain's dead are buried, with most people opting for cremation.

Crematoria have also been put on notice to prepare for a pandemic and consider moving toward "24/7 working."

The document discloses: "The Government may consider whether reuse of coffins (for cremation only) was an option they want to pursue."


The Hush-Hush Story: Why They Tortured

The Hush-Hush Story: Why They Tortured

By Carl Bloice

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It’s like a can of worms from which a few are slithering out. Most of the major media have avoided even approaching it. But if it is as is being suggested the implications are enormous, touching not only on the real reason prisoners were tortured but, as well, into the real origin of the war in Iraq.

The US Senate Armed Services Committee report, issued April 21, on the interrogation techniques employed against detainees following the September 11 terrorist attack, wrote Pepe Escobar in the Asia Times, “reads like deja vu all over again: the US establishment under Bush was a replay of the Spanish Inquisition. And it all started even before a single ‘high-profile al-Qaeda detainee’ was captured. What Bush, vice president Dick Cheney, defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld and assorted little inquisitors wanted was above all to prove the non-existent link between Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and al-Qaeda, the better to justify a pre-emptive, illegal war planned by the now-defunct Project for the New American Century (PNAC) in the late 1990s. The torture memos were just a cog in the imperial machine.”

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman mentioned it in his column April 24, writing, “For the fact is that officials in the Bush administration instituted torture as a policy, misled the nation into a war they wanted to fight and, probably, tortured people in the attempt to extract ‘confessions’ that would justify that war. And during the march to war, most of the political and media establishment looked the other way.” Krugman was more explicit in his blog, titled “Grand Unified Scandal” appearing the previous day, after the Senate report came out. “Let’s say this slowly: the Bush administration wanted to use 9/11 as a pretext to invade Iraq, even though Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. So it tortured people to make them confess to the nonexistent link,” he wrote. “There’s a word for this: it’s evil.”

The impetus for the comment by Krugman and Escobar was a story carried April 21 in the McClatchy Newspapers by Jonathan S. Landay The story has made the rounds on the internet and in some of the foreign press but as of this writing has been ignored or obscured by most of the major U.S. media.

“The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist,” wrote Landay. “Such information would’ve provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush’s main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network and Saddam’s regime.

“The use of abusive interrogation - widely considered torture - as part of Bush’s quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.”

Landay went on to quote “A former senior U.S. intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue” saying former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld ‘demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration.’

“There were two reasons why these interrogations were so persistent, and why extreme methods were used,” Landay was told. “The main one is that everyone was worried about some kind of follow-up attack (after 9/11). But for most of 2002 and into 2003, Cheney and Rumsfeld, especially, were also demanding proof of the links between al Qaida and Iraq that (former Iraqi exile leader Ahmed) Chalabi and others had told them were there.”

“There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder,” the informant continued. “Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people were told repeatedly, by CIA ... and by others, that there wasn’t any reliable intelligence that pointed to operational ties between bin Laden and Saddam, and that no such ties were likely because the two were fundamentally enemies, not allies.”

Senior administration officials, however, “blew that off and kept insisting that we’d overlooked something, that the interrogators weren’t pushing hard enough, that there had to be something more we could do to get that information,” Landay was told.

The Senate report itself quoted a former U.S. Army psychiatrist, Maj. Charles Burney, who told Army investigators three years ago that interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detention facility were under “pressure” to produce evidence of ties between al Qaida and Iraq.

“While we were there a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al Qaida and Iraq and we were not successful in establishing a link between al Qaida and Iraq,” Burney told staff of the Army Inspector General. “The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish that link ... there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results.”

Another newspaper that carried the story of the Senate report that included the Iraq connection was the Detroit News. Reporter Gordon Trowbridge wrote that “Administration officials repeatedly tried to link Iraq and al-Qaida in public statements as a potential justification for the war, but intelligence reviews have discredited the notion of significant links between the two. The accusation that senior officials chose to pursue interrogation tactics in pursuit of such information is likely to further anger opponents of the Iraq invasion and of harsh interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, sleep deprivation, putting prisoners in stress positions for long periods of time or exposing them to extreme heat and cold or loud noises and music.”

Trowbridge’s report indicates that one of Cheney and Rumsfeld’s “people” was none other than the latter’s number two Paul Wolfowitz, a long time vociferous advocate of an attack in Iraq. He is said to have asked for regular updates on the interrogations.

“I think it’s obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq),” said Senate Armed Services Committee, chair by Sen. Carl Levin, (D-Mi). “They made out links where they didn’t exist.”

“So now we know: Saddam made them do it,” wrote Charley James, “The Progressive Curmudgeon, in the very informative and lively L.A. Progressive [http://tinyurl.com/dl96bn]. “The Levin report into Pentagon torture … tore down the last false flag flying on the devil ship SS Torture, revealing that waterboarding and all the rest of the barbaric acts performed in our name on prisoners resulted from Cheney’s frustration at not getting what he wanted: Someone to pin 9/11 on Saddam and ‘fess up about how bin Laden was sleeping with The Tyrant of Baghdad.”

“Reasonable people ought to be able to reach consensus on a few key points: Harsh interrogation methods should be used only as a last resort,” says Clifford D. May, president of the rightwing Foundation for the Defense of Democracies (founded two days after September 11, and chair of the Policy hawkish Committee of the Committee on the Present Danger (CPD). “They should never be used for revenge, punishment or to force confessions.” However, as James observes, it beginning to look like forcing a confession is exactly what the neo-conservative cabal in the White House and the Pentagon was up to.

Writing in The Guardian (UK) April 24, Matthew Duss drew attention to Rand Beers – a former NSC counterterrorism adviser who resigned over the war “which he correctly predicted would be disastrous for American security, and who was recently nominated for an under-secretary position at the Department of Homeland Security, concerning accused Al Qaeda operative Ibn al Sheikh Al-Libi who after being captured by the US in Afghanistan in late 2001, under torture – “evidence” of a tie between Al Qaeda and Iraq. As Beers recounted last year, ‘Al-Libi’s testimony was used by the Bush administration to substantiate its allegations that Iraq was prepared to provide al-Qaida with weapons of mass destruction.’ However, Beers continued, ‘in January 2004, al-Libi recanted his confession. He said that he had invented the information because he was afraid of being further abused by his interrogators. … The administration’s best case for the value of enhanced interrogation techniques, then, turned out to have been fundamentally flawed’.”

“We now know that torture is inextricably tied to the Iraq war. Far from defusing “ticking time bombs”, torture was employed by the Bush administration in order to generate information that would support their planned invasion of Iraq.”

Notice the word “planned” here. The effort to extract evidence of a tie between September 11 and the government of Saddam Hussein began before the invasion was launched. It is obvious now that the attack was in the making before the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

“But the torture of al Libi worked to sell the war in Iraq, providing the “evidence” that Secretary of State Colin Powell used when he spoke before the United Nations Security Council in February 2003,” Steve Weissman wrote on truthout last Saturday. “I can trace the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these [chemical and biological] weapons to al-Qaeda,” Powell asserted. “Fortunately, this operative is now detained, and he has told his story.”

It now appears that then U.S. National Security Advisor and later Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was the first official to give the go ahead for employing “enhanced interrogation techniques.” Why her? And, why the hurry? She is declining comment now but maybe she could explain the strange statement she made at a press briefing in May 2002. “I don’t think anybody could have predicted ... that they would try to use an airplane as a missile, a hijacked airplane as a missile,” Rice said at a press briefing in May 2002. Actually the Administration was warned that something was afoot ad that it probably would involve airplanes. Was the surprise that it happened or the way that it happened and was the idea to blame whatever happened on Saddam Husain?

This week, former Ambassador Joe Wilson wrote in his blog, Daily Beast:

“Cheney’s request for the declassification of material is a welcome development, but it should not be limited to his narrow request. Our country’s understanding of what was done in our name by the Bush administration depends on the release, not just of the documents Cheney has designated, but of all documents related to the efforts of the Bush administration and Cheney himself to defend the indefensible-the decision to invade Iraq despite the knowledge at the time that Iraq did not have a nuclear program, had no ties to al Qaeda, and posed no existential threat to the United States or to its friends and allies in the region.

“The disinformation campaign to manipulate public opinion in favor of the invasion, the torture program, and the illegal exposure of a clandestine CIA agent-my wife, Valerie Plame Wilson - were linked events. In their desperate effort to gather material to whip up public support, Cheney and others resorted to torture, well known in the intelligence craft to elicit inherently unreliable information. Cheney & Co. then pressured the CIA to put its stamp of approval on a series of falsehoods-26 of which were inserted into Secretary of State Colin Powell’s speech before the United Nations Security Council. At the same time, Cheney was furiously attempting to suppress the true information that Saddam Hussein was not seeking yellowcake uranium in Niger. After I published the facts in an article in The New York Times in July 2002, Cheney tried to punish me and discredit the truth by directing the outing of a CIA operative who happened to be my wife.

The suggestion that Bush Administration used torture in an effort to get a prisoner to back up their previously made claim that Iraq was linked to despicable 911 terrorist attacks is reason enough to insist that there be a special commission to look into the matter. I suspect that much of the resistance to doing so flows from concern that question might arise about other things involved in the run-up to the war. Like, why were the plotters were so desperate to link 911 to Iraq? Could it be that some sort of attack on U.S. soil was anticipated and whatever happened, the finger would be pointed at Bagdad? A can of worms indeed.


Workers’ struggles heat up in Europe

Workers’ struggles heat up in Europe

The German socialist writer Bertolt Brecht wrote, “Sometimes when you struggle you lose, but if you don’t struggle you’ve already lost.” Workers in various guerrilla-type actions—especially in France—are showing that even in the midst of the capitalist economic crisis, if you struggle, you might win.

FRANCE: Toyota workers win demands

After four days of blockading the Toyota plant in Onnaing in the north of France, workers on April 20 reached an agreement that won most of their demands. It was the first strike at the Toyota plant since it was set up in 2001. Since September, the plant’s 2,700 workers have been forced to take “partial unemployment,” where they are paid only 60 percent of their usual wages. They wanted 100-percent pay and thought that since Toyota is the fifth-richest enterprise in the world, it could pay up.

To put some muscle behind this demand, some 200 of 250 workers who had been on strike blocked all plant entrances starting April 16, preventing resupply of parts. In the end, Toyota agreed to pay the equivalent of 90 percent of normal take-home pay and partial pay for days on strike.

Electric workers cut prices, cut power

Workers in the state electrical company in France, EDF, now partly privatized, have been hitting management with guerrilla actions this April to enforce their demands for a 10-percent pay raise and an end to outsourcing of EDF jobs. The government of Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has condemned the union workers as “saboteurs” because clandestine job actions cut off electricity to parts of the Paris region during the strike.

If the striking workers lost some popular support by actions that inconvenienced the public, this was more than made up for when another union action switched 350,000 customers from peak to off-peak rates, a 50-percent saving. For hundreds of families that had been cut off by EDF for failure to pay bills, the union switched their lights back on.

FRANCE-GERMANY: Continental workers unite for protest

Over 1,000 workers from the Continental tire company’s plant in Clairoix, France, joined with their sisters and brothers at Continental’s plant in Hanover-Stöcken to demonstrate against layoffs in Germany. Some 3,000 jobs are threatened by Continental’s plans to close the two plants. The action was one of the first taken by work forces in neighboring countries.

The French workers did the traveling because Continental shareholders were meeting in the Hanover Congress Center, which is where the workers demonstrated. Already almost half of the German work force was working short hours. Continental’s CEO Karl-Thomas Neumann said at the meeting that 6,000 workers were laid off in March and 25,000 workers would be on part-time work by the end of April.

German workers held placards welcoming their fellow workers from France. Some told the media they were encouraged by the militancy of the workers’ struggle there. Given the international organization of production by most large firms, it is apparent as May 1—International Workers’ Day—approaches that more such joint actions will be needed on a worldwide scale to defend jobs and salaries.

PORTUGAL—April 25 sizzles, one week before May Day

Portugal’s annual April 25 march drew more than the usual tens of thousands to Lisbon to gather and march for tradition’s sake and also reflected a new mood. The action celebrates that this year is the 35th anniversary of the 1974 revolution, when the junior officers of an army weary of colonial wars led a mass soldiers’ coup that overthrew the decades-long fascist regime. This unleashed a mass workers’ movement that in the following 18 months established strong pro-worker laws and also helped the respective liberation movements free the Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Guinea-Bissau and East Timor.

Now, with 600,000 people unemployed out of a population of 10 million, Portugal has been hard hit by the crisis. The front page of Avante, the newspaper of the Portuguese Communist Party, says that what is needed is “a new April.” This means a new round of broad working-class struggle to restore the gains that have been severely eroded since that earlier uprising.

In Portugal, in the neighboring Spanish state (where official unemployment is over 17 percent), in France and throughout Europe, millions of workers in the imperialist countries will march on May Day. From the mood of these marches, traditionally led by unions, it will be possible to get an idea of the temperature of the class struggle in each country. In the countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America, the protests may take a more anti-imperialist character. In both cases, it will be a day to watch.