Saturday, July 7, 2007

A quick SOA postscript

As the blog Ten Percent notes, the following Congress critters (among the other Dem turncoats I mentioned previously) went from opposing the SOA to supporting it during the most recent effort to end its funding:
Rep. Neil Abercrombie
Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson
Rep. James Clyburn
Rep. Bart Gordon
Rep. Ciro Rodriguez
Rep. Nick Lampson
Rep. Kendrick Meek
Rep. Collin Peterson
Things that make you go hmmm.

Hat tip to Immigration Orange.

I have a long memory

Remember what our much ballyhooed "liberal" media was saying about the Iraq War back in the day? Here are some blasts from the not so distant past courtesy of Norman Solomon:
"the Defense Department has evolved highly selective and accurate munitions that can sharply reduce the need to take or receive casualties. The predictions of widespread mayhem turned out to be false last time – when the weapons [in the Gulf War] were nothing like so accurate. [...] it can now be proposed as a practical matter that one is able to fight against a regime and not a people or a nation."
-- Christopher Hitchens, March 18, 2003
"what I've seen of Iraqi television, with Saddam Hussein presenting propaganda to his people and showing off the Apache helicopter and claiming a farmer shot it down and trying to persuade his own public that he was really in charge, when we're trying to send the exact opposite message"
-- Michael Gordon, NYT reporter, March 25, 2003
"The American public knows how important this war is, and is not as casualty sensitive as the weenies in the American press are."
-- Fred Barnes, Fox News, March, 2003
"They are calling this the cleanest war in all of military history. They stress they're fighting a regime and not the people, using smart bombs, not dumb, older munitions. But there have been and will be accidents. … And there's a new weapon in this war: Arab media, especially al-Jazeera. It's on all the time, and unlike American media, it hardly reflects the Pentagon line. Its critics say it accentuates civilian casualties and provokes outrage on the Arab street."
-- Brian Williams, NBC News, April 2, 2003
"Thank you for coming on the show. And I want to add, I think the Special Forces rock!"
-- Katie Couric, NBC Today Show, April 3, 2003, to a US military official appearing on the show
"We're all neocons now."
-- Chris Matthews, MSNBC Hardball, April 10, 2003
"He looked like an alternatively commander in chief, rock star, movie star, and one of the guys."
-- Lou Dobbs, CNN, May 1, 2003
"We're proud of our president. Americans love having a guy as president, a guy who has a little swagger, who's physical, who's not a complicated guy like Clinton or even like Dukakis or Mondale, all those guys, McGovern. They want a guy who's president. Women like a guy who's president. Check it out. The women like this war. I think we like having a hero as our president. It's simple."
-- Chris Matthews, May 1, 2003
As I said, I have a pretty long memory. Funny thing is, that since the run-up to that debacle of a war commenced back in 2002, I've kept a mental note of who its mass media supporters were for the basic reason that I wanted to be able to remind myself not to trust a thing any of these goons ever uttered. Dobbs for example, is poisonous in so many other ways, including his consistent racism that CNN sees fit to air each weeknight. Couric was always little more than a lightweight, now embarrassing herself regularly as I understand it, on CBS Nightly News - truly incapable of filling the shoes of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. Useful as propagandists go, but of little value for the rest of us. So it goes. I'm sure many of these same individuals will be ready and waiting to act as cheerleaders for the next Glorious Crusade Against Muslims.

Friday, July 6, 2007

On tonight's jukebox

Johnny Jenkins' classic Ton-Ton Macoute! It's a kickin' blues album well worth seeking out, by the man who influenced Jimi Hendrix.

All it costs is some time

You might have noticed a couple new graphics at the top of this blog's left column. Click them and see what they're about.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Fourth of July post mortem

Valtin offers up a partial list of accomplishments by the US government during its history:
*Native American genocide

*Breaking of treaties with Native Americans

*Slavery

*Returning runaway in slave territories to slavery, per order of the Supreme Court (Dred Scott case)

*Legal racial segregation (Jim Crow)

*Land grabbing wars against neighboring countries

*Seizing countries overseas (Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba)

*Joining the senseless War to End All Wars, killing tens of thousands of U.S. soldier-citizens for nothing

*Fighting unionization, killing strikers

*Using the atomic bomb on civilians, killing 100,000s

*Incendiary bombing raids on civilians, killing 100,000s (Dresden, Tokyo)

*Building a giant nuclear arsenal threatening the world with total destruction

*Ordering the killing of fleeing civilians in Korean conflict

*Assassination programs during the Southeast Asian conflicts, again, killing tens of thousands

*Putting forth a war on trumpted up charges of a fake attack (Gulf of Tonkin)

*Using chemical weapons to defoliate massive amounts of countryside, and kill untold thousands, and cause untold numbers of birth defects

*Use of torture against Vietnamese

*Training of torture to be used against Latin Americans (Project X)

*Overturning the elected government of Iran

*Overturning the elected government of Guatemala

*Overturning the elected government of Chile

*Intervening covertly in the elections of France and Italy

*Importing Nazi war criminals to work on weapons programs and covert operations, such as Operation Paperclip

*Assassinations planned against foreign leaders (Castro, and likely Patrice Lumumba)

*Invasion of a sovereign nation (Bay of Pigs)

*Secret bombings of countries we were not at war with and without Congressional notification, approval or oversight, killing untold thousands and destroying the viability of the government (Cambodia)

*Making domestic political parties illegal and blacklisting thousands (McCarthy Red Scare and outlawing of the Communist Party USA)

*Domestic spying on political and church groups, by spy and military agencies
*Illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens

*Blackmailing U.S. civil rights leaders

*Arming religious fanatics who stoned women and kill schoolteachers that try to teach girls (Afghanistan)

*Arming guerilla groups to overthrow governments the U.S. opposes (Nicaragua)

*Supporting countries that are despotic and use torture (Egypt, Morocco, the Greece of the colonels, the Argentina of the junta, etc.)

*Invasion of a sovereign nation based on lies and trumped up charges (Iraq)

*Use of torture, secret renditions, and the construction of a secret prison network (Iraq and throughout the Middle East, Asia, and East Europe)

*The use of "caging" and other techniques to illegally decertify thousands of American citizens from the voting rolls

*100,000s civilians killed in war started on false pretenses (Iraq)

*Women and children kidnapped and held hostage in secret locations, as part of so-called "war on terror"

So much to be proud of.

Gulag Nation

From Chapter 27 of William Blum's book Rogue State:
The prison society

Government statistics at the end of 2003 indicated that there were nearly 2.1 million human souls confined to prisons and jails in the Land of the Free, more than in any country in the world. The new figures represented a 31-year continuous rise in the number of inmates in the United States; this despite the fact of sustained, falling crime rates in the previous decade. The incarceration rate of 714 per 100,000 residents placed the United States first among nations in this regard. Russia was second with a rate of 548 per 100,000. Rates of incarceration for some other industrialized nations included England/Wales, 141; Canada, 116; Australia, 114; France, 95; Japan, 58.

Perhaps the most outrageous, and saddest, aspect of this prison picture is that almost half a million of the inmates have been put away for victimless crimes, principally drug related.
What kind of conditions are those individuals subject to? Some hints from the same book:
  • The judge sentences you to prison. Then the prison officials sentence you to Hell...Prisoners are being handcuffed or hogtied and forced to lap their food like dogs from plates shoved under their faces...non-violent drug offenders thrown in with dangerous murderers, rapists, and robbers, despite court orders to segregate them...guards kicking inmates in the groin, siccing dogs on them...female prisoners being beaten and raped by guards, sold for sex to male prisoners, taken off the grounds to work as prostitutes, forced to perform stripteases for corrections officers (14 states do not outlaw sexual contact between correctional staff and prisoners), women's sex acts photographed by guards, prisoners of both genders kept naked or in their underwear, and monitored by the opposite sex...male prisoners slain, with impunity...guards using tear gas, Mace, and pepper spray against prisoners in handcuffs or locked in their cells...prisoners not protected from assaults, physical and sexual, by other prisoners...guards instigating fights between prisoners...inmates kept in shackles, belly chains, and handcuffs at all times when outside their cells, even in the shower...chain gangs resurrected...guards who report abuses risk reprisals from prison officials...the California Correction Officers union makes large political contributions to public officials and prosecutors so that the guards can continue to act with impunity.
  • Increasingly, those incarcerated in the US are seeing their rights and privileges taken away or seriously curtailed in regard to academic classes, vocational training, reading materials, sports, exercise, prison law libraries, access to free legal advice, ease of appealing their cases, access to media. They are being charged for room and board, for doctor visits, forbidden to receive packages, forced to shave off beards and long hair and remove earrings; their phone use limited to a few minutes a week, visits to one hour a month, visiting family members treated rudely and subjected to humiliating searches and disrobings, prisoners being transferred to other prisons very far from their families; HIV-positive and terminally ill prisoners denied special care, asthmatics not monitored, those on anti-psychotic medications miss their doses, hypertensives cannot get proper diets; prisoners confined to cells for all but a few hours a week; lights on in cells 24 hours a day.
  • Juveniles in reform schools are being hogtied and thrown into isolation cells for weeks at a time; placed in straightjackets; standing with noses pressed against a wall for as long as 16 hours a day; handcuffed naked to beds. Juveniles are being jailed with adult criminals just for being runaways.
  • Prisoners in a state correctional facility who staged a peaceful demonstration against the transfer of other inmates to out-of-state gulags against their will, are being punished with up to a year of solitary; and their time in solitary will not count towards their sentences according to the Department of corrections.
  • Hundreds of political prisoners are rotting away in American prisons. As US-based human rights groups have testified before the Human Rights Commission of the United Nations in Geneva, these people are being held "as a direct result of actions undertaken in furtherance of a political or social vision". They go back to the black liberation struggles of the 1960s and 70s, particularly members of the Black Panthers; others are Native American activists, anti-nuclear activists, opponents of US interventionist policies in Puerto Rico, Central America, and elsewhere. A number of these prisoners were set up by FBI dirty tricks under the notorious COINTELPRO (counter-intelligence program), aimed at "neutralizing" Black Panthers and white radicals.

    Many have used violence against property, and a few toward police, but persons who commit political motivated offenses in furtherance of leftist causes receive substantially, often shockingly, harsher treatment than those who commit similar acts for monetary or right-wing reasons. Many were sentenced to more than 50 years for actions, such as possession of explosives, without there being any victims. If the usual sentence for such an act in a particular court or state is 10 years, at the beginning of year 11 - certainly by year 15 - these people are political prisoners.

    It is often not the "worst" prisoners that are thrown into solitary confinement, but rather these political prisoners, as well as the jailhouse lawyers and prisoner activists.

    The Congressional Black Caucus, in October 1997, issued a declaration to remind the world of the existence of these political prisoners.
  • Aliens who have come to the US from oppressive countries, seeking political asylum, are winding up in Kafkaesque nightmares; wasting away in prison under intolerable conditions, without criminal charges being filed against them, some dying because of unattended health problems, forgotten about until perhaps Amnesty International or some other human rights organization takes up their case. The FBI and INS are using secret evidence - which neither the accused nor their attorneys have a right to examine - to detain these people and ultimately deport them, even if they are married to an American citizen. The aliens are often those who decried human rights abuses in their home country and fled torture and other retribution from their government, which may be putting pressure on Washington to silence and return them by providing the evidence in question.
  • First-time drug offenders, carrying no weapons, including many who were simply couriers or played peripheral roles in drug trafficking, and others with no record of violence or involvement in sophisticated criminal activity, are being sentenced to very long prison terms, with no chance of parole.
You get the picture. There are reasons why I tend to view the notion of the US as the "land of the free" as a joke. The above are among those reasons.

An interesting take on impeachment

Avedon Carol sez:

I realize that there's one law for Democrats and another for Republicans and all that, and this was written with Clinton in mind, but:

English practice allowed post-term impeachment. Other perceived excesses of the English impeachment system were limited explicitly by the Constitution. Impeachment can only be for high crimes and misdemeanors; punishment cannot include death, as it did in England; a supermajority is required for conviction. The English practice of post-term impeachment, however, was not similarly limited in the Constitution.

Article II specifies that sitting civil officers are to be removed upon conviction. It does not say, however, that the ability to impeach ends with an official's service. Given that executive officials have limited terms, there was debate at the Constitutional Convention over allowing an already-powerful Congress this weighty check on the executive. The Framers decided that Congress should have this power, and so specified the ability to remove sitting officials. Ex-officials? That went without saying, and nothing in Article II eliminates the possibility.

The punishment described in the Constitution for impeachment includes not just removal from office, but also "disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States." That is, a successful impeachment does not say merely "Get out!" to a sitting President; it adds an emphatic "And stay out!" While removal becomes moot after a President leaves office, disqualification does not.

You can ask your favorite lawyer if this makes any sense, but if impeachment proceedings don't become moot on inauguration day, all this wibble about how there's not enough time becomes just more excuse-making, of which we have plenty already.

Being subject to impeachment proceedings for the remainder of the term would at least hamstring the thugs. And Bush wouldn't be able to run around throwing pardons and commutations at anyone who might squawk. Bring articles of impeachment against all of them, and keep the fire hot right up to the 20th of January 2008 if necessary. I don't see any other way to hold them accountable, and it's the best way to get a snowball effect going. The more the public sees, the more they'll have to say about it, and the more legislators will be hearing about it. You never know, it could even mean they'd finally find the votes in the Senate (although I wouldn't hold my breath).

But, you know, if you want to bring things to a boil, you have to light a fire.

In other words, contra Speaker Nancy Pelosi, impeachment of Lush/Zany is well worth the effort, and the potential for success would be there if the Congress critters were to do something other than issue lame statements. Sooooooo....anyone willing to place bets on when/if the Dems actually get the impeachment ball rolling? I'd say there's still a snowball's chance in Death Valley.

Well, he WAS driving a hybrid

In the blogging world, this is considered ancient history:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The 24-year-old son of former Vice President Al Gore was arrested for drug possession on Wednesday after he was stopped for speeding in his hybrid Toyota Prius, a sheriff's official said.

Al Gore III -- whose father is a leading advocate of policies to fight global warming -- was driving his environmentally friendly car at about 100 miles per hour on a freeway south of Los Angeles when he was pulled over by an Orange County sheriff's deputy at about 2:15 a.m.

The deputy smelled marijuana and searched the car, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. The search turned up a small amount of marijuana, along with prescription drugs including Valium, Xanax, Vicodin, Adderall and Soma. There were no prescriptions found, he said.
First thing that amazed me was that Al Gore III was able to go 100 miles per hour in LA/OC freeway traffic. I used to live there and still make regular visits back that way so I have a bit of expertise on the matter. If I can reach the 60 mph mark - even at 2 am - I consider that a bloody miracle (not entirely impossible to do 100 mph, but those opportunities are not exactly common). More often than not one is likely to alternate between 25 and 40 mph along with periodic stints with the car in park. Now granted, the roads are a bit more open in the wee hours before dawn, but man, I have driven back from Hollywood after the clubs closed and still found freeways like the I-5 bumper-to-bumper (but at least going 60 mph). I-5 and US 101 are nothing short of a nightmare to navigate under the best of circumstances, and if one has ever heard of a part of the OC freeway system dubbed "The Orange Crush" I'll merely say that it lives up to its reputation. I'll save that conversation for another time, though, as I digress ever so slightly.

I would also suppose it goes without saying that driving that fast isn't exactly the most environment-friendly action either - maybe dad set a bad example? So it goes.

It's the whole pot bust angle to this story that gets the civil libertarian in me riled up. The Gun Toting Liberal expresses the point I'd want to make quite well, so I'll drop this joint from his blog:
Whose fault is this again, yall? Repeat after me — “Daddy’s” and “Daddy’s” boss.
Sonny boy gets busted with a “small amount” of pot and now he gets to face the music because of the unwinnable, hugely expensive and unconstitutional “War On Drugs” good ole’ “Daddy” and his boss, along with President II have been waging upon the U.S. taxpayers’ checkbook “bad guys” for decades with ZERO return on the so-called “investment”.
Global warming is a serious reality, and great “kudos” go out to “Daddy” for his heartfelt and dedicated, award winning work in this arena, but then again, “Dear Ole’ Dad” isn’t quite perfect either, is he? “Draft Gore In ‘08″ supporters shouldn’t forget this simple fact so easily either, by the way. After all, the terse results of Mr. Gore II’s dedication to turning potheads into criminals has found their way to “Dear Ole’ Dad’s” doorstep. And results such as these are GUARANTEED… ALWAYS.
Again; it’s called “karma“, and it’s very REAL
As one might guess, I'm pretty sour on the whole "War on Drugs" b.s. to begin with, viewing it as a colossal waste of time and money - a "solution" in desperate search for a "problem" that has led to way too many lives wasted in prisons for merely taking a few bong hits. The Clintonistas (of which Gore was and still is a loyal member) were especially zealous during the 1990s, much to the delight of law enforcement agencies looking to justify their existence and of course the booming (and corrupt) prison industry. When I was just starting college back in the 1980s, the US was behind only the USSR and Apartheid-era South Africa in terms of the proportion of its citizens locked up in prisons, and that was considered alarming to many of us with any civil libertarian tendencies. Well into this sorry decade, the US has a firm lock on the #1 rank in that department, making those dark days of the 1980s seem more like "the good ol' days". Something to keep in mind any time some buffoon serves up the usual drivel about how "free" the US allegedly is.

The "drug war" also seemed to give Democrats at both state and national levels an opportunity to out-Republican the Republicans, an opportunity that they're addicted to in much the same way as an ice-head is to meth. These folks seriously can't help themselves; never mind that those who seem to think that they can "change" the Dems show signs of codependency.

The younger Gore should have received a speeding ticket and some stern lessons about the environmental consequences of using highways as NASCAR speedways. The pot? Like the late Peter Tosh would say, "legalize it."

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Ted Rall has fun with right-wing "logic"

The cartoon found at Ted Rall's site.

By the numbers: Mercenaries in Iraq

Mercenaries (aka "private contractors") killed in Iraq: at least 933

Mercenaries (aka "private contractors") currently stationed in Iraq: approximately 180,000

US military personnel currently stationed in Iraq: approximately 160,000

Sources: Reuters and LA Times. Hat tips to Marisacat and Antiwar.com.

The Land of the Free

You’re in the United States. You’ve never read the thing, but the Constitution guarantees you certain rights. And you unequivocally have those rights, right up until the moment you exercise one. Ultimately, you have one tangible freedom in the United States: you’re free to do exactly what you’re told, all the time. That’s the one freedom you have. And the alternative? Well, we’ve got cages. We’ve got clubs. We’ve got the 82nd Airborne Division. What have you got?

– Ward Churchill

Found at The Try-Works.

Cindy Sheehan to Empire: "I'm not backing off."

That's the title to her latest column in CounterPunch. An excerpt:
A very dear friend of mine, Rev. Lennox Yearwood of the Hip Hop Caucus, is being harassed by the Air Force for "Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman" because "The Rev" fulfills his duty as an Officer and a Gentleman honorably by protesting Iraq and the Fascist Bush Regime almost constantly. The Rev is still in Individual Ready Reserve so the Air Force believes it is within its parameters to pursue the charges, although every "Officer and Gentleman(woman)" should be protesting the atrocious mistakes in the Middle East. After The Rev's hearing on July 12th, (in Macon, GA) he is going to begin a "symbolic" walk from the Reverend Martin Luther King's grave (Atlanta, GA) to DC---I am going to be there for him and to begin the march, but I am not going to make it symbolic.

We are going to walk from Atlanta, GA to Congress beginning July 13th and ending up in DC on July 23rd to send the mis-leaders back home to face the music of justice in their own districts.

It is about time us "peasants" (in the eyes of the Fascist Ruling Elite) march on DC with our "pitchforks" of righteous anger and our "torches" of truth to demand the ouster of BushCo. I have a dream of the detention centers that George has built and filled being instead filled with Orange Clad neo-cons and neo-connettes.

If Congress won't dig BushCo's political grave, it is the People's job to do so. Thomas Jefferson said that we need a Revolution every 20 years, or so, to keep our Republic honest. Over 225 years have passed since our last Revolution (if you don't count the War Between the States) and we are long overdue for one. Turn off your TVs, kiss your pets goodbye, bring the kids and flock to the federal seat of corruption, or join us on our walk there, for a People's Accountability Movement to be in the face of the Criminal BushCo and the Complicit Congress for the last week of session before they go on their undeserved vacations (why do they get vacations when the Iraqi parliamentarians don't?)

On the eve of our first revolution: You know it's right!
As I said about five weeks ago:
If she can emerge from the experience less idealistic and more militant, all the better. Personally, I found her words and deeds to be an inspiration. Hopefully her voice will not remain silent for long.
I had a hunch that she wouldn't remain on the sidelines even as I was writing those words in late May. Cindy Sheehan is back and as vocal as ever - indeed less idealistic and more militant.

Just to add a thought or two, it occurs to me that whatever emerges as an anti-war movement in this country also needs to be antipartisan. Indeed, Ms. Sheehan appears to have learned that lesson well.

This one says it all:

Click the pic for larger image. Hat tip to thoughts on the eve of the apocalypse.

There will be no peace without justice

David R. Dow:
When George W. Bush was governor of Texas, he presided over more than 150 executions. In more than one-third of the cases "57 in all " lawyers representing condemned inmates asked then-Governor Bush for a commutation of sentence, so that the inmates would serve life in prison rather than face execution.

Some of these inmates had been represented by lawyers who slept during trials. Some were mentally retarded. Some were juveniles at the time they committed the crime for which they were sentenced to death.

In all these cases, Governor Bush refused to commute their sentences, saying that the inmates had had full access to the judicial system.

I. Lewis Libby Jr. had the best lawyers money can buy. His crime cannot be attributed to youth or retardation. He has expressed no remorse whatsoever for lying to a grand jury or participating in the administration,s effort to mislead the American people about the war in Iraq. President Bush's commutation of Mr. Libby's sentence is certainly legal, but it just as surely offends the fundamental constitutional value of equality.

Because President Bush signed a commutation, a rich and powerful man will spend not a day in prison, while 57 poor and poorly connected human beings died because Governor Bush refused to lift a pen for them.
There's one standard of "justice" for the privileged, and another standard for the rest of us. Irrespective of what Congress does or does not do with regard to Bu$hCo's latest act of "flipping the bird" at the rest of us, those who care for social justice will not be silent (and we have a long memory).

Note in the margin: Even some right-wing bloggers find the Libby sentence commutation to be bizarre.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I guess it'll be up to History to impeach the Lush-Zany gang

As Jonathan Schwarz of A Tiny Revolution points out:

Harry Reid is mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore:

The President’s decision to commute Mr. Libby’s sentence is disgraceful. Libby’s conviction was the one faint glimmer of accountability for White House efforts to manipulate intelligence and silence critics of the Iraq War. Now, even that small bit of justice has been undone. Judge Walton correctly determined that Libby deserved to be imprisoned for lying about a matter of national security. The Constitution gives President Bush the power to commute sentences, but history will judge him harshly for using that power to benefit his own Vice President’s Chief of Staff who was convicted of such a serious violation of law.

Oh, if only the United States Senate had some way of judging George Bush! If only our Founding Fathers had had the foresight to provide such a method in Article I, Section 3, Clause 6 of our Constitution!

But sadly, the Senate is completely powerless in such situations, leaving this matter entirely in the hands of history.

Thank our lucky stars for History! If History were not to come to the rescue, there would be no one at all to judge Bush harshly. Surely not the House of Representatives, as such harsh judgments are, we are told, "not worth the effort". The Senate is still figuring out if there is actually still such thing as a Constitution at this point, so is left to issuing angry 30-second sound-bites and perhaps threats to vote on non-binding resolutions to say further angry things about the Prez at the next available opportunity for an angry 30-second sound-bite.

¡Viva History! We can sleep soundly tonight knowing that in 40 or 50 years hence, History will issue a harsh verdict regarding Bu$hCo's shenanigans. I don't know about you, but I am eagerly anticipating History's prompt action on this matter.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Getting Warmer

Apparently 2007 is shaping up to be the second warmest year on record, just behind 1998.

Hat tip to thoughts on the eve of the apocalypse.

Corrupt Despot Takes Care of His Own

And we're surprised? Did anyone really believe that Libby would spend so much as a second in prison? Expect despots to take care of their own even as they show no mercy to the rest of us.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Alfred McCoy and William Blum on the School of the Americas

Since a blogger calling himself gatordem, in a response to this post, has admonished me not to "stert [sic] reading books [I] can't begin to understand," I thought I'd reproduce excerpts of some of the material I have read with regards to the School of the Americas, and its implication in the gross human rights violations perpetrated in South and Central America. This of course is the same "gatordem" who also contends that the SOA/WHINSEC is "an important tool for fostering good relations with our southern neighbors."

First let's read what Alfred McCoy has written about the School of the Americas (from chapter 3: Propagating Torture in his book A Question of Torture [2006, Metropolitan Books]):
Public advocacy of human rights and official secrecy over their violations collided most notably in a long-running controversy about torture instruction at the School of the Americas, the training facility for the Latin American military that the U.S. Army had operated in Panama since 1949. As part of the U.S. withdrawal from the Canal Zone, the school moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984, bringing the facility, for the first time, within striking distance of the U.S. peace movement. Critics, who branded this facility the "School of Assassins," pressed for its abolition throughout the 1990s by mounting an annual demonstration outside the base each November. These swelling protests were led by Catholic activists, Hollywood stars like Martin Sheen, and Washington liberals like Representative Joseph P. Kennedy II (Democrat, Massachusetts). Adding to the criticism of U.S. relations with Latin militaries, the Harvard-trained lawyer Jennifer Harbury mounted a well-publicized campaign about the disappearance of her husband, a Guatemalan activist last seen in a military jail with the marks of torture. Her quiet eloquence and long fast outside the White House reduced this complex issue to a single, comprehensible human loss.

With its mix of idealism and celebrity, the movement served as a catalyst for further disclosures about torture training. After Representative Robert Torricelli (Democrat, New Jersey) charged that Harbury's husband had been murdered by a Guatemalan colonel in the CIA's employ, President Clinton's Intelligence Oversight Board investigated, and, in June 1996, produced an inadvertently revealing report. Deep inside this fifty-three-page document, the board admitted, without any detail, that "the School of the Americas and U.S. Southern Command had used improper instruction materials in training Latin American officers, including Guatemalans, from 1982 to 1991." The training materials, the board said, had passages that condoned "executions of guerrillas, extortion, physical abuse, coercion, and false imprisonment."

As both the media and the activists seized on this brief passage to file Freedom of Information lawsuits, the national security bureaucracy gradually declassified more detailed documentation. The released papers showed that the CIA's methods had spread beyond the intelligence community and been transmitted, through Army training teams, to military forces throughout Latin America. In a memo dated March 1992, the assistant secretary for intelligence oversight advised the U.S. defense secretary that a review of the department's files had found seven training manuals, all compiled during the mid-1980s, containing "material that either was not or could be interpreted not to be consistent with U.S. policy." These manuals, the assistant secretary added, "were based in part, on material dating back to the 1960s from the Army's Foreign Intelligence Assistance Program, entitled 'Project X.'" The 1992 memo indicates that the Defense Department had somehow lost control of this program, and Army trainers were operating in clear violation of military regulations. Had the CIA detached military officers from the chain of command and integrated them into a covert program with its own extralegal procedures? Significantly, the assistant defense secretary noted: "It is incredible that the use of the lesson plans since 1982, and the manuals since 1987, evaded the established system of doctrinal controls." Interviews with Army intelligence personnel who had used the manuals found they operated under the false impression that regulations on "legal and proper" interrogations "were applicable only to U.S. persons and thus did not apply to the training of foreign personnel." As a corrective, the assistant secretary's office had tried to recover all copies of the manuals from Latin American governments and recommended that, with the exception of a single file copy, the rest "should be destroyed."

The explicitness of the CIA's torture training was finally exposed to public scrutiny eight years after the Cold War's end. In January, 1997, the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post, and New York Times published extracts from the agency's Honduran handbook, the Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual - 1983, describing it as the latest edition of a thousand page manual distributed to Latin American armies for twenty years. Under the damning headline "Torture Was Taught by CIA," one press account began: "A newly declassified CIA training manual details torture methods used against suspected subversives in Central America during the 1980s, refuting claims by the Agency that no such methods were taught there."
Now let's turn to Chapter 7 ("Training New Unsavories") from William Blum's book Rogue State [published 2005, Common Courage Press]:
School of the Americas

The School of the Americas (SOA), an Army school at Fort Benning, Georgia, has been beleaguered for years by protesters because so many of its graduates have been involved in very serious human-rights abuses in Latin America, often involving torture and murder. SOA insists that it teaches its students to respect human rights and democracy. To examine this claim we must note that wars between nations in Latin America are extremely rare. The question which thus arises is: Who are these military men being trained to fight if not the army of another country? Who but their own citizens?

Over the years, SOA has trained tens of thousands of Latin American military and police in subjects such as counter-insurgency, infantry tactics, military intelligence, anti-narcotics operations, and commando operations. The students have also been taught to hate and fear something called "communism", later something called "terrorism", with little, if any, distinction made between the two, thus establishing the ideological justification to suppress their own people, to stifle dissent, to cut off at the knees anything bearing a likeness to a movement for social change which - although the military men might not think in such terms - might interfere with Washington's global agenda.

Those who have been on the receiving end of anti-communist punishment would have a difficult time recognizing themselves from this piece of philosophy from an SOA class: "Democracy and communism clash with the firm determination of the Western countries to conserve their own traditional way of life." This reads as if dissidents came from some faraway land, with alien values, and no grievances that could be comprehended as legitimate by the "Western" mind.

In September 1996, under continual insistence from religious and grassroots groups, the Pentagon released seven Spanish-language training manuals used at the SOA until 1991. A New York Times editorial declared:
Americans can now read for themselves some of the noxious lessons the United States Army taught to thousands of Latin American military and police officers at the School of the Americas during the 1980s. A training manual recently released by the Pentagon recommended interrogation techniques like torture, execution, blackmail and arresting the relatives of those being questioned.
SOA graduates have led a number of military coups - so many that the Washington Post reported in 1968 that the school was "known throughout Latin Ameica as the 'escuela de golpes' or coup school". The most recent SOA-linked coup was the 2002 short-lived overthrow of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Amongst the plotters were two SOA grads: Army Commander in Chief Efrain Vasquez and General Ramirez Poveda.

The school's alumni are also responsible for the murders of thousands of people, particularly in the 1980s, such as the Uraba massacre in Colombia; the El Mozote massacre, the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero, the rape and murder of four US churchwomen, and the Jesuit massacre in El Salvador; the La Cantura massacre in Peru; the torture and murder of a UN worker in Chile; and hundreds of other human-rights abuses.

In the village of El Mozote, El Salvador, in December 1981, from 700 to 1,000 persons were reported killed, mostly the elderly, women and children, in extremely cruel and gruesome ways. Ten of the twelve soldiers cited for the massacre were SOA graduates. In the slaying of six Jesuit priests and two others in November 1989, the UN Truth Commission revealed that 19 of the 26 Salvadoran officers involved had been trained at the SOA.

For decades SOA grads have been involved in the chain of command of virtually every major human rights atrocity in Latin America. The School of the Americas Watch has compiled a large amount of the relevant information, which can be accessed on their website.

The SOA has always claimed that it doesn't teach its students how to torture or how to commit other human-rights abuses. When the truth was revealed by the release of training manuals, the SOA claimed that it had changed its ways. But only one of 42 courses in the 1996 course catalogue - "Democratic Sustainment" - centers on issues of democracy and human rights. In 1997, only 13 students took this course, compared with the 118 who took "Military Intelligence". The "mandatory human-rights component" of other courses comprises only a very small portion of the total course hours. Former SOA human-rights instructor Charles Call has reported that human-rights training is not taken seriously at the school, comprising an insignificant amount of students' overall training.

Access

Why, in the face of decades of terrible publicity, increasingly more militant protests and civil disobedience at the base in Georgia, thousands of arrests, and sharply decreasing Congressional support, has the Pentagon clung to the School of the Americas? What is it that's so vital to the military brass? The answer may lie in this: The school and its students along with a never-ending supply of US military equipment to countries in Latin America are part of a a package that serves the US foreign policy agenda in a special way. The package is called "access". Along with the equipment come American technicians, instructors, replacement parts, and more. Here is the testimony before Congress of General Norman Schwarzkopf, Commander in Chief, U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), in 1990.
Security assistance leads directly to access, and without access afforded by our friends we cannot project U.S. military forces into [an] area and stey there for any appreciable length of time.... [If] our military assistance programs diminish, our influence will erode and we will come to the point where we will have little or no ability to control the use of the weapons or the escalation of hostilities.... The second pillar of our strategy is presence. It is the symbol of America's continued interest in and commitment to stability in the region... The third pillar of CENTCOM's strategy is combined [military] exercises. They demonstrat our resolve and commitment to the region. They foster increased cooperation, and they enhance our ability to work with our friends in a coalition environment."
Thus it is that military aid, military exercises, Naval port visits, etc. - like the School of the Americas - means repeated opportunities to foster close ties, even camaraderie, between American officers and foreign military personnel; and, at the same time, the opportunity to build up files of information on many thousands of these foreigners, as well as acquiring language skills, maps, and photos of the area. In sum total: personal connections, personal information, country databases - indispensable assets in time of coup, counter-coup, revolution, counter-revolution, or invasion.

US military presence has, in effect, served the purpose of "casing the joint"; it also facilitates selecting candidates, not just Latin Americans for SOA, but thousands of military and police personnel from other continents who come to the US for training at scores of other military schools; the process of access replenishes itself. It is not unusual for the military-to-military contacts to thrive even while diplomatic relations between Washington and the students' government are rather cool (in the late 1990s, e.g., Algeria, Syria, and Lebanon) - another indication of the priority given to the contacts.

The military equipment sales that access leads to are highly valued as well.

The New Improved School of the Americas

When Congress came close to ending funding for the school in the fall of 1999, the Defense Department finally saw the writing on the wall. It announced that it was planning on making major changes to the school - less strictly military focus and more academic; civilian students as well as military; teaching democratic principles, etc.; changing the name to the Center for Inter-American Security Cooperation (Later changed to Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation or WHINSEC).

The question remains: Why keep the school at all? Are there not enough academic schools here and in Latin America that meet such a need? Americans don't have free university education. Why should the United States provide it for foreigners?

The answer appears to be the factor that the changes wouldn't affect - access; perhaps new, improved access, inasmuch as in addition to military students, there will be further access to present and future political and civilian leaders as students.

In any event, there will still be the numerous other military training facilities for foreigners in the US, in addition to the extensive training to the Pentagon abroad.

SOA/WHINSEC now claims that all their applicants must undergo a stringent vetting process, declaring: "Specifically, Chiefs of Missions should ensure that all nominees for training or travel grants, military or civilian, in country or in the U.S., are scrutinized for records of human rights abuses, corruption, or criminal activities that would render them ineligible or inappropriate for the U.S. training programs."

School of the Americas Watch, in Washington, DC, has questioned this. The activist group claims that the screening process for applicants to WHINSEC is mostly cosmetic. They offer the following examples:

In a well known and high profile cases, Col. Francisco del Cid Diaz was investigated by the 1992 UN-mandated El Salvador Truth Commission as having bound, beaten, and shot 16 residents from the Los Hojas cooperative of the Asociacion Nacional de Indigenas. Yet Col. del Cid Diaz attended WHINSEC in 2003.

While a captain, Filmann Urzagaste Rodriguez, was one of those responsible for the kidnap and torture of Waldo Albarracin, then the director of the Popular Assembly for Human Rights in Bolivia. The now-Major Urzagaste took a 49-week officer training course at WHINSEC in 2002.

Three Colombian police officers - Captain Dario Sierro Chapeta, Lieutenant Colonel Francisco Patino Fonseca, and Captain Luis Benavides - were under investigation for personal use of counter-narcotics funds t the same time they attended WHINSEC in 2002-03.
Blum then goes on to offer a brief description of the Office of Public Safety (OPS) schools, that "did for foreign police officers what the SOA did for the military." The OPS and its role in Latin American human rights abuses has been documented extensively in Martha Huggins' book Political Policing. Dr. Huggins also describes the role the OPS played in gaining and maintaining US access in Latin America. Blum has described the human-rights consequences of SOA and OPS training in his book Killing Hope.

A brief synopsis of the above: it should be abundantly clear that contrary to gatordem's protestations (which amount to little more than the parroting of pro-SOA talking points), the SOA/WHINSEC has not fostered good relations with our Latin American neighbors. Nothing could be further from the truth, as SOA/WHINSEC graduates have implicated themselves in many of the most notorious massacres and tortures in Central and South American history. As a means of prying open access to Latin American nations, the SOA/WHINSEC does serve a purpose, albeit that purpose is far from benign. Nor does the new "improved" SOA appear to be all that "improved."

If gatordem can provide a surreal interpretation of the works cited, I would find it entertaining, I suppose - albeit in the sense that a celebrity meltdown can be entertaining. Contra gatordem, I have ample understanding of these authors' books, and am more than happy to share what I have learned and continue to learn to those who dare to read this blog. As for gatordem: my guess is that the dude has never read any of these authors nor would he likely be motivated to do so.

Say Hello To

The Barstool Chronicles, serving up "dispatches from the existential sinkhole." Seems like a kindred spirit (so much so I just added it to the blogroll).

Even with the continued SOA funding, its days may be numbered

Larry E of Lotus reminds us that the School of the Americas (or Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation as it's called these days) is not as well-attended as it once was:
Some Latin American leaders are souring on the school: Venezuela, Argentina, and Uruguay have dropped out and Bolivia says it will be doing so gradually. Last month Costa Rica, which has no army, announced it would no longer send any of its police for training there.
Hopefully its days are truly numbered.

Blast from the past

Here's a couple paragraphs from Chapter 3 ("Our Little Region Over Here") of On Power and Ideology: The Managua Lectures by Noam Chomsky [published 1987 by South End Press]:
In the conservative British journal The Spectator, correspondent Ambrose Evans-Pritchard explains the reasons for the changes that have occurred in the pattern of murder and torture in this client state [note: Chomsky is referring to El Salvador]. He reports an "improvement" in El Salvador: "Numbers are down and the bodies are dropped discreetly at night into the middle of Lake Ilopango and only rarely wash up onto the shore to remind bathers that the repression is still going on." This "improvement"results from the fact that "the war no longer requires" the earlier approach of indiscriminate slaughter: "The death squads did exactly what they were supposed to do: they decapitated the trade unions and mass organizations that seemed in danger of setting off an urban insurrection at the beginning of the decade," and now, following the directions of its U.S. military advisers, the army - in effect, a U.S. proxy army - is following the classic tactic implemented by the U.S. in its successful destruction of the South Vietnamese resistance: "to drive civilians out of the zones and leave the guerrillas cut off from their support structure. Without the 'sea' (people), wrote Chairman Mao, the 'fish' (guerrillas) cannot survive. So the sea must be drained." The peasants flee air attacks with 500 pound bombs and fragmentation bombs that "blast shrapnel in all directions," and then "the troops go through their villages, burning crops, killing livestock, tearing down houses, ripping up water pipes, and even planting hideous booby traps in the ruins they leave behind." The army, Evans-Pritchard continues, "learnt its tricks at American counter-insurgency schools in Panama and the United States. 'We learnt from you,' a death squad member once told an American reporter, 'we learnt from you the methods, like blowtorches in the armpits, shots in the balls.' And political prisoners often insist they were tortured by foreigners, sometimes Argentinian, others maybe American."

The careful observer will find that the worst atrocities have regularly been conducted by elite battalions fresh from their U.S. training. Salvadoran officers who admit their participation in death squad killings describe their service under CIA control and the training sessions on effective torture conducted by U.S. instructors. The significance of these fact cannot, however, be perceived in the West.
My emphasis added. Whenever I read inane comments such as this I feel a need to set the record straight. The notions that the SOA is "an important tool for fostering good relations with our southern neighbors" and that the Latin Americans "are masters of [torture and murder], and in fact, could probably teach us a lot more than we could teach them on those topics" are themselves misguided and insulting.