"Both Sides" Are Wrong: Torture Did Work -- to Produce Lies for War (See Footnote 857 of Report)

Nothing solidifies the establishment more than a seemingly raging debate between two wings of it in which they are both wrong. Not only wrong, but in their wrongness, helping to cover their joint iniquities, all the while engaging in simultaneous embrace and fingerpointing to convey the illusion of seriousness and choice.

Such is the case with the "debate" on whether torture "worked" following the release of the Select Committee on Intelligence report on the CIA's "Detention and Interrogation Program." 

On the one side, we have among others Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein: "The big finding is that torture doesn't work and shouldn't be employed by our country" she told PBS. Similarly, a headline in the Hill tells us: "McCain: ‘I know from personal experience’ torture doesn’t work."

Then, we have six former directors and deputy directors of the CIA claiming the "interrogation program" "saved thousands of lives" by helping to capture al-Qaeda members. On this score, the Intelligence Committee report seems to have the goods, quoting CIA emails. While the former CIA directors claim a string successes based on torture: "KSM [Khalid Sheik Muhammed] then led us to Riduan Isamuddin, aka Hambali, East Asia’s chief al Qaeda ally and the perpetrator of the 2002 Bali bombing in Indonesia -- in which more than 200 people perished." But the report quotes a CIA official's internal emails: "Frankly, we stumbled onto Hambali."

But that doesn't mean Feinstein and McCain are right and that's the end of story. The truth is that torture did work, but not the way its defenders claim. It worked to produce justifications for policies the establishment wanted, like the Iraq war. This is actually tacitly acknowledged in the report -- or one should say, it's buried in it. Footnote 857 of the report is about Ibn Shaykh al-Libi, who was captured in Afghanistan shortly after the U.S. invasion and was interrogated by the FBI. He told them all he knew, but then the CIA rendered him to the brutal Mubarak regime in Egypt, in effect outsourcing their torture. From the footnote:
 
"Ibn Shaykh al-Libi reported while in [censored: 'Egyptian'] custody that Iraq was supporting al-Qa'ida and providing assistance with chemical and biological weapons. Some of this information was cited by Secretary Powell in his speech at the United Nations, and was used as a justification for the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Ibn Shaykh al-Libi recanted the claim after he was rendered to CIA custody on February [censored], 2003, claiming that he had been tortured by the [censored, likely 'Egyptians'], and only told them what he assessed they wanted to hear. For more more details, see Volume III." Of course, Volume III -- like most of the Senate report -- has not been made public.

So, while CIA head John Brennan now says it's "unknowable" if torture lead to information that actually saved lives, it's provable that torture led to information that facilitated war and destroyed lives. 

Nor was al-Libi the only one tortured to try to make the case for war. Many have reported that CIA interrogators waterboarded two alleged top al Qaeda detainees repeatedly -- Abu Zubaydah at least 83 times and Khalid Sheik Muhammed 183 times -- but few give the exact timing and context: The were so tortured in August 2002 and March 2003 respectively -- the beginning and end of the Bush administrations push for the invasion of Iraq.

This was somewhat acknowledged in the other Senate report on torture, released by the Armed Services Committee in 2008. It quoted Maj. Paul Burney, who worked as a psychiatrist at Guantanamo Bay prison: “A large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq and we were not successful. 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.” The GTMO Interrogation Control Element Chief, David Becker told the Armed Services Committee he was urged to use more aggressive techniques, being told at one point "the office of Deputy Secretary of Defense [Paul] Wolfowitz had called to express concerns about the insufficient intelligence production at GTMO."

McClatchy reported Sen. Carl Levin, the chair of the Armed Services Committee, said at that time: "I think it's obvious that the administration was scrambling then to try to find a connection, a link (between al Qaida and Iraq) ... They made out links where they didn't exist." But now, Levin seems more muted, saying, in response to the release of the recent report, that false information leads to "time-consuming wild goose chases" -- which is quite an understatement given the human horrors that have resulted from the invasion of Iraq. 

So, contrary to the claim that torture helped save lives, torture helped build the case of lies for war that took thousands of U.S. lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, helping to plunge the region into astounding violence, bringing al-Qaeda into Iraq, leading to the rise of ISIS and further bloody wars. As Arianna Huffington noted: "A perfect circle: Torture helps start Iraq War, which in turn gives us more people to torture. #happyhumanrightsday"

This oversight perhaps shouldn't come as too big a shock given who's calling the shots in Washington: Feinstein and McCain both voted for the Iraq war authorization in 2002, as did virtually everyone running foreign policy atop the Obama administration: VP Joe Biden, Pentagon heads Bill Gates and Chuck Hagel and Secs. of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. 

Some have made an issue of videos of torture being destroyed -- but it's been widely assumed that they were destroyed simply because of the potentially graphic nature of the abuse. But there's another distinct possibility: They were destroyed because of the questions they document being asked. Do the torturers ask: "Is there another terrorist attack?" Or do they more compel: "Tell us that Iraq and Al-Qaeda are working together."? The video evidence to answer that question has apparently been destroyed -- with barely anyone raising the possibility of that being the reason. 

Exploiting false information has been well understood within the government. Here's a 2002 memo from the military's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency to the Pentagon's top lawyer -- it debunks the "ticking time bomb" scenario and acknowledged how false information derived from torture can be useful: 

"The requirement to obtain information from an uncooperative source as quickly as possible -- in time to prevent, for example, an impending terrorist attack that could result in loss of life -- has been forwarded as a compelling argument for the use of torture. ... The error inherent in this line of thinking is the assumption that, through torture, the interrogator can extract reliable and accurate intelligence. History and a consideration of human behavior would appear to refute this assumption." The document concludes: "The application of extreme physical and/or psychological duress (torture) has some serious operational deficits, most notably, the potential to result in unreliable information. This is not to say that the manipulation of the subject's environment in an effort to dislocate their expectations and induce emotional responses is not effective. On the contrary, systematic manipulation of the subject's environment is likely to result in a subject that can be exploited for intelligence information and other national strategic concerns." [PDF]

So torture can result in the subject being "exploited" for various propaganda and strategic concerns. This memo should be well known but isn't, largely because the two reporters for the Washington Post, Peter Finn and Joby Warrick, who wrote about in 2009 it managed to avoid the most crucial part of it in their story, as Jeff Kaye, a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, has noted. 

One reporter who has highlighted critical issues along these lines is Marcy Wheeler -- noting as the recent report was being released: "The Debate about Torture We’re Not Having: Exploitation," where she writes: "Some other things exploitation is used for -- indeed the very things the torture we reverse-engineered for our own torture program was used for -- are to help recruit double agents and to produce propaganda." Her reporting also raises questions about how torture was used to push a whole host of policies, which would make us a virtual tortureocracy: CIA director "John Brennan has admitted to using information from the torture program in declarations he wrote for the FISA Court. This means that information derived from torture was used to scare [FISA judge] Colleen Kollar-Kotelly into approving the Internet dragnet in 2004." (Disclosure: Wheeler writes a column for ExposeFacts.org, a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work.) 

Many presumed critics of torture have been either intentionally or not obscured its connection to war making and other agendas. Teju Cole notes in an interview with the New York Times on Dec. 10 about that outlet: "The paper’s fabrications and support for the Iraq war is a generational shame that shouldn’t be too quickly forgotten. It should haunt us for a long time." But his comments on the torture report betray a total lack of understanding of the connection between torture and the invasion of Iraq, ascribing to it the very human emotions of revenge rather than the more Machiavellian realities of policy making: "Let’s acknowledge torture for what it is: It is punishment, vengeance. It’s the kind of havoc you wreak on an enemy or bystander merely because your rage needs an outlet. It has vanishingly little to do with intelligence-gathering. It spreads grief, and though it intends to do so, it spreads even much more than it intends. It destroys the perpetrators too. Rage is not a precision weapon."

But the rage of the general public -- steered in large measure by major media -- might have been useful in increased public acceptance of torture in the immediate aftermath of 9/11, but that's not what makes decisions in the U.S. It's decided by the machinations of a narrow set of elites who act in their interests as the utility of torture shows. The coverups for how war was made have grown so complex that critics like Teju Cole have been sucked into it.

Researchers for Human Rights Watch have done some good work in getting information on the al-Libi case, but Ken Roth, the head of the group doesn't seem to take to heart the lessons of that case, writing that the CIA "forgot its own conclusions from 1989: inhumane interrogation was 'counterproductive,' yielded false answers' in reference to a recent New York Times piece: "Report Portrays a Broken C.I.A. Devoted to a Failed Approach." But it's not that the CIA "forgot"-- the torture regime is actually designed to produce false but useful information that can be used to justify hideous polices. Pretending it's a "failed approach" is to exactly avoid telling the truth about the torture program just as everyone is claiming that they are telling the truth about it. 

And there are arguably other utilities of torture for war makers, often portrayed only as costs to the society as a whole: It's profitable to a few. It helps stifle dissent as a method of social control. It was likely especially effective at silencing the Arab and Muslim American community just as the U.S. was gearing up to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The recent report highlights a CIA memo that relayed instructions from the White House to apparently hide the program from then-Secretary of State Colin Powell. Powell could “blow his stack if he were to be briefed on what’s going on,” the email said. But when I questioned Powell on the connection between torture and war, he was remarkably defensive. His former chief of staff, Larry Wilkerson wrote in 2009 that the Bush administration's "principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qaeda." Shortly after he wrote that, I questioned Colin Powell at the "media stakeout" as he left the CBS studios in DC:

Sam Husseini: General, can you talk about the al-Libi case and the link between torture and the production of tortured evidence for war?

Colin Powell: I don’t have any details on the al-Libi case.

SH: Can you tell us when you learned that some of the evidence that you used in front of the UN was based on torture? When did you learn that?

CP: I don’t know that. I don’t know what information you’re referring to. So I can’t answer.

SH: Your chief of staff, Wilkerson, has written about this.

CP: So what? [inaudible]

SH: So you’d think you’d know about it.

CP: The information I presented to the UN was vetted by the CIA. Every word came from the CIA and they stood behind all that information. I don’t know that any of them believe that torture was involved. I don’t know that in fact. A lot of speculation, particularly by people who never attended any of these meetings, but I’m not aware of it.

But my questioning was based on statements by Wilkerson, who was in the room. Presumably Powell has been waiting for the CIA to call him and tell him directly that torture was used to extract some of the information he used. See my piece "How Colin Powell Showed That Torture Works" and video

This problem of torture yielding useful but false information was not unforeseeable. Professor As’ad AbuKhalil appeared on a news release for the Institute for Public Accuracy, where I work, the day after Powell’s notorious UN speech: “The Arab media is reporting that the Zakawi story was provided by Jordanian intelligence, which has a record of torture and inaccuracy.” Indeed, the utility of torture might also help further explain U.S. government ties to brutal regimes. Part of what the U.S. government derives from them is capacity to torture and kill. As professor Lisa Hajjar has noted, it was the Egyptian "Torturer in Chief" Omar Suiliman who got al-Libi to talk about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda -- the U.S. torturers in Gitmo had apparently failed. Bob Woodward quotes former CIA head George Tenet: "We created the Jordanian intelligence service and now we own it.

Of course such regimes sometimes fall in an out of favor, there can be little honor among thieves. Al-Libi himself was eventually turned over to Muammar Qaddafi, at a time when -- to the bewilderment of many -- the U.S. government was rather cordial with the former Libyan dictator. In 2009, a newspaper run by one of Qaddafi’s son’s claimed al-Libi committed suicide in his Libyan jail cell. Juan Cole wrote at the time: “The best refutation of Dick Cheney’s insistence that torture was necessary and useful in dealing with threats from al-Qaeda just died in a Libyan prison.” 

But only if we insist on forgetting this case and the evidence that lies for war and torture are joined at the hip.

Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. He also founded VotePact.org, which encourages disenchanted Demorats and Republicans to team up. His website is: husseini.posthaven.com He's on twitter: @samhusseini.

The Leak that Almost Stopped the Iraq War

[Katharine Gun will be speaking in London on Friday with several U.S. whistleblowers.] 

"I felt it was explosive, it really made me angry when I read it. ... I genuinely hoped that the information would strengthen the people's voice. ... It could derail the entire process for war." So said Katharine Gun recently when asked about information she leaked shortly before the invasion of Iraq.

It wasn't self-serving hyperbole. Daniel Ellsberg, who himself leaked the Pentagon Papers, has called Katharine Gun’s leak “the most important and courageous leak I have ever seen. … No one else -- including myself -- has ever done what Gun did: tell secret truths at personal risk, before an imminent war, in time, possibly, to avert it.”

And indeed, Ellsberg had asked for such a leak during this period. He had been saying during the run up to the Iraq invasion: "Don't wait until the bombs start falling. ... If you know the public is being lied to and you have documents to prove it, go to Congress and go to the press. ... Do what I wish I had done before the bombs started falling [in Vietnam] ... I think there is some chance that the truth could avert war."

Ellsberg had leaked the Pentagon Papers -- internal documents which showed a pattern of U.S. government deception about the Vietnam War -- in 1971, though he had the information earlier. And while the Pentagon Papers, the leaks by Chelsea Manning to WikiLeaks and the Edward Snowden National Security Agency leaks of were all quite massive, the Katharine Gun leak was just 300 words. Its power came from its timeliness. 

In October of 2002, the U.S. Congress passed the so-called Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq Resolution of 2002. In November, the U.S. government had gotten the United Nations Security Council to pass a threatening resolution on Iraq, but in most people's view, it stopped short of actually authorizing force. The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. at the time, John Negroponte, said when resolution 1441 was adopted unanimously: “There’s no ‘automaticity’ and this is a two-stage process, and in that regard we have met the principal concerns that have been expressed for the resolution.” That is, the U.S. would intend to come back for a second resolution if Iraq didn't abide by a "final opportunity to comply with its disarmament obligations." 

On February 6, 2003, Colin Powell claimed in his infamous presentation at the UN that Iraq was hiding weapons of mass destruction. February 15, 2003 saw the greatest global protests in history, with millions around the world rallying against the impending Iraq invasion, including over a million near the UN headquarters in New York City.

It was around this time that Katharine Gun -- who worked as a language specialist at the Government Communications Headquarters, the British equivalent of the NSA, got a memo from the NSA and then decided to -- through intermediaries -- leak it to the media. The brief email read in part:

"As you've likely heard by now, the Agency is mounting a surge particularly directed at the UN Security Council (UNSC) members (minus US and GBR of course) for insights as to how to membership is reacting to the on-going debate RE: Iraq, plans to vote on any related resolutions, what related policies/ negotiating positions they may be considering, alliances/ dependencies, etc - the whole gamut of information that could give US policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to US goals or to head off surprises. ... to revive/ create efforts against UNSC members Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Bulgaria and Guinea, as well as extra focus on Pakistan UN matters."

The memo outlined that U.S. and British assets should focus on getting information to pressure member of the UN Security Council to go vote for a war resolution -- material for blackmail to put it bluntly. This internal government document could show people -- especially those who tend to put stock in government pronouncements -- that what President George W. Bush was claiming at the time: “We are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq” -- was exactly backwards. The U.S. government infact was doing virtually everything it possibly could to ensure war. 

When the British reporters writing the story called the author of the memo, Frank Koza, a top official at the NSA, they were put through to his office. When they shared the nature of their phone call, they were told by an assistant they had "the wrong number." The reporters noted: "On protesting that the assistant had just said this was Koza's extension, the assistant repeated that it was an erroneous extension, and hung up." 

The story was ignored by the U.S. media, though we at the Institute for Public Accuracy put out a string of news releases about it. Gun has commented that Martin Bright, one of the reporters who broke the story for the British Observer, had been booked on several U.S. TV networks just after the story was published but they had all quickly cancelled. See video of an interview with Gun and Larry Wilkerson, former chief of staff for Colin Powell, on German TV from last year. 

However, the story did cause headlines around the world -- especially in the countries on the Security Council that the memo listed as targets of the surveillance. Through whatever combination of authentic anger or embarrassment at their subservience to the U.S. government being exposed, most of these governments apparently pealed away from the U.S., and no second UN resolution was sought by the war planners. Rather, George W. Bush started the Iraq war with unilateral demands that Saddam Hussein and his family leave Iraq (and then indicated that the invasion would commence in any case.)

In 2004, the Observer reported that "surveillance played a role in derailing a compromise UN resolution in the weeks before the Iraq war. Adolfo Aguilar Zinser, Mexico’s UN ambassador at the time, has charged that the U.S. spied on a private meeting of six swing countries on the Security Council aimed at a compromise. Zinser told the Observer: 'The meeting was in the evening. They [U.S. diplomats] call us in the morning before the meeting of the Security Council and they say: "We appreciate you trying to find ideas, but this is not a good idea."'"

Meanwhile, Katharine Gun had been found out as the leaker shortly after the memo was published -- she has a talent for telling the truth, not so much for covering up apparently -- and spent many months awaiting trial. England has no First Amendment that might have protected Gun. It does have a repressive Official Secrets Act, under which she was being prosecuted by the Blair government. 

Marcia Mitchell, co-author of The Spy Who Tried to Stop a War: Katharine Gun and the Secret Plot to Sanction the Iraq Invasion, notes however that at the last minute, the Blair government, which was about to face elections "with her signed confession in hand, chose not to present evidence that the invasion of Iraq was, in fact, legal, a demand by the Defense." That is, the British government was afraid of what could come out about the legality of the Iraq war in a trial. And so Gun, who was newly married when she exposed the NSA/GCHQ's activities, was able to avoid jail and continue as a language instructor. She has since been supportive of Edward Snowden and others who expose government wrong doing. 

At the UN

The subject of spying at the UN was again highlighted in 2010 from cables leaked to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. Reuters reported at the time: "According to one cable, the State Department asked U.S. envoys at U.N. headquarters and elsewhere to procure credit card and frequent flyer numbers, mobile phone numbers, email addresses, passwords and other confidential data from top U.N. officials and foreign diplomats." Of course, spying on UN missions by the U.S. is illegal, Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations says: "The receiving State shall permit and protect free communication on the part of the mission for all official purposes.... The official correspondence of the mission shall be inviolable."

Similarly, in 2013, the Guardian reported as G8 leaders meet in Northern Ireland: “Turkey, South Africa and Russia have reacted angrily to the British government demanding an explanation for the revelations that their politicians and senior officials were spied on and bugged during the 2009 G20 summit in London.” The governments were responding to the Guardian story: “GCHQ Intercepted Foreign Politicians’ Communications at G20 Summits,” based on Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks.

Lessons

The Katharine Gun case give us many lessons. First off, it's a great example to rebut anyone parroting the establishment line that the NSA's activities are based on stopping terrorism, or that they are merely overzealous efforts at ensuring security, or perhaps typical diplomatic games. Here, the NSA and GCHQ were spying to try to facilitate an aggressive war -- the highest war crime under the Nuremberg statues. 

Similarly, it highlights what great ideals some "whistleblowers" -- the term doesn't really do justice -- are motivated by. And of course, such revealers are much more threatening to war makers and others when they are acting in parallel with movements. Those movements may also help ward off the government attempting to imprison the whistleblower. 

The "rebuttal" that everybody spies and therefore it's no big deal when the U.S. or some other government is caught doing so similarly doesn't hold up. Yes, virtually every government spies -- but you're not supposed to get caught. And if a government does get caught, it's an indication that it's own people -- the very people who are paid to carry out the surveillance -- don't believe in it and are willing to put themselves at risk to expose the spying and the underlying wrongdoing. 

Perhaps most importantly, the lesson is not that Katharine Gun's leak was futile because the U.S. invaded Iraq -- any more than the lesson is that the February 15 global protests were in vain. Rather, more of both could have really changed things. If global protests had started in 2002, then the Congressional authorization for war in late 2002 could have been prevented. If more people within the war making governments had their consciences moved by such movements and had leaked more critical information, war could have been forestalled. 

And, even if the Iraq invasion happened, if global protests had continued and global solidarity better coordinated, when it became clear to all that the WMDs not in Iraq were a contrived pretext for aggression, a sustained revulsion against could have led to the war makers being held accountable, preventing much suffering in Iraq and elsewhere -- and laying the basis for a world free of war.


Sam Husseini is communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy. Follow him on twitter: @samhusseini

A Path out of the Reversible Straitjacket of the Political Duopoly

In perhaps the best mainstream report during the election season, the typically firmly D.C.-based Steve Inskeep went knocking on doors in Colorado and came across a woman, Ili Bennett, who told him she's felt some excitement from both Elizabeth Warren -- and in the past, the Tea Party.

Said Inskeep: "I think you've hit on something insightful here. And I want you to help me with this a little bit because the Tea Party, those are some very conservative people -- Elizabeth Warren, very liberal person. But they both represent deep unhappiness with the way things are. And it sounds like they both struck a chord with you. Am I right?"

He was and it's not one woman in Colorado of course. Politico headline today states: "Exit polls 2014: Voters hate everyone." It might seem that way to the insiders at Politico, but actually it's that voters mostly just hate the establishment of both political parties, which to Politico might seem like "everyone". And this isn't new. From 2010: "CNN Poll: Majority angry at both political parties."

The problem is that people feel they have virtually no where to go and can't translate that anger to action. There is a de-facto anti-establishment, populist majority. But the entire structure of politics, media and elections is designed to keep them divided and prevent such populists from the left or right or wherever from coalescing politically. Third parties coming from either the left (Green, Socialist) or the right (Constitution, Libertarian) are automatically dismissed by the vast majority as potential spoilers. (I've set up VotePact.org to solve exactly this problem.)

Some sectors of the media have lauded the Republican establishment's stepping into the primary process and preventing Tea Party candidates from getting nominations in so-called "swing states." Those looking for salvation in presidential elections from the likes of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or their Republican mirror images will have to bear in mind the obstacle in the primaries is "electability" (as defined by the establishment) and it's a virtual certainty that candidates who seems serious about delivering real change will be denied any nomination. Rather, such candidates will likely mostly function as a way of keeping voters on the establishment party reservation, endorsing the ultimate nominee.

As for midterm elections, part of the equation is lower and lower voter turnout -- the "leadership" of the parties is in effect firing and further marginalizing the public and their alleged bases.

The establishment will attempt to produce their own version of "bipartisanship" -- pro-establishment bipartisanship that is. The mantra of "change" is being used to peddle the never ending use of the Reversible Straitjacket of the Democratic and Republican establishments. This manifests itself as "seesaw politics" and what I've called the guillotine pendulum, helping ensure the continuity of what some call the Deep State.

The major corporate media frequently focus on marginal differences between the two major parties, but the areas of agreement between them are sizable in terms of economic, trade, civil liberties, foreign policy and other issues. On these and other critical issues, the establishments of the duopoly are frequently aligned together against their alleged bases, explaining why the public "hates everyone". Crazy public. Politicians of both parties talk about helping the little guy and then do the bidding of corporate interests.

Now, the political narrative is that Washington is dysfunctional and "can't agree on anything". The the general public is clearly being prepared to embrace whatever pro-corporate monstrosity President Obama and presumptive Senate Majority Leader McConnell agree on.

So, predictably, the Wall Street Journal is now reporting: "American businesses are hoping the dust will settle from Tuesday’s GOP takeover of Congress with new attention on corporate taxes, immigration, trade and energy, top priorities that have eluded breakthroughs in recent years. A post-election landscape that includes a more sharply divided government is likely to lead to continued frustration over some items on businesses’ wish list. At the same time, a reshaped political landscape could lead Congress and the White House to seek legislative breakthroughs on some economic issues before the 2016 election season heats up."

So, the big business agenda on taxes and corporate trade deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership could well be advanced by establishment Republicans in Congress working with the Obama administration. This could well extend to other issues such as civil liberties, more war, etc.

The anti-establishment forces either still in the Democratic Party or that have given up on the electoral process all together should join with those deluding themselves into looking for the Republican Party for some salvation. They should work to building new institutions that adopt their best beliefs.

And this must go beyond voters. There should be candidates running for Democratic and Republican nominations who -- once the establishment ensures their defeat the the primaries -- are willing, jointly perhaps, to bolt and not back the party's establishment nominees.

The day after election day is the most important. Now is the time to reach out across the partisan divide and find populists on the other side to work with. You have nothing to lose but your perpetual chains.


Sam Husseini founded VotePact.org which encourages voters to pair up with their political "mirror image" and vote for their preferred candidates rather than the "lesser evil" offered by the establishment.

Possibly AG Pick Perez Asked about Risen, Lauds "Fourth Branch of Government"

Today, as I sometimes do, I submitted a question at a National Press Club news maker event. Today, it was Labor Secretary Thomas Perez who is apparently being considered for the attorney general position.

Here's the question I submitted: "Your name has been mentioned as possible AG pick. Many are concerned about the fate of New York Times reporter James Risen and the several whistleblowers the administration has prosecuted -- more than all other administrations combined. As you know, Risen, who broke the original NSA mass surveillance story nearly ten years ago, is under threat of imprisonment to name a source. Would you as AG continue this attack on journalism and whistleblowing?"

My question didn't get asked per se, but a question about Risen was asked by the moderator, Myron Belkind that was much kinder to the administration, and didn't raise the issue of whistleblowers at all: 

Myron Belkind: [around 53:00 on the C-Span video, their transcript] "Attorney General Holder says he won't send journalists to jail for doing their job, suggesting that in New York Times reporter is unlikely to spend time behind bars. Specifically he said in an interview with MSNBC, he's that I stand by what I said. No reporter is going to jail as long as i'm attorney general. Would you maintain a position, should you happen to become attorney general? Or if not, do support that position?"

Thomas Perez: "My singular focus is on the job of being at the Department of Labor. I know the attorney general very much values the role of the press as the fourth branch of government. He served as teh deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. He often participated in her weekly conferences, whether it was good news, bad news, or indifferent. He was out there with her in those press briefings. He understands the critical importance of the press in so many aspects of our life."
 
It should be clarified, what Holder recently said on MSNBC is: “I stand by what I have said: If a reporter is doing that which he or she does as a reporter, no reporter is going to go to jail as long as I am attorney general."

Which doesn't really say much. As Norman Solomon and Marcy Wheeler [with whom I'm associated via accuracy.org and exposefacts.org] recently wrote in the Nation: the "pivotal concern for the First Amendment hinges on what 'doing his job' is understood to mean. For the men and women who work with integrity as journalists, the job must include protecting rather than betraying confidential sources. Yet the official position of the Obama administration insists on such betrayal. In a brief to the Supreme Court in April, the Justice Department argued that the government should enforce what it called 'the longstanding common-law rule that reporters have no privilege to refuse to provide direct evidence of criminal wrongdoing by confidential sources.'"

[At 59:00] Myron Belkind: If I can ask you the last question, in the Labor Department, can they do anything about the employment situation of journalists? [laughter]

Thomas Perez: [in over the top enthusiastic tone] There are a few things that keep me up at night more than the employment situation of journalists. What we do is, we hire more journalists so that they can tell our stories. Journalists like so many others have similar challenges. I hope you continue to do the great work you are doing to shine a light. When I signed your book, I said you are the fourth branch of government. Thank you for coming today. 

Flier for whistleblowing: "If you see something, say something"

This flier -- "If you see something, say something" -- can be passed out at the entrances to government and corporate buildings. The graphic of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg it features is from a billboard that was placed at strategic locations throughout Washington, D.C. (See New York Times article: "An Ad Campaign for Whistleblowers.") These billboards were co-sponsored by ExposeFacts.org and RootsAction.org. This flier is available via @PapersProject

From Gaza to Ferguson, Making an Appointment with Regrets

Establishment politicians and media sent the same message to the protesters in Ferguson and to Palestinians: If you are not violent, we will ignore your oppression. If you are violent -- even the slightest bit -- or even seem like you might be violent -- we will condemn you. 

A piece I wrote 20 years ago tells a slice of the story -- "Business as Usual After L.A. Verdict" for FAIR from 1993: 


The “Rodney King riots” in Los Angeles last year prompted some journalists to think critically about their failure to fully cover the urban problems that lay behind the unrest. At the time, MacNeil/Lehrer’s David Gergen (5/1/92) admitted that there “has really been almost a conspiracy of silence within our political leadership and often with our press about what’s really happening in this country.” Gergen, a former aide to Ronald Reagan and now a Clinton adviser, spoke of “the division into two societies, the division by race, by haves versus have nots.”

But after the second trial of the police officers who beat King ended in a mixed verdict—and no major protests—it was back to business as usual for most journalists and commentators. When Benjamin Chavis, the new head of the NAACP, was interviewed about the verdict on CBS’s Face the Nation (4/18/93), he tried to bring up issues of jobs, healthcare and childhood programs. But host Bob Schieffer seemed puzzled: “Well, things are calm,” he said, reinforcing the message sent by much of the media that violence is the only way to get attention.

Coverage of the federal trial focused on the drama and the “human interest” aspects, not on the underlying social problems. NBC interviewed Jesse Jackson at a church in Los Angeles while the verdict was being read (4/18/93); as Jackson began to speak of how the Clinton administration should address the widespread problem of police brutality, the reporter interrupted: “I saw tears in your eyes as the verdict was being read.”

The TV political spectrum does not usually extend to those who think that something can and should be done to solve urban problems. On Face the Nation(4/18/93), liberal Christopher Matthews agreed with conservative strategist Bill Kristol that what is needed is thousands more police officers. “The country is not clamoring for a jobs bill,” Matthews said. In fact, in a New York Times poll last year (5/11/92), a majority of respondents said jobs and training programs were the number one solution to city unrest. Sixty-one percent said that too little was being spent on improving the condition of African-Americans. More police was last in a field of six possible solutions.

A Global Legal Intifada: If It's a Genocide in Gaza, then Invoke the Convention to Stop it

On Monday, Iran is hosting a meeting of the Non Aligned Movement urging global action to end what top Iranian officials have called the "genocide" in Gaza. Certainly meaningful action is desperately needed. And if Iran and other governments are serious about taking action and the charge of genocide, they have an avenue open to them: Go beyond denunciations and invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel. 

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused Israel of "genocide" as has Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif: "We have repeatedly warned of this genocide conditions in Gaza." 

Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has called Israel's attack "genocide," adding: “I am saddened and disappointed to note the silence of international community against this injustice. The silence and ineffectiveness of Muslim Ummah [community] has made Palestinians more vulnerable and made Israel more aggressive. World must stop Israel from this naked and brutal aggression.”

Others who have charged that Israel is committing genocide include Bolivian President Evo Morales, who recalled that country's ambassador from Israel, as have Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, El Salvador and Peru. Said Morales: "What is happening in Palestine is genocide."

Similarly, from the the Venezuelan government: Israel has "initiated a higher phase of its policy of genocide and extermination with the ground invasion of Palestinian territory, killing innocent men, women, girls and boys."

Leading legal scholars have also called what Israel is doing genocide. It's important to note that you don't need millions of dead bodies and a Nazi industrial system of extermination to constitute genocide under the relevant convention. See from President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights Michael Ratner: "UN's Investigation of Israel Should Go Beyond War Crimes to Genocide" and the piece "More voices describe Gaza slaughter as a ‘genocide.’

But none of these governments seem to be moving to actually invoking the relevant legal remedy for the charge they make: The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

Professor Francis Boyle at the University of Illinois is proposing that they do so -- and has laid out a legal strategy to do so that attempts to shortcut the predictable obstructionism from the U.S. and Israel. He recommends countries that are signatories to the Genocide Convention:

Immediately institute legal proceedings against Israel before the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the basis of the 1948 Genocide Convention, request an Emergency Hearing by the Court, and obtain an Order by the Court against Israel to cease and desist from committing all acts of genocide against the Palestinians. This Order will then be transmitted by the Court to the United Nations Security Council for enforcement as required by the United Nations Charter. In the event the United States were to exercise a veto at the Security Council against the enforcement of this World Court Cease-and-Desist Order against Israel, you can then invoke the General Assembly’s Uniting for Peace Resolution of 1950 in order to have the World Court Order turned over to the United Nations General Assembly for enforcement against Israel. Under the terms of the Uniting for Peace Resolution, the General Assembly can recommend enforcement measures against Israel to every state in the world that would be lawful for them to carry out. In addition, the U.N. General Assembly could also admit Palestine as a full-fledged U.N. Member State. 

John Quigley, a leading expert on genocide at Ohio State University, who was an expert witness at the trial of Pol Pot, agrees that invoking the Genocide Convention could work. He notes that many countries that are signatories to the convention have stipulated reservations to the critical Article IX. The U.S. has a reservation to this Article. But Israel doesn't. Venezuela and other states currently have reservations and would be hindered in moving forward until they dropped them. However, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Gambia, Iran, Lebanon, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, Russia, Tunisia, Uganda and other countries are perfectly positioned legally to do so. (The list of signatory states is here. If there's no footnote for a country regarding Article IX, that country can move invoke the convention against Israel.) 

Notes Quigley: "A country with a reservation to Article IX could drop it and then sue. A country lacking a reservation cannot add one. A reservation can be entered only upon becoming a party."

So, what's stopping these countries from invoking the treaty against Israel? In part, it appears to be the Palestinian Authority. Or more exactly, the Palestine Office at the United Nations. Which is ironic, since PA head Abbas has called it genocide: “It’s genocide -- the killing of entire families is genocide by Israel against our Palestinian people.”

It's imperative that countries that may be considering action along these lines not be hindered by the PA -- over the course of decades, it's been clear that the PA does not have a legal strategy in play that will meaningfully protect the life and well being of Palestinians, especially in Gaza. The Palestinian establishment in Ramallah is either unwilling or unable to meaningfully protect the Palestinian people. Any move by a nation that has been critical of Israel to invoke the Genocide Convention against Israel will obviously be welcomed by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians, and likely their own publics. 

Most assessments regarding Israel's legal culpability center for the carnage in Gaza around the International Criminal Court. But Quigley, Boyle and others have criticized the ICC as being extremely selective about who they prosecute. Indeed, the Palestinians were initially rebuffed by the ICC and the ICC has shown that it is most interested in going after Africans who are critical of the Western powers. The ICC was glaringly silent when it came to the invasion of Iraq.

Some -- like Human Rights Watch -- have urged "Palestine: Go to International Criminal Court." So far, those at the Palestine mission in New York have not taken the final steps to doing so. (Human Rights Watch comes with their own set of double standards, like many legal observers, they criticize Israel, but don't take the steps that would actually put Israel in legal jeopardy, for example, they have not invoked the term "genocide" with regards to Israel, though of course they did for example with regards to Iraq.)

The Palestine mission to the UN could fear that if they went to the ICC, that court would go after Palestinians for relatively minor crimes just as the ICC has done for Africans. Or it could be because the Palestinian Authority does not want to upset Israel, either because they are defacto operating in collusion or because they fear that such a legal move against Israel would mean Israel will use even more violence, including in the West Bank and conceivably targeting PA officials and their families.  

AP recently reported
Nearly a month into Israel's fierce assault on Hamas in Gaza, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is facing mounting domestic pressure to seek war crimes charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court. 

He has hesitated in the past because such a move would instantly put the Palestinians on a risky collision course with Israel. But with about 1,400 Palestinians killed in Gaza, according to health officials, Abbas has signaled he might move ahead — cautiously.

Palestinian officials said Thursday that Abbas asked all Palestinian political factions, including Hamas and the smaller group Islamic Jihad, to give their written consent to such a move. Different PLO factions signed up in a meeting in the West Bank earlier this week, while Abbas is still waiting for a response from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, they said.

In trying to make a case against Israel, Abbas could also expose Hamas, a bitter rival turned potential political partner, to war crimes prosecution because it has fired thousands of rockets from Gaza at Israeli communities over the years.

The French lawyer Gilles Devers has filed a complaint on behalf of the Palestinian justice minister at the International Criminal Court

Whatever the cause for the PA's not fully embracing the ICC, the clear remedy is for other states to take up the flag, to in effect launch a global legal intifada against Israel using the Genocide Convention. It would be particularly poignant for countries who understand colonialism to do this -- it may even help them come to terms with their own histories.

Some, like James Paul, a longtime UN observer and former head of the Global Policy Forum, wonder if such legal proceedings could take years. Boyle however states that his strategy could win an emergency order in three weeks -- and he has a record to back it up, having successfully filed genocide charges on behalf of the Bosnians: "I filed that lawsuit on March 19, 1993 and won the order April 8, 1993 and it was immediately transmitted to the Security Council." In either case, given the recurring bombing campaigns by Israel, meaningful legal action is long overdue.

What's plainly not needed is that various states take the carnage in Gaza to simply make pronouncements denouncing Israel and the United States for political gain without invoking the legal remedies that are available to them to potentially protect Palestinians in Gaza. Of course, such a course will likely mean serious retribution of some sort from Israel and likely the United States. But that's the nature of meaningful solidarity. It's not pronouncements, it's actions that can help the oppressed and achieve justice that invariably entail risk.

Or perhaps the greater risk is not invoking the legal mechanisms available. The Palestinians are the targets today. Who will be the target years from now unless the rule of law is meaningfully asserted now?