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Human Rights: The Stain of Gitmo

Since its creation over five years ago, Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has been a source of human rights abuses that has tarnished the reputation of the United States.

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GOOD NEWS

Construction in New Orleans’s devastated Lower 9th Ward began yesterday on an “environmentally friendly new home, based on the winning design in a competition started by Brad Pitt.”


STATE WATCH

MISSOURI: State senators successfully block Gov. Matt Blunt’s (R) appointment of an anti-stem cell scientist to a life sciences research board.

HAWAII: Bills to enhance the quality of life for indigenous Hawaiians move a step closer to passage.

ILLINOIS: State House rejects Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s (D) tax plan that would raise funds for “schools, transportation, health care and pensions.”


BLOG WATCH

THINK PROGRESS: Bush administration officials mocked Sen. Mark Pryor’s (D-AR) concerns about gender discrimination at the Department of Justice.

THINK PROGRESS: CBS fires Gen. John Batiste for appearing in a VoteVets ad that criticized the Iraq war.

COLORADO MEDIA MATTERS: “Despite previous reporting, Rocky Mountain News ignored the resignation of Bush-appointed Interior Department official.”

NEWS HOUNDS: Fox News pundit Bill Cunningham claims Alan Colmes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), and Rosie O’Donnell will be responsible for the next attack on America.


DAILY GRILL

“Odd, I only thought it was the radical left in our own nation which enjoys likening the United States to Nazi Germany.”
— Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), 5/10/07

VERSUS

“[L]iberals have finally joined the ranks of scoundrels like Hitler.”
— DeLay, in his book No Retreat, No Surrender


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  May 11, 2007
The Stain Of Gitmo
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The Stain Of Gitmo

Since its creation over five years ago, Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba has been a source of human rights abuses that has tarnished the reputation of the United States. Leaders across the world have called for the closure of the facility, including, for example, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and even President Bush’s ally outgoing-British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The facility faces widespread criticism at home as well. A poll conducted last year showed that over two-thirds of Americans believe the United States “should change the way it treats detainees.” Bush claimed last year, “I’d like to close Guantanamo.” But recent actions from the Bush administration reveal that this was simply a PR stunt. Earlier this month, a new detainee was transferred to Guantanamo in “the latest signal sent by the Bush administration that it was not committed to any plan to close the facility.” Congress and the administration must take action to close Guantanamo and restore basic rights and dignities to detainees.

IGNORING MILITARY LEADERS: The longer Guantanamo remains open, the more isolated Bush grows from his own military leaders. In the wake of a recent report saying servicemembers in Iraq overwhelmingly favored the use of torture tactics, Army Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, wrote a letter yesterday condemning the practice. “Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture…to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, history shows that they are also frequently neither useful or necessary,” he declared. In a hearing in March, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who has broken with the Bush line multiple times before, told Congress that he wanted to close Guantanamo and transfer detainees to the United States for trial. “There is a taint about it,” Gates said about the perception of torture in the international community. “I [feel] that no matter how transparent, no matter how open the trials, if they took place at Guantanamo, in the international community, they would lack credibility.” In fact, in his first weeks as defense secretary, Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice both “told President George W. Bush and others that [the prison] should be shut as quickly as possible.” Unfortunately, their views were quickly muzzled by Bush, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and Vice President Dick Cheney.

RIGHT-WING SCARE TACTICS REJECTED: In 2005, Center for American Progress senior analyst Ken Gude produced a report that proposed the administration “close the prison at Guantanamo and shift detainee operations to Ft. Leavenworth, KS.” This year, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) raised this strategy raised in Congress, yet conservatives twisted it into an effort to scare the public into opposing Guantanamo’s closure. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) sounded the alarm that congressional leaders were trying to “import dangerous terrorists into American communities” and could “potentially endanger thousands of American civilians.” But his fear-mongering was rebuked by the citizens of Ft. Leavenworth. The area was “accustomed to high-profile prisoners,” as it already had a maximum-security federal prison. “We are a prison friendly town and do support our local penitentiaries,” declared a local official, dismissing the scare tactics. Even war proponents like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) believe such a shift would be prudent. “I would probably announce the closing of Guantanamo Bay. I would move those detainees to Fort Leavenworth. I would announce we will not torture anyone,” he said last month.

GUANTANAMO’S INEFFECTIVENESS: Australian Guantanamo detainee David Hicks was held at Guantanamo for five years prior to pleading guilty to “knowingly assisting a terrorist organization” earlier this year. On the other hand, John Walker Lindh, the so-called “Taliban American,” was tried under the American court system with full due process and received a much longer 20-year sentence for similar charges. “Like Lindh, Hicks was apprehended overseas. Like Lindh, Hicks was initially accused of being a terrorist. Like Lindh, the government eventually narrowed the charges down to providing material support to the Taliban.” The military commission system was less effective than U.S. courts in putting a convicted terrorist behind bars, as Hicks will be walking free by winter while Lindh still has 15 years of his sentence to serve. Additionally, Hicks’s case calls attention to a continuing concern about the strength of evidence linking the detainees to terrorist activity. “Fewer than 20 percent of the Guantanamo detainees, the best available evidence suggests, have ever been Qaeda members. … Many scores, and perhaps hundreds, of the detainees were not even Taliban foot soldiers, let alone Qaeda terrorists. They were innocent, wrongly seized noncombatants with no intention of joining the Qaeda campaign to murder Americans.” The AP found that once Guantanamo detainees were returned to their home country, four-fifths of them “were either freed without being charged or were cleared of charges related to their detention.”

HABEAS CORPUS CONTINUES TO BE DENIED: Last October, Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which retained language stripping detainees of habeas corpus rights. Without habeas corpus rights, detainees at Guantanamo have no ability to question their detention. “It’s one of the core rights that makes the United States different from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran and Kim Jong Il’s North Korea,” notes USA Today.  Both the Washington Post and New York Times also published strongly worded editorials advocating the restoration of habeas rights this week. Furthermore, habeas restoration is favored by families of 9/11 victims, former diplomats, and many military and religious leaders. But Bush has pledged to veto any bill from Congress that restores habeas corpus rights to detainees. Congress recently passed up an opportunity to include provisions to restore habeas corpus to detainees in a new Defense Department authorization bill. “My judgment is that the House is best able to undertake this effort and to be successful by acting on this issue as a separate bill,” said Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO). Bills to restore habeas corpus rights have been proposed in both the House and Senate. But the administration has made clear it is not a priority. Yesterday, Gonzales said, “I haven’t really thought about” whether U.S. citizens were being held without habeas corpus.

Under the Radar

MILITARY — PENTAGON BREAKS PLEDGE TO TROOPS, SENDS THEM BACK TO IRAQ AFTER JUST NINE MONTHS AT HOME: On April 11, Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced that tours of duty for the Army would be extended from 12 months to 15 months, effective immediately. In exchange for the extensions, soldiers would receive at least a year home between deployments. This rest time was intended to “provide some long-term predictability for the soldiers and their families…particularly guaranteeing that they will be at home for a full 12 months,” Gates added. But Gates has not kept his promise. Yesterday, Stars and Stripes reported, “Members of the 1st Armored Division’s 1st Battalion, 6th Infantry, Company A, learned Tuesday that they are scheduled to head back to Iraq in November, just nine months after the 150-soldier company left the combat zone in February after a 13-month deployment.” A recent Pentagon report concluded that soldiers on extended and repeated deployments “were more likely to suffer acute stress, and that mental health problems correlated with higher rates of battlefield misconduct.” When asked yesterday about this nine-month deployment, Gates simply replied, “I’ll be very interested in finding out more about that.” Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman’s response was that “there are some people, just by the nature of transferring units and things like that may not end up with the full 12 months.” According to Whitman, the 12-month rest period between deployments “is a goal,” not a guarantee.

IRAQ — FOX NEWS PUNDIT ADVOCATES ETHNIC CLEANSING POLICY IN IRAQ: Roll Call executive editor and Fox News contributor Mort Kondracke wrote yesterday that if President Bush’s escalation plan doesn’t work, his Plan B should be “winning dirty,” which involves “accepting rule by Shiites and Kurds, allowing them to violently suppress Sunni resistance and making sure that Shiites friendly to the United States emerge victorious.” Kondracke explained that “winning dirty” entails ethnic cleansing: “Winning will be dirty because it will allow the Shiite-dominated Iraqi military and some Shiite militias to decimate the Sunni insurgency. There likely will be ethnic cleansing, atrocities against civilians and massive refugee flows.” He revealed that at least one member of Congress agrees with his plan. “No one has publicly advocated this Plan B, and I know of only one Member of Congress who backs it — and he wants to stay anonymous,” Kondracke wrote. “But he argues persuasively that it’s the best alternative available if Bush’s surge fails.”

ETHICS — CONSERVATIVES REPLACE SCANDAL-PLAGUED DOOLITTLE WITH SCANDAL-PLAGUED CALVERT: On Wednesday, the House Republican Steering Committee voted to seat Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA) on the Appropriations Committee, “filling the vacancy left by embattled Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA),” who is under investigation by the FBI for his longstanding ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff. According to Roll Call, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) “has sought to enforce a tougher ethical standard in the 110th Congress,” and thus called on Doolittle to immediately resign his committee seat in the wake of corruption charges. The choice of Calvert as Doolittle’s replacement shows that Boehner’s rhetoric is merely a PR stunt. Named one of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington’s “20 Most Corrupt Members of Congress,” Calvert has a history of abusing his power just as much as Doolittle. In 2005, Calvert pushed through an earmark to secure over $9 million for freeway and commercial development near property he owned in California. After the development of the area, Calvert sold his property for a 79 percent profit. “In another deal, a group of investors bought property a few blocks from the site of a proposed interchange, for $975,000. Within six months, after the earmark for the interchange was appropriated, the parcel of land sold for $1.45 million. Rep. Calvert’s firm received a commission on the sale.” Also in 2005, Calvert helped pass at least 13 earmarks, adding up to over $91 million, sought by Copeland Lowery, a lobbying firm currently “enmeshed in a federal investigation of Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-CA).” The lobbying firm has been Calvert’s largest campaign contributor. Despite Calvert’s controversial history, Boehner maintained that a simple interview was enough to erase his past in the eyes of House conservatives. “Congressman Calvert answered every question asked of him by the Steering Committee,” Boehner said. “It was a candid and frank conversation, and the members of the committee were satisfied with his answers.”


Think Fast

Fox New’s Bret Baier told Dick Cheney, “You are portrayed by your opponents and some in the media as this sinister figure, as this cold-blooded warmonger who doesn’t care about the number of body bags going back.” Cheney said that he regrets the casualties, but added, “Obviously, the President bears the major part of the burden. He’s the man with the authority to commit the force.”

“European leaders have told the Bush administration that Paul D. Wolfowitz must resign as president of the World Bank in order to avoid a vote next week by the bank’s board declaring that he no longer has its confidence to function as the bank’s leader.”

Yesterday, Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN), “a loyal Republican who’s always voted with the president on Iraq issues,” said he will “draft a bill that implements the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group Report…which included benchmarks and a timeline for troop withdrawal.”

Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick notes that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’s role in the U.S. Attorneys scandal has shifted to that of a “decoy.” “He’s the guy who runs out in front of the hunters and draws their fire so nobody pays any attention to what’s happening at the White House.”

Filmmaker Michael Moore “is being investigated by the Treasury Department over a trip he made to Cuba for his new film, ‘Sicko.'” The department is “investigating whether he had violated restrictions on travel to Cuba when he accompanied sick workers seeking free medical care as part of a documentary on America’s health care industry.” 

“Senators who raised millions of dollars in campaign donations from pharmaceutical interests secured industry-friendly changes to a landmark drug-safety bill.” The senators pared back the FDA’s power to monitor the safety of drugs and helped defeat “efforts to curb conflicts of interest among FDA advisers and allow consumers to buy cheaper drugs from other countries.”

“Larry Wilkerson, an aide to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said in a radio interview on Thursday that the ‘high crimes and misdemeanors‘ of the Bush Administration make the offenses for which President Bill Clinton was impeached ‘pale in comparison.'”

Summers in the eastern United States will be “much hotter than originally predicted with daily highs about 10 degrees warmer than in recent years by the mid-2080s, a new NASA study says.”

A 20 percent increase in “drug abuse among children and youths in Iraq is worrying specialists who say continued violence is responsible for the rising number of users — something that is compounded by the easy availability of different narcotics.”

And finally: “Attend at your own risk!” Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay will be speaking at an upcoming political training seminar offering “explicit discussions of ethics.” DeLay “resigned last year after being indicted on campaign finance abuses in Texas and who remains under federal scrutiny in the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal.”