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CIA’s 50 Years of Torture: Nothing will Change

By: Barry Lando Wednesday December 17, 2014 8:23 am

The U.S. Senate’s shocking report on CIA torture during the George W. Bush administration’s War on Terror has provoked a storm of outrage, and calls for at least some form of punishment of those responsible. It’s unlikely those calls will ever be heeded.

The fact is that the CIA under America’s leaders—Republican and Democrat–has been implicated in torture around the globe for at least the past half century.

One of the first victims of torture I met was Jovelina Nascimento, a soft-spoken young woman, I interviewed in 1971 in Santiago, Chile for CBS News.

She’d been arrested in 1970 in Sao Paolo, Brazil, along with her two-year old son and husband, Manuel, a Brazilian labor leader. He’d had to go underground as the military regime, which seized power in 1964 became ever more repressive. Torture was one of their tools. All the Nascimento family was obliged to watch.

“I tried to tell my son that the police were really not hurting his father,” Jovelina told me. “He kept on crying, telling me to make them stop beating his father. So they finally took my son away.”

“Then they stripped my husband and hung him up on the ‘parrot’s perch’ in front of me. They gave him electric shocks. He couldn’t’ help screaming. It’s impossible not to scream. Then they took him off and hung me up naked on the ‘parrot’s perch’ in front of him, and gave me electric shocks in all parts of the body.”

Jovelina was one of several Brazilian exiles whom I interviewed in Santiago. Many of those lucky enough to have been released from prison in Brazil, had fled to shelter in Chile, where Socialist President Salvador Allende was president.

Thousands of other Brazilians remained locked up. Hundreds—perhaps thousands– continued to be tortured. Hundreds had been “disappeared.”

The extent of that barbarity was revealed in another shocking report by the Brazilian Congress’s “truth commission” released the day after the U.S. Senate Committee Report:

“Agents of Brazil’s military dictatorship crucified some torture victims, beating the palms of their hands with sticks as they hung on the walls of interrogation centers. Other victims had insects like cockroaches introduced into their bodies. Interrogators submitted prisoners, including Dilma Rousseff, a former guerrilla who is now Brazil’s president, to electric shocks.”

 

No question that Brazil’s military were primarily responsible for those crimes. But, the United States and the CIA were also directly implicated in the torture and terror that wracked not just Brazil, but much of Latin America for decades.

That fact was also spelled out by the Brazilian commission, with the help of formerly classified U.S. government documents they were furnished by the Obama administration.

According to Rio’s O Globo, the commission found that 300 members of the Brazilian military spent time at the School of the Americas, run out of Fort Benning  Georgia. While there, attendees “had theoretical and practical lessons on torture, which would later be replicated in Brazil.”

 

In his book  “Torture and Impunity: The U.S. Doctrine of Coercive Interrogation,” historian Alfred W. McCoy writes that American instructors at the School of the Americas emphasized tortures that, though they might permanently cripple the victim psychologically, wouldn’t leave physical scars–such techniques as forcing prisoners to maintain excruciating positions without sleep, often for days on end; assaulting the senses with blinding light and deafening sound; or creating a hallucinatory environment of total sensory deprivation.  There were also mock executions, physical humiliation, threats of rape or death to family members, virtual “burial” in a coffin-sized confinement.

The CIA began secretly researching such techniques under President Eisenhower. As Mc Coy puts it, they were out  “to crack the code of human consciousness, a veritable Manhattan project of the mind, with costs that peaked at a billion dollars a year.” They were spurred on by news of Soviet mind-control experiments and methods used in Soviet KGB interrogations.

As the Cold War continued, the CIA refined their torture techniques, propagating them within the U.S. intelligence community and among America’s anti communist allies. The CIA also helped set up sophisticated databases and provided material—for instance, shipping polygraph and electroshock machines in diplomatic pouches to U.S. Public Safety officers across Latin America.

There was a growing demand for their product. Indeed, the brutality of the Brazilian military was nothing compared to the barbarity of right-wing regimes that took power in Chile in 1973 and Argentina in 1976. The U.S. provided not just technical advice and equipment, but political cover as well. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was adamant that concerns about such things as torture and disappearances not get in the way of full-throated U.S. backing for America’s military allies.

After learning later that State Department officials had made a formal protest to the new military junta in Argentina out of concern for the growing number of political assassinations and disappearances, Kissinger fumed:  “I want to know who did this and consider having him transferred.”

In fact, while U.S. Ambassador Hill was attempting to reign in Argentine excesses. Kissinger was reassuring Argentine Admiral Guzzetti: “In the United States we have strong domestic pressures to do something on human rights… We want you to succeed. We do not want to harrass [sic] you.”

Later, Ambassador Hill sent a bitter complaint to the Department of State that Guzzetti had returned to Argentina in a “state of jubilation” after another meeting with Kissinger.

 

In Central America, in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, it was the same picture: right wing regimes, closely allied with the United Sates, receiving encouragement, political cover, material support and training in torture by the U. S.

Indeed, the CIA was also able to establish a kind of old boys network, bringing Argentine officers, veterans of that nation’s “dirty war”, to Honduras to train local army interrogators as well as Contras from neighboring Nicaragua.

http://www.nytimes.com/1988/06/09/opinion/abroad-at-home-raw-dead-rats.html

The CIA’s links with torture and brutal allies extended far beyond Latin America.  The Agency was intimately involved with the Shah of Iran’s secret police, the Savak. It was also behind the infamous Phoenix Program in South Vietnam which the U.S. financed and directed between 1965 and 1972, in a bloody but ultimately futile attempt to destroy the Viet Cong.

The program operated forty interrogation centers that killed more than twenty thousand suspects and tortured countless thousands others. Later, officials connected with the program admitted that most of those eliminated were low-ranking VC; many had no important links with the guerrillas at all.

Because of the outcry provoked by media reports and congressional investigations into the CIA’s involvement with such lurid projects, the Agency according to its own inspector general, discontinued all involvement in brutal interrogation techniques. Thus, when they were ordered to take off the gloves after 9/11, there was a considerable amount of improvising, both for the CIA and the American military.

That led, among other things, to the horrors of Abu Ghraib, perpetrated by outside contractors and army reservists, overwhelmed by the masses of prisoners they were ordered to somehow cope with.

In order to avoid direct involvement in the more violent forms of torture, the Bush –and later the Obama—administrations also shipped scores of suspects caught up in the War on Terror off to dark holes in Poland, or Morocco, Jordan, Egypt, and Ethiopia; even Uzbekistan infamous for its torturers.

Craig Murray, the British Ambassador there, complained to London at the time, “We receive intelligence obtained under torture from the Uzbek intelligence services, via the U.S….Tortured dupes are forced to sign confessions showing what the Uzbek government wants the US and UK to believe, that they are we are fighting the same war against terror.”

Cooperation in the war on terror went both ways. The United States has allowed security officials from countries with some of the worst human rights records, such as Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Libya, Jordan, China, and Tunisia to interrogate prisoners at Guantánamo.

According to the Center for Constitutional Rights, “Detainees have been subjected to threats and abuse from these foreign interrogators, with the active involvement of U.S. forces in Guantánamo. Further, threats of torture, imprisonment, harm to one’s family and even death upon return to their home country have solidified detainees’ fears of forced repatriation in some instances.

For instance, after Uzbek interrogators threatened to torture him and his family upon his return, and claimed that the U.S. government was sending him back, one Uzbec prisoner attempted to hang himself in his prison cell. After he recovered, he was turned over again to the Uzbek interrogators who continued their brutal threats.

On another occasion, in 2004 Libyan intelligence asked the CIA to “render” to them an Islamic activist named Abdel Hakim Belhaj. Aided by Britain’s MI5 intelligence agency, the CIA had the suspect seized at Kuala Lumpur, assigned two agents to torture him in Bangkok, and then flew him and his pregnant wife home to Libya for six years of beatings and solitary confinement inside the worst of Qaddafi’s prisons. He claims that while incarcerated he was also questioned by British interrogators.

Now a major political figure in post-Qaddafi’s Libya, Belhaj has just won the right to sue the UK government over his kidnapping.  The British court didn’t buy the government’s argument that by revealing the facts of the case (i.e. the involvement of the CIA), relations between the UK and the U.S. would be seriously damaged.

 

Which makes the point that, despite the horrific report on CIA just released in the U.S., despite the outrage provoked little–if anything–is going to happen. If anyone is to be penalized or punished or even publicly reprimanded for the atrocities that took place during the War on Terror, it is much more likely to be officials from other countries, who may be called to task for their role in the American-led crusade. The Brazilian report, for instance, cites 377 people who were involved with torture in their country by name. The U.S. Senate’s report cites nary a one.

Officials directly responsible for the CIA’s torture, such as Dick Cheney, who in other times and places, might have faced trial as a war criminals, are instead on television, actually boasting of their obscene actions, claiming—falsely—that torture produced important results–even as they attempt to deny that “torture” actually took place. Meanwhile, mainstream U.S. media tip-toe around actually using the “T word.”`

President Obama himself indicates he has no stomach to see anyone punished. He just wants, he says, to turn the page.

How then will anything change? Good question. The New York Time’s Anthony Lewis posed a similar one in 1988, after commenting on an expose of the CIA involvement with torture and repression in Honduras, by Times reporter James Le Moyne. Lewis concluded:

”American officials who spoke to me about these matters,” Mr. LeMoyne wrote, ”seemed deeply troubled by the political and moral meaning they held.”

Yes, the American conscience still exists. Our public would not accept involvement with such cruelty if it knew. But it does not know until someone breaks the silence. Secrecy prevents accountability.

 

The policy has operated in the dark for years, under more than one Administration. Will there be a President soon who understands the costs, human and political? Who has the courage to say ”Enough”?

 

That question was asked 26 years ago.

 

 

 

A decent nation would have impeached Bush and Obama

By: joe shikspack Wednesday December 17, 2014 6:59 am

Water_cureThe administration of George W. Bush committed a number of actions, some of which are likely criminal, some of which expand the powers of the executive beyond credible fidelity to the constitution and some of which are just plain offensive regardless of their legality. President Obama, who followed Bush into office, made some show of reversing some of the policies of his predecessor that had brought protest from civil libertarian and good government groups. Other policies were maintained intact or, worse, expanded. Obama’s failures in this regard and his failure to prosecute his predecessor for actions like torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, maintaining secret foreign gulags, warrantless mass surveillance, and manipulating intelligence and catapulting propaganda to lead the nation into a dubiously legal preemptive war, among other actions, have created a culture of impunity that makes these sorts of offenses likely to recur.

First a bit of housekeeping. This is a discussion of the potential impeachment of George W. Bush (which opportunity has passed) and Barack Obama for a variety of actions that their administrations have taken. This is not to say that impeachment is the only remedy that is appropriate for these actions. Though the statute of limitations has run out on some of Bush’s crimes, others have no statute of limitations:

President Bush and Vice President Cheney may also be criminally culpable for waterboarding and other forms of torture. This should also be investigated now, even though there is no statute of limitations for waterboarding and other life-threatening forms of torture—those responsible may be prosecuted as long as they live. Both President Bush and Vice President Cheney have publicly admitted their involvement in waterboarding detainees abroad. The federal anti-torture statute makes it an apparent crime to have done so.

Impeachment may not be politically feasible or even necessarily a potentially fruitful pursuit for its own sake (though the public debate around such an effort could be quite useful). Further, the focus on these two presidents is not meant to, in any way, take away from the culpability of members of their administrations, other parts of government, or the military and intelligence communities for their parts in a variety of actions.

To some extent, this article will make claims about what should have been done in the past. There is yet time, though, to take corrective actions in venues other than a compromised and internally deadlocked Congress, which may be too corrupt and complicit to act or even demand a decent explanation of the President’s deeds. We can yet look to the potential for eventual actions by international legal bodies for violations of laws which the United States has pledged to uphold. Further, and more importantly, in light of the coming change of administrations, our fellow Americans should speak to power on this issue and make it conform to the standards of a decent nation.

We are often told that elections have consequences and one of them seems to be that what is not punished or prevented becomes precedent for the next administration. So it is critically important for a decent nation to put endless wars, torture, renditions, dragnet surveillance of citizens and other such issues on the agenda so that the next occupant of the White House will not dare to claim or expand the powers that the current occupant has used to such disastrous consequence for Americans and people around the world.

A culture of impunity leads to an escalation of bad executive behavior

In the wake of the release of the Pentagon Papers, the Watergate scandal and a flood of other revelations about government overreach, considerable efforts were made to rein in the executive branch.

In discussing the origins of the War Powers Act, former Senator Mike Gravel, in his book A Political Odyssey: The Rise of American Militarism and One Man’s Fight to Stop It, provides a stark example of how the unpunished abuse of power by one administration goes on to be exploited by future administrations:

In … April 1972, the Senate began debating a bill that would limit the executive’s war-making powers. The United States overthrew monarchy, but discovered that a profit-motivated democracy can develop its own forms of tyranny. Prior to the Cold War, Congress followed the Constitution. It formally declared wars. But since Truman sent troops to Korea in 1950, Congress had abdicated perhaps its most serious responsibility. Presidential abuse of power in foreign affairs became routine and Nixon seized it with abandon.

Despite the actions to rein in executive abuses in the wake of the Nixon administration, a chain of actions by later administrations that were not held accountable by Congress has created the culture of impunity that has escalated to the most recent administration’s usurpation of powers that were supposed to be addressed by the remedies created in the mid to late 1970′s.

There is a culture of impunity that an impeachment action is meant to cure by reasserting the public’s will over executives who go astray. We’ve seen this movie before.

Here’s a section from a post that I wrote years ago calling for Bush’s impeachment. Abuses of office by Presidents Reagan and Bush the Elder were let stand by craven Democrats eager for electoral gain at the expense of justice:

Democrats have a long-standing pattern of sacrificing justice in an attempt to achieve an elusive bipartisan comity. John Conyers and Henry Gonzalez’ call for impeachment in 1983 over Reagan’s Grenada invasion – scuttled. Henry Gonzalez’ 1987 motion for impeachment over Iran Contra – scuttled. Actually, not just scuttled, stillborn by choice of the investigators:

The shredded documents and shredded memories of the White House cover-up are usually blamed for the failure of the committees to uncover ”all of the facts.” But there are other reasons, namely the limitations that the committees imposed upon themselves or allowed to be imposed on them. They began the investigation by immediately imposing an unrealistic deadline for ending it. They agreed to permit the White House to review all internal documents for ”relevance” before being released to investigators. They made no attempt to locate and make evidentiary use of Presidential calendars, nor did they seek Presidential telephone logs. They were intimidated by the public reaction to the immunized testimony of Marine Lieut. Col. Oliver L. North, and flummoxed by the immunized testimony of Poindexter, who said he had not told the President of the diversion, in order to give him ”deniability.”

Most important, senior members of the Senate committee, which played the dominant role, agreed from the outset that specific evidence of a Presidential ”act of commission” would be necessary before Reagan himself would become a target. No amount of Presidential negligence or nonfeasance, they decided, would justify a potential impeachment proceeding that could be dangerous for the nation.

Here’s how the 1987 investigation was described at the time in the Washington Post on August, 4 1987 in an article titled, “Hill to Reagan: All is Forgiven” (sorry no link, I got it from Lexis-Nexis at the library):

The message from Congress to Reagan was, “Come home, all is forgiven.”

Congress has been lied to, berated, patronized, needled, baited and, in the case of Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, mugged by witnesses.

But because the president has thrown two rascals out and replaced them with rational men, Congress is ready to start over. It is grateful to Reagan for not making them impeach him.

Congress, like a battered wife, will take back the abusive husband. He fell among evil companions, that’s all. She will give him another chance. Divorce, like impeachment, can be so messy.

With that pattern set, it was no surprise that when Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he and the Democratic leadership of the time scuttled four legal actions that would have led to prosecutions of Bush the elder and many in his administration:

But, in 1993, Clinton and the Democratic congressional leadership concluded that pursuit of these “old” scandals would only embitter the Republicans, make the Democratic Party look vindictive and endanger the bipartisanship that Clinton saw as essential for his domestic policy agenda…

The Democratic retreat from the investigative battles in 1993 would have another profound effect on the future of American politics. By letting George H.W. Bush leave the White House with his reputation intact – and even helping Bush fend off accusations of serious wrongdoing – the Democrats unwittingly cleared the way for a restoration of the Bush political dynasty eight years later.

The investigations and legal actions related to Iran-contra, BNL/BCCI among others spanned several administrations, despite having been undermined all along by timid Democrats and finished off in a bid to obtain political goodwill from Republicans that never materialized. If anything, Clinton and the Democratic leadership’s caving in on these issues was taken as weakness by the congressional Republicans, who rewarded Clinton’s actions with even sharper opposition and impeachment. In terms of the Republican general public, Clinton and the Democrats were demonized and creating anti-Clinton, anti-Democratic, anti-liberal propaganda became a cottage industry, launching the careers of scads of conservative media wingnuts.

The pattern of craven Democrats selling out justice in hopes of partisan advancement continued through the Bush the Younger administration as a Democratic Congress under Nancy Pelosi refused to put accountability on the table for the many abuses of the Bush administration, both before the election that would bring Democrats back into control of the House:

Seeking to choke off a Republican rallying cry, the House’s top Democrat has told colleagues that the party will not seek to impeach President Bush even if it gains control of the House in November’s elections, her office said last night.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told her caucus members during their weekly closed meeting Wednesday “that impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it,” spokesman Brendan Daly said.

… and afterwards:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is proving to be the surprise O. Henry ending to last November’s elections. The American voters gave Democrats clear control of Congress, rebuked President George W. Bush, and voiced an unequivocal public craving to trade in customary narrow-minded politics for something more inspiring. Yet motivated by partisan concerns over the 2008 elections, the new speaker is following President Bush around like a sheep while he solidifies an imperial presidency and diminishes the Congress into irrelevancy. …

The prospect of an impeachment inquiry by the House judiciary committee would concentrate the minds of the president and vice president wonderfully on obeying rather than sabotaging the Constitution. But Speaker Pelosi has at least figuratively joined hands with the White House in opposition. Emulating the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland, she has threatened the removal of Michigan Rep. John Conyers from his chairmanship of the House judiciary committee if an impeachment inquiry were even opened, according to reliable congressional chatter.

… leading many to the reasonable conclusion that the Democrats were complicit in the crimes of the Bush Administration which the public favored impeachment of Bush and Cheney for:

It’s just been disclosed that Representative Jane Harmon and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were briefed by the Bush administration on the use of waterboarding. Harmon objected but Pelosi did not — and when she became speaker of the house, she rejected Harmon for chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The Administration has frequently responded to charges of Executive usurpation by saying the Congressional leaders were fully briefed on such questionable practices as NSA surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and enhanced interrogation techniques. …

According to the Washington Post, since 2002 leading Democrats lawmakers received “about 30 private CIA briefings,’ some of which included descriptions of waterboarding, overseas rendition sites, “and other harsh interrogation methods.” Officials present at some of the meetings, told the Post that the reaction from legislators “was not just approval, but encouragement.”

Pelosi’s staunch, off-the-rails resistance in the face of public demand for accountability of the Bush administration has set the pattern for craven Democrats following the elections of 2008 to avoid the alleged partisan strife that would cause a lack of comity in the legislative branch leading to, erm, nothing getting done. Ooops, that happened anyway. Regardless, Democrats have been a forward-looking bunch.

obama-press-conference (Small)

Obama didn’t take long to warm up to fighting justice and stonewalling investigations. Within about 6 months of taking office, he was already denying UN experts’ requests for visits to Guantanamo and data about CIA prisons, not to mention continuing Bush’s program of renditions. Also, in that time frame Obama “looked forward” about an attempt in Spain to prosecute some of the Bush torture support squad:

Asked for the first time to respond to the likelihood that Spanish prosecutors will target officials in the Bush administration for sanctioning torture at Guantanamo Bay, Barack Obama stressed, once again, that he prefers to look forward, not backward.

In an interview with CNN En Español that aired on Wednesday, the president noted that his administration had ordered the closure of Guantanamo and put an end to policies of enhanced interrogation that “ran counter to American values.” But he wouldn’t wade into the debate over a lawsuit filed by six Spaniards who allege they were tortured at the detention center. A Spanish court is threatening to investigate former Bush officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, for their complicity in torture.

Obama was stonewalling by refusing to “wade in to the debate over a lawsuit filed by six Spaniards who alleged they were tortured,” and thanks to Wikileaks, Obama’s actions have been exposed:

In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. A “confidential” April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

Since the days before taking office when Obama decided to “look forward,” many policies of his administration have perpetuated and extended the dubiously legal policies of his predecessor. The failure of the Democratic majority in Congress to hold Bush accountable has created a new baseline of bad actions for Obama to build on to target even the most basic civil rights for destruction, shredding protections of civil liberties – and even Obama’s rhetoric has taken on a remarkable resemblance to Bush’s.

As Dan Froomkin put it:

In a lot of ways, we’re worse off today than we were under George W. Bush.

Back then, Bush’s extremist assault on civil liberties, human rights and other core American values in the name of fighting terror felt like an aberration.

The expectation was that those policies would be quickly reversed, discredited — and explicitly outlawed — once he was no longer in power.

Instead, under President Barack Obama, they’ve become institutionalized. …

Obama has set even darker precedents than his predecessor. Massively invasive bulk surveillance of Americans and others has been expanded, not constrained. This president secretly condemns people to death without any checks or balances, and shrugs as his errant drones massacre innocent civilians. Whistleblowers and journalists who expose national security wrongdoing face unprecedented criminal prosecution.

What impeachment is and what it’s for

Among the greatest concerns of the US founding fathers was the potential of the federal government that they created to revert into a tyrannical oppressor state. They had concerns about the executive committing the nation to perpetual war. Incidentally, they had concerns about the use of torture and created explicit constitutional prohibitions against it. They created a mechanism to hold the executive accountable, so as not to grant the sort of authority of a tyrant:

The President of the United States would be liable to be impeached, tried, and, upon conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes or misdemeanors, removed from office; and would afterwards be liable to prosecution and punishment in the ordinary course of law. The person of the king of Great Britain is sacred and inviolable; there is no constitutional tribunal to which he is amenable; no punishment to which he can be subjected without involving the crisis of a national revolution.

As Hamilton alludes to in Federalist #69 above, the founders left a legacy of two means to deal with the arrogation of tyrannical powers, the example set by their actions and the method embedded in the Constitution.

In discussions of impeachment, there is often considerable discussion of whether the charges against the president amount to criminal acts. This excerpt from a report written and released by the Judiciary Committee in 1974 in the aftermath of the Watergate crisis explains (briefly) what sort of charges may be raised:

Impeachment is a constitutional remedy addressed to serious offenses against the system of government. The purpose of impeachment under the Constitution is indicated by the limited scope of the remedy (removal from office and possible disqualification from future office) and by the stated grounds for impeachment (treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanors). It is not controlling whether treason and bribery are criminal. More important, they are constitutional wrongs that subvert the structure of government, or undermine the integrity of office and even the Constitution itself, and thus are “high” offenses in the sense that word was used in English impeachments.

While it may be argued that some articles of impeachment have charged conduct that constituted crime and thus that criminality is an essential ingredient, or that some have charged conduct that was not criminal and thus that criminality is not essential, the fact remains that in the English practice and in several of the American impeachments the criminality issue was not raised at all. The emphasis has been on the significant effects of the conduct– undermining the integrity of office, disregard of constitutional duties and oath of office, arrogation of power, abuse of the governmental process, adverse impact on the system of government. Clearly, these effects can be brought about in ways not anticipated by the criminal law. Criminal standards and criminal courts were established to control individual conduct. Impeachment was evolved by Parliament to cope with both the inadequacy of criminal standards and the impotence of courts to deal with the conduct of great public figures. It would be anomalous if the framers, having barred criminal sanctions from the impeachment remedy and limited it to removal and possible disqualification from office, intended to restrict the grounds for impeachment to conduct that was criminal. …

It is useful to note three major presidential duties of broad scope that are explicitly recited in the Constitution: “to take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States” and to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States” to the best of his ability. The first is directly imposed by the Constitution; the second and third are included in the constitutionally prescribed oath that the President is required to take before he enters upon the execution of his office and are, therefore, also expressly imposed by the Constitution.

Why a decent nation would impeach Obama

A decent nation does not engage in wars of choice. The United States, as a signatory to the UN Charter, recognizes this. Obama has, however, operated wars on a global scale that target countries, groups and individuals that pose no imminent threat to the United States. In order to provide a figleaf of persiflage for these actions, he has tortured language well beyond any common meaning. Consider this gem from Obama’s legal justification for drone strikes:

Certain aspects of this legal framework require additional explication. First, the condition that an operational leader present an “imminent” threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons will take place in the immediate future.

The wars that Obama has initiated are of dubious legality. Obama misled the public by misrepresenting the conditions in Libya in order to make war in violation of the War Powers Act. Obama’s newly launched war against ISIS, similar to his war against Libya, is without congressional authorization.

Obama’s drone strike program is a war crime. Even if the drone program was legal to pursue, how could a decent nation support a program that has a 96% failure rate, meaning that the deaths caused by it are almost entirely inappropriate targets – civilians, women and children? Yet Obama continues to stonewall providing a justification for this program.

Obama has long engaged in spreading propaganda about his drone program:

Obama Finally Talks Drone War, But It’s Almost Impossible to Believe Him

On Wednesday, however, CNN’s Jessica Yellin managed to get Obama to open up, just a little, about his criteria for approving drone attacks. His comments may have been the president’s most extensive so far on robot warfare. They were also total baloney, outside experts say. …

“What I found most striking was his claim that legitimate targets are a ‘threat that is serious and not speculative,’ and engaged in ‘some operational plot against the United States,’ That is simply not true,” emails the Council on Foreign Relations’ Micah Zenko, who has tracked the drone war as closely as any outside analyst. “The claim that the 3,000+ people killed in roughly 375 nonbattlefield targeted killings were all engaged in actual operational plots against the U.S. defies any understanding of the scope of what America has been doing for the past ten years.”

Obama has continued Bush propaganda programs and made selective leaks of classified information to journalists.

It is well to remember that these unnecessary wars are used as the justification for both the need for war powers and secrecy, which in turn is used as a justification for the failure to hold individuals accountable for wrongs done in pursuit of these wars.

A decent nation does not maintain a “kill list” of people to assassinate. Obama has declared himself judge, jury and executioner as he picks and chooses whom to incinerate on Tuesdays:

Obama and approximately a hundred members of his national security team gather for their “Terror Tuesday” meetings in which they hand pick the next so-called national security “threat” to die by way of the American military/CIA drone program. Obama signs off personally on about a third of the drone strikes: all of the ones in Yemen and Somalia, and the risky ones in Pakistan. … These “Terror Tuesday” sessions run counter to every constitutional and moral principle that has guided America since its inception. It’s not only suspected terrorists whose death warrants are being personally signed by the president but innocent civilians geographically situated near a strike zone, as well, whether or not they have any ties to a suspected terrorist. As an anonymous government official on Obama’s drone campaign observed, “They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.” Indeed, Obama’s first authorized drone attack in Yemen led to the deaths of 14 women and 21 children, and only one al Qaeda affiliate. …

Should we fail to recognize and rectify the danger in allowing a single individual to declare himself the exception to the rule of law and assume the role of judge, jury, and executioner, we will have no one else to blame when we plunge once and for all into the abyss that is tyranny.

A decent nation does not torture. That is why it is a crime which has been prosecuted domestically and during war. It is also a violation of the UN Convention Against Torture to which the US is a signatory. While Obama has sought to justify the infliction of torture in the wake of 9/11 as an understandable reaction, Article 2, Section 2 of the Convention states: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Obama, while claiming to have ordered a halt to torture, has continued to torture Guantanamo prisoners and has also tortured Chelsea (then Bradley) Manning. His order that interrogations conform to the standards of the Army Field Manual leaves a gaping loophole. The UN says that the Army Field Manual Annex M leaves the door open to torture methods:

Annex M is part of the Army Field Manual. It allows sensory deprivation, it allows sleep deprivation, and it allows solitary confinement. Those three taken together can certainly constitute cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, as well as torture. The Obama administration just flip-flopped around it, saying that we require a minimum of four hours of sleep. Well, four hours’ sleep day after day is basically cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if not more. When combined with others it can be worse. The people on the committee said, why don’t you just take Annex M out of that? The administration demured on it, as they have for a number of years.

So we still have in our law an authorization to use cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if not more. Those are the four key things that came out of this.

Further, in light of revelations in the testimony of Obama’s first choice for Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, at his confirmation hearing, it is hard to believe that Obama’s bold rhetoric about reining in the CIA’s interrogation techniques is more than just obfuscation:

Vice Chairman Bond. President Obama has issued an Executive Order applying the field manual. But, as I understand the situation, he has an Executive Order–the authority to issue an Executive Order describing techniques, classified techniques, that could be used by the Agency that would be different from that used by the Army. Is that your understanding?

Admiral Blair. My understanding is we want to revise the Army field manual and make it the manual that goes for both military and intelligence interrogation and to have the guidance so that it’s uniform across those agencies, depending, of course. There are many different things in the manual. … We have large amounts of unclassified doctrine for our troops to use, but we don’t put anything in there that our enemies can use against us. And we’ll figure it out for this manual, which will be the manual for everyone to use. …

It will be limited to those who need it, both within the armed forces and within the intelligence service. … When I said this manual would be available to those need it, there will be some sort of document that’s widely available in an unclassified form, but the specific techniques that can provide training value to adversaries, we will handle much more carefully.

So it appears likely that there are secret, classified interrogation techniques available to CIA torturers interrogators that citizens are not allowed to know about.

A decent nation does not render prisoners to other states where the likelihood that they will be tortured is high:

Shortly after Obama’s first inauguration, both he and Leon Panetta, the new Director of the CIA, explicitly stated that “rendition” was not being ended. As the Los Angeles Times reported at the time: “Under executive orders issued by Obama recently, the CIA still has authority to carry out what are known as renditions, secret abductions and transfers of prisoners to countries that cooperate with the United States.”

The English translation of “cooperate” is “torture.” Rendition is simply outsourcing torture. There was no other reason to take prisoners to Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Egypt, Jordan, Kenya, Somalia, Kosovo or the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, to name some of the known torture centers frequented by the United States.

Highly questionable rendition activities continue under Obama.

A decent nation does not indefinitely detain prisoners without charge in a gulag:

Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel, a Yemeni man accused of serving in Osama bin Laden’s security detail, described conditions at Guantanamo that included the repeated, seemingly incessant interrogations he faced at the hands of U.S. officials. …

Naji listed sleep deprivation, humiliation and beatings — abuses similar to those described as “tantamount to torture” in a 2004 International Committee of the Red Cross report leaked to The New York Times.

Naji also described the painful force-feeding he has been subjected to as he and as many as 100 other prisoners have engaged in hunger strikes to protest their continued detention without charge. …

Guantanamo detainees — of which there have been nearly 800 — were allegedly tortured at the site, drawing widespread international condemnation from human rights and civil liberties advocates who decried the interrogation techniques and the U.S. authority to detain the suspected terrorists without charges.

Nearly all Guantanamo prisoners are being held without charges.

A decent nation does not allow a dragnet spying operation that invades individual privacy regardless of probable cause.

Through a series of legal contortions, the Obama administration has argued that Congress, since 9/11, intended to implicitly authorize mass surveillance. But this strategy mostly consists of wordplay, fear-mongering and a highly selective reading of the law. Americans deserve better from the White House — and from President Obama, who has seemingly forgotten the constitutional law he once taught. …

We may never know all the details of the mass surveillance programs, but we know this: The administration has justified them through abuse of language, intentional evasion of statutory protections, secret, unreviewable investigative procedures and constitutional arguments that make a mockery of the government’s professed concern with protecting Americans’ privacy. It’s time to call the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs what they are: criminal.

A decent nation does not allow a two-tiered justice system.

Obama’s failure to see to it that the laws be faithfully executed has created a culture of impunity that is corrosive to both the government and the culture.

Obama has refused to prosecute George W. Bush and others from that administration for torture, contrary to domestic legal obligations and the UN Convention Against Torture.

Obama admits that torture has occurred and that torture is a war crime. Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, even in light of the release of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence executive summary of its torture report, continues to refuse to prosecute those who committed these crimes on the grounds that evidence wasn’t sufficient “to obtain and sustain convictions beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Frankly, if your Attorney General thinks that he can’t convict persons for a crime that they have boasted about committing in a book or on national teevee, then you really ought to fire the guy for prosecutorial incompetence, misfeasance or nonfeasance.

Obama’s use of government secrecy and national security claims in a judicial setting amounts to an abuse of power. Obama has abused his office to prevent embarrassing information from becoming public.

A decent nation doesn’t occupy its citizens by military force. twitter 5The US passed the Posse Comitatus Act in 1878, but since the start of the “War on Drugs,” the federal government has been performing an end run around the law by militarizing local and state police forces and providing coordination of these forces. Despite congressional complaints and citizen uprisings against police brutality and abuses, Obama is unwilling to stop the distribution of military hardware and training to police forces.

More than just militarizing police under Obama, the military is becoming an ubiquitous presence along with the intelligence apparatus which have infiltrated the American university system:

Since the tragic events of 9/11, state-sanctioned violence and the formative culture that makes it possible has increasingly made its way into higher education. While there is a long history of higher education taking on research funds and projects that serve the military industrial complex, such projects were often hidden from public view. When they did become public, they were often the object of student protests and opposition, especially during the 1960s. What is new today is that more research projects in higher education than ever before are being funded by various branches of the military, but either no one is paying attention or no one seems to care about such projects. Ethical and political considerations about the role of the university in a democratic society have given way to a hyper-pragmatism couched in the language of austerity and largely driven by a decrease in state funding for higher education and the dire lack of jobs for many graduates. …

As research funds dry up for programs aimed at addressing crucial social problems, new opportunities open up with the glut of military funding aimed at creating more
sophisticated weapons, surveillance technologies, and modes of knowledge that connect anthropological concerns with winning wars.

Higher education should be one place where young people learn to question the framing mechanisms that allow them both to be turned into producers and consumers of violence and to become increasingly indifferent to matters of social and moral responsibility. Military modes of education largely driven by the demands of war and organized violence are investing heavily in pedagogical practices that train students in various intelligence operations.

The increasingly intensified and expansive symbiosis between the military-industrial complex and academia is also on full display the creation of the “Minerva Consortium,” ironically named after the goddess of wisdom, whose purpose is to fund various universities to “carry out social sciences research relevant to national security” (Brainard, 2008). As David Price (2010) has brilliantly documented, the CIA and other intelligence agencies “today sneak unidentified students with undisclosed links to intelligence agencies into university classrooms. A new generation of so-called flagship programs have quietly taken root on campuses, and, with each new flagship, our universities are transformed into vessels of the militarized state.” As Price (2011) points out, not only is knowledge militarized, but specific disciplines such a anthropology are now weaponized.

Conclusion

So why should the nation demand that Bush and Obama be prosecuted for their actions? Well, because America has a duty to be a good citizen of the world, both to redeem the intent of our founding documents and also from a desire for self-preservation.

terrorists winningHow long can a nation, even one as powerful as the United States, continue to destabilize, terrorize and immiserate millions of people and fail to reap consequences for its actions? The fact that the numbers of jihadists and terrorist acts are on a massive increase is indicative that the policies are not just wrong, but counterproductive. Nonetheless, they are continued by administration after administration.

The Obama administration has expanded violent military and intelligence interventions to more than half of the countries of the world:

In his book “The One Percent Doctrine,” journalist Ron Suskind reported on CIA plans, unveiled in September 2001 and known as the “Worldwide Attack Matrix,” for “detailed operations against terrorists in 80 countries.” At about the same time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld proclaimed that the nation had embarked on “a large multi-headed effort that probably spans 60 countries.” By the end of the Bush years, the Pentagon would indeed have special operations forces deployed in 60 countries around the world.

It has been the Obama administration, however, that has embraced the concept far more fully and engaged the region even more broadly. Last year, the Washington Post reported that U.S. had deployed special operations forces in 75 countries, from South America to Central Asia. Recently, however, U.S. Special Operations Command spokesman Colonel Tim Nye told me that on any given day, America’s elite troops are working in about 70 countries, and that its country total by year’s end would be around 120.

Since Obama’s policies seem to be making enemies faster than they can be murdered by the vast armory at his disposal, surely one day America’s enemies will outnumber its friends.

Then there is the effect that inevitably happens when countries are at war – the tactics that are used against foreign populations are eventually used against the home country’s people. It shows up in the militarization of police forces and tactics. It also turns up in places that you’d never expect, like the oil and gas industry hiring military psy-ops experts to fight back against citizen and media opposition to fracking:

Matt Pitzarella, head of the public relations team at the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based natural gas corporation, Range Resources, openly admitted that his corporation utilizes psychological warfare (psyops) military veterans as community relations professionals, hired to apply the skills gained on the periphery for work to be done here at home.

The oil and gas industry apparently feels that it is fighting an insurgency:

Matt Carmichael, External Affairs Manager at Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, suggested three things to attendees during his presentation:

“If you are a PR representative in this industry in this room today, I recommend you do three things. These are three things that I’ve read recently that are pretty interesting.

“(1) Download the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Manual [audible gasps from the audience], because we are dealing with an insurgency. There’s a lot of good lessons in there, and coming from a military background, I found the insight in that extremely remarkable. (2) With that said, there’s a course provided by Harvard and MIT twice a year, and it’s called ‘Dealing With an Angry Public.’ Take that course. Tied back to the Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency [Field] Manual, is that a lot of the officers in our military are attending this course. It gives you the tools, it gives you the media tools on how to deal with a lot of the controversy that we as an industry are dealing with. (3) Thirdly, I have a copy of “Rumsfeld’s Rules.” You’re all familiar with Donald Rumsfeld – that’s kind of my bible, by the way, of how I operate.”

People who want to preserve their water, air and land resources are of course not the only civilians targeted by military psy-ops. The military thinks that it’s a great tactic to use on US Senators, too.

Now these examples of Obama’s policies are indeed bad, but it’s not like he is deploying the technology of an authoritarian state; engaging in mass, dragnet surveillance of citizens; asking people to rat out their co-workers or neighbors, acquaintances or even people spotted in public based upon broad “risk” profiles generated by the government; or targeting people based upon their religious or political beliefs or the success of their online activism.

Oops, they do that stuff.

There can be little doubt that the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations will continue if there is impunity. As was shown by David Petraeus at his ill-fated nomination hearings for CIA director, the powers will be shamelessly requested:

As the Los Angeles Times reported, [David Petraeas] the highly-decorated general told senators in his confirmation hearing as Obama’s new CIA director that “humane” questioning standards mandated by the Army Field Manual are almost always sufficient to persuade detainees to talk. But he said that “there should be discussion … by policymakers and by Congress” about something “more than the normal techniques” for use in special cases where there is perceived to be imminent catastrophic danger.

“That David Petraeus quote is a sign of what to worry about in the future,” said Karen Greenberg, executive director of the New York University Center on Law and Security and a scholar of detainee policy.

“We’re not a nation you can rely on not to torture,” she said.

Obama’s current CIA director, John Brennan, is still shilling for torture and insists that the CIA bureaucracy will eagerly support it:

CIA Director John Brennan gave no ground to his critics during a press conference on Thursday, singing his agency’s praises and saying it “did a lot of things right” in its interrogation program. …

Brennan’s dismissive response to the report was manifest in his refusal to even use the word “torture,” instead referring multiple times to the Bush-administration euphemism of choice: “enhanced interrogation techniques,” or EITs.

Brennan also left open the possibility that some of the torture tactics currently prohibited by President Obama could return in the future. Some torture critics have said that could happen, because the people responsible for torture have never been held accountable and remain unbowed.

“We are not contemplating at all getting back into the interrogation program,” Brennan said.

As for the future, he said, “I defer to future policymakers.”

There was a time when the Congress itself was interested in redressing the wrongs of a national security state that had overstepped its bounds. The current Congress does not appear to have that sort of concern for supporting and defending the Constitution in service to their constituents. Given that a culture of impunity encourages the continuation of corruption and infelicitous policies that are destructive of civil liberties, there should be a limit to the negligent political malpractice we are willing to tolerate in this expansion of abusive executive powers. The Democrats have avoided prosecuting several presidents for political convenience; it appears that they need some considerable motivational support to do the right thing. The American people, in the past absence of a Congress that responded to its demands, have stood up a sustained campaign to demand the end of wars and executive overreach when denied it by a flawed system bent on insulating itself from change.

Such an effort may again be required. Impeachment and prosecutions are desperately needed.

Settling for Second Best: Wisconsin Hospitals Seek to Extend Aid for Uncompensated Care

By: WI Budget Project Wednesday December 17, 2014 6:41 am

While Hospitals Elsewhere Back Medicaid Expansion, Wisconsin Hospitals Offer a Fallback Plan

Hospitals in Wisconsin and many parts of the U.S. are asking state policymakers to take measures to reduce the amount of uncompensated care, although the recommended measures aren’t always quite the same. In our state, the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) is asking state lawmakers to renew an expiring appropriation that provides state financial relief to hospitals that care for a disproportionate share of the uninsured or underinsured.

The $30 million state appropriation, which expires in June, captures $44 million in federal funds for “disproportionate share hospitals” (DSH). Wisconsin Health News reported last week that WHA plans to ask state policymakers to renew the appropriation. Extending that funding makes sense if state lawmakers continue to refuse to expand BadgerCare to cover more low-income adults, but the expansion option could save the state close to $300 million in the next budget and do far more to improve access to insurance and help hospitals.

Health care providers in a number of other states are taking a different approach. Many hospitals are very concerned now about uncompensated care, particularly those in rural areas of states that haven’t used funding from the Accordable Care Act to expand Medicaid to more low-income adults. An article in this morning’s New York Times reports on a proposed Medicaid expansion plan that has been developed by the GOP Governor in Tennessee, with the urging of the state’s hospitals, and Medicaid expansion is a very high priority for hospitals in many other states.

The political dynamics and substance of the debate are somewhat different in Wisconsin— thanks in part to the fact that Governor Walker and the legislature have partially improved coverage. They expanded BadgerCare to include all childless adults below the poverty level, although they helped finance that by cutting in half the BadgerCare income limit for parents – from 200% of the poverty level to 100%. During budget deliberations, the legislature improved that plan by adding the DSH funding, but that is a short-term appropriation.

When the Governor pitched his plan to lawmakers in 2013, he contended that more than 90% of the adults losing BadgerCare coverage would move into Marketplace plans or other private insurance. However, the early analyses of the available data show that only about a third of the people who lost BadgerCare eligibility this year (because of the reduced income limit) signed up for Marketplace plans. The data show that some have other private plans, but 46% were uninsured or had unknown insurance status.

The Hospital Association is understandably concerned about losing the $74 million of state and federal funding to help offset the cost of uncompensated care, especially at a time that the Governor’s compromise on BadgerCare appears to have caused many parents to become uninsured. (Dept. of Health Services’ figures on the allocation of the DSH funding to WI hospitals in fiscal year 2015 can be found here, courtesy of Wisconsin Health News.)

Even if Wisconsin did accept the federal funding to expand BadgerCare, I think providing some DSH funding might make sense. As WHA Executive Vice President Eric Borgerding told WI Health News, “Wisconsin had one of the smallest DSH programs in the country already, and it will disappear completely if not reauthorized.” Nevertheless, the DSH approach is clearly the second best option because it would provide less relief to hospitals, would give far fewer people access to preventive care, and would be far more costly for state taxpayers.

From wisconsinbudgetproject.org.

Mining the Earth: 16 Dec 2014

By: KateCA Tuesday December 16, 2014 1:25 pm

40 Years of Resistance on Black Mesa

*UN.  Sweden is urging a new UN investigation into the 1961 death of respected UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammarskjold.  New evidence has come to light, governments are being asked to release pertinent info from their secret archives (including CIA and NSA).  And what does this have to do with mining?  Well, Hammarskjold was negotiating between the Congolese  government and rebels, mercenaries and mining corporations, particularly Belgium’s Union Miniere, in Katanga province when his UN plane was shot down under mysterious circumstances.

*US.  SunCoke Energy is cutting US production “by more than 50%” due to losses and while trying to figure out how to “sell all or a portion of our Coal Mining business”.

*AZ.  Major government-corporate cluster-you-know-what over at the Black Mesa mines results in grievous harm to Navajo and Hopi peoples.  And now, Peabody coal wants a “lifetime mining permit” there.  Sierra Club has joined Native Americans in a federal suit over this mess.

*AZ.  The stealthy move to ensure block-cave mining by an Australian-British Rio Tinto subsidiary, Resolution Copper, on 2,400 acres of Apache sacred land succeeded.  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) sugar-coated this very bitter pill by claiming it is “a game-changer for an area of Arizona facing grave economic challenges”—as though there are no better, earth-friendly ways to meet those economic challenges.  Update:  Local reaction to passage of this thing.

*CO.  Canada’s Cline Mining Co., owner of New Elk coal mine near Trinidad, has filed for bankruptcy protection.

*CO.  In contrast to  Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)’s actions (see AZ above), Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) and Rep. Scott Tipton (R-Cortez) fought to preserve “more than 100,000 acres of wilderness in southwest Colorado”.  And won.

*PA.  A couple has sued the Eighty Four Mining Co for “loss of enjoyment of their dream home [since they have been] without a potable water source for more than six years”.  State tests determined the water was “not fit for human consumption”.  E-coli.

*WI.  Yeah, its inadequate franc sand mining rules expired 9 months ago and, nope,  they haven’t gotten around to writing new ones, but the WI Dept. of Natural Resources continues to allow new frac sand mining operations all the same.

*WV.  Alpha Natural Resources has reached an agreement that requires the company to meet Clean Water Act provisions from its four mountaintop removal coal mines.  Amazing that in 2010 EPA discovered no Appalachia mining permits “took steps to prevent pollution that increases conductivity in streams”.  Alpha agreed to the provisions, but without endorsing anything pertaining to “methods for measuring stream health.”

*WV.  Another suit concerning stream conductivity (see above) is underway, this one against Patriot Coal Corp’s subsidiary Hobet Mining.  “[M]ultiple ongoing violations of West Virginia’s . . . water quality standards at the mine complex” in Boone County.

*Canada.  Members of the James Bay Cree Nation have arrived in Montreal, after their 850-km/528-mi march “to protest against uranium exploration and mining in Quebec.”  Crees are opposed to uranium mining because it “would invade their territory, pollute the environment and threaten their traditional way of life.” Investments in uranium mining in Quebec have been falling for years now—with Strateco actually seeking $190 million in compensation for having its aspirations blocked.

*Canada.  The Northern Secwepemc te Qelmucw First Nations have “published a new set of guidelines for mining and exploration” that cover territories of four bands near Williams Lake.  No doubt there will be lawsuits.

*Nicaragua. Some 7,000 Nicaraguans have been “scheduled for removal to clear a path for Central America’s second interoceanic canal [with the] Nicaraguan Army . . . already providing security for Chinese canal firm HKND”.  A villager in Obrajuelo said, “They want to run us off our properties—to scatter us like birds without a nest. . . . we would rather die here fighting than get forced off our [ancestral] land.” Apparently, the whole thing is shrouded in mystery—to be followed by misery.  More, including Chinese capital’s push into Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela.

*Colombia. Armed men” reportedly attacked the house of environmentalist Fernando Jaramillo in Jerico after Jaramilio published a newspaper article critical of the mayor’s support for mining.  One of the attackers was identified as the mayor’s driver.

*Peru.  62% of Peruvian exports are from mining and petroleum, which also account for 75% of foreign investment in the country. Intense conflict over mining in the past. Quiruvilca, where Toronto’s Barrick Gold operates a copper mine, has benefitted from the “hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and royalties” paid to local government.  Nonetheless, “unemployment and poverty remain endemic.”  No jobs,  people displaced, and now shantytowns.  Don’t miss the video near the article’s end.

*Peru, Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala, Ecuador, Chile, Argentina and Costa Rica have pledged to plant “hundreds of millions of trees and save over 1bn tonnes of CO2 a year—by 2020.

*India.  Concern as the Indian government re-examines its relationship to coal following the Supreme Court’s decision to denationalize it.  Some unions are already protesting the decision, while lawmakers debate how to handle the issue, including whether to nationalize or seizing it as “an opportunity to recast the [coal] sector.”

*India.  While some are flirting with commercialization of the coal sector, the Steel & Mines Minister “has called for improved co-ordination between Centre and states to check illegal mining.”  Among priorities in his efforts to improve relations with the states is “giving importance to environment concerns”.

*Australia.  Iron and coal billionaire Gina Rinehart is now celebrated in a painting that won a prestigious well, whatever award.

The Case Against Re-Banning Torture Yet Again

By: David Swanson Tuesday December 16, 2014 1:09 pm

Senator Ron Wyden has a petition up at MoveOn.org that reads “Right now, torture is banned because of President Obama’s executive order. It’s time for Congress to pass a law banning torture, by all agencies, so that a future president can never revoke the ban.” It goes on to explain:

“We live in a dangerous world. But when CIA operatives and contractors torture terrorist suspects, it doesn’t make us safer — and it doesn’t work. The recent CIA torture report made that abundantly clear. Right now, the federal law that bans torture only applies to the U.S. military — not our intelligence agencies. President Obama’s executive order barring all agencies from using torture could be reversed, even in secret, by a future president. That’s why it’s critical that Congress act swiftly to pass a law barring all agencies of the U.S. government, and contractors acting on our behalf, from engaging in torture. Without legislation, the door on torture is still open. It’s time for Congress to slam that door shut once and for all.”

Why in the world would anybody object to this unless they supported torture? Well, let me explain.

Torture and complicity in torture were felonies under U.S. law before George W. Bush moved into the White House, under both the torture statute and the war crimes statute. Nothing has fundamentally changed about that, other than the blatant lack of enforcement for several years running. Nothing in those two sections of the U.S. code limits the law to members of the U.S. military or excludes employees or contractors or subcontractors of so-called intelligence agencies. I emailed a dozen legal experts about that claim in the above petition. Michael Ratner replied “I don’t see where they get that from.” Kevin Zeese said simply “They’re wrong.” If anyone replies to me with any explanation, I’ll post it as an update at the top of this article on davidswanson.org — where I can be contacted if you have an explanation.

For the past several years, the U.S. Congress, White House, Justice Department, and media have gone out of their way to ignore the existence of U.S. laws banning torture. When silence hasn’t worked, the primary technique has been proposing over and over and over again to ban torture, as if it were not already banned. In fact, Congress has followed through and banned it a number of times, and done so with new exceptions that by some interpretations have in fact weakened the war crimes statute. This is my best guess where the nonsense about applying only to “intelligence agencies” comes from: laws like the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that claimed to pick and choose which types of torture to ban for whom.

When President Obama took President Bush’s place he produced an executive order purporting to ban torture (again), even while publicly telling the Justice Department not to enforce any existing laws. But an executive order, as Wyden seems to recognize, is not a law. Neither can it ban torture, nor can it give legal weight to the pretense that torture wasn’t already banned. In fact the order itself states: “Nothing in this order shall be construed to affect the obligations of officers, employees, and other agents of the United States Government to comply with all pertinent laws and treaties of the United States governing detention and interrogation, including but not limited to: the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the United States Constitution; the Federal torture statute, 18 U.S.C. 2340 2340A; the War Crimes Act, 18 U.S.C. 2441 . . . .”

Senator Wyden says he will introduce yet another bill to “ban torture.” Here’s how the Washington Post is spinning, and explaining, that:

Torture is already illegal, but Wyden notes that protections can be strengthened. To oversimplify, the U.S. is a signatory to the U.N. Convention Against Torture, in which participating states agreed to outlaw intentionally inflicting severe pain for specific purposes. The Bush administration obviously found a (supposedly) legal route around that.”

In other words, because it was done by a president, it was legal — the worldview of the Post’s old buddy Richard Nixon.

“After the Abu Graib revelations, John McCain helped pass a 2005 amendment that would restrict the military from using specific brutal interrogation tactics — those not in the Army Field Manual. (This didn’t preclude intel services from using these techniques, which might explain why CIA director John Brennan felt free to say the other day that future policymakers might revert to using them). In 2008, Congress passed a measure specifically applying those restrictions to intelligence services, too, but then-President Bush vetoed it. Senator Wyden would revive a version of that 2008 bill as a starting point, with the goal of codifying in law President Obama’s executive order banning the use of those specific techniques for all government employees, those in intelligence services included.”

But let’s back up a minute. When a president violates a law, that president — at least once out of office — should be prosecuted for violating the law. The law can’t be declared void because it was violated. Loopholes can’t be created for the CIA. Reliance on the Army Field Manual can’t sneak into law the loopholes built into that document. Presidents can’t order and un-order things illegal. Here’s how the United Nations Special Rapporteur on counter terrorism and human rights, Ben Emmerson responded to the release of the Senate’s report summary:

“The individuals responsible for the criminal conspiracy revealed in today’s report must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes. The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorised at a high level within the U.S. Government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability. International law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture. This applies not only to the actual perpetrators but also to those senior officials within the U.S. Government who devised, planned and authorised these crimes. As a matter of international law, the U.S. is legally obliged to bring those responsible to justice. The UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances require States to prosecute acts of torture and enforced disappearance where there is sufficient evidence to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction. States are not free to maintain or permit impunity for these grave crimes.”

Now, one could try to spin the endless re-banning of torture as part of the process of enforcing an international treaty that under Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is the supreme law of the land. But banning a practice going forward, even when you ban it better, or ban it more emphatically for the 8th time, does absolutely nothing to fulfill the legal obligation to prosecute those crimes already committed. And here we are dealing with crimes openly confessed to by past officials who assert that they would “do it again” — crimes that resulted in deaths, thus eliminating any attempt at an argument that statutes of limitations have run out.

Here’s a different sort of petition that we’ve set up at RootsAction.org along with Witness Against Torture and the Bill of Rights Defense Committee: ” We call on President Obama to allow the U.S. Department of Justice to enforce our laws, and to immediately appoint a special prosecutor. As torture is a crime of universal jurisdiction, we call on any willing court system in the world to enforce our laws if our own courts will not do so.”

The purpose of such a petition is not vengeance or partisanship or a fetish with history. The purpose is to end torture, which is not done by looking forward or even by pardoning the crimes, as the ACLU has proposed — to its credit recognizing that the crimes exist. That should be a first step for anyone confused by the endless drumbeat to “ban torture.”

Some notes on Eric Alterman’s piece

By: cassiodorus Tuesday December 16, 2014 12:04 pm

Eric Alterman, the historian, journalist, educator and so on, has a piece titled “Why Liberals Need Radicals—and Vice Versa” now up on the webpages of the journal “Democracy.” In it, Alterman “defends” radicals in a backhanded way while granting liberals more of a role in American political history than I feel they deserve.

As for my own opinion? Well, speaking as a radical, it’s nice to read that I’m “needed,” but given Alterman’s argument I think I’d rather be criticized. In this era, what liberals actually need is a philosophy which combines belief and action, a “praxis” if you will, rather than what they have, which is a philosophy borrowed from the Golden Age of Capitalism and applied to the economically conservative world of neoliberalism. As for the radicals, I’m sure we have even less impact upon politics than the liberals today. Our role in the current era, if we are granted a role at all, is to bring to the world a semblance of theory, an essential element in political thought, which the likes of Eric Alterman can then ignore. Let’s take a look at Alterman’s reasoning, to see why these two aspects of the present-day political situation are indeed so.

First Alterman tells us:

It should be obvious—at least it feels obvious to me—that the only way to get progressive measures accomplished in America is as a liberal working within the system.

I’m sure Martin Luther King Jr. and the good folks at the SNCC would disagree. On the other hand, in the same era Lyndon Baines Johnson did indeed accomplish “progressive measures” within the system, but not as a “liberal.” Rather, Johnson was a power-hungry Texas politician, definitely not a liberal in temperament, who did whatever it took to win votes and whose motivations for pursuing civil rights are in dispute. But this isn’t the 1960s. What precisely have the “liberals working within the system” accomplished in this era? I can tell you offhand what the conservatives, both the corporate conservatives and the antipublic conservatives, have accomplished. And where is the LBJ of our time, who should be busy about now getting our equivalent of the 1957 Civil Rights Act passed?

So yeah, this isn’t the Golden Age of Capitalism. Now let’s proceed to Alterman’s reasoning as to why we radicals are needed by liberals:

America is not, and never has been, on the cusp of revolutionary change. It is, as has been frequently pointed out, a conservative-minded country in pursuit of liberal goals. However, liberals have too frequently shown a willingness to grow overly comfortable with the conservative part of that equation. They need to be shaken up occasionally, and reminded why it is they are making all these necessary compromises in pursuit of the vision that animated them in the first place. And that is why we need radicals.

It’s nice to know that we occasionally “shake up” things, at least in Alterman’s opinion. Frankly, however, I thought it was the mobilized populists who really shook things up. You know, like those radicals on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team who wore “I Can’t Breathe” t-shirts and who thus joined the growing movement against police brutality. Mobilized populists don’t have to be radical. Meanwhile the Obama administration, full of all of those awesome liberals working within the system, well….

Alterman continues:

Cultural liberalism is clearly triumphing in America today, thanks in significant measure to a constructive alliance between liberals and radicals on issues related to civil rights, women’s rights, and gay rights—

It looks good on paper I guess. Cultural liberalism triumphs in America today because so many American non-liberals are in fact cultural liberals, and for the most part they’ve been this way since the cultural revolution of the Sixties and Seventies, which had “do your own thing” as its motto. Nobody here outside of reactionary fundamentalism really wants a reversal of said revolution, but I suppose admitting this might clash with the author’s assertion that America is a “conservative-minded country.” Alterman continues:

Along the same lines, albeit on a smaller scale, Zephyr Teachout’s recent campaign for governor of New York state also served to highlight the issue of Andrew Cuomo’s

etc. etc. — and whatever you do, don’t mention Howie Hawkins… Oh, right, see “Nader.” Alterman later grants us the Ralph Nader myth. “Nader and his followers helped to give us a Bush presidency,” he argues — never mind the 300,000-plus Democrats who voted for Bush in Florida at the end of 2000, or the ultimate 5-to-4 vote which decided the issue — “and nothing of significance upon which to build a better future.” The Democratic Party is a neoliberal institution today. What precisely are the liberals building upon?

Alterman then continues to praise Ta-Nehisi Coates for his advocacy of reparations for slavery/ Jim Crow/ racism. As follows:

The point of Coates’s essay—and, ultimately, the point of this conversation, despite the political impossibility of enacting reparations—is a broader understanding of black poverty as the product of public policy and private theft facilitated by racism.”

So the point of Coates’ advocacy of reparations was to persuade the likes of Alterman? I think the real point of Coates’ essay is that if you say something in a popular journal like The Atlantic, more people will notice. If you are going to create political traction for an argument, you first need publicity. Joe Feagin said something similar in the Harvard BlackLetter Law Journal, but it didn’t get much of an audience. Also, of course, I suppose there’s still something to this idea that power concedes nothing without a demand. I suppose it’s anachronistic, but are we counting Frederick Douglass as a liberal or as a radical?

One thing is clear, though. You don’t get to the mountaintop by denying the possibility of getting to the mountaintop.

Lastly, there is Alterman’s disorganized argument against BDS. What I can pick out of it is something like “the Palestinians are bad, therefore BDS is bad.” Is there more to the Zionist perspective than that bad people are bad because they claim ineffectually that they want to end a religious state? Oh yeah and Zionists have been taking their land and periodically visiting collective punishment upon all of them. Inquiring minds will investigate further, is what I’m saying.

I’m going to pass over the bizarre historical reference:

Choosing between enlisting in the Communist Party or the Socialist Party in the late 1920s and early 1930s may have looked like a more difficult choice for radicals back then than it does in retrospect; after all, the world economy was collapsing, fascism was rising, and the extent of Stalin’s crimes against humanity remained a well-kept secret.

This is true, but mainly it’s true because “in the late 1920s and early 1930s” the preponderance of Stalin’s crimes against humanity hadn’t been committed yet. The real reason not to vote Communist in that era was that the Communist Parties of that time were directed from Moscow. “Democratic centralism” was a bad idea from Lenin onward, though how would “radicals” have known that in 1929?

At any rate, I found Alterman’s essay to be the sloppy construction of a political perspective in need of some real theory. Theory is indeed the radicals’ gift to the liberals — and if you want my perspective upon it, I think this is a good place to start. Theory offers a framework by which potentially everyone might understand the world, in a way conducive to effective action. Theory has not produced a transformative movement to change the world, so far, either because the theories themselves were botched (see e.g. Lenin), because the conversation about theory had too few participants (see e.g. academic theory), or because the theories thus produced were insufficiently motivating. These are indeed theoretical questions. It would be nice if Alterman addressed them.

Pepe Escobar: Eurasian Integration vs. the Empire of Chaos

By: Tom Engelhardt Tuesday December 16, 2014 8:33 am

This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

 

We were kids, but they weren’t kidding.  It wasn’t called “Risk: The Game of Global Domination” for nothing. You remember it, I’m sure. You had a territory. You had armies. You could make alliances. You could cheat, stab in the back, and generally scheme to your heart’s content as long as you achieved your goal: the conquest of the world.  And it’s never ended, not for Parker Brothers, nor for the great powers of this planet over the last many centuries.  Look at a Risk board these days and note that whoever controls Europe starts off with Ukraine, while whoever has Asia (with China at its heart) has Russia as well.  Pepe Escobar would find meaning in that line-up. TomDispatch’s peripatetic Eurasian correspondent, he’s the man who discovered Pipelinestan, which, by the way, would have made a thrilling kids’ game filled with skullduggery and historic profits in the service of devastating the planet until the price of oil recently began plunging toward the energy subbasement.  As he points out today, the world is starting to look ever more eerily like a giant game of Risk, especially across the Eurasian subcontinent.

For a bare decade or so after the Soviet Union imploded, it seemed like the game of global domination, the one for the big kids in Washington (and, until 1990, Moscow), had come to its ultimate conclusion with a single victor till the end of time.  (So the Bush administration came to believe anyway.)  Jump another decade-plus ahead and Risk once again has a more contested look to it.  As Escobar so brilliantly labels it — the title, by the way, of his newest book that includes his superb Pipelineistan work for TomDispatch — the U.S. has come to seem ever more like an “empire of chaos” rather than the dominating power on planet Earth.  Wherever its military has gone these last 13 years, what’s followed has been some version of chaos, destabilization, radicalization (often, but not always, in a fundamentalist direction), and blowback (as well as torture, drones, black sites, the death of innocents, the uprooting of populations, and the manufacture of jihadist organizations). It’s a picture that couldn’t be uglier.

In the meantime, on the Eurasian continent, something seems to be shifting, potentially in a big way, and Escobar is, as ever, on the scene.  Consider today’s essay part two (here’s part 1) of his wide-ranging look at a potentially tectonic set of commercial and power shifts, centering on China, that could change the way the world works (or, of course, simply descend into Cold War 2.0). Tom

Go West, Young Han
As Washington “Pivots” to Asia, China Does the Eurasian Pirouette
By Pepe Escobar

November 18, 2014: it’s a day that should live forever in history. On that day, in the city of Yiwu in China’s Zhejiang province, 300 kilometers south of Shanghai, the first train carrying 82 containers of export goods weighing more than 1,000 tons left a massive warehouse complex heading for Madrid. It arrived on December 9th.

Welcome to the new trans-Eurasia choo-choo train.  At over 13,000 kilometers, it will regularly traverse the longest freight train route in the world, 40% farther than the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway. Its cargo will cross China from East to West, then Kazakhstan, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Germany, France, and finally Spain.

You may not have the faintest idea where Yiwu is, but businessmen plying their trades across Eurasia, especially from the Arab world, are already hooked on the city “where amazing happens!” We’re talking about the largest wholesale center for small-sized consumer goods — from clothes to toys — possibly anywhere on Earth.

The Yiwu-Madrid route across Eurasia represents the beginning of a set of game-changing developments. It will be an efficient logistics channel of incredible length. It will represent geopolitics with a human touch, knitting together small traders and huge markets across a vast landmass. It’s already a graphic example of Eurasian integration on the go. And most of all, it’s the first building block on China’s “New Silk Road,” conceivably the project of the new century and undoubtedly the greatest trade story in the world for the next decade.

Go west, young Han. One day, if everything happens according to plan (and according to the dreams of China’s leaders), all this will be yours — via high-speed rail, no less.  The trip from China to Europe will be a two-day affair, not the 21 days of the present moment. In fact, as that freight train left Yiwu, the D8602 bullet train was leaving Urumqi in Xinjiang Province, heading for Hami in China’s far west. That’s the first high-speed railway built in Xinjiang, and more like it will be coming soon across China at what is likely to prove dizzying speed.

Today, 90% of the global container trade still travels by ocean, and that’s what Beijing plans to change.  Its embryonic, still relatively slow New Silk Road represents its first breakthrough in what is bound to be an overland trans-continental container trade revolution.

And with it will go a basket of future “win-win” deals, including lower transportation costs, the expansion of Chinese construction companies ever further into the Central Asian “stans,” as well as into Europe, an easier and faster way to move uranium and rare metals from Central Asia elsewhere, and the opening of myriad new markets harboring hundreds of millions of people.

So if Washington is intent on “pivoting to Asia,” China has its own plan in mind.  Think of it as a pirouette to Europe across Eurasia.

Defecting to the East?

The speed with which all of this is happening is staggering. Chinese President Xi Jinping launched the New Silk Road Economic Belt in Astana, Kazakhstan, in September 2013. One month later, while in Indonesia’s capital, Jakarta, he announced a twenty-first-century Maritime Silk Road. Beijing defines the overall concept behind its planning as “one road and one belt,” when what it’s actually thinking about is a boggling maze of prospective roads, rail lines, sea lanes, and belts.

We’re talking about a national strategy that aims to draw on the historical aura of the ancient Silk Road, which bridged and connected civilizations, east and west, while creating the basis for a vast set of interlocked pan-Eurasian economic cooperation zones.  Already the Chinese leadership has green-lighted a $40 billion infrastructure fund, overseen by the China Development Bank, to build roads, high-speed rail lines, and energy pipelines in assorted Chinese provinces. The fund will sooner or later expand to cover projects in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. But Central Asia is the key immediate target.

Chinese companies will be investing in, and bidding for contracts in, dozens of countries along those planned silk roads. After three decades of development while sucking up foreign investment at breakneck speed, China’s strategy is now to let its own capital flow to its neighbors. It’s already clinched $30 billion in contracts with Kazakhstan and $15 billion with Uzbekistan. It has provided Turkmenistan with $8 billion in loans and a billion more has gone to Tajikistan.

In 2013, relations with Kyrgyzstan were upgraded to what the Chinese term “strategic level.” China is already the largest trading partner for all of them except Uzbekistan and, though the former Central Asian socialist republics of the Soviet Union are still tied to Russia’s network of energy pipelines, China is at work there, too, creating its own version of Pipelineistan, including a new gas pipeline to Turkmenistan, with more to come.

The competition among Chinese provinces for much of this business and the infrastructure that goes with it will be fierce. Xinjiang is already being reconfigured by Beijing as a key hub in its new Eurasian network. In early November 2014, Guangdong — the “factory of the world” — hosted the first international expo for the country’s Maritime Silk Road and representatives of no less than 42 countries attended the party.

President Xi himself is now enthusiastically selling his home province, Shaanxi, which once harbored the start of the historic Silk Road in Xian, as a twenty-first-century transportation hub. He’s made his New Silk Road pitch for it to, among others, Tajikistan, the Maldives, Sri Lanka, India, and Afghanistan.

Just like the historic Silk Road, the new one has to be thought of in the plural.  Imagine it as a future branching maze of roads, rail lines, and pipelines. A key stretch is going to run through Central Asia, Iran, and Turkey, with Istanbul as a crossroads site. Iran and Central Asia are already actively promoting their own connections to it. Another key stretch will follow the Trans-Siberian Railway with Moscow as a key node. Once that trans-Siberian high-speed rail remix is completed, travel time between Beijing and Moscow will plunge from the current six and a half days to only 33 hours. In the end, Rotterdam, Duisburg, and Berlin could all be nodes on this future “highway” and German business execs are enthusiastic about the prospect.

The Maritime Silk Road will start in Guangdong province en route to the Malacca Strait, the Indian Ocean, the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, ending essentially in Venice, which would be poetic justice indeed.  Think of it as Marco Polo in reverse.

All of this is slated to be completed by 2025, providing China with the kind of future “soft power” that it now sorely lacks. When President Xi hails the push to “break the connectivity bottleneck” across Asia, he’s also promising Chinese credit to a wide range of countries.

Now, mix the Silk Road strategy with heightened cooperation among the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), with accelerated cooperation among the members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), with a more influential Chinese role over the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) — no wonder there’s the perception across the Global South that, while the U.S. remains embroiled in its endless wars, the world is defecting to the East.

New Banks and New Dreams

The recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing was certainly a Chinese success story, but the bigger APEC story went virtually unreported in the United States.  Twenty-two Asian countries approved the creation of an Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) only one year after Xi initially proposed it. This is to be yet another bank, like the BRICS Development Bank, that will help finance projects in energy, telecommunications, and transportation.  Its initial capital will be $50 billion and China and India will be its main shareholders.

Consider its establishment a Sino-Indian response to the Asian Development Bank (ADB), founded in 1966 under the aegis of the World Bank and considered by most of the world as a stalking horse for the Washington consensus. When China and India insist that the new bank’s loans will be made on the basis of “justice, equity, and transparency,” they mean that to be in stark contrast to the ADB (which remains a U.S.-Japan affair with those two countries contributing 31% of its capital and holding 25% of its voting power) — and a sign of a coming new order in Asia.  In addition, at a purely practical level, the ADB won’t finance the real needs of the Asian infrastructure push that the Chinese leadership is dreaming about, which is why the AIIB is going to come in so handy.

Keep in mind that China is already the top trading partner for India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.  It’s in second place when it comes to Sri Lanka and Nepal.  It’s number one again when it comes to virtually all the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), despite China’s recent well-publicized conflicts over who controls waters rich in energy deposits in the region. We’re talking here about the compelling dream of a convergence of 600 million people in Southeast Asia, 1.3 billion in China, and 1.5 billion on the Indian subcontinent.

Only three APEC members — apart from the U.S. — did not vote to approve the new bank: Japan, South Korea, and Australia, all under immense pressure from the Obama administration. (Indonesia signed on a few days late.) And Australia is finding it increasingly difficult to resist the lure of what, these days, is being called “yuan diplomacy.”

In fact, whatever the overwhelming majority of Asian nations may think about China’s self-described “peaceful rise,” most are already shying away from or turning their backs on a Washington-and-NATO-dominated trade and commercial world and the set of pacts — from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) for Europe to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for Asia — that would go with it.

When Dragon Embraces Bear

Russian President Vladimir Putin had a fabulous APEC. After his country and China clinched a massive $400 billion natural gas deal in May — around the Power of Siberia pipeline, whose construction began this year — they added a second agreement worth $325 billion around the Altai pipeline originating in western Siberia.

These two mega-energy deals don’t mean that Beijing will become Moscow-dependent when it comes to energy, though it’s estimated that they will provide 17% of China’s natural gas needs by 2020. (Gas, however, makes up only 10% per cent of China’s energy mix at present.)  But these deals signal where the wind is blowing in the heart of Eurasia. Though Chinese banks can’t replace those affected by Washington and EU sanctions against Russia, they are offering a Moscow battered by recent plummeting oil prices some relief in the form of access to Chinese credit.  

On the military front, Russia and China are now committed to large-scale joint military exercises, while Russia’s advanced S-400 air defense missile system will soon enough be heading for Beijing.  In addition, for the first time in the post-Cold War era, Putin recently raised the old Soviet-era doctrine of “collective security” in Asia as a possible pillar for a new Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

Chinese President Xi has taken to calling all this the “evergreen tree of Chinese-Russian friendship” — or you could think of it as Putin’s strategic “pivot” to China.  In either case, Washington is not exactly thrilled to see Russia and China beginning to mesh their strengths: Russian excellence in aerospace, defense technology, and heavy equipment manufacturing matching Chinese excellence in agriculture, light industry, and information technology.

It’s also been clear for years that, across Eurasia, Russian, not Western, pipelines are likely to prevail. The latest spectacular Pipelineistan opera — Gazprom’s cancellation of the prospective South Stream pipeline that was to bring yet more Russian natural gas to Europe — will, in the end, only guarantee an even greater energy integration of both Turkey and Russia into the new Eurasia. 

So Long to the Unipolar Moment 

All these interlocked developments suggest a geopolitical tectonic shift in Eurasia that the American media simply hasn’t begun to grasp. Which doesn’t mean that no one notices anything.  You can smell the incipient panic in the air in the Washington establishment.  The Council on Foreign Relations is already publishing laments about the possibility that the former sole superpower’s exceptionalist moment is “unraveling.” The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission can only blame the Chinese leadership for being “disloyal,” adverse to “reform,” and an enemy of the “liberalization” of their own economy.

The usual suspects carp that upstart China is upsetting the “international order,” will doom “peace and prosperity” in Asia for all eternity, and may be creating a “new kind of Cold War” in the region. From Washington’s perspective, a rising China, of course, remains the major “threat” in Asia, if not the world, even as the Pentagon spends gigantic sums to keep its sprawling global empire of bases intact. Those Washington-based stories about the new China threat in the Pacific and Southeast Asia, however, never mention that China remains encircled by U.S. bases, while lacking a base of its own outside its territory. 

Of course, China does face titanic problems, including the pressures being applied by the globe’s “sole superpower.” Among other things, Beijing fears threats to the security of its sea-borne energy supply from abroad, which helps explain its massive investment in helping create a welcoming Eurasian Pipelineistan from Central Asia to Siberia. Fears for its energy future also explain its urge to “escape from Malacca” by reaching for energy supplies in Africa and South America, and its much-discussed offensive to claim energy-rich areas of the East and South China seas, which Beijing is betting could become a “second Persian Gulf,” ultimately yielding 130 billion barrels of oil.

On the internal front, President Xi has outlined in detail his vision of a “results-oriented” path for his country over the next decade. As road maps go, China’s “must-do” list of reforms is nothing short of impressive. And worrying about keeping China’s economy, already the world’s number one by size, rolling along at a feverish pitch, Xi is also turbo-charging the fight against corruption, graft, and waste, especially within the Communist Party itself.

Economic efficiency is another crucial problem. Chinese state-owned enterprises are now investing a staggering $2.3 trillion a year — 43% of the country’s total investment — in infrastructure. Yet studies at Tsinghua University’s School of Management have shown that an array of investments in facilities ranging from steel mills to cement factories have only added to overcapacity and so actually undercut China’s productivity.

Xiaolu Wang and Yixiao Zhou, authors of the academic paper “Deepening Reform for China’s Long-term Growth and Development,” contend that it will be difficult for China to jump from middle-income to high-income status — a key requirement for a truly global power. For this, an avalanche of extra government funds would have to go into areas like social security/unemployment benefits and healthcare, which take up at present 9.8% and 15.1% of the 2014 budget — high for some Western countries but not high enough for China’s needs.

Still, anyone who has closely followed what China has accomplished over these past three decades knows that, whatever its problems, whatever the threats, it won’t fall apart. As a measure of the country’s ambitions for economically reconfiguring the commercial and power maps of the world, China’s leaders are also thinking about how, in the near future, relations with Europe, too, could be reshaped in ways that would be historic. 

What About That “Harmonious Community”?

At the same moment that China is proposing a new Eurasian integration, Washington has opted for an “empire of chaos,” a dysfunctional global system now breeding mayhem and blowback across the Greater Middle East into Africa and even to the peripheries of Europe.

In this context, a “new Cold War” paranoia is on the rise in the U.S., Europe, and Russia.  Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who knows a thing or two about Cold Wars (having ended one), couldn’t be more alarmed. Washington’s agenda of “isolating” and arguably crippling Russia is ultimately dangerous, even if in the long run it may also be doomed to failure. 

At the moment, whatever its weaknesses, Moscow remains the only power capable of negotiating a global strategic balance with Washington and putting some limits on its empire of chaos.  NATO nations still follow meekly in Washington’s wake and China as yet lacks the strategic clout.

Russia, like China, is betting on Eurasian integration.  No one, of course, knows how all this will end.  Only four years ago, Vladimir Putin was proposing “a harmonious economic community stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok,” involving a trans-Eurasian free trade agreement. Yet today, with the U.S., NATO, and Russia locked in a Cold War-like battle in the shadows over Ukraine, and with the European Union incapable of disentangling itself from NATO, the most immediate new paradigm seems to be less total integration than war hysteria and fear of future chaos spreading to other parts of Eurasia.

Don’t rule out a change in the dynamics of the situation, however.  In the long run, it seems to be in the cards.  One day, Germany may lead parts of Europe away from NATO’s “logic,” since German business leaders and industrialists have an eye on their potentially lucrative commercial future in a new Eurasia. Strange as it might seem amid today’s war of words over Ukraine, the endgame could still prove to involve a Berlin-Moscow-Beijing alliance.

At present, the choice between the two available models on the planet seems stark indeed: Eurasian integration or a spreading empire of chaos. China and Russia know what they want, and so, it seems, does Washington.  The question is: What will the other moving parts of Eurasia choose to do?

Pepe Escobar is the roving correspondent for Asia Times/Hong Kong, an analyst for RT, and a TomDispatch regular. His latest book is Empire of Chaos (Nimble Books). Follow him on Facebook.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Rebecca Solnit’s Men Explain Things to Me, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2014 Pepe Escobar

Torture, Police Brutality and the Arrogance of Power

By: Nat Parry Tuesday December 16, 2014 7:08 am

The international fallout from last week’s long-delayed release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s 500-page executive summary of its still-classified 6,000 report on CIA torture could hardly be more intense, with calls coming from the United Nations, foreign governments and the human rights community for prosecutions of those who carried out or authorized the torture techniques described in the report, including senior officials from the Bush administration.

But judging from the self-assured comments of CIA and former administration officials, there is no real concern over the possibility of any criminal liability, a lack of accountability which has led to a palpable arrogance among those who would be behind bars if laws were actually enforced on an equal basis in the United States.

The above-the-law sense of entitlement was perhaps most clearly on display in former Vice President Dick Cheney’s appearance this Sunday on Meet the Press, stating that when it comes to using torture, “I’d do it again in a minute.”

When presented with gruesome details from the Senate report on torture – for example the newly revealed “enhanced interrogation technique” of “rectal feeding,” i.e., anal rape – and asked for his definition of what might constitute “torture” in a legal sense, Cheney retorted that torture is “an American citizen on his cellphone making a last call to his four young daughters shortly before he burns to death in the upper levels of the Trade Center in New York on 9/11.”

Short of this rather high bar, nothing, by definition, that the United States does to its detainees could conceivably be considered torture.

Similarly, when asked about the large number of innocent people (26 out of 119 CIA detainees, according to the report) who had tragically been detained and tortured in error, for example Gul Rahman – a victim of mistaken identity who was chained to the wall of his cell, doused with water and froze to death in CIA custody – Cheney stated indifferently that these individuals essentially don’t matter in the grand scheme of things. The only problem that Cheney had was “with the folks that we did release that end up back on the battlefield.”

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent,” he said. Taken to its logical conclusion, Cheney’s reasoning would seem to hold that it is preferable to indefinitely detain and torture a million innocent people than to allow one “bad guy” to slip through the cracks. The implications of this logic are, needless to say, chilling (not to mention completely at odds with the legal principle of presumed innocence).

At times, watching Cheney make these cold rationalizations on Meet the Press, it may have occurred to viewers that the more appropriate venue for this interview would have been on the witness stand of a courtroom. After all, what Cheney was defending was not just controversial policy choices, but clearly defined crimes of torture and murder. Although he was sure to emphasize that “All of the techniques that were authorized by the president were, in effect, blessed by the Justice Department,” the fact remains that providing the cover of law to a crime makes it no less of a crime.

This is a point that UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Counterterrorism Ben Emmerson specifically made last week following the release of the report. In a statement, Emmerson said, “The fact that the policies revealed in this report were authorized at a high level within the U.S. government provides no excuse whatsoever. Indeed, it reinforces the need for criminal accountability.”

Emphasizing that all individuals responsible for “the criminal conspiracy” described in the Senate report “must be brought to justice, and must face criminal penalties commensurate with the gravity of their crimes,” Emmerson noted that “international law prohibits the granting of immunities to public officials who have engaged in acts of torture.”

Judging from Cheney’s arrogant display on Meet the Press, however, there appears to be very little appreciation for the niceties of international law such as its expressed prohibition on official immunity when it comes to the crime of torture. He seems to be quite confident, indeed, that official immunity is unnecessary when there is an implied unofficial immunity that is granted to public officials in the United States, this being the case whether it pertains to CIA torture or police brutality.

The same arrogance that Cheney is so casually displaying can also be seen in the closely paralleled story of the recent spate of police shootings of innocent African Americans, and the remarkable wave of demonstrations that has taken hold across the country in response. With large-scale protests happening in most major American cities over the past month – particularly since grand juries decided not to indict the police officers who killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York City – one might think that cops would be extra careful these days not to come across overly arrogant or obdurate.

This, however, would not be the case.

In response to the NFL’s Cleveland Browns’ wide receiver Andrew Hawkins taking the field on Sunday wearing a T-shirt protesting recent police shootings in Ohio – reading “Justice for Tamir Rice and John Crawford” on the front and “The Real Battle for Ohio” on the back – Jeff Follmer, president of the Cleveland police union, claimed the shirt was disrespectful and disparaged the very idea of athletes holding opinions about anything other than sports.

“It’s pretty pathetic when athletes think they know the law,” Follmer said in a statement. “They should stick to what they know best on the field.” In other words, keep your opinions to yourself, boy, and just play football. Follmer also demanded an apology from the Clevelend Browns organization, which to their credit, the Browns did not extend.

Instead, the Browns fired back with a statement saying the organization endorses the rights of players “to project their support and bring awareness to issues that are important to them if done so in a responsible manner.”

Hawkins also weighed in with comments to the media that revealed, in fact, a deep knowledge and understanding of what law and justice mean (or should mean), contrary to Follmer’s condescending remarks. “Justice,” he said, “is a right that every American should have. Justice means that the innocent should be found innocent. It means that those who do wrong should get their due punishment.”

His six-minute locker-room monologue to reporters ended with him choking up while drawing a parallel between his own young son and the tragic death of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy shot by police in Cleveland on Nov. 22 while holding a toy gun.

“My number one reason for wearing the T-shirt was the thought of what happened to Tamir Rice happening to my little Austin. And that scares the living hell out of me,” he said.

This genuine, personal fear of police violence is one that has been widely expressed over the last several weeks of protests taking hold across the country. As Democracy Now’s Aaron Maté reported from New York’s “Millions March” on Saturday, one of the dominant themes being expressed on the streets was “a sense of not feeling safe, not feeling safe themselves and not feeling safe for their loved ones, people of color in heavily policed communities.”

Interviewing protester Darrell Greene, Maté asked him to explain his sign, which read “Me, my father, my son. Who’s next?”

Greene responded, “At this point, I know I’m a productive citizen, and I don’t feel safe in my own community. I’ve never been in trouble with law enforcement. And from what I’m seeing on the news and what’s been going on, I really wonder: Am I next? I’m wondering if the people in my community are next. We’re all productive citizens, and we’re in fear for our life. We feel like it’s open season on all minorities, and we want to know if we’re really safe.”

Protester Nilan Johnson echoed these sentiments. “I’m here because Americans, period, are being preyed on, right now,” he said. “African Americans are once again fighting for the right to be human, and I think that’s horrible.”

Asked whether he feels, as a person of color, whether he is unsafe in his community, Johnson replied, “That’s – I feel that daily, so I feel that’s a preconditioned nature now. I feel threatened and marked and cornered. And everybody here feels the same way. And we’re trying to keep our humanity.”

If not a direct byproduct of the war on terror’s excesses and the impunity that law-breakers at the highest levels of government enjoy, this feeling of powerlessness, insecurity and injustice is certainly closely related. Indeed, as far back as 2007, civil rights leaders were drawing these connections, in particular in a report prepared for the United Nations entitled “In The Shadows Of The War On Terror: Persistent Police Brutality and Abuse of People of Color in the United States.”

Since 9/11, the report explained, “there have been dramatic increases in law enforcement powers in the name of waging the ‘war on terror,’” while simultaneously, counter-terrorism policies have “created a generalized climate of impunity for law enforcement officers, and contributed to the erosion of what few accountability mechanisms exist for civilian control over law enforcement agencies.”

This has led to an erosion of public discussion and accountability with respect to the use of excessive force against people of color, while at the same time, “systemic abuse of people of color by law enforcement officers has not only continued since 2001 but has worsened in both practice and severity,” according to the report. As a representative of the NAACP put it, “the degree to which police brutality occurs … is the worst I’ve seen in 50 years.”

Even establishment publications such as the Wall Street Journal have noticed the troubling trend of rising police violence and its connections with the war on terror. As a feature article in WSJ put it in August 2013, “the war on drugs and, more recently, post-9/11 antiterrorism efforts have created a new figure on the U.S. scene: the warrior cop – armed to the teeth, ready to deal harshly with targeted wrongdoers, and a growing threat to familiar American liberties.”

This threat to liberties is compounded when the justice system fails to hold accountable those who break the law and violate people’s rights. Whether it is Eric Garner in New York or Gul Rahman in Afghanistan, the victims of injustice must have redress, and “those who do wrong should get their due punishment,” in the words of Cleveland Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins.

As human rights advocates and civil libertarians have warned since the early days of the war on terror, human rights violations of terror suspects will eventually set the United States on a slippery slope in which authorities deem it optional whether to respect the human rights of anyone, including U.S. citizens. At that point, anyone is fair game, and all of us, including law-abiding Americans, may find ourselves at the mercy of an unsympathetic authoritarian state.

This article originally appeared at Essential Opinion.