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Murder Is Legal, Says Eric Holder

2:07 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday explained why it’s legal to murder people — not to execute prisoners convicted of capital crimes, not to shoot someone in self-defense, not to fight on a battlefield in a war that is somehow legalized, but to target and kill an individual sitting on his sofa, with no charges, no arrest, no trial, no approval from a court, no approval from a legislature, no approval from we the people, and in fact no sharing of information with any institutions that are not the president.  Holder’s speech approached his topic in a round about manner:

“Since this country’s earliest days, the American people have risen to this challenge – and all that it demands.  But, as we have seen – and as President John F. Kennedy may have described best – ‘In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.’”

Holder quotes that and then immediately rejects it, claiming that our generation too should act as if it is in such a moment, even if it isn’t, a moment that Holder’s position suggests may last forever:

“Half a century has passed since those words were spoken, but our nation today confronts grave national security threats that demand our constant attention and steadfast commitment.  It is clear that, once again, we have reached an ‘hour of danger.’

“We are a nation at war.  And, in this war, we face a nimble and determined enemy that cannot be underestimated.”

So, if I were to estimate that Al Qaeda barely exists and is no serious threat to the Homeland formerly known as the United States, I would not be underestimating it?  If I were to point out that no member of that horrifying outfit has been killed in Afghanistan this year, that fact would not contribute to an unacceptable underestimation?  What fun it is to fight the most glorious of wars in the hour of maximum danger against an enemy so pitiful that it literally cannot be underestimated.

If the people of Iraq and Afghanistan hadn’t risen up and defeated the trillion-dollar U.S. military with some homemade bombs and cell phones, and were Iran not threatening to fight back if attacked, this might be all fun and games.  Except that Holder isn’t talking about those wars that still sort of look like wars.  He’s talking about a war paralleling the Soviet Threat, a war that is everywhere all the time, a war that encompasses the murder of anybody anywhere as an “act of war,” even if there’s nothing warlike about the victim or the situation other than the fact that we are mudering him or her. Read the rest of this entry →

Virginia Nullifies NDAA

9:00 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

Good things do come out of the Virginia state legislature.  That normally reprehensible body has just stood up to the federal outrage that has come to be known as the NDAA.  The letters stand for the National Defense Authorization Act, but at issue here is not the bulk of that bill.  Virginia’s state government has no objection to dumping our grandchildren’s unearned pay into the pockets of war profiteers while our schools lack funding.  At issue is the presidential power to lock people up without a trial, which was slipped into the latest military funding bill late last year and signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Eve.  In fact, Virginia’s legislature does not object to that abuse except in one particular circumstance, namely when the victim of it is a U.S. citizen.  But in that circumstance, Virginia says Hell No.

Locally in Charlottesville, we rallied at Republican Congressman Robert Hurt’s office.
http://charlottesvillepeace.org/node/2629

We urged him to vote No, and he did so, saying:

“After studying the controversial provisions and after hearing from many in the Fifth District, I concluded that the detainee provisions in the bill did not provide clear and unambiguous protection of the constitutional rights of American citizens. For this reason, I opposed the bill on final passage.”
http://charlottesvillepeace.org/node/2635

Groups from across the political spectrum, including the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, urged passage of a bill in Virginia’s state legislature to nullify the new provisions.
http://charlottesvillepeace.org/node/2692

Both houses have now passed the bill by veto-proof margins.
http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?121+sum+HB1160

Here’s what the bill (House bill 1160) says:

Be it enacted by the General Assembly of Virginia:

1. § 1. Notwithstanding any contrary provision of law, no agency of the Commonwealth as defined in § 8.01-385 of the Code of Virginia, political subdivision of the Commonwealth as defined in § 8.01-385 of the Code of Virginia, employee of either acting in his official capacity, or member of the Virginia National Guard or Virginia Defense Force, when such a member is serving in the Virginia National Guard or the Virginia Defense Force on official state duty, shall aid an agency of the armed forces of the United States in the conduct of the investigation, prosecution, or detention of any citizen pursuant to 50 U.S.C. § 1541 as provided by the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (P.L. 112-18, § 1021) if such aid would place any state agency, political subdivision, employee of such state agency or political subdivision, or aforementioned member of the Virginia National Guard or the Virginia Defense Force in violation of the United States Constitution, the Constitution of Virginia, and provision of the Code of Virginia, any act of the General Assembly, or any regulation of the Virginia Administrative Code.
http://leg1.state.va.us/cgi-bin/legp504.exe?121+ful+HB1160H1

The bill’s primary sponsor, Delegate Bob Marshall, said:

“During World War II, the federal government incarcerated tens of thousands of loyal Japanese Americans in the name of national security. By this bill, Virginia declares that it will not participate in similar modern-day efforts.  Even President Obama had questions about the bill, when he promised the American people that he would not use the unrestrained powers it granted him — but why should we trust any President with such powers?  There are moments in our history when our liberties hang in the balance. This is one of those moments. I urge the Senate…to lead the way in the nation to ensure that Virginia will not cooperate when the Federal Government strays off the reservation with laws that take away the civil liberties of our citizens.”
http://tenthamendmentcenter.com/2012/02/28/ndaa-nullification-passes-virginia-senate-by-a-veto-proof-39-1-vote/

Presumably the phrase “strays off the reservation” was used with intended irony.  In any event, Delegate Marshall got this one right.  Obama had insisted on being given these powers and then bizarrely promised not to use them, or at least not to use them in certain ways.  According to Obama’s promise in his signing statement, he will choose not to imprison us through the military.  Our lawless imprisonments, if non-military, will comply with his promise and his law, but not with the U.S. Constitution.  And Virginia will not assist.  I can’t recall the last time a state or federal government claiming to represent me did something that made me feel more, rather than less, safe.  Predictably, this surprise came from Virginia’s normally medieval legislature before anything of the sort has emerged from war-warped Washington.

Here’s some background on where this issue came from, last December:
http://davidswanson.org/node/3508

These were among the complaints registered the last time this nation had a king:

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.
“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

To prevent the U.S. government from behaving like a king, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution empowered an elected legislature to write every law, to declare every war, and to remove its executive from office.  To further prevent the abuse of individuals’ rights, those authors wrote into the Constitution, even prior to the Bill of Rights, the right to habeas corpus and the right never to be punished for treason unless convicted in an open court on the testimony of at least two witnesses to an overt act of war or assistance of an enemy.

President Barack Obama waited until New Year’s Eve to take an action that I suspect he wanted his willfully deluded followers to have a good excuse not to notice.  On that day, Obama issued an unconstitutional signing statement rewriting a law as he signed it into law, a practice that candidate Obama had rightly condemned.  The law that Obama was signing was the most direct assault yet seen on the basic structure of self-governance and human rights that once made all the endless U.S. shouting of “We’re number one!” significantly less ludicrous.  The National Defense Authorization Act is not a leap from democracy to tyranny, but it is another major step on a steady and accelerating decade-long march toward a police-and-war state.

President Obama has claimed the power to imprison people without a trial since his earliest months in office. He spoke in front of the Constitution in the National Archives while gutting our founding document in 2009. President Obama has claimed the power to torture “if needed,” issued an executive order claiming the power of imprisonment without trial, exercised that power on a massive scale at Bagram, and claimed and exercised the power to assassinate U.S. citizens. Obama routinely kills people with unmanned drones.

The bill just signed into law, as sent to the President, said this:

“Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”

In other words, Congress was giving its stamp of approval to the unconstitutional outrages already claimed by the President. But then, why create a new law at all? Well, because some outrages are more equal than others, and Congress had chosen to specify some of those and in fact to expand some of them. For example:

“Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force (Public Law 107-40) includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in subsection (b)) pending disposition under the law of war.”

And this:

“The disposition of a person under the law of war as described in subsection (a) may include the following: (1) Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.”

Jon Stewart explained when those detained without trial under the law might be released: “So when the war on terror ends, and terror surrenders and is no longer available as a human emotion, you are free to go.”

An exception for U.S. legal residents and citizens was kept out of the bill at President Obama’s request.

So why did Obama threaten to veto the bill initially and again after it passed the Senate? Well, one change made by the conference committee was this (note the crossed-through text):

“The Secretary of Defense President may, in consultation with the Secretary of State and the Director of National Intelligence, waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the Secretary President submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.”

The reference here is to military tribunals. The President — that is, the current one and future ones — need not hand someone over even to a military tribunal if . . . well, if he (or she) chooses not to.

That was the most power Obama could have transferred to the White House in this bill.  But it was not absolute power, and was therefore not good enough.  Hence the signing statement, the relevant portion of which begins:

“Moving forward, my Administration will interpret and implement the provisions described below in a manner that best preserves the flexibility on which our safety depends and upholds the values on which this country was founded.”

This is Bush-Cheneyspeak for “I will not comply with the following sections of this law despite signing it into law.”

After having persuaded the Congress to remove an exception for U.S. legal residents, Obama has the nerve in the signing statement to assert, not that the law makes any such exception, but that he personally will choose to do so, at least for U.S. citizens.  Future presidents may lock U.S. citizens up without trials, but Obama won’t do so.  He promises:

“I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens. Indeed, I believe that doing so would break with our most important traditions and values as a Nation. My Administration will interpret section 1021 in a manner that ensures that any detention it authorizes complies with the Constitution, the laws of war, and all other applicable law.”

The first two sentences above are highly unusual if not unprecedented.  Most, if not all, of Bush and Obama’s law-altering signing statements up to this point have not sought to clarify what a particular administration would choose to do.  Rather, they have focused on declaring parts of the laws invalid.  Usually this is done in a manner misleadingly similar to the third sentence above.  By claiming the power to interpret a law in line with the Constitution, Bush and Obama have each on numerous occasions asserted the view that the Constitution grants presidents far-reaching powers that cannot be restricted by legislation.  If Obama had wanted to deny that this law could be applied to U.S. citizens (or legal residents), the above paragraph would look very different, although equally unusual in that it would then be rejecting power rather than claiming it.

Also note, as Marcy Wheeler has already pointed out, Section 1021 applies to any detention, and Obama promises only not to subject U.S. citizens to indefinite military detention.  While locked away forever without a trial you’ll be able to take comfort that yours is a non-military imprisonment.

Also, remember that Obama claims and exercises the power to kill U.S. citizens or anyone else (arguably at least as serious a violation of rights as imprisonment!), and for that he will use the military if he sees fit, or even allow the military to operate freely.

Also notice that legal residents are not included in the category of citizens.

Next, Obama declares Section 1022 on military custody “ill-conceived.” His personal right to a waiver, won through the conference committee, was not enough.  Obama insists on also erasing this section of law: “I reject,” he writes,

“any approach that would mandate military custody where law enforcement provides the best method of incapacitating a terrorist threat. While section 1022 is unnecessary and has the potential to create uncertainty, I have signed the bill because I believe that this section can be interpreted and applied in a manner that avoids undue harm to our current operations. I have concluded that section 1022 provides the minimally acceptable amount of flexibility to protect national security. Specifically, I have signed this bill on the understanding that section 1022 provides the executive branch with broad authority to determine how best to implement it, and with the full and unencumbered ability to waive any military custody requirement, including the option of waiving appropriate categories of cases when doing so is in the national security interests of the United States. … I will therefore interpret and implement section 1022 in the manner that best preserves the same flexible approach that has served us so well for the past 3 years and that protects the ability of law enforcement professionals to obtain the evidence and cooperation they need to protect the Nation.”

Obama goes on to reject several other sections of the law, including restrictions on his unlimited power to rendition prisoners to other countries.  Among the notable rejections is this:

“Sections 1023-1025 needlessly interfere with the executive branch’s processes for reviewing the status of detainees. Going forward, consistent with congressional intent as detailed in the Conference Report, my Administration will interpret section 1024 as granting the Secretary of Defense broad discretion to determine what detainee status determinations in Afghanistan are subject to the requirements of this section.”

In other words, U.S. prisoners held in Afghanistan will not be given even any formal pretense of a legalistic review of their status unless Obama and his Secretary of “Defense” see fit.

I’ve just been editing a forthcoming book in which one of the contributors writes:

“In 1971, Congress passed the Anti-Detention Act, 18 U.S.C. § 4001(a), which states that “no person shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress.” Fred Koramatsu, who had brought the unsuccessful case before the Supreme Court, was eventually awarded the Medal of Freedom. Congress apologized and provided for limited reparations for this heinous act.”

The author is referring to the unconstitutional indefinite detention of Japanese and Japanese-Americans during World War II. This type of criminal abuse for which Congress had to apologize and pay reparations, and for which there is a misleadingly pro-war-looking memorial hidden between the U.S. Capitol and Union Station, has now been effectively sanctioned by our Constitutional Scholar in Chief.

My chief regret is that we have not seen the major resistance we could have, and without any doubt would have, seen to this if only Obama were a Republican.

Obama Crowned Himself on New Year’s Eve

8:06 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(photo: catrijn/flickr)

(photo: catrijn/flickr)

These were among the complaints registered the last time this nation had a king:

“He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

“He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

“He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.

“He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.

“He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

“He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.

“He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

“For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

“For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:

“For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

“He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.”

To prevent the U.S. government from behaving like a king, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution empowered an elected legislature to write every law, to declare every war, and to remove its executive from office.  To further prevent the abuse of individuals’ rights, those authors wrote into the Constitution, even prior to the Bill of Rights, the right to habeas corpus and the right never to be punished for treason unless convicted in an open court on the testimony of at least two witnesses to an overt act of war or assistance of an enemy. Read the rest of this entry →

Set Your Doomsday Clock to 11:51 pm

10:09 am in Uncategorized by David Swanson

(photo: doyoubleedlikeme/flickr)

(photo: doyoubleedlikeme/flickr)

The National Defense Authorization Act is not a leap from democracy to tyranny, but it is another major step on a steady and accelerating decade-long march toward a police state. The doomsday clock of our republic just got noticeably closer to midnight, and the fact that almost nobody knows it, simply moves that fatal minute-hand a bit further still.

I’m not referring to the “doomsday” predicted by Leon Panetta should military spending be scaled back to the obscenely inflated levels of 2007. I’m talking about the complete failure to keep the republic that Benjamin Franklin warned we might not. Practices that were avoided, outsourced, or kept secret when Bill Clinton was president were directly engaged in on such a scale under president George W. Bush that they became common knowledge. Under President Obama they are becoming formal law and acceptable policy.

Obama has claimed the power to imprison people without a trial since his earliest months in office. He spoke in front of the Constitution in the National Archives while gutting our founding document in 2009. So why not pick the 220th anniversary of the Bill of Rights to further codify its elimination? President Obama has claimed the power to torture “if needed,” issued an executive order claiming the power of imprisonment without trial, exercised that power on a massive scale at Bagram, and claimed and exercised the power to assassinate U.S. citizens. Obama routinely kills people with unmanned drones.

As Obama’s Justice Department has broken new ground in the construction of state secrecy and immunity, the Bush era advancers of imperial presidential power have gone on book tours bragging about their misdeeds. One can expect the next step to involve serious abuse of those who question and resist the current bipartisan trajectory.

So what does the latest bill do, other than dumping another $660 billion into wars and war preparation? Read the rest of this entry →

What to Replace the Imprison-Americans Bill With

9:29 pm in Uncategorized by David Swanson

shutterstock_20539232

F-35 Lightning II boondoggle fighter (photo: Eugene Berman/Shutterstock.com)

The funny thing about the bill that the Senate just passed that lets presidents and the military lock you up without a charge or a trial — well, not funny ha ha but funny unusual — is that the basic bill to which that little monstrosity was attached is even worse. It’s a bill to dump over $650 billion into wars and aggressive weaponry, continue the slaughter in Afghanistan, ramp up the creation and use of drones, and expand U.S. military bases around the globe.

When these bills move through the Congress, they are so enormous and yet so routine that almost all attention is drawn to one or more peculiarly putrid or pretentiously benevolent little attachments. Either the bill simply must be passed because it contains hurricane relief or veterans aid or unemployment insurance or because it finally allows GLBT Americans to join in our crusades of mass murder. Or, alternatively, the bill desperately needs amending because it sanctions torture or lawless imprisonment or expands an especially hated war or an especially transparent investment in unwanted weaponry manufactured by some campaign donor. But the underlying insanity of the bill itself never makes it into the corporate conversation.

In the case of this latest National Defense Authorization Act, there has been a toothless rhetorical amendment passed asking the president to end his warmaking in Afghanistan in something less than three years if it’s not too much trouble. But that positive measure has been absolutely overwhelmed in what little discussion of the bill exists by a section of the bill giving presidents and the military the power to lock you away without any of the process guaranteed you by the U.S. Constitution. Now, President Obama may veto the bill because he would prefer that section to be even worse than it is. He has expressed concern that it limits, rather than expands, his options. He should veto it because it rips out the heart of our Bill of Rights and grinds it into the dirt.

But a bill like this should not be passed simply because the latest erosion of our civil liberties is removed and the even worse un-codified understanding and practice is left to continue. A bill like this one should be rejected in its entirety. This bill kills human beings in large numbers, endangers us all through encouragement of foreign hostility, contributes to the development and proliferation of genocidal weaponry, creates massive environmental destruction, advances a foreign policy built around an unsurvivable energy policy, funds both sides of an unending Afghan occupation, funds prisons where we already hold many hundreds of men behind bars without charge or trial, and gives presidents de facto power to ignore our rights for the duration of a global war that has no end. And this bill destroys our economy through unfathomable wasteful spending in the midst of a manufactured deficit crisis and an actual humanitarian crisis at home and abroad.

Military spending is worse for job creation and retention than any other kind of spending or even tax cuts. Jobs is not the silver lining in militarism. There is a choice that confronts us between militarism or jobs, militarism or human services, militarism or a safety net for the ill and the elderly and the impoverished. We’re dumping over a trillion dollars a year into “security” spending in “defense” and other bills combined, well over half of discretionary spending. The deficit “crisis” is not the creation of sick people getting old and multiplying without having had the decency to bribe their way into major government contracts or bailouts from the Federal Reserve. Single-payer health coverage, not cuts to Medicare, is the solution there. The deficit is not purely the result of the Obama tax cuts (sorry, Bush is gone now) or of the bad economy. There is a way to improve the actual economy by spending existing public dollars in different ways.

In 1963, Senator George McGovern and House members F. Bradford Morse and William Fitts Ryan introduced a bill that gained significant support and hearings and would have begun a process of economic conversion from a war economy to a peace economy, retraining and re-employing anyone thrown out of work in the process. Meanwhile, the military was secretly beginning a war in Vietnam, and certain elements were plotting to blow President Kennedy’s brains out of the back of his head. We took a turn for the worse, and economic conversion has never seriously begun. Yet, for decades members of Congress had the decency to at least propose it.

Here’s a bill introduced 20 years ago, in 1991. Do some of the names on the bill look familiar? Waters, Pelosi, Schumer, Slaughter, McDermott, Markey, Panetta (yes, Panetta), Lewis, Pallone, Towns, Berman, Payne, Waxman, Boxer, Wyden, etc. Here’s a solution backed by these people 20 years ago, more desperately needed now, and not under consideration. That’s not their fault. They are cogs in a money-marinated machine. It’s our fault.

In the absence of an overall conversion-to-sanity-and-sustainability bill, there is a related bill that has been introduced in the current Congress: “The Nuclear Weapons Abolition and Economic and Energy Conversion Act of 2011″ introduced by Eleanor Holmes Norton. This bill is a concise thing of beauty which says:

“(a) In General- The United States Government shall–
(1) by the date that is three years after the date of the enactment of this Act, provide leadership to negotiate a multilateral treaty or other international agreement that provides for–
(A) the dismantlement and elimination of all nuclear weapons in every country by not later than 2020; and
(B) strict and effective international control of such dismantlement and elimination;
(2) redirect resources that are being used for nuclear weapons programs to use–
(A) in converting all nuclear weapons industry employees, processes, plants, and programs smoothly to constructive, ecologically beneficial peacetime activities, including strict control of all fissile material and radioactive waste, during the period in which nuclear weapons must be dismantled and eliminated pursuant to the treaty or other international agreement described in paragraph (1); and
(B) in addressing human and infrastructure needs, including development and deployment of sustainable carbon-free and nuclear-free energy sources, health care, housing, education, agriculture, and environmental restoration, including long-term radioactive waste monitoring;
(3) undertake vigorous, good-faith efforts to eliminate war, armed conflict, and all military operations; and
(4) actively promote policies to induce all other countries to join in the commitments described in this subsection to create a more peaceful and secure world.
(b) Effective Date- Subsection (a)(2) shall take effect on the date on which the President certifies to Congress that all countries possessing nuclear weapons have–
(1) eliminated such weapons; or
(2) begun such elimination under established legal requirements comparable to those described in subsection (a).”

If you’re going to begin conversion with one sector, why not start with the worst? The answer does not ultimately lie in backing a particular bill so much as in educating, mobilizing, changing the public discourse, and applying nonviolent pressure. But there are bills that exist or could easily be made to exist that merit our unqualified support.

Either we will move the money from where it destroys to where is sustains life, or our civilization will meet the fate Kennedy met in Dallas.

[photo: Eugene Berman/Shutterstock.com]