Bradley Manning Tells Court Public Have the Right to Know About US War Crimes

March 4th, 2013

American Attorney for Julian Assange, Michael Ratner, reports he was in the courtroom and witnessed Manning speak with confidence and intelligence as he detailed the outrages that drove him to upload the documents to Wikileaks

JAY: So you spent a hell of a emotional day at a remarkable trial of Bradley Manning today. What happened?
RATNER: I went down to Fort Meade, and it was an all-day affair. Bradley Manning was in the courtroom. Most of the press goes to a theater room, but a few of us—I’m not press—go into the room with Bradley Manning. And it was a special day because it was a day in which Bradley Manning’s lawyer and Bradley had decided to plead guilty to certain of the charges, but really lesser included charges, not the top charges of espionage and aiding the enemy and all of that.

But I was devastated by the day emotionally. I was devastated by it. But at the same time, you really saw who Bradley Manning was, what a hero he was, and how when he saw wrong, he basically acted.

Technically what happened today is he pleaded guilty to nine charges. And when you plead guilty in a court, the court wants to make sure you understand what you’re doing, the nature of the plea, and asks you to describe what your actions are. And so Bradley Manning pleaded guilty to many of the distribution or the transferring of documents to WikiLeaks, who is my client, all of the documents from the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war logs, “Collateral Murder” video, Department of State cables, the Reykjavik 13 cable, etc.

But what was amazing about this guilty plea to nine charges is the judge allowed him to read a statement that’s probably a 30-page statement—it took two or three hours—that really gave you a sense of who Bradley Manning was. And it was an incredibly moving statement. He started out by when he joined the military, and then he described what his first job was in Iraq. And his first job was really compiling and working with something called SigAct, which are significant activities. And those are the daily log reports of what happens in the field. And as he read those reports, he got more and more disturbed by what he saw going on in Iraq, the amount of killings, the number of—the fact that they were killing people on a kill list, he said, rather than helping people. And he thought there should be a serious discussion of counterinsurgency, what it meant, what it meant to really help people instead of hurt them.

At about the same time as he was looking at these and working—this was part of his work, the Iraq War Logs. And of course the Afghan war logs, similar material, were in the same sort of location, so he got to see those as well.

The same time that he’s doing this, he’s also becoming aware of the organization WikiLeaks, and he’s primarily becoming aware of it through the fact that they released—I forgot how many tens of thousands of SMSs, those special—you know, the text messages from people who were in the World Trade Center when it was hit. And that was, I guess, an exposure by WikiLeaks. And then he did some research on WikiLeaks while he was at his computer, and he found out that in 2008 there was a report done by the U.S. government about how to counter WikiLeaks way back in 2008.

So you have these two things going along—him getting disturbed by the Iraq War Logs, the Afghan war logs, and then him being in contact, at least, with WikiLeaks.

The first thing that happens is the Iraq War Logs and the Afghan war logs, and what happens is that he gets disturbed by it. He doesn’t do anything with it, but he goes to the United States at some point with those logs downloaded onto his computer, I guess, or onto a chip, really, like, a little SD card. And he’s in Maryland, and there’s a snowstorm. He can’t decide what to do with it. He talks to someone who was at least his boyfriend for a while and said, what if you had things that the American people ought to see. The boyfriend is noncommittal. He keeps thinking about it. It keeps bothering him.

And ultimately, when he goes back to Maryland from Boston, he goes into a Barnes & Noble becauses there’s a snowstorm and he needs to use their broadband, and he uploads the documents to WikiLeaks. He uploads them through their site where it’s an anonymous upload to WikiLeaks. And then he said afterwards, I felt really relieved; I felt that this was something the American people had to see; they had to debate this war; and I hoped, I hoped that the Afghan war logs and the Iraq War Logs would change the situation. So that’s the first set of documents.

At the same time, he’s then in, of course, correspondence of some sort with WikiLeaks. He doesn’t know who’s at the other end of the computer. He says at some point, maybe it’s Julian Assange, maybe it’s someone named Daniel Schmitt, who was the German guy who was at least with WikiLeaks for a while—Domscheit/Schmitt. He doesn’t know who it is. He says, it might be other people in WikiLeaks’ organization; I don’t really know who I was communicating with; it’s anonymous.

And then he also says during the course of this day that I was not pressured at all by anybody from WikiLeaks; this was a decision I made on my own.

So the first set of documents, you already see he’s very politicized and thinking about people ought to see what the government is doing.

The next big event that happens is the “Collateral Murder” video. People are in his Iraq office, and they’re discussing, you know, these videos and did it comply with the rules of engagement or not. And so he decides to go look at it himself. And he sees it, and he’s really upset by it, ’cause first he sees what looks like you could argue was a mistake when the two Reuters journalists are killed from what he calls a—whatever it is, an aerial gunship. And then—and he says, well, they mistakenly shot them. And, of course, there’s a dispute about whether that was a mistake or whether they should have killed those two Reuters people.

But then a van comes to try and rescue people, and the people in the helicopter fire on the van. And at that point, that’s—he thinks that’s just outside of the rules of engagement. These people were coming to rescue them. They had no weapons. And then he hears the bloodlust of the people in the helicopter—and that’s the word he used, bloodlust. When they saw a guy crawling along the ground who apparently was wounded, they said in the helicopter, we hope he picks up a gun—essentially so they can shoot him.

And he gets very disturbed by this, very disturbed by the fact that it wasn’t given to Reuters, even though Reuters asked for it on behalf of their dead journalists in their own organization and that the U.S. government or CENTCOM, the military, said they weren’t even sure they had it. And there it was. So that’s again him being upset by what he saw and doing something and acting on it. So that’s the second thing he pleads guilty to is giving that video, again, uploading it to WikiLeaks. It turns out not to have even been classified, which is interesting. But he gives it to WikiLeaks.

The third incident is with the Iraq police. He’s asked to help out with the Iraq police, the Baghdad police, help them identify, you know, insurgents or other things, I think, something like that. At some point, 15 people are turned over to the Iraq police. And he looks into what their case is. He’s asked to do that. And the case against them was nothing but putting up posters about the corruption of the government in Iraq. He gets very upset by this because these people are treated badly. He’s afraid they’re going to be disappeared, and he’s even afraid they’re going to go to Guantanamo if they’re turned back to the United States.

So what he does: he tries to report it to his commanders. They of course—they disregard it. And at that point, he again uploads that to WikiLeaks. WikiLeaks does not happen to publish that, but he continues, of course, talking to WikiLeaks about documents that—or at least about continuing to be in touch with WikiLeaks about documents. And that got him intrigued by something he’d been upset by for a while, which is Guantanamo.

What he said in court was, look it, [incompr.] have a right to interrogate people, sure, but Guantanamo really is morally questionable; what we’re doing is keeping innocent people there and people who are very low-level, and Barack Obama promised to end it, and I think it just hurts the United States to keep it open. And that got him interested in finding what are called the detainee files, and those are files on each of the detainees in Guantanamo. And then he says when he talked—when he said to WikiLeaks, here’s what I’m going to give you, and WikiLeaks says, well, what is it, and then WikiLeaks responded, well, they’re old and they’re not that political but they’re important historically for Guantanamo, and they may help the lawyers as well. So then those get uploaded to WikiLeaks.

And then, of course, the last thing he talked about was the State Department cables. And there was an earlier State Department cable called the Reykjavik 13, which was actually the first document, I think, put up online by WikiLeaks. Reykjavik 13 he got off a website having to do with Iceland. And there was—Iceland during the financial crisis, there was huge pressure by the U.K. and the United States on Iceland to concede to all the bailouts and the austerity program, and Iceland refused. And this cable talked about the pressure that was being put on Iceland by the U.S. And he reacted, Bradley Manning reacted by saying, they’re bullying Iceland, and I think this ought to get out; I don’t think this kind of stuff should be secret.

And that got him, of course, into the diplomatic cables, which—he read every one on Iraq, he said, and he read them more broadly eventually, and he saw that basically they were hiding criminality and that he believes that that kind of diplomacy hurts the United States, secret diplomacy and that’s not out in the public. And then that was the diplomatic cables that were released.

But what you see in each of these incidents is that in each one, he was affected by what he read or what he saw, and deeply affected, and he couldn’t really do much with going up the chain of command. He couldn’t do much with—what could he do with it? And he decided that the public, the U.S. people, and the world ought to know about it, because they ought to discuss it, and maybe that would change policy.

Now, there were a couple of other very interesting moments. There was a moment when he’s back in Maryland about to want to releasing the Iraq and Afghan war logs, and he first tries to get them into another media, not WikiLeaks. He calls up The New York Times public editor and leaves a message on the public editor’s website or answering machine, never gets a call back. He calls The Washington Post, and he said The Washington Post really didn’t take him seriously. And so he felt that he couldn’t do anything with The Washington Post or The New York Times. He said he was looking at some other places to do it. But in the end, because of what WikiLeaks had done in the past, he felt that would be the best way he could do it.

I guess for me sitting in the courtroom and seeing this young man, [incompr.] 22 years old, joined the military—20 years old, and at 22 started to upload documents to WikiLeaks because he was so disturbed, it made you realize what a hero Bradley Manning is. I mean, here he saw what the U.S. military was doing, what they were doing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Guantanamo, and what the State Department was doing, and he decided that I should do—that he should do something about it. And, unfortunately, he’s going to pay a high price for it. The plea that he took, if—.

Let me just say how the pleas work here. This is not like a plea we see in a regular court. Normally you make a deal with the prosecutor. You go before the judge. There’s a maximum sentence, or at least there’s a plea to what might be a maximum sentence.

It’s not the way this plea worked. This is what the judge referred to as a naked plea, which means he just decided to plead guilty to these nine specifications on his own with his lawyer and detailed what happened. They’re not the highest charges. They’re charges that cumulatively could give him 20 years. The problem is the prosecutor doesn’t have to accept it and can go ahead and still prove the higher charges, using even elements of what Bradley Manning has pled to.

So that’s going to be the important thing here. I think it’s an important step. He’s showing that he took responsibility for his actions. He gave an incredible, really, statement, moving statement about why he did it. And, hopefully, the judge will be moved, and, hopefully, his sentence will reflect what he actually pled guilty to and not the charges that can end up with a life imprisonment for Bradley Manning that the prosecutor wants to pile on. So it was an amazing day in court, Paul.

JAY: Now, he’s been kind of depicted to some extent as sort of a weak person, sort of disturbed. What kind of man did you witness?

RATNER: You know, this is—the first time I saw it was when I went to Bradley Manning’s hearing, where he actually got on the stand and testified about the abuse and torture that he underwent for almost a year between Iraq and Quantico. And at that point you realized this is not a weak, this is not a disturbed—this is something very different than that. This is a strong person, very intelligent. That came out in the hearing on the abuse, and it came out today.

First, he was obviously very intelligent. I mean, he was put into this high-level computer thing. When you heard him talk about computers, he just knows a heck of a lot.

But in addition, he’s a strong person politically about what he thinks, about how he presents himself. He didn’t have a weak voice. There was even a couple of funny moments in this very difficult day. At one point, the judge asked him a question, and he couldn’t answer without revealing, he said, classified information. So everybody laughed about it, ’cause here he is now actually in the process, when he’s asked a question, of protecting classified information from the judge’s question. So everybody got a little bit of a laugh out of that.

But of course it’s a tough day for Bradley Manning, that he’s going to be sentenced to certainly a fairly long-term—hopefully not that long, and, hopefully, they’ll accept these charges.

But what I sat there and realized is here you had a 22-year-old person who really acted on what he saw and his belief, and he’s going to be someone who we can—.

As a last point here, the 35-page statement or whatever it was was not given to any of us. It was given to the judge, it was given to all these guys in camoflage and everybody else. We didn’t get it. It’s not because any of it was classified. I heard every word of it. It’s because this court doesn’t give materials out very readily. And we have lawsuits, the Center has a big lawsuit going on about this. We’ve gotten them to release a few things. But this document is so important, in my view, I think young people, old people reading this document will be moved to act themselves in a way that will try and make this country really adhere to the rule of law and stop being the killing machine that I think Bradley Manning saw that it was.

JAY: Alright. Thanks very much for joining us, Michael.

RATNER: Thank you, Paul.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Transcript (edited) of Michael Ratner at Jeremy Hammond press conference 2/21

February 25th, 2013

Entire Hammond Press Conference Press Coference 2/21Ratner at press conf. Hammond

I’m Michael Ratner. I’m from the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. I and the Center represent WikiLeaks and Julian Assange in the United States. We’re here in part because we want to support an alleged Jeremy Hammond, an alleged source for WikiLeaks. He was allegedly the source for some of the most valuable doucments out there on the Internet– Five million Stratfor emails.

I’m here because I support truth-tellers. I support truth-tellers like Bradley Manning. I support truth-tellers like Jeremy Hammond and the publisher Julian Assange. Right now we are at a point where this government is hitting people with sledge hammers for telling the truth. They don’t want government and corporate corruption, hypocrisy, and criminality coming out.

Just yesterday, our wonderful Attorney General announced a new policy– a tougher policy when he said: we’re going to make truth-tellers– getting them our priority. The question I have is how much of a priority more do they want to make it? They already killed Aaron Swartz. Jeremy Hammond is facing 39 years to life: Bradley Manning– life imprisonment. And, Julian Assange, if they ever get him out of that embassy and into a prison here will face the same. So, I ask the government, what do they want to do– put them up against the wall and just shoot them. Its an outrageous suppression of truth.

The struggle that is going on in this country right now is whether we’re going to have a transparent government and corporations that are transparent or are we going to continue dirty tricks, hypocrisy, and secrecy. And, that is what this case– that is what Jeremy Hammond’s case is about.

I am also here because I am seeing unroll in front of me a travesty of justice– a case in which government informants were in on the case– in which the government itself bought the computer entrapping the people involved in the case. I am here because Jeremy Hammond did not get bail which he absolutely should have had. I am here because today, as others have said, we are seeing a conflict of interest by the judge. As Heidi Boghosian of the National Lawyers Guild said, Judge Preskas wakes up every morning with someone whose email address was among those in Stratfor documents. This is a fair judge– not at all.

I am here, because I stand for a transparent government, transparent corporations, and privacy for all of us. We are on the verge of a major struggle in this country, and this case is critical to how we go forward. Will we have a democracy or will we continue to have a government that suppresses the truth and its own criminality. So, again– thank you all for being here with us to support Jeremy Hammond. Free Jeremy!!!

Manhunt: The Rehabilitation of the CIA and Guess What? Torture Works!

January 28th, 2013

As if ZDT (Zero Dark Thirty) was not enough. Wait until you all see Manhunt which I just did at Sundance. Its, a CIA propaganda film justifying torture, targeted killings etc. The agents who were in the film attended the screenings: Nada Bakos, Cindy Storer and Marty Martin. Martin was in charge of the OBL investigation. All obviously had CIA clearance to talk etc. Martin justifies the “torture techniques.” Martin, of course, ought to be investigated for violating the torture law and jailed if found guilty, along with the next guy below:

Jose Rodriguez, former head of the Counter Terrorism Center, is a primary talking head justifying water boarding with only a passing statement or two by Ali Soufan, former FBI agent, disagreeing. Of course, there was no mention of the destruction by Rodriguez of the tapes of the water boardings that he oversaw.It was extremely upsetting to sit and watch Rodriguez on the screen as an oracle and Martin treated as a hero by the audience.

While part of film is the story of the female analysts who worked away on the case, and the killing of CIA agents at Khost, the film goes a long way toward justifying torture—in fact, all the way. One irony of the killings at Khost is that the Jordanian doctor who blew himself up to do it was angered by the Iraq war. That war was begun in part on false “evidence” obtained by the US torturing al-Libi who provided the claimed links between Saddam and al Qaeda.

Among the films many failures and omissions  is its editing away of the reasons al Qaeda says it attacked the United States. At least twice  Osama  is shown giving an interview in which he expresses his anger at the United States–each time he is cut off before giving the reasons for that anger. The film ends with General McChrystal speaking pablum on the way to ultimately stop terrorism: understand Muslin and Arab culture. Should not the audience have been given the opportunity of hearing why al Qaeda says it attacked the United States: presence of the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia, sanctions against Iraq and support for Israel. While nothing justifies the intentional killing of thousands of civilians, perhaps addressing some of the underlying causes might lessen the impetus to commit such acts.  Nor does the film address the dangers of blow back. While it opens with the efforts of Osama and others to rid Afghanistan of the Soviets it fails to point out the US aid to those efforts including the arming of Jihadists that ultimately blew back against the U.S.

Shockingly, this travesty of illegality was paid for by HBO and got a coveted spot at Sundance of which of which they are a sponsor.

Putting this film together with ZDT, the Green Zone, Argo etc we seem to have a real rehabilitation of the CIA’s image. That Rodriguez could act as Oracle and Martin as hero shows the high costs of Obama’s failure to prosecute. Anecdotally at least most of that liberal Sundance audience accepted what was done and applauded it. I am afraid this debate in the context of protecting the “homeland” has been lost for now.

The great counter to this experience was seeing Rick Rowley and Jeremy Scahill take on JSOC, targeted killings and drones in Dirty Wars. I thought it was the best documentary at Sundance. It received standing ovations and gave me some hope. Perhaps it was a different audience. People were most upset at the killings of Americans without due process and also at the point Dirty Wars proved again and again: there are reasons America is hated; drones and “targeted” killings that destroy communities are high on that list.

NACLA Review: CHE. behind the killing of a revolutionary

March 30th, 2012

Who Killed Che? by Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith, OR Books, 2011, 200 pp., $16 (paperback)In Who Killed Che? radical attorneys Michael Ratner and Michael Steven Smith lay out a forceful case indicting the U.S. government of having, in effect, killed Ernesto “Che” Guevara on October 9, 1967. They base their argument on what has been written since the event but also rely heavily on official documents secured under the Freedom of Information Act, after years of waiting. The authors establish beyond a reasonable doubt that, while the man who actually shot Guevara was Mario Terán, a Bolivian army sergeant, the order to liquidate the wounded guerrilla came from Washington. This goes against the standard story, propagated by former president Lyndon B. Johnson and other high-ranking U.S. officials, that the Bolivians ordered Che’s death.“The history of who is responsible for his murder has heretofore not been understood accurately, especially in America, where it is commonly believed that the Bolivian military dictatorship had him killed,” the authors write in the first paragraph. “Documents which have recently been obtained from the U.S. government lead to a different conclusion: that the U.S. government, particularly its Central Intelligence Agency, had Che murdered, having secured the participation of its Bolivian client state,” write the authors.But this book is no dry legal brief. Nor is it just an account of Guevara’s capture and assassination. It is both an impassioned look at Che’s life and deeds and an inside glimpse into the inner workings of the CIA and U.S. foreign policy. The book is dedicated to the late Leonard Weinglass, a lawyer with extensive Cuban experience as the lead council for the Cuban Five from 2002 until his death in March 2011. Ricardo Alarcón, president of the Cuban National Assembly, penned the preface, which stresses Che’s importance today and briefly comments on the continued U.S. aggression against Cuba since the inception of the Revolution. A lengthy chronology introduces the main body of text, highlighting leading events in Che’s career as a revolutionary.The actual text is quite short, just under 60 pages. The first section covers background material on the creation of the CIA, emphasizing the agency’s autonomy and its function as a covert military and political operator, which has allowed U.S. presidents to deny any knowledge of its actions taken to further national policy. The section “The Written Record Relating to Che’s Death” reviews the literature about Che’s Bolivian foray, underlining that most authors buy the official line that the Bolivians had sole responsibility for the killing. There follows material on the use of political assassination as a consistent instrument of U.S. policy, including congressional testimony on efforts to eliminate Che and both Fidel and Raúl Castro, among others. The authors then dissect the development of counterinsurgency strategy, beginning in the Kennedy-Johnson years, with the development of rapid-strike forces, Green Berets, and weaponry appropriate for small-scale combat against guerrilla forces.The rest of the text is devoted directly to Che, from his early background in Argentina through his demise in Bolivia. It reads like a set of chronological snapshots. Short sections cover each particular topic or event: Guatemala, Che’s first encounter with Fidel Castro in Mexico City, the Sierra Maestra campaign. Two sections highlight Che in Africa and quote from his speeches on the need for third-world revolution and solidarity. The book, however, is not a complete biography but rather a highlight film with commentary. It shows that the CIA tracked Che even before his appearance in Cuba. Frequent quotes from both Che and the U.S. government dot the pages, as do references to the official documents in the back of the book.The authors tackle two controversies surrounding Che, including the thorny question of Che’s attitude toward the Soviet Union, which they correctly identify as one of critical support. They also scoff at the idea that a rift developed between Che and Fidel, despite the fact that the CIA wrote about “the fall of Che Guevara” and even cited rumors that Fidel had had him killed.“The CIA files reflect the vast rumor-mongering that spread worldwide as to whether Che and Fidel had split,” the authors write. “The truth is that there was no split. When Che joined up with Fidel and the Cubans in Mexico City in 1956, it was with the understanding that if they succeeded in Cuba, Che was free to move on.”The last section of the book deals with Che’s Bolivian expedition, and relies heavily on Che’s diary because it is the only testimony that exists (CIA agents had lost track of Che for a considerable amount of time). This section covering Che’s assassination is the most original. It examines official accounts in detail, concluding that the U.S. government was really calling the shots and is responsible for the killing. As the authors highlight, the Bolivian government under General René Barrientos and Félix Rodríguez—a CIA operative who was present at Che’s death—lied in their reports about the killing. With the support of accompanying documents, it is clear that the United States was responsible for the killing. Two memoranda from the CIA and the Department of Defense Intelligence Agency support this thesis by saying that Che’s death vindicated the U.S. strategy of having Green Berets train Special Forces to combat guerrilla uprisings and would discourage future would-be guerrillas. This section, “Che Guevara, His Life and Death,” closes with an examination of the official death certificates and comments on Fidel’s eulogy for his dead comrade, reminding the reader of Che’s powerful and lasting legacy around the world.By far the longest part of this work is the chapter “Documents,” which reproduces 43 secret reports, correspondence, and memoranda upon which much of the text is based. Each document is accompanied by a paragraph indicating its significance. The documents, released under the Freedom of Information Act, come from many sources, including the Lyndon Johnson Library, the CIA, the White House, and the State and Defense departments. Although some key texts are released in their entirety, many have been extensively censored to hide the names of informants and operatives. Nonetheless, the documents contain fascinating information for any reader with the patience to wade through them. As a whole they reveal that the U.S. spy system reached deeply into the highest echelons in both the United States and abroad, but also show that intelligence sources did not always provide accurate information. The several differing accounts of the capture and death of Che offer proof of this.The authors fail to touch on one controversial question. Was Che’s campaign doomed to fail before it started? Che’s theory of foquismo—that a small band of rural guerrillas could lead an impoverished peasantry to rebellion—is attractive as a model for revolution. But were the Andes the Sierra Maestra of South America? Did Bolivia really meet the criteria at this time? Many argue that it did not, since some agrarian reform had already been implemented after the Revolution of 1952. In fact, the miners, not the peasantry, were the most radicalized sector of Bolivian society. Che himself notes more than once, in the referenced documents, that his group had no chance to recruit peasants, because they were always on the run and because their operations brought further military backlash against the agrarian communities.“The peasant base has not yet been developed,” Che wrote in his diary in April 1967. “Of all the peasants we have seen, there is only one who appears to be cooperative, but with fear.”On October 7, 1967, a local peasant named Pedro Peña informed the counterinsurgency forces of the group’s whereabouts. Che was captured the next afternoon after a fierce battle.Overall, this is a very interesting book. It presents new material about Che and most particularly about the whole episode in Bolivia. It also opens small windows onto the operational workings of U.S. imperialism. This is significant. Too often this kind of examination comes either from retired operatives who have axes to grind—pro and con—or from scholars with predetermined views. Ratner and Smith give us a measured, unbiased account of the revolutionary life of one of Latin America’s most controversial figureHobart Spalding is a member of the NACLA Editorial Committee and the Socialism and Democracy Cuba collective, which has published two special issues on Cuba, the latest in March 2010.

Israeli judges are the confessors in savage new doc’y on legitimizing the occupation

January 31st, 2012

The Law  in These PartsA remarkable film about the “legal” system in the Israeli Occupied Territories. A devastating look at how law and especially the Israeli Supreme Court has  been employed for 40 years to legitimize the illegitimate, the cruel and the immoral.  Amazingly the judges themesleves are the confessors–although often they are unaware. For many years the Israeli Supreme Court (and its former Chief Justice Barak) have gotten more than a pass–it (and he) have been lauded as a beacons of justice.  That may be true for Israeli Jews, but its that very reputation that has allowed the court to make it appear that Palestinans arrested, administratively detained and tortured have had a day their day in court. Its the Supreme Court that has approved the stealing of Palestinian land–giving “legitimacy” to theft.  When you get a chance–see this film- you will see the Supreme Court for what it is—worse than a rubber stamp–but a key part of the machinery of repression.

Sundance doc’y on Paul Simon playing South Africa undercuts power of cultural boycott

January 31st, 2012

Whatever you think of Paul Simon’s music and especially Graceland (which I like a lot) a new movie at Sundance about the recording of that album could undercut the BDS campaign against Israel, and especially the cultural boycott. The film Under African Skies follows Paul Simon as he returns to South Africa 25 years after the release of his hugely popular album Graceland. As many of you may not recall, Simon travelled to South Africa in the mid 80’s to record portions of this album at the height of the economic and cultural embargo (boycott) of South Africa–an embargo imposed by the United Nations and supported by the African National Congress. He came under plenty of fire for doing so.

The movie, while it claims to deal with both sides of the question of whether Simon should have violated the embargo, amounts to a justification for Simon breaking the embargo. It could be said that the primary purpose of the film (which Simon’s brother Eddie helped produce) was to validate his having done so and the right of other cultural figures to do likewise. In this respect the film has a dangerous potential: convincing wide audiences that cultural boycotts such as that against Israel should not be adhered to.In the film Simon does engage directly with those who disagreed with his breaking the embargo, but he comes off as self-involved, not particularly astute, and never gets the importance of the embargo as a means of ending apartheid. His claim is that he as an artist should be beyond politics and those politicians should not tell him or any artist what they can do. He looks at his violation of the embargo entirely as a question of artistic freedom and has no understanding of its importance. For him, it’s about him. In fact, the original trip to South Africa was made for selfish reasons: his career was in a lull and he wanted to make a new album.

A telling moment in the film is where Simon describes a meeting he had with the African National Congress at which he was told he should not have broken the embargo. (As I recall he had already gone and returned.) Simon reacts by saying that if that’s the kind of government they will be–telling artists what to do—he wants nothing to do with it. He entirely misses the point. The embargo was a political necessity to bring apartheid to an end; it was not about censorship. Here we have Simon claiming that “artistic freedom” was more important than an embargo imposed by the UN and the ANC as a means of ending apartheid. Mandela himself spoke of the importance of the boycott in ending apartheid and commentators have pointed to the isolation of South Africans as key. The fact that Simon was invited back to South Africa by Mandela does not wash away Simon’s actions, especially as he never wavers from his view, justified by this film, that it was right for him to have violated the boycott

.The film also tries to rationalize Simon’s breaking the embargo by interviewing and filming the Black musicians with whom he worked. They seem to have real affection for him, and Graceland helped launch some of their careers outside of South Africa. The film describes how important it was to bring the voices of Black musicians to the wider world– which arguably helped undercut apartheid. But, of course, that is not the point. Violation of the embargo by someone as famous as Simon undercut a key means of bringing down apartheid—isolating South Africa– and potentially encouraged other artists to do likewise. Moreover, measuring in retrospect whether Graceland helped or hurt apartheid is an after the fact justification.I still like Graceland. I still listen to Graceland. It is joyful and life affirming. But I will always be haunted by its history.


Guantanamo: Broken Promises,Broken Lives. (Law & Disorder Radio)

January 10th, 2012

Michael Ratner: January 11th, here we are. We’ve completed ten years after 9-11, going into the eleventh year. The tenth anniversary of Guantanamo opening. On the actual annivesary, January 11th, I will be in London commemorating the opening of Guantanamo with other lawyers but particularly with men who have been freed from Guantanamo, a group called Caged Prisoners.Commemorating the 11th year of the practices that underlie imprisonment at Guantanamo: the capture of detainees anywhere in the world or their kidnapping; their imprisonment indefinitely or forever under a preventive detention scheme; and their trials, if at all, by rump trials or military commissions. Here we are, the Guantanamo Syndrome — that series of illnesses, sickness and outrage that represent both Republican and Democratic administrations are still with us.I’m commemorating it with a group set up after Guantanamo, set up by some of the very people who were formerly impisoned in Guantanamo, a group called Caged Prisoners. And I’m in London going through three days of commemoration of not just those who remain in Guantanamo, but of those who remain in secret prisons all over the world, particularly Bagram.I’m with a number of the people who have been freed — freed from Guantanamo,  for example, Moazzam Begg.   I’m with him today in London  and his story actually tells us a lot about what happened at Guantanamo. I met Moazzam Begg in in the United Kingdom. He’d been freed because of the huge amount of efforts by the British citizens — led by the Redgraves [the late Corin Redgrave and his sister Vanessa Redgrave of the British acting family dynasty] in particular and other efforts  to get the British citizens out of there.I met a group of detainees known as the Tipton 3 in 2004. When  I walked into the room, I remember it like it was yesterday, here were these young men — I mean they were young like my own children in a way — and the idea that these three men were ever kept in Guantanamo as the ‘worst of the worst’ or ‘terrorists’ just struck me as completely impossible. They could joke with me, they could tell the stories of what happened, they could talk about Guantanamo, they could talk about their own lives and, of course, they were kept in Guantanamo after being picked up in Pakistan and forced to give ‘confessions’ when they were at Guantanamo.They figured when they were at Guantanamo that after they were being tortured in various ways that they were better off just saying, ‘Yeah, we knew Osama bin Laden, etc.’ And they thought it would go better for them but of course it went worse. And even though they had alibis of where they were at the time and why they were in Afghanistan — and good ones, correct ones — the government forced these ‘confessions’ out of them under torture and kept them there year after year. When I met them, they talked about the torture.And when I talk to you, our listeners, about it, you have to understand that when I met them, no one knew publicly what was going on in Guantanamo, there’d been no access to Guantanamo. But there was the testimony of the Tipton Three. And everybody said, ‘Oh, they’re lying, they’re not telling the truth.In the room with me that day, they went over what’s called a “Rumsfeld Technique.” Those are what we now know are everything from hooding, stripping, dogs, sexual assault — all these kind of terrible things that Rumsfeld Techniques did to people at Guantanamo as a means of coercing what turned out to be false confessions out of people. And I sat there and I believed them. But I had trouble believing it because, of course, I’d always looked at Guantanamo as a horrible place because it was incommunicado detention — we couldn’t get them into court to test their detentions, we couldn’t get them lawyers, we couldn’t visit — and I looked at that as the worst aspect. And while I suspected that there might be interrogation issues, I didn’t realize that there would be abuse amounting or equivalent to torture.Was I naive in that respect? Possibly so. But of course within a couple of months after my interview with the Guantanamo Three or the Tipton Three, the Abu Ghraib photos came out on April 24th of 2004 and then, of course, it was public for everybody. The Rumfseld Techniques came out and then the Tipton Three’s testimony — that people had said, ‘Oh, we don’t believe it’ — was proven to be utterly, utterly accurate to the actual use of the Rumsfeld Techniques, the dozen techniques.And so then Guantanamo became synonymous not just with incommunicado detention but with torture as well.Today, of course, Guantanamo is still there. And as we talk about Guantanamo, I want to give people the numbers. Guantanamo is still there. 171 men remain in Guantanamo. 46 have been approved — whatever that means — for indefinite detention and will be there forever as far as I know. 36 men have been referred for prosecution.(4 of those have been convicted)  What kind of prosecution? Most likely military commissions which are just rump courts which are just rump trials for nothing.The remainder? Not clear. But most of the remainder have been approved for release.So that means the remainder shouldn’t be there at all. People like the Uighurs from western China who were picked up wrongly — admittedly wrongly — and have now been there for ten years and will be going on I don’t know how many years. So that total is about 89 people, most of whom have been approved for transfer. So of those 89  none of them should be there. So there’s our numbers again. 46 indefinitely detained forever, 36 supposedly subject to prosecution and 89 who shouldn’t be there at all — or most of whom should not be there at all, some of whom they may not have decided yet. That’s Guantanamo today.Michael RatnerCenter for Constitutional RightsSent from my iPad

Happy New Year:Obama’s Gift & Suriname Flora Fauna

January 1st, 2012

Although I am sitting here in Suriname on this New Year’s day, it’s hard not to think of Obama’s gift to us for the New Year: the signing of the NDAA and it’s nasty confirmation of detention and kangaroo trials that Bush and now Obama have been employing for 10 years.  He signed on a no press day, just like Bush used to do; and just like Bush issued a meaningless and unconstitutional signing statement.   On January 11 we enter the 11th year of Gitmo–just another broken promise for Obama, but a Hell Hole for prisoners there and around the world.Last night Paramaibo had the most spectacular fireworks I have ever seen.  Over 75 sites shot rockets in the air for two hours–we were entirely surrounded by a gorgeous intense display that went on way past midnight.   For now here is a list of many of the animals seen in the rainforest:Jaguar fresh paw printToucansBlue Morpho butterfliesMacawsGreat blue heronsBush Police birdBoa consrtictorWhiptail snakeHowler monkeyCormorantPacaCaiman alligatorToadsIridescent lizardsIguanaHawksTermitesAnd more

NDAA:Why Ok to indefinitely detain non-citizens, but not citizens?

January 1st, 2012

1.By claiming roughly similar detention and trial by commission powers as Bush employed-powers which I find illegal and immoral– Obama, as a Democrat,  has made them part of  of the fabric of our laws. No longer are they the aberration of a right wing Republican in a time to “terror emergency.”   And now having legislation confirm those powers makes matters worse.

2. That confirmation as some on the list serve said, makes detention of US citizens easier.

3. But I  am also concerned by the focus on US citizens.  Why is it ok to do do non-citizens what we say should not be done to US citizens? Sure, the constitution. But as a matter of human rights  should not all of us have similar fundamental rights regarding detention and trial.  Is not all the debate about US citizens a form of exceptionalism  that reinforces some of the worst aspects of what we are doing to others? By focussing on US ctizens we allow people in the US to forgot about human beings jailed at gitmo, bagram etc.

Blame Obama First–Then Congress for Not Ending Guantanamo and Its Underlying Practices

December 4th, 2011

From my daughter: I’ve been reading about the new bill that was passed by the senate, what does it mean exactly? How is it different than what we have now? What does it mean for Guantanamo, Anything? My Answer:

1. Both Bush and Obama have claimed the right to kill and capture alleged terrorists anywhere in the world or hold them in military detention indefinitely—ie Guantanamo.
In their view the world is a battlefield—not just Afghanistan and Iraq.
Their claim is that alleged terrorists –at least those related to al Qaeda, Taliban and associated forces (whatever that means) are at war with the United States and that the US can make war on them which includes capturing them and holding them forever without trial—no matter where they are: Yemen, Somalia, United Kingdom, South America or anywhere.
The determination of whom to capture and/or kill is made by the President without any court.
Bush and Obama have always claimed that US citizens can be so treated as well—so that is why under Obama we saw the killing of an American citizen by a drone in Yemen—al-alwaki.
Both Presidents have also acted as if they can kill and capture alleged terrorists that have no relationship to 9/11—the new law confirms this practice.

2. CCR and I have always asserted that the attack on the World Trade Center was a criminal act and that the people allegedly involved in that act or other similar acts against the US at other places in the world should be treated as alleged criminals, arrested, and tried in regular courts. And we think we are right on the law—especially international law.

Unfortunately, CCR’s position is not the position of Obama or the courts in the US—and we have mostly lost on this issue—that is one reason Guantanamo and the polices that underlie it are still there and will be for a long time.

3. What the legislation does is make what have been the practices of Bush and Obama into law—prior to this legislation, it was more or less what the presidents did—but without congress passing a law.
So in that sense the legislation does not make worse many of the bad practices of Bush and Obama—but it does make it harder to change back because now congress is behind it. Of course it’s bad for that reason but the real blame here is on Bush and Obama.

4. Many of those writing about the legislation are upset that it may require the President to put US citizens captured in the US into military custody—the legislation does not do that—but it does not prohibit the president from doing so. In fact Bush did that in a case called Padilla. —he is an American citizen who got off a plane in Chicago and was allegedly going to commit an act of terrorism. He was put into military custody and only given a trial to avoid a Supreme Court ruling on whether holding him in military custody without trial was constitutional.

Conclusion: Obama already broke his promise on closing Guantanamo; he has gone along with most of the Bush policies regarding Guantanamo and the “war on terror:” indefinite detention, military trials etc. This law gives a congressional imprimatur to what he has been doing—and requires him to jump through some more hoops to get people out of Guantanamo. However Obama had already made it almost impossible to close Guantanamo and impossible to end the practices which underlie it—as he supports those policies: this law makes it a bit harder.