Former U.S. Senator Mike Gravel explains how he put the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and gave them to the media in 1971, and how outgoing Senator Mark Udall could answer the growing public demand and do the same with the long-censored torture report. A petition urging Udall to act is here.
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A few thoughts on this.
Bergdahl had a legal responsibility to walk away from an illegal war. It's not completely confirmed that he did so, but he's blamed for it, when he should be praised for it.
His father read my book War Is A Lie and had it on his desk for interviews earlier this year. Bergdahl wrote a last note to his father before disappearing, which he began: "The future is too good to waste on lies." He went on to describe the murderous assault of an arrogant, ignorant occupation in which soldiers chatted about running over children and openly insluted Afghans to their faces and treated them as dirt.
Did attempts to rescue Bergdahl result in U.S. deaths? Probably Afghan deaths to. The whole war has resulted and will continue to result in many thousands of innocent deaths and deaths of occupying troops. Amont the latter, the top killer is suicide. How do you pick a low-ranking scapegoat to blame for the suicides? You have to blame the war chiefly on those in Washington and other capitals waging it, and secondarily on those taking part, not on someone who chose to cease being part of something criminal and evil.
Payments to kidnappers -- and to drone victims' and other war victims' families -- are often hushed up. Are they made incompetently in a nation the occupiers do not know? Undoubtedly. But the CIA paid an American con-man in recenty years who claimed to see secret messages in Al Jazeera. The root of the incompetence may be arrogant unacountability.
But should such payments be made? Yes. And I would radically enlarge them by paying 10% of war costs to transform regions of the globe for the better, cancel the wars, and use the other 90 percent for something useful.
Here is audio (mp3) of Katherine Gun answering a question at a forum in London. She was asked what people should do. Of course, we love her answer. We also recommend listening to the entire forum which included some great friends and heroes:
- Matthew Hoh, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and former US embassy representative in Afghanistan who became the highest-ranking U.S. official to publicly renounce policy in Afghanistan in 2009.
- Coleen Rowley, an attorney and former FBI special agent who was among the first to expose some of the agency’s pre-9/11 failures, and was one of three whistleblowers named as Time Magazine’s persons of the year in 2002.
- Norman Solomon is the coordinator of ExposeFacts.org and the author of a dozen books on media and public policy including *War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death*.
- J. Kirk Wiebe is a retired National Security Agency whistleblower who worked at the agency for 36 years until October 2001. Since then, he has made several key public disclosures regarding the NSA’s massive surveillance programmes.
- Katharine Gun is a former translator for the GCHQ who leaked a top secret memo in 2003 revealing NSA spying operations at the UN. Gun was subsequently charged under the Official Secrets Act but the case was dropped after the prosecution offered no evidence. Given the backdrop of impending war with Iraq at the time, Daniel Ellsberg called Gun’s leak “the most important and courageous” he had ever seen.
President Obama, who is just now un-ending again the ending of the endless war on Afghanistan, has never made a secret of taking direction from the military, CIA, and NSA. He's escalated wars that generals had publicly insisted he escalate. He's committed to not prosecuting torturers after seven former heads of the CIA publicly told him not to. He's gone after whistleblowers with a vengeance and is struggling to keep this Bush-era torture report, or parts of it, secret in a manner that should confuse his partisan supporters.
But the depth of elected officials' obedience to a permanent war machine is usually a topic avoided in polite company -- usually, not always. Back in 2011, the dean of the law school at UC Berkeley, a member of Obama's transition team in 2009, said publicly that Obama had decided in 2009 to block prosecutions of Bush-era criminals in part because the CIA, NSA, and military would revolt. Ray McGovern says he has a trustworthy witness to Obama saying he would leave the crimes unpunished because, in Obama's words, "Don't you remember what happened to Martin Luther King?" Neither of those incidents has interested major media outlets in the slightest.
As we pass the 51st anniversary of the murder of President John F. Kennedy, many of us are urging Senator Mark Udall to make the torture report public by placing it into the Congressional Record, as Senator Mike Gravel did with the Pentagon Papers in 1971. Gravel is alive and well, and there's every reason to believe that Udall would go on to live many years deeply appreciated for his action. But there is -- let us be honest for a moment -- a reason Udall might hesitate that we don't want to speak about.
The general thinking is that because Udall's term ends this month, he doesn't have to please those who fund his election campaigns through the U.S. system of legalized bribery, and he doesn't have to please his fellow corrupt senators because he won't be working with them any longer. Both of those points may be false. Udall may intend to run for the Senate again, or -- like most senators, I suspect -- he may secretly plan on running for president some day. And the big payoffs for elected officials who work to please plutocracy always come after they leave office. But there is another consideration. The need to please the permanent war machine ends only when one is willing to die for something -- what Dr. King said one must be willing to do to have a life worth living -- not when one leaves office.
Presidents and Congress members send large numbers of people to risk their lives murdering much larger numbers of people in wars all the time. They have taken on jobs -- particularly the presidency -- in which they know they will be in danger no matter what they do. And yet everyone in Washington knows (and no one says) that making an enemy of the CIA is just not done and has not been done since the last man to do it died in a convertible in Dallas. We've seen progressive members of Congress like Dennis Kucinich leave without putting crucial documents that they thought should be public into the Congressional Record. Any member of Congress, newly reelected or not, could give the public the torture report. A group of 10 of them could do it collectively for the good of humanity. But nobody thinks they will. Challenging a president who does not challenge the CIA is just not something that's done.
To understand why, I recommend reading Jim Douglass' book JFK and the Unspeakable. Douglass is currently writing about three other murders, those of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy. Distant history? Something that doesn't happen anymore? Perhaps, but is that because we've run out of lone nuts with guns? Clearly not. Is it because the permanent war machine has stopped killing its enemies? Or is it, rather, because no one has presented the same challenge to the permanent war machine that those people did? Peace voices are no longer allowed in the U.S. media. Both political parties favor widespread war. War has become a matter of routine. Enforcement has become unnecessary, because the threat, or other influences that align with it, has been so successful.
I recommend checking out ProjectUnspeakable.com, the website of a play by Court Dorsey that recounts the killing of JFK, Malcolm, Martin, and RFK. (Or check out a performance in Harlem planned for February 21.)
The play consists almost entirely of actual quotes by public figures. While no attempt is made, of course, at including a comprehensive collection of information, enough evidence is included in the play to completely erase belief in the official stories of how those four men died. And evidence is included showing who actually killed them, how, and why.
As if that weren't enough to persuade the viewer that our society is mentally blocking out something uncomfortable, the glaring obviousness of what happened in those years of assassinations is highlighted. President Kennedy was publicly asked if he might be murdered exactly as he was, and he publicly replied that it could certainly happen. His brother discussed the likelihood of it with Khrushchev for godsake. The killing of Malcolm X was not the war machine's first attempt on his life. He and King both saw what was coming quite clearly and said so. Bobby Kennedy knew too, did not believe the official account of his brother's murder. King's family rejects the claim that James Earl Ray killed MLK, pointing instead to the CIA killer shown in the photographs of the assassination but never questioned as a witness. A jury has unanimously agreed with King's family against the government and the history books.
The attention to President Kennedy has always been so intense that fear and suppression have been required. The doctors said he was shot from the front. Everyone agreed there were more bullets shot than left the gun of the official suspect, who was positioned behind the target. But investigators and witnesses have died in very suspect circumstances. The other deaths have not been in exactly the same glaring spotlight. New evidence in the killing of Robert Kennedy emerges every few years and is chatted about as a curiosity for a moment before simply being ignored. After all, the man is dead.
Let's try an analogy. I live in Charlottesville, Va., where the University of Virginia is. This week, Rolling Stone published an article about violent gang rapes of female students in a fraternity house. I had known that rape victims are often reluctant to come forward. I had known that rape can be a hard charge to prove. But I had also known that young women sometimes regret sex and falsely accuse nonviolent well-meaning young men of rape, and that UVA held rallies against date rape, and that opposition to sexual assault and harassment was all over the news and widely accepted as the proper progressive position. With California passing a law to clarify what consent is, I had assumed everyone knew violent assault had nothing to do with consent. I had assumed brutal gang attacks by students who are expelled if they cheat on a test or write a bad check could not go unknown. And now it seems there's something of a widely known unspoken epidemic. In the analysis of the Rolling Stone article, women deny rape goes on to shield themselves from the fear, while men deny it in order to shield themselves from any discomfort about their party-going fun-loving carelessness. And yet some significant number of students knew and stayed silent until one brave victim spoke, just as every whistleblower in Washington exists alongside thousands of people who keep their mouths shut.
What if someone in Washington were to speak? What if the unspeakable were made speakable?
Michigan's First Congressional District is cold enough to freeze spit. Half of it is disconnected from the rest of Michigan and tacked onto the top of Wisconsin. A bit of it is further north than that, but rumored to be inhabited nonetheless.
In the recent Congressional elections, incumbent Republican Congressman Dan Benishek was reelected to his third term with 52 percent of the votes. Benishek is a climate-change denier and committed to limiting himself to three terms, a pair of positions that may end up working well together.
Benishek's predecessor in Congress was a Democrat, and a Democrat took 45 percent of the vote this year. Will that Democrat run again in 2016? Some would argue that if he does it should be from prison. Before he ran for office, Jerry Cannon ran the U.S. death camp at Guantanamo and, according to a witness, was personally responsible for ordering torture.
Green Party candidate Ellis Boal took 1 percent of the vote in Michigan's First, after apparently failing to interest corporate media outlets in his campaign, and by his own account failing utterly to interest them in what he managed to learn about Cannon, who also "served" in the war in Iraq.
Now, Congress is jam-packed with members of both major parties who have effectively condoned and covered up torture for years. Both parties have elected numerous veterans of recent wars who have participated in killing in wars that they themselves, in some cases, denounce as misguided. And we've read about the Bush White House overseeing torture in real time from afar. But it still breaks new ground for the party of the President who has claimed to be trying to close Guantanamo for six years to put up as a candidate a man who ran the place, and a man whose role in torture was not entirely from his air-conditioned office.
I would also venture to say that it breaks new media ground for the news outlets covering the recent election nationally and locally in Michigan's First District to not only miss this story but actively refuse to cover it when Boal held it in their faces and screamed. "Despite many attempts," Boal says, "I have been unable to interest any media in it, save for a small newspaper in Traverse City (near me) which gave it cursory attention."
Boal sent out an offer to any reporter willing to take an interest: "I located a witness, a former detainee now cleared and back home in Bosnia, who can testify of an instance of torture visited on him in early 2004, ordered and supervised by Cannon. I can put you in touch with him through his attorney. The details of the incident are here. . . . Without success I tried to make it a campaign issue."
Jerry Cannon, according to both Wikipedia and his own website, first "served" in the war that killed three to four million Vietnamese. He was commander of the Joint Detention Operations Group Joint Task Force Guantanamo from 2003 to 2004. He was Deputy Commanding General responsible for developing Iraqi police forces in Iraq from 2008 to 2009, and U.S. Forces-Iraq Provost Marshal General and Deputy Commanding General for Detention Operations in Iraq from 2010 to 2011. Boy, everything this guy touches turns out golden!
Boal has collected evidence of torture during Cannon's time at Guantanamo, from the Red Cross, the Center for Constitutional Rights, the U.S. Senate, and public reports including in the New York Times, here.
Boal focuses on Mustafa Ait Idir, a former prisoner of Guantanamo who, like most, has been widely written about, and who, like most, has been found innocent of any wrong-doing and been released (in November 2008 after years of wrongful imprisonment).
Mustafa Ait Idir says that soldiers at Guantanamo threw him down on rocks and jumped on him, causing injuries including a broken finger, dislocated knuckles, and half his face paralyzed; they sprayed chemicals in his face, squeezed his testicles, and slammed his head on the floor and jumped on him. They bent his fingers back to cause pain, and broke one of them in the process. They stuck his head in a toilet and flushed it. They stuck a hose in his mouth and forced water down his throat. They refused him medical attention.
Boal communicated with Idir through Idir's lawyer, and Idir identified Cannon from photos and a video as the man who had threatened him with punishment if he did not hand over his pants. (Prisoners who believed they needed pants in order to pray were being stripped of their pants as a means of humiliation and abuse.) Idir refused to give up his pants unless he could have them back to wear for praying. Consequently, he was "enhanced interrogated."
Torture and complicity in torture are felonies under U.S. law, a fact that the entire U.S. political establishment has gone to great lengths to obscure.
I shared the information above with Rebecca Gordon, author of Mainstreaming Torture, and she replied:
"Torture is a 'non-partisan' practice in this country. It's beyond disgraceful that the Democratic Party would run Jerry Cannon for Congress. Sadly, while most (but clearly not all!) Dems have repudiated torture in words, their deeds have been more ambiguous. Five years after President Obama took office, the prison at Guantánamo remains open, and torture continues there. The Senate Intelligence Committee report on CIA torture has yet to be released. (Perhaps lame duck senator Mark Udall will be persuaded to read the whole thing into the Congressional Record, as some of us are hoping.) We have yet to get a full accounting, not only of the CIA's activities, but of all U.S. torture in the 'war on terror.' Equally important, President Obama made it clear at the beginning of his first term that no one would be held accountable for torture. 'Nothing will be gained,' he said 'by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past.' But we know this is not true. When high government officials know that they can torture with impunity, torture will continue."
Noting Cannon's resume post-Guantanamo, Gordon said, "Under the al-Maliki government, the Iraqi police force, and in particular the detention centers operated by the Iraqi Special Police Commandos, routinely abused members of Iraq's Sunni communities, thereby further inflaming the political and social enmity between Sunnis and Shias in Iraq. When the so-called Islamic State began operating in Iraq, they found willing collaborators in Sunni communities whose members had been tortured by the al-Maliki government's police. When Jerry Cannon went to Guantánamo, he went as an Army reservist. In civilian life he was Sheriff of Kalkaska County in Michigan. Cannon's abusive practices and contemptuous attitudes towards detainees did not originate in Guantánamo. He brought them with him from the United States. Similarly, in civilian life, the members of the reservist unit responsible for the famous outrages at Abu Ghraib were prison guards from West Virginia. Their ringleader, Specialist Charles Graner, famously wrote home to friends about his activities at Abu Ghraib, 'The Christian in me says it's wrong, but the corrections officer in me says, "I love to make a grown man piss himself."' In fact, if you want to find torture hidden in plain sight, look no farther than the jails and prisons of this country."
The mystery of where torture came from turns out to be no mystery at all. It came from the prison industrial complex. And it's now been so mainstreamed that it's no bar to running for public office. But here's another mystery: Why is President Obama going to such lengths to cover up his predecessor's torture, including insisting on redactions in the Senate report on CIA torture that even Senator Dianne Feinstein claims not to want censored? Surely it's not because of all the gratitude Obama's receiving from former President Bush or his supporters! Actually, it's no mystery at all. As Gordon points out: the torture is ongoing.
President Elect Obama made very clear in January 2009 that he would not allow torturers to be prosecuted and would be "looking forward" instead of (what all law enforcement outside of science fiction requires) backward. By February 2009, reports were coming in that torture at Guantanamo was worsening rather than ceasing, and included: "beatings, the dislocation of limbs, spraying of pepper spray into closed cells, applying pepper spray to toilet paper and over-force-feeding detainees who are on hunger strike." In April 2009 a Guantanamo prisoner phoned a media outlet to report being tortured. As time went by the reports kept coming, as the military's written policy would lead one to expect.
In May 2009, former vice president Dick Cheney forced into the news the fact that, even though Obama had "banned torture" by executive order (torture being a felony and a treaty violation before and after the "banning") Obama maintained the power to use torture as needed. Cheney said that Obama's continued claim of the power to torture vindicated his own (Cheney's) authorization of torture. David Axelrod, White House Senior Advisor, refused repeatedly, to dispute Cheney's assertion -- also supported by Leon Panetta's confirmation hearing for CIA director, at which he said the president had the power to torture and noted that rendition would continue. In fact, it did. The New York Times quickly reported that the U.S. was now outsourcing more torture to other countries. The Obama administration announced a new policy on renditions that kept them in place, and a new policy on lawless permanent imprisonment that kept it in place but formalized it, mainstreamed it. Before long Obama-era rendition victims were alleging torture.
As the Obama White House continued and sought to extend the occupation of Iraq, torture continued to be an Iraqi policy, as it has post-occupation and during occupation 3.0. It has also remained a U.S. and Afghan policy in Afghanistan, with no end in sight. The U.S. military has continued to use the same personnel as part of its torture infrastructure. And secret CIA torture prisons have continued to pop into the news even though the CIA was falsely said to have abandoned that practice. While the Obama administration has claimed unprecedented powers to block civil suits against torturers, it has also used, in court, testimony produced by torture, something that used to be illegal (and still is if you go by written laws).
"Look at the current situation," Obama said in 2013, "where we are force-feeding detainees who are being held on a hunger strike . . . Is this who we are?" Well, it is certainly who some of us have become, including Obama, the senior authority in charge of the soldiers doing the force-feeding, and a human chameleon able to express outrage at his own policies, a trick that is perhaps more central to the mainstreaming of vicious and sadistic practices than we always care to acknowledge.
Those retaining some sense of decency are currently urging the Obama administration to go easy in its punishment of a nurse who refused to participate in the force-feeding, who in fact insisted on being "who we are."
Just as a police officer in a heightened state of panic surrounded by the comfort of impunity will shoot an innocent person, the Governor of Missouri has declared a state of emergency preemptively, thus justifying violence in response to something that hasn't happened. Bombing Iraq in response to nonexistent weapons and Libya in response to nonexistent threats worked out so well, we may as well try it domestically, the Governor is perhaps thinking. "There Is No Way That This Ends Well" is a headline I actually just read about Ferguson.
Well, why not? Who says it can't end well? The police may want continued impunity. The justice system may be rigged against any sort of reconciliation. The government may want -- or believe it rationally expects -- violence. But all of those parties are capable of changing their behavior, and the people of Ferguson are capable of determining their own actions rather than following a script placed before them.
We should understand that the violence in Ferguson is not new and is not limited to Ferguson. It did not begin with a particular shooting. It did not begin with any shooting. It began with a system of oppression that keeps people in misery amidst great wealth. Just as that injustice is inexcusable, so is any violence in response to it. But the outrage at an angry man knocking over a trashcan conspicuously exhibited by people who cheer for mass-murder in Iraq isn't well thought-through or helpful. And the disproportionate focus on such small-scale violence misses more than the larger picture. It also misses the courageous, disciplined, principled, and truly loving actions of those resisting injustice creatively and constructively. Such actions are not always successful and not always well-planned to the satisfaction of scholars. But they have long been far more common than is acknowledged on the television or in the history books.
Back in 1919 in Lawrence, Massachusetts, some 30,000 textile workers went on strike for decent pay. The mill owners and the police sought to provoke them, infiltrate them, intimidate them, and brutalize them. The workers held strong. The police set up machine guns along the streets, toying with the model of domestic war now exhibited in Ferguson. Organizer A.J. Muste spoke to the workers on the morning that the machine guns appeared:
"When I began my talk by saying that the machine guns were an insult and a provocation and that we could not take this attack lying down, the cheers shook the frame building. Then I told them, in line with the strike committee's decision, that to permit ourselves to be provoked into violence would mean defeating ourselves; that our real power was in our solidarity and in our capacity to endure suffering rather than give up the fight for the right to organize; that no one could 'weave wool with machine guns'; that cheerfulness was better for morale than bitterness and that therefore we would smile as we passed the machine guns and the police on the way from the hall to the picket lines around the mills. I told the spies, who were sure to be in the audience, to go and tell the police and the mill management that this was our policy. At this point the cheers broke out again, louder and longer, and the crowds left, laughing and singing."
And, they won. The powers that owned the mill and put the weapons of war on the streets of that town conceded defeat, and conceded it without the bitterness that would have come had the workers and their supporters somehow been able to defeat the machine guns with violence.
That type of incident is as common as water, but little recounted. It's what organizers in Ferguson are calling for right now, and they are being preemptively ignored by the media. But it doesn't come easy. And it doesn't come without solidarity. If the people of the United States and the world chip in to support the people of Ferguson in their struggle for full justice, if we nonviolently and smilingly take on the forces of militarism and racism everywhere at once, and in Missouri in particular, we need not defeat the police or the Governor. We need only defeat cruelty, bigotry, and brutality. And that we can do. And that would be ending well.
Here's FAIR's excellent report on pro-war bias in the corporate media, and here's Peter Hart describing it well on Democracy Now:
I'd love to see a complete report of all the corporate media coverage for the whole lead-up to Iraq War III: This Time as Farce. Here I am getting a few minutes to oppose war on MSNBC two days after the period FAIR covered, on a program other than the ones FAIR covered:
I suspect there were lots of other exceptions. Did they come late? Were they evenly scattered across the programs so that each program could claim to have been "balanced," or did any actually devote more than a few minutes to peace? Which ones never ever admitted peace into the discussion?
I don't want to lose FAIR's focus on the central point that pro-war pseudo-debate voices were so dominant and repetitive as to drill into people's brains the idea that a mad idea was inevitable common sense. But I think the whole picture could be shown without doing that.
Whether the brighter spots, if any, could or should be encouraged, I don't know. And I have no interest in singling out the worst of the worst in a way that implies the other media outlets are doing all right. But I'd like to see the whole picture and then decide what it means.
Therefore: Send FAIR money to use on longer reports!
It's becoming slightly more common in the Western industrialized world to propose radical cultural change away from consumerism and environmental destruction. It's not hard to find people making the case that in fact nothing else can save us.
But we should have one eye on what our governments and billionaires are doing to educate the rest of the world with the way of thinking that we are beginning to question.
What if the United States were to radically reform and abandon its role as leading destroyer of the environment and leading maker of war in the world, and we were to discover that U.S.- and Western-funded institutions had in the mean time created billions of teenagers around the globe intent on each becoming Bill Gates?
The remarkable film Schooling the World brings this warning. It is not an overly simplistic or dreamy argument. It is not a rejection of the accomplishments of Western medicine or a pitch for adopting polytheistic beliefs. But the film documents that the same practice that "educated" thousands of young Native Americans into second-class U.S. citizens through forced boarding schools is running its course in India and around the world.
Young people are being educated out of kindness and cooperation, and into greed and consumerism, out of connections to family and culture and history, and into a deep sense of inferiority of the sort created in the U.S. by the separate-but-equal educational system of Jim Crow. People whose families lived happily and sustainably are being taken away from their villages to struggle in cities, the majority of them labeled as failures by the schools created to "help" them -- many of them cruelly introduced to a modern invention called poverty.
Eliminated in the process are languages -- referred to in the film as ecosystems of the mind -- and all the wealth of knowledge they contain. Also eliminated: actual ecosystems, those that once included humans, and those simply damaged by heightened consumption rampaging around the globe. Young people are not taught to care for local resources as their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were.
And much of this is done with the best of intentions. Well-meaning Westerners, from philanthropic tourists to World Bank executives, believe that their culture -- that of industrial extraction, competition, and consumption -- is good and inevitable. Therefore they believe it helpful to impose an education in it on everyone on earth, most easily accomplished on young people.
But is a young person's removal from a sustainable healthy life rich in community and tradition, and their arrival in a sweatshop in a crowded slum, as good for them as it looks in the economic statistics that quantify it as an increase in wealth?
And can we see our way out of this trap while screaming hysterically about the glories of "American exceptionalism"? Will we have to lose that stupid arrogance first? And by the time we've done that, will every African nation have its own Fox News?