And now the pressure builds

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International are the preeminent human rights organizations in the world. As go HRW and Amnesty, so goes the rest of the human rights movement.

So, I was very happy to see that Amnesty has followed HRW in calling for some kind of accountability for perpetrators of human rights abuses during the Bush years.

Amnesty is calling for; criminal investigations into rendition and secret detention programs, a rejection of immunity for perpetrators of torture and other crimes, full disclosure of the names, fates, and whereabouts of disappeared persons, redress for victims, and,  most importantly because the rest depend on it,  the creation of an independent commission –a truth commission, but Amnesty doesn’t use that term.

HRW does, however:

Ensure the establishment of a nonpartisan investigatory commission (“truth commission”), equipped with subpoena powers and adequate funding to investigate and publicly report on post-9/11 counterterrorism-related abuses, recommend how those responsible should be held accountable, and specify steps to ensure that such abuses are never repeated.

I hope both organizations set aside time, staff, and money to see that this is a major priority. It’s necessary for so, so many reasons, and I can’t think of a more opportune time to impanel a truth commission than this coming spring, when the Obama Administration will be new and flush with political capital.

Questions of transitional justice in America

Today, in a post about elite responsibility (note: political responsibility is NOT the same as criminal guilt) for Bush Administration crimes, Glenn Greenwald wrote:

As the Bush administration comes to a close, one overarching question is this: how were the transgressions and abuses of the last eight years allowed to be unleashed with so little backlash and resistance? Just consider — with no hyperbole — what our Government, our country, has done. We systematically tortured people in our custody using techniques approved at the highest levels, many of whom died as a result. We created secret prisons — “black site” gulags — beyond the reach of international monitoring groups. We abducted and imprisoned even U.S. citizens and legal residents without any trial, holding them incommunicado and without even the right to access lawyers for years, while we tortured them to the point of insanity. We disappeared innocent people off the streets, sent them to countries where we knew they’d be tortured, and then closed off our courts to them once it was clear they had done nothing wrong. We adopted the very policies and techniques long considered to be the very definition of “war crimes”.

A while back, somewhere else, I wrote about the need for a truth commission (but not a truth and reconciliation commission) to address the human rights abuses –the very serious crimes– perpetrated during the years of the Bush Administration. I’ve altered the little piece it a bit and decided to post it here, because this is a subject that has been weighing on my mind in the last few days:

I agree with Nick Kristof that we need a Truth Commission of some kind.

Reconciliation is a non-issue. There are no parties to be reconciled, just the agents of a soon-to-be-out-of-power criminal regime and their numerous and varied victims. Moreover, the victims are of a dozen or more nationalities and spread out over six continents. Very few of the surviving victims and loved ones of deceased victims will ever have to share the same social or civic space –or the same space, period– with the perpetrators.

I think that the creation of an evidence-seeking Truth Commission that neither automatically precedes criminal trials nor offers any kind of immunity would be the best option for us in the years ahead.

This is my stance for a few reasons: Continue reading

“What does a country do when compelling evidence shows its leaders have authorised international crimes?”

This is the question Phillipe Sands asks in his latest Op-Ed piece in the Guardian.

Sands argues that the next administration will have to deal with the legacy of human rights abuses left by the Bush Administration, or risk leaving torture and other international crimes open as options for future administrations, poisoning American politics for years to come. Furthermore, Sands argues that if the US doesn’t investigate and prosecute those responsible for crimes like torture, other countries will. The Pinochet treatment will await Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzalez, and their co-conspirators.

Sands sees some progress stateside:

Over recent months, Congress has been looking into the role of senior officials involved in the development of interrogation rules. These have attracted relatively scant attention; little by little, however, senators and congressmen have uncovered the outlines of a potentially far-reaching criminal conspiracy.

The first hearings were convened before the judiciary committee of the House of Representatives, at the instance of its chairman, Congressman John Conyers, apparently off the back of my book Torture Team. Parallel hearings have been held before the Senate armed services committee.

The evidence that has emerged is potentially devastating. It confirms, for instance, that the search for new interrogation techniques for use at Guantánamo began not with the local military but in the offices of Donald Rumsfeld and his chief lawyer, Jim Haynes.

But he’s not hopeful that anyone will be prosecuted in the end of the day. His piece in the Guardian, as well as his Vanity Fair articles and his book, The Torture Team, all reiterate Sands’ argument that, when it comes down to it, Bush Administration will be tried in European courts, in countries with universal jurisdiction laws, if they are ever tried at all.

The American commenters at Comment is Free did not like this conclusion.

Quiet a few brought up the ICC, apparently after not reading Sands very carefully or not understanding that the ICC has nothing whatsoever to do with any of this, but most simply argued against “foreign interference.” The comments were, by and large, a good illustration of the profoundly different and presently irreconcilable American and European views on international justice. Here’s a sampling of the (mostly negative) responses to Sands.

“It is interesting to see the rebirth of European colonialism in a new Human Rights-friendly guise so obvious on CiF. But somehow I’d start with someone smaller. Stepping in to get America’s house is order is a little bit beyond the Europeans and their pet ICC.”

“No American is accountable to you. Ever. You Europeans may buy into the whole collective responsibility thing. We Americans do not. We never have, and we never will. If we did, we would have bought into the ICC, rather than got a nearly global exemption from it. The fact of the matter is, the Constitution is the supreme law for all Americans. Its people are accountable to its tenants. Everything else… every Geneva convention, UN resolution or international treaty… they’re just nice pieces of paper and sentiments. They do not apply to me, or any other American. And I will not be held accountable by anyone except my peers, my brothers, my countrymen. So good luck picking that fight. You want to come after American citizens over the War on Terror? You’re welcome to try. You will find nothing so quickly rallies and unifies Americans than foreigners intruding where they don’t belong. To put it bluntly, keep that crap on your side of the pond. We want nothing to do with it, and we will not be bounded by it.”

“Just to add one last thing, good foreign friends: don’t get in our way while we deal with this. This is our affair; trust it will be dealt with in a satisfactory manner, and don’t bug us. There are many emotions that any American feels when others meddle in affairs that are not theirs to meddle in before we have been proven incapable of dealing with our own business. We are not Germany, we are not defeated, if you want to hold a court to judge us, please defeat us first, and then get the court. Look, dear friends, but don’t touch. If foreigners involve themselves in this matter, then this matter will never be successfully resolved, because America takes care of American business, not the business of foreigners, even that of our dear foreign friends.”

They’ll try. They can’t help themselves. For centuries they’ve speculated and been perplexed why Americans are nothing like them, and moreover want to be nothing like them. They’ve never understood why we don’t aspire to be like them, and why their ideas and ours are often at odds. That we actively try to insulate ourselves from much of what they aspire for the world only frustrates them. They’ve never understood it, and they never will. So they’ll try. They’ll step over that red line, and it will blow up in their face.

And on and on they go, in this fashion, for dozens more comments.

I suspect Sands’ predictions will come true. I expect at least one or two former Bush Administration officials to go to Oktoberfest, or decide they’ve always wanted to see the Louvre, or attend a real Spanish bullfight, and end up in handcuffs shortly after leaving the airport, thanks to some principled prosecutor.

Oversight? What’s that? (Sorry, it’s been a while.)

I was, in the words of many a Capital Hill douchebag, “cautiously optimistic” when I read this today in the Washington Post.

A massive federal plan to revive the U.S. financial system ran into intense skepticism today on Capitol Hill, where lawmakers from both parties questioned whether it would work and demanded protections for taxpayers with tough oversight.

Oversight! Now there’s a role Congress hasn’t taken very seriously in the past seven years. But, if real, this attitude shift is welcome –a bit late, and a bit cynical coming from Republicans– but very, very welcome nonetheless.

For reasons best expressed by Naomi Klein, I am still pretty worried.

The second [phase of the economic shock] comes when the debt crisis currently being created by this bailout becomes the excuse to privatize social security, lower corporate taxes and cut spending on the poor. A President McCain would embrace these policies willingly. A President Obama would come under huge pressure from the think tanks and the corporate media to abandon his campaign promises and embrace austerity and “free-market stimulus.”

So, even if there is strict Congressional oversight of the “bailout” and it’s followed by much greater regulation of Wall Street, it’s still likely that those of us who bear the least responsibility for the crisis in the first place (especially the poor) will ultimately pay most dearly.

Cheery, no?

GOP Wall Street Socialism

So, our always prudent government is bailing out Wall Street as it collapses like a house of cards. My extreme free-marketeer roommate is being strangely silent about this, and prefers to argue with me about whether or not “black privilege” exists (It does not.) Maybe the I should send him Glenn Greenwald’s latest column and see what he thinks.

Greenwald’s take (emphasis mine):

…whatever else is true, the events of the last week are the most momentous events of the Bush era in terms of defining what kind of country we are and how we function — and before this week, the last eight years have been quite momentous, so that is saying a lot. Again, regardless of whether this nationalization/bailout scheme is “necessary” or makes utilitarian sense, it is a crime of the highest order — not a “crime” in the legal sense but in a more meaningful sense.

What is more intrinsically corrupt than allowing people to engage in high-reward/no-risk capitalism — where they reap tens of millions of dollars and more every year while their reckless gambles are paying off only to then have the Government shift their losses to the citizenry at large once their schemes collapse? We’ve retroactively created a win-only system where the wealthiest corporations and their shareholders are free to gamble for as long as they win and then force others who have no upside to pay for their losses. Watching Wall St. erupt with an orgy of celebration on Friday after it became clear the Government (i.e., you) would pay for their disaster was literally nauseating, as the very people who wreaked this havoc are now being rewarded.

More amazingly, they’re free to walk away without having to disgorge their gains; at worst, they’re just “forced” to walk away without any further stake in the gamble. How can these bailouts not at least be categorically conditioned on the disgorgement of ill-gotten gains from those who are responsible? The mere fact that shareholders might lose their stake going forward doesn’t resolve that concern; why should those who so fantastically profited from these schemes they couldn’t support walk away with their gains? This is “redistribution of wealth” and “government takeover of industry” on the grandest scale imaginable — the buzzphrases that have been thrown around for decades to represent all that is evil and bad in the world.

Or, as Mischa put it (in his gchat away message), “All Republicans are Socialists above a hundred million dollars.”

And it’s not just Mischa, apparently the Brazilians are thinking similarly.

Other countries are debating it. The headline in the largest Brazilian newspaper this week was: “Capitalist Socialism??” and articles all week have questioned — with alarm — whether what the U.S. Government did has just radically and permanently altered the world economic system and ushered in some perverse form of “socialism” where industries are nationalized and massive debt imposed on workers in order to protect the wealthiest. If Latin America is shocked at the degree of nationalization and government-mandated transfer of wealth, that is a pretty compelling reflection of how extreme — unprecedented — it all is.

But there’s virtually no discussion of that in America’s dominant media outlets. All one hears is that everything that is happening is necessary to save us all from economic doom.

This last point is important, and very scary when you really reflect on what it means. The near total lack of dissenting voices in Congress and the media is another sign of how ossified democracy has become in the United States. Everything government does is ok, because it’s government doing it.

UPDATE: Ummm, or not.  Sort of? We hope?

Something decidedly illiberal this way comes

First the police and FBI began raids of houses occupied by peaceful would-be protesters and activist groups. Then the crackdown on legal aid and media advocacy NGOs began. And now even Amy Goodman has been hauled away in handcuffs.

Here’s the video.