Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Boom and Bust, from a Notable Economist

While many of us find ourselves swallowed up by the panic stimulated by 24-hour news cable services and the dying daily press, when we consider the current credit crunch and threats of doomsday, it is important to get some perspective on what is really happening.

History provides us that perspective. The following description of the famous economic panic that followed the collapse of the speculative bubble that surrounded railway expansion in Britain in the mid-nineteenth century presents an illustrative example.

The economist writing here looked back at this famous economic collapse and drew some serious conclusions. The parallels between then and now are striking, even if "then" was over 150 years ago (emphases added):
The years 1843-5 were years of industrial and commercial prosperity, a necessary sequel to the almost uninterrupted industrial depression of 1837-42. As is always the case, prosperity very rapidly encouraged speculation. Speculation regularly occurs in periods when overproduction is already in full swing. It provides overproduction with temporary market outlets, while for this very reason precipitating the outbreak of the crisis and increasing its force. The crisis itself first breaks out in the area of speculation; only later does it hit production. What appears to the superficial observer to be the cause of the crisis is not overproduction but excess speculation, but this is itself only a symptom of overproduction. The subsequent disruption of production does not appear as a consequence of its own previous exuberance but merely as a setback caused by the collapse of speculation....

In the years of prosperity from 1843 to 1845, speculation was concentrated principally in railways, where it was based upon a real demand, in corn, as a result of the price rise of 1845 and the potato blight, in cotton, following the bad crop of 1846, and in the East Indian and Chinese trade, where it followed hard on the heels of the opening up of the Chinese market by England.

The extension of the English railway system had already begun in 1844 but did not get fully under way until 1845, In this year alone the number of bills presented for the formation of railway companies amounted to 1,035. In February 1846, even after countless of these projects had been abandoned, the money to be deposited with the government for the remainder still amounted to the enormous sum of 514 million and even in 1847 the total amount of the payments called up in England was over £42 million of which over £36 million was for English railways, and £5 1/2 million for foreign ones. The heyday of this speculation was the summer and autumn of 1845. Stock prices rose continuously, and the speculators' profits soon sucked all social classes into the whirlpool. Dukes and earls competed with merchants and manufacturers for the lucrative honour of sitting on the boards of directors of the various companies; members of the House of Commons, the legal profession and the clergy were also represented in large numbers. Anyone who had saved a penny, anyone who had the least credit at his disposal, speculated in railway stocks. The number of railway journals rose from three to twenty. The large daily papers often each earned £14,000 per week from railway advertisements and prospectuses. Not enough engineers could be found, and they were paid enormous salaries. Printers, lithographers, bookbinders, paper-merchants and others, who were mobilized to produce prospectuses, plans, maps, etc; furnishing manufacturers who fitted out the mushrooming offices of the countless railway boards and provisional committees — all were paid splendid sums. On the basis of the actual extension of the English and continental railway system and the speculation which accompanied it, there gradually arose in this period a superstructure of fraud reminiscent of the time of Law and the South Sea Company. Hundreds of companies were promoted without the least chance of success, companies whose promoters themselves never intended any real execution of the schemes, companies whose sole reason for existence was the directors' consumption of the funds deposited and the fraudulent profits obtained from the sale of stocks.

In October 1848 a reaction ensued, soon becoming a total panic. Even before February 1848, when deposits had to be paid to the government, the most unsound projects had gone bankrupt. la April 1846 the setback had already begun to affect the continental stock markets; in Paris, Hamburg, Frankfurt and Amsterdam there were compulsory sales at considerably reduced prices, which resulted in the bankruptcy of bankers and brokers. The railway crisis lasted into the autumn of 1848, prolonged by the successive bankruptcies of less unsound schemes as they were gradually affected by the general pressure and as demands for payment were made. This crisis was also aggravated by developments in other areas of speculation, and in commerce and industry; the prices of the older, better-established stocks were gradually forced down, until in October 1848 they reached their lowest level.
Perhaps, if you read all the way through, you would have guessed the economist in question was Karl Marx, writing in November 1850 for the Neue Rheinische Zeitung Revue. His analysis of how the boom and bust cycles of capitalism persist was worked out a long time ago now. But, of course, "Marxism" is relegated to the dustbin of history by the triumphant U.S. rulers, who believed that the fall of the Soviet Union meant the eclipse of Marxist socialism.

But no great thinker or scientist has to worry that their ideas will be lost. The earth revolves around the sun, and gravity affects all celestial bodies, no matter how much the Roman Catholic Church had condemned Galileo. The anti-evolutionists can pillory Darwin, but evolution continues nevertheless, every day, as the continuing crisis over evolving bacteria and the problem of finding new antibiotics to combat them makes clear.

And capitalist cycles of overproduction, speculation, and economic recession/depression continue no matter how much free market ideologues produce diatribes (with a twinkle in their eye) over the demise of Marxism, denouncing either its error, or its lack of contemporary relevance.

Yet today, the failure of the capitalist system looms as a mighty sword of Damocles above the heads of billions, living as we do in a very interlocked world of economic ties. We depend on each other now more than ever. Yet antiquated systems, whether they are based on religious doctrines or Harvard Business School economic models, threaten the survival of us all.

Even more, these antiquated national systems form the basis of an international organization of nation states existing in competition with each other. The ruling class fetishizes competition as something good, until the irrationality of individuals -- or at another level, of individual nation states -- seeking gain at the expense of others degenerates into economic collapse, evoking the nightmare of the war of all against all, producing, perhaps, a third and devastating world war.

The defeat of the bailout plan in Congress early this week saw a temporary alliance of free market ideologues, eschewing state intervention (falsely) as "socialism", and a nascent populist or leftist opposition opposing a giveaway to the richest speculators and capitalists who got us in this position in the first place.

Neither group has yet grasped what was widely known only a generation or so ago: capitalism is doomed to create these cycles, and with it untold suffering. The effort to create socialist states and an alliance of same in the world met with horrendous defeat in the 20th century, victim of unremitting attack by the non-socialist world, and of its own internal weaknesses and irrationalities (e.g., trying to believe socialism could be created in a single country, irrespective of the rest of the world's organization or economy, which was the program of Stalinism).

Oh disbelieving reader, ask yourself this: if Marx could accurately predict the kind of scenario we are seeing today over a century ago, perhaps there is far more of value in Marxist analysis than you thought. Today, it is a scary thing still to be called a "communist," just as it was in Marx's time. The epithet persists as a form of unconscious recognition that something terrible is amiss in our world. It is not like being called someone who believes in the divination of the future by means of examining animal entrails; it is not an object of humorous ridicule. It is something to be feared. There is force, yet, in the word. That's because it represents something repressed. It represents the eruption into modern consciousness of a necessary truth. And the time has come to grab that truth again and wrest it into the world as a tool against the exploiters.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

A Colonel Takes on the Torturers: More on SERE Torture Details

At the center of the bottom of the lowest circle of hell, one finds the souls abandoned to torture. They are placed so far from heaven and earth because they are totally forgotten. The witnessing of their torture is almost unnoticed, trivial, when matched against the "great" issues of the day.

And so it was that in a week of elections, economic meltdowns, and other shenanigans, a lonely U.S. Senator sat alone in the hearing room of his own committee and listened to an Air Force instructor and sometime historian, Col. Steven Kleinman, tell his fantastic tale of witnessing the migration of SERE-style torture to Iraq. Kleinman's testimony belies years of excuses from the government that claims Abu Ghraib's "excesses" were merely the work of a "few bad apples," or "behavioral drift" at worst.

Joby Warrick at the Washington Post told the story in his article, "Air Force Instructor Details Harsh Interrogations."
In dramatic testimony before a Senate panel yesterday... [Kleinman] gave a rare account of how the Pentagon adapted an Air Force training program to squeeze information from captured Iraqis.

What Kleinman witnessed in Baghdad in September 2003 prompted him to order a stop to three interrogations, and to warn his superiors that the military's interrogation practices were abusive and, in his opinion, illegal.

"I told the task force commander that the methods were unlawful and were in violation of the Geneva Conventions," he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Senator Carl Levin's Committee has already established that techniques from the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program had been reverse-engineered by military psychologists into an "exploitation" or torture program of purported interrogation techniques. These techniques -- stress position, sleep deprivation, forced nudity, beatings, and more -- were gathered secondary to a Cold War propaganda program regarding "brainwashing" by the Soviets and Chinese, which programmatic elements were debunked by the government's own researchers. But never mind, the torture inoculation program continued for decades.

In 2003, Col. Kleinman, a long-time intelligence officer, was working with the Air Force Combat Interrogation Course and was DOD Senior Intelligence Officer for Special Survival Training. As of 2006, he was Reserve Senior Intelligence Officer and Mobilization Augmentee to the Director, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance, HQ Air Force Special Operations Command. He is also an independent contractor for the MITRE Corporation, which works on "scientific" ways to "educe information" from prisoners.

The Colonel Says No to Torture

According to an AP report:
The special forces task force asked Kleinman's team to teach them the interrogation methods used in the SERE course. Kleinman refused. He was overruled by the task force's lawyers.

They then demanded that Kleinman's team demonstrate the techniques on an Iraqi prisoner. Kleinman again refused and again was overruled, according to testimony from retired Air Force Col. John Moulton II, Kleinman's commander at the time as the head of the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency.

The interrogation went forward. Kleinman stopped it. He and his team subsequently were sent home by the task force, according to Moulton.
According to the Washington Post article, Kleinman "was shocked in 2003 to see the same harsh methods used haphazardly on Iraqis in a U.S. prison camp." The colonel said he witnessed detainees being slapped repeatedly, subjected to sleep deprivation, painful stress positions, and stripped naked.

Col. Kleinman's protests to his superiors went unheeded. They agreed the "techniques" violated Geneva, but by then the government already had in place cover-your-ass legal memos citing the abuse of detainees as "legal" because they were "unlawful enemy combatants."

I commend Col. Kleinman for coming forward to testify, and for his actions protesting the torture of prisoners. However, I wish someone had asked him whether, as military trainer for JPRA, he or Moulton had knowledge of DoD's approach to JPRA/SERE in December 2001 about ways to utilize SERE's "exploitation" techniques in the interrogation of prisoners in Afghanistan. (I also wish someone had asked if contracting interrogators, such as those from CACI or Titan, had any contact with the SERE instructors.)

The timeline is of some importance, because it would prove criminal malfeasance by the administration in abusing prisoners prior to any determination (not made by them until February 2002) that such prisoners were "unlawful enemy combatants," and therefore a clear violation of international and domestic war crimes laws.

Kleinman's Revisionist History

While praising Col. Kleinman's stance in Iraq, I take exception to his description of the origins of SERE techniques. From the WP article:
Kleinman said the Air Force's training program was distorted into an offensive program. He noted that the harsh techniques were adapted from torture methods used by Chinese communists, and were never regarded as useful in eliciting intelligence. Instead, they break a prisoner psychologically and make him eager to say anything to stop the pain.
I have painstakingly documented elsewhere statements by U.S. researchers at the time (1950s) that Soviet and Chinese interrogation techniques were nothing unusual, and SERE techniques didn't necessarily derive from them. U.S. researcher Albert Biderman explained, in a 1957 essay entitled "Communist Attempts to Elicit False Confessions from Air Force Prisoners of War." Regarding the origin of communist interrogation methods, Biderman and his colleagues, working for the Air Force, concluded (emphases added):
It is that the finding of our studies which should be greeted as most new and spectacular is the finding that essentially there was nothing new or spectacular about the events we studied. We found, as did other studies such as those of Hinkle and Wolff, that human behavior could be manipulated within a certain range by controlled environments. We found that the Chinese Communists used methods of coercing behavior from our men in their hands which Communists of other countries had employed for decades and which police and inquisitors had employed for centuries....

It should be understood that only a few of the Air Force personnel who encountered efforts to elicit false confessions in Korea were subjected to really full dress, all-out attempts to make them behave in the manner I have sketched. The time between capture and repatriation for many was too short, and, presumably, the trained interrogators available to the Communists too few, to permit this.
While the origin of inhumane treatment may be a marginal issue for most, it is important to understand because discussion and utilization of modern torture techniques by the United States has, since its inception, been linked to disinformation by the government. In the case of the 1950s, the "brainwashing" scare, regarding POWs in the Korean War, was linked to a massive cover-up of the use of biological weapons by the United States in that conflict. See my article covering this aspect of the story, posted last July.

Kleinman's historical bias surfaced, as well, in an essay published in an essay on the CIA's KUBARK Counterintelligence Interrogation Manual he wrote in 2006 for the Intelligence Science Board's report, "Educing Information." In it, he makes, for a historian, a remarkable statement:
The KUBARK manual offers unique and exceptional insights into the complex challenges of educing information from a resistant source through noncoercive means. While it addresses the use of coercive methods, it also describes how those methods may prove ultimately counterproductive. Although criticized for its discussion of coercion, the KUBARK manual does not portray coercive methods as a necessary — or even viable — means of effectively educing information. [p. 133]
Not necessary? The CIA manual expends twenty percent of its exposition upon coercive interrogation techniques. Not viable? Here's what the manual has to say about the "counterproductive" methods of torture:
Psychologists and others who write about physical or psychological duress frequently object that under sufficient pressure subjects usually yield but that their ability to recall and communicate information accurately is as impaired as the will to resist. This pragmatic objection has somewhat the same validity for a counterintelligence interrogation as for any other. But there is one significant difference. Confession is a necessary prelude to the CI interrogation of a hitherto unresponsive or concealing source.
Col. Kleinman stubbornly maintains that torture doesn't work, that torture, as he put it in an interesting interview, is poor at gaining operational information, and "largely counterproductive in that... [it] stiffen[s] the resolve of detainees under questioning and undermine[s] the stature of the U.S. on the world stage." Of course, Kleinman is correct, in so far as it goes.

But he seems to misunderstand the purpose of torture on a larger, political, military-operational scale. He misunderstands the use of torture to cow the populace, an important component of counterinsurgency work. He minimizes the opinion of many of his colleagues over the decades who in fact approved of coercive methodology. He would do well to study the techniques of Edward Lansdale, applied in the Philippines and Vietnam over a 20 year period, as described in John Prados's recent book, Safe for Democracy: The Secret Wars of the CIA. Like Kleinman, Lansdale was an Air Force officer. (He was also a CIA officer.)

I am in agreement with Col. Kleinman (it goes without saying) that torture is morally wrong, illegal, and should never be used. But I wonder how this military intelligence officer could work so long for special forces, intelligence agencies, and the military, and not understand the coercive nature of U.S. foreign and military policy in general. Perhaps Col. Kleinman could take on, as another project, a study of the use of torture by the U.S. in Vietnam, either directly, or in supervision of their Vietnamese allies. (He could title the paper, "Barriers to Success: Critical Challenges in Understanding the Current and Long-Standing Educing Information Paradigm.")

How SERE Took Over

For me, the picture is getting quite clear. When Bush initiated his "war on terror" in 2001, it consisted in sending in special operations forces into Afghanistan. This small scale kind of intervention on the ground was congruent with Rumsfeld's go-small kind of military. But special operations combat teams, while peppered with CIA personnel, like the ill-fated Johnny Spann, did not have the expertise in interrogating large groups of prisoners. There was a CIA program of psychological torture, exemplified by sensory deprivation, isolation, and the physical weakening or debility of the body (possibly through drugs), all meant to induce fear, psychological dependency and a weakened will in a prisoner. The program had been constructed by psychologists and psychiatrists as one outcome of the CIA's notorious MK-ULTRA program. It was codified in the CIA's KUBARK manual.

But the Special Ops teams in Afghanistan either didn't know KUBARK, or didn't have time to construct the proper environment for that kind of treatment. So they turned to the SERE program, who, as recent documents have made clear, aggressively courted the military for the assignment of reverse-engineering SERE and teaching it as coercive interrogation (i.e., torture). The Department of Defense and the White House, in a panic after 9/11, and staffed by incompetents and careerists with little sense of history or legal process, pushed the SERE-related torture, and then had their attorneys write memos to cover themselves legally after the fact.

The SERE-style techniques took off, though there was protest from interrogation professionals, like Kleinman, who well understood the counterproductive nature of that kind of treatment. Only later, as the CIA began to establish control over the "war on terror," and built a network of secret black prisons, did the SERE techniques recede somewhat into the background. A parallel process occurred at Guantanamo. The CIA utilized the worst of the SERE techniques, such as waterboarding, and propagated wide-scale knowledge of their use, mainly to instill fear of such treatment in prisoners, knowing full-well that induction of fear is a far more "effective" technique than physical brutality itself. At Guantanamo, a KUBARK-style prison routine was implemented, based upon isolation, psychological derangement, and the inculcation of dependency.

The Historical Meaning of Torture

Facts don't fall out of the sky. They are gathered based upon hypotheses, and if you are a historian or a social critic, with some narrative in mind. In a stepwise process of induction and deduction, one tries to determine what has actually occurred. The use of torture by the United States can only be understood as part of a decades long official program, involving well-funded covert study by the military and the academic establishment -- primarily physicians, psychiatrists, and psychologists -- in addition to the implementation of this program in a number of operational theaters, including Vietnam, Central and South America, Afghanistan, and the Middle East (among others).

The use of torture is closely tied to U.S. foreign policy goals. It is good to see the U.S. Senate try to take on the Pentagon and executive branch generally over this uncivil, criminal activity. Military critics, like Kleinman, or psychologist Michael Gelles, are to be commended for standing up against tremendous internal pressures within the organizations to which they belong. I also salute the courageous military attorneys working for little recompense and against tremendous odds to defend the charges made against the pariah-prisoners at Guantanamo, held without recourse to basic human rights.

I would hope all critics would agree that something as basic as stopping or banning torture involves both operational and political changes of a profound nature. One cannot happen without the other. And neither will happen, as the path of these investigations and hearings makes clear, without significant political, and perhaps, social struggle.

Also posted at Never In Our Names

"Last Fair Deal Gone Down"

Eating Shit

And that's a pleasant way to describe the bailout in the works by the corrupt politicians of the United States, these narcissistic, craven sellouts, who couldn't bring themselves to stop their own country from invading another and killing 100,000s and displacing millions more, who couldn't stop their military interrogators and gestapo-like spies from torturing thousands. These moral zeros are about to send something just under a trillion dollars to the scions of finance capital. These latter have lived high off the hog, raking in millions, and in some cases billions of dollars, off a pyramid credit scheme, leaving us -- the suckers -- to pay up for a generation or more when their con finally went spectacularly bust, unraveling into a wilderness of economic "instruments" and "derivatives" so convoluted and intertwined that no one could ever untangle it.

So long, dreams of universal health care. Adios, decent educational system for all. Eat shit, crumbling infrastructure of bridges and roads and public buildings. Die, pathetic human beings flooded by unfixed dikes in hurricanes, or straining for unreachable help in a major earthquake, crushed by masonry, wood studs, and national indifference. (And fear not, fearsome Mars, our honorable military, filled with honorable men and women and rockets and bombs and infrared sensors and shrapnel-stuffed "devices," will not be touched by the cost of the precious bailout, but expands and expands even unto world domination!)

Selfishness rules the nation now. It always did, but now it sits on the crown seat, so that each and every one of us may walk by and pay obeisance to king god capitalism, untouchable, beyond criticism, beyond repair, leering down on you and me and our bedraggled children, prostrate, struggling to survive.

This is like standing and looking at the long, long sweep of empty seabottom, pulled back by the massive tsunami current, and waiting for cataclysm. They have announced the total bankruptcy of the system, and you still don't believe you'll have to pay the bill.

Poor, silly, deluded us.

But no fear, for German dramatist Bertolt Brecht and composer Kurt Weill told us "how to survive" as far back as 1928. Here's your new bible. Here's the unbridled truth. Asking the question that ought to be asked, and soon the only question with any relevancy:
What keeps a man alive? It's his compulsion
to steal and cheat and kick his fellow man in the face.
We have to eat the shit without revulsion
and turn our backs on the human race.

You have to kill your neighbor to survive.
It's selfishness that keeps a man alive.
A More Sober Perspective (than me)

Edger over at Docudharma conjured up a quote from Nouriel Roubini regarding the unnecessary bailout. Roubini is professor at NYU's Stern School of Business. The selection below is from his blog, RGE Monitor:
Whenever there is a systemic banking crisis there is a need to recapitalize the banking/financial system to avoid an excessive and destructive credit contraction. But purchasing toxic/illiquid assets of the financial system is not the most effective and efficient way to recapitalize the banking system. Such recapitalization - via the use of public resources - can occur in a number of alternative ways: purchase of bad assets/loans; government injection of preferred shares; government injection of common shares; government purchase of subordinated debt; government issuance of government bonds to be placed on the banks' balance sheet; government injection of cash; government credit lines extended to the banks; government assumption of government liabilities.

A recent IMF study of 42 systemic banking crises across the world provides evidence on how different crises were resolved. First of all only in 32 of the 42 cases there was government financial intervention of any sort; in 10 cases systemic banking crises were resolved without any government financial intervention.


So this rescue plan is a huge and massive bailout of the shareholders and the unsecured creditors of the financial firms (not just banks but also other non bank financial institutions); with $700 billion of taxpayer money the pockets of reckless bankers and investors have been made fatter under the fake argument that bailing out Wall Street was necessary to rescue Main Street from a severe recession. Instead, the restoration of the financial health of distressed financial firms could have been achieved with a cheaper and better use of public money.


Thus, the Treasury plan is a disgrace: a bailout of reckless bankers, lenders and investors that provides little direct debt relief to borrowers and financially stressed households and that will come at a very high cost to the US taxpayer. And the plan does nothing to resolve the severe stress in money markets and interbank markets that are now close to a systemic meltdown.
FYI: Link to "discussion draft" of the new "bipartisan" version of the bailout bill, circa September 28, 2008, approximately 106 pages long.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Paul Newman, 1925-2008

"You know, so much of the time we're just lost..."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Gitmo Prosecutor Quits, Cites Gov't Suppression of Evidence

The Guantanamo chief prosecutor in the case of Mohammed Jawad, the first child soldier to be tried as a "war criminal" in modern times, testified for the defense today in the case of -- Mohammed Jawad! Army Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld quit the prosecution (and the Office of Military Commissions) a few days ago, citing government misconduct and suppression of exculpatory evidence in the case. Apparently, the injustice and mistreatment of Jawad finally touched his humanity.

From AP's story by Mike Melia:
Dressed in Army camouflage fatigues, Vandeveld told the court that he reached a turning point when by happenstance he discovered key evidence among material scattered throughout the prosecutors' office.

Flipping through another case file, he saw for the first time a statement Jawad made to a military investigator probing prisoner abuse in Afghanistan — an episode that helped convert him from a "true believer to someone who felt truly deceived."

Vandeveld said he become gradually disillusioned and even developed sympathy for the defendant, who was captured as a teenager and allegedly subjected to beatings and sleep-deprivation.

"My views changed," said the once hard-charging prosecutor. "I am a father, and it's not an exercise in self-pity to ask oneself how you would feel if your own son was treated in this fashion."
Guantanamo's Chief Prosecutor, Army Col. Lawrence Morris, is trying to limit the damage, labeling Vandeveld as disgruntled case. But this is not the first prosecutor to quit and call foul on the government, labeling Bush and the Pentagon's showcase military tribunals a farce. Vandeveld is the third such to resign, though he may be the first to then testify for the defense in a case he was prosecuting only days before.

According to an L.A. Times report, Vandeveld was working on a plea agreement for Jawad that would allow the young man to go free, but the government blocked the move. The Times also noted:
The Jawad case is one of several in which the Pentagon's former legal advisor to military commissions, Air Force Brig. Gen. Thomas W. Hartmann, has been banned from playing an oversight role because of charges that he lost his neutrality by withholding exculpatory information in recommending the charges.
You'd have to have the intelligence of a Sarah Palin supporter not to see that something very, very rotten is happening in Guantanamo. You have to wonder why, at this point, there hasn't been a mass resignation of government prosecutors over such malfeasance.

Meanwhile, Jawad's attorney, Air Force Maj. David Frakt, is asking for dismissal of charges against Jawad, citing government misconduct, as well as the mistreatment Jawad suffered while under arrest and imprisonment, beginning in Afghanistan, and continuing at Guantanamo Naval Base prison. Maj. Frakt also recently initiated a letter writing and petition campaign on behalf of his client, hoping to convince the Conventing Authority at Guantanamo to drop the charges. The petition gathered hundreds of signatures from around the world.

If Jawad is released -- still a big If -- there are many more waiting to be tried in the "complete farce" that is the military commissions system. Maybe some of these prisoners are guilty of terrible crimes; maybe most of them are innocent. Who would know, as the government holds prisoners indefinitely, to render them hopeless, then uses torture to gain information, elicit confessions, and, finally, according to the sworn testimony of prosecutors from Guantanamo, hides evidence that might prove a defendant innocent?

And what of those left facing trial in this kangaroo court? According to an earlier AP story:
Jawad is one of about 20 detainees facing charges in the Pentagon's specially designed system for prosecuting alleged terrorists. Military prosecutors say they plan trials for about 80 of the 255 men held here on suspicion of links to al Qaeda or the Taliban.
All reasonable and patriotic Americans, all citizens of the world who despise injustice, must speak out for the dropping of charges against Mohammed Jawad, and call for the closing of Guantanamo and a halt to the crooked and discredited military tribunal system. Let the remaining prisoners make their cases through the U.S. court system, which should consider their cases with all deliberate speed.

It's not only politics at this point. It's just plain human decency.

Thank you, Lt. Col. Vandeveld, for taking the courageous path and telling the truth.

(H/T to possum over at Never In Our Names, who wrote his own excellent essay on this story.)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

SASC Hits Paydirt: Full Story on SERE Torture Timeline Emerges

I have not had enough time to digest the wealth of new documents recently declassified by the Senate Armed Services Committee, in conjunction with their hearings today constituting Part II of an investigation into the organization of torture and abuse of detainees in Bush's "war on terror." Today's hearing concentrated on the migration of these techniques to Iraq.

The number of revelations is already startling, and it's hard to know where to begin. Since I took Senator Carl Levin to task for his rendition of the torture timeline as presented after Part I of the hearings, I think it's fair to give Sen. Levin the chance to describe the fuller story as it is now emerging. This is from his opening statement today. Noting, first, that the first set of hearings established that techniques from the Defense Department's Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE) program had been reverse-engineered by military psychologists into an "exploitation" or torture program of purported interrogation techniques, Levin continued:
While some have claimed that detainee abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were simply the result of a few bad apples acting on their own, at our June hearing we heard that as far back as December 2001, senior Department of Defense officials, including from General Counsel William J. “Jim” Haynes’s office, sought out information from the Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), the DoD agency responsible for overseeing SERE training. We heard how, when he later reviewed a request from Guantanamo Bay (GTMO) to use techniques similar to those used in SERE training, Mr. Haynes ignored strong concerns from the military services that some of the techniques were illegal, cut short an effort by the Legal Counsel to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to conduct a legal and policy review of the techniques, and recommended that the Secretary of Defense approve most of them for use against detainees. In December 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld approved Mr. Haynes’s recommendation, sending the message that stripping detainees, placing them in stress positions, and using dogs to intimidate them was acceptable. Policies authorizing some of those same abusive techniques in Afghanistan and Iraq followed the Secretary’s decision. We’ll hear this morning how one military commander in Iraq sought and obtained interrogation support from JPRA, an agency whose expertise, again, is in teaching soldiers to resist abusive interrogations conducted by our enemies.
"Strong concerns" from some in the military about the illegality of the techniques; the spiking of an internal legal and policy review; the migration of SERE techniques to Iraq, demolishing the official narrative that the torture at Abu Ghraib was the work of a few bad apples; these are only some of the juicy items awaiting reporters and other intrepid investigators who pursue the documents coming out of today's hearing.

"We stand ready to assist..."

Of course, I was pleased to see that my insistence on taking the Bush Administration's torture timeline back to December 2001, following upon Lt. Col. (Ret.) Baumgartner's revelations at the last SASC hearing, is gratifying. I will not, however, dwell upon this too long. Whatever reason the committee was not able to emphasize this earlier is far secondary to the truth as it is now emerging.

But the one document produced from the December 2001 contact -- a fax cover sheet from the Pentagon's Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), sent from "Lt. Col. Dan Baumgartner" to "Mr. Richard Shiffrin," who worked for Haynes's in Rumsfeld's DoD General Council office -- introduces a theme of aggressive courting by JPRA/SERE personnel to take on the interrogations/exploitation task:
Mr. Shiffrin --
Here's our spin on exploitation. If you need experts to facilitate this process, we stand ready to assist. There are not many in DoD outside of JPRA that have the level of expertise we do in exploitation and how to resist it.
This theme of JPRA pushing SERE expertise surfaces in Iraq a little less than two years later. A September 9, 2003 email from Col. Randy Moulton, Commander of JPRA to Col. Mike Okita and a redacted addressee (could this be Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller, who, coming from his command in Guantanamo, on September 9 was just concluding his evaluation of interrogation procedures in Iraq) again makes the same point about JPRA "expertise". (For a sample of this expertise, check out my earlier essay, "Nuts & Bolts: How U.S. Organized Torture Program.")
There is a strong synergy between the fundamentals of both missions (resistance training and interrogation). Both rely heavily on environmental conditions, captivity psychology, and situation dominance and control. While I think this probably lies within DHS responsibility lines, recent history (to include discussions with DHS, USSOCOM, CIA) shows that no DoD entity has a firm grasp on any comprehensive approach to strategic debriefing/interrogation. Our subject matter experts (and certain Service SERE psychologist) have the most knowledge and depth within DoD on the captivity environment and exploitation.
I would remind my readers here that SERE exploitation famously includes the use of physical assault, stress positions, forced nudity, sleep deprivation, sensory overload, and other forms of physical and psychological torture.

The treasure chest of interviews and documents that came out of the today's hearings will keep me and other investigators plenty busy in days to come. I'm certain I, for instance, will have more to say about this "certain Service SERE psychologist" in the near future. (Is he Bruce Jessen, implicated in earlier investigations as propagating SERE techniques to interrogators, and as a then-member of JPRA, a recipient of an April 2002 email from Moulton?)

Stay tuned.

How the Mainstream Press Covered Today's Hearings

Meanwhile, the New York Times and the Washington Post both already have their own stories out on today's hearings.

From the NY Times piece, written by Mark Mazzetti:
WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials played a central role in deliberations in the spring of 2002 about whether the Central Intelligence Agency could legally use harsh interrogation techniques while questioning an operative of Al Qaeda, Abu Zubaydah, according to newly released documents....
The meetings were led by Condoleezza Rice, then the national security adviser, and attended by Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, Attorney General John Ashcroft and other top administration officials....
Mr. Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said the new documents showed that top Bush administration officials were more actively engaged in the debate about the limits of lawful interrogation than the White House had previously acknowledged.

“So far, there has been little accountability at higher levels,” Mr. Levin said.
The Washington Post story, written by Joby Warrick, amplifies this aspect of the story:
The details of the controversial program were discussed in multiple meetings inside the White House over a two-year period, triggering concerns among several officials who worried that the agency's methods might be illegal or violate anti-torture treaties, according to separate statements signed by Rice and her top legal adviser.

"I expressed concern that the proposed CIA interrogation techniques comply with applicable U.S. law, including our international obligations," John B. Bellinger III, legal adviser to Rice at the State Department and formerly her top legal aide at the National Security Council, said in written answers to questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee....

The written accounts specifically name former attorney general John D. Ashcroft and former defense secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld as participants in the discussions...
The noose is tightening around the criminals who brazenly thought they could get away with torturing individuals with impunity. I am heartened by today's hearings that moral elements within both civil and military departments of government, and in society generally, will not let this terrible blot on our country go unanswered. To do so would be to fall into the abyss. We've looked into that deep, dizzying vortex lately, and I don't think any of us likes what we see.

Tinfoil or Purposeful Paranoia: Is There a Coup Being Planned in the U.S.?

Like so many obscure warning signs, in and of themselves possibly unrelated or ridiculous when placed in combination, the chaos that seems to be swirling around the U.S. elections in the final week of September is unsettling.

First, the U.S. ruling governmental clique announces that financial Armageddon is at hand, unless Congress hand over approximately a trillion dollars to the direct control of the executive branch, under the ostensible leadership of the Secretary of the Treasury. While met with much derision and suspicion, it appears some version of this demand is going to be met with bipartisan support this week or next. (As I write this, breaking news announces an agreement has been made in Congress for Bush's $700 billion bailout.) Meanwhile, even such stalwarts of the system as the top archbishops in the Church of England are blaming the capitalist system itself for this crisis.

Second, there is the strange maneuvering of GOP Presidential candidate, John McCain, and his ersatz VP candidate, Sarah Palin. Both are running to cancel their debates. Palin will barely even speak to the press. And now McCain took the opportunity of the financial crisis to announce a suspension of his campaign!

McCain's move is unprecedented, and raised eyebrows and fueled the rumor mills of Washington, D.C. From afar, the whole apparatus of the election starts to feel somewhat shaky, or as U.S. comedian/talk-show icon, David Letterman, put it, "This doesn't smell right."

State of Emergency?

So with the economy supposedly tanking, the GOP candidate ducking, and Congress staggering to satisfy their financial backers, while avoiding massive constituent anger at home, we get this third knock upon the door:
Thursday, September 25, 2008:: For the first time ever, the US military is deploying an active duty regular Army combat unit for full-time use inside the United States to deal with emergencies, including potential civil unrest.

Beginning on October 1, the First Brigade Combat Team of the Third Division will be placed under the command of US Army North, the Army's component of the Pentagons Northern Command (NorthCom), which was created in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks with the stated mission of defending the US homeland and aiding federal, state and local authorities.
Army Times reports it this way:
The 3rd Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team has spent 35 of the last 60 months in Iraq patrolling in full battle rattle, helping restore essential services and escorting supply convoys.

Now they’re training for the same mission — with a twist — at home.

Beginning Oct. 1 for 12 months, the 1st BCT will be under the day-to-day control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command, as an on-call federal response force for natural or manmade emergencies and disasters, including terrorist attacks.
Now, active-units have helped out in emergencies before, such as during Hurricane Katrina, but this seems to be something very different. This is no hurricane deployment:
They may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control or to deal with potentially horrific scenarios such as massive poisoning and chaos in response to a chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear or high-yield explosive, or CBRNE, attack....

The 1st BCT’s soldiers also will learn how to use “the first ever nonlethal package that the Army has fielded,” 1st BCT commander Col. Roger Cloutier said, referring to crowd and traffic control equipment and nonlethal weapons designed to subdue unruly or dangerous individuals without killing them.

“It’s a new modular package of nonlethal capabilities that they’re fielding. They’ve been using pieces of it in Iraq, but this is the first time that these modules were consolidated and this package fielded, and because of this mission we’re undertaking we were the first to get it.”

The package includes equipment to stand up a hasty road block; spike strips for slowing, stopping or controlling traffic; shields and batons; and, beanbag bullets.
So this is no ordinary deployment, and the 1st BCT is no ordinary brigage. They are the "Raider Brigade"!
In March of 2003, the 1st BCT was the first element of the 3d Infantry Division to cross the border into Iraq. The Raiders moved quickly north, fighting around the clock with regular and unconventional Iraqi troops.

After weeks of constant fighting, the Raider Brigade captured the International Airport, the primary strategic objective of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The Brigade earned its reputation – Raiders First! – as the first unit to fight its way into Baghdad.
Bringing the war home

Where is this sense of governmental emergency coming from? There's been no attack. Only weeks ago, the government bigwigs were adamant the "fundamentals" of the economy were strong. They were certainly painting a pretty picture upon a far more grim canvas than they would admit, but Armageddon? the army deployed with beanbag bullets and huge "non-lethal" weaponry to subdue "civil unrest." I must ask... what the fuck?

The one common denominator in all this is the fact that Bush and the GOP stand to lose power, and a subdued citizenry may have an executive in power that, while Obama is clearly no revolutionary, may allow an empowered populace to go farther in taking control over events in this country than the financiers, generals, and politicians wish to let things go.

Are they ready to end democracy, even the figleaf of it that remains after stolen elections and infomertial campaigns have robbed democracy of most of its content and left it a brittle, empty shell?

One thing is clear. Nothing is sacred to those who hold power. Their greed and lust to hold onto power, and their fear of being held accountable even the tiniest bit, appears to have whipped up the ruling elite into a frenzy of fear-mongering, impulsive theft, and a trigger-finger when it comes to oppressing anything that could challenge their power in a real way. We only have to look to the massive police presence and crackdown during the national political conventions to see how intent the ruling class is on maintaining the facade of "order."

In modern terminology, anything that threatens that facade is "terrorism" -- even legitimate political dissent and protest. Maybe even a legitimate political campaign. If the country weren't transfixed by the Wall Street mega-drama, the population should be calling for the de-deployment of the 1st BCT from U.S. soil. We don't need them for civil unrest emergencies... or does the government know something we don't?

It's starting to smell really bad in this country. Something feels like it's afoot, something more than the ordinary electoral tomfoolery. Or maybe I'm just paranoid. Consider National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 51:
... [which] specifies the procedures for continuity of the federal government in the event of a "catastrophic emergency." Such an emergency is construed as "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions."

The directive specifies that, following such an [catastrophic] emergency, an "Enduring Constitutional Government," comprising "a cooperative effort among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the Federal Government," coordinated by the President of the United States, will take the place of the nation's regular government, presumably without the oversight of Congress.[3] .... The directive specifies that the president has the power to declare a catastrophic emergency and does not specify who has the power to declare said emergency over.
I know this posting will forever classify me as a paranoid freak to those responsible types who like to pejoratively label their opponents and file them away. But if you think I like to think this way, then you're the one with a problem. I didn't like to think the country I live in could aggressively start a war, kill hundreds of thousands and make millions refugees, with minimal protest at home. I didn't like to think the U.S. government, in conjunction with many scientists and members of the medical and psychological establishment researched torture for decades, then saw to its implementation.

I just hope this is one nightmarish fantasy I don't have to live to dislike having come true.

[After posting this, I came across this article by Naomi Wolf over at AlterNet:
Has Sarah Palin Been Picked as the Titular Head of the Coming Police State?

You have to understand how things work in a closing society in order to understand "Palin Power." A gang or cabal seizes power, usually with an affable, weak figurehead at the fore. Then they will hold elections -- but they will make sure that the election will be corrupted and that the next affable, weak figurehead is entirely in their control. Remember, Russia has Presidents; Russia holds elections. Dictators and gangs of thugs all over the world hold elections. It means nothing. When a cabal has seized power you can have elections and even presidents, but you don't have freedom....

Under the coming Palin-Rove police state, you will witness the plans now underway to bring Iraqi troops to patrol the streets of our nation. This is not McCain's fantasy: it is Rove's and Cheney's.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Hell, or As You Like It

—They lie in exterior darkness. For, remember, the fire of hell gives forth no light. As, at the command of God, the fire of the Babylonian furnace lost its heat but not its light, so, at the command of God, the fire of hell, while retaining the intensity of its heat, burns eternally in darkness. It is a never ending storm of darkness, dark flames and dark smoke of burning brimstone, amid which the bodies are heaped one upon another without even a glimpse of air. Of all the plagues with which the land of the Pharaohs were smitten one plague alone, that of darkness, was called horrible. What name, then, shall we give to the darkness of hell which is to last not for three days alone but for all eternity?

—The horror of this strait and dark prison is increased by its awful stench. All the filth of the world, all the offal and scum of the world, we are told, shall run there as to a vast reeking sewer when the terrible conflagration of the last day has purged the world. The brimstone, too, which burns there in such prodigious quantity fills all hell with its intolerable stench; and the bodies of the damned themselves exhale such a pestilential odour that, as saint Bonaventure says, one of them alone would suffice to infect the whole world. The very air of this world, that pure element, becomes foul and unbreathable when it has been long enclosed. Consider then what must be the foulness of the air of hell. Imagine some foul and putrid corpse that has lain rotting and decomposing in the grave, a jelly-like mass of liquid corruption. Imagine such a corpse a prey to flames, devoured by the fire of burning brimstone and giving off dense choking fumes of nauseous loathsome decomposition. And then imagine this sickening stench, multiplied a millionfold and a millionfold again from the millions upon millions of fetid carcasses massed together in the reeking darkness, a huge and rotting human fungus. Imagine all this, and you will have some idea of the horror of the stench of hell.
James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as Young Man


Horace, Odes 2.2.13-16

latius regnes avidum domando
spiritum quam si Libyam remotis
Gadibus iungas et uterque Poenus
serviat uni.

crescit indulgens sibi dirus hydrops
nec sitim pellit, nisi causa morbi
fugerit venis et aquosus albo
corpore languor.

* * *

Govern your appetites: thereby you'll rule more
Than if you merged Libya with distant Gades
And made the Carthaginians of both countries
Slaves of a single state

Greed, when indulged, grows like the savage dropsy:
The thirst sticks close until the veins are rid of
The infection and the pallid, weary body
Parts with the water's weight.

Trans. James Michie, Horace's Odes

Monday, September 22, 2008

More Cover-up? Senate Committee Renews Hearings on SERE Torture

There will be a meeting of the Senate Armed Services Committee [SASC] this Thursday, September 25, 9:30 AM in Room SD-106, Dirksen Senate Office Building. The meeting represents "Part II of the Committee's inquiry into the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody." The full committee, in open hearing, will "receive testimony on the authorization of Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) techniques for interrogations in Iraq."

My readers will remember that in the Part I of the SASC SERE-related hearings last June, Lt. Col. Daniel Baumgartner revealed in his prepared statement that Richard Shiffrin, a Deputy General Counsel in the Department of Defense, had approached him in his capacity as Chief of Staff, Joint Personnel Recovery Agency (JPRA), in December 2001. Mr. Shiffrin apparently asked the now-retired Baumgartner for information related to "exploitation" processes, and the effects of captivity upon prisoners.

For those unfamiliar with this controversy, and the cast of characters involved, JPRA is the umbrella organization with the Pentagon for dealing with captured military personnel. The SERE program -- standing for Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape -- operates in all branches of the military to train soldiers how to withstand torture and abusive detention. The SERE program has been accused of sending psychologists to train special operations, prison psychologists and psychiatrists, military psychologists and god knows who else how to mistreat and even torture prisoners in order to gain information. Such techniques include "fear up harsh," forced nudity, stress positions, hooding, slapping, sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, sensory overload, and even waterboarding. This was made clear in a memo that accompanied the SERE Standard Operating Procedures manual at Guantanamo in 2002 (emphasis added):
The premise behind this is that the interrogation tactics used at U.S. military SERE schools are appropriate for use in real-world interrogations. These tactics and techniques are used at SERE school to "break" SERE detainees. The same tactics and techniques can by used to break real detainees during interrogation operations.
Timelines and Smokescreens

The timeline regarding when Shiffrin contacted Baumgartner regarding information that could be used to abusively treat prisoners is crucial. Senator Carl Levin concentrated on a later contact between Shiffrin and JPRA, in late July 2002. The vast majority of the media followed suit. Even stalwart Mark Benjamin at Salon.com, who has reported so well on much of the torture controversy, followed Levin's emphasis when constructing his own "Timeline to Bush Government Torture."

But Baumgartner says that SASC staff convinced him with documentary proof that he talked to Shiffrin about these issues approximately eight months earlier!

This places DoD interest in possibly reverse-engineering of SERE techniques prior to the January 9 memo by John Yoo providing legal cover to Bush administration assertions that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to detainees held in the new war in Afghanistan. In addition, it predates the January 25 memo by Alberto Gonzales, then a presidential counsel, approving the Yoo argument, and stating that when it came to interrogation of enemy prisoners, the Geneva conventions' "strict limitations on questioning" such prisoners was now obsolete.

Why does this matter? Because if DoD, and by implication Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, Rice, or whomever, were seeking guidance on torture before even their poorly-written and largely derided cover-your-ass memos were written, supposedly allowing torture or cruel, inhumane treatment of detainees, then DoD/Rumsfeld/Bush/et al. have no defense any more. They are war criminals in violation of both international and federal law. One would almost have to prosecute them, if the system is to have any credibility at all. Bush would have to be impeached.

But, the general response to these revelations has been... silence. When I was able to ask Senator Levin why the documents related to Baumgartner's Dec. 2001 discussions with Shiffrin were not made public, he replied (via Firedoglake "liveblog" discussion):
Lt. Col. Baumgartner did so testify at our hearing. However information relating to his discussions with Shiffrin remains classified. When our report is finalized we will press the DoD to declassify this matter.
I say these documents are too important to wait to ask nicely for declassification. They represent potential evidence of a serious felony and war crime.

This Thursday, the witnesses are Colonel Steven M. Kleinman, USAFR, the Former Director of Intelligence, JPRA; and Colonel John R. Moulton II, USAF (Ret.), former Commander, JPRA. These witnesses should be asked specifically about their knowledge of any and all contacts between DoD, the CIA, or the White House and JPRA or SERE regarding "exploitation" of detainees. They should be specifically asked about the December 2001 calls from Shiffrin.

The Lindh Connection

It seems very possible that the requests from Shiffrin in late 2001 were related to the interrogation of John Walker Lindh, a young American captured with Taliban forces in late November 2001. According to a June 2004 Los Angeles Times report, Lindh was interrogated for days, naked and tied to a stretcher, confined in a large metal container, and subjected to sleep and food deprivation. His wounds were not treated. Military intelligence officers were not freelancing Lindh's interrogation, however, but getting instructions, sometimes hourly, from Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's office.

According to the LA Times report:
The instructions from Rumsfeld’s legal counsel in late 2001, contained in previously undisclosed government documents, are the earliest known evidence that the Bush administration was willing to test the limits of how far it could go legally to extract information from suspected terrorists....

The documents, read to The Times by two sources critical of how the government handled the Lindh case, show that after an Army intelligence officer began to question Lindh, a Navy admiral told the intelligence officer that “the secretary of Defense’s counsel has authorized him to ‘take the gloves off’ and ask whatever he wanted.”
The memos regarding Lindh and the Baumgartner Dec. 2001 documents all remain classified. Jesselyn Radack has said in her book, The Canary in the Coalmine, that she has a copy of the Lindh memo, but nothing has been made public yet.

[Adding to the mystery, Ms. Radack's website promoting her book has gone off line or been purchased by someone else. Here's the cache of the page promoting her book; here's the current (broken) link. The book is not available or even listed at Amazon.com, either. This sudden disappearance comes only weeks after I ordered my own copy of Radack's book online at her website. Hmmm....]

I don't hold out much hope that anything but a sanitized version of the truth awaits us at September 24 hearings, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't put the heat on. But we'll have to have a better showing from the press than we have had thus far, if anything is to come from all this "investigation" but more cynicism and despair.
"The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars,
But in ourselves, that we are underlings."

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Lenin's Chickens Roost in Paulson's Attic

Another reason why the omnipotence of “wealth” is more certain in a democratic republic is that it does not depend on defects in the political machinery or on the faulty political shell of capitalism. A democratic republic is the best possible political shell for capitalism, and, therefore, once capital has gained possession of this very best shell..., it establishes its power so securely, so firmly, that no change of persons, institutions or parties in the bourgeois-democratic republic can shake it. -- Lenin, State and Revolution
The cascade of financial failures on Wall Street -- the sure result of a decade or more of unregulated, unrestrained capitalist speculation -- has shaken the world capitalist system with a sudden, shuddering spasm of fear. But with fear comes opportunity, and the ruling elite now sees an opportunity to cast off the shackles of messy public oversight and control entirely.

If one were looking for the utmost in financial irresponsibility, allowing the system to implode/explode, paving the way for socialist revolution (or failing that, a fall into post-Roman-Empire-like darkness), then you'd put Bush and his cronies, like Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, in charge of a supposed "bailout" plan for Wall Street. That's because the Bush-Paulson plan, by turning over unrestricted control of nearly a trillion dollars of a running tab, while handing the gargantuan bill over to an already deficit-weary taxpayer, will totally eviscerate the public sector of the economy, and pave the way for the complete impoverishment of the wide spectrum of the society. (Naomi Klein has described this process accurately in her widely-read book, The Shock Doctrine.)

As one commentator put it:
[T]he cost is still unknown, but there is no way that the taxpayers will profit. My initial estimate is that the direct costs of the Paulson plan will be $700 billion to taxpayers. That is about double the cost of the S&L crisis (compared to GDP).

....The plan only limits the Treasury to "$700,000,000,000 outstanding at any one time", so the total purchases can exceed $700 billion.
It's a running tab of almost a trillion dollars! Furthermore, this tab is run explicitly without any oversight or regulation. In the words of Paulson's own plan:
Sec. 8. Review.

Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency. [Emphasis added]
There are plenty of others well versed in economics and financial arcana who can describe much better than I the inadequacies of this bill... nay, it's sheer inanity, representing, as it does, a total heist of an unknown hundreds of billions of dollars. Here's Mike Whitney's take (at Counterpunch):
Most people don't understand what happened on Thursday, but the build-up of bad news on the Lehman default and the $85 billion government takeover of AIG, triggered a run on the money markets and a freeze in interbank lending. The overnight LIBOR rate (London Interbank Offered Rate) more than doubled to 6.44 per cent. Bank of America reported overnight borrowing rates in excess of 6 per cent. Longer-term LIBOR rates also rose sharply. On Wednesday, jittery investors removed their money from money markets and flooded short-term US Treasuries for the assurance of a government guarantee on their savings even though interest rates had turned negative which means that their balance would actually shrink at the date of maturity. This is unprecedented, but it does help to illustrate how raw fear can drive the market.

The TED spread (the TED Spread measures market stress by revealing the reluctance of banks to lend to each other) widened and the credit markets froze in place. Borrowing three-month dollars on the interbank market and the U.S. Treasury's three-month borrowing costs widened five full percentage points. That's huge. The banking system shut down.

What does it mean? It means the Federal Reserve has lost control of the system. The market is driving interest rates now, and the market is terrified. End of story....

The problems cannot be resolved by shifting the debts of the banks onto the taxpayer. That's an illusion. By adding another $1 or $2 trillion dollars to the National Debt, Paulson is just ensuring that interest rates will go up, real estate will crash, unemployment will soar, and foreign central banks will abandon the dollar. In truth, there is no fix for a deleveraging market anymore than there is a fix for gravity. The belief that massive debts and insolvency can be erased by increasing liquidity just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of economics....

The malfunctioning of the markets and the freeze-over in the banking system are the outcome of a massive credit unwind instigated by trillions of dollars of low interest credit from the Federal Reserve which was magnified many times over via complex derivatives contracts and extreme leveraging by speculative investment bankers. This has generated the biggest equity bubble in history. That bubble is now set for a "hard-landing" which is the predictable result of an unsupervised marketplace where individual players are allowed to create as much credit as they choose.
Bush-Nero Resurrects Marx

It was Karl Marx who first recognized that the bust and boom cycles of capitalism was not an evil to be extirpated but an inherent feature of the system. It is beyond tragic that it is going to take the immiseration of millions to bring us back to Marxism, and the road to true socialism. It has already cost humanity many millions of deaths, but still the insanity of organizing the world according to proprietary nation states -- run by elites who own the bulk of their own nation's wealth, and continue to steal any newly created wealth, hiding their crimes behind clouds of fear and hideous war waged on either internal or external "enemies" -- remains unquestioned. I shudder to think whether that lesson can ever be learned.

The past seven years has been excessively gory and greedy, even by typical historical standards. Bush is like Nero. He's taken the excrescences of empire to heights that his predecessors could never have contemplated, stealing billions... even trillions of dollars, it seems, right out in the open. And the mainstream politicians, even the liberals like Obama and Pelosi, are, with some populist protest, conducted in a minor key, dancing with the rest of the rotten bunch the macabre dance around the death of their own system.

I'd say, if you were a revolutionary, you'd have to be grimly satisfied to see the capitalist chickens come home to roost. Except I don't think any critic of this system would want to see so many suffer. But suffering people are, and suffer they will, while the rich and super-rich have their government to keep them safe.

Class warfare means this: the 400 richest individuals in the United States divide among them $1.57 trillion dollars in net worth -- that's almost $4 billion per person! And how many of you reading this are wondering if you can keep your house, pay your rent, put your child through school or send them to college? It's class warfare all right, but it's war made by the rich on YOU!

Sometimes class warfare is fought with bullets and bombs, sometimes with legislation and foreclosures.

Here's a short program to "fix" the economy: expropriate the banks and energy industries and nationalize them; no money for the rich owners of these industries who have ripped off the public for trillions. End the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and begin the process of military withdrawal from the countries that have a U.S. presence.

I can think of no better way to close this piece than with the words of Harold Pinter, who used his Nobel acceptance speech to speak the unuttered truth about the United States and its actions in the world. He emphasized the use of bullets and bombs in spreading U.S. predominance over the globe, but I think the points are just as relevant to the economic bomb our lords and masters are dropping on our heads right now:
The United States supported and in many cases engendered every right wing military dictatorship in the world after the end of the Second World War. I refer to Indonesia, Greece, Uruguay, Brazil, Paraguay, Haiti, Turkey, the Philippines, Guatemala, El Salvador, and, of course, Chile. The horror the United States inflicted upon Chile in 1973 can never be purged and can never be forgiven.

Hundreds of thousands of deaths took place throughout these countries. Did they take place? And are they in all cases attributable to US foreign policy? The answer is yes they did take place and they are attributable to American foreign policy. But you wouldn't know it.

It never happened. Nothing ever happened. Even while it was happening it wasn't happening. It didn't matter. It was of no interest. The crimes of the United States have been systematic, constant, vicious, remorseless, but very few people have actually talked about them. You have to hand it to America. It has exercised a quite clinical manipulation of power worldwide while masquerading as a force for universal good. It's a brilliant, even witty, highly successful act of hypnosis....

When we look into a mirror we think the image that confronts us is accurate. But move a millimetre and the image changes. We are actually looking at a never-ending range of reflections. But sometimes a writer has to smash the mirror – for it is on the other side of that mirror that the truth stares at us.

I believe that despite the enormous odds which exist, unflinching, unswerving, fierce intellectual determination, as citizens, to define the real truth of our lives and our societies is a crucial obligation which devolves upon us all. It is in fact mandatory.

If such a determination is not embodied in our political vision we have no hope of restoring what is so nearly lost to us – the dignity of man.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Charges Dropped Against Democracy Now! Journalists

Good news from a press release at Democracy Now!
The St. Paul City Attorney’s office announced Friday it will not prosecute Democracy Now! journalists Amy Goodman, Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman also issued a statement Friday that “the city will decline to prosecute misdemeanor charges for presence at an unlawful assembly for journalists arrested during the Republican National Convention.”

Both announcements come two weeks after the conclusion of the Republican National Convention where over 40 journalists were arrested while reporting on protests taking place outside the convention center.

Upon learning of the news, Democracy Now! Host, Amy Goodman said, “It’s good that these false charges have finally been dropped, but we never should have been arrested to begin with. These violent and unlawful arrests disrupted our work and had a chilling effect on the reporting of dissent. Freedom of the press is also about the public’s right to know what is happening on their streets. There needs to be a full investigation of law enforcement activities during the convention.”

Goodman was arrested while asking police to release Kouddous and Salazar who had been violently arrested while reporting on street demonstrations. After being handcuffed and pushed to the ground, Goodman reiterated that she was was a credentialed reporter. Secret Service then ripped the credential from around her neck.

During demonstrations on the first day of the convention police used pepper spray, rubber bullets, concussion grenades and force against protesters and journalists. Several dozen demonstrators were arrested, as was a photographer for the Associated Press.

John Lundquist, attorney for the Democracy Now! journalists, said, “The most notable lapse by law enforcement during the RNC was the record-breaking number of journalists indiscriminately arrested and detained for doing nothing more than performing in the best tradition of reporters who gather the news.”

In the weeks after the journalist arrests, tens of thousands of members of the public contacted St. Paul officials to protest the unlawful arrests of working journalists. Goodman said, “We were deeply moved by the outpouring of support. We thank everyone who called and wrote first to have us freed and then to have the charges dropped. We thank everyone who stood up for press freedom and the First Amendment.”

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Reactions to APA Referendum Vote

The Coalition for an Ethical APA has just put out their own press release. This is a snippet:
In recent years revelations from the press, Congress, and Defense Department documents revealed that psychologists have played a central role in Bush administration detainee abuse. These reports conclusively demonstrate that psychologists designed, implemented, disseminated, and standardized detention and interrogation practices that frequently amounted to torture.

The passage of this referendum constitutes a decisive repudiation of the APA leadership’s long-standing policy encouraging psychologist participation in interrogations and other activities in military and CIA detention facilities that have repeatedly been found to violate international law and the Constitution. In 2005, the APA’s orchestrated Presidential Task Force on Psychological Ethics and National Security [PENS] declared that psychologists’ participation in interrogations in these sites helped keep interrogations there “safe, legal, an ethical.” Although APA followed this report with resolutions ostensibly condemning participation in torture, the resolutions continued to permit psychologists to serve in sites where human rights are routinely violated. The APA membership has now rejected APA policy in favor of one refusing psychologist participation in the running of detention facilities operating against the law and professional ethics....

Referendum proponents collected over 1,000 signatures, forcing APA to submit the policy change to a mail ballot of the entire membership. The ballots went out on August 1 and votes received as of Monday, September 15th were counted. The referendum passed with 8,792 [58.8% ] YES votes to 6,157 votes against. The turnout was the highest ever in APA history.

"With this vote APA members have taken a major step toward restoring unimpeachable ethical standards by prohibiting its members from participating at sites that violate human rights and international law. But until APA communicates this new policy to the White House, the Department of Defense and the CIA, the abuses might continue. We must assure that the policy is implemented quickly" said Steven Reisner, a New York psychologist who is running for APA President.
And a link to a statement from Frank Donaghue, CEO of Physicians for Human Rights:
Today PHR salutes the American Psychological Association (APA) membership for restoring the APA's commitment to human rights and medical ethics. For years, the APA has failed to fully address US psychologists' involvement in torture in Iraq, at Guantanamo Bay, and CIA black sites. This historic vote has moved the APA closer to joining the ranks of the American Medical Association and the American Psychiatric Association, which have repudiated health professional involvement in interrogations.

"This turn-around follows revelations by the media and Congress of the central role psychologists played in the design, supervision, and implementation of a regime of psychological and physical torture against detainees held in CIA and Department of Defense custody. For example, CIA psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen have been implicated in the torture of Abu Zubaydah and others.
Also, by Tuesday night, the New York Times' Benedict Carey had an article on the vote posted online. Sad to say, Carey follows the APA script stating, "The association’s bylaws require that it institute the policy at the next annual meeting, in August 2009." Except, I don't know what bylaws state that. The assertion sounds like a deliberate policy of delay in implementation of the new, more stringent anti-torture, anti-abuse policy. You can hear the wheels of delay slowly grinding in Carey's quote from APA President Kazdin:
“The good part of this is that the membership has spoken, the process worked, and we’re going to follow it,” said Alan E. Kazdin, the association’s president and a psychologist at Yale University. “Will everyone be happy? Well, it’s a typical human enterprise, and there are nuanced positions on both sides. So, we’ll see.”
What do the APA Bylaws say on the issue of implementation of a resolution (and keep in mind, a petition-initiated resolution like the one passed here has never before occurred in APA's history)?

Article X of the APA Bylaws, "Nominations and Elections," states (emphasis added):
The Election Committee shall also secure reports from the Divisions and from the State/Provincial Associations of the results of all elections conducted by them. The election results shall be reported by the Election Committee to the Board of Directors and Council within thirty days after the ballot closes.
Article XX of the Bylaws, on "Amendments," states, in part:
Forty five days after the date of sending, the poll shall be closed and the votes counted by the Election Committee, which shall certify the result to Council at its next meeting, at which time the amendment, if passed by two thirds of all the Members voting, shall take effect.

That next meeting is in February 2009, not August 2009. Besides, certification of the result is not the same as instituting the policy change immediately, which ethically, and morally, APA is bound to do.

Insurgent Psychologists Win Key Anti-Torture Vote

The Election Committee of the American Psychological Association announced today that the referendum of APA members, in regards to prohibiting psychologist participation in settings where human rights violations take place, has passed with almost 60% of the vote. The total vote, which took place by mail ballot and closed officially on September 15, exceeded the total number of votes cast in the 2005 and 2007 APA presidential elections, and recent by-law votes. The vote turnout clearly indicates a great deal of interest in the interrogations issue by the membership.

The vote for the referendum represents an important victory for anti-torture, civil liberties forces, both inside and outside the APA. Dan Aalbers, one of the authors of the referendum text, and who along with psychologists Ruth Fallenbaum, Brad Olson, and Ghislaine Boulanger, was one of the members of Psychologists for an Ethical APA who worked hard to secure the measure's passage, in a phone interview called the vote "a decisive victory.... Now we have to work to ensure that APA bows to the will of its members."

The election also included a ballot for APA president. Steven Reisner was running a candidacy that uniquely targeted the APA position on allowing psychologists to act in support of military and national security interrogations. There is currently no word on the results of the presidential race.

Meanwhile, the APA Office of Public Affairs has released a statement, "APA Members Approve Petition Resolution on Detainee Settings." (A link is not yet available.) In their press release, APA's leadership, who had largely opposed the resolution, noted the results and then reminded everyone they would move forward on this member-initiated policy change with all deliberate slowness:
Per the Association's Rules and Bylaws, the resolution will become official APA policy as of the Association's next annual meeting, which will take place in August 2009. At that time, the APA Council of Representatives will also determine what further action may be necessary to implement the policy.
The Art of Spinning

Per their press release on the matter, the APA recognizes the new resolution represents "a significant change in APA's policy regarding the involvement of psychologists in interrogations." At the same time, an attempt is made to link this new policy to APA's previous flawed anti-torture resolutions. Again, per APA's press release (emphasis added):
This new petition resolution expands on the 2007 APA resolution, which called on the U.S. government to ban at least 19 specific abusive interrogation techniques, including waterboarding, that are regarded as torture by international standards. The 2007 resolution also recognized that "torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment can result not only from the behavior of individuals, but also from the conditions of confinement," and expressed "grave concern over settings in which detainees are deprived of adequate protection of their human rights."
"Grave concern"? Not enough to pull psychologists out of such settings where the U.S. government still practices psychological torture techniques, including isolation, manipulation of environment, threats, sensory manipulation, sleep deprivation, and rendition to countries that torture.

The APA leadership should consider this: their membership has decisively voted to end the policy of bogus "concern" and implement a policy of withdrawal and prohibition. Not to act on such a clear statement by the membership -- especially on a matter concerning basic human rights and the suffering of individuals -- places the leadership in a moral and possibly legal morass from which the membership may yet choose to extract them, and sooner rather than later.

At the very least, we should now see statements from Stephen Behnke, Ethics Director at APA, promoting the new policy of APA. According to a Q&A to members about the petition resolution made last July, here's what's supposed to happen when/if the resolution passed:
Q: If adopted, would this resolution become APA policy?

Yes, if adopted the resolution would become official APA policy.

Q: If adopted would the petition amend the APA Ethics Code?

The petition as written has been interpreted as an attempt to set forth new APA policy but not amend the Ethics Code....

Q: If adopted would the petition be enforceable by APA?

As explained above, the petition would not become part of the APA Ethics Code nor be enforceable as are prohibitions set forth in the Ethics Code. Such amendments to the Ethics Code require a more deliberative process and by rule must include review by the full APA governance and a public comment period. However, the resolution would become APA policy. APA communicates its policy statements broadly to media, legislators and the public. Policy statements can be considered by the Ethics Committee in adjudicating cases. They may also be considered by third parties in their engagement of, interaction with or employment of psychologists.
Upon initial examination, it seems the APA is spinning the the referendum as somehow a logical extension of previous APA policy (when in fact it opposed it), while attempting to shelve the new policy as long as it can. They say the resolution cannot be submitted to APA Council for consideration until the next "annual meeting," i.e., next August. But the Council of Representatives always has a meeting in February (see this APA Governance webpage).

Of course, APA leadership will try to convince the unwitting that it is too late to get this matter on the February meeting agenda. But then, the APA bureaucracy is expert in delay tactics and obfuscation and double-talk. As it is, their current position now gives APA and military/CIA lawyers another 11 months to try and figure out how to minimize or distort this new APA policy the best they can. APA members should not allow this to happen.

What Happens Now?

To understand what the vote means, let us revisit the language of its text. Here is the key section:
Be it resolved that psychologists may not work in settings where persons are held outside of, or in violation of, either International Law (e.g., the UN Convention Against Torture and the Geneva Conventions) or the US Constitution (where appropriate), unless they are working directly for the persons being detained or for an independent third party working to protect human rights.
A footnote to this section adds, "It is understood that military clinical psychologists would still be available to provide treatment for military personnel."

One thing the resolution does not mean is an immediate pullout of psychologists from sites where human rights violations take place. Psychologists like U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Diane M. Zierhoffer, a former but now resigned APA member, still staff the Behavioral Science Consultation Teams (BSCT) at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Lt. Col. Zierhoffer exercised her Fifth Amendment rights not to answer questions about her participation in the interrogation of controversial "child soldier" Guantanamo prisoner Mohammad Jawad. Her refusal to answer questions about her actions -- Zierhoffer is accused of signing off on keeping Jawad in solitary confinement, despite his mental deterioration -- was widely noted and condemned,
The psychologist’s testimony would have marked the first time that a member of the secretive Behavioral Science Consultation Team (known as BSCT or “biscuits”) had been called to testify in a detainee hearing. The BSCT program has been highly controversial among psychologists and other health professionals....

“The fact that the BSCT Psychologist now apparently recognizes that her conduct was criminal in nature is very significant,” said Maj. Frakt. “We have alleged, based on classified government records that the BSCT psychologist's recommendation led directly to the illegal abuse and inhumane treatment of Mohammad Jawad. This invocation of the right to remain silent seems to confirm that.”
If the resolution won't get Zierhoffer and her cohorts out of the BSCTs, or kicked out of CIA secret prison sites, or pulled from operational interrogation roles with U.S. Special Operation teams, what will it do?

The resolution is aimed at changing the official policy of the American Psychological Association when it comes to supporting the presence of psychologists at U.S. detention sites in the "war on terror." APA leadership has long maintained that the presence of psychologists at sites like Guantanamo help make prisoners safer, less prone to abuse. In their official statement in support of the petition, the referendum authors defended the need for change in APA policy.
Psychologists, as “consultants”, have been active in interrogations that have brought about extreme forms of torture. In at least one of these cases, the psychologist advocated for an escalation to even more extreme 'enhanced interrogation techniques.'

Psychologists have also played a critical role in this administration's legal defense of torture. Justice Department lawyers have argued that torture can only take place if the perpetrator intends to cause 'prolonged mental harm' which, in turn, is measured by a subsequent diagnosis of posttraumatic stress disorder. Psychologists instead routinely provide diagnoses other than posttraumatic stress disorder, thus giving the illusion of safety and legal cover in otherwise objective instances of “torture”. Moreover, psychologists play a role in maintaining the conditions of detention, for instance, by removing “comfort items” such as toilet paper, toothpaste, and soap.

In settings that fail to meet basic standards of international law, it is unrealistic to rely on psychologists to challenge their superiors, report on violations, and protect abused detainees. We know, from decades of psychological research, that good people do bad things in bad situations. Psychologists are no less vulnerable to “behavioral drift” than others, particularly when subject to the chain of command in the closed environment of a geographically isolated detention center.
It is now incumbent upon APA as an organization to implement the policy voted upon by a notable majority of their membership via free election. The APA must notify all relevant parties -- the Pentagon, the President, the CIA -- that it is now the position of the APA that psychologists not be utilized at settings where detainees are not allowed rights such as habeas corpus, and where abusive conditions of detention and coercive interrogation are well documented.

More, the APA should communicate the new policy statement broadly to media, legislators and the public. This APA has previously promised to do. They must not be allowed to bury the will of the APA membership. Members who have been withholding their dues in protest of APA policy should wait to see if APA has any real intention of implementing this new policy.

I suspect that APA will continue to procrastinate, as they have done with the so-called ethics casebook called for multiple times over the years (last at the 2007 APA convention). (The deadline for submissions of suggestions for such an ethics casebook was recently extended until the end of 2008.)

The reason for all the delays? The APA is deeply enmeshed in the governmental apparatus of military and intelligence organizations, while also serving varied private consultation and "scientific" organizations, and academia, all under the auspices of serving the national security state. Hence, APA belongs to a wide-ranging set of special interests, which forms an extremely formidable opposition to those who would fundamentally change the policies and personnel responsible for the institution of a world-wide network of secret prisons and institutionalized torture.

My congratulations on the referendum vote extends beyond those activists who wrote and campaigned for it to APA members, who showed themselves, in their majority, ready and willing to oppose the unethical and pro-military stance of their organizational leadership, and call for an end to the cooperation of the medical and psychological professions with Bush's illegal and inhumane interrogation program.

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