“There is no such thing as a little torture.” — Alfred M. McCoy, author of A Question of Torture
The Bush administration is really an impressive force of nature. Whenever I was absolutely certain that their dastardly deeds couldn’t possibly get any more nefarious, Dick Cheney shot a family friend in the face, or George W. Bush ordered the U.S. military to invade another country. When they finally left office, I assumed they couldn’t harm America’s reputation ever again.
I was wrong. The Justice Department finally made the infamous memos that sanctioned torture public this week. The details are horrific. Not only are barbaric measures like “walling” (slamming a person into a wall,) and stress positions deemed acceptable by legal experts, but also more inventive interrogation methods like placing live bugs in a confinement box (and telling the prisoner they’ll sting him).
Politicians repeatedly regurgitate the fairy tale that America is a Nation of Laws. Except, the laws get broken all the time, and the archetypes of anarchy usually aren’t held accountable. Barack Obama has sought to reassure CIA operates, who participated in torture, that they can use the same defense Nazis could not use during Nuremberg. Namely, that they were just “following orders.”
This doesn’t bode well for justice enthusiasts, who hoped that maybe (just maybe) the Big Guys would be help accountable this time. That maybe John Yoo, Douglas Feith, Jay Bybee, Dick Cheney, David Addington, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and William Haynes would have to stand before the American people and explain why they thought sanctioning torture was acceptable.
That maybe they would finally have to explain why a little torture was okay.
We are a nation of laws only if the people in charge get to benefit from the rulings. We are a nation of laws only up until Lynndie England, but justice stops short of Donald Rumsfeld. We are a nation of laws for thieves and crooks, but justice can’t touch Goldman Sachs CEOs. The hypocrisy is rampant. It infests every facet of the justice system, and has left us with a broken two-tier system of justice.
The debate over torture is frequently aimed at Guantanamo. However, the problem is also domestic, although the victims are still the unprivileged. While the United States is home to just five percent of the world’s population, it contains 25% of the world’s prisoners. More than one in 100 adults are in prison. Most of those prisoners aren’t homicidal sociopaths. They’re nonviolent drug offenders. America is the only western industrialized country to still use the death penalty, but apparently injecting someone will a chemical that paralyzes their organs doesn’t constitute torture, even though the Nazis used the same method. Those that live inside our prison-industrial complex experience a form of torture every day. Prisoners face the threat of rape and are more likely to contract H.I.V., hepatitis and tuberculosis.
This kind of domestic torture is frequently overlooked because it’s the “right people” suffering. Bad guys. Bottom-tier justice types: poor people, immigrants, people of color. And after all, it’s only a little torture. Terrorists and criminals deserve whatever happens to them. Waterboarding doesn’t even count as torture! It’s just a light spritz in the face! (Of course, even Bush’s own legal team knew it was torture and expressed their concern in footnote form.)
This cartoonish, simplified scope of reality would be laughable had it not been the ideologies held by the Bush administration for eight years. Innocent people are accused of crimes all the time. That’s why our smart ancestors put in place that whole “justice system” in the first place. Ya’ know, that thing about being able to face one’s accusers and present evidence to defend one’s self.
If justice is to come to Guantanamo (and it should,) it must also come to the United State’s domestic prisons where draconian drug laws continue case overcrowding and strain stark resources, which then breeds inhumane conditions. If justice is to come to torture victims, it must mean than the archetypes of the torture memos will stand beside the CIA agents that carried out the orders.
The American two-tier justice system must end, and a good start would be for the Obama administration to recognize that a little torture is never okay, no matter who is doing it.
Citizen Radio recently interviewed professor Noam Chomsky about the War on Drugs, religion, and what makes him happy. A transcription of the interview is available below.
Listen to the entire episode here.
Called “arguably the most important intellectual alive” by the New York Times, Noam Chomsky is also known as a political activist.
In the 1966 essay, “The Responsibility of Intellectuals,” Chomsky challenged intellectuals “to speak the truth and expose lies,” and he carried his protests beyond the printed page: he became a tax resister and he was arrested in 1967 at the Pentagon while protesting military involvement in Southeast Asia.
Chomsky’s criticism of U.S. governmental policies has continued unabated since that time. In Deterring Democracy and in other books he has focused on trade and economic issues and accuses the Government of being a “rogue superpower.”
“I’m a citizen of the United States,” says Chomsky, “and I have a share of responsibility for what it does.”
Citizen Radio is on BTR every Wednesday. Episodes air 24/7.
Allison Kilkenny: In an unpublished article for the Washington Post, you wrote that the NAFTA protests during the 90s in Mexico gave, quote: “only a bare glimpse of time bombs waiting to explode. Do you thinks the drug cartels in Mexico are a byproduct of the trade inequalities you explained in that Post article? Also, if you could talk about the roles international banks and corporations play in the War on Drugs.
Noam Chomsky: I can’t really talk about it because there isn’t any war on drugs. If there was a war on drugs, the government would take measures which it knows could control the use of drugs.
It’s Finally Happening
New York must reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws
The Rockefeller Drug Laws, enacted in 1973, mandate extremely harsh prison terms for the possession or sale of small amounts of drugs. Intended to target drug kingpins, most of the people incarcerated under these laws are convicted of low-level, nonviolent offenses. Many of the thousands of New Yorkers in prison under these laws suffer from substance abuse problems; many others struggle with issues related to homelessness, mental illness or unemployment.
The Rockefeller Drug Laws create stark racial disparities in prison populations and exact an enormous financial toll on all of New York State.
After 36 years, the chance for true reform of these laws is greater this year than it ever has been.
On March 4, the New York State Assembly passed a strong reform bill, the first step on the road to a new direction for New York.
The same progressive bill has now been introduced in the New York State Senate where it faces a much tougher road to passage. Many senators have been intimidated by the scare tactics and misrepresentations of prosecutors who don’t want to give up their power over New Yorkers’ lives. And recent media reports suggest that Governor Paterson, who was once the strongest champion of Rockefeller reform, wants to cut a deal to put a band-aid on these fundamentally broken laws. What we need is real reform, not piecemeal fixes.
Send a free fax to your senators and to Governor Paterson urging them to put 36 years of failed Rockefeller Drug Laws behind us, once and for all. Tell the Senate to pass S.2855, and tell the Governor to sign it into law.
To find out more information about the Rockefeller Drug Laws, click here.
- For 36 years, the Rockefeller Drug Laws have done nothing to stop drug abuse or help people struggling to overcome addiction in New York. Public health experts agree there is a better way: treatment and rehabilitation.
- The Rockefeller Drug Laws have created unconscionable racial disparities. While 72 percent of New Yorkers who have used illegal drugs are white, more than 90 percent of people incarcerated for drug offenses in New York State are black or Latino.
- The Rockefeller Drug Laws have destroyed lives, families, neighborhoods and whole communities for decades. More than 25,000 children have been orphaned by our state’s drug laws. Sixty percent of people who have been incarcerated can’t find work a year after release.
- New York State could save $267 million annually by treating and rehabilitating those who need it. Our state can’t afford the Rockefeller Drug Laws.
- Judges must have the authority to do what they think is best in the interest of justice and public safety. Mandatory minimum sentences bust be eliminated and judges must have the option of sending people to drug treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison.
- New York State needs alternatives to incarceration programs in every county in the State. Experts agree: Some drug users need mental health services, treatment, education, and job-training programs instead of a jail cell.
The New York State Assembly is set to vote Wednesday on legislation that would allow judges to send drug offenders to substance abuse treatment instead of prison. The legislation would also allow thousands of prisoners jailed for nonviolent drug offenses to have their sentences reduce or commuted. It’s the latest step in a long campaign to repeal the draconian Rockefeller laws. The laws impose lengthy minimum sentences on drug offenders, even those with no prior convictions. The laws have disproportionately targeted people of color, while giving prosecutors de facto control over how long convicts are jailed. [includes rush transcript]
Kirk James, served nine years under the Rockefeller drug laws as a first-time offender. He’s now a social justice activist.
Caitlin Dunklee, coordinator of the Correctional Association’s Drop the Rock, a grassroots campaign to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws.
Assemblymember Jeffrion Aubry, Representing New York’s 35th Assembly District in Queens, has led efforts in the New York state legislature to repeal the Rockefeller drug laws.
I’m not sure if it’s because we’re strung out on “Lost” episodes, or if it’s because we’re still suffering from a post-9/11 stress disorder that makes us crave “breaking news” alerts, or if it’s because the economy has turned us into distraction junkies. But one thing is painfully obvious after Michael Phelps’ marijuana “scandal” erupted last week: Our society is addicted to fake outrage — and to break our dependence, we’re going to need far more potent medicine than the herb Phelps was smoking.
The tears are finally drying – the tears of the Bush years, and the tears of awe at the sight of a black President of the United States. So what now? The cliché of the day is that Barack Obama will inevitably disappoint the hopes of a watching world, but the truth is more subtle than that. If we want to see how Obama will change the world – for good or bad – we need to trace the deep structural factors that underlie US foreign policy, and tease out what he will do about them. A useful case study of these pressures is about to flicker onto our news pages for a moment – from the top of the world.
Bolivia is the poorest country in Latin America, and its lofty slums 4000 meters above sea level seem a world away from the high theatre of the inauguration. But if we look at this country closely, we can explain one of the great paradoxes of the United States – that it has incubated a triumphant civil rights movement at home, yet thwarted civil rights movements abroad. Bolivia shows us in stark detail the contradictions facing a black President of the American empire.
The President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, has a story strikingly similar to Obama’s. In 2006 he became the first indigenous President of his country – and a symbol of the potential of democracy. When the Spanish arrived in Bolivia in the sixteenth century, they enslaved the indigenous majority and worked millions to death. As recently as the 1950s, an indigenous person wasn’t even allowed to walk through the centre of La Paz, where the presidential palace and city cathedral stand. They were (and are) routinely compared to monkeys and apes.
Morales was born to a poor potato-farmer in the mountains, and grew up scavenging for discarded orange peel or banana skins to eat. Of his seven siblings, four starved to death as babies. Throughout his adult life, it was taken for granted that the country would be ruled by the white mestizo minority; the “Indians” were too “child-like” to manage a country.
Given that the US is constitutionally a democracy and its Presidents say they are committed to spreading democracy across the world, you would expect them to welcome the democratic rise of Morales. But wait. Bolivia has massive reserves of natural gas – a geo-strategic asset, and one that rakes in billions for US corporations. Here is where the complications set in.
Before Morales, the white mestizo elite was happy to allow US companies to simply take the gas and leave the Bolivian people with short change: just 18 percent of the royalties. Indeed, they handed almost the entire country to US interests, while skimming a small percentage for themselves. In 1999, an American company, Bechtel, was handed the water supply – and water rates for the poor majority doubled.
Morales ran for election against this agenda. He said that Bolivia’s resources should be used for the benefit of millions of bitterly poor Bolivians, not a tiny number of super-rich Americans. He kept his promise. Now Bolivia keeps 82 percent of the vast gas royalties – and he has used the money to increase health spending by 300 percent, and to build the country’s first pension system. He is one of the most popular leaders in the democratic world. In slums across South America, I have seen this pink tide rising through the barrios and favelas, where millions of people are seeing doctors and schools for the first time in their lives.
I suspect that a majority of the American people – who are good and decent – would be pleased and support this process if they were told about it honestly. But how did the US government (and much of the media) react? George Bush fulminated that “democracy is being eroded in Bolivia”, and a recent US ambassador to the country compared Morales to Osama Bin Laden. Why? To them, you are a democrat if you give your resources to US corporations, and you are a dictator if you give them to your own people. The will of the Bolivian people is irrelevant.
There is another layer of disagreement between Morales and US power. Bolivians have a widespread millennia-long tradition chewing coca leaves, or brewing them in tea: it’s a good way of keeping your energy up when you are doing grinding work at such a high altitude. But in the 1980s, the Reagan administration announced that this was contrary to the demands of the “war on drugs”. They trained and paid for elite white military units to forcibly “eliminate coca.” They rampaged across the Bolivian countryside destroying the crops of desperately poor people. Evo Morales – a coca farmer himself – saw them burn a peasant farmer alive, an experience he says “changed me forever.” He wants to legalize coca for private use – and he is supported by 80 percent of Bolivians.
For these reasons, the US has been moving to trash Morales. Latin America still lives in the shadow of its own 9/11: on September 11th 1973, Henry Kissinger and the CIA backed the coup that led to the violent death of the freely elected President of Chile, Salvador Allende, to stop his programme of democratic socialism from proceeding
Over the past few years, the techniques have become a little less crude. By an odd quirk of fate, almost all of Bolivia’s gas supplies are in the east of the country – where the richest, whitest part of the population lives. So the US government has been funding and fueling the hard-right separatist movements that want these regions to break away. Then the mestizos would happily hand the gas to US companies like in the good ol’ days – and Morales would be left without resources. The interference became so severe that last September Morales had to expel the US Ambassador for “conspiring against democracy.” This weekend, Morales is holding a major referendum on a new constitution for the country which will entrench the rights of the indigenous people.
Enter Obama – and his paradoxes. He is obviously a person of good will and good sense, but he is operating in a system subject to many undemocratic pressures. Bolivia illustrates the tension. The rise of Morales reminds us of the America the world loves – its yes-we-can openness and civil rights movements. Yet the presence of gas and coca reminds us of the America the world hates – the desire to establish “full spectrum dominance” over the world’s resources and send troops barging into their countries, whatever the pesky natives think.
Which America will Obama embody? The answer is both – at first. Morales has welcomed him as “a brother”, and Obama has made it clear he wants a dialogue, rather than the abuse of the Bush years. Yet who is Obama’s Bolivia advisor? A lawyer called Greg Craig, who represents Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada – the hard-right former President of Bolivia who imposed some of the most extreme privatizations of the 1980s, and is now wanted on charges of genocide in Bolivia for the massacres of indigenous protesters. Craig’s legal team says Morales is (yes) leading “an offensive against democracy.”
The structural pressures within the US political system that drove hostility to a democratic civil rights leader like Morales up to now have not dissolved in the cold Washington air. The US is still dependent on foreign fossil fuels to keep its lights on, the drug war bureaucracy will continue its senseless crusade, and US corporations still buy Senators from both parties. Obama will still be swayed by those factors.
But while this is a reason to be frustrated, it isn’t a reason to be cynical. Why? Because while he will be swayed by those factors, he will also subtly erode them over time. Obama has made energy independence – a massive transition away from foreign oil and gas, and towards the wind, sun and waves – the centre of his governing programme. If the US is no longer addicted to Bolivian gas, then its governments will be much less inclined to topple anybody else who wants to control it. (If they’re off oil, they’ll be much less invested in the Saudi tyranny and petro-wars in the Middle East too.)
Obama also says he wants to peel back the distorting effect of corporate money on the US political system. He is already less slathered in corporate cash than any President since the 1920s. The further he pushes it back, the more breathing-space democratic movements like Morales’ get to control their own resources. He also seems to be a less fanatical drug warrior than his predecessors, offering praise in the past for those who believe the US should concentrate on treating addicts at home rather than trying to burn and fumigate their supply from every forest or mountain on earth.
But we will see. If you want to know if Obama is really altering the tectonic forces that drive American power, keep an eye on the rooftop of the world.
CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — As the photographer pulled his 2000 Ford Explorer into a soccer field, the crackle of his police scanner was broken by a lone accordion riff.
The riff, a fragment of a “narcocorrido” glorifying drug smugglers, was an announcement that the death toll in Mexico’s drug war _ already above 4,000 this year _ had just risen.
Hector Dayer already knew that as he looked out at the seven bodies, bound, beaten and repeatedly shot. What he didn’t know was whether yet another colleague was among the victims.
Two weeks earlier, Dayer had photographed a friend _ a veteran crime reporter from a rival newspaper _ shot dead in his car as his 8-year-old daughter sat shaking in the passenger’s seat.
On this day, none of the bodies belonged to journalists. Dayer grabbed his camera, pulled up the collar of his jacket to hide his face, and stepped out to photograph the carnage.
“We should wear ski masks, like the police,” said Dayer, a father of two who works for the newspaper El Norte. “We are so public. Everyone can see us and identify us.”
Mexico is the deadliest place in the Americas to be a journalist, and among the deadliest in the world. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 24 have been killed since 2000, and seven have vanished in the past three years.
Many of the victims had recently reported on police ties to cartels. Some are suspected of accepting drug money, but it’s hard to be sure because the killings are barely investigated. Of the 24 cases, the committee says, only one has been solved.
Some attacks target specific journalists, others entire newsrooms. In at least two cases, grenades have been thrown at newspaper offices.
The attacks are silencing journalists and undermining Mexico’s young democracy. Across the nation, news media have stopped reporting on the drug war, with most limiting their reports to facts put out by authorities, with no context, analysis or investigation. In most places, journalists don’t even report on killings they witness.
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s bloodiest city with about 1,400 deaths this year, is an exception. Here journalists continue to cover the daily deaths, without using bylines or photo credits.
Many use different cars and routes to get to work each day. A few wear bulletproof vests, but most think those make them more of a target.
Nearly all crime reporters have received threats. They include Armando Rodriguez, 40, a veteran with the newspaper El Diario. In February, Rodriguez asked the state prosecutor for protection, but she asked him to file a police report and he never did.
On Nov. 13, Rodriguez sat in his driveway with his 8-year-old daughter, waiting for her 6-year-old sister to come out so he could drive the girls to school. Gunshots rang out.
Rodriguez’s wife, Blanca Martinez, screamed as she looked out the kitchen window. She saw her husband’s head bent down and thought he was searching for his cell phone to call his newspaper to report the gunshots.
Then she realized he wasn’t moving. Their daughter was shaking in the seat next to him.
Martinez ran out and told her daughter to get inside the house, then climbed into the car with her husband, holding his bloody body until police and colleagues arrived.
“I don’t have any hope the guilty will be caught,” she said. “All I want is for them to repent.”
The colleagues who showed up to cover Rodriguez’s death were shaken too.
“I took photos but afterward we all didn’t know what to do,” Dayer said. “There was just silence.”
Rodriguez’s desk at El Diario is much as he left it, notebooks and police communiques stacked haphazardly. El Diario director Pedro Torres says he wants a full investigation, but police have shown little interest.
Hours after The Associated Press asked the office of Mexico’s attorney general why nobody had examined Rodriguez’s computer, El Diario editors say federal investigators called to say they were sending someone to pick it up. The attorney general’s office never got back to the AP.
“We’re not interested in making him a martyr. We just want the truth,” Torres said. “We feel so helpless, so angry _ but not afraid. Because, I insist, you cannot do journalism with fear.”
Jorge Luis Aguirre, director of news Web site La Polaka, agrees. As he was driving to Rodriguez’s wake, his cell phone rang.
“You’re next,” said a voice.
Aguirre parked his car, called his wife and fled to the U.S. with his family. He plans to apply for asylum.
“Any journalist in Juarez is at risk right now of being assassinated just because someone doesn’t like what you published,” he said in a telephone interview from hiding.
Media-freedom groups are pushing for the U.S. to grant such requests, and are lobbying Mexico’s Congress to pass a bill that would make attacks on the news media a federal crime.
“This violence has gone way beyond the press,” said Carlos Lauria of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “It’s going against freedom of expression.”
It is also insanely brutal. Dayer has seen the worst of it this year, from human legs protruding from a large pot commonly used to cook pork, to a body hanging inside a house with a pig mask over the face. When the death count reached eight in the span of an hour, he called his wife and told her to take the kids inside.
Once, as he photographed a headless body hanging from an overpass, someone noticed a man in a car nearby taking pictures of the journalists. A photographer went over to ask what he was doing, but the man sped away. Later in the day, the head was found in a trash bag at the foot of the city’s 28-year-old Journalist Monument, a statue of a newspaper delivery boy.
“I think about that day a lot now,” Dayer said.
Juarez’s journalists take extraordinary risks for their daily blood-and-gore reports. They careen through traffic, often arriving at crime scenes before the police. Photographers have stumbled across hitmen who fired shots, pistol-whipped them and stole their cameras.
On a recent morning, an AP reporter accompanied a TV crew as it plied the streets looking for the day’s dead. The police scanner reported an armed man in a white car nearby, and the driver swung into pursuit. A wailing police car raced up behind the crew, as TV and radio correspondent Ever Chavez screamed at the driver.
“Not too close! Get back!” he said.
The police car stopped the white car and dragged out two men as Chavez moved in with his microphone. Police pulled a black handgun from one of the men’s pockets, but it turned out to be plastic. Chavez went on the air.
“That’s the report we have so far,” Chavez said cheerily. “Be careful out there, and have a good morning.”