Jeremy Brecher

Social Self-Defense: Labor Must Embrace the Anti-Trump Resistance to Fight for the Working Class

The Trump presidency presents organized labor with a dilemma.

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Now Is Our Chance to Build People Power Before the World's Next Big Climate Meeting

Since international climate negotiations began a quarter of a century ago, annual greenhouse gas emissions have increased by 60 percent. As we approach yet another climate summit this November in Paris, the question for the climate protection movement is not just, can some kind of agreement be reached, but how can we reverse the continuing climate catastrophe over the next quarter-century?

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Climate Protection: New Insurgency and Mass Protests

This article is a joint publication of Foreign Policy In Focus and TruthOut. For a longer presentation, see the Foreign Policy In Focus report, “A Nonviolent Insurgency for Climate Protection?

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How EPA Climate Protection Can Be America's Greatest Jobs Producer

This article was published in partnership with GlobalPossibilities.org.

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Keystone XL Opponents Need a Jobs Program

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are taking a well-deserved victory lap. The Obama administration’s decision to reject TransCanada’s pipeline proposal — at least for now — represents an historic win for the environmental movement, and reveals the potency of the emerging alignment between the environmental, anti-corporate, Occupy, and other movements.

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Why Unions Should Reconsider Support for Tar Sands Oil Pipeline

More than two million American construction workers -- nearly one in five -- are currently unemployed. Factories that produce building materials are operating at only half their capacity. So when a private company proposes a project it claims will spur the creation of 118,000 new jobs, it is hardly surprising that unions representing construction, transportation and related workers pricked up their ears.

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Can We Solve Our Environmental Crisis Without Talking About Climate Change and Global Warming?

To talk of climate change or not to talk of climate change — that is the question.

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Concerned About Jobs? Then You Should Be Concerned About Climate Change, Too -- Here's Why

[Drafted with Jeremy Brecher and Lisa Hoyos]

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Is Social Networking Useless for Social Change? A Response to The New Yorker's Malcolm Gladwell

[This article is dedicated to the late Tim Costello, who taught us so much about social movements and organization.]

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How to Pay for a Global Climate Deal

Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by SolveClimate.

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The Financial Crisis Is Too Dire to Be Left to Politicians

Editor's Note: As tens of thousands of activists from around the world gather in Belem, Brazil, for the World Social Forum, social movements everywhere are debating how to respond to the ever-deepening economic crisis. This article is excerpted from the longer discussion paper "Globalization From Below" Tackles the "Great Recession" prepared by Global Labor Strategies.

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Social Movements 2.0: Harnessing the Power of the Web for Change

On September 27, 2007, the world experienced its first virtual strike. In response to a wage dispute, IBM workers in Italy organized a picket outside their company's "corporate campus" based in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life. According to a report in the Guardian, workers "marched and waved banners, gate-crashed a [virtual] staff meeting and forced the company to close its [virtual] business center to visitors ... The protest, by more than 9,000 workers and 1,850 supporting 'avatars' from thirty countries," included a rowdy collection of pink triangles, "sentient" bananas and other bizarro avatars.

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Green Paper Gold: How to Pay for a Global 'New New Deal'

There's growing support for fighting global economic stagnation and global warming simultaneously with a "green New Deal" nationally and globally. Investing to cut greenhouse gasses can create "green jobs" and provide fiscal stimulus while it is protecting the planet. But how is it going to be paid for?

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How We Got the Worst Health Care System Mountains of Money Can Buy

As Americans respond to President-elect Barack Obama's call for town hall meetings on reform of the American health care system, an understanding of how that system came to be the way it is can be crucial for figuring out how to fix it. The American health care system is unique because, for most of us, it is tied to our jobs rather than to our government. For many Americans, the system seems natural, but few know that it originated not as a well-thought-out plan to provide for Americans' health, but as a way to circumvent a quirk in wartime wage regulations that had nothing to do with health.

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Nine Reasons to Investigate War Crimes Now

Retired General Antonio Taguba, the officer who led the Army's investigation into Abu Ghraib, recently wrote in the preface to the new report, Broken laws, Broken Lives:

"There is no longer any doubt as to whether the current administration has committed war crimes. The only question that remains to be answered is whether those who ordered the use of torture will be held to account."

Should those who ordered war crimes be held to account? With the conclusion of the Bush regime approaching, many people are dubious, even those horrified by Administration actions. They fear a long, divisive ordeal that could tear the country apart. They note that such division could make it far harder for the country to address the many other crises it is facing. They see the upcoming elections as a better way to set the country on a new path.

Many Democrats in particular are proposing to let bygones be bygones and move on to confront the problems of the future, rather than dwelling on the past. The Democratic leadership sees rising gas prices, foreclosures, and health care costs, as well as widespread dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, as playing in their favor. Why risk it all by playing the war crimes blame game? Perhaps some Democratic leaders are also concerned that their own role in enabling or even encouraging war crimes might be exposed.

Meanwhile, the evidence confirming not only a deliberate policy of torture, but of conspiring in an illegal war of aggression and conducting a criminal occupation, continues to pile ever higher. Bush's own press secretary Scott McClellan has revealed in his book, What Happened, how deliberately the public was misled to foment the attack on Iraq. Philippe Sands' new book, Torture Team, has shown how the top legal and political leadership fought for a policy of torture -- circumventing and misleading top military officials to do so. Jane Mayer's The Dark Side, reveals that a secret report by the Red Cross -- given to the CIA and shared with President Bush and Condoleezza Rice -- found that U.S. interrogation methods are "categorically" torture and that the "abuse constituted war crimes, placing the highest officials in the U.S. government in jeopardy of being prosecuted."

Despite the reluctance to open what many see as a can of worms, there are fresh moves on many fronts to hold top U.S. officials accountable for war crimes.

Courts: U.S. courts have issued a barrage of decisions against the Administration's claim that they can do anything and still be within the law. The Supreme Court ruled June 12 that the Administration cannot deny habeas corpus rights to Guantánamo detainees. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals on June 30 overturned the Pentagon's enemy combatant designation of a Chinese Muslim held in Guantánamo for the last six years. A Maine jury in April acquitted the Bangor Six of criminal trespass charges stemming from protesters' claim that the "Constitution was being violated by the Bush Administration's involvement in Iraq."

Congressional investigation: Rep. John Conyers has recently brought top policy-makers, including former Deputy Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff David Addington, and this week former Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith and former Attorney General John Ashcroft before a House Judiciary subcommittee and grilled them on their role crafting the Administration's torture policy.

Senate hearings in June revealed that treatment of Guantánamo captives was modeled on techniques allegedly used by Communist China to force false confessions from U.S. soldiers.

Impeachment: Despite Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi's instruction to keep impeachment "off the table," Rep. Dennis Kucinich for the first time brought an impeachment resolution to the House floor that incorporated a devastating, thirty-five article indictment spelling out Bush Administration war crimes and crimes against the Constitution. Now Rep. Conyers has announced that the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings on the charges July 25. Even after the Bush Administration leaves office, the judges it appointed who appear complicit in war crimes -- notably torture policy architect Judge Jay S. Bybee -- could still be impeached.

Truth commission: In response to General Taguba's accusations, New York Times Op-Ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof has just called for the establishment of a truth commission -- like that of post-Apartheid South Africa -- with subpoena power to investigate the abuses in the aftermath of 9/11 and "lead a process of soul searching and national cleansing."

International: In May, Vanity Fair magazine published an article by British human rights attorney Philippe Sands, in which he described the reasons Administration lawyers face a real risk of criminal investigations if they stray beyond U.S. borders. The British parliament is about to launch an investigation of Washington's lying to the British government about its use of its facilities for "extraordinary rendition." Constitutional lawyer Jonathan Turley recently said, "I think it might in fact be time for the United States to be held internationally to a tribunal. I never thought in my lifetime I would say that." Colin Powell's former chief of staff Lawrence Wilkerson publicly advised Feith, Addington, And Albert Gonzales "never to travel outside the U.S., except perhaps to Saudi Arabia and Israel."

Prosecution: According to a recent Mellman Group survey commissioned by the American Civil Liberties Union, Americans of all political stripes overwhelmingly support the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate both the destruction of the CIA's interrogation tapes and the possible use of torture by the agency. Every segment of the electorate -- including majorities of Democrats (82 percent), independents (62 percent), and Republicans (51 percent) -- want to hold this administration accountable for its role in the destruction of the torture tapes.

Vincent Bugliosi, the former Los Angeles County Prosecutor who has won twenty-one convictions in murder trials, including Charles Manson's, has just published The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, which argues that there is overwhelming evidence President Bush took the nation to war in Iraq under false pretenses and must be prosecuted for the consequent deaths of over 4,000 U.S. soldiers.

Dean Lawrence Velvel of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover is planning a September conference to map out war crimes prosecutions against President Bush and other administration officials. Velvel says that "plans will be laid and necessary organizational structures set up, to pursue the guilty as long as necessary and, if need be, to the ends of the Earth." Reps. John Conyers, Jerrold Nadler, and Bill Delahunt have called on Attorney General Michael Mukasey to appoint a special counsel to investigate the rendition of Canadian citizen Maher Arar to Syria.

Citizen action: Voters in Brattleboro and Marlboro, Vermont this spring approved a measure that instructs police to arrest President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney for "crimes against our Constitution," should they venture into those precincts.

All these developments suggest approaches that might be used to hold Bush Administration war criminals accountable. Establishing accountability for U.S. war crimes in the Iraq war era is the sine qua non for initiating a new era on different principles. Here are nine reasons why we must not let bygones be bygones:

1. World peace cannot be achieved without human rights and accountability.

According to Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson, chief American prosecutor at the Nuremberg Tribunals, "The ultimate step in avoiding periodic wars, which are inevitable in a system of international lawlessness, is to make statesmen responsible to law." Moving in that direction will be impossible unless such responsibility applies to the statesmen of the world's most powerful countries, and above all the world's sole superpower. U.S. support for the war crimes charges like those just brought by the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court against Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir will represent little more than hypocrisy if U.S. Presidents are not held to the same standard.

2. The rule of law is central to our democracy.

Most Americans believe that even the highest officials are bound by law. If we send mentally-disabled juveniles to prison as adults, but let government officials who authorize torture and launch illegal wars go scot-free, we destroy the very basis of the rule of law.

3. We must not allow precedents to be set that promote war crimes.

Executive action unchallenged by Congress changes the way our law is interpreted. According to Robert Borosage, writing for Huffington Post, "If Bush's extreme assertions of power are not challenged by the Congress, they end up not simply creating new law, they could end up rewriting the Constitution itself."

4. We must restore the principles of democracy to our government.

The claim that the President, as commander-in-chief, can exercise the unlimited powers of a king or dictator strikes at the very heart of our democracy. As Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson put it, we, as citizens, would "submit ourselves to rules only if under rules." Countries like Chile can attest that the restoration of democracy and the rule of law requires more than voting a new party into office -- it requires a rejection of impunity for the criminal acts of government officials.

5. We must forestall an imperialist resurgence.

When they are out of office, the advocates of imperial expansion and global domination have proven brilliant at lying in wait to undermine and destroy their opponents.

They did it to destroy the presidencies of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. They'll do it again to an Obama Administration unless their machinations are exposed and discredited first.

6. We must have national consensus on the real reasons for the Bush Administration's failures.

Republicans are preparing to dominate future decades of American politics by blaming the failure of the Iraq war on those who "sent a signal" that the U.S. would not "stay the course" whatever the cost. Establishing the real reasons for the failure of the U.S. in Iraq -- the criminal and anti-democratic character of the war -- is the necessary condition for defeating that effort.

7. We must restore America's damaged reputation abroad.

The world has watched as the United States -- the self-proclaimed steward of democracy -- has systematically broken the letter and spirit of its Constitution, violated international treaties, and ignored basic moral tenets of humanity. As former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora recently pointed out to the Senate Armed Services Committee, our nation's "policy of cruelty" has violated our "overarching foreign policy interests and our national security." To establish international legitimacy, we must demonstrate that we are capable of holding our leaders to account.

8. We must lay the basis for major change in U.S. foreign policy.

Real security in the era of global warming and nuclear proliferation must be based on international cooperation. But genuine cooperation requires that the U.S. entirely repudiate the course of the past eight years. The American people must understand why international cooperation rather than pursuit of global domination is necessary to their own security. And other countries must be convinced that we really mean it.

9. We must deter future U.S. war crimes.

The specter of more war crimes haunts our future. Rumors continue to circulate about an American or American-backed Israeli attack on Iran. A recently introduced House resolution promoted by AIPAC "demands" that the President initiate what is effectively a blockade against Iran -- an act seen by some as tantamount to a declaration of war. Nothing could provide a greater deterrent to such future war crimes than establishing accountability for those of the past.

Holding war criminals accountable will require placing the long-term well-being of our country and the world ahead of short-term political advantage. As Rep. Wexler put it, "We owe it to the American people and history to pursue the wrongdoing of this Administration whether or not it helps us politically or in the next election. Our actions will properly define the Bush Administration in the eyes of history and that is the true test."

Keeping MLK's Green Legacy Alive

Today they'd be called "green-collar jobs" cleaning up the environment. Back then, the workers who performed those jobs were just garbage men. And they were treated like garbage. Martin Luther King, Jr. died fighting to make their green-collar jobs be good jobs.

On the 40th anniversary of King's assassination, the green-collar jobs group Green for All is bringing people from all over the country to Memphis, Tennessee April 4-6 for The Dream Reborn, a celebration of the life of Dr. King -- and a call to create millions of good green-collar jobs as a pathway out of poverty.

The Dream Reborn will "bring together a generation of new leaders who are taking on the chief moral obligation of the 21st century, building a green economy for all."

The gathering will dramatize the message that "today we must respond with the same courage to perhaps the biggest crises our species has ever collectively faced, global warming."

We believe that if Dr. King were with us today, he would be working to build a green economy -- strong enough to lift people out of poverty and restore hope to America. He would be standing with those communities that have been locked out of the last century's pollution-based economy. And he would indeed be working to ensure that ALL our people, the entire beloved community, is included in the emerging clean and renewable economic vision.

As Michael Honey shows in his magisterial new book Going Down Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike, Martin Luther King's Last Campaign (New York: Norton, 2007), by 1967 Dr. King was calling for a "radical reordering of our nation's priorities." He proposed to match civil rights and voting rights laws with laws creating jobs or income. Government redistribution would abolish poverty by providing training for displaced black workers while shoring up their incomes, so that they could become self-sufficient citizens who could work their way out of poverty. The program would stimulate the economy and cut poverty-induced crime, drugs, and imprisonment. The money squandered on the Vietnam war could end poverty in a decade.

Green for All, a new organization created by local green-job organizers around the country and sponsor of The Dream Reborn, brilliantly updates King's vision. Its mission is "to help build a green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty."

By advocating for a national commitment to job training, employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy - especially for people from disadvantaged communities -- we fight both poverty and pollution at the same time. We are committed to securing one billion dollars by 2012 to create "green pathways out of poverty" for 250,000 people in the United States, by greatly expanding federal government and private sector commitments to "green-collar" jobs.

Van Jones, an organizer in Oakland, California and one of the initiators of Green for All, says he was getting burned out going to court hearings and funerals for kids in his community. Then, I just had this epiphany in mind and said, you know, these kids in America need green jobs, not jails . . . . We want to lift a quarter million people out of poverty into the green economy by creating green-collared job training, employer incentives and entrepreneur opportunities. As in King's vision, training and good jobs could give disadvantaged young people a "pathway out of poverty."

If you teach a young person how to put up solar panels, that kid is on their way to becoming an electrical engineer. They could join the United Electrical Workers Union. If you teach a kid how to weatherize a building, double-pane the glass so that it doesn't leak so much energy, that kid is on his way to becoming a glazer that can join a union.

The green-jobs vision is working its way into the political mainstream. At the end of 2007, Congress passed and President Bush signed the Green Jobs Act that provides $125 million for workforce training programs that target veterans, displaced workers, at-risk youth and individual families who fall 200 percent under the poverty line. Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have both called for the creation of millions of green-collar jobs to combat global warming. Even Republican John McCain says he is willing to invest in research and development of green technology, calling it the "path to restore the strength of America's economy."

Martin Luther King understood that good jobs in the service of community needs could be the basis for ending poverty and creating equality for America's poor and oppressed. As he arrived in Memphis to support the sanitation workers' strike, King asserted that the person who picks up garbage is as essential to the health of society as the physician, and that the city's sanitation workers "work day in and day out for the well-being of the total community." As we face the global catastrophe of global warming, nothing could do more for the "well-being of the total community" that creating a path out of poverty through jobs that protect the well-being of the total planet.


Labor's Changing Tune on Global Warming

Figuring out how to respond to global warming has been difficult for organized labor. The issue can pit union against union and unions against environmentalists. Now, however, a new alliance is developing around the idea of "green jobs" -- the jobs that will be needed to rebuild our economy and drastically reduced greenhouse gases.

Seemingly from nowhere, "green jobs" have emerged as a key issue in the presidential election. Barack Obama calls for a $150 billion investment in green-collar jobs. Hillary Clinton refers to renewable energy employment as "jobs of the future" that can create five million jobs. Even John McCain calls for research and development of green technology, calling it the "path to restore the strength of America's economy."

The stealth "green jobs" issue did not emerge from nowhere. Its prominence in the presidential debates results in good measure from the commitment of some, though by no means all, environmental and labor leaders to building an alliance for jobs that fight global warming.

In 2006, the Sierra Club and the United Steelworkers initiated the Blue-Green Alliance under the banner of "Good Jobs, A Clean Environment, And a Safer World." This "strategic alliance" would focus on "those issues which have the greatest potential to unite the American people in pursuit of a global economy that is more just and equitable and founded on principles of environmental and economic sustainability."

Linking jobs and the environment, Steelworker president Leo Gerard said, "Secure twenty-first century jobs are those that will help solve the problem of global warming with energy efficiency and renewable energy." Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope added, "Our new alliance allows us to address the great challenge of the global economy in the twenty-first century -- how to provide good jobs, a clean environment and a safer world."

As the presidential primaries approached, the Blue-Green Alliance called on all candidates to commit to reducing carbon emissions by 2 percent every year, increasing green-energy based manufacturing jobs by 2 percent, and rewriting American trade laws to advance labor and environmental standards.

The politically savvy Alliance began organizing in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin -- states that would be critical in the presidential primaries -- a year before the primaries would be held. Almost all the Democratic candidates agreed to their program, and even John McCain is finding that he must echo it.

The coming-of-age party for this coalition may well be the Blue-Green Alliance's "Good Jobs, Green Jobs: A National Green Jobs Conference" scheduled for today and tomorrow in Pittsburgh. The conference will bring together advocates representing labor, business, the environment and public health, economic and workforce development specialists, investors, scientists and technology experts, and local, state and federal policy makers. Its aim is to launch a nationwide dialogue about "moving our country rapidly toward leadership in promoting a new green economy."

Participants in the conference include heavy hitters from organized labor, including some who have previously kept away from actions addressed to global warming. Both U.S. labor federations, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, are listed as conveners. So are such unions as the Service Employees, Industrial Division of the Communication Workers, Operating Engineers Local 95, United Food and Commercial Workers and United Steelworkers. It also features groups like the national alliance Green for All, which has been promoting "green-collar jobs" as a way to build a route out of poverty for the most deprived, and the labor-backed Apollo Alliance, which campaigns for energy independence.

Efforts to combat global warming present dilemmas for organized labor. Some unions may face immediate job losses: Coal miners may lose jobs when coal power plants are phased out and some auto workers may lose their jobs if high-mileage autos start to be eliminated. Some members of organized labor also fear that carbon regulation could lead to energy shortages and that high energy prices will aggravate economic stagnation and unemployment.

But some unions have an immediate interest in combating global warming. Boilermakers and sheet metal workers, for example, are likely to gain jobs from the expansion of solar and wind energy. Some unions can be hurt by the immediate consequences of global warming -- witness those in the hospitality industry in New Orleans.

In the past, organized labor has played an ambiguous role in the global warming debate. Labor unions from Europe, Canada and elsewhere supported the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, in which 172 countries agreed to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases by 5.2 percent below 1990 levels by 2012, but the AFL-CIO opposed it. The Clinton administration signed the agreement, but the Bush administration refused to submit it for ratification.

Unions from much of the world, represented by the International Trade Union Confederation [ITUC], which represents 168 million workers in 153 countries, participated actively in their countries' efforts to cut greenhouse gases in accord with the Kyoto Protocol, and to ensure that protection of employment and workers rights were included in that process.

A few U.S. unions, notably the United Steelworkers, supported the Kyoto Protocol and efforts to cut greenhouses gases in the U.S. -- and argued that doing so could create new jobs. But the AFL-CIO reaffirmed its opposition to Kyoto and rarely if ever acknowledged that global climate change was a significant threat.

Fortunately, all that has begun to change. At the end of 2006, the AFL-CIO formed a new Energy Task Force and began to engage with the issue in new ways. Its 2007 report, Jobs and Energy for the 21st Century, acknowledged that "human use of fossil fuels is undisputedly contributing to global warming, causing rising sea levels, changes in climate patterns and threats to coastal regions."

According to Bob Baugh, head of the AFL-CIO's energy task force, "Over the past year, the AFL-CIO's position on climate change has moved much closer to the ongoing efforts of the ITUC." Twenty U.S. trade unionists joined the ITUC delegation to the global climate change conference in Bali -- a first. AFL-CIO president John Sweeney told the UN Summit on Climate Risk last month,

"The global labor movement is proud to have been among those who called for decisive action at Bali ... Global warming means global depression, food and water shortages and drowned cities. I have stood in New Orleans' Ninth Ward and seen that future."

The change in organized labor's approach to climate change, however, has yet to be fully realized at a policy level. As Bob Baugh notes, "The ITUC has called for aggressive targets for cutting carbon emissions ... the AFL-CIO has concerns about the level and timing of some of the specific ITUC recommendations with respect to emissions targets."

This disagreement is not trivial. The ITUC has strongly backed the greenhouse gas reduction targets established by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), whose scientists recently received the Nobel Peace Prize along with Al Gore.

In a statement prepared for the Bali conference, the ITUC urged governments "to follow the IPCC scenario for keeping the global temperature within two degrees C and reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 85 percent by 2050." It further urged developed countries to use as a benchmark the EU's commitment to a 30 percent cut below 1990 levels by 2020.

The AFL-CIO, in contrast, has been actively lobbying against such limits on greenhouse gases. For example, in a letter to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last November, the AFL-CIO condemned the "overly aggressive Phase 1 emissions reduction target," to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent from 2005 levels by 2020, in the proposed Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act.

A few unions like the Steelworkers have supported the changes that climate scientists say are necessary. SEIU supported the national "Step It Up" demonstrations, which received massive participation from American youth. Now it's time for the AFL-CIO, Change to Win and individual unions to consider their responsibilities to their members' future -- and the planet's.

If what matters most is "to know what game you're playing," global warming promises to be history's most radical game-changer. While it is an unmitigated disaster, it also provides an incentive to face up to problems that the country has been avoiding for generations. It underlines the necessity to reconstruct the economy on the basis of our common needs, including our need to save the ecosystem, rather than just individual greed. It provides an opportunity to address synergistically the problems of jobs, poverty, destructive metropolitan growth patterns and corporate irresponsibility. Global warming provides labor with an opportunity to become the advocate for all those who would gain from a new social economy.

Pelosi and Dem Leaders Complicit in Bush's Torture Policy?

What did Congressional Democrats know, and when did they know it?

Is it possible that many Democratic leaders have been informed by the Bush administration over the years about its doubtfully legal activities?

If so, are they therefore complicit in the Bush administration's lawlessness?

It's just been disclosed that Representative Jane Harmon and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were briefed by the Bush administration on the use of waterboarding. Harmon objected but Pelosi did not -- and when she became speaker of the house, she rejected Harmon for chair of the House Intelligence Committee.

The Administration has frequently responded to charges of Executive usurpation by saying the Congressional leaders were fully briefed on such questionable practices as NSA surveillance, extraordinary rendition, and enhanced interrogation techniques.

And evidence is mounting that they were. According to the Washington Post, since 2002 leading Democrats lawmakers received "about 30 private CIA briefings, some of which included descriptions of waterboarding, overseas rendition sites, "and other harsh interrogation methods." Officials present at some of the meetings, told the Post that the reaction from legislators "was not just approval, but encouragement."

If so, it would answer one of the great mysteries of 2007. The Democrats, once in control of Congress, had the courage to pursue cutoff of funds for the Iraq war, even though the Bush administration was happy to take advantage of their effort by characterizing it as failure to support the troops. The obvious companion strategy would have been to conduct intensive investigations to show that the entire Bush project has been to subvert law and Constitutional government in the interests of aggrandizing power nationally and internationally.

But Congressional Democrats have systematically avoided serious investigation of Bush administration lawlessness, and so far have retreated from using the power of contempt when the Bush officials have refused to respond to subpoenas.

Could this be because some Democratic leaders in effect colluded in Bush administration crimes -- knew about them but failed to report them?

Senator Joseph Biden has just called for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the destruction of the terror tapes. But Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, opposes this, telling the Associated Press, "I don't think there's a need for a special counsel, and I don't think there's a need for a special commission. It is the job of the intelligence committees to do that."

But if Congressional Democrats may be complicit in the Bush administration's crimes, isn't this a proposal that Rockefeller and his fellow members of Congress be allowed to investigate themselves?

The same logic applies to other cases of Bush administration lawlessness. According to Seymour Hersh, for example, the NIE report on Iran has been suppressed for months by Dick Cheney. It's hard to believe that Democratic Congressional leaders didn't know about it. Did they ask to be briefed on it? Were they briefed on it? Did they know that the intellegence community disavowed Bush's falsehoods about Iran? If so, what did they do about it? If they knew and did nothing, what is their level of complicity?

The only way for Congressional Democrats to clear themselves from the suspicion of complicity in Bush administration crimes is to appoint a special prosecutor, empowered to investigate not only the destruction of the torture tapes, but also other government crimes and efforts to conceal those crimes. Otherwise, their "investigations" may appear to be little more than another layer of cover-up.

Labor Goes to Bali: Unions Ready to Take on Global Warming

This week trade unionists from around the world will travel to Bali for the December 3rd launch of negotiations for a successor to the Kyoto Protocol limiting greenhouse gasses. It will include delegates from such U.S unions as the Electrical Workers (IUE), Mine Workers, Service Employees, Boilermakers, Steelworkers, Communication Workers, Transport Workers (TWU), and UNITE HERE garment and textile workers. It will also include the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council as well as such labor-oriented groups as the Blue-Green Alliance, the Cornell Global Labor Institute, and the Labor Research Association.

The Kyoto Protocol was signed by 172 countries - not including the U.S. The AFL-CIO, which then represented the great majority of all U.S. unions, opposed the Kyoto protocol. What will be the stance of American labor toward an even stronger version for the future?

The devastating realities of climate change, and the scientific consensus around its cause and cure, are shifting the global political climate. In Australia, Prime Minister John Howard is defeated by the Australian Labor Party partly because of his intransigent opposition to effective action on global warming. Rightwing French Prime Minister Nicolas Sarkozy visits Washington and lectures George Bush on his failure to address the global warming crisis. Rupert Murdoch announces his papers will go green. A major power company cuts back on new plants because they would contribute to global warming. It remains to be seen whether this trend will also change American labor.

The attitude of U.S. unions may be critical to how well the world addresses the crisis of global warming. Despite its waning power, labor retains a critical position in controlling energy legislation in Congress. According to the highly respected Congressional reporting of Congressional Quarterly, lawmakers in Congress view support of the AFL-CIO as "essential" to passing any climate change bill. James Grumet of the nonpartisan National Commission on Energy Policy says, "If you don't have organized labor, you can't get something through" Congress.

The international labor movement has responded valiantly to global warming. It has taken a strong stance in support of international and national limits on greenhouse gas emissions. In a statement prepared for the Bali meeting, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC, successor to the ICFTU) noted the tangible impacts of climate change for millions of workers' communities and workplaces, including droughts, floods, and diseases. And it put the issue in a broad historic frame:

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Will the Military Halt an Iran Attack?

Sometimes history -- and necessity -- make strange bedfellows. The German general staff transported Lenin to Russia to lead a revolution. Union-buster Ronald Reagan played godfather to the birth of the Polish Solidarity union. Equally strange -- but perhaps equally necessary -- is the addressee of a new appeal signed by Daniel Ellsberg, Cindy Sheehan, Ann Wright and many other leaders of the American peace movement:

"ATTENTION: Joint Chiefs of Staff and all U.S. Military Personnel: Do not attack Iran."

The initiative responds to the growing calls for an attack on Iran from the likes of Norman Podhoretz and John Bolton, and the reports of growing war momentum in Washington by reporters like Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker and Joe Klein of Time. International lawyer Scott Horton says European diplomats at the recent United Nations General Assembly gathering in New York "believe that the United States will launch an air war on Iran, and that it will occur within the next six to eight months." He puts the likelihood of conflict at 70 percent.

The initiative also responds to the recent failure of Congress to pass legislation requiring its approval before an attack on Iran and the hawk-driven resolution encouraging the President to act against the Iranian military. Marcy Winograd, president of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, who originally suggested the petition, told The Nation:

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Guantánamo, Dred Scott and the Amistad

Can a US court declare that a group of human beings have no rights and can be enslaved or abused at will with no legal recourse? That question will soon be coming before the Supreme Court.

In the last days of 2006, the GOP-led Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, which among other things stripped the right of habeas corpus from the captives held at Guantánamo. In late February the District of Columbia Court of Appeals upheld that part of the law. Now both the Center for Constitutional Rights, which represents the captives, and the Solicitor General's Office have asked the Court for expedited review at its next conference on March 30.

Before they make a final decision, the Justices should consider the cases of two of the Court's most famous imprisoned petitioners: the freed slave Dred Scott and the captive voyagers on the slave ship Amistad.

The Dred Scott decision is often regarded as the most shameful in the history of the Supreme Court. Scott was held as a slave even though his late owner had promised to free him at his own death. Scott's petition for a writ of habeas corpus was granted and upheld by the lower courts. But it was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1857 on the grounds that a Negro has "no rights which the white man was bound to respect ... They are not included, and were not intended to be included, under the word 'citizens' in the Constitution, and can therefore claim none of the rights and privileges which that instrument provides for and secures to citizens of the United States."

A century and a half later, in Boumediene v. Bush and Al-Odah v. United States, the DC Court of Appeals has similarly overturned writs of habeas corpus granted by lower courts on the grounds that this fundamental right can be denied to a specified group of human beings. The court ruled that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 strips Guantánamo detainees of the right to challenge their detention in US federal courts. Hina Shamsi, deputy director of Human Rights First's Law and Security Program, explains it this way: "The Court of Appeal's ruling runs counter to one of the most important checks on unbridled executive power enshrined in the US Constitution: the right to challenge imprisonment in a full and fair proceeding. If allowed to stand, this ruling would permit the government to hold prisoners, potentially indefinitely, without having to show to a court of law why the person has been detained."

Before the Justices risk going down the shameful road to a modern-day version of the Dred Scott decision, they should also consider the landmark decision from an earlier struggle for human rights -- the 1841 Amistad case, restored to our national memory by Stephen Spielberg's movie Amistad.

In the Amistad case, the Supreme Court courageously held that human rights and the rule of law must apply to captives who had been seized in Africa and imprisoned in the United States.

The Amistad captives were mostly Mendi people -- men and children abducted in their homeland of Sierra Leone, shipped to Cuba and sold as slaves. They revolted, seized control of the Amistad and sailed up the Atlantic coast towards New England and they were captured by the US Navy and imprisoned in Connecticut. The US Attorney General -- an appointee of President Martin Van Buren, who curried favor with the Southern slaveocracy -- demanded that the courts turn them over for delivery to Spanish authorities -- even planning to send them on an official US government ship so Connecticut courts could not intercede with a writ of habeas corpus.

The Amistad case and today's Guantánamo cases raise the same two fundamental questions of human rights and the rule of law: Does the executive branch of government ever have the authority to seize people, imprison them and abuse them with no appeal to a court? And does the executive ever have authority to act without any possibility of review by the judiciary? In the Amistad case, the Supreme Court answered no to both questions.

The executive's position in the Amistad case met withering scorn from former President John Quincy Adams -- splendidly portrayed in Spielberg's movie by Anthony Hopkins -- who defended the Amistad captives before the Supreme Court.

Adams charged that the government was depriving the captives of the most fundamental rights. "Have the officers of the US Navy a right to seize men by force ... to fire at them, to overpower them, to disarm them, to put them on board of a vessel and carry them by force and against their will to another state, without warrant or form of law? ... Is it for this court to sanction such monstrous usurpation and executive tyranny?"

Adams condemned the Van Buren Administration's attempt to usurp the authority of the courts. Perhaps, Adams conceded, it may be easy for the royal governor at Havana "to seize any man" and "send him beyond seas for any purpose." But "has the President of the United States any such powers? Can the American executive do such things?"

Adams argued that overriding the jurisdiction of the courts "would be the assumption of a control over the judiciary by the President, which would overthrow the whole fabric of the Constitution; it would violate the principles of our government generally and in every particular."

The Supreme Court ruled that US courts were bound to protect the rights of the Amistad captives. The rights of the case "must be decided upon the eternal principles of justice and international law." To rule otherwise would "take away the equal rights of all foreigners, who should contest their claims before any of our courts, to equal justice," or "deprive such foreigners of the protection given them" by "the general law of nations."

In 1841 the Supreme Court took a bold stand against executive tyranny and for human rights and the rule of law. Now the Court is again being asked whether the United States will remain a government under law or whether we allow it to become a presidential dictatorship. The pending action in the Guantánamo cases will test whether it wishes to be remembered along with the authors of the monstrous Dred Scott decision or rather with the friends of freedom who defended the human rights of the Amistad captives.

Bush's Guatemala Visit Spotlights His Cruel Immigration Policies

President Bush got a big surprise on his goodwill visit to Guatemala this week. Protesters filled the streets of Guatemala City to denounce an immigration raid that took place at a leather goods factory in New Bedford, Massachusetts on March 6th. The raid resulted in the arrest of 361 people, most of them undocumented immigrants from Guatemala and El Salvador. Even the President of Guatemala criticized the raids in his welcoming speech to Bush on his arrival. This is big news in Guatemala because 10% of the entire Guatemalan population -- many of them undocumented -- lives in the US.

The press in Guatemala - and in Massachusetts -- has been filled with stories of the raid and its aftermath of families shattered, children separated from their parents, and children being held in federal custody. According to The New York Times:

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Will Bush Provoke a Constitutional Crisis?

While the November elections provided the Democratic Party a public mandate to end the war in Iraq, President Bush has signaled his intent to utilize his institutional powers as Commander in Chief to maintain and even escalate the U.S. commitment, public or congressional opinion notwithstanding. The Democratic leadership has removed two obvious ways to stop him -- impeachment and a cutoff of war funds -- from the table. Some Democrats have even indicated they will acquiesce in the sending of tens of thousands more troops to Iraq.

For those for in Congress and the public whom acquiescence is not an option, there remains an indirect route to challenging Presidential war-making power and force withdrawal from Iraq. That is to so discredit the Administration in the eyes of the public that neither Republican politicians nor the military, the intelligence agencies, the foreign policy establishment, or the corporate elite will allow it to continue on its catastrophic course. That requires a devastating exposure of the criminality, corruption, stupidity, and false premises of those who are making the decisions.

The road to withdrawal from Iraq, in short, may run through a congressional hearing room. But whether it does will depend in large part on how Democrats go about their investigations and how much the public demands they truly confront the Bush administration's criminality.

Just in the first three weeks of the session, Senate Democrats plan to call at least 13 hearings on Iraq.1 On the House side, Rep. John Murtha has promised to hold two hearings a day for several months beginning on January 17th, and many others are planned as well.

The Democrats' investigations could follow either of two strategies. One is to use hearings simply to service their '08 election goals by revealing some blemishes in Bush's Iraq policy -- while letting the war, torture, spying, and other crimes continue unimpeded. The alternate is to investigate with the intent of driving a dagger into the soft underbelly of the Bush juggernaut -- its criminal violation of the U.S. Constitution and U.S. and international law and its criminal coverup of its abuses.

The upcoming hearings will undoubtedly include demands for information that the Administration has up till now refused to provide. The consequence will be a power struggle which could -- if Democrats so choose -- be the defining moment in the effort to establish legal and constitutional accountability for the Bush administration -- and thereby force it to end the war.

The Bush administration has been historic in its refusal to share information with Congress or the public. It has strong motivations to continue to conceal such information, such as avoiding humiliation, further public exposure, and probable criminal liability. It has sent strong signals it will indeed refuse to provide such information. As Time magazine wrote just before the election:

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U.S. Corporations Work to Prevent Chinese Workers' Rights

The New York Times reported on its front page Friday that U.S.-based corporations are fighting a proposed Chinese law that seeks to protect workers' rights. The law is "setting off a battle with American and other foreign corporations that have lobbied against it by hinting that they may build fewer factories here."

The Times reports that Global Labor Strategies, a group that supports labor rights policies, is releasing a report in New York and Boston "denouncing American corporations for opposing legislation that would give Chinese workers stronger rights."

"'You have big corporations opposing basically modest reforms," said Tim Costello, an official of the group and a longtime labor union advocate. "This flies in the face of the idea that globalization and corporations will raise standards around the world.'" The Times article drew heavily on the Global Labor Strategies report, Beyond the Great Wall: U.S. Corporations Opposing New Rights for Chinese Workers which was released today. (The Spanish translation is available here.)

According to the report, U.S.-based global corporations like Wal-Mart, Google, UPS, Microsoft, Nike, AT&T, and Intel, acting through U.S. business organizations like the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai and the U.S.-China Business Council, are actively lobbying against the new labor legislation. They are also threatening that foreign corporations will withdraw from China if it is passed. China's Draft Labor Contract Law would provide minimal standards that are commonplace in many other countries, such as enforceable labor contracts, severance pay regulations, and negotiations over workplace policies and procedures. The Chinese government is supporting these reforms in part as a response to rising labor discontent.

Corporate opposition to the law is designed to maintain the status quo in Chinese labor relations. This includes low wages, extreme poverty, denial of basic rights and minimum standards, lack of health and safety protections, and an absence of any legal contract for many employees.

According to Beyond the Great Wall, the proposed legislation will not eliminate Chinese labor problems. It will not provide Chinese workers with the right to independent trade unions with leaders of their own choosing and the right to strike. But foreign corporations are attacking the legislation not because it provides workers too little protection, but because it provides them too much. Indeed, the proposed law may well encourage workers to organize to demand the enforcement of the rights it offers.

This corporate campaign contradicts the justifications that have been given for public policies that encourage corporations to invest in China. U.S.-based corporations have repeatedly argued that they are raising human and labor rights standards abroad. For example, the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong asserts among its "universal principles" that "American business plays an important role as a catalyst for positive social change by promoting human welfare and guaranteeing to uphold the dignity of the worker and set positive examples for their remuneration, treatment, health and safety." But U.S.-based corporations are trying to block legislation designed to improve the remuneration, treatment, health and safety, and other standards of Chinese workers.

At a time when China exerts a growing impact on the global economy, efforts to improve the conditions of Chinese workers are profoundly important for workers everywhere. As U.S. wages stagnate, many Americans worry that low wages and labor standards in China are driving down those in America. Improving labor conditions in China can help workers in the rest of the world resist a "race to the bottom" that threatens to bring wages and conditions worldwide down to the level of the least protected. The opposition of corporations to minimum standards for Chinese workers should be of concern to workers and their political and trade union representatives throughout the world.

Bush's Fight with Congress over Torture Defines Our Character



In a significant rebuff to President Bush and his security-driven strategy for Republican victory in November, the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday rejected the President's military detainee bill and passed a radically different alternative. At stake in this standoff between the President and the Senate are legal and moral issues central to the Constitution and the character of the American people: the right to a fair trial, the use of torture, the accountability of high government officials for war crimes. It also tests the powers of Congress and the Supreme Court to rein in an errant executive.






In the run-up to the midterm elections, the Bush Administration seeks to position Republicans as tough in pursuing the "war on terror," and to present Democrats as soft. By revealing recently that the government had been holding captives in secret jails and aims to try them at Guantánamo Bay, Bush and his advisers signaled that they are clearly hoping for an upswell of public support for Republicans who are "tough on terror."





But it was Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee, not Democrats, who led the battle this week against the President's proposal: John Warner, Lindsey Graham and John McCain were joined in the 15-to-9 committee vote by Susan Collins of Maine.




The President's proposal seeks to roll back two important decisions rendered by the Supreme Court on the legal rights and treatment of terror suspects: Hamdan v. Rumsfeld and Rasul v. Bush. It would establish tribunals at Guantánamo that would deny the most basic legal protections required by the Geneva Conventions, allow the use of hearsay evidence and evidence obtained by coercion, and allow defendants to be convicted on the basis of evidence they had never seen.




It also guts much of the War Crimes Act, which makes it a federal crime for an American to commit "grave violations" of the Geneva Conventions. While the Administration claims it is concerned about protecting CIA interrogators, its bill would also protect mercenaries and top government officials from prosecution. And it would apply retroactively to September 11, 2001.




The Senate Armed Services Committee bill, in contrast, aims to establish Guantánamo tribunals in accordance with the standards set out in the Supreme Court's Hamdan decision. And it would leave much more of the War Crimes Act intact. Nonetheless, the Warner bill has some significant flaws.





According to an analysis by Georgetown Law School professor and former Clinton official Marty Lederman, posted on his Balkinization blog, the Warner bill would reverse the Supreme Court's Rasul v. Bush decision by eliminating the power of the federal courts to hear the habeas corpus claims of any noncitizen detained overseas or any individual who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant "other than in very circumscribed appeals from decisions of the Civilian Status Review Commissions or military tribunals."




This provision would foreclose hundreds of Guantánamo detainee claims currently pending before the courts. J. Wells Dixon of the Center for Constitutional Rights told The Nation: "For more than 200 years our nation has adhered to the fundamental principle that our government is one of laws, not men. The Administration and Warner bills threaten that tradition by stripping the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear pending habeas cases brought by Guantánamo detainees. If enacted, these bills would authorize the life-long detention of more than 450 men who have been imprisoned in Guantánamo for nearly five years without ever having been charged with an offense or receiving a fair hearing. This is unconscionable. Every person detained by our nation must receive a fair hearing -- one that does not rely on secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion -- because fairness and due process are what America stands for. We would demand nothing less for members of our military if they were captured abroad by our enemies. Congress should reject any provision that abandons habeas corpus."




The Warner bill would also amend the War Crimes Act to provide effective legal cover for many of the CIA's "alternative" techniques -- including use of hypothermia, sleep deprivation and threats of violence against detainees and their families.





In short, while some kind of trial for some alleged enemy combatants may well be appropriate, the Warner/McCain/Graham bill should not be seen as an acceptable alternative to the Bush bill. Basic human rights should not be abridged on the back of an envelope without hearings or debate.




Passage of the President's bill seems assured in the House of Representatives. Despite the objection of some Democrats, the House Armed Services Committee majority -- including twenty of its twenty-eight Democrats -- voted September 13 to send a bill incorporating the President's plans to the full House.





The most visible House dissent has come from a group of twenty-four Democrats led by Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who wrote, "We are opposed to any changes in the War Crimes Act that would have the effect of undermining the proscriptions against torture or other cruel or degrading treatment contained in the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture."




Senate majority leader Bill Frist has threatened to bring the Administration's bill, instead of the Warner measure, to the Senate floor, inviting a showdown. If and when that happens, Warner may try to amend it with the provisions of the committee's bill. The Administration may hold its fire until the House-Senate conference committee meets to negotiate a final text. But at present Warner and his allies seem to have the votes to block a conference committee bill that incorporates the President's proposal.




To complicate matters further, there may be an effort to roll the detainee bill together with another measure on warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency, of which House and Senate committees have passed radically differing versions. Since Congress is scheduled to adjourn in two weeks, deadlock seems at least as likely as new legislation. The good news is that with a deadlock, the Rasul and Hamdan decisions -- as well as the War Crimes Act -- remain intact.





Principle has played some role in the resistance to the Bush Administration. McCain has said he won't back down even if it ruins his chance of becoming President in 2008. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Bush's own military law chiefs and other military officials have made ringing defenses of the Geneva Conventions and have warned that tampering with them would threaten America's global reputation and the well-being of its military personnel captured in the future.




But the political context is also critical. Five years after 9/11, the Republican strategy has been to take attention off an unpopular war by railing against terrorism. But increasing concerns are surfacing within the GOP over the Administration's security proposals, the President's approval rate has plummeted and support for the Iraq War, which has now lasted longer than World War II, is waning.




House Republicans have responded to the President's order to "jump" by saying, "How high?" But as Jonathan Weisman wrote in the September 14 Washington Post, "by backing the president's legislative demands, the [Republican] leadership risks being labeled by Democrats as a rubber stamp for an unpopular president."





Republican support for a law that countenances torture, prisoner abuse and repudiation of the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the Geneva Conventions could provide an important issue for Democratic Congressional candidates. But Democratic House candidates can't criticize Republicans if they are supporting Bush's legislation themselves -- as a majority of Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee have done. A strong Democratic position against the President's bill now could be a real boost for Democratic House candidates challenging House Republicans.




The fight over military tribunals and torture is far more than a partisan issue. In Connecticut, for example, religious activists affiliated with the National Religious Campaign Against Torture have initiated a campaign that seeks to hold all Senate and House candidates in the state accountable for their positions on torture and the abuse of executive power. They have begun meeting with Congressional candidates and injecting the torture issue into campaign events.





Connecticut is particularly important because it features three tight House races and the bellwether Ned Lamont-Joe Lieberman contest. The religious activists take some credit for having encouraged Lamont to adopt a much more outspoken position on torture. Lieberman is particularly vulnerable on the issue because he was one of only five Democratic senators who voted for a Republican bill to strip Guantánamo captives of the 800-year-old right to habeas corpus, and because he was one of only six Democrats who voted to confirm Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General -- after endorsing the conclusions of Gonzales's notorious "torture memo." He's claiming to be a moral leader who is not in bed with President Bush. The religious activists are now organizing a media event with clerics from varied denominations to ask Connecticut's two senators, Lieberman and Dodd, to come out with a forthright stand against the President's bill.

Lt. Watada's War Against the War

In a remarkable protest from inside the ranks of the military, First Lieut. Ehren Watada has become the Army's first commissioned officer to publicly refuse orders to fight in Iraq on grounds that the war is illegal. The 28-year-old announced his decision not to obey orders to deploy to Iraq in a video press conference June 7, saying, "My participation would make me party to war crimes."

An artillery officer stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington, Watada wore a business suit rather than his military uniform when making his statement. "It is my conclusion as an officer of the armed forces that the war in Iraq is not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law," he said. "Although I have tried to resign out of protest, I am forced to participate in a war that is manifestly illegal. As the order to take part in an illegal act is ultimately unlawful as well, I must as an officer of honor and integrity refuse that order."

A native of Hawaii who enlisted in the Army after graduating from college in 2003, Watada differs from other military personnel who have sought conscientious-objector status to avoid deployment to Iraq.

Watada told Truthout's Sarah Olson that at first he gave the Bush Administration the benefit of the doubt as it built the case for war. But when he discovered he was being sent to Iraq, he began reading everything he could, such as James Bamford's Pretext for War. He concluded that the war was based on false pretenses, ranging from the nonexistent weapons of mass destruction to the claim that Saddam had ties to Al Qaeda and 9/11 to the idea that the United States is in Iraq to promote democracy.

His investigation led him to question the very legality of the war. In an interview with Democracy Now!, he explained that as he read articles by experts on international and constitutional law, reports from governmental and nongovernmental agencies, revelations from independent journalists, writings by the Iraqi people and the words of soldiers coming home, "I came to the conclusion that the war and what we're doing over there is illegal."

First, he concluded that the war violates the Constitution and War Powers Act, which, he said, "limits the President in his role as commander in chief from using the armed forces in any way he sees fit." Watada also concluded that "my moral and legal obligation is to the Constitution and not to those who would issue unlawful orders."

Second, he claims the war is illegal under international law. He discovered that "the U.N. Charter, the Geneva Convention and the Nuremberg principles all bar wars of aggression." The Constitution makes such treaties part of American law as well.

These are not wild legal claims. Watada's conclusions are supported by mountains of evidence and experts, including the judgment of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, who in 2004 declared that the U.S. invasion was "not in conformity with the U.N. Charter, and from our point of view ... was illegal."

Watada said he came to recognize that the military conduct of the occupation is also illegal: "If you look at the Army Field Manual, 27-10, which governs the laws of land warfare, it states certain responsibilities for the occupying power. As the occupying power, we have failed to follow a lot of those regulations." He told ABC News that the "wholesale slaughter and mistreatment of the Iraqi people" is "a contradiction to the Army's own law of land warfare."

While ongoing media coverage of the protest debates whether Watada's action is one of cowardice or conscience, so far the seriousness of his legal claims have been largely ignored. Watada's position is different from that of conscientious objectors, who oppose all wars. "I'm not just against bearing arms or fighting people. I am against an unjustified war," he said.

Can such a claim be heard in a military court? In 2004, Petty Officer Pablo Paredes refused to board his Iraq-bound ship in San Diego Harbor, claiming to be a conscientious objector. At his court-martial, Paredes testified that he was convinced that the Iraq war was illegal. National Lawyers Guild president-elect Marjorie Cohn presented evidence to support his claim. The military judge, Lieut. Cmdr. Robert Klant, accepted Paredes's war-crimes defense and refused to send him to jail. The government prosecutor's case was so weak that Cohn, in a report published on Truthout, noted that Klant declared ironically, "I believe the government has just successfully proved that any seaman recruit has reasonable cause to believe that the wars in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq were illegal."

One of Germany's highest courts heard a case last year regarding a German soldier who refused to participate in military activities as part of the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. The Federal Administrative Court issued a long and detailed decision in his favor, saying, "There were and still are serious legal objections to the war against Iraq...relating to the U.N. Charter's prohibition of the use of violence and other provisions of international law."

Watada's case comes amid a growing questioning of the Iraq war in all levels of the military. A February Zogby poll found that 72 percent of American troops serving in Iraq think the United States should leave the country within the next year, and more than one in four say the United States should leave immediately. While the "generals' revolt" against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld didn't challenge the legality of the war per se, many retired military leaders have strongly condemned the use of torture and other violations of international and military law.

According to USA Today, at least 8,000 service members have deserted since the Iraq War began. The Guardian reports that there are an estimated 400 Iraq War deserters in Canada, of whom at least twenty have applied for asylum. An Army spokesman says that ten other servicemen besides Watada have refused to go to Iraq.

Resistance in the military played a critical role in ending the French war in Algeria, the Israeli occupation of Lebanon and the American war in Vietnam. Such resistance not only undermines the capacity of a government to conduct wars; it also challenges the moral claims that are used to justify them and inspires others to examine their own responsibilities.

Watada's action comes as the issue of U.S. war crimes in Iraq is inexorably creeping into the public spotlight. Senator John Warner has promised to hold hearings on the alleged Haditha massacre. The U.N. Committee Against Torture has declared that the United States is engaging in illegal torture at Guantánamo and elsewhere. An investigation by the European Union has found overwhelming evidence of the rendition of prisoners to other countries for torture.

Watada's highly publicized stand will no doubt lead others to ask what they are doing to halt such crimes. Unless the Army assigns him somewhere besides Iraq or permits him to resign his commission, he will now face court-martial for refusing to serve as ordered and possibly years in prison.

According to an ominous statement released by the Army commanders at Fort Lewis in response to Watada's press conference: "For a commissioned officer to publicly declare an apparent intent to violate military law by refusing to obey orders is a serious matter and could subject him to adverse action."

Watada's decision to hold a press conference and post his statements online puts him at serious risk. In theory, if the Army construes his public statements as an attempt to encourage other soldiers to resist, he could be charged with mutiny under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which considers those who act "with intent to usurp or override lawful military authority, refuses, in concert with any other person, to obey orders or otherwise do his duty or creates any violence or disturbance is guilty of mutiny." The conservative group Military Families Voice of Victory is already "demanding the Army prosecute Lt. Watada to the fullest extent under the Uniform Code of Military Justice."

Watada told Truthout's Olson that when he started to question the war, he he felt, like so many in and out of the military, that "there was nothing to be done, and this administration was just continually violating the law to serve their purpose, and there was nothing to stop them." But he realized that there was something he personally could do: "It is my duty not to follow unlawful orders and not to participate in things I find morally reprehensible."

"The one God-given freedom and right that we really have is freedom of choice," Watada says, echoing the profound message of Mohandas Gandhi. "I just want to tell everybody, especially people who doubt the war, that you do have that one freedom. And that's something that they can never take away. Yes, they will imprison you. They'll throw the book at you. They'll try to make an example out of you, but you do have that choice."

Even facing prison time, Watada is firm. "When you are looking your children in the eye in the future, or when you are at the end of your life, you want to look back on your life and know that at a very important moment, when I had the opportunity to make the right decisions, I did so, even knowing there were negative consequences."

Watada's recognition of his duty provides a challenge not only to those in the military but to all Americans: "We all have a duty as American citizens for civil disobedience, and to do anything we can within the law to stop an illegal war."

Attack Iran, Ignore the Constitution

During the 2004 election, George W. Bush famously proclaimed that he didn't have to ask anyone's permission to defend America. Does that mean he can attack Iran without having to ask Congress? A new Congressional resolution being drafted by Representative Peter DeFazio, a Democrat from Oregon, can be a vehicle to remind Bush that he can't.

Bush is calling news reports of plans to attack Iran "wild speculation" and declaring that the United States is on a "diplomatic" track. But asked this week if his options included planning for a nuclear strike, he repeated that "all options are on the table."

The President is acting as if the decisions that may get us into another war are his to make and his alone. So the Iran crisis poses not only questions of military feasibility and political wisdom but of Constitutional usurpation.

Bush's top officials openly assert that he can do anything he wants--including attacking another country--on his authority as Commander in Chief.

Last October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was asked by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee whether the President would circumvent Congressional authorization if the White House chose military action against Iran or Syria. She answered, "I will not say anything that constrains his authority as Commander in Chief."

When pressed by Senator Paul Sarbanes about whether the Administration can exercise a military option without an authorization from Congress, Rice replied, "The President never takes any option off the table, and he shouldn't."

The founders of the American Republic were deeply concerned that the President's power to make war might become the vehicle for tyranny. So they crafted a Constitution that included checks and balances on presidential power, among them an independent Congress and judiciary, an executive power subject to laws written by Congress and interpreted by the courts, and an executive power to repel attacks but not to declare or finance war.

But the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, as laid out in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States and reiterated in 2006, claims for the President the power to attack other countries--like Iran--simply because he asserts they pose a threat. It thereby removes the decision of war and peace from Congress and gives it the President. It is, as Senator Robert Byrd put it, "unconstitutional on its face."

Congressional Response

DeFazio is now preparing a resolution underscoring the fact that the President cannot initiate military action against Iran without Congressional authorization. He is seeking support from other House members.

"The imperial powers claimed by this Administration are breathtaking in their scope. Unfortunately, too many of my colleagues were willing to cede our constitutional authorities to the President prior to the war in Iraq. We've seen how that turned out," DeFazio told The Nation. "Congress can't make the same mistake with respect to Iran. Yet the constant drumbeat we're hearing out of the Administration, in the press, from think tanks, etc., on Iran eerily echoes what we heard about Iraq.

"It likely won't be long until we hear from the President that he can take pre-emptive military action against Iran without Congressional authorization, which is what he originally argued about Iraq. Or that Congress has already approved action against Iran via some prior vote, which he also argued about Iraq," DeFazio said. "That is why it is so important to put the Administration, my colleagues and the American people on notice now that such arguments about unilateral presidential war powers have no merit. Our nation's founders were clear on this issue. There is no ambiguity."

There is considerable evidence that military action against Iran has already started. Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner (ret.) told CNN that "the decision has been made and military operations are under way." He said the Iranian ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency recently told him that the Iranians have captured dissident units "and they've confessed to working with the Americans." Journalist Seymour Hersh wrote in The New Yorker that "American combat troops are now operating in Iran." He quotes a government consultant who told him that the units were not only identifying targets but "studying the terrain, and giving away walking-around money to ethnic tribes, and recruiting scouts from local tribes and shepherds."

Representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio has written to Bush, noting, "The presence of US troops in Iran constitutes a hostile act against that country" and urged him to report immediately to Congress on all activities involving American forces in Iran.

Bipartisan Concern

Concern about presidential usurpation of the war power is not just a partisan matter. Former Vice President Al Gore this year joined with former Republican Congressman Bob Barr to express "our shared concern that America's Constitution is in grave danger." As Gore explained, "In spite of our differences over ideology and politics, we are in strong agreement that the American values we hold most dear have been placed at serious risk by the unprecedented claims of the Administration to a truly breathtaking expansion of executive power."

One of the stunning revelations of recent news stories is that top military brass are strongly opposed to the move toward military strikes. The Washington Post quotes a former CIA Middle East specialist that "the Pentagon is arguing forcefully against it." According to Hersh's reporting in The New Yorker, the Joint Chiefs of Staff "had agreed to give President Bush a formal recommendation stating that they are strongly opposed to considering the nuclear option for Iran."

The Bush Administration is putting military officials in a position where they will have to decide whether their highest loyalty is to the President or to the country and the Constitution. Lieut. Gen. Gregory Newbold (ret.), who recently called for the resignation of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has criticized the US military brass for its quiescence while the Bush Administration pursued "a fundamentally flawed plan" for "an invented war." Now he is calling on serving military officers to speak out.

The "generals' revolt" has not publicly targeted the plans to attack Iran. But its central critique concerns Rumsfeld's disregard for the military's evaluation of the costs of the Iraq War and the scale of commitment it would require. If a similar disregard of the costs of an attack on Iran aren't already the subtext of their action, it certainly is a logical concomitant.

The American people are by now deeply skeptical of Bush's reliability in matters of war and peace. In a recent Los Angeles Times poll, 54 percent of respondents said they did not trust President Bush to "make the right decision about whether we should go to war with Iran," compared with 42 percent who did. Forty percent said the war in Iraq had made them less supportive of military action against Iran. But Americans are being systematically deprived of any alternative view of the Iranian threat, the consequences of American policy choices or the real intentions of the Bush Administration.

Smoking Gun, Mushroom Cloud

Congress and the military allowed the Bush Administration to bamboozle the country with false information and scare talk prior to the Iraq War--and they share responsibility for the resulting catastrophe. Now we're hearing again about a smoking gun that will be a mushroom cloud. It's up to Congress and the military to make it clear that the President does not assume monarchical power over questions of war and peace.

Congress and the American people--who should make the decision about war and peace--haven't even heard the forceful arguments of military officials against military strikes. Calling those Pentagon officials to testify--and protecting them against Administration reprisals--would be a good place to start.

Colonel Gardiner, who specializes in war games and conducted one for Harper's magazine that simulated a US attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, concluded, "It's a path that leads to disaster in many directions." Unless preceded by a UN endorsement or an imminent Iranian attack, it's also aggression, a war crime under international law and the UN Charter. If Bush or his subordinates have already ordered military operations in Iran, it should be considered a criminal act.

The DeFazio resolution could provide a rallying point for a coalition to act pre-emptively to put checks and balances on the Bush Administration's usurpation of constitutional powers. Indeed, the growing evidence that the United States is already conducting military operations in Iran demonstrates the urgency of placing limits on executive power. Anyone who wants to avoid national catastrophe should get busy defending it. Otherwise, George Bush's legacy may be: "He bombed Iran, and the collateral damage wiped out the Constitution."

Wanted: A Few Good Americans

Anyone who sees the photographs of the victims of the Nazi concentration camps must wonder how human beings could ever have allowed such things to happen. They must wonder how people of good will could have stood by while their government committed atrocities in their name. In the wake of that nightmarish era, people often asked, "Where were the good Germans?"

After the publication of the long-suppressed pictures of Abu Ghraib victims and the United Nations finding that torture and abuse are still taking place at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo Bay, America has fashioned its own nightmare. We now must ask ourselves, "Where are the good Americans?"

After an eighteen-month study, five independent experts appointed by the U.N. Commission on Human Rights have just concluded that practices currently conducted at the U.S. prison in Guantánamo amount to torture: excessive violence, force-feeding of hunger-striking detainees and arbitrary detention of prisoners that violates their right under international law to challenge the legality of their captivity before an independ -- ent judicial body.

The Bush Administration has condemned the publication of the Abu Ghraib photos and has rejected the U.N. report as "fundamentally flawed." But Americans should be grateful that people in the rest of the world are helping us discover what the Administration is trying to conceal from its own citizens: It is conducting war crimes in our name.

The U.N. report makes recommendations that are simple and obvious:

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Reining in the President

The constitutional crisis facing the United States has only deepened as a result of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' testimony on warrantless domestic spying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Karl Rove's well-publicized scheme to tar critics of the secret NSA program as friends of terrorism has fallen flat.

Despite the committee's indulgence of Gonzales' stonewalling, the hearing revealed deep bipartisan concern about a presidency that defies all checks and balances. Committee chair Arlen Specter promised further hearings and said he would consider subpoenas for documents the Administration is withholding. These are the first indications that the institutions of restraint on presidential power, while comatose, may not be dead.

Further indications followed unexpectedly and quickly. The first was the call for a full Congressional inquiry into the warrantless spying program by Republican Representative Heather Wilson of New Mexico. A former National Security Council aide under George H.W. Bush, Wilson heads the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Technical and Tactical Intelligence, which oversees the National Security Agency.

In a New York Times interview Wednesday, she called for a "painstaking" review that would include not only classified briefings but access to internal documents and interviews with NSA staff. She also called for a briefing of the full House Intelligence Committee on the program's operational details.

Lo and behold, Gonzales and Gen. Michael Hayden, deputy to the director of U.S. national intelligence, showed up just hours later on Wednesday afternoon to brief the full House Intelligence Committee -- for the first time ever -- on the warrantless spying. Wilson claimed credit for the White House reversal but said, "I don't believe it complies with the National Security Act, which requires that the committees be kept fully informed of intelligence activities."

Meanwhile, the Republican chair of the House Judiciary Committee, James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, wrote a letter to Gonzales demanding answers by March 2 to fifty-one pointed questions about the warrantless surveillance program. And Specter announced he would introduce legislation requiring President Bush to have a special court examine the eavesdropping program.

These developments may seem like an earthquake after long years in which Bush scornfully defied all attempts at restraint and most of the Congress meekly acquiesced. But it is still a long way from effective checks and balances on executive power. The Bush Administration may still try to parlay its retreat into Congressional support for warrantless spying, just as it turned McCain's anti-torture bill into a legalization of prisoner abuse.

Seeking accountability

More forthright action is unlikely without public pressure. Turning Congressional concern into effective restraint will require a string of battles whose goal is not immediate victory but rather education of the public on why constitutional restraint on executive power matters. This kind of public education -- from Congressional hearings to courageous civic resistance -- is what finally terminated the criminal regimes of Senator Joe McCarthy and President Richard Nixon.

The next step toward any kind of accountability for Bush Administration criminality is to penetrate the wall of silence that surrounds Administration deceit. Leaks, ranging from the photos of Abu Ghraib to the Downing Street memos to the warrantless spying, have driven the anti-Bush backlash. Investigations like those proposed by Representative Wilson could well be the next arena.

The House Progressive Caucus has adopted an informal strategy of encouraging as many members of Congress as possible to introduce Resolutions of Inquiry. These ROIs allow members to pose factual questions to the President or Cabinet officials, and since the resolutions are privileged, relevant committees are required to report back to the House within fourteen legislative days.

In this session alone, Democrats have introduced twenty-two ROIs, the majority of which have centered on prewar intelligence, Plamegate and rendition. The assault began in July 2005, with Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others introducing a succession of seven ROIs in one month. The Downing Street memo ROI prompted extensive debate in the International Relations Committee about the role of Congressional oversight in relation to the war in Iraq, and while the resolution failed, the vote marked the first time all Democrats on the committee voted unanimously concerning Iraq.

On Wednesday, Progressive Caucus members turned their attention to questions of U.S. torture and rendition. Representative Ed Markey's resolution was one of three ROIs that came before the committee requesting documents on any person subject to torture after being transferred to another country by U.S. officials. It won support from Republicans James Leach, former chair of the Banking Committee, and antiwar conservative Ron Paul, but it was defeated by the Republican majority. Representative John Conyers and others now have their sights set on the NSA spying controversy, with four more ROIs expected to come up in the next few weeks.

The Senate is anticipating its own battles over information access and Congressional oversight. Last December, in response to the Administration's claims that Congress had access to the same intelligence as the President when deciding to go to war in Iraq, Senator Ted Kennedy offered an amendment to the Intelligence Authorization Bill requiring the disclosure of the President's Daily Briefs. The amendment passed with the support of Pat Roberts, Republican chair of the Intelligence Committee. The measure also included two other amendments requiring information on U.S. rendition policy. In response, for the first time twenty-seven years, the Senate failed to pass an intelligence authorization bill because an unknown senator placed a hold on the bill. Kennedy has refused to back down, promising a head-on clash with the Administration.

Abuse of Presidential authority is likely to come up in other venues as well. A debate lies ahead on renewal of the Patriot Act. Senator Specter has promised to hold hearings on the Guantánamo prison. The Senate leadership has promised Intelligence Committee hearings on the abuse of prewar intelligence. Looking further to the future are Representative Conyers' proposals for a special prosecutor, a vote of censure and a select committee to investigate impeachable offenses by President Bush. Human rights groups have recently brought suit to find NSA spying unconstitutional. And of course, there are the upcoming Congressional elections.

Foiling Rove's strategy

At the January meeting of the Republican National Committee, Karl Rove explicitly laid out a strategy to win the 2006 election by stigmatizing the Democratic Party as weak on national security. Bush, Cheney and Gonzales have followed Rove's script in their aggressive defense of warrantless NSA spying.

Nothing would make Rove happier than to have warrantless spying and other abuses of presidential authority treated as a partisan issue of Democrats against Republicans. But they aren't. As Al Gore recently observed, "Democrats as well as Republicans in the Congress must share the blame for not taking sufficient action to protest and seek to prevent what they consider a grossly unconstitutional program." Specter told the Washington Post, "I think they are seeing concerns in a lot of directions from all segments: Democrats and Republicans in all shades of the political spectrum."

One key to foiling Rove strategy is to treat government lawlessness as a nonpartisan concern. The combination of bipartisan complicity and bipartisan concern opens a new opportunity to split support for Bush's criminal activities and to build a coalition to terminate them.

This is possible because Rove's script isn't playing so well even in the Republican Party. Insight magazine quoted Republican Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska as saying, "I didn't like what Mr. Rove said, because it frames terrorism and the issue of terrorism and everything that goes with it, whether it's the renewal of the Patriot Act or the NSA wiretapping, in a political context." Before the Gonzales hearing Specter said that the spy program of his own party's President is in flat violation of the law. In a post-hearing interview with the Washington Post, Specter said of Gonzales, "He's smoking Dutch Cleanser!"

The Republican resistance is even more impressive given an Insight magazine report that Rove has threatened to put any Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who votes against the President on his blacklist, denying them political and financial support. Despite that, four of the ten Republicans on the committee, including South Carolina's Lindsey Graham, raised doubts about the legality of the NSA program.

Republican politicians are faced with contrary pulls. On the one hand they are fearful, as Rove warned them that the defection of even a few Republicans could be catastrophic for the 2006 elections. On the other hand, if the Bush Administration is crashing, they have an interest in distancing themselves from it so that they don't go down with it. Then there's always principle: Norman Ornstein, head of the American Enterprise Institute, estimates that a majority of Republicans in both houses, if polled in secret, would be concerned about the government's invasion of privacy.

Another key to foiling Rove's strategy is to focus on the fundamental issue of constitutional checks and balances on presidential power. The issue is not whether Republicans or Democrats care more about protecting Americans against terrorists; the question is who -- in or out of either party -- will stand up for the principles of constitutional democracy?

Conyers exemplifies what it means to articulate that frame. He told The Nation, "There is no doubt that our nation is at a constitutional crossroads, and the domestic spying scandal is just the tip of the iceberg. We can continue down the path of an out-of-control executive unwilling to account for his actions and a Congress unable to muster the will to challenge him, or we can return to a system of checks and balances, where Congress performs genuine oversight and stands up for our citizens' rights and liberties."

Such a frame both allows and requires the entire spectrum of Bush Administration criminality to be painted as part of the same picture: not just warrantless domestic spying but lying to Congress about weapons of mass destruction; conducting an aggressive war in violation of international law; engaging in torture of terror suspects; outsourcing of torture through "rendition"; secret prisons; use of white phosphorus and other illegal weapons in Iraq; and multiple other violations of national and international law. These are all actions that have been conducted and justified on the basis of an antidemocratic, anticonstitutional doctrine of unlimited presidential power.

None of this would be happening without the growing public distrust of President Bush and outrage over his debacle in Iraq. They underlie the Administration's inability to keep Congress in line. They are also the primary reason Rove's plan to wave the bloody shirt of 9/11 is less and less effective. But that growing alienation needs to find expression in a repudiation of those in high places who have committed and justified crimes -- and an irresistible public demand that those who are supposed to hold them accountable step forward to meet their responsibilities.

Bush's retreat on Congressional oversight of NSA spying is a small step, but it demonstrates the Administration's vulnerability to a bipartisan challenge based on constitutional principles. What is at stake is not just punishing the crimes already committed by the Bush Administration but making it possible to prevent Bush and his successors from committing similar or worse offenses in the future.

Commanding Responsibility from the Pentagon

A jury verdict in Memphis late last year caused little stir among the general public, but it may have caught the attention of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and other high officials of the Bush administration. The jury found Colonel Nicolas Carranza, former Vice Minister of Defense of El Salvador and now a U.S. citizen living in Memphis, responsible for overseeing the torture and killing in that country 25 years ago. Could similar charges be brought against high U.S. officials for the actions of their subordinates in Abu Ghraib, Falluja, and Guantanamo?

Carranza was sued by victims of armed forces under his control. The jury applied the principle of "command responsibility," which holds a superior legally responsible for human rights abuses by subordinates if the official knew or should have known about them and failed to prevent them or punish those who committed them.

Intelligence agency whistleblowers recently leaked to ABC News a list of six "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques" authorized for CIA agents in mid-March 2002. The agents, according to an ABC News report, did so "because the public needs to know the direction their agency has chosen."

The techniques included "Water Boarding:" "The prisoner is bound to an inclined board, feet raised and head slightly below the feet. Cellophane is wrapped over the prisoner's face and water is poured over him. Unavoidably, the gag reflex kicks in and a terrifying fear of drowning leads to almost instant pleas to bring the treatment to a halt." CIA officers who subjected themselves to the technique lasted an average of 14 seconds before caving in. According to John Sifton of Human Rights Watch, "It really amounts to a mock execution, which is illegal under international law."

President Bush has said "We do not torture." But according to a classified report by the CIA's own Inspector General John Helgerwon, the techniques appeared "to constitute cruel and degrading treatment under the [Geneva] convention." If so, they are likely to be crimes not only under international law, but under the U.S. Anti-Torture and War Crimes Acts.

Where they have acknowledged prisoner abuse, Bush administration officials have often blamed it on a few "bad apples" at the bottom of the chain of command. But under the principle of command responsibility, this is no excuse -- and no legal defense.

Colin Powell's top aide, Colonel Larry Wilkerson, said late last year that the United States has tortured and, "There's no question in my mind where the philosophical guidance and the flexibility in order to do so originated -- in the vice president of the United States' office."

According to Wilkerson, "His implementer in this case was Donald Rumsfeld and the Defense Department." Wilkerson explained, "The vice president had to cover this in order for it to happen and in order for Secretary Rumsfeld to feel as though he had freedom of action."

The former commander at Abu Ghraib prison, Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, confirms Wilkerson's charge: Abusive techniques at Abu Ghraib were "delivered with full authority and knowledge of the secretary of defense and probably Cheney."

This is not just a question of past abuses. According to Wilkerson, "There's no doubt in my mind that we may still be doing it." When the vice president of the United States "lobbies the Congress on behalf of cruel and unusual punishment" Wilkerson says he can "only assume" that "it's still going on."

Asked whether Cheney was guilty of a war crime, Col. Wilkerson said the vice president's actions were certainly a domestic crime and, he would suspect, "an international crime as well." Wilkerson says his charges are based on an "audit trail" he prepared for Secretary Powell, including government memoranda and reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Criminal investigation is warranted where facts or circumstances "reasonably indicate" that a crime has been committed. Wilkerson's charges are sufficient in themselves to require the Department of Justice to immediately open a criminal investigation of Vice President Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. Such an investigation could take as its starting point Wilkerson's "audit trail," the statements of CIA agents and the CIA Inspector General, and extensive published evidence indicating torture and prisoner abuse by U.S. personnel around the world.

If I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby and other high government officials can be investigated for outing Valerie Plame, don't facts that "reasonably indicate" war crimes and crimes against humanity deserve equal time?

Bush administration officials have said over and over that they have acted within the law. If so, they have nothing to fear from an investigation and should encourage one to clear the air.

The United States is supposed to have "equal justice under law." Colonel Carranza has had his day in court. We as citizens -- and our prosecutors, judges, and elected representatives -- need to address the question: When will Vice President Cheney, Secretary Rumsfeld, and their collaborators get theirs?

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