New!! Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues - Edited by Marjorie Cohn with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
"Very important book" (Noam Chomsky)

Now out in paperback: The United States and Torture - A "gripping, interdisciplinary work" - see NYU Press.
"the best collection of essays on the topic" (Erwin Chemerinksy, Dean, UC Irvine Law School)
"an extraordinarily important book" (John W. Dean, Nixon White House counsel)

Order Rules of Disengagement“on the side of US service members who didn't check their conscience - and their sense of honor - at the door when they signed up." - see Truthout review.

Also, order Cowboy Republic - Makes the case for prosecuting Bush officials "with equisite legal detail" in "straightforward, everyman language" - see William Fisher review.

View Featured Broadcasts on Google and Professor Cohn's congressional testimony, interview on C-SPAN Book TV and
San Diego's "No War With Syria" rally.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Governors Have No Right to Exclude Syrian Refugees

As the world reels from the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris last week, more than half of US governors began lining up to scapegoat Syrian refugees fleeing violence in their country. Of those 27 governors, all but one are Republicans. Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire joined the gubernatorial group and called for the United States to refuse to admit those fleeing Syria. Many proclaimed they would deny entry to the refugees. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott wrote to President Barack Obama: "I write to inform you that the State of Texas will not accept any refugees from Syria in the wake of the deadly terrorist attack in Paris."

A Republican congressman from Tennessee, House Republican Caucus Chair Glen Casada, wants the National Guard to round up Syrian refugees already settled there and prevent others from entering Tennessee. "We need to activate the Tennessee National Guard and stop [Syrian refugees] from coming in to the state by whatever means we can," he said.

But only the federal government - not the states - has the power to decide if and where refugees can settle in this country.

The Law on States' Rights and Immigration

In 2012, the Supreme Court reaffirmed in Arizona v. United States that "The Government of the United States has broad, undoubted power over the subject of immigration and the status of aliens." Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, "Returning an alien to his own country may be deemed inappropriate ... The foreign state may be mired in civil war, complicit in political persecution, or enduring conditions that create a real risk that the alien or his family will be harmed upon return." Kennedy noted that under the supremacy clause of the US Constitution, "Congress has the power to preempt state law." States cannot regulate conduct in a field that Congress "has determined must be regulated by its exclusive governance," Kennedy added. "Federal law makes a single sovereign responsible for maintaining a comprehensive and unified system to keep track of aliens within the Nation's borders."

The 1980 Refugee Act grants authority to the president to determine how many refugees may be admitted to the United States. The president must consider whether "an unforeseen emergency refugee situation exists" and whether "the admission of certain refugees in response to the emergency refugee situation is justified by grave humanitarian concerns or is otherwise in the national interest."

Obama said he will continue with his plan to admit 10,000 Syrian refugees in 2015, stating "many of these refugees are the victims of terrorism themselves ... That's what they're fleeing. Slamming the door in their faces would be a betrayal of our values."

"Our nations can welcome refugees who are desperately seeking safety and ensure our own security," he added, citing rigorous screening and security checks. "We can and must do both."

Republican presidential candidates, including Marco Rubio and Ben Carson, oppose the admission of Syrian refugees to the United States. Donald Trump says if he's elected president, "they're going back."

Responding to Jeb Bush, who wants to focus assistance efforts on Christian refugees fleeing Syria, Obama retorted, "That's shameful. That's not American. That's not who we are. We don't have religious tests to our compassion." In fact, in addition to Christians, Kurds, Yazidis, Alawites, Shiite Muslims and Sunni Muslims have been targeted for persecution by ISIS.

Refugee Screening and Resettlement

While states cannot refuse to admit refugees, they may make resettlement more onerous by denying resources, including housing assistance, to the federal government. If governors tried to block certain categories of refugees, they would be vulnerable to discrimination lawsuits.

Security screenings for refugees are conducted by several federal agencies, including the US Department of Homeland Security, FBI, National Counterterrorism Center and National Security Council. "The vetting process now in place is already a dreadful maze - a Rubik's Cube of bureaucracies practically guaranteeing that few Syrians will ever set foot on our shores," according to James Jennings, president of Conscience International, a humanitarian organization that delivers aid to Syrian refugees in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. "The process takes up to three years and requires 21 steps with numerous agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, all required to sign off. There is next to no chance that a terrorist could get in under the present system. A greater threat is posed by considerable numbers of disaffected, angry young men who are already in the US."

Kevin Appleby, director of the Migration and Refugee Services Office of Migration and Refugee Policy at the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, concurs. "These refugees are the most vetted, they go through more security screening than any arrivals to the United States. It's not like Europe. It's a different scenario," he told the Los Angeles Times.

Muslims constitute the largest proportion of victims of terrorism, with those in Syria and Iraq leading the pack. Many of the Syrian refugees in Europe are escaping ISIS; others are fleeing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's repression. Iyad El-Baghdadi, an activist during the Arab Spring, monitors jihadist chatter on Twitter. "Nothing pissed off Islamist extremists" more than "watching [Europe's] very humane, moral response to the refugee crisis," he told teleSUR.

Indeed, according to a 2012 report of the US National Counterterrorism Center, between 82 percent and 97 percent of the victims of religiously motivated terror attacks during the previous five years were Muslims.

The Sudden Proliferation of Anti-Refugee Legislation

Two GOP presidential hopefuls are introducing legislation to prevent or slow down the migration of Syrian refugees to the United States. Sen. Ted Cruz is reportedly drafting a bill that would forbid Syrian Muslim refugees from entering the United States. It would, however, welcome Christians. Sen. Rand Paul will introduce a bill to place an immediate moratorium on US visas, preventing refugees and "others from obtaining visas to immigrate, visit, or study in the US from about 30 countries that have significant jihadist movements." Paul plans to pay for the legislation "with a special tax on arms sales to any of these countries."

Later this week, a subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee will take up security matters related to Syrian refugees.

To their credit, all three Democratic presidential candidates favor Obama's plan to admit 10,000 Syrians this year. "We will not be terrorized or live in fear. During these difficult times, we will not succumb to Islamophobia," Sen. Bernie Sanders said. "We will not turn our backs on the refugees who are fleeing Syria and Afghanistan. We will do what we do best and that is be Americans - fighting racism, fighting xenophobia, fighting fear."

"There are women, there are children dying," observed Martin O'Malley. "They are fleeing the same sort of carnage that was unleashed on the people of France ... I don't think it's too much to ask of us that we do our part here." Hillary Clinton tweeted, "We've seen a lot of hateful rhetoric from the GOP. But the idea that we'd turn away refugees because of religion is a new low."

There is no evidence that refugees pose a security risk. The Paris attackers were not refugees, although one of them used a fake Syrian passport; they were born in Europe. Since 1980, none of the millions of refugees the United States has welcomed - many of them from the Middle East - has committed a terrorist attack. The 9/11 hijackers entered the United States legally on student or tourist visas. The Boston Marathon bombers were not refugees.

The charge that refugees are a threat to the United States is a tempest in a teapot. If we want to stop terrorism, we should stop killing innocent civilians in other countries.

Bombing Is Not the Solution

Western airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have killed at least 459 civilians, including more than 100 children, according to the Guardian. French President François Hollande retaliated for the Paris attacks by bombing Raqqa, thought to be the "headquarters" of ISIS. Raqqa is a city with hundreds of thousands of civilians. The bombs struck the electricity grid, a museum and clinics. Untold numbers of people have been injured or killed in the strikes.

The invasions and occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and drone bombings in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and Syria have not destroyed ISIS. Military retaliation is exactly what ISIS wants.

Four former Air Force service members who operated drones wrote an open letter to Obama saying that the drone program has "fueled the feelings of hatred that ignited terrorism and groups like ISIS, while also serving as a fundamental recruitment tool similar to Guantanamo Bay."

Brandon Bryant, Michael Haas, Stephen Lewis and Cian Westmoreland maintained that the killing of civilians in drone strikes has been one of the most "devastating driving forces for terrorism and destabilization around the world."

That is why the bombing by the United States and France must stop immediately. A diplomatic solution involving all players in the region, including Iran, Russia and China, should be seriously pursued.

Arms sales must be halted. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait have spent billions of dollars arming the opposition to the Assad regime but ISIS is a beneficiary of those weapons. The French have a $10 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, and Obama has concluded more than $100 billion in arms sales to the Saudis during the past five years.

As Charles Pierce argues in Esquire, our Middle East "allies," including the bankers and political elites, must be held accountable. "Assets from these states should be frozen, all over the West," Pierce writes.

The United States should welcome many more than the 10,000 Syrian refugees Obama has agreed to accept. We have a moral responsibility to provide refuge to those displaced by US actions, which contributed to destabilizing the entire region with invasions and regime changes since 2001. It is the vacuum we created that gave birth to ISIS.

Copyright, Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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Monday, November 16, 2015

The US Is Still Manipulating the UN After 70 Years

Although President Barack Obama said he opposes "endless war" and "America's combat mission in Afghanistan may be over," he announced that the 9,800 US troops presently there will remain. Obama had previously stated that he would cut the US force in half, but he has decided to maintain the current troop level until 2017.

Seventy years after the founding of the United Nations, armed conflict, especially US wars that violate the UN Charter, continues to plague the world. In 1945, the UN Charter was created "to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war." It forbids the use of military force except in self-defense after an armed attack by another state or when approved by the Security Council. Yet the three most recent US presidents have violated that command.

Bush, Clinton and Obama Circumvent the UN

In October 2001, George W. Bush led the US to attack Afghanistan, even though Afghanistan had not attacked the United States on 9/11. Nineteen men, 15 of whom came from Saudi Arabia, committed a crime against humanity. Bush's invasion of Afghanistan did not constitute lawful self-defense and the Security Council did not approve the use of force. The US war on Afghanistan has replaced Vietnam as America's longest war.

Two years later, before he invaded Iraq and changed its regime, Bush tried mightily to secure the imprimatur of the Security Council. Although the council refused to authorize "Operation Iraqi Freedom," Bush cobbled together prior Security Council resolutions from the first Gulf War in an attempt to legitimize his illegitimate war. Bush's war on Iraq was a disastrous gift that keeps on giving. It has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths, led to the rise of ISIS, and dangerously destabilized the region.

John Bolton, Bush's temporary UN ambassador (a recess appointment since the Senate would never have confirmed him) infamously declared, "There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along." Bolton added, "When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so."

Indeed, Bush's predecessor could have helped prevent the genocide in Rwanda. But instead, Bill Clinton prevented the United Nations from acting to stop the killing of 800,000 people in that country. Clinton's secretary of state, Madeline Albright, called the UN "a tool of American foreign policy."

Barack Obama and his counterparts in France and Britain secured a resolution from the Security Council approving a no-fly-zone over Libya in 2011. But the three powers engaged in forcible regime change, ousting Libyan president Muammar Qaddafi. This went far beyond what the resolution authorized. That action has also contributed mightily to the current instability in the region.

The Libya resolution mentioned the emerging doctrine of "Responsibility to Protect." This doctrine is contained in the General Assembly's Outcome Document of the 2005 World Summit. It is neither enshrined in an international treaty nor has it ripened into a norm of customary international law. Paragraph 138 of that document says each individual state has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Paragraph 139 adds that the international community, through the United Nations, also has "the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the UN Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity."

But the United States and its allies have not utilized the Responsibility to Protect doctrine to protect the people of Gaza from massacres by Israel, most recently in the summer of 2014.

An Institution Created to Maintain the Power of WWII Victors

The objective of the victorious powers of World War II in creating the UN system was to make sure they would continue to control post-war international relations. The League of Nations, which the US had refused to join, had failed to prevent fascism and the Second World War.

In 1942, the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and China - four of the permanent members of the Security Council (later joined by France) - had met at Dumbarton Oaks, near Washington DC. They hammered out the framework for the UN. A few months before the founding UN conference, the US, Britain and the Soviet Union met at Yalta in the Crimea and made important decisions about the post-war world, including the structure of the UN.

The United States made certain that the founding conference would be held on US soil, and it took place in San Francisco. In order to ensure that the US choreographed the meeting, the FBI spied on foreign emissaries and even on the US delegates themselves.

Stephen Schlesinger noted, "The US apparently used its surveillance reports to set the agenda of the UN, to control the debate, to pressure nations to agree to its positions and to write the UN Charter mostly according to its own blueprint."

George Kennan, architect of the US containment strategy against the Soviet Union, didn't pull any punches: "We have 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population … Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will allow us to maintain this position of disparity … We should cease to talk about the raising of the living standards and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts."

The Veto Power

Without the power to veto decisions of the Security Council, the US and the Soviet Union would not have joined the UN. One of the major sticking points during the conference was the scope of the veto power. Australian foreign minister Gareth Evans described the motivation behind giving the permanent members the power to veto decisions of the Security Council. He stated, "to convince the permanent members that they should adhere to the Charter and the collective security framework embodied therein, a deliberate decision was taken to establish a collective security system which could not be applied to the permanent members themselves."

The Security Council has 15 members - five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members. The Soviet Union wanted the permanent members to have veto power over all decisions of the Security Council, which would have allowed them to prevent discussion about the peaceful settlement of disputes in which they were involved. A compromise was reached that gives the permanent members a veto only over "substantive" matters; the peaceful settlement of disputes is considered a "procedural" matter.

Religious groups feared the veto would permit the big powers to use their military might against the small nations without accountability. A group of prominent Protestant ministers called it "a mere camouflage for the continuation of imperialistic policies and the exercise of arbitrary power for the domination of other nations."

Smaller countries, including Chile, Costa Rica, Cuba, Switzerland, Italy and the Vatican felt the proposed voting structure was not consistent with the sovereign equality of states and would place the permanent members above the law.

Interestingly, the word "veto" does not appear in the UN Charter. Article 27 says that decisions on procedural matters "shall be made by an affirmative vote of nine members including the concurring votes of the permanent members." One permanent member can therefore exercise veto power by withholding a concurring vote.

Tensions With Latin American Countries

The US, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China, as the sponsoring powers of the conference, issued formal invitations. Fifty countries, primarily from the industrialized North, were represented at San Francisco. They comprised fewer than one-quarter of the countries of the world. About 35 were aligned with the US, five were allied with the Soviet Union, and 10 were non-aligned. At the time, most of the developing countries were colonies or semi-colonies.

During the conference, conflicts erupted between the big powers and countries in the South. The Latin American contingent was made up of 19 countries that had been non-belligerents during the War. But since they had declared war on the Axis countries by the deadline, they were allowed to join the UN.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) had a warm relationship with Latin America, stemming from his Good Neighbor Policy in the 1930's. It provided for non-intervention and non-interference in the domestic affairs of the countries of Latin America. In return, the United States expected sweet trade agreements and the reassertion of US influence in the region. FDR died 13 days before the San Francisco conference, leaving Harry Truman to represent the US in negotiations over the UN Charter.

Although the Latin American countries proposed the inclusion of Brazil as the sixth permanent Security Council member, the US successfully prevented it.

The Latin bloc sought to establish its own regional security system apart from the UN. The Act of Chapultepec, which was developed at a prior Inter-American conference in Mexico City, said that an attack on one state in the region was an attack on all, which would result in immediate collective consultation and possible military action.

Objecting to a provision in the UN Charter that would give the permanent members the power to veto any action by a regional organization, the Latin countries advocated the principles of Chapultepec. The final draft of Article 51 of the UN Charter protects "the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense." In deference to the Latin bloc, "collective" is a reference to Chapultepec.

The US Opposes the Use of "International Law"

Article 2 provides, "Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state."

The original proposal stated that international law would determine what is "solely within the domestic jurisdiction" of a state. When the US Congress demanded that the words "international law" be removed, they were deleted.

Since then, not surprisingly, the United States has repeatedly violated international law in both the use of armed force and the killing of civilians, most recently in Obama's drone war.

The US Dilutes the Jurisdiction of the World Court

The UN Charter established the International Court of Justice, or the World Court, as the judicial arm of the UN system. Would states have to submit to its jurisdiction? Truman said that if "we are going to have a court, it ought to be a court that would work with compulsory jurisdiction." But after Secretary of State Edward Stettinius convinced Truman that the US Senate would never ratify an International Court of Justice statute with that provision, Truman relented. The court only has contentious jurisdiction over states that consent to its jurisdiction.

Indeed, when the International Court of Justice ruled in 1986 that the US had violated international law by mining Nicaragua's harbors and supporting the Contras in their insurrection against the Nicaraguan government, the US thumbed its nose at the court, saying it was not bound by the ruling. 

Whither the UN Charter?

For 45 years during the Cold War, the veto power paralyzed the Security Council. But after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the veto ironically turned the Security Council into a countervailing power to the US, as the council is the only international body that can legitimately authorize the use of military force.

And as stated above, Clinton, Bush, and Obama have circumvented or manipulated the Security Council, in violation of the UN Charter.

The United Nations has succeeded in some instances in slowing down an immediate resort to military force, although it has failed to broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or develop a treaty to outlaw nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, the US government feels compelled to try to obtain the Security Council's blessing for its military interventions. And although the US often uses armed force without Security Council approval, it is increasingly apparent to the countries of the world that the United States is a notorious lawbreaker.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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Close Guantanamo and Return It to Cuba

President Barack Obama has yet to fulfill the promise he made in his January 22, 2009 executive order to shutter Guantanamo "no later than one year from the date of this order." Any individuals remaining there at the time of closure, Obama wrote, "shall be returned to their home country, released, transferred to a third country, or transferred to another United States detention facility in a manner consistent with law and the national security and foreign policy interests of the United States."

After threatening to veto the final draft of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) partly because it forbids the transfer of Guantanamo detainees to the United States and tightens barriers to sending them to other countries, Obama caved. A White House spokesperson said Obama would sign the legislation, which passed overwhelmingly in the House and Senate. Bernie Sanders was one of three senators to vote against the bill.

Nearly seven years after Obama's promise, 112 men remain at Guantanamo, half of whom have been cleared for release. Obama has released 54 prisoners and is reviewing the cases of others still being held.

In March 2011, Obama designated 46 men to remain in indefinite detention without trial, but promised periodic review of their cases. Arbitrary detention violates the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty the United States has ratified, making it part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. constitution.

The periodic reviews didn't start until November 2013, spurred by hunger strikes at the prison. The reviews continue to be conducted. As a result of those reviews, 14 additional men were cleared for release and five of them have been released.

In April 2013, Obama said, "I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantanamo is not necessary to keep America safe . . . It hurts us in terms of our international standing . . . It is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed." Yet it remains open.

One of the transfer restrictions required the secretary of defense to notify Congress 30 days before transfer that it would be good for national security. But to avoid being personally responsible if a detainee were to become a terrorist, former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel hesitated to allow transfers. Actually only seven percent of the detainees released during Obama's tenure returned to terrorist activity as compared with 19 percent during Bush's presidency.

Obama is reportedly preparing a plan to speed up transfers of half the remaining Guantanamo prisoners to their home countries or other willing nations. The plan will also set forth new security protocols to prevent detainees from returning to terrorist activities once released.

Military experts are conducting surveys of prisons in the United States for possible transfer of detainees. They include the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas; the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina; and the US supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

In spite of the NDAA, Obama has the power to close Guantanamo. Former White House counsel Gregory Craig and Cliff Sloan, former special envoy for Guantanamo closure, maintain, "the president does not need Congress's authorization to act." They wrote in the Washington Post, "Under Article II of the Constitution, the president has exclusive authority to determine the facilities in which military detainees are held . . . The determination on where to hold detainees is a tactical judgment at the very core of the president's role as commander in chief."

According to Craig and Sloan, "Congress's purported ban on funding any movement of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States restricts where 'law-of-war' detainees can be held and prevents the president from discharging his constitutionally assigned function of making tactical military decisions. Accordingly, it violates the separation of powers."

Lt. Col. David Frakt, who has represented Guantanamo detainees before the military commissions and in federal habeas corpus proceedings, concurs. "When the Obama administration really wants to transfer a detainee, they are quite capable of doing so," Frakt wrote in JURIST. He said Obama should direct his attorney general to inform the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Department of Justice no longer considers the cleared detainees to be detainable.

Col. Morris Davis, former Chief Prosecutor for the Terrorism Trials at Guantanamo, personally charged Osama bin Laden's driver Salim Hamdan, Australian David Hicks, and Canadian teen Omar Khadr. All three were convicted and have been released from Guantanamo. "There is something fundamentally wrong with a system where not being charged with a war crime keeps you locked away indefinitely and a war crime conviction is your ticket home," Davis wrote to Obama.

Of the 780 men held at Guantanamo since 2002, only eight were tried and convicted of war crimes. Of those, just three remain at Guantanamo.

Many of the detainees reported being assaulted, prolonged shackling, sexual abuse, and threats with dogs. Australian lawyer Richard Bourke, who has represented several Guantanamo detainees, charged they have been subjected to "good old-fashioned torture." Detainees who engage in hunger strikes are subjected to force-feeding, a practice the UN Human Rights Council has called torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. At least seven men have died at the prison camp.

The United States has illegally occupied Guantánamo since 1903, after Cuba's war of independence against Spain. Cuba was forced to include the Platt Amendment in the Cuban constitution. The amendment granted the United States the right to intervene in Cuba as a prerequisite for the withdrawal of US troops from the rest of Cuba. That provision provided the basis for the 1903 Agreement on Coaling and Naval Stations, which gave the United States the right to use Guantánamo Bay "exclusively as coaling or naval stations, and for no other purpose."

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a new treaty with Cuba in 1934 that allows the United States to remain in Guantánamo Bay until the US abandons it or until both Cuba and the United States agree to modify their arrangement. According to that treaty, "the stipulations of [the 1903] agreement with regard to the naval station of Guantánamo shall continue in effect." That means Guantánamo Bay can be used for nothing but coaling or naval stations. Article III of the 1934 treaty also says that Cuba leases Guantánamo Bay to the United States "for coaling and naval stations." Nowhere in either treaty did Cuba give the US the right to utilize Guantánamo Bay as a prison camp.

Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has long maintained that Guantanamo is part of Cuba and that the US illegally occupies it. One of Cuban President Raul Castro's requirements for normalization of relations with the United States is the return of Guantanamo to Cuba.

If there is probable cause to believe a detainee committed a crime, he should be sent to the United States for trial in federal court. The remaining detainees should be returned to their countries of origin or third countries if that is not feasible. After shuttering the prison camp, Obama should return Guantanamo Bay to Cuba, its rightful owner.

This article was originally published by TeleSUR.

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Thursday, November 5, 2015

‘Drone Papers’ Revelations Are a Cry for Ending the Slaughter

A new whistleblower has joined the ranks of Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, John Kiriakou and other courageous individuals. The unnamed person, who chose to remain anonymous because of the Obama administration’s vigorous prosecution of whistleblowers, is a member of the intelligence community.

In the belief that the American public has the right to know about the “fundamentally” and “morally” flawed U.S. drone program, this source provided The Intercept with a treasure trove of secret military documents and slides that shine a critical light on the country’s killer drone program. These files confirm that the Obama administration’s policy and practice of assassination using armed drones and other methods violate the law.

The documents reveal the “kill chain” that decides who will be targeted. As the source said, “This outrageous explosion of watchlisting—of monitoring people and racking and stacking them on lists, assigning them numbers, assigning them ‘baseball cards,’ assigning them death sentences, without notice, on a worldwide battlefield—it was, from the very first instance, wrong.”

These secret documents demonstrate that the administration kills innumerable civilians due to its reliance on “signals intelligence” in undeclared war zones, following cellphones or computers that may or may not be carried by suspected terrorists. The documents show that more than half the intelligence used to locate potential targets in Somalia and Yemen was based on this method.

“It isn’t a surefire method,” the source observed. “You’re relying on the fact that you do have all these powerful machines, capable of collecting extraordinary amounts of data and intelligence,” which can cause those involved to think they possess “godlike powers.”

“It’s stunning the number of instances when selectors are misattributed to certain people,” the source noted, characterizing a missile fired at a target in a group of people as a “leap of faith.”

The Obama administration has never provided accurate civilian casualty counts. In fact, CIA director and former counterterrorism adviser John Brennan falsely claimed in 2011 that no civilians had been killed in drone strikes in nearly a year. In actuality, many people who are not the intended targets of the strikes are killed. “The Drone Papers” tell us the administration labels unidentified persons who are killed in a drone attack “enemies killed in action,” unless there is evidence posthumously proving them innocent. That “is insane,” the source said. “But [the intelligence community has] made ourselves comfortable with that.” The source added, “They made the numbers themselves so they can get away with writing off most of the kills as legitimate.”

The administration’s practice of minimizing the civilian casualties is “exaggerating at best, if not outright lies,” according to the source.

Since the U.S. is involved in armed conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, international humanitarian law—namely, the Geneva Conventions—must be applied to assess the legality of targeted killing. The Geneva Conventions provide that only combatants may be targeted.

From January 2012 to February 2013, a campaign dubbed Operation Haymaker was carried out in the Afghan provinces of Kunar and Nuristan. According to “The Drone Papers,” during a five-month period almost 90 percent of the people killed in airstrikes were not the intended targets. This campaign paralleled an increase in drone attacks and civilian casualties throughout Afghanistan. What’s more, the campaign did not significantly degrade al-Qaida’s operations there.

The U.S. is violating the right to life enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Because the U.S. ratified this treaty, it constitutes binding domestic law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution, which states, “Treaties shall be the supreme law of the land.”

Under international humanitarian law, an “armed conflict” requires the existence of organized armed groups engaged in fighting of certain intensity. The groups must have a command structure, be governed by rules, provide military training and have organized acquisition of weapons, as well as communications infrastructure. Legal scholars, including University of Cambridge professor Christine Gray, have concluded that “the ‘war against Al-Qaeda’ does not meet the threshold of intensity of a non-international armed conflict, and Al-Qaeda does not meet the threshold of an organized armed group.”

The U.S. is not involved in “armed conflict” in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Thus, the law enforcement model must be applied to assess the legality of actions in those countries. This model limits the use of lethal force to situations where there is an imminent threat to life and nonlethal measures would be inadequate.

In 2013, as President Obama gave a speech at the National Defense University, the administration released a fact sheet that said the target must pose a “continuing, imminent threat to US persons” before lethal force may be used. But Obama has waived the imminence requirement in Pakistan. 

Although a spokesperson for the National Security Council told The Intercept that “those guidelines remain in effect today,” “The Drone Papers” state that the target need only present “a threat to US interest or personnel.” This is a far cry from an imminence requirement. And once the president signs off on a target, U.S. forces have 60 days to execute the strike. A 60-day period flies in the face of the imminence mandate for the use of lethal force off the battlefield.

Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, affirms that a targeted killing is lawful only if required to protect life and no other means—such as capture or nonlethal incapacitation—is available to protect life.

Besides being illegal, Obama’s preference for killing instead of apprehension prevents the administration from gathering crucial intelligence. Obama stated in 2013, “America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists; our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute.” But Michael Flynn, former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told The Intercept, “We don’t capture people anymore.” Slides provided by “The Drone Papers” source cite a 2013 study by the Pentagon’s Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Task Force that said “kill operations significantly reduce the intelligence available from detainees and captured material.” The task force recommended capture and interrogation rather than killing in drone strikes. 

The American public is largely unaware of the high number of civilian casualties from drone strikes. A study conducted by American University professor Jeff Bachman concluded that both The New York Times and The Washington Post “substantially underrepresented the number of civilians killed in drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, failed to correct the public record when evidence emerged that their reporting was wrong and ignored the importance of international law.”

Gregory McNeal, an expert on national security and drones at Pepperdine School of Law, wrote that in Afghanistan and Iraq, “when collateral damage [civilian casualties] did occur, 70 percent of the time it was attributable to failed—that is, mistaken—identification.”

“Anyone caught in the vicinity is guilty by association,” “The Drone Papers” source notes. If “a drone attack kills more than one person, there is no guarantee that those persons deserved their fate. … So it’s a phenomenal gamble.”

Drones are Obama’s weapon of choice because they don’t result in U.S. casualties. “It is the politically advantageous thing to do—low cost, no U.S. casualties, gives the appearance of toughness,” according to former Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair. “It plays well domestically, and it is unpopular only in other countries. Any damage it does to the national interest only shows up over the long term.” Part of the damage, as Flynn pointed out, is that drones make the fallen into martyrs. They create “a new reason to fight us even harder,” he said.

The United Nations charter’s mandate for peaceful resolution of disputes and prohibition of military force except in self-defense is not a pipe dream. A study by the Rand Corp. concluded that between 1968 and 2006, 43 percent of incidents involving terrorist groups ended by a “peaceful political resolution with their government,” 40 percent “were penetrated and eliminated by local police and intelligence agencies,” and only 7 percent were ended by the use of military force.

Nevertheless, The Wall Street Journal reported that the military plans to increase drone flights by 50 percent by 2019.

In describing how the special operations community views the prospective targets for assassination by drone, “The Drone Papers” source said, “They have no rights. They have no dignity. They have no humanity to themselves. They’re just a ‘selector’ to an analyst. You eventually get to a point in the target’s life cycle that you are following them, you don’t even refer to them by their actual name.” This results in “dehumanizing the people before you’ve even encountered the moral question of ‘is this a legitimate kill or not?’ ”

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed three lawsuits seeking information about the government’s use of lethal drones. Rep. Keith Ellison, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, is calling for increased transparency and congressional oversight of the drone program. “The report makes it clear,” he noted, that “the U.S. drone program operates on highly questionable legal ground and offends our principles of justice.”

Drone pilots operate thousands of miles from their targets. But many of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Some are refusing to fly the drones. In September, the Air Force Times ran a historic ad—paid for by 54 U.S. veterans and vets’ organizations—urging Air Force drone operators and other military personnel to refuse orders to fly drone surveillance and attack missions. 

“The Drone Papers” source implores us to take action to stop this travesty. “We’re allowing this to happen,” the source said. “And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”

The newly released documents are a clarion call to us all to demand that our government stop the killing. It is illegal, it is immoral, and it makes us more vulnerable to terrorism.

This article first appeared on Truthdig.

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Saturday, October 31, 2015

Obama: Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is on Cuba

By Art Heitzer and Marjorie Cohn

Millions of Americans believe that President Obama has normalized relations with Cuba and ended over 50 years of U.S. efforts to strangle its economy. They might have been puzzled when the United States stood up against every other nation save one, in opposing the UN General Assembly resolution which passed, 191-2, on October 27, 2015. That resolution condemned the continuing U.S. commercial, economic and financial embargo against Cuba. According to the Christian Science Monitor, "when the vote lit up on the screen many diplomats jumped to their feet in a standing ovation." The U.S. ambassador was not among them.

The UN resolution welcomed the re-establishment of diplomatic relations and recognized "the expressed will" of Obama to work for the elimination of the embargo. But the world community clearly does not think that intentions are enough. Every year since 1992, the United States has unsuccessfully opposed these resolutions, ignoring the international consensus. In 2015, the U.S. deputy ambassador Ronald Godard said it was "unfortunate" that the text "falls short of reflecting ... the spirit of engagement President Obama has championed."

Cuba's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez, called for concrete action instead. "The lifting of the blockade will be the essential element to give some meaning to the progress achieved over the past few months in the relations between both countries and shall set the pace towards normalization," he told the General Assembly. Rodriguez said the blockade is "a unilateral act of the United States and should be lifted unilaterally, without asking anything in return." He was critical not only of the U.S. Congress but also of Obama's failure to take executive action to ease the blockade.

This criticism of Obama's actions may surprise those who simply blame Congress's inaction for continuing the economic blockade. Just three days earlier, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) unanimously adopted a resolution that criticized actions by the administration which seem to fly in the face of Obama's proclaimed "spirit of engagement."

According to U.S legal experts, most of the legislation over the last 55 years gives the administration the authority to block trade with Cuba -- or not to. For example, the president could allow Cuba to sell its products to the U.S. market, but nothing has been done in that regard. Likewise, the U.S. Commerce Department's January 2015 regulations generally only allow U.S. manufacturers to supply to private enterprises in Cuba, and only if they will then be utilized for privately owned property. 

This is a crude attempt to impose privatization on Cuba. A Commerce Department spokesperson explained that a U.S. producer seeking to supply a private enterprise in Cuba with heating and air conditioning equipment to service a Cuban hospital could not do so under the new regulations, because Cuban hospitals are publicly owned.

The new U.S. regulations are also much more liberal regarding telecommunications than for trade generally. These arbitrary restrictions undercut the administration's suggestion that Congress must act before the economic blockade can be lifted, although all agree that a full repeal requires congressional action.

The NLG resolution also noted three areas in which federal officials appear to be sabotaging attempts to normalize relations with Cuba:

1) The Internal Revenue Service is apparently moving ahead with its plans to revoke the 501(c)3 non-profit status of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization/Pastors for Peace (IFCO/PFP), based on its long history of using civil disobedience to challenge U.S. restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba -- even though the unit with responsibility to enforce these restrictions has not acted against IFCO/PFP.

2) The U.S. Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has renewed its threats and prosecutions against U.S. persons based on previous travel to Cuba, four and five years ago, and has threatened to revive holding the "trials for travel" in Washington D.C. George W. Bush had instituted those trials but abandoned them in 2006.

3) The U.S. State Department has continued its pattern of unreasonably delaying or withholding issuance of non-immigrant visas to mainstream Cubans invited to visit and speak in the United States by academic and professional organizations. For example, when the American Sociological Association invited a gay Cuban doctor, who had headed Cuba's program of comprehensive treatment for transgender people, to speak to its August 2015 convention in Chicago, it took the offices of Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and U.S. Reps. Gwen Moore, John Conyers and Barbara Lee to pry loose his visa, which was issued only at the last minute, making him miss most of the convention. As a result of these congressional efforts, he was then also able to speak at the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center and appeared on Chicago public television. This is the same experience of many invited Cubans, most recently a leading Cuban labor lawyer invited to speak at the October NLG convention, and this has happened year after year. Both of these Cuban experts have received U.S. visas in the past and visited here without incident, although each time they have had to wait until or after the very last minute to book their flights, often missing much of the conventions they were invited to attend. 

Obama hopes to go down in history as having ended the half-century of U.S. hostility toward Cuba and its revolution. We do not know what the next administration will bring. We must pressure Obama to act decisively now to realize his promise to truly normalize relations with Cuba.

Art Heitzer ( is an attorney and chair of the Cuba Subcommittee of the National Lawyers Guild. For more information and actions you can take, visit or call 414 273-1040 ext. 12.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Kunduz Hospital Bombing: Probable Cause the U.S. Committed a War Crime

In one of the most despicable incidents of the United States’ 14-year war in Afghanistan, U.S. troops bombed a hospital in Kunduz, killing 22 people, including patients, three children, and medical personnel from Doctors Without Borders, or MSF. Thirty-seven people were injured, including 19 staff members in the Oct. 3, 2015, attack.

U.S. forces knew they were targeting a hospital because MSF, as it does in all conflict contexts, had provided its exact GPS coordinates on multiple occasions over the past months, including most recently on Sept. 29. There was a nine-foot flag on the roof that identified the building as a hospital. After the first strike, MSF contacted U.S. officials and reported the hospital was being bombed and begged them to halt the attack. Nevertheless, the U.S. AC-130 gunship continued to pummel the hospital repeatedly for more than one hour.

“Our patients burned in their beds,” said MSF International President Joanne Liu. “Doctors, nurses and other staff were killed as they worked.” She added, “Our colleagues had to work on each other. One of our doctors died on an improvised operating table – an office desk – while his colleagues tried to save his life.”

In attempting to explain why they had bombed a hospital, U.S. military leaders changed their story four times. On Saturday, the day of the bombing, U.S. spokesman Col. Brian Tribus said the strike occurred “against individuals threatening the force. The strike may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” On Sunday, Gen. John Campbell, U.S.-NATO commander in Afghanistan, claimed the strike occurred “against insurgents who were directly firing upon U.S. service members … in the vicinity of a Doctors Without Borders medical facility.” On Monday, Campbell announced, “Afghan forces advised that they were taking fire from enemy positions and asked for air support” and “several civilians were accidentally struck.” By Tuesday, Campbell said, “the decision to provide aerial fire was a U.S. decision, made within the U.S. chain of command. A hospital was mistakenly struck. We would never intentionally target a medical facility.”

Since the Pentagon has access to video and audio recordings taken from the gunship, they must know what actually occurred. Daily Beast reported that the recordings contain conversations among the crew as they were firing on the hospital, including communications between the crew and U.S. soldiers on the ground. Moreover, AC-130 gunships fly low to the ground so the crew can assess what they are hitting.

But members of Congress who oversee the Pentagon have been denied access to the classified recordings.

Article 18 of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, “Civilian hospitals organized to give care to the wounded and sick, the infirm and maternity cases, may in no circumstances be the object of attack, but shall at all times be respected and protected by the parties to the conflict.”

International law expert Mary Ellen O’Connell, a professor at Notre Dame Law School, said, “The critical question for determining if US forces committed a war crime was whether they had notified the hospital ahead of the strike if they understood the Taliban to be firing from the hospital.”

MSF has said they were never notified that the hospital would be bombed. “Not a single member of our staff reported any fighting inside the MSF hospital compound prior to the U.S. airstrike on Saturday morning,” according to MSF General Director Christopher Stokes.

Parties to a military conflict have a duty to distinguish between civilians and combatants, and civilians and their facilities cannot be targeted. If the hospital were being used for military purposes, the strike must be proportionate to the military advantage sought, and the U.S. forces had a duty to warn the people inside the hospital that it would be struck. No one in the hospital said it was being used for military purposes, and even if it was, the U.S. forces never warned those in the hospital before striking it.

The U.S. strike was a precise attack on the hospital, because no other buildings in the MSF compound were hit. MSF executive director Jason Cone said, “I want to reiterate that the main hospital building where medical personnel were caring for patients was repeatedly and very precisely hit during each aerial raid while the rest of the compound was left mostly untouched. So we see this as a targeted event.”

MSF is demanding an independent investigation by the International Humanitarian Fact-Finding Commission (IHFFC), established under Additional Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions. But the United States must consent to the investigation. The U.S. government says there are enough investigations – one by the Pentagon, one by a joint US-Afghan group, and one by NATO. But none of these is independent and impartial.

Historian and investigative journalist Gareth Porter has written three articles about three different internal investigations the U.S. military used to cover-up operations that should have led to criminal prosecutions against U.S. officers. Why should we believe that this will be any different?

The Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court provides several bases for war crimes prosecution. They include willful killing; willfully causing great suffering or serious bodily injury; intentional attacks against civilian or civilian objects; intentional attacks with knowledge they will cause death or injury to civilians when clearly excessive in relation to the anticipated military advantage; and intentionally attacking medical facilities which are not military objectives. Although the United States is not a party to the Statute, there could be jurisdiction over U.S. leaders if the Security Council referred the matter to the Court. That will not happen because the United States would veto such a referral. If US leaders are found on the territory of a country that is a party to the Statute, that country could send them to The Hague, Netherlands for prosecution. But the Bush administration blackmailed 100 countries into signing “bilateral immunity agreements,” promising they would not send US nationals to The Hague on penalty of losing U.S. foreign aid.

Other countries can prosecute foreign nationals under the well-established doctrine of “universal jurisdiction.” But since Bush initiated his war on Iraq, no nation has been willing to incur the wrath of the United States by maintaining such an action against a U.S. leader.

Nick Turse and Bob Dreyfuss documented the killing of as many as 6,481 Afghan civilians by U.S. forces from October 2001 through 2012. The U.S. government has killed large numbers of civilians in its drone attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Syria, Somalia, and Yemen. But Obama rarely apologizes to or compensates the victims. It is only because a Western-based organization was hit and the attendant media coverage has been so overwhelming that led Obama to apologize to MSF.
MSF’s advance provision of the hospital’s coordinates to U.S. forces, its notifications during the bombing, its denial that any fire was coming from the hospital, and the Pentagon’s shifting rationales for the bombing constitute probable cause that a war crime was committed.

Obama should consent to a full, independent, impartial investigation of the hospital bombing by IHFFC. If that investigation shows that war crimes probably occurred, appropriate prosecutions of the U.S. chain of command should ensue. This article was originally published by teleSUR.

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Sunday, October 11, 2015

Do the Democrats Offer a Progressive Choice for President?

Although the 2016 presidential election is a year away, the media is abuzz with the candidates - the Republican and Democratic candidates, that is. When CBS's Stephen Colbert posed comedically with a collage of the 18 or so declared hopefuls, the Green Party's candidate, Dr. Jill Stein, was noticeably absent from his photo. Only outlets like Democracy Now!, PBS and RT News feature the good doctor.

What choices do progressives have?

Hillary Clinton leaves a lot to be desired. She does favor a woman's right to choose and has recently come out in support of marriage equality. Clinton supports comprehensive immigration reform but also backs stepped-up border enforcement. A former member of the board of Walmart, she is cozy with Wall Street and voted for the Patriot Act. Clinton has been called a "focus group Democrat," often accused of believing what polls and focus groups tell her she should believe.

On foreign policy issues, Clinton is a first-class hawk. As Robert Scheer wrote on Truthdig:

"Clinton, in rhetoric and action, will never allow a Republican opponent to appear more hawkish than herself. In the general election, she will burnish her record of support for every bit of military folly from George W. [Bush]'s invasion of Iraq to her own engineering of the campaign to overthrow all secular dictators in the Middle East who have proved to be an inconvenience to the Saudi theocracy."

"During her tenure in the Obama administration," Scheer added, "Clinton, by her own frequent boastful admission, was the hawk in the Cabinet pressuring the president to be even more aggressive in his drone assassinations and murderous air wars, which have destabilized the region and created what the pope recently termed the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War."

Joe Biden is contemplating whether to enter the race. He is more likable and more trusted than Clinton. But his positions on the issues are very similar to hers.

Meanwhile, Democratic Party candidate Bernie Sanders appears to be giving Clinton a run for her corporate money, so progressives may have a viable alternative to Clinton. But although Sanders' positions on economic inequality, jobs, education, climate change, immigration, marriage equality, women's right to choose, health care and surveillance (he voted against the Patriot Act) give us hope for serious change, Sanders' foreign policy strongly resembles that of the hawks in both major parties.

Domestic and foreign policy are inextricably linked. George W. Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost US taxpayers upward of $4 trillion, and the price of Barack Obama's drone wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Yemen continues to rise.

And Obama sends Israel $8 million a day, money it uses to fund its brutal occupation of Palestinian lands. Sanders favors continued aid to Israel. He supported Israel's 2014 massacre in Gaza, during which the United Nations Human Rights Council documented the deaths of 2,251 Palestinians, including 1,462 civilians (299 women and 551 children), and the injuring of 11,231 Palestinians, including 3,540 women and 3,436 children. Ten percent of the children suffered a permanent disability as a result of violence inflicted during that massacre, and more than 1,500 Gazan children were orphaned.

Quoting "official Israeli sources," the UN Human Rights Council reported, "rockets and mortars hit civilian buildings and infrastructure, including schools and houses, causing direct damage to civilian property amounting to almost $25 million." In addition, the UN Council found 18,000 housing units were totally or partially destroyed; much of the electrical, water and sanitation infrastructure was incapacitated; and 73 medical facilities and several ambulances were damaged. Twenty-eight percent of the Palestinian population was displaced.

Sanders voted against the 2003 invasion of Iraq, but he voted for the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force in Afghanistan. And he has spoken out strongly in favor of providing military aid to Ukraine and mounting airstrikes against ISIS.

Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein's domestic policies are nearly indistinguishable from Sanders'. But Stein, who is also Jewish, opposes military assistance to Israel that is used to "fund a government which is basically committing war crimes against the Palestinian people, violating human rights, violating international law with the occupations," she told Tavis Smiley on PBS. In 2012, Stein noted on Democracy Now! that she "would not be funding the weapons used in the massacre of Gaza." Stein said, "We need to start raising the bar for Israel and holding them to an equal standard for supporting human rights and international law and ending occupations and illegal settlements and apartheid." Stein also opposes the provision of weapons to Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Sanders, on the other hand, has taken a more consistently militarist position.

"I believe the United States should have the strongest military in the world," he declared on ABC News. "We should be working with other countries in coalition. And when people threaten the United States, or threaten our allies, or commit genocide, the United States with other countries should be prepared to act militarily."

Sanders knows you have to talk tough to get elected. After all, since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the US government has kept Americans in a constant state of fear. The United States maintains a culture of war. Indeed, Sanders said, "I supported the use of force in Afghanistan to hunt down the terrorists who attacked us." But none of the hijackers hailed from Afghanistan. Fifteen of the 19 were from Saudi Arabia, a close US ally.

Sanders supports the use of drones "selectively." However, as Stein told Smiley, Obama says he is using them selectively. But by killing so many innocents, Obama is creating even more enemies for the United States.

Sanders supports the United States' $3 trillion weapons program, including the controversial F-35 fighter jets, which brings jobs to his state of Vermont. And he supports US efforts to bomb ISIS in Syria, which have exacerbated the violence in that country.

Stein, meanwhile, criticized US attacks in Syria for perpetuating a "cycle of violence that has no end" during her appearance on RT's "Watching the Hawks." "Doing more of what caused ISIS is not going to be the solution of solving ISIS," she said. "When you can trace this problem back to more bombing and violence ... that just creates more violence."

Stein advocates a foreign policy based on diplomacy, international law and human rights. She wants to "end the wars and drone attacks, cut military spending by at least 50 percent, and close the 700+ foreign military bases that are turning our republic into a bankrupt empire." And she seeks to "stop U.S. support and arms sales to human rights abusers, and lead on global nuclear disarmament."

Stein has no chance of winning the election. So why do her positions matter? She is the declared candidate of the Green Party. If Stein's voice is included in the national debates, the other candidates will be publicly challenged and forced to respond on critical foreign policy issues.

When Stein ran for president in 2012, she was arrested at one of the debates "simply for showing up." Stein told Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman that she was then "sent to a dark site, surrounded by 16 Secret Service and police, handcuffed tightly to metal chairs for about eight hours, until the crowds had gone home." Why? "They were afraid that word would get out that people actually have a choice that reflects their deeply held beliefs and values."

The League of Women Voters ran the presidential debates through the 1984 election. In 1987, the Republican and Democratic parties created the Commission on Presidential Debates to set rules to exclude third parties and independents from the debates. The Commission controls every aspect of the debate - the questions, the audience and the press. But although the League was invited to sponsor the 1988 debate, it pulled out due to complex rules and restrictions, stating the League had "no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public" and calling it a "fraud."

The Commission on Presidential Debates is, Stein informed Smiley, "a front group for the Democratic and Republican parties," noting, "50 percent of Americans don't identify as Republican or Democratic." But, she observed, half the delegates at the conventions are superdelegates not accountable to voters. Thus, she said, they won't let Sanders be nominated. "The Democratic Party," according to Stein, "continues to march to the right and become more of a corporatist party, more of an imperialist party, more of a militarist party."

The Commission allows only those candidates who demonstrate at least 15 percent support in the polls. But Stein noted on RT you can't get to 15 percent without corporate sponsorship. The Republican and Democratic parties, she added, "are sponsored by big banks, fossil fuels, and war profiteers."

The Green Party has joined the Libertarian Party and Level the Playing Field, the successor group to Americans Elect, in lawsuits seeking to open the debates. They are suing the Federal Election Commission and the Commission on Presidential Debates, alleging First Amendment and antitrust violations.

We would do well to heed the admonition of John Adams: "There is nothing which I dread so much as a division of the republic into two great parties, each arranged under its leader, and concerting measures in opposition to each other. This, in my humble apprehension, is to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our Constitution."

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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Saturday, October 3, 2015

The U.S. Has a Duty to the 'Tempest-Tost' Syrians

Many of us are familiar with the Emma Lazarus poem on a plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

These words, written in the late 19th century, depicted the United States as a refuge for people who had crossed the Atlantic seeking a new home and a better life than they experienced in the places they left behind. The current massive humanitarian crisis in the Middle East, which has created a flood of refugees exiting Syria, obliges our country to live up to the welcome promised in that poem.

With George W. Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq, which led to the birth of Islamic State, the U.S. government played a significant role in destabilizing the Middle East. The United States and its allies--including Saudi Arabia and Turkey--have trained, financed and supplied weapons to forces fighting the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. This has exacerbated the refugee crisis we are now witnessing.

History professor and author Juan Cole wrote that the U.S. invasion of Iraq created 4 million refugees, about one-sixth of Iraq's population. But "the U.S. took in only a few thousand Iraqi refugees after causing all that trouble," he noted. The United States must do better with the Syrian refugees.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, speaking about the U.S. invasion of Iraq, famously said, "If you break it, you own it."

Yet President Barack Obama pledged to lift the U.S. lamp to only 10,000 of the 4 million refugees fleeing Syria. After fielding criticism of the United States for taking so few, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. would accept 185,000 refugees over the next two years. But this figure reflects the total number from many countries; there is no indication the administration will accept more than 10,000 from Syria.

The United States has a moral obligation, and perhaps a legal one, to accept many of the Syrian refugees. Evolving international norms suggest that all the countries of the world have a duty to provide refuge to those who have fled their homeland to escape persecution or war. Because the United States has 28 percent of the world's wealth, we should take at least 28 percent of the refugees, according to Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies. That would amount to about 350,000 people. And she says the United States should immediately pay 28 percent of the United Nations' refugee relief request, about $5.5 billion, to support nearly 6 million refugees from Syria and nearby countries through the end of 2015.

 The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol define a refugee as someone outside his or her country who has a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion. Due to the fear of persecution, he or she is unable or unwilling to remain in his or her country of origin.

Although many Syrian refugees may meet this definition, many others don't because they fled to escape the violence of the armed conflict ravaging their country, not necessarily to avoid persecution.
Some scholars, however, think a much broader definition of "refugee" is evolving under conventional and customary international law. For example, William Thomas Worster wrote in the Berkeley Journal of International Law that a refugee could be a person who has a well-founded fear of "a threat to life, security or liberty due to events seriously disturbing public order" throughout his or her country--and because of that fear is unable or unwilling to remain or return.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has defined "temporary protection" of refugees as "a means, in situations of large-scale influx and in view of the impracticality of conducting individual refugee status determination procedures, for providing protection to groups or categories of persons who are in need of international protection." Temporary protection "is primarily conceived as an emergency protection measure of short duration in response to large-scale influxes, guaranteeing admission to safety, protection from non-refoulement and respect for an appropriate standard of treatment." The first time the UNHCR formally recommended the granting of temporary protection involved "persons fleeing the conflict and human rights abuses in the former Yugoslavia." 

The principle of international law called non-refoulement is the prohibition of forced return. This means a country has a duty not to return an individual to a country where he or she will face persecution. Article 33(1) of the Refugee Convention provides, "No Contracting State shall expel or return ('refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion." Even if a country is not a party to the Refugee Convention, it is bound by the customary international law norm of non-refoulement.

As reported in a recent New York Times editorial, immigrants provide many more benefits than burdens, including paying more in taxes than they claim in government benefits and doing jobs that are hard to fill. As the Congressional Budget Office concluded in 2013, gross domestic product would rise by 5.4 percent and the federal budget deficit would fall by $897 billion over the next 20 years if undocumented workers are given a path to citizenship and more work-based visas are made available to foreigners.

In accordance with its legal and moral duty, the United States should step up to the plate and welcome significant numbers of refugees. More than 20 former senior Democratic and Republican officials are urging the Obama administration to accept 100,000 Syrian refugees, and to contribute up to $2 billion to finance their resettlement and help international refugee efforts. The United States has already accepted 1,500 Syrian refugees since the beginning of the hostilities and has contributed more than $4 billion in humanitarian aid for them.

Instead of demanding regime change in Syria, the United States and its allies must stop providing weapons, training and funding to the violent opposition forces. They should enlist Russia and Iran in pursuing a diplomatic solution to this tragic conflict.

Up to this point, some of Syria's immediate neighbors -- Turkey, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Egypt -- have taken in 95 percent of the refugees, according to Amnesty International. Turkey has accepted nearly 2 million, followed by Lebanon, which has taken over 600,000. Jordan has taken half a million. Iraq has accepted almost 250,000. Egypt has accepted more than 130,000.

Germany agreed to take 800,000 refugees. Britain will take in 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020, at the rate of 4,000 per year. Canada will take 10,000; Australia will take 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees; Venezuela will take 20,000.

But Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait -- the wealthiest nations in the region -- have taken none of the refugees. Likewise, Iran and Russia, which support the Assad government, have refused permanent residency or asylum to the refugees.

Some of the Syrian refugees are Palestinians who first became refugees after the 1947-48 Nakba, when 80 percent of historic Palestine was ethnically cleansed to create Israel. They are "double refugees." But Israel has refused to take in any Syrian refugees.

Israel has apparently forgotten that in 1939, 937 Jewish refugees seeking to escape the Nazis made the perilous ocean voyage on the SS St. Louis, but the United States turned them away. Forced to return to Europe, hundreds of them were then killed by Hitler's forces. The nations of the world, and particularly the United States, must ensure the current refugees obtain the shelter to which they are entitled.

This article was originally published on Truthdig.

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Prisoners' Struggle Ends Indefinite Solitary Confinement

Confirming Frederick Douglass's adage, "Power concedes nothing without a demand," prisoners held in solitary confinement for many years in California have won an unprecedented victory. After three hunger strikes, in which tens of thousands of California inmates participated, and a federal class action lawsuit filed on behalf of prisoners by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), a landmark settlement was reached. It effectively consigns indefinite solitary confinement in California to the dustbins of shameful history.

More than 500 prisoners had been held in isolation in the Security Housing Unit (SHU) at Pelican Bay prison for over 10 years, and 78 of them had been there for more than 20 years. They spend 22 ½ to 24 hours every day in a cramped, concrete, windowless cell, and are denied telephone calls, physical contact with visitors, and vocational, recreational, and educational programs.

Now California prisoners will no longer be sent to the SHU solely based on allegations of gang affiliation, but rather based on infraction of specific serious rules violations. Prisoners will only be put in solitary confinement if they commit a serious offense such as assault or murder in prison, and only after a due process hearing. And they will be put into solitary for a definite term -- no more indeterminate solitary confinement. An estimated 95 percent of California prisoners in solitary confinement based solely on gang affiliation (about 2,000 people) will be released into the general prison population.

The settlement also limits the amount of time a prisoner can spend in the SHU, and provides a two-year step-down program for transfer from SHU to general population. It is estimated that between 1,500 and 2,000 prisoners will be released from SHU within one year of this settlement.

"California's agreement to abandon indeterminate SHU confinement based on gang affiliation demonstrates the power of unity and collective action," the plaintiffs said in a joint statement. "This victory was achieved by efforts of people in prison, their families and loved ones, lawyers, and outside supporters."

The plaintiffs in Ashker v. Governor of California argued that California's use of prolonged solitary confinement constitutes cruel and unusual punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and denies the prisoners the right to due process.

The federal district court judge found that prolonged solitary confinement had deprived the plaintiffs of "normal human contact, environmental and sensory stimulation, mental and physical and health, physical exercise, sleep, nutrition, and meaningful activity" which could constitute cruel and unusual punishment.

Although no U.S. court has yet ruled that solitary confinement violates the Eighth Amendment, Justice Anthony Kennedy indicated in a concurring opinion in June that he would likely entertain such an argument in the future. Commenting on the case of a man who had been isolated for 25 years in California, Kennedy told the U.S. Congress in March that solitary confinement "literally drives men mad."

Indeed, after visiting Eastern State Penitentiary in Philadelphia in 1842, Charles Dickens noted, "The system here, is rigid, strict and hopeless solitary confinement. I believe it ... to be cruel and wrong ... I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body." Dickens felt that isolation of prisoners was a thing that "no man had the right to inflict upon his fellow creature."

Juan Mendez, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture, concluded that solitary confinement for more than 15 days constitutes torture. He wrote that prolonged solitary confinement violates the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The United States has ratified both of these treaties, making them part of U.S. law under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution.

Ireland refused to extradite a man to the United States to face terrorism-related charges earlier this year. The High Court of Ireland worried that he might be held in indefinite isolation in a Colorado "supermax" prison, which would violate the Irish Constitution.

Between 80,000 and 100,000 people are held in some type of isolation in U.S. prisons on any given day, generally in supermax prisons, in 44 states and the federal system. Yet there is no evidence that solitary confinement makes prisons safer, the Government Accountability Office determined in 2013.

Solitary confinement exacerbates mental illness. In Madrid v. Gomez, a U.S. federal court judge wrote that for those with diagnosed mental illness, "placing them in [solitary confinement] is the mental equivalent of putting an asthmatic in a place with little air to breathe."

Professor Craig Haney described the deprivation of basic human needs of social interaction and environmental stimulation as a "painfully long form of social death."

The European Court of Human Rights has determined that "complete sensory isolation coupled with complete social isolation can no doubt destroy the personality," in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights. Likewise, the Inter American Court of Human Rights has stated that prolonged solitary confinement may violation the American Convention on Human Rights.

Suicide rates in California, New York and Texas are significantly higher among those held in solitary confinement than in the general prison population. And juveniles are 19 times more likely to take their own lives in isolation than in the general population. Connecticut, Maine, Oklahoma, New York, and West Virginia have banned or put restrictions on solitary confinement of juveniles. 

President Barack Obama has asked his attorney general to "start a review of the overuse of solitary confinement across American prisons." Obama said, "The social science shows that an environment like that is often more likely to make inmates more alienated, more hostile, potentially more violent." 

The purpose of the penal system is social rehabilitation, according to the ICCPR. In contravention of that mandate, the California legislature has specified that the purpose of sentencing is punishment. Solitary confinement implicitly denies any chance of social rehabilitation. The ICCPR requires that prison guards respect the inherent dignity of every inmate. Prolonged solitary confinement, like other forms of torture, destroys a person's dignity.

Mendez proposed a worldwide ban on nearly all uses of solitary confinement, which has increased throughout the globe, especially in the context of the "war on terror" and "threats to national security." He particularly criticized the routine use of isolation in U.S. supermax prisons.

In his concurring opinion, Justice Kennedy quoted Dostoyevsky: "The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons." So one must wonder why the United States refuses to ratify the U.N. Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires international inspection of prisons.

This article originally appeared on teleSUR.

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One Day Soon, That Drone Overhead May Be Pointing a Taser at You

North Dakota has just become the first state to legalize police use of drones equipped with "less than lethal" weapons, including rubber bullets, Tasers, tear gas, pepper spray and sound cannons. Now, police will be able to remotely fire on people in North Dakota from drones, much as the CIA fires on people in other countries.

Although drones in North Dakota will be limited to "less than lethal" weapons, some of these devices can cause injury or even death, according to Christof Heyns, United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. He reported that rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas have resulted in injury and death. "The danger is that law enforcement officials may argue that the weapons that they use are labeled "less lethal" and then fail to assess whether the level of force is not beyond that required,"

Heyns wrote. The Guardian reports that at least 39 people have been killed by Tasers as far in 2015. Heyns warned the U.N. General Assembly that the use of armed drones by law enforcement could threaten human rights. "An armed drone, controlled by a human from a distance, can hardly do what police officers are supposed to do--use the minimum force required by the circumstances," he said.

Drone manufacturers in North Dakota lobbied hard to stymie efforts that would have required police to obtain warrants before using drones. Al Frazier, a sheriff's deputy who pilots drones, revealed their motivation. He told The Daily Beast, "I think when you're trying to stimulate an industry in your state, you don't want things that would potentially have a chilling effect on [drone] manufacturers." 

When North Dakota police suspected Rodney Brossart of cattle rustling, they asked Homeland Security to use a predator drone to fly over his land. Predator drones are also used by the CIA to conduct surveillance and drop bombs in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. The police, who didn't get a warrant to fly over Brossart's land, used evidence gathered from the drone surveillance to prosecute him. Brossart was convicted of terrorizing, preventing arrest and failing to comply with the law for stray animals.

The Supreme Court has not yet decided whether police must obtain a warrant before using drones. In California v. Ciraolo, the court upheld the warrantless use of a fixed-wing aircraft at an altitude of 1,000 feet to peer into a private, fenced backyard and identify marijuana plants because "any member of the public flying in this airspace who glanced down could have seen everything that these officers observed." The court noted that no warrant is needed for what is "visible to the naked eye." The justices reached the same result in Florida v. Riley, in which officers saw marijuana plants in a greenhouse from a helicopter 400 feet above.

But in Kyllo v. United States, the court held that the police need a warrant to use a thermal imaging device that measures the temperature of the roof of a house to detect the growing of marijuana inside. Justice Antonin Scalia wrote for the majority that if the government could freely collect any information "emanating from a house," we would be "at the mercy of advancing technology--including imaging technology that could discern all human activity in the home." The majority thought it significant that the technology used in Kyllo was "a device that is not in general public use."

It is unclear how the court will apply these cases to the use of drones, which could be used to conduct long-term surveillance of private property with imaging systems that pick up much more detail than the naked eye.

Fourteen states have enacted legislation that limits how the police can use drones. But, "in the states that don't require warrants, it's pretty much a Wild West," Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, told the National Journal.

Drones are increasingly used for surveillance in the United States.

The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), which patrols almost half the Mexican border with drones, has loaned its drones to local agencies and other national agencies, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). Drones were used 700 times for domestic surveillance between 2010 and 2012.

Stanley cautions against government use of drones for mass surveillance. In my book "Drones and Targeted Killing: Legal, Moral, and Geopolitical Issues,"he writes:

"Police and government agencies, meanwhile, are likely to seek to use this technology for pervasive, suspicionless mass surveillance. To begin with, there is a long history of government agencies seeking to engage in mass surveillance, from the Cold War spying abuses to today's deployment of license plate scanners and surveillance cameras in our public places, to the sweeping NSA programs that were revealed by Edward Snowden."

Stanley warns about discriminatory targeting of people of color, citing the experience in Britain where black people were 1½ to 2½ times more likely to be the subject of surveillance than the percentage of their numbers in the general population would indicate.

Stanley cites the Electronic Frontier Foundation's revelation of CBP documents that suggest the CBP will use "non-lethal weapons designed to immobilize TOIs [targets of interest]." But, he thinks, "there is good reason to think that, once current controversies subside and the spotlight of public attention shifts elsewhere, we will see a push for drones armed with lethal weapons."

The private use of drones can also be quite threatening.

Augustine Lehecka was enjoying a San Diego County beach with friends when a drone flew a few feet above them, its four blades whirring, its camera rotating from side to side. Lehecka said, "We had like a peeping Tom. I felt threatened."

So Lehecka threw his T-shirt at the drone, it hit the propeller and the drone fell to the ground. He was arrested for felony vandalism, and after spending the night in jail and posting $10,000 bail, Lechecka was released without charge. The incident caused a San Diego Union-Tribune columnist to write an article titled "Pin medal on drone downer's shirt." 

In response to Lehecka's arrest, the Encinitas City Council is considering local regulation of drones. John Herron, who urged the council to take action, told a San Diego Union-Tribune reporter that his 3½-year-old son had been terrified by a low-flying drone, saying, "Once my son saw the drone, he became visibly scared . . . he told me he wanted to leave the park."

Children in Yemen and Pakistan are also terrorized by U.S. drones, which hover above their communities for hours at a time, according to the study "Living Under Drones,"published by Stanford and New York University law schools. The constant buzzing of the drone is terrifying. Medea Benjamin spoke to people in Waziristan, Pakistan, many of whom "live in a state of constant fear." She wrote in "Drones and Targeted Killing," "Residents I met with said they had a hard time sleeping, that many people suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress disorder, and that there is widespread use of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication." She added, "They also reported a spate of suicides, something they said never existed before."

William Merideth downed a drone with a shotgun, claiming it was flying over his property near Louisville, Ky. He said, "I had no way of knowing [if] it was a predator looking at my children." Charged with first-degree endangerment and criminal mischief, Merideth was released on $2,500 bond and is due to return to court in September. The operator of the drone was not charged with any offense.

The Federal Aviation Administration issued proposed regulations on drone use earlier this year. Drones would not be allowed to fly over people unless they are directly involved with the flight. The rules would apply to drones that weigh 55 pounds or less. Drone flights could take place only during the daytime. They would be limited to an altitude of 500 feet and speeds of 100 mph. And they could not fly near airports or restricted airspace. The operator would have to maintain eye contact with the drone at all times.

It could take years for these regulations to be implemented. Meanwhile, the FAA has reported 700 near misses between airplanes and drones in U.S. airspace so far this year. Some of the drones have been flying at high altitudes--10,000 feet or more.

Twenty-six states have passed laws regulating the use of drones, and six more states have adopted resolutions. Issues addressed in these laws include defining what a drone is, the manner in which they can be used by law enforcement and other state agencies, how they can be used by the general public, and how they can be used to hunt game.

In February, the White House began requiring government agencies to inform the public where federal agencies fly drones, how frequently, and what information they secure from drone use.

Two federal bills are pending: in the Senate, The Protecting Individuals From Mass Surveillance Act, and in the House, Preserving American Privacy Act. The Senate bill would require a warrant before federal law enforcement officers could use drones and manned aircraft, but it carves out an exemption within 25 miles of the border, and it wouldn't bind state or municipal agencies. The House bill would require warrants to conduct state or federal drone surveillance with some exceptions. Evidence obtained in violation of both these bills would be inadmissible in court.

Given the significant invasion of privacy occasioned by the use of drones by law enforcement, warrants should be mandatory before using them for surveillance. And weaponized drones of any sort should be outlawed.

This article first appeared on Truthdig.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

From Japan to Vietnam, Radiation and Agent Orange Survivors Deserve Justice From the US

We have just marked anniversaries of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the US government against the people of Japan and Vietnam. Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the US military unleashed an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb, on Nagasaki, which killed 70,000. And 54 years ago, on August 10, 1961, the US military began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. It contained the deadly chemical dioxin, which has poisoned an estimated 3 million people throughout that country.

Devastating Effects of Radiation in Hiroshima and Nagasaki

On the day of the first atomic bombing, 19-year-old Shinji Mikamo was on the roof of his house in Hiroshima helping his father prepare it for demolition when he saw a huge fireball coming at him. Then he heard a deafening explosion and felt a searing pain throughout his body. He said he felt as if boiling water had been poured over him. Shinji was three-quarters of a mile from the epicenter of the bomb. His chest and right arm were totally burned. Pieces of his flesh fell from his body like ragged clothing. The pain was unbearable. Shinji survived but most of his family perished.

Shinji's daughter, Dr. Akiko Mikamo, told her father's story at the Veterans for Peace convention in San Diego on August 7. She wrote the book, Rising From the Ashes: A True Story of Survival and Forgiveness From Hiroshima. Akiko's mother Miyoko, who was indoors about a half-mile from the epicenter, was also severely injured in the bombing, but she too survived.

Akiko said 99 percent of those who were outdoors at the time of the blast died immediately or within 48 hours. A week after the bombing, thousands of people had experienced a unique combination of symptoms, Susan Southard wrote in the Los Angeles Times:

"Their hair fell out in large clumps, their wounds secreted extreme amounts of pus, and their gums swelled and bled. Purple spots appeared on their bodies, signs of hemorrhaging beneath the skin. Infections ravaged their internal organs. Within a few days of the onset of symptoms, many people lost consciousness, mumbled deliriously and died in extreme pain; others languished for weeks before either dying or slowly recovering."

Southard notes that the US government censored Japanese news reports, photographs, testimonies and scientific research about the condition of the survivors.

Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, which created the atom bombs, testified before Congress that death resulting from exposure to large amounts of radiation takes place "without undue suffering." He added it is "a very pleasant way to die."

Thirty years after the end of World War II, numerous cases of leukemia, stomach cancer and colon cancer were documented.

The bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were criminal because at the time Japan was already defeated and had taken steps to surrender. With these atomic bombings, the United States launched the Cold War, marking the beginning of its nuclear threat.

The Continuing Legacy of Agent Orange in Vietnam

Sixteen years after the United States' nuclear attacks on Japan, the US military began spraying Vietnam with Agent Orange-dioxin. In addition to the more than 3 million Vietnamese people killed during the Vietnam War, an equivalent number of people suffer serious diseases and children continue to be born with defects from Agent Orange. US veterans of the Vietnam War and their children suffer as well.

Agent Orange caused direct damage to those exposed to dioxin, including cancers, skin disorders, liver damage, pulmonary and heart diseases, defects to reproductive capacity and nervous disorders. It resulted in indirect damage to the children of those exposed to dioxin, including severe physical deformities, mental and physical disabilities, diseases and shortened life spans.

Dan Shea joined the US Marine Corps in 1968 at the age of 19. He served in Vietnam a little more than two months. But he was in Quang Tri, one of the areas where much of the Agent Orange was sprayed. When Shea saw barrels "all over" with orange stripes on them, he had no idea the dioxin they contained would change his life forever. When they ran out of water, he and his fellow Marines would drink out of the river.

In 1977, Shea's son Casey was born with congenital heart disease and a cleft palate. Before his third birthday, Casey underwent heart surgery for the hole in his heart. Ten hours after surgery, Casey went into a coma and died seven weeks later.

Just as the US censored information about the effects of radiation after the atomic bombings, the US government and the chemical companies that manufactured Agent Orange - including Dow and Monsanto - also suppressed the 1965 Bionetics study that demonstrated dioxin caused many birth defects in experimental animals. The spraying of Agent Orange finally stopped when that study was made public.

Shea, who also addressed the Veterans for Peace convention, works with me on the Vietnam Agent Orange Relief and Responsibility Campaign. We seek to obtain relief for the Vietnamese, Vietnamese-American and US victims of Agent Orange through the recently introduced H.R. 2114. US vets have received some compensation, but not nearly enough. Vietnamese people and Vietnamese-Americans have received nothing for their suffering.

This bill would assist with the cleanup of dioxin still present in Vietnam. It would also provide assistance to the public health system in Vietnam directed at the 3 million Vietnamese people affected by Agent Orange. It would extend assistance to the affected children of male US veterans who suffer the same set of birth defects covered for the children of female veterans. It would also lead to research on the extent of Agent Orange-related diseases in the Vietnamese-American community, and provide them with assistance. Finally, it would lead to laboratory and epidemiological research on the effects of Agent Orange.

Agent Orange in Japan

The US government has also denied that Agent Orange is present on Okinawa, the Pentagon's main support base during the Vietnam War. In February 2013, the Pentagon issued a report denying that there is Agent Orange on Okinawa, but it did not order environmental tests or interview veterans who claimed exposure to Agent Orange there. "The usage of Agent Orange and military defoliants in Okinawa is one of the best kept secrets of the Cold War," according to Jon Mitchell, a journalist based in Tokyo.

"The US government has been lying about Agent Orange on Okinawa for more than 50 years," Mitchell said. An investigation by Okinawa City and the Okinawa Defense Bureau found dioxin and other components of Agent Orange in several barrels on Okinawa. Many bore markings of Dow Chemical, one of the manufacturers of Agent Orange. The Japan Times cited reports of military veterans who said that burying surplus chemicals, including Agent Orange, "was standard operating procedure for the US military on Okinawa."

Two hundred and fifty US service members are claiming damages from exposure to Agent Orange on Okinawa during the Vietnam War, but very few have received compensation from their government. In spite of the Pentagon report, the US Department of Veterans Affairs granted relief in October 2013 to a retired Marine Corps driver who has prostate cancer. The judge ruled that his cancer was triggered by his transport and use of Agent Orange.

Abolish Nuclear Weapons and Compensate Victims of Agent Orange

Besides being criminal, the United States' use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and poisoning of Vietnam and Okinawa with Agent Orange, are a shameful legacy. The denial and cover-up of each of these crimes adds insult to injury.

As we work toward a nuclear deal with Iran, the US government should abide by its commitment to nuclear disarmament in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It is also time to fully compensate the victims of Agent Orange and fund a total cleanup of the areas in Vietnam that remain contaminated by the toxic chemical. Urge your congressional representative to cosponsor H.R. 2114, the Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act of 2015.

Copyright Truthout. Reprinted with permission.

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