The River

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


The mood of the country is not good. The Democrats refuse to do even the minimum of what they were elected to do.

The only thing keeping the lid on is the falling price of gas at the pump. For some reason, gasoline isn't $3 a gallon or more, despite oil prices hitting $78 a barrel last week.

How long can people be bought off? In just poking around the net a little and listening to the radio yesterday, I see that the issues are clearly understood, they are being discussed. But they are being ignored by a complicit Congress.

MARJORIE COHN [professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild. She is the author of the new book "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law."]: ...And what’s happened now with the Congress capitulating to really a much broader program than even the Terrorist Surveillance Program, they have not only legalized what Bush was doing before, but I think it’s highly unlikely that the Bush administration officials will be brought to justice for the felonies that they have been committing since 2001.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, called this “violence against the Constitution,” yet in the editorials, the New York Times has editorialized against what the Democrats did, the Washington Post in their piece called -- talking about the warrantless legislation, also attacked the Democrats, as well as the Republicans. How does it get passed without the Democratic leadership in some way conceding?

MARJORIE COHN: Well, there were several Democrats -- sixteen Democrats in the Senate, forty-one Democrats in the House -- this could not have been passed without the Democrats. And so, in essence, this congress is very -- there’s very little difference between this congress and the congress that gave Bush the PATRIOT Act without reading it, gave Bush the authorization for the Iraq war, gave Bush the Military Commissions Act. They have rolled over consistently, and they even rolled over on the Iraq spending bill after Bush vetoed it, instead of saying, “Look, Bush is the one who isn't supporting the troops, because he vetoed our spending bill, even though it had timetables.” They said, “Oh, we don't want to be perceived as not supporting the troops.” This has been a congress that has remained terrorized by the Bush administration since 9/11.


AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about the torture of prisoners, one of the titles of one of your chapters?

MARJORIE COHN: Torture is illegal under our law. It’s illegal under three treaties we have ratified: the Geneva Conventions, the Convention Against Torture, and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. And notwithstanding the Bush administration's distaste for treaties and so-called international law, our Constitution has a provision called the Supremacy Clause. And it says that treaties shall be the supreme law of the land. That means that treaties are US law, and pursuant to those treaties, we’ve enacted two federal US statutes, the Torture Statute and the War Crimes Act. And under the War Crimes Act, grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions constitute war crimes.

So torture is illegal all the time. And, in fact, the Torture Convention says no exceptional circumstances, even a state of war, can ever be used as a justification for torture. And yet, pursuant to a carefully thought-out policy and memos written in the Department of Justice by John Yoo and David Addington and others, there has been a policy of torture and abuse that comes from the highest levels. It’s not just a few bad apples, and it’s gone on in Abu Ghraib prison, all around Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo and in the CIA black sites around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: What about this piece Jane Mayer has just written? You may not have gotten a chance to read it, in The New Yorker magazine, but on the CIA’s black site, the US network of secret overseas prisons that you’re talking about, Mayer reports that the International Committee of the Red Cross has concluded the CIA’s detention interrogation methods are tantamount to torture. Sources told her that this confidential Red Cross report that US officials -- warned US officials that they may have committed grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and may have violated the US Torture Act. The Red Cross issued the confidential report to the Bush administration last year. But according to the reporter, The New Yorker reporter, Jane Mayer, only a handful of people inside the administration have seen it.

MARJORIE COHN: Well, that means, if that’s true -- and I believe it is, given the evidence that we see continually coming out of the whistleblowers and the Red Cross and the UN commissions that have been investigating -- that means that Bush administration officials are guilty of war crimes. But one of the things that the Military Commissions Act does is to give immunity to Bush officials for these war crimes that they’ve committed. And so they -- and this is pursuant to these legal memos, these so-called legal memos by John Yoo and David Addington, which basically informed Bush how to torture and get away with it, how to get around liability under the War Crimes Act.


AMY GOODMAN: Marjorie Cohn, a lot of people talk about the war as being a terrible mistake. You don't. You go way further than that.

MARJORIE COHN: Yeah. The war was a premeditated, deliberate violation of the law. The UN Charter, also a treaty, also part of US law, says the only two instances where a country can use force against another is in self-defense or when the Security Council agrees. And there was never any evidence that Saddam Hussein posed a threat to us or to any other country. He hadn't invaded any country for twelve years, since Kuwait, and he had really been -- his military had been neutered by the Gulf War, by the punishing sanctions, by the bombings in the no-fly zones. And the Bush administration knew that. They knew that, and yet they sold this war. They sold this war.

They intended to invade Iraq since way before 9/11. And now it’s really clear why they did that. And that is, to install huge permanent military bases, the biggest in the world, and the biggest US embassy in the world in Baghdad and to privatize Iraq's oil. They’re trying to push through this Iraqi oil law that even Congress is touting as a benchmark for Iraqi progress, and it would give control of three-quarters of Iraq’s oil to foreign oil companies.

And yet, we see the leading Democratic candidate, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is saying, well, she is not talking about taking the bases out. She’s saying we’d leave a force there, which means we would leave the bases there. So -- and I don't hear anyone but Kucinich [also Ron Paul] actually talking about an end to the occupation, which is what we should be talking about.

But I think that it’s very important not to say the war was a mistake, the war is being fought incompetently. The war is illegal, and it’s also immoral. It’s killing thousands of US soldiers. It’s killing tens of thousands of Iraqis, and it’s draining our National Treasury. And the majority of American people know this, but Congress has not caught on yet.

-- excerpts from yesterday's Democracy Now program.


To uncritical supporters of the Democratic Party, I say this is not a time for partisan politics. To use the American people’s frustration with Bush as political leverage in the 2008 elections, and to ignore the constitutional responsibility the legislative branch has to hold the executive branch accountable through the impeachment process, flies in the face of our democracy. People are dying in Iraq because of Bush’s lies; people are being tortured in Guantanamo because of Bush’s disregard for the Constitution and international law; and the American people are loosing faith in our democracy. But, Congress doesn’t get that, and that is why their current approval rating is lower than Bush’s.

-- Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., The Black Commentator

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