Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peddling Fear and Lies

Last week the American Research Group, Inc released the results of their most recent poll on the US economy. Their polling research found that President Bush’s approval ratings are at the all time low of 19 percent. With ten months still to go, and the US economy in dire straits, there’s plenty of time for him to dip into the single digits, and possibly into negative numbers. The politics of fear and divisiveness don’t seem to be working so well any more.

Most Republicans know this, and do everything they can to distance themselves from the president. The group Americans United for Change personally delivered buttons to all GOP members of the House and Senate a week before the State of the Union Address. The buttons read: “I Am A Bush Republican.” The group urged the legislators to wear them proudly, in support of the president and policies they’ve been voting for. I didn’t see any of them being worn during that giddy event, which seemed to have been preceded by a lengthy open bar. How else would one explain all the standing ovations?

The GOP needs a new marketing strategy. In a year where one presidential candidate is engaging people by talking about hope, they’re still selling fear. President Bush is claiming that we are at risk, because the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) reform legislation, known as the Protect America Act, expired on February 16. The president has refused any efforts to extend or change the expired legislation, unless it contains immunity for telecommunications companies. He threatened to veto a short extension of the FISA reforms. If he believes the Protect America Act to be crucial to our national security – why would he risk it by a veto?

This is really all about shifting more power to the executive branch. The revisions in the Protect America Act would shift wiretapping approval from the judiciary to the attorney general and the director of national intelligence. This is also all about protecting the executive branch. There are over 40 pending civil lawsuits against the telecom companies. If the companies get immunity, the public will lose the ability to learn more about the warrantless spying, and how it has been conducted. That’s the bottom line. The Bush administration is attempting to protect itself, by peddling fear to the voters.

Former NH Congressman Jeb Bradley had an editorial in the Union Leader last week, accusing the US House of Representatives of “playing Russian Roulette with federal wiretap powers.” He cited the heartbreaking story of a young soldier who died because the government couldn’t spy on the kidnappers without establishing probable cause. The old FISA law allows the administration to apply for a warrant, in an emergency, AFTER the surveillance has taken place, a fact Bradley neglected to mention, in his attempt to use the death of this soldier to take a shot at current Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter. Poor Jeb didn’t learn anything from his defeat in 2006. He supported the Bush plan to privatize Social Security. He proudly touted his support for the REAL ID Act. He has consistently supported an administration that has played fast and loose with the US Constitution. The voters of NH found that Bradley was out of step with their values, so they sent him home. Bradley seems to think that beating the same losing drum will help him get elected again, in November.

Nationally, the GOP has targeted a handful of freshman Democrats they wish to oust, and they’ve found a group to run ads in 13 Congressional districts. One of them is NH CD1, where an ad has been running, telling us that our intelligence agencies are powerless to conduct surveillance against terrorists since February 16, when the FISA reform lapsed. The ad is false – propaganda designed to show that Congresswoman Shea-Porter is weak on terrorism. In fact, Shea-Porter voted to extend the law for 21 days so that Congress could work out the problems with the bill, but Bush was against temporarily extending his own legislation.

NH’s junior Senator, John E. Sununu, Jr., a Bush acolyte (voting with him 90% of the time) didn’t wear his “I’m a Bush Republican” to the State of the Union Address. Senator Sununu has shown that he, too, is out of touch with the interests of NH voters. Last year, when speaking to a group of NH businessmen, he told them to stop worrying about health care costs, since there is nothing they can do about them. That’s mighty reassuring, isn’t it? Sununu recently voted against the original economic stimulus package, claiming too many additions to the bill. When the unemployment extensions, and low income heating assistance were taken out, he voted for the bill. The poor, the elderly, and the unemployed are all mighty thankful for Sununu’s vigilance on spending. They know that Sununu, who wants to privatize Social Security and make tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans permanent, has their best interests at heart.

Apparently the GOP inability to learn from mistakes trickles down. Former State Representative Henry Mock had a little tantrum in the newspaper about activists exercising their First Amendment rights in staging an hour-long protest against Sununu last week. Far from being a traffic nuisance, the activists (including myself) were careful to stay on the shoulder, and not block the driveway to the restaurant where the Carroll County GOP were having their annual Lincoln Day Dinner. Despite Mock’s claims to the contrary, there was plenty of room in the parking lot, since the event was far from sold out. Mock came out and took pictures, in what he seemed to think was an attempt to intimidate the group. Far from being intimidated, people seemed willing to pose for his pictures and speak with him, but he quickly headed back for the warmth and safety of the cocktail lounge. Mock was quoted in this paper as saying that Republicans would never participate in such a protest. He’s absolutely right. They’d never stand outside in freezing temperatures to stand up for what they believe in.

“We cannot allow ourselves to be scared into suspending the Constitution. If we do that, we might as well call the terrorists and tell them that they have won.” Representative Silvestre Reyes, in a letter to President Bush.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Torture - the GOP Litmus Test

From Wikipedia: “Water boarding is a form of torture that consists of immobilizing a person on his or her back, with the head inclined downward, and pouring water over the face and into the breathing passages. Through forced suffocation and inhalation of water, the subject experiences the process of drowning in a controlled environment and is made to believe that death is imminent.”

Water boarding came into vogue during the Spanish Inquisition, where it was used to uncover and punish heretics. The Europeans brought it to the new world, where it was used to ferret out witches and punish “scolds” (uppity women who didn’t take orders well from men). Women who were accused of sorcery were immersed in water, and held under, repeatedly, until they confessed or drowned. If they confessed, they were hanged or burned.

In 1947, after WWII, the United States charged a Japanese military officer with war crimes. Yukio Asano was found guilty of water boarding a US civilian, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. In 1968, the Washington Post published a picture on the front page, of a US soldier engaged in questioning a captured North Vietnamese soldier. He was being held down as water was poured on his face, and a cloth covered his mouth and nose. The caption under the photograph said the technique induced a sense of drowning and suffocation, intended to make him talk. The US soldier was court-martialed within a month of the photos appearing in the paper. In 1901, a US Army major was sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for water boarding a prisoner in the Philippines, during the Spanish-American War.

Most members of the military are against torture. The results of such torture are meaningless, they tell us – since the person being tortured will confess to anything to make it stop. Some of us watched the confirmation hearings of Attorney General Michael Mukasey in amazement. Mukasey indicated that even if Congress were to ban water boarding, the president might be able to order it anyway, given his authority as president and commander-in-chief. The President seems to be under the impression that nothing is illegal if it is done in secret, so we have the practice of extraordinary rendition (where we outsource our torture work to Uzbekistan) and Guantanamo Bay, where we are now talking about trying and executing some of the prisoners who have been languishing there for years. One of them is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who is considered the mastermind behind the September 11, 2001 attacks on the US. Mohammed is often cited as a water boarding success story. In 2006, President Bush informed us of a foiled terrorist attack that was supposed to occur in Los Angeles – but the plot was thwarted. The presumption is that they water boarded the information out of him, and saved the day. The problem is, the plot had already been derailed (in 2002) before Mohammed was captured in 2003.

Retired Rear Admiral John Hutson is the Dean of the Franklin Pierce Law School, in Concord, NH. He is regarded internationally as an expert on military law, as a former JAG. We saw Admiral Hutson at the Mukasey hearings. In 2005, Hutson spoke at the Carnegie Council forum: Ending Torture and Secret Detention in America’s Name. He said, “The great strength of the United States is that for generations our mission has been human rights and the rule of law which embodies everything else that we stand for. In losing our bearings with regard to human rights, with regard to support of the rule of law, we have undermined the fundamental strength of the United States, and we therefore risk losing the war.”

The United States used to consider water boarding a form of torture. It has become a litmus test for the GOP. If you don’t support torture, you can’t be a good Republican. That makes a certain ironic sense, given how they’ve tortured all of us since the 1980’s. In fact, if you don’t support torture, you can’t be president, as John McCain has learned. McCain, a former POW, has been outspoken in his opposition to water boarding and torture. In November of 2007, I sat in a TV station in Londonderry, listening, as Arnie Arneson interviewed McCain. I don’t agree with Senator McCain about much of anything politically, but I was impressed with how he spoke out against the US using torture. He spoke about the history of water boarding, and related the story of how it was considered a war crime by the US after WWII. His principled stance against torture impressed me, and impressed me even more, knowing that he is a member of the pro-torture political party.
That was in November, before he was the presumptive GOP nominee for president. This week, the Senate voted on the Intelligence Authorization Bill, which would require the intelligence community to abide by the same standards as the Army Field Manual, and bans water boarding. Senator McCain has been in favor of implementing the Army Field Manual standards. But that was before he became the likely GOP presidential nominee. When push came to shove this week, McCain voted against the bill, which passed. President Bush has said he will veto the bill. After he does, McCain will have to choose whether or not to stand with the president, or take a stand against torture. His vote on this bill seems to be an indication. The Straight Talk Express just crashed and burned.

“Other than perhaps the rack and thumbscrews, water boarding is the most iconic example of torture in history. It has been repudiated for centuries. It’s a little disconcerting to hear now that we’re not quite sure where water boarding fits in the scheme of things.” Dean John Hutson, in the panel following Muckaey’s testimony at his confirmation hearings.