Letter to Sen. Bill Nelson Re: His Vote on The Detainee Bill

 Congress, Election, Politics  Comments Off on Letter to Sen. Bill Nelson Re: His Vote on The Detainee Bill
Oct 122006

The following letter was faxed yesterday to the campaign headquarters of Senator Bill Nelson. Today, I received an email from the office manager there saying she intended to put the letter in his nightly reading box. Let me know what you think.

October 12, 2006

Hon. Bill Nelson
United States Senate
1011 E. Colonial Dr, STE 201
Orlando, FL 32803

Dear Senator Nelson:

I’ve been a proud Democrat since before I was old enough to vote. I’ve worked on several State Senate campaigns, and my father was a local elected official in my home state of North Carolina. I believe in most of the principles of the Democratic Party, and my pride in the accomplishments of the Party has not previously faltered.

Of grave concern to me is the recent power grab by the current Administration. The Bush-Cheney Administration has shown a total disregard for the constraints placed on government by the Constitution with everything from the “signing statements;” to the super-Constitutional PATRIOT Act; to the illegal wiretaps; to rendition; to this most recent Detainee Treatment bill.

The previous commander of the Gitmo Prison Camp was Col. Michael Bumgarner. He and I were close high school friends, and I was a member of his wedding party. Yet I’m ashamed to learn of the abuses of prisoners at Gitmo and at other secret camps around the world. It is difficult to remain proud to be an American. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “When a whole nation is roaring Patriotism at the top of its voice, I am fain to explore the cleanness of its hands and purity of its heart.”

Business travel will have me out of town on Election Day, and while Diebold will probably not count my ballot, I sit here at my desk with my absentee ballot open conflicted about voting for you for U.S. Senate. Katherine Harris is an idiot, but you have cast several votes over the past years that have provided aid and comfort to the Bush-Cheney Administration in their power-grab, the most recent being your vote in favor of this Detainee Treatment Bill.

Along with Republicans, you have had your hands on the scissors cutting a hole in our Constitution. Perhaps the original should be moved from Washington and placed in safe keeping somewhere for the time being. (Maybe Canada would hang on to it for us until some responsible adults assume the reins of government in Washington.)  Continue reading »

Waiting For The Black Helicopters

 Congress, Constitution, Politics, Presidency, The Courts  Comments Off on Waiting For The Black Helicopters
Sep 302006

Since I’ve been blogging about the abuses, lies and failures of the Bush administration, a former co-worker and good friend used joke with me to, “watch my back,” and that I could expect to find black helicopters hoovering over my house any day now. Others have given me advice, “These people are capable of anything. Stay off small planes, make sure you aren’t being followed.”

I always laughed and shook my head whenever I heard this stuff. Extreme paranoia wrapped in the tinfoil of conspiracy, I thought. This is still America, and these Bush fools will soon pass into history, I thought. I am a citizen, and the First Amendment hasn’t yet been red-lined, I thought.

Matters are different now.

It seems, perhaps, that the people who warned me were not so paranoid. It seems, perhaps, that I was not paranoid enough. Legislation passed by the Republican House and Senate, legislation now marching up to the Republican White House for signature, has shattered a number of bedrock legal protections for suspects, prisoners, and pretty much anyone else George W. Bush deems to be an enemy.

So much of this legislation is wretched on the surface. Habeas corpus has been suspended for detainees suspected of terrorism or of aiding terrorism, so the Magna Carta-era rule that a person can face his accusers is now gone. Once a suspect has been thrown into prison, he does not have the right to a trial by his peers. Suspects cannot even stand in representation of themselves, another ancient protection, but must accept a military lawyer as their defender.

Illegally-obtained evidence can be used against suspects, whether that illegal evidence was gathered abroad or right here at home. To my way of thinking, this pretty much eradicates our security in persons, houses, papers, and effects, as stated in the Fourth Amendment, against illegal searches and seizures.

“Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable – already a contradiction in terms – and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.”      Continue reading »

Is it OK For Us to Torture Just Because Al-Quaida Does?

 Crime, Politics, Society, War  Comments Off on Is it OK For Us to Torture Just Because Al-Quaida Does?
Jun 212006

I just happened to have MSNBC on at the end of Keith Olbermann’s show when I caught the lead-in for Joe “What dead intern?” Scarborough’s show. He had a guest host. He was leading in a report about the torture and killing of the two American soldiers (one of whom was a 22-year-old from nearby Madras, Oregon) in Iraq. Enjoy the strawman goodness:

MICHAEL SMERCONISH, GUEST HOST: Right now in SCARBOROUGH COUNTRY: Two U.S. soldiers brutally tortured and murdered in Iraq. How should America respond? And I want to know why are all those critics of so-called American torture not speaking out about the torture of our guys today?

…But first: A militant Islamic Web site claims the new leader of al Qaeda in Iraq personally carried out the killings of two soldiers found dead in Baghdad last night. Those bodies showed signs of torture. They were killed in a, quote, barbaric way, and American troops had to literally fight their way to the bodies, which were booby-trapped with explosives.

It?s a horrific story, and as I watch it unfold, I have to ask myself where are the people who worked themselves into a lather about the naked pyramid pictures at Abu Ghraib or those who wanted trials at The Hague because we played Christina Aguilera music a bit too loud for the detainees down at Gitmo. Tonight in America, some are no doubt sitting in barcaloungers kvetching over which American soldiers will next be put on trial for alleged war atrocities, and meanwhile, these dirtbags they’re thinking about whose head they want to chop off next.

OK, my liberal (and not so liberal) brothers and sisters, raise your hands if you think Americans piling up naked prisoners, shoving glowsticks in their rectums, forcing them to stand in uncomfortable positions for long periods of time, waterboarding, peeing on their Korans, smearing shit all over them, and beating them until they die are bad things. Let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4,… yup, looks like all of you. OK, put your hands down.

Now, raise your hands if you think Iraqis torturing and decapitating American soldiers is a bad thing. Let’s see… 1, 2, 3, 4,… yup, looks like all of you again.

Idiot blowhard. NOBODY thinks it was OK for our boys to be tortured. NOBODY thinks our torture was as bad as their torture. But some of us hold America (you know, the good guys) to a higher standard. Mr. Blowhard seems to be saying, “hey, our low grade torture of them is perfectly justified because of their high-grade torture of us!”

What Mr. Blowhard and the wingnuts refuse to acknowledge is that BushCo (Gonzalez, particularly) set the bar for torture when they decided the Geneva Conventions were “quaint anachronisms”. They decided that captured Iraqis weren’t “prisoners of war” deserving of trials, lawyers, justice, or decent treatment. The chickens are coming home to roost. We are reaping what we have sown.

That’s not to say that these murderous terrorist bastards wouldn’t have used torture anyway, even if we did follow the rules of war or made Gitmo a four-star luxury resort. But we can never know that now. For us to complain now about their disgusting tactics makes us the master stonethrowers of glass house land. We can — and should — scream to the high hills about the atrocity perpetrated on our troops… but only if we follow it up with action to treat our prisoners humanely, afford them lawyers and open trials, shut down Gitmo, and impeach/imprison the war criminals who made this vile state affairs possible.

Now I know some winger is reading this and thinking, “see, no matter how bad the enemy is, all you liberals can do is blame Bush!” Well, why shouldn’t we; he is “The Decider”, after all. I blame insurgents for torturing our soldiers; I blame Bush for putting those soldiers in harm’s way for no good reason.

Power Is An End

 Deep Thoughts, Politics, Society  Comments Off on Power Is An End
May 072006

Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. —Orwell, 1984

Regular readers of this blog will know that I find us frighteningly close to Orwell’s vision of 1984. Orwell’s observation here is not that people use power to accomplish something, but they use power to ensure they have more and continuing power.

White House Still Pushing Torture

 Congress, Corruption, Crime, Politics, Society, War  Comments Off on White House Still Pushing Torture
Dec 052005

Reuters has a story saying that the White House has been meeting with Sen. John McCain in an effort to obtain an exemption so that the CIA can torture people.

I continue to find it abhorrent that we are even discussing how this country might use torture. It’s proven to be ineffective, so to what end is Dick Cheney so interested in keeping this option open.

I find it even more surprising that these supposedly evangelical Christians continue to support this administration, despite this continuing desire by the Administration to torture people. There will be a day of reckoning, and I hate to tell these people, but the God I worship is not going to be happy that we enabled torturers. It’s really not part of his plan for humankind, and he was actually pretty clear about it.

V.P. Fights Against Outlawing Torture

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Oct 252005

The Bush administration wasn’t happy when the Senate overwhelmingly voted to limit and define U.S. interrogation techniques against terrorism suspects. Vice President Cheney is now attempting to exempt the Central Intelligence Agency from this measure. His proposal "states that the measure barring inhumane treatment shall not apply to counterterrorism operations conducted abroad or to operations conducted by ‘an element of the United States government’ other than the Defense Department." The CIA is believed to be involved in several torture scandals in Iraq, including situations where detainees have died, but has refused to release any data on detainee abuse. "This is the first time they’ve said explicitly that the intelligence community should be allowed to treat prisoners inhumanely," said Tom Malinowski, the Washington advocacy director for Human Rights Watch. "In the past, they’ve only said that the law does not forbid inhumane treatment."

Once Again A Call To Methodist Bishops to Denouce Torture

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Sep 282005

I have, several times in the past, called on the U.S. Bishops of the United Methodist Church, to write George Bush and denounce the practice of government sponsored torture. To the best of my knowledge, only five have done so. In light of the recent revelations, I am, again, calling on these Christian leaders to denounce toture. I will be much aggressive this time in that I plan to make a phone call to each.

I have previously posted the contact information for the fifty U.S. Bishops in PDF and Excel format. I ask you to join me in calling on them to write the White House, and take a stand against torture.

Dear Bishop:

Most Americans agree that torture should not be permitted. Few seem aware, though, that although President George W. Bush says he is against torture, he has openly declared that our military and other interrogators may engage in torture “consistent with military necessity.”

Are we, as Methodist charged by our founding principles to be socially responsible, going to continue to close our eyes – even as this behavior continues to be exposed?

We have come a long way since Virginia patriot Patrick Henry loudly insisted that the rack and the screw were barbaric practices that must be left behind in the Old World, “or we are lost and undone.” Can the leaders of Methodism consult their own consciences with respect to what Justice may require of them in denouncing torture as passionately as the patriots who founded our nation?

On September 24, The New York Times ran a detailed report regarding the kinds of “routine” torture that US servicemen and women have been ordered to carry out (http://www.nytimes.com/2005/09/24/politics/24abuse.html). This week’s Time also has an article on the use of torture by US forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo. Those two articles are based on a new report from Human Rights Watch, a report that relies heavily on the testimony of a West Point graduate, an Army Captain who has had the courage to speak out. A Pentagon spokesman has dismissed the report as “another predictable report by an organization trying to advance an agenda through the use of distortion and errors of fact.” Judge for yourselves; the report can be found at (http://hrw.org/reports/2005/us0905/). Grim but required reading.

See if you can guess the author of the following:

“In this land that has inherited through our forebears the noblest understandings of the rule of law, our government has deliberately chosen the way of barbarism…

There is a price to be paid for the right to be called a civilized nation. That price can be paid in only one currency – the currency of human rights…When this currency is devalued a nation chooses the company of the world’s dictatorships and banana republics. I indict this government for the crime of taking us into that shady fellowship.

The rule of law says that cruel and inhuman punishment is beneath the dignity of a civilized state. But to prisoners we say, ‘We will hold you where no one can hear your screams.’ When I used the word ‘barbarism,’ this is what I meant. The entire policy stands condemned by the methods used to pursue it.

We send a message to the jailers, interrogators, and those who make such practices possible and permissible: ‘Power is a fleeting thing. One day your souls will be required of you.”

— Bishop Peter Storey, Central Methodist Mission, Johannesburg, June 1981

The various rationalizations for torture do not bear close scrutiny. Intelligence specialists concede that the information acquired by torture cannot be considered reliable. Our own troops are brutalized when they follow orders to brutalize. And they are exposed to much greater risk when captured. Our country becomes a pariah among nations. Above all, torture is simply wrong. It falls into the same category of evil as slavery and rape. Torture is inhuman and immoral, whether or not our bishops and rabbis can summon the courage to name it so.

You forfeit your moral authority when you keep your heads down and eyes averted to this behavior. The question is this: Are we up to the challenge of confronting the evil of torture, or shall we prove Patrick Henry right? Is our country about to be “lost and undone?”

I once again call on each of you to decry the government sponsored torture that is clearly taking place. We, as Christians and Methodists can do no less. It is, as a leader of the Church, your obligation to speak up loudly and denounce these activities. As Bishop Story noted, one day too, our souls will be required of us.

Yours in Peace,
John Masters

Army Captain Alleges Systematic Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners

 Politics, War  Comments Off on Army Captain Alleges Systematic Abuse of Iraqi Prisoners
Sep 272005

Time magazine yesterday revealed new allegations of "systematic abuse" of Iraqi detainees made by a "decorated former Captain in the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division." For months, Capt. Ian Fishback said, U.S. soldiers were directed "to conduct daily beatings of prisoners prior to questioning." In one instance, "a soldier allegedly broke a detainee’s leg with a metal bat." Other prisoners had "their faces and eyes exposed to burning chemicals." Fishback says he told Army superiors of the abuse several times, but was met with "repeated brush-offs." Finally, he reported his charges to Human Rights Watch (read HRW’s full report). Now that the abuse is public, the Army says it has launched a criminal investigation.

Maybe The Most Remarkable Show of Gall Ever

 Politics  Comments Off on Maybe The Most Remarkable Show of Gall Ever
Jun 282005

The UN just celebrated the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture.

Bush happily and unselfconsciously weighed in with these words, per USA Today of 6/27:

“Freedom from torture is an inalienable human right, and we are committed to building a world where human rights are respected and protected by the rule of law.”

And if it takes torturing a bunch of thugs and criminals and terrorists to get to that world, by God you can be damn sure we’re the ones to do it!

Here I Go Again

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Jun 162005

I felt compelled to write another letter to the U.S. Methodist Bishops. My friend Glenda chastised me, saying I was going to cause them to just start deleting my messages. Indeed, at least two already do that (I request a read receipt). But as I told her, I can’t stop them from doing that, but I feel an obligation to try to move them. I can only do what I can do, and they will only do what they feel compelled to do.

Dear Bishop:

I’d like to call to your attention two items that are, while seemingly unrelated, actually are very much related in an important way to Christians.

First is another report by members of the FBI about torture at Guantanamo Bay Prison and delivered on the Senate Floor by Sen. Durbin:

When you read some of the graphic descriptions of what has occurred here [at Guantanamo Bay]–I almost hesitate to put them in the [Congressional] Record, and yet they have to be added to this debate. Let me read to you what one FBI agent saw. And I quote from his report:

“On a couple of occasions, I entered interview rooms to find a detainee chained hand and foot in a fetal position to the floor, with no chair, food or water. Most times they urinated or defecated on themselves, and had been left there for 18-24 hours or more. On one occasion, the air conditioning had been turned down so far and the temperature was so cold in the room, that the barefooted detainee was shaking with cold. . . . On another occasion, the [air conditioner] had been turned off, making the temperature in the unventilated room well over 100 degrees. The detainee was almost unconscious on the floor, with a pile of hair next to him. He had apparently been literally pulling his hair out throughout the night. On another occasion, not only was the temperature unbearably hot, but extremely loud rap music was being played in the room, and had been since the day before, with the detainee chained hand and foot in the fetal position on the tile floor.”

In a different story the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports that, Fred Phelps and members of the congregation of his Westboro Baptist Church will picket the funeral of an Idaho National Guard soldier killed in Iraq. The church has been picketing the funerals of other soldiers as well.

According to a flier on the Church’s website, they are picketing to point out that God killed Cpl. Carrie French with an improvised explosive device in retaliation against the United States for a bombing at Phelps’ church six years ago.  “Our attitude toward what’s happening with the war is the Lord is punishing this evil nation for abandoning all moral imperatives that are worth a dime,” Phelps said.

So how are these two stories related? Both stories are receiving a decent amount of media coverage. Notice how the second story refers over and over again to “Church.” People, this is the face of Christianity that is being presented to us and the World. At the same time, Christian Leaders, and this includes you all, are standing by while the first story unfolds with nary a peep. Only one of your number has the courage to contact me and tell that he will write the President and remind him of the Methodist stance on torture. Another of you wants to have a committee consider it, and others of you insist on referring me to one of our Boards. Like it or not, Wesley demands that we be involved in our world as it is, and that we defend the “least of these” among us. And he was not referring to committees. John Wesley expected each of us to be part of the world.

Our Church has indeed spoken on this topic in fairly clear terms. A professed Methodist is the person in charge of the government committing these crimes against humanity, and you all stand quietly on the sidelines. All the while, Fred Phelps, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson present their face as the face of Christianity in America.

I daresay that many of your churches used the great old hymn “The Church Is One Foundation” on Pentecost. Have you listened to words lately? One of the last verses is, “Mid toil and tribulation, and tumult of her war, she waits the consummation of peace forevermore. Til, with the vision glorious, her longing eyes are blest, and the great church victorious shall be the church at rest.

The problem I have is that you are very busy with working groups trying to figure out why people are un-churched. Duhh! (As they say nowadays.) Look around at what you all are concerned with. The only headlines the Methodist Church have been receiving of late relate to the witch hunt being conducted to rid the pastorate of (ohmygosh) gays and lesbians, and a Methodist in the White House is allowing, nay, encouraging, the torture of other human beings. That is not, “The vision glorious” talked of in the hymn.

You all are supposed to be leaders in the faith. Demand better. If you are at a loss for words, cut and paste the appropriate sections of the Discipline. Remind our Commander and Chief of his obligations as a Christian and a Methodist. What are you afraid of? Lead or get out of the way. Show this world and this country that Methodist care, and try to live out the call of Jesus Christ in this world.

You all have, as a group, presented a couple of Bibles to the President. Call on him to read and study the book you provided. Live up to the call of John Wesley. Care about the world and the rest of humanity. Quit sitting on your hands and hiding behind Boards and Committees, and start worrying about what is really important. Some of you don’t even care enough to read my messages. I know you don’t like them, but it’s just rude when I get back a read receipt saying it was deleted without being read. How low have you sunk, that you are afraid to even read the truth when it comes to you?

As another verse of the hymn says, “Their cry goes up, how long!” How long indeed will the leaders of the Methodist Church standby and allow the Fred Phelps’ of this world to be the face of Christianity. How long will you ignore the torture of fellow human-beings? I weep for all of Christendom, and for our Church.

Yours in Peace,