LET’S HEAR IT FOR ATCA!

Washington, DC

Daphne Eviatar’s otherwise excellent article on the lawsuits against Unocal, which seek to hold the company liable for human rights abuses committed as part of its operations in Burma [“Profits at Gunpoint,” June 30], implies that the statute has only recently been pulled from obscurity to sue multinational corporations. In reality, the law–the Alien Tort Claims Act–has been used for more than twenty years to sue individuals responsible for egregious human rights abuses. In a landmark 1980 human rights case, Filartiga v. Pena-Irala, litigated by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the family of a young man tortured to death in Paraguay sued the torturer, then living in New York City, and won.

Later cases sought justice for Argentines tortured and disappeared during the dirty war; Haitians tortured by the military dictatorship; Guatemalans whose communities were decimated by the military regime; and three Ethiopian women tortured as teenagers by a man who later moved to Atlanta, taking a job in the very hotel in which one of his victims was working. A case against former Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos sought reparations for torture, summary execution, disappearance and prolonged arbitrary detention. A case against Radovan Karadzic sought justice for the victims of the genocidal war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. That case provided a transition toward corporate accountability, when the court held that private persons–and now, corporate entities–can be held liable for human rights abuses committed in complicity with government officials. In 1994, EarthRights International and the CCR teamed up to prepare what became the first corporate case to satisfy the jurisdictional standards of the Alien Tort Claims Act, Doe v. Unocal. Attorneys from the International Labor Rights Fund have since litigated several corporate cases, including a case that runs parallel to Doe v. Unocal.

In certain circumstances, the statute can also be used against US government officials and hired guns, which has triggered outrage in the Bush Administration. Recently the Ninth Circuit held that a Mexican doctor kidnapped from Mexico by the Drug Enforcement Administration on suspicion of involvement in the murder of a DEA agent was entitled to damages for arbitrary arrest and detention.

The current Justice Department’s virulent opposition to the statute is certainly fueled by corporations seeking impunity abroad. But George W. Bush’s people at Justice also oppose all uses of the statute, insisting that our courts should have no role in providing relief for victims of human rights abuses. It betrays a complete disregard for the First Congress, which adopted the law in 1789, for prior administrations’ views of the statute and for a quarter-century of careful and consistent application by the courts.

RALPH STEINHARDT
George Washington University Law School


NOTES FROM BIRDCAGE BOTTOM

Seattle

It amazes me that people of the Eastern Seaboard, even people I trust and respect–and I mean Eric Alterman here–keep forgetting that for those of us in the rest of the country, the New York Times is not particularly important [“Stop the Presses,” June 30]. Many of us consider the contents of newspapers to be opinion. And yesterday’s paper winds up in the recycling bin, even if it is the New York Times. The area of concern is that in a world where people lie, plagiarize, exaggerate and are otherwise duplicitous, affirmative action gets the blame. That’s what needs to be confronted.

PATRICIA BARBER


Portland, Me.

I’m surprised Eric Alterman didn’t list the Boston Globe in his short tabulation of still-liberal newspapers. Having given up, after fifty years, on the pious, pretentious, condescending, Clinton-hating, Lieberman-loving, Bush-ass-kissing, Pope-adoring, religion-riven, boring New York Times, I discovered, to my delight, the Boston Globe, with its refreshing, down-to-earth, clearly written, old-fashioned, unabashedly liberal opinions and coverage. I mean, I know of the Republifascists’ plans to turn the United States into a theocratic oligarchy–I don’t need the likes of Andrew Sullivan et al. drooling through their soup to further inform me of the treason. And while the Times has raised its Sunday price to an outrageous, elitist $4.50, the Globe‘s has gone down to $1.50–with no decrease in content! And I know both papers are owned by the Times Corporation–go figure.

ALEXANDER WALLACE


FCC: FULLY CONSERVATIVE CABAL?

Asheville, NC

The recent disturbing FCC actions come as no surprise [John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney, “Standing Up to the FCC,” June 23]. Until February, I was a full-time announcer at WZLS-FM, Z-96.5, here in Asheville. WZLS was a rarity in radio: a locally focused, community-supportive station with live announcers 24/7. The format was rock and roll, with the DJs choosing their music from the library of Brian Lee, program director and son of Zeb Lee, station owner and radio pioneer. The Lee family had been in radio here for more than forty years.

On February 21, the FCC ordered WZLS off the air with less than nine hours’ notice. The frequency had been auctioned to the highest bidder, thanks to a rider on the 1998 federal budget bill by Senator John McCain that allowed the FCC to auction off six contested frequencies rather than assign them fairly. The 96.5 frequency was the only one actually on the air at the time. It ended up in the hands of Liberty Productions, a company once declared by an FCC judge to be “unfit to be a Commission licensee” and has since been sold to Saga Communications of Michigan. The FCC got $2.3 million for the license. The Lees, their livelihood taken from them, got nothing for their years of hard work (see www.wzls.com). The FCC no longer serves the public interest.

JEFF ALLAN


‘KANGAROO COURTS-MARTIAL’

Froson, Sweden

As an antiwar lawyer who handled draft and military cases during the Vietnam War, I was reminded on reading David Cole’s “Defending Show Trials” [June 16], on the upcoming trials of Guantánamo Bay prisoners, of the old observation that military justice is to justice what military music is to music. Given that Bush’s military wants to assure kangaroo courts-martial for the prisoners, I’m hoping that any civilian lawyer with integrity and gumption enough to defend his/her client under the stated circumstances will use the opportunity to educate Americans and the rest of the world by publicly and loudly denouncing this vicious fraud, the trademark of virtually everything being done by this Administration.

DON BAY


SO, WHY ARE WE IN IRAQ?

Swarthmore, Pa.

It appears that the United States may have been neoconned into invading Iraq by the President’s Feith-based initiative.

AARON FINE


STATEMENT FROM A STATE

Boston

Everyone here at Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts (N2N-MA) appreciated John Nichols’s “Taking It to the States” [June 9]. But our victories were understated. In 1999 N2N-MA and the Working Family Agenda Coalition (WFAC) won over $1 billion in new wages and benefits for working families–against the opposition of a Republican governor and DLC-style conservative Democratic House leadership. In 2002 our coalition won the most progressive tax reform in Massachusetts since World War II, using the state fiscal crisis to reverse pro-corporate tax policies and send a powerful rebuke to Bush’s agenda.

Our electoral program is a necessary part of our strategy–electing progressives to all levels in Worcester and defeating key conservatives, including the state chair of ALEC (addressed in Nichols’s companion article, “ALEC Meets His Match”). These victories show that states can provide alternatives to the national agenda.

N2N-MA and WFAC have led this organizing since 1997, when we began to develop a strategy to confront (bipartisan) conservative control of Massachusetts. There is a steep drop-off in voter turnout among low-income people between national and state elections. Just as increasing low-income participation in national politics improved our Congressional representation, increasing participation in state politics holds the key to progressive state government.

We build diverse coalitions to fight for our issues year-round, not just a few months before an election or in reaction to an attack. We target working-class districts using lobbying and elections to swing recalcitrant incumbents or, alternatively, to unelect them.

With only a $750,000 budget, we have a grassroots presence in Worcester, Fitchburg, Leominster, Lynn, Salem, Fall River, New Bedford, Brockton and Holyoke. If we double that, we can have organizers in every working-class city in Massachusetts. That’s all that stands between us and a progressive majority in Massachusetts.

HARRIS GRUMAN


MY LITTLE CARIBBEAN TAX HIDEAWAY

Belchertown, Mass.

“And the Poor Pay Taxes” [June 2] was on target, noting “offshore accounts and other scam tax shelters.” Legislation is pending in Congress to address phony offshore reincorporations US firms use to avoid federal taxes. HR 737 (the Corporate Patriot Enforcement Act) and S 384 seek to close the loophole that allows companies to set up offshore headquarters. Progressives must get behind this type of nuts-and-bolts legislation. It could be a winning issue for Democrats.

JOHN MATTAR


A FOWL LIBEL

Tacoma, Wash.

William Greider has repeated an enduring libel of an innocent denizen of the barnyard [“Deflation,” June 30]. I demand that he cease. Henny Penny, bonked by an acorn, claimed the sky was falling. Goosey Lucy and other feathered friends were perhaps persuaded by Ms. Penny’s inference, but my client, Chicken Little (née Chicken Licken), had nothing to do with the matter. I am well aware that many writers have attributed the faulty inference to Ms. Little/Licken. However, a glance at original accounts of the incident will disclose that it was Ms. Penny who wanted to tell the king about the falling firmament.

WILLIAM HALTOM


GREIDER REPLIES

Washington, DC

Gloria Mundo! In the future, I will stick to baseball metaphors.

WILLIAM GREIDER