Now that he's published a book about his Guantanamo ordeal, it's time to revisit the story of former Army chaplain James Yee. (I published a column about Yee in 2004 but much has happened since then and Yee's compelling narrative fills in many of the blanks.)
His book For God And Country is one decent person's account of his inhumane treatment by US military authorities. In short, the story happened like this: Yee was the only Muslim chaplain at Guantanamo's prison base, and he incurred his commanders' wrath when he told his superiors that Muslim prisoners were being abused and having their rights violated.
Prior to his arrest on bogus charges of sedition, mutiny and espionage, Yee, ironically, had received glowing commendations in reviews from his superiors. Nonetheless, armed with an arrest warrant from Guantanamo's second-in-command--but as we later found out, hardly a shred of evidence--the military put Yee in solitary confinement for 76 days. It dragged his name through the mud as officials leaked information to the media charging that Yee was a member of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda.
You may have missed it, but the first week of October was Lawsuit Abuse Awareness Week. Was this catchy concept created to raise awareness of people abused by negligence or malpractice who must pursue remedy through the courts?
No. It was created BY the industries who don't want to be sued for wrongdoing or negligence (and who also happen to have the resources to run ads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC) and who would rather mislead the public into believing that "greedy personal injury lawyers" are filing so many "meritless lawsuits" that win "outrageous jury awards" that the legal system has to be fundamentally changed.
This is the fallacious argument behind "tort reform." And don't be confusedâ€“it is a fallacious argument. Medical malpractice insurance is a perfect example. The insurance industry says it has to raise rates because it gets sued too much by greedy lawyers. But these charges fall flat in the face of Bush Justice Department figures released this past summer which said that the number of tort cases resolved in US District Courts fell by 79 percent between 1985 and 2003. The truth is that medical malpractice tort costs account for less than two percent of healthcare spending, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. Legal awards to patients is simply not where high health insurance costs are coming from. Want to see lower insurance rates? Regulate the industry.
"The CIA leak issue is only the tip of the iceberg," Congressman Jerry Nadler told me when I ran into him on the street near our offices on Friday afternoon. He was quick to tell me of a call--led by Congressman Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Nadler, along with 39 of their House colleagues--for Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald's investigation to be expanded to examine whether the White House--President, Vice-President, and members of the WH's Iraq War Group--conspired to deliberately deceive Congress into authorizing the war. And, as Nadler reminded me, lying to Congress is a crime under several federal statutes.
This is the first call by members of Congress for an expansion of Fitzgerald's probe, amid mounting evidence that there was a well-orchestrated effort by what former State Department aide Larry Wilkerson dubbed last week, "the Cheney-Rumsfeld axis" to hijack US foreign policy and knowingly mislead the Congress in order to get its support for an unlawful war.
"We are no longer just talking about a Republican culture of corruption and cronyism," Nadler says. "We now have reason to believe that high crimes may have been committed at the highest level, wrongdoing that may have led us to war and imperiled our national security." For more on this important call for the investigation's expansion, click here, and then click here to ask your elected reps to support these calls.
George Bush, who once criticized Ronald Reagan's approach to terrorism, is now making a desperate grab for the former president's coattails.
In August, Bush said that, because of Reagan's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Lebanon after the 1983 bombing of a Maine barracks in Beirut killed 241 Americans, "[Terrorists] concluded that free societies lack the courage and character to defend themselves against a determined enemy."
But two months later, with his poll ratings dropping to levels Reagan never saw, and with public support for the Iraq occupation collapsing, Bush traveled to a the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, where he declared with a straight face that, "we are answering history's call with confidence and a comprehensive strategy."
Rows of plain black boots and empty pairs of baby shoes and dancing slippers are a mute testament to the American soldiers and Iraqi civilians who have perished in Iraq, as shown in a traveling exhibition sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
The situation in Pakistan is so bad that the United Nations today urged NATO countries to stage a huge and immediate airlift to get life-saving supplies to earthquake victims. Tens of thousands of people are still trapped in the earthquake zone almost two weeks since the quake. If we are to save them, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland said, an airlift equivalent to that in Berlin in 1949 is required.
Egeland's call came as UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan warned that earthquake survivors would be engulfed in a "wave of death" unless there was an "immediate and exceptional escalation" in the international aid effort. (UNICEF, the UN children's organization, officially estimates that at the present rate of the relief efforts, 10,000 children will die within weeks.)
Although the official death count remains at 49,739, local authorities released "unofficial" figures putting casualties at almost 80,000, which one UN expert described yesterday as "credible." Despite these stunning numbers--close to last year's tsunami and far more lethal than what Hurricane Katrina wrought in the US--global relief aid has been exceedingly sluggish: Less than fourteen percent of the UN's emergency appeal of $410 million has been donated to date.
Months ago, we celebrated the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics' impressive drive to eliminate toxic ingredients from beauty products. Due to an FDA loophole, which exempts personal care product manufacturers from government oversight, many of the cosmetics on shelves today may contain known or probable carcinogens (see Mark Schapiro's "A Makeover for the Cosmetics Industry.")
But by last Mother's Day, the campaign had successfully encouraged more than a hundred companies to sign a compact banning ingredients that are known or strongly suspected of causing cancer, genetic mutation or birth defects from their products.
Recently, the campaign scored an even bigger victory for consumer rights--this one on the legislative front. On October 8th, despite vigorous opposition from the cosmetics and chemical industries, the California Safe Cosmetics Bill was signed into law. The bill--which requires manufacturers to disclose to the California'sDepartment of Health Services any product ingredients linked to cancer, mutations, or birth defects--is the first of its kind in America. After two years of coordinated efforts by the Breast Cancer Fund, Breast Cancer Action and the National Environmental Trust (NET), California residents will finally have the right to know what's behind their beauty products.
Today's edition of the New York Times devoted exactly one sentence (on page A18) to one of the most important news stories of the day. "No Rise in Minimum Wage," the headline read. The nation's minimum wage has, shockingly, been stuck at $5.15 an hour since 1997. Yesterday, two proposals--from both Democrats and Republicans--were rejected in the House.
The Democrats' proposal, introduced by Edward Kennedy (MA), called for an increase to $6.25 over an 18-month period. A Republican proposal provided the same $1.10 increase and added various tax incentives for small businesses. Both measures went down in flames as did the hopes of working people coast to coast that they might finally be more fairly compensated for their labor. Moreover, as Kennedy rightly insisted, it's "absolutely unconscionable" that in the same period that Congress has denied a minimum wage increase, lawmakers gave themselves seven pay raises worth $28,000.
The Cajun and Creole folks of Ville Platte, LA, learned long ago not to
rely on the government for help. It the wake of hurricanes they
launched a homemade rescue-and-relief effort to save their community.
With leading Republicans facing the slammer and Bush in a tailspin,
fate has given liberals a huge opportunity. Americans already
share our values--we need a new language to help connect peoples'
deepest needs to the liberal vision.