Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.
When Waangari Maathai got news that she had received the Nobel Peace Prize, she removed her jewelry, knelt down in the dirt and planted seeds of a Kenyan tree known as the Nandi Flame on the grounds of the Outspan Hotel in Nyeri, in the foothills of Mount Kenya. "It cannot get any better than this," she said. "Maybe in heaven."
Maathai is a woman of firsts: the first woman in eastern and central Africa to earn a doctorate, the first female professor at the University of Nairobi and, now, the first African woman to win the Peace Prize.
Known as Kenya's "Green Militant," she founded the "Green Belt" movement--a grassroots women's group which since the late 1970s has planted more than thirty million trees in Kenya and a dozen other African countries, halting the deforestation that has stripped much of the continent bare. And as important, as a New York Times profile noted, the movement "has also nurtured as many women as it has acacias or cedars,"--providing jobs, economic opportunity and independence to nearly 10,000 women who plant and sell seedlings for a living.
"Many wars we witness around the world are over natural resources," Maathai said the other day. "Without a properly managed enviroment, all of our lives are threatened.... In sustainable development, we plant the seeds of peace."
Maathai's passionate dedication to building a sustainable environment for the local and global community has always been linked to her fierce commitment to empowering women within their communities and fighting the forces of greed and corruption that threaten natural resources and human rights.
In awarding the Peace Prize to Maathai, the Nobel Committee signaled its recognition that peace is possible only when communities can achieve economic and environmental sustainability. "We have added a new dimension to the concept of peace," said the head of the Nobel Committee. "We have emphasized the environment, democracy building, human rights and, especially, women's rights."
Maathai's courageous resistance to Kenya's former leader, Daniel Arap Moi--who ruled for two decades--was the centerpiece of a 1995 article she contributed to The Nation. Published as part of a Forum on challenges facing women on the eve of the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, her piece is a bold statement of opposition to what she termed "greedy and egocentric leaders [who] assisted by international companies take advantage" of the power they have to ravage the environment and lay waste to their countries. (See below for the full text.)
In 1999, as a result of her uncompromising opposition to the Kenyan president's corruption, Maathai--along with other Green Belt members--was beaten and arrested by security forces for protesting the clearing of a forest near Nairobi for a luxury housing development. Maathai seized the country's attention by insisting on signing her police report in blood from her head wound. The houses were never built.
Moi, who once called Maathai a "mad woman" and "a threat to the order and security of the country" for her relentless work to preserve Kenya's forests, lost a presidential election in 2002. That same year, Maathai was elected to parliament; she is now assistant minister for the environment.
Many in Kenya hope that Maathai's newfound global fame will draw attention to a current controversy in her country. According to the Washington Post, top government officials, including Moi and another former president Jomo Kenyatta, are accused of taking public lands for their private use in order to clear trees for quick profits."The generation that destroys the environment is usually not the generation that suffers," Maathai said.
And for the suffering women of Africa, her prize sends an inspirational message. "The culture pulls us down so often," said Beatrice Elachi of the National Council of Kenya. "We are told to give way to men. But now, thanks to Wangari, every woman will know she can make it."
...And the Other Nobel Peace Prize Winner
Many--including internet bookmaker Centrebet--the first to organize betting on the Nobel Peace Prize contest--had listed Mohamed ElBaradei and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as favorites at 4-1 for their work in reducing the risks of nuclear proliferation. (Maathai was such an outsider that you couldn't bet on her by name.)
If the Nobel Committee had awarded ElBaradei the prize, it would have been another powerful acknowledgment that the Bush Administration's rationale for war lies in tatters. And it would have vindicated the work of ElBaredei and the IAEA, whose prescient and well-documented work was pilloried and dismissed by the US media and the Bush Administration in the run up to war. In the end, preventive war failed while sanctions, inspections and containment worked.
But vindication comes in other forms. As ElBaradei told reporters at the Japan National Press Club the very day of the Nobel announcement, he felt "vindicated" after the release of a report by the chief US weapons inspector, Charles Duelfer, confirming that there were no WMDs and no active WMD programs in Iraq. "Although it took a war to prove that, we were proven correct," ElBaradei said. "The lesson I take is that the international community should listen to us more carefully in the future before they take the decision to use coercive action."
A Nobel for an extraordinarily courageous and prescient African women; vindication for inspections over war....not a bad week. Here's hoping that November brings equally hopeful news.
Although democracy and economic development are advancing in South Africa and other African nations, the tragic truth is that much of the continent is being impoverished by greedy and egocentric leaders assisted by international companies who take advantage of the fact that some presidents run their country as if it were their personal property. Oppressed, cowed and living in debilitating poverty, the majority of Africans can only watch as their leaders mortgage them and their lands with projects they neither want nor need.
In Kenya, my own country, President Daniel Arap Moi has contracted with a Canadian group to build a multimillion-dollar international airport in his hometown, Eldoret, when the two existing airports in Mairobi and Mombasa are grossly under utilized and mismanaged. The French have just completed another multimillion-dollar white elephant in the same area, the Turkwell hydroelectric complex, which ordinary Kenyans must pay for.
The UN women's conference should pressure the World Bank, IMF and donor countries to do business by behaving as if people matter. That must be a major mission of delegations and women participating in the conference and the N.G.O. forum when they return to their homelands.
Male misleadership and incitement of tribal conflicts have brought wars, mass rapes, starvation and other horrors to some African countries. Women must rise to the occasion and say No to the guns. And at the UN conference in Beijing and around the world, we must say Yes to women's political, economic and social empowerment.
Wangari Maathai is the founder of the Green Belt movement, a grass-roots organization of women who have planted more than 10 million trees in Kenya and a dozen other African countries. Maathai, a professor of chemistry, was Kenya's first woman Ph.D. and the first woman member of its Parliament. She is also a co-chair of the women's Environment & Development Organization.
In recent months, we've seen a full-scale revolt over the skyrocketing costs of prescription drugs in this country.
Two weeks ago, a high-level dissident executive from Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, denounced the pharmaceutical industry for resisting legislation that would allow imports of low-cost prescription drugs from Canada and other countries. Just days later, the City Council of Montgomery County, Maryland, ironically the home of the FDA, added its name to a long list of cities and states that have defied federal law and passed legislation permitting citizens to buy medications in Canada. Moreover, eighteen state attorneys general have written the Bush Administration urging passage of legislation allowing prescription drugs to be imported.
"Stopping good importation bills has a high, high cost not just in money, but in American lives," Dr. Peter Rost, the dissident Pfizer exec, declared at a rally on Capitol Hill in support of legislation that allow imports. "Every day we delay, Americans die because they cannot afford life-saving drugs." (Thomas Ryan, the CEO of the drugstore conglomerate CVS, made a similar concession in May.)
In the veep debate, it was good to hear John Edwards blast the Administration for blocking the importation of drugs from Canada and tell Amercians--"We're not going to allow it." Sen. John Kerry has talked about prescription drug prices as well, but too often, in this campaign, the importation issue has been shoved under the rug. This, then, is a stealth issue whose time has come. An anti-corporate underground railroad has taken center stage in the legal vacuum, operating in the best tradition of direct action protest. Consumer advocates of all ages are organizing bus trips to Canada where US citizens can purchase cheaper drugs. (Savings run as high as 50 percent; prozac--the popular anti-depressant--costs $3.34 a pill in the US and $1.54 a pill in Canada, to cite one example.)
In St. Paul, Minnesota, the protesters are senior citizens who gather in parking lots, where they board buses so they can journey over eight hours to reach Winnipeg. (These trips are funded in part by Sen. Mark Dayton--a millionaire who donates his entire Congressional salary to fund the bus trips.) The trip takes about two days.
This rebellion is being joined by a bipartisan coalition of governors, citizens and state officials who are creating websites linking consumers to Canadian pharmacies. New Hampshire, for instance, includes a link to Canadadrugs.com on its official state website. Even the Republican Governor Craig Benson recommends Canadadrugs.com, which is regulated by the Canadian government. So far, the FDA--faced with a drumbeat of pressure from supporters of importation--has not acted to shut the sites down.
This movement is spreading like wildfire across the country. Just a few days ago, Illinois and Wisconsin launched "I-Saverk"--the nation's first state-sponsored program to help residents buy cheaper prescription drugs from both Europe and Canada. And some 24 states are considering legislation that would permit importation of drugs from Canada or elsewhere, while Connecticut, West Virginia and Vermont are among several states that have already enacted pro-importation laws.
We may be looking at a nationwide insurrection. Currently, one to two million Americans are defying federal law by using the Internet to purchase drugs from Canadian pharmacies. And, according to one Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University School of Public Health poll, approximately 80 percent of Americans support importing RX drugs from Canada. Who can blame them? In 2002, Americans paid 67 percent more than Canadians for patented drug products, and medicines will cost US consumers an estimated $210 billion in 2004. The groundswell is so strong that Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thomson conceded in May that Congress will inevitably have to yield.
Much of the blame for the lack of action at the federal level can be pinned on Pharma, the pharmaceutical lobby, which values protecting profits above lives, and which is playing hard-ball in hopes of beating back an importation law. After Rost spoke out, Pfizer launched an investigation into his political activities, which seven members of Congress--including Dan Burton, the Indiana Republican--criticized as "clearly intended to intimidate Dr. Rost."
The Bush Administration and Republican leaders in Congress are also at fault. Recipients of more than $40 million in drug and insurance industry contributions since 2000, they have refused support for any re-importation proposal. Bush's most recent Medicare package failed to address drug prices and strictly prohibited Medicare from negotiating the lowest, best possible drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries.
Another Republican star recently showed himself to be in the pocket of the drugcompanies: Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed several bills which would have allowed importation of drugs from Canada as well as the creation of a website highlighting Canadian pharmacies.
The Republicans have their talking points: Importing medicines from Canada, they argue, will squeeze industry profits and undermine private-sector research and development. But as Marcia Angell, the author of the recently-published "The Truth About the Drug Companies" and former editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, has pointed out, the majority of innovation nowadays is coming from the National Institutes of Health, small biotechnology companies, and taxpayer-funded research in the universities, not from the laboratories of pharmaceutical giants.
Imports, the GOP-Pharma alliance falsely claims, are also hazardous to people's health. Pharma warned Americans "that many such drugs will be unapproved, adulterated, contaminated or counterfeit." The mother of all hypocrites is Senate Majority Leader and medical doctor Bill Frist, who has refused to allow the Senate to vote on re-importation legislation because, as one of his flaks piously put it, 'he won't put the American people in jeopardy."
It's a bogus argument: Both the FDA and the Canadian government oversee much of Canada's prescription drug supply, and "if anything, drugs obtained from Canada are likely to be safer, since they must meet the standards of both countries," said Angell. Montgomery, Ala., has a program allowing drug re-importations from Canada, and residents have "had absolutely no complaints or problems associated with the program," said John Carnell, the city's risk manager.
While the US Senate under GOP leadership has promised to find the time to vote on a flag-burning Amendment to the Constitution, thousands of senior citizens are forced to choose between buying food and medicine. They suffer, but not in silence.
It doesn't have to be this way. The government could easily take steps to regulate prescription drug prices, including empowering Medicare to leverage its bargaining power to negotiate drug prices AND permiting the re-importation of prescription drugs from Canada. If Republicans in Congress and the White House don't pass such legislation, then senior citizens should rise up and throw Pharma-funded politicians out of office.
The trip to the pharmacy should take ten minutes, not two days.
In Orlando, Florida just hours after the first presidential debate, a reinvigorated John Kerry told a crowd at Freedom High School that he had a message for every "middle-class American family that's struggling to build a better life for themselves and for their family: 'I've got your back.'"
It's not only a good soundbite, but a meaningful promise to the millions who've been squeezed tight by an Administration which treats the rich and the powerful as its base and the poor and middle class as its enemy. America wants to hear more. In the next two debates, Kerry has an opportunity to explain to the struggling and shrinking middle class--as well as the working poor--what he'll do differently to give hope back to the millions of Americans desperately struggling to survive.
Today, the Drum Major Institute (DMI)--the New York based non-partisan organization--released a list of ten smart, tough and pointed questions designed to help Americans better understand the candidates' positions on issues like job creation, expanded access to affordable health care, a restructured tax code and how Americans can cope with skyrocketing higher education costs.
"The current crisis of the middle class isn't some grand coincidence," says DMI's savvy Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger. "It was the result of public policy--and of choices made by those elected to represent us. We're asking the presidential candidates to step up and identify the greatest challenges facing the middle class and talk specifically about what they will do to meet them."
As Schlesinger puts it: "That's the only way we can hold their feet to the fire the next time they come around wanting to appeal to the American Dream."
DMI's Top Ten questions will be shared with both campaigns and the moderators of the next two debates. They'll also be posted on the group's website, which collects a raft of valuable material. Click here to read and circulate the questions.
If there was any lingering doubt that President Bush is a recklessextremist rather than a true conservative, an extraordinary letter by theson of President Dwight D. Eisenhower should dispel it. John Eisenhower,who served as American Ambassador to Belgium between 1969 and 1971,joins President Ronald Reagan's son in condemning the BushAdministration for its abdication of conservative principles. Click here to read Eisenhower's letter published this past Tuesday in New Hampshire's Manchester Union Leader.
"I've got 25 years of credibility built up, and this isn't something I've moved into lightly," Bruce Springsteen says on the eve of his first Vote for Change concert in Philadelphia this Friday. "But this is the one where you spend some of that credibility. It's an emergency intervention."
Or as one of America's great musicians explained in a recent New York Times Op-Ed, "Personally, for the last twenty five years I have always stayed one step away from partisan politics...This year, however, for many of us the stakes have risen too high to sit this election out."
So, putting his music where his mouth is, Springsteen--along with Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks, Babyface, R.E.M, John Fogerty and more than a dozen other musicians--will be fanning out to play concerts in the battleground states. Kicking off on October 1 and running through 8, the concerts will raise money for America Coming Together to conduct voter education and go door-to-door to assist people in getting to the polls on November 2.
Rock historian Dave Marsh says in a recent USA Today article that the scale of Vote for Change has been rivaled only by Amnesty's 1988 International Human Rights Now! Tour. Another pop music critic compared the marshaling of musical talent behind the upcoming concerts to "a fervor that hasn't been witnessed since musicians in the late '60s united to protest Richard M. Nixon and America's involvement in the Vietnam War."
In a recent interview in Rolling Stone magazine, Springsteen spoke with RS editor Jann Wenner about his conscience, the upcoming election, and the relationship of an artist to his audience and politics. Click here to check out (and pass around) the interview. It is well worth reading--and keeping by your side--in these next weeks. And it's not too late to buy tix to one of the concerts by clicking here.
They may not be as hot as Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, the Dixie Chicks and other musicians participating in the "Vote for Change" concert tour launching next month in swing states, but the newly-formed group, Scientists and Engineers for Change, plans to harness its formidable brainpower to make the case that Bush has manipulated and politicized science in dangerous and unprecedented ways.
Like their musical counterparts, these scientists--ten of them are Nobel Prize winners--will crisscross the battleground states to argue against a Bush election. They won't be singing or playing guitar but they will be educating voters about the threat a second Bush term poses for honest scientific inquiry in the 21st century. The group, which has no ties to the Kerry campaign, includes a registered Republican and several scientists who are not members of the Democratic Party.
As Nobel prize winner Dr. Douglas Osheroff put it, "I have never played a significant role in politics, but we must begin to address climate change now. To do so, we must have an Administration that listens to the scientific community, not one that manipulates and minimizes scientific output." In case, you needed to be reminded of the key elements of Bush's war on science, please click here to check out my weblog of last July 20.
Yesterday, more than fifty national antiwar leaders released a letter to potential Nader voters. Many of the signers are longtime activists who have been central in organizing efforts against the war in Iraq, the proliferation of nuclear weapons and the Bush Administration's policy of pre-emptive war.
"We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda," the letter stated, "But we will not vote for him this election...the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States."
Individuals signing the letter--which was organized by United Progressives for Victory--include former Congressman Tom Andrews, Executive Director of Win Without War; Dr. Robert K. Musil, Executive Director and CEO of Physicians for Social Responsibility; Amy Isaacs, National Director, Americans for Democratic Action (ADA); Daniel Ellsberg; David Cortright of the Fourth Freedom Forum; and John Isaacs, President of the Council for a Livable World.
UP for Victory includes progressives who have worked with Nader in the past and leaders with years of experience with progressive causes including peace and foreign policy, the environment, consumer rights, women's issues, civil rights, healthcare and workers' rights, and social and economic justice. In other words they have street cred. The full text of the letter and a list of the signers are below:
An Open Letter to Those Considering Voting for Ralph Nader
The November 2 election must end the reign of President George W. Bush whose policies have dismantled what we--and Ralph Nader-- have worked for years to achieve. At stake is the survival of progressive values that we and Ralph Nader hold so dear and the hope for a safer, stronger and better world.
Four more years of President Bush would result in the further undermining of international security: a new generation of nuclear weapons, a resumption of nuclear bomb testing, expansion of National Missile Defense, advancement of the doctrine of pre-emptive war, and the unilateral use of military force independent of the United Nations.
Bush supporters understand power and want to keep it. They have collected ballot signatures for Nader; they have sent him tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. They are using Ralph Nader to divide the progressive vote.
We cannot let them win.
We share Ralph Nader's concern for the condition of America's workers, consumers and citizens. We stand with Nader in demanding that the cause of security and peace be at the top of the national agenda.
But we will not vote for him this election. We will not give George W. Bush four more years to destroy the causes for which we have worked.
Your vote is your voice in this election. Make both of them heard loud and clear. Tell your friends and associates that the only practical way to safeguard the nation and the world is to vote for John Kerry for President of the United States.
1. Edie Allen, President, Colombe Foundation Mass;*2. Dorothy Anderson, MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*3. Tom Andrews, ex- member of Congress (D-ME), Executive Director, Win Without War;*4. Ed Arnold, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility/Atlanta;5. Diane Aronson, former executive director, Women's Action for Nuclear Disarmament;*6. Former Congressman Les AuCoin, Oregon;7. Catherine Barrett, State Representative, Ohio;8. Robert L. Borosage, Campaign for America's Future;*9. Anne H. Cahn, American University;10. Mary R Cathcart, State Senator, Maine;11. Rev. Dagmar Braun Celeste;12. Susan Clark actor/activist;13. David Cohen, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*14. David Cortright, President, Fourth Freedom Forum;*15. Susan Cundiff, Chapter President, Lane County WAND;16. Mary Byrd Davis, Director, Yggdrasil Institute, a project of Earth Island Institute;*17. Elizabeth Dunn, Souhegan Wood Products, Inc.;*18. Daniel Ellsberg, Author of Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers;19. Meg Gage, Proteus Fund;*20. Peter W. Galbraith, Former US Ambassador, Senior Diplomatic Fellow, Center For Arms Control and Non-Proliferation;21. Sanford Gottlieb, 20/20 Vision;*22. Raymond F. Graap, M.D.;23. Roy D. Hankins MD, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*24. Bettieanne Hart, Georgia;25. Dudley Herschbach, Department of Chemistry & Chemical Biology, Harvard University;*26. Barbara Hildt, President, Youth Empowerment Services Inc., Massachusetts;27. Amy Isaacs, national director, Americans for Democratic Action;28. John Isaacs, President, Council for a Livable World;*29. Karen Jacob, Chapter President of WAND of Northern Indiana and President of the Board of Promoting Enduring Peace;*30. Peggy Maze Johnson, Citizen Alert of Nevada;*31. Carla Brooks Johnston, President, New Centuries Policies;32. Fern Katz, Treasurer, Michigan WAND;*33. Alan Kay, entrepreneur and social innovator;34. Jean Kilbourne;35. Bob Kinsey, Green Party for Congress, CO-4;*36. Barbara Laing, executive director, Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;*37. Catherine Lincoln, California;38. Priscilla McMillan, Harvard University;*39. Robert K. Musil, Ph.D, M.P.H., Executive Director and CEO, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*40. John O. Pastore. M.D.,President-elect, Physicians for Social Responsibility;*41. Christopher Paine, Senior Analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council;*42. Mike Pertschuk, Co-Chair, Advocacy Institute;*43. Gene Pokorny, Council for a Livable World;44. Margo Okazawa Rey, Mills College, Women's Leadership Institute;45. Dorothy Rupert, former State Senator, Colorado;46. Claudine Schneider, former Member of Congress;47. Susan Shaer, executive director, Women's Action for New Directions;*48. Sayre Sheldon, President Emerita Women's Action for New Directions;49. John Shepherd, MD, President of Colorado Physicians for Social Responsibility;50. Norman Solomon, Author and syndicated columnist;51. Ivo Spalatin, Treasurer, Council for a Livable World;52. Jeremy J. Stone, President, Catalytic Diplomacy;53. Benn Tannenbaum, Ph.D., Federation of American Scientists;54. Carlotta Tyler, Massachusetts;55. Suleyken Walker, Boston;56. Peter Wilk, M.D.;57. Edith B. Wilkie, President, Peace Through Law Education Fund;*58. Esther B. Wolf, Magnolia Neighborhood Peace Project;*59. Herbert York, Member, Pugwash Movement
*Affiliation for identification purposes only.
If there was any lingering doubt that this President rules by sowing division and fear it has been put to rest in these last weeks. As Dana Milbank's chilling front-page story in last Friday's Washington Post details, Bush and leading Republicans dare to argue that a vote for John Kerry is a vote for Al Qaeda.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert says he believes Al Qaeda would prefer a Kerry presidency. GOP Senate candidate John Thune of South Dakota says that his opponent, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's mild criticism of the war "embolden the enemy" and bring "comfort to America's enemies." Darth Vader VP Cheney strongly suggested that America would be more likely to be attacked if Kerry were elected.
These are Republicans who breed a culture of fundamentalism and intolerance, who betray the guiding and founding values of America. If a truly great Republican--Theodore Roosevelt--were among us today, he would expose the despicable politics of these fifth-rate offspring of the Grand Old Party and tell them--as he told the nation in 1918:
"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic, but is morally treasonable to the American public."
And Then There Are True Conservatives...
Speaking of sane Republicans, did you see that Senator Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) has made it known that he may not vote for Bush? Last weekend, according to the Washington Post, Chafee told a science seminar in his home state that he would vote for a Republican but not George W., who he has differed with on many issues including tax cuts, the Iraq war and stem cell research.
And let's hope a small item in Saturday's New York Times signals a trend: One of West Virginia's five electors says he may withhold his electoral college vote for Bush even if the President wins in the increasingly important swing state. Elector Richie Robb, the mayor of South Charleston, is incensed about the war in Iraq and painful layoffs in his town.
And by the way, do Bush and Co. believe that conservatives like John McCain, Chuck Hagel and Richard Lugar--who have been all over the airwaves arguing that the US is in deep trouble in Iraq--are aiding and abetting the enemy? And what about the discontent with the commander-in chief from within the military itself? According to a Christian Science Monitor story, there is a "discernible countercurrent among US troops in Iraq--those who blame President Bush for entangling them in what they see as a misguided war." Will chickenhawk Cheney blast these soldiers in the field as unpatriotic.
The Army owes Captain James Yee, a Muslim Army Chaplain who was arrested on Sept. 10, 2003, an apology and an explanation. Last year, officials at a Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida discovered allegedly classified documents in Yee's bags. At the time of his arrest, Yee was serving in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he ministered to prisoners at the Navy's detention facility. He ensured that the prisoners were able to hear the Muslim call to prayer, and occasionally clashed with military officials over the treatment of Islamic detainees.
Yee was accused of espionage, sedition, mutiny and aiding the enemy (crimes punishable by death). He sat in solitary confinement for 76 days after his arrest while Defense Department officials anonymously pressed their case in the national media, portraying Yee as part of a Guantanamo spy ring that sympathized with Al Qaeda, and raising suspicions that Yee had passed military secrets to the Syrians. "The fear was that he had started mixing his loyalties," one official told the Washington Post.
Another official explained Yee's decision to become a spy this way: "He was disappointed that he wasn't being integrated into the interrogation process. He wasn't happy with the mission, and thought the detainees were being mistreated." (At the time, Yee's concerns about conditions at Guantanamo Bay were echoed repeatedly by human rights activists.)
All allegations against Yee were eventually dismissed. But then, in a decision that can only be characterized as outrageous overreaching, the Army decided to prosecute Yee for committing adultery and downloading porn onto his computer. Neither act is a criminal offense, and the move was widely regarded as vindictive because, traditionally, the only times when the military prosecutes adultery cases is when other charges like rape or sexual harassment are also involved.
Yee received a reprimand, but a month later, an Army general threw out even this judgment. Exonerated on all charges, Yee received word last week that the Army had authorized his honorable discharge, which is now set for January.
Experts in military justice have expressed disbelief at Yee's Kafkaesque journey from well-regarded Army Chaplain to Public Enemy No. 1. The malice exhibited towards Yee and the Army's incompetent handling of his case are staggering. "This whole thing makes the military prosecutors look ridiculous," John L. Fugh, a retired major general and onetime judge advocate general (the highest uniformed legal officer in the Army), told the New York Times.
The military owes Yee an apology because it dragged his name through the mud, damaged his family and destroyed his reputation. Yee said the Army's pursuit of the case against him has "irreparably injured my personal and professional reputation and destroyed my prospects for a career in the US Army."
But an explanation must also be forthcoming. "The notion that you would keep an officer in maximum security based on these charges is preposterous," Yee's civilian lawyer, Eugene Fidell, said while Yee was sitting in solitary confinement. The Army must explain why Yee was held in such primitive conditions on trumped-up charges.
It's also fair to ask whether Yee's questions about prisoner abuses put him in the crosshairs of Major General Geoffrey Miller.
Miller, who is a central figure in Sy Hersh's new book, Chain of Command, had been in charge of the Guantanamo Bay prison, where he brought a no-holds barred attitude to the interrogation process that created a climate of fear in which abuses were condoned. "Miller was permitted to use legally questionable interrogation techniques at Guantanamo, which could include, with approval, sleep deprivation, exposure to extremes of cold and heat, and placing prisoners in 'stress positions' for agonizing lengths of time," Hersh reported.
It was Miller, according to the US Southern Command, who made the major decisions about how to handle Yee's case, including deciding to bring the initial charges against him, to have him detained in the brig and to include the additional charges.
Miller may well have seen Yee as a threat to his mission to interrogate prisoners freely and without dissent. During his stint in Guantanamo, Miller was dispatched to Iraq to "Gitmoize" prisoner interrogations, where Miller's team, according to the report by Army Maj. Gen. Antonio Taguba, insisted that "the guard force be actively engaged in setting the condition for the successful exploitation of internees." When asked about Miller, Fidell said: "It is incomprehensible that General Miller would have been put in charge of Iraqi prisoners given his conduct in [the Yee] case."
Former counter-terrorism officials have pointed out that military commanders responsible for abuses were instructed to "[take] off the gloves" to glean better intelligence from prisoners. Yee was caught up in this "gloves-are-off" atmosphere. A kind of hysteria surrounded his case, and his treatment may well have been a result of his warnings about abuse of detainees. In prosecuting its case against Yee, the Army trampled on the values that underpin American ideas about fair play and equal justice for all.
Moreover, as David Cole pointed out in a recent Nation article, it is a record of prosecutorial abuse and failure: John Ashcroft has compiled a 0 for 5,000 record when it comes to successfully prosecuting foreign nationals the government has detained on suspicion of sponsoring terrorism.
"Yee was defamed and smeared and accused of being a spy," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Now that the case against Yee has disintegrated, it seems plausible, in retrospect, that Yee's only real crime in the brass' eyes was his willingness to raise questions about abuse of prisoners when few in the military, the media and the federal government had the wisdom to do so. Yee deserves better.
A friend and I were watching CNN the other night. After fifteen minutes of the Headline News, she asked, "Is there any good news in the world?"
Yes. But it's harder and harder to find.
As I wrote in this space last July, "It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around,and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. But in these past months, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate."
One sweet victory took place last week in Albany, New York when a young activist attorney named David Soares rocked the county (and the state) with his stunning landslide victory in the Democratic Primary for District Attorney. A nominee of the Working Families Party, his race was a referendum on the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and his victory was a magnificent accomplishment for the urban-suburban, black-white, gay-straight, grassroots community-labor campaign led by Albany WFP chair Karen Scharff.
Soares brought a struggling Democratic machine to its knees--defeating incumbent Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne, one of the strongest defenders of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. (Final tally was 62 percent for Soares compared to just 38 percent for the incumbent, with record turnout of more than 22,000.)
Soares, wrote the Albany Times Union, "had the nerve to stand up to the entire political establishment in Albany, fight for what's right--and win...Support for his stance on repeal of the strict Rockefeller Drug Laws and his platform of inclusion was seen in the incumbent's staggering across-the-board loss."
Soares' victory is a clear sign of popular support for reforming antiquated and cruelly ineffective drug laws. "This is the single most important development in more than a decade of trying to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws," according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which supported Soares' candidacy. "It's also the first time in contemporary American history that voters have thrown a politician out of office because he's a drug war zealot."
Soares' resounding defeat of an incumbent district attorney in New York State's capital, even in a primary election, sends an unmistakable message to other District Attorneys who, for years, have been the principal obstacle to reform. "All 'lock-'em-up, throw-away-the-key' DAs should take notice of what just happened to Paul Clyne," said Drug Policy Alliance's Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann. "I can't think of anything which will do more to change the prospects for...reform than this."
This victory is also a testament to the Working Families Party's role as a growing force in New York State politics. "The primary result," according to the New York Times, "highlighted the party's power to organize, raise money, make phone calls and knock on doors, as it did in aiding Mr. Soares in a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 82,300 to 43,516 as of February."
As Dan Cantor of the WFP argues, Soares' victory is "evidence that a campaign that has a crystal clear stance on key issues, that appeals to the voters' best instincts, and that is unrelenting in getting its message out door by door by door can actually overcome the status quo and the advantages of incumbency."
Soares still has to win the general election in November, and the reform of the Rockefeller Laws still awaits legislative action, but it's worth savoring this sweet victory.
In the next few weeks, here are a few things you can do to support David Soares and the fight to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws:
1/ Support the Working Families Party.(Click here for info.)
2/ Support the Drug Policy Alliance Network(Click here for info.)
3/ If you live in New York State, write your local paper and call your local talk-radio show to stress how important Rockefeller reform has become in this year's election. You might even commend the New York Post for its editorial last week calling for reform of the drug laws. This represents a major reversal of the Murdoch-owned paper's longtime position. (Click here for contact info for your local media outlets.)
4/ Vote for David Soares in November if you live in Albany County--or tell your friends who live there to vote for him. And contribute to his campaign no matter where you live.
Finally, please click here to send me your nominations for small and sweet victories worth noting. I plan to keep highlighting them in this space in the weeks and months ahead and I want to include your responses.