Peter Rothberg | The Nation

Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

Opposing war, racism, sexism, climate change, economic injustice and high-stakes testing.

Help Defend Lynne Stewart

On February 10, a jury in New York City convicted longtime activist attorney Lynne Stewart of conspiracy, providing material support to terrorists, defrauding the government and making false statements.

But, as David Cole comments in the latest issue of The Nation, rather than making us safer, this conviction "illustrates how out of hand things have gotten in the 'war on terrorism'...To inflate its successes in ferreting out terrorism," Cole adds, "the Justice Department turned an administrative infraction into a terrorism conviction that, unless reversed, will likely send Stewart to prison for the rest of her life."

Stewart's transgression--violating an administrative agreement to not convey any communication between her client and the outside world, is--as Cole says, simply not a crime. "In an ordinary case, the lawyer might receive a warning. In an unusual case, the lawyer might be barred from continuing to visit her client. In an extraordinary case, the lawyer might be brought up on disciplinary charges before the bar."

But the prosecution, intent on winning a cheap "terror" conviction for its perceived public relations value, went on a transparently politically-motivated witch-hunt, and unfortunately was able to convince a jury of its spurious claims that Stewart helped abet terrorism.

Let's do all we can to help taint this PR "victory," and help save Stewart from an unjust prison sentence. Click here to read and circulate law professor Elaine Cassell's essay arguing that the Stewart verdict has stretched the definition of terrorism to its outer limits, click here to send a letter in support of Stewart, and click here to contribute to her legal defense fund. And follow www.lynnestewart.org for the latest developments in her case.


Good News

Last December, I mentioned the plight of Vietnamese political prisoner Dr. Nguyen Dan Que. An endocrinologist by training, Que was detained without trial from 1978 to 1988 after he criticized national health care policy. After his release, he established a democratic-rights movement, for which he was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to another 20 years' imprisonment.

I highlighted a letter-writing campaign led by the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights calling for Que's release on both legal and humanitarian grounds and asked Nation readers to join in.

We were then thrilled to hear from Erik Giblin of the RFK Center sharing the great news that Que was released on January 31 and is now resting comfortably at home. So many thanks to the RFK Center for its tireless work on Que's behalf and thanks to all Nation readers who contributed to the campaign which led to his freedom.

V-Day 2005

Over the past seven years, V-Day, the global movement started by playwright/performer Eve Ensler, has raised more than $25 million to support organizations working to stop violence against women and girls. The spotlight of V-Day 2005 focuses on the increased threats faced by the women of Iraq, given the rise in fundamentalism and the raging war.

As Meera Subramanian writes on the Planned Parenthood website, the Organization of Women's Freedom in Iraq reports a rise in attacks on women by fundamentalist Islamic groups, including horrific incidents of women being beaten and killed for going out unveiled, going to a hairdresser, or wearing Western clothing. Female education is also taking a hit as women university students are dropping their studies, fearing assault.

Click here for more info on the V-Day campaigns, click here to help support the V-Day efforts and click here to volunteer your time on the campaign.

Hold Chertoff Accountable

Michael Chertoff received adulation at the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing to consider his nomination as Secretary of Homeland Security on February 2. Senators of both parties praised Chertoff, a former US Attorney and Assistant Attorney General who is giving up a lifetime appointment to the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals in New Jersey, as a distinguished public servant. Despite his many accomplishments, however, Chertoff's role in helping shape some of the Bush Administration's most controversial policies deserve far more scrutiny than they've received to date.

As Dave Lindorff's recent Nation editorial argues, Chertoff effectively prevented early exposure of the Bush/Rumsfeld/Gonzales policy of torture by making a plea agreement with "American Taliban" fighter John Walker Lindh, which required him to remain silent about his treatment. According to human rights attorney Michael Ratner, Chertoff's decision to prevent Lindh from speaking out about abuse at Guantanamo could have contributed to the "migration" of torture to Abu Ghraib.

A comprehensive ACLU study released last week goes further in surveying Chertoff's record and raises questions about the sincerity of the nominee's strong pledges of support for civil liberties and of opposition to racial profiling.

Click here to read and circulate the ACLU'S report and click here to write to your Senators asking them to carefully consider the questions about Chertoff before voting on his nomination. Even though his nomination is expected to pass, possibly as soon as this week, there's still value in helping lay out his record and the many valid questions an honest examination of his past suggests.

Co-written by Mark Hatch Miller

Defending the Dream

Join The Nation, Domini Social Investments and Working Assets in supporting this weekend's Responsible Wealth Conference and Lobby Day in Washington, DC, taking place from February 6 to 8.

President Bush knows he's in for a fight on Social Security, but he's counting on being able to make his tax cuts permanent with little opposition. This conference is dedicated to proving him wrong. Come to DC and use your voice to call for progressive taxation, the preservation of the estate tax, and legislative polices that will decrease the wealth gap and shrink the racial economic divide.

Click here for more info and to register for the three-day event, and click here if you want to support RW's efforts on this front but you can't make it to DC.

Stop the Violence

As the violence in Iraq escalates ahead of Sunday's national elections, there are disturbing reports of intimidation, death threats and murders specifically targeting members of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

These reports come on the heels of the torture and assassination in Baghdad on January 4 of Hadi Salih, the International Secretary of IFTU.

In protest, please click here to join Nation writers Katha Pollitt, Doug Henwood, Marc Cooper, Adam Shatz, Norman Birnbaum, Carl Bromley and many others in signing on to the Campaign for Peace and Democracy's statement condemning attacks on Iraqi trade unionists.

And start making plans for what are expected to be a nationwide series of antiwar protests on Saturday, March 19, the second anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. The antiwar coalition United for Peace & Justice is calling for vigils, rallies, marches, nonviolent civil disobedience and creative expressions of antiwar sentiment of all kinds. Check out the UFP website for more info.

Oppose the Gonzales Nomination

A few weeks ago in this space, I wrote about the more than two dozen civil rights and human rights groups who had raised what they called 'serious concerns' over President Bush's nomination of Alberto Gonzales to replace John Ashcroft as Attorney General.

Since that time, the opposition to Gonzales's appointment has picked up steam, particularly as more information comes out about the nominee's efforts to support the White House in its attempts to override both US law and the Geneva Conventions on torture.

As the Washington Post reported today in a front-page story, in March of 2002, the CIA asked for a legal review--the first ever by the government--of how much pain a US intelligence officer could inflict on a prisoner without violating US law outlawing torture of detainees. "White House counsel Gonzales chaired the meetings on this issue, which included detailed descriptions of interrogation techniques such as 'waterboarding,' a tactic intended to make detainees feel as if they are drowning." As R. Jeffrey Smith and Dan Eggen continue, Gonzales "raised no objections and without consulting military and State Department experts in the laws of torture and war, approved an August 2002 memo that gave CIA interrogators the legal blessings they sought."

Subsequently, Gonzales ignored the objections of State Department and military lawyers and strongly endorsed the determination of Justice Department lawyers that neither the Geneva Convention nor corresponding US laws on prisoner protections should be applied in the "war on terror."

Revelations like these have generated widespread opposition to what most considered an easy confirmation battle. Joining a host of liberal groups opposing the nomination, a dozen high-ranking retired military officers took the rare step on Monday of signing a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee expressing "deep concern" over the nomination of White House counsel Alberto R. Gonzales as attorney general.

They understand, as Robert Scheer makes clear in his syndicated weekly column, that what's at stake with the nomination is whether Congress wants to absolve Gonzales of his attempt to have the President subvert US law in order to whitewash barbaric practices performed by US interrogators in the name of national security.

Gonzales's Senate hearings begin tomorrow. Please click here to send a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, the co-chairmen of the Senate Judiciary Committee who will be leading the hearings, asking them to make sure the nominee receives a thorough vetting.

And read and circulate David Cole's December 6, 2004 Nation magazine editorial making clear why Gonzales is the wrong choice.

There are also numerous other activist resources online courtesy of some of America's most steadfast progressive advocacy groups. Human Rights First launched a new website devoted to ending torture and is publishing a special blog by Avi Cover directly from the hearings all day on Thursday. The Center for American Progress has produced a set of ten questions Gonzales should be asked during his hearings. People for the American Way has published a review of Gonzales's repeated failures as a public official to meet the standards that should be expected of the nation's highest law enforcement officer. The Alliance for Justice has released a detailed lawyer's letter critical of the nominee and the Center for Constitutional Rights--which has represented many of the victims of US abuse--is forcefully urging all Americans concerned over the use of torture to oppose the nomination.

As Scheer concludes his column this week, "to make a man with so little respect for both the spirit and the letter of the law the nation's top law enforcement official would be a terrible advertisement for American democracy."

So join the protests today.

How to Help Tsunami Victims

The earthquake and tsunami that ravaged thousands of coastline villages from Thailand to Somalia this past weekend has prompted an urgent need for relief from the international community. With the death toll at 76,000 and rising quickly, the threat of infectious diseases is increasing rapidly as entire islands go without clean water and medicine.

The Bush Administration initially announced a $15 million aid package in response to the disaster, and upped that to $35 million yesterday in the face of mounting public pressure. Jan Egeland, the UN's emergency relief coordinator, got the ball rolling when he criticized the US's contributions to economically-struggling countries around the world as "stingy" in recent years.

Unfortunately, Egeland's criticism finds support in the numbers: the New York Times reported this morning that the US is among the least generous nations in the world in proportion to the size of its economy when it comes to providing assistance to poor countries.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in 2003 contributions by the US represented only 0.14 percent of the US gross national income, making it the smallest donor percentagewise among developed nations. By contrast, Egeland's native Norway gave 0.92 percent of its gross national income; Denmark, 0.84 percent; the Netherlands, 0.81 percent; Luxembourg, 0.80 percent; and Sweden, 0.70 percent.

The non-partisan group, Americans for Informed Democracy, is calling on US citizens to register their support for the US government to demonstrate far more principled, aggressive and generous leadership in responding to the tsunami disaster than is currently being shown. Click here to sign and send a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell and click here to read eyewitness dispatches from BBC correspondents filing from affected areas around the region as relief efforts get underway.

Beyond the actions of the US government, private citizens can also lend a hand. Given the dire state of affairs, it's hard to imagine a more valuable effort to contribute to at this time. Doctors Without Borders, Oxfam America and UNICEF are three good groups accepting donations for the relief effort. And click here for a larger list of organizations, courtesy of the Washington Post.

Co-written by Patrick Mulvaney.

An Unlawful Dentention

Way off the world's radar and in continued violation of international human-rights law, on September 22 the Vietnamese Government abruptly transferred political dissident Dr. Nguyen Dan Que to Ward 5 Prison of the Public Security Ministry, an isolated and hostile hard-labor camp.

The 1995 Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Laureate and the founder of the Nonviolent Movement for Human Rights, Que has spent more than 20 years in prison for political activism in Vietnam. An endocrinologist by training, Que was detained without trial from 1978 to 1988 after he criticized national health care policy. After his release, he established a democratic-rights movement, for which he was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to another 20 years' imprisonment.

An international coalition has sprung up demanding Que's release on both legal and humanitarian grounds. The groups--including the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Human Rights Action Network--are calling for an international letter-writing campaign on Que's behalf.

The campaign is critical: As an emergency alert put out by the RFK Center said, "By transferring Dr. Que to a remote labor camp...the Vietnamese Government has violated his right to receive family visitations and adequate medical and psychological care, in accordance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966 and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment of 1984, to which Vietnam is a signatory."

Click here to send a letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai asking him to set Que free, click here for more background on Que's work, and click here to support the work of the RFK memorial project.

Torturers at Justice

Just weeks after the election, President Bush nominated White House counsel Alberto Gonzales to be the next Attorney General of the United States.

Given his role in numerous Bush Administration attacks on civil and human rights as White House chief counsel, his selection is being met with widespread opposition. More than two dozen civil rights and human rights groups have raised what they call "serious concerns" about the nominee, largely over his efforts to support the White House in its attempts to override the Geneva Conventions on torture. (The groups include Amnesty International USA, Human Rights First, Global Rights and Human Rights Watch.)

The Senate confirmation hearings on Gonzales are approaching, and though people have been expecting a relatively easy confirmation, you never know how things turn, and his hearings are an opportune time to raise concern about the direction in which he intends to lead the Justice Department.

So contact your elected reps and urge them to question Gonzales thoroughly on his troubling history before putting his confirmation to a vote.

Click here to send a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy and Arlen Specter, who are expected to lead the Judiciary Committee through the hearings, click here to read and circulate David Cole's Nation editorial on why Gonzales is the wrong choice, and check out the People for the American Way's excellent site for related resources.

Vote for Fahrenheit 9/11

Michael Moore's provocative, election-season documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 has been nominated by the People's Choice Awards as the American public's "Favorite Film of the Year." The five nominees for best film--also, Spiderman 2, The Incredibles, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Shrek 2--were chosen from a poll of thousands of Americans in mid-to-late November. This year marks the first time ever that a doc has been nominated in the category.

The People's Choice Awards are considered, among all the awards shows, to be the one which most accurately reflects mainstream public opinion in the United States, so it would be a big deal--at least on the culture front--for an avowedly left-wing film to win the contest. It would also help continue to establish political documentaries as commercially-viable products, which makes it much easier for small, independent films to find funding sources and distribution outlets.

And, in an age of ever-increasing media conglomeration, independent film is now filing a more vital niche than ever with films like Morgan Spurlock's SuperSize Me, Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott's The Corporation and Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein's The Take sparking, connecting with and contributing to grassroots movements for change.

As Moore says in an open letter asking the public to participate in the online voting which will determine the winner, the fact that a film about "Iraq, Bush, terror and fear" continues to resonate throughout the country shows that "the election has not altered or made irrelevant, unfortunately, a single one of these issues."

So click here to cast your ballot today. Voting continues only through this coming Monday, December 13, at 3:00pm EST, so send an email to your friends and encourage them to vote too. The winners will accept their awards live on CBS on January 9.

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