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Peter Rothberg | The Nation

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Peter Rothberg

Peter Rothberg

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

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.

Holding Torturers Accountable

In a historic effort to hold US officials accountable for acts of torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and four Iraqi citizens recently filed a criminal complaint with the German Federal Prosecutor's Office at the Karlsruhe Court in Karlsruhe, Germany against high ranking United States officials over the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere in Iraq. The four Iraqis all allege abuse at the hands of US troops, including severe beatings, sleep and food deprivation, hooding and sexual abuse.

The German Prosecutor is considering the case under the doctrine of universal jurisdiction, which allows suspected war criminals to be prosecuted irrespective of where they are located. "German law in this area is leading the world," Peter Weiss, vice president of the New York-based CCR, a human rights group, said in an interview with the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper. "We file these cases here because there is simply no other place to go," he added. "It is clear that the US government is not willing to open an investigation into these allegations against these officials."

The Prosecutor has wide discretion in deciding how far to go with an investigation. CCR asks supporters of these legal proceedings to let his office know that people around the world support this effort. Click here to add your voice to the international campaign.

CCR receives no government or corporate funding. The organization's ability to employ creative new strategies in the fight to preserve and advance civil and human rights can only continue with the financial support of the progressive community. Click here for info on what sorts of programs contributions help fund and click here to make a donation. You can also join CCR's mailing list to keep up on the progress of the Abu Ghraib complaint and other progressive legal campaigns.

Help Save Social Security

Social Security is a very popular system. A pillar of the New Deal, it provides tens of millions of workers with a guaranteed retirement income as well as disability and life insurance during their working lives.

Moreover, contrary to conservative rhetoric, the Social Security system is extremely efficient. According to economist Dean Baker, writing recently in TomPaine.Com, the administrative costs of Social Security are just 0.6 cents of every dollar that gets paid out in benefits, a very low figure for a major government agency. Social Security also has a minimal amount of fraud and abuse, Baker adds, as numerous government audits have repeatedly documented.

Despite this track record, privatizing Social Security is one of George Bush's top second-term priorities. In the face of warnings from numerous economists of all political stripes, the financial industry-- which stands to make billions in new business on privatized retirement accounts--and the Bush White House have been on a steady propaganda campaign to convince the public that Social Security is on the edge of bankruptcy and needs a quick fix.

Click here to read Baker's explanation of why Social Security is NOT in crisis and check outEdith Fierst's Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed detailing why privatization would be the wrong remedy even if it were.

Bush's plans on this front are far from a done deal, and a well-organized public campaign is critical to stave off the possibility of some Democrats cutting a deal early--as they did on tax cuts (and as Ted Kennedy did on the Medicare bill).

So click here to join the Campaign for America's Future in pressuring Congress to hold firm on the issue. As CAF says, "We can do to Bush on Social Security what Harry and Louise did to Clinton on health care."

Bush vs. the Planet

With the election won, the Bush Administration and its Congressional allies are moving rapidly ahead with plans to radically revamp the country's environmental laws with the general aim of making it cheaper and easier for corporations to pollute.

The favors are already being parceled out, as Ari Berman reported recently in The Daily Outrage. This month Congress authorized drilling in the protected Yukon Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, opened up the East Coast's largest undeveloped island for commercial exploration, defeated an amendment eliminating subsidies for timber corporations, and slashed clean water spending by $242 million.

Moreover, in keeping with its first-term rejection of the Kyoto Accords on climate change, the White House is working to keep an upcoming eight-nation report from endorsing broad international policies designed to curb global warming, as Juliet Eilperin revealed recently in the Washington Post.

Fortunately, there are plenty of groups determined to protect the environment from the Administration, and it's critical that they receive support to carry on these next four years. The widely known organizations like Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, the NRDC and the League of Conservation Voters are all gearing up for the fight of their lives. There are also hundreds of other grassroots environmental groups vowing to resist Bush's second-term assault on the planet. You can help the environment by helping them.

"We have fought a three-year battle to blunt a string of radical environmental attacks by this Administration and we're not about to stop now," says Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "Though we fully realize that those fights may get harder in the next Bush term, we stand ready to meet the challenge, and to protect our natural heritage for our children and grandchildren."

Clean Water Action is trying to combat various Administration proposals that threaten to undermine the safety of many municipal US water systems. "We made sure our members got to the polls and we will make sure they continue to stand up for healthier communities during the second Bush Administration," said Bob Wendelgass, the group's director.

Environmental Defense, a group dedicated to linking "science, economics and law to create innovative, equitable and cost-effective solutions to society's most urgent environmental problems," is in the forefront of the Living Cities movement, which is organizing support for things like mass transportation, solar-powered stoplights, tax credits for farmers' markets, more green space in new developments, financial incentives to revitalize abandoned industrial lands, and a decrease in the use of fossil fuels generally.

The California Wilderness Coalition is the only organization specifically dedicated to protecting California's wild places and native biodiversity. Through advocacy and public education, CWC builds support for threatened wild places and works with community leaders, businesspeople, local organizations, policy-makers, and activists in an effort to promote a broader view on the value on conservation.

It's also, of course, more important than ever to stay informed. One of the best ways to keep up on environmental news is by reading Grist, an online magazine which tackles environmental topics with irreverence, intelligence, and a fresh perspective. The mag's feisty Seattle-based staff publishes new content each weekday, and its reporting, cartoons, interviews with activists, book reviews, and environmental advice column offer some of the sharpest eco-news around.

Republican Senator John McCain had it right when he recently criticized the Administration's environmental record as "disgraceful." With a president concerned far more with politics and profits than safeguarding the planet for future generations, a powerful grassroots movement is the only defense against rapid ecological devastation. So join, volunteer with, contribute to and otherwise support one of the many environmental groups operating in the US today.

Teaching Torture--UPDATED

See below for an update

More than 10,000 activists from across the US--including actors Martin Sheen and Susan Sarandon and musicians Amy Ray and Utah Phillips--will gather at the gates of Fort Benning, Georgia, this Saturday and Sunday to call for the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, formerly known as the School of the Americas.

A combat training facility for Latin American soldiers, the school has served as a de-stabilizing force in Central and South America since its formation in 1946--having trained more than 60,000 soldiers in courses such as counter-insurgency techniques, sniper training, commando and psychological warfare, military intelligence and interrogation tactics. Graduates of the facility return to their countries to utilize their training domestically and are consistently cited for human rights violations throughout Latin America on behalf of repressive rightwing, US-supported governments.

From the slayings of six Jesuit priests in El Salvador in 1989 to the continued human rights abuses in Colombia, many of the most atrocious crimes of the past 50 years have their roots in the US-operated School of the Americas. The inhumane--and in some cases illegal--tactics taught at the institute have repeatedly been used against union organizers, educators, and religious workers.

Many American eyes were opened this past year with the Abu Ghraib revelations to the fact that the US does indeed use torture. The activists at SOA Watch have been in the vanguard of trying to halt the United States's role in propagating torture globally since the organization's founding in 1990. A grassroots group working in solidarity with the people of Latin America to close the military institute, SOA Watch stages an annual demonstration and rally and organizes lobbying, letter-writing and public awareness campaigns all year long.

Click here to learn more about SOA Watch, click here to make a contribution to support the group's efforts, click here if you'd like to join SOA Watch's Research Working Group and click here if you'd like to volunteer on one of the organization's campaigns.

Update, November 22

At least 20 people were arrested yesterday while protesting the School of the Americas. Charges filed against the demonstrators range from trespassing to "wearing a mask," a violation of a rarely invoked 1951 law originally aimed at fighting the Ku Klux Klan. Those arrested were among about a record 16,000 people who demonstrated outside the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation at Fort Benning, calling for the school to be shut down.

Thomas Jefferson on George Bush

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. But If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

--Thomas Jefferson, June 4, 1798, in a letter to John Taylor after passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

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