Friday, October 06, 2006

Patriotic Gore: The Lion in Winter Roars

Chris Floyd
Friday, 06 October 2006

I don't know how I missed this – maybe because I studiously avoided all the stories about the 9/11 fifth-year anniversary – but for those who came in late, like me, here is The Master putting in his groatsworth on the subject, at the request of The Independent in the UK.

What, you didn't think a major American paper would let Gore Vidal besmirch that sacred day with his "cynicism," did you? You must have rocks in the head, dad!

(Since the Independent piece has already gone behind the paid firewall, this is courtesy of our good friends at Information Clearing House. Meanwhile, I will writing further on Vidal a bit later. The photo is from The Malibu Times.)

America's warrior nation: The legacy of 9/11.

What a difference five years have made! The greatest nation in the country, as an American statesman once termed us, was attacked by a dozen or so Saudi Arabians who had, with astonishing ease, hijacked several airliners and flew two of them into a pair of New York skyscrapers as well as another into one of the five sides of the Pentagon at Washington, the heart of the greatest, most expensive military machine the world has ever known. I watched all this on CNN; in Italy where I then lived. The visual shock was great, of course. Particularly when our little president was discovered by the ubiquitous TV camera in a Florida school where he was reading to his peers from "My Pet Goat", an inspirational tale calculated to encourage small Americans to stand tall: "like", as he would put it, "they should." An aide interrupts the reading; murmurs something in the presidential ear: the presidential eyes widen. A moment akin to the Confederacy firing on Fort Sumter, or the Japanese sinking the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor. Two tall presidents were, happily for us, in office at those times. Lincoln acted with characteristic guile while Roosevelt, thundering anathema as Pontifex Maximus, flung open the doors of the temple of Janus and so the war that would bring us a global empire began while that of the Japanese sun goddess ended. What then did our very own Romulus Augustulus do during the rest of September 11th? He read some more of "My Pet Goat", knowing that his puppet-meister, vice president Cheney, was safely embedded in some secret spot. Then the little emperor was hustled away in Air Force One for a tour of our most luxurious bunkers where he might avoid the attentions of new attackers, should they come.

What, someone asked, was my first response. Amazement at how little protected we were despite all the megalomaniacal posturings during that cold war deliberately set in motion by Harry S (for nothing, as he liked to say) Truman a half century ago with a son et lumière celebration at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It is still not known to the American public that every single important commander of World War Two from General Eisenhower in Europe to Admiral Nimitz in the Pacific pleaded with our first really small president not to atomise two cities of a defeated nation desperately trying to surrender. But Truman, and his Metternich, Dean Acheson, wanted to replace Hitler and Fascism with Stalin and Communism. It was under Truman that the ever greater lie came into its glittering own. Despite the unanimous objections of the American military, Truman insisted on dropping two nuclear bombs. I was serving in the Pacific theatre of operations at the time and we were assured, along with the rest of the world, that one million of us would die in the coming invasion of Japan. Did we love the Bomb? Yes, we did. But little did we know that, had we invaded as originally planned, there was no way that we would have encountered the survivors of the Japanese army on the mainland of Asia as they did not have sufficient transport to return to their home islands.

I think it was Vico who noted that busy republics tend to turn themselves into empires. Certainly, the French intellectual godfather to the American republic, Montesquieu, warned that republics which took the empire route would cease to be republics altogether while Vico, in his cyclic view of human societies, saw imperial republics evolving into dictatorships, chaos, barbarism. In the last five years American behaviour in the Middle East has been barbarous and will not soon be forgiven. Meanwhile, the gas-oil junta has hijacked the old American republic through the artful use of great quantities of corporate and church cash in order to falsify the electoral tallies of easily hacked electronic voting machinery; means now exist to nullify or alter any election returns as happened in Florida 2000; in Ohio 2004.

There is a good deal of grim comedy in the words if not the current deeds of the little president. Although he and his co-conspirators relish the use of the big lie (eg turning the dull but genuine war hero John Kerry into a cowardly fraud while ignoring the slackerdom of Bush and Cheney and Rumsfeld who proudly fought in none of our many wars). Now in an attempt to avoid blame for the Iraq war and further confuse the world about why Iran and Syria must be destroyed Old Rumsfeld and Old Cheney are trotting out dim garbled images of Hitler and appeasement as they pretend that the anti-war American majority favours Islamic fascism. They pretend terrorism is a demonic person.

And if we don't stop him in Tehran we'll have to stop him here. This is ludicrous; unfortunately the junta is as ignorant of history and geography as they believe the public to be. Meanwhile, the little president worries about his "legacy" in the history books. But should he get World War Three going there might not be any more history books, a relief to a non-reader like himself, though, lately, he tells us that he is reading Camus and "three Shakespeares". No doubt tragedies. As we know, he lies with zest yet he was actually revealed reading "The Pet Goat" on television and the Greek word for goat is the same as the word for tragedy. If this is code, I am beginning to suspect him of irony, a fatal flaw in Freedom's home. After all, on his first trip to New Orleans, he promised to restore the drowned city. But, as usual, nothing was done. Then this August 29 he was back in town to reassure high school students: "I've come back to New Orleans to tell you the words that I spoke on Jackson Square are just as true today as they were then." And so, of course, they were!

Meanwhile, one hopes that some noble humanitarian will finally shut the doors of the temple of Janus which have not been shut since December of 1941 when we went from one war to another and another without a pause - or thought.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Running Out of Gas: Canada's Surrendered Energy Sovereignty

The following column by Parkland Executive Director Gordon Laxer, was published in Monday's Edmonton Journal. It is based on Dr. Laxer's comments to the Alberta Oil Sands Consultation Committee, and provides a great springboard for discussions at Parkland's upcoming tenth annual fall conference "Power for the People: Determining Our Energy Future," from November 17 to 19 at the U of A. We hope you enjoy it.....

Canada-first energy strategy needed

This presentation was made last week to the provincial Oil Sands Consultation Committee by Gordon Laxer, professor of political economy and director of the Parkland Institute at the University of Alberta

Gordon Laxer, The Edmonton Journal
Published: Monday, October 02, 2006

On March 8, Premier Ralph Klein made a remarkable and admirable pledge.

"If we see oil drying up and we see the Alberta supply being threatened and the Canadian supply being threatened, we can do whatever is necessary to ensure that Canada receives its supplies first."

To show that this astonishing promise was not one of the premier's famous offhand comments, two ministers echoed Klein's remarks. "When we look at the long-term need for Alberta and Canada", stated Energy Minister Greg Melchin, "those are first and paramount."

Environment Minister Guy Boutilier chimed in that "we want to ensure that we supply the needs of Canadians."

These are the kinds of generous promises to fellow citizens in other provinces we would expect from Alberta's political leaders. But they are not Alberta's nor Canada's present policies. They should be.

Premier Klein and his ministers made these promises in response to a report released by Parkland Institute, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, and Polaris Institute. Entitled Fuelling Fortress America. A Report on the Athabasca Tar Sands and U.S. Demands for Canada's Energy, written by Hugh McCullum, the report warned that Canada was running out of conventional oil -- fewer than 10 years supply, and that oilsands oil came at too high a cost environmentally, socially and in the billions of dollars in royalties foregone to the big, foreign-owned transnationals.

Responding to the report, Klein first claimed there is "a 300-year supply of oil in the tarsands," before making the Canada-first oil pledge. Similarly, Boutilier added that "there's a lot of oil to go around."

Indeed, Alberta has plenty of oil, more than enough to meet Eastern Canadians' needs, and export surpluses.

But Alberta cannot supply Eastern Canada, even if a crisis hit and they were freezing in the dark, because NAFTA reserves Alberta's oil for Americans' security of supply. Although Canada is a net exporter of oil, we import almost one million barrels per day to meet 90 per cent of Quebec's and Atlantic Canada's needs, and 40 per cent of Ontario's.

At the same time, Canada exports 63 per cent of its oil and 56 per cent of its natural gas production to the U.S. Those export levels are currently locked in place by NAFTA's proportionality clause, which states that Canada must continue exporting the same proportion of oil and gas as in the past three years, even if Canadians run short. As well, there is not sufficient, east-west pipeline capacity to fully meet Eastern needs.

How can we make good on Klein's pledge of March 8?

As an increasingly influential province, and home to most of the oil in Canada, Alberta has national leadership responsibilities. The oilsands will soon produce more than half of Canada's oil. Yet 75 per cent of that output is exported.

"Oil security," "oil independence" and even "domestic ownership" are frequently discussed in the United States and other countries, but not in Alberta or Canada. That is why I am introducing them into discussions on the future of the oilsands.

We must ask questions about the big picture. What is the purpose of developing tarsands oil? Who will receive it? Will it be there for Canadians when the next oil supply crisis hits? How can Alberta play a leading role in Canada and the world in reducing green house gases?

Security of supply for Canadians is the key to today's most important energy issues:

- political instability

- climate change and extreme weather

- NAFTA's proportionality clause, and

- planning for peak oil.

Political instability

Last year, 42 per cent of Canada's oil imports came from the North Sea, with 26 per cent from Norway alone. North Sea oil is secure, but is a declining field.

Imports dropped six percentage points from 2004. But, OPEC accounts for the same proportion of Canadian imports -- 41 per cent. Algeria, Saudi Arabia and Iraq head the list. Imports of liquefied natural gas are still fairly negligible, but at the July G-8 meetings in St. Petersburg, Russia, Canada began negotiations to send Russian gas to Quebec.

It is very risky for the "great white north," where residents heat their homes with oil and gas, to rely on Russia. Last winter Russia cut natural gas exports to Ukraine because of a political dispute. Who can predict Canada's future relations with Russia?

Natural gas for Canadians is not off topic in discussing the tarsands, because gas is the main fuel used to heat bitumen for extraction. And Canada has only 8.7 years of proven supplies left. Why not instead use remaining gas supplies to send to the East, and as a feedstock for Alberta's vital petrochemical industry?

Climate change

Last year, Alberta sent extra oil south after hurricane Katrina. This was a generous gesture, but we could not do the same for Nova Scotia, if hit by a devastating hurricane.

Oil Shockwave, a scenario developed by the U.S. National Commission on Energy Policy, warns that oil disruptions could lead to a world shortfall of three million barrels, four per cent of the global supply, a day. The world price would rise to $180 Cdn a barrel. Gasoline would cost $6.42 a gallon ($1.78 a litre).

Mexico could weather such a supply shock. Its independent policy ensures first access for domestic needs. The U.S. has a nationally oriented plan and an emergency stock pile. Of the three

NAFTA countries, only Canada has no plan. If there is an energy tsunami, in which of the three NAFTA countries is citizens' survival most at stake?


Third, the best environmental policies will not help much as long as Canada is locked into exporting the majority of its oil and natural gas. You won't convince Canadians to consume much less, as we must, if because of NAFTA's proportionality clause, we just export the energy saved to the wasteful U.S. Why should northern Alberta be the continent's "environmental sacrifice" zone?

Where's the plan?

Fourth, making a plan. Alberta has no plan for tarsands development, or its end uses. Neither does Canada have an energy security plan. But the U.S. has a self-billed "national" plan to ensure supplies.

In 2001, a committee headed by Vice -President Dick Cheney, issued a NEP, the U.S. "National Energy Policy" report which emphasized energy security and self-sufficiency. We need to reintroduce these goals into the Canadian lexicon in this new security era.

"We are self-sufficient in virtually all our energy resources except oil," the U.S. NEP states. To resolve the growing crisis of securing supply, the U.S. increased incentives for domestic exploration, diversified import sources, and, many claim, sent its military abroad to, amongst other things, secure oil imports.

The U.S. NEP report recommended "supporting American energy firms" (NEP Report 8-6.) Last year, Congress was ready to block a Chinese takeover of U.S.-owned Unocal.

We can learn from these American initiatives that we are no longer in the 1990s when it was widely assumed that oil was plentiful, prices would stay low, imports were secure, peak oil was a long way off, warnings of dramatic climate change overblown.

Based on those assumptions Canada agreed to the energy proportionality clause in the Free Trade Agreement and NAFTA. We must revisit this clause. "Security now trumps trade."

Alberta's role is crucial in the rethinking. Albertans were leaders in adopting those policies in the 1990s, and should be leaders in the new era too.

Positive things to learn from the U.S. case:

- priorize security of supply for domestic citizens and industry

- adopt energy self-sufficiency policies

- get in line with American and Canadian public opinion and ensure domestic ownership and control, and

- develop large strategic reserves of oil and gas for use in emergencies, and to ride out supply crunches and price shocks. Alberta should develop its own emergency reserves.

Going our own way

What should we do differently than the U.S.? Get off the "addiction" to oil. Concentrate on living off your own resources. Take international responsibilities seriously and substantially reduce greenhouse gases, of which the tarsands are Canada's single largest source.

To conserve energy, Canada must first regain control over energy supply and use. Our NAFTA partners already have this. Only Canada must export a majority of its energy in perpetuity. Canada, with Alberta's backing, should demand a Mexican exemption.

Mexico is in NAFTA and got an exemption from proportionality. Why can't we get the same? If the U.S refuses to budge on this, we are allowed to unilaterally leave NAFTA by giving six months notice.

NAFTA isn't of much use. The U.S. ignores rulings favourable to Canada, and insists on those, like proportionality, which aren't. If one party ignores an agreement, other parties aren't bound by them either.

What might an energy security strategy for Canada look like?

In contrast to the 1980 national energy program that Ottawa imposed, a security strategy must be a provincial-federal partnership. What could it include?

First, the Dinning principle: R. J. Dinning headed a 1949 Alberta commission that recommended the province retain 50 years supply of natural gas before exporting to other provinces. The Dinning principle that only after Canadians are taken care of should energy surplus to long-term reserves, be exported, should be extended to oil. But, with dwindling, conventional oil and gas supplies, the period of proven supplies before exports, should be 10 to 15 years.

Second, halt projects in the tarsands which have not yet been approved. Replace them with aggressive conservation initiatives. More can be gained by reducing energy use than through more production. Using less will prolong energy supplies and reduce greenhouse gases. Banking oil for the future will increase its value when it's removed in 15 years.

Third, raise royalty and lease rates, and taxes to Norway's levels to capture the full value of nature's capital, for the owners -- the citizens of Alberta and First Nations. Follow public opinion and include Crown energy corporations, like Norway's Statoil, to capture more of the economic rents.

Fourth, reverse the Sarnia-Montreal pipeline and bring western oil to Quebec again.

Fifth, change Alberta's leasing policies so that no further oil is exported until Canadian needs are met.

But, we are not doing these things.

"No plan" Ralph inadvertently captured Canada's current energy policy when he said 25 years ago: "Let the Eastern Bastards Freeze in the Dark."

Today, thanks to governments led by Klein, Harper and his Liberal predecessors, Canada has an America-first energy policy. When, not if, the first big energy crunch hits, Canadians will demand that their governments meet their needs first.

To conclude, since 9/11, security trumps trade in the U.S. For us, this means energy security for Canadians trumps NAFTA. Alberta and Canada should fulfil our Kyoto obligations, but we cannot unless we adopt a Canada-first energy security strategy. Let's make the changes to ensure that Alberta can meet Premier Klein's March 8 pledge to Eastern Canadians.

11045 Saskatchewan Drive, Edmonton, AB. T6G 2E1
Phone: (780) 492-8558 - Fax:(780)492-8738

Parkland Institute's Tenth Annual Conference:
Power for the People: Determining our Energy Future
University of Alberta Campus
November 17-19, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Budapest, 1956-2006

Patrice de Beer
2 - 10 - 2006


Hungarians today are protesting against the perceived moral breakdown of their government. Fifty years ago, their grandparents took to the streets for national freedom. Europe's entire modern history connects and divides the two moments, says Patrice de Beer.

This Hungarian October has opened with the country continuing to be shaken by an extraordinary political crisis. It began with the leaking of a tape on 17 September 2006 in which centre-left prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsány admitted that his government had both "screwed up" in economic-policy terms and "lied morning, evening and night" about it to the people. The admission provoked a wave of rage and protest: the worst riots in decades in Budapest, furious demands for Gyurcsány's resignation from the rightwing opposition, a diagnosis of the country's "moral crisis" by President László Sólyom.

The results of the local elections of 1 October show the degree of animosity to the prime minister, as well as the extent of Hungary political divisions: although the swing to the populist centre-right did not extend to capturing the mayoralty of Budapest (where Gabor Demsky was elected for a fifth term), it was comprehensive. But Gyurcsány's decision to call a vote of confidence in parliament on 6 October, the opposition's threat to continue street demonstrations if he does not resign, and Sólyom's clear indication of discontent with the prime minister, mean that the crisis is far from over.

As it continues, the unfolding current dispute nears the anniversary of the starting-date of the event which continues to define Hungary's (and much of Europe's) modern history: the revolution of 1956, which began with a protest demonstration on 23 October and was ruthlessly crushed by the Soviet armed forces on 4 November.

The epic revolution (forradalom in Hungarian, but for more than four decades officially designated ellenforradalom [counter-revolution] by Budapest's own commissars) has been too often invoked as a precedent of the 2006 events. True, one riot can remind us of another and one crisis of another. But, this time, such comparisons are both facile and presumptuous.

Hungary's revolution of 1956 marked a watershed in the image the world had of the communist bloc: an uprising drowned in blood was the augury of its irremediable decline. Hungary's political crisis of 2006, serious as it is, is of a type shared by many democratic countries (including Hungary's neighbours and fellow entrants to the European Union in 2004, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland); it has very little in common with the upsurge of a whole nation against a communist dictatorship.

Yet the comparison does serve as a useful reminder of the tendency in modern Europe (in the political world as much as among the public) to collective amnesia about even the relatively recent past. In the attempt to assess the true, comparative significance of 1956 and 2006, ignorance of history - its "scale" as well as its "facts" - does neither Hungarians nor others any favours.

The fiftieth anniversary of Hungary's revolution is also that of the Franco-British operation (orchestrated with Israel, and ostensibly and deceitfully proclaimed as an attempt to "separate" the warring Egyptian-Israeli sides) against the Suez Canal which began on 31 October 1956.

The Suez adventure marked the end of colonial (or neo-colonial) dreams in Paris and London, as they broke against joint United States-Soviet opposition and rising Arab nationalism. It took six years for France to recognise reality and leave Algeria in 1962 - eight years after its war there started and after it had been kicked out of Indochina, and soon after Charles de Gaulle had granted independence to its African colonies. Britain waited even longer. But Suez was the turning-point: after it, centuries of imperialistic striving towards world domination by the old colonial powers gave way to painful (and still unfinished) adjustments to medium-sized European status.

A people's revolt

Hungary and Suez, Suez and Hungary are forever linked, though it would be wrong to use the word "coincidence" to describe the events - for the late-colonial operation was a gift to Soviet efforts to crush the Hungarian rising, and therefore played an instrumental role in the latter's course. Yet at a time when people's memories seem (under pressure of daily or existential worries - political, economic, social, ecological, or terrorism-related) ever more foreshortened, the recovery of the integrity of such events becomes both harder and more necessary.

A new book - Revolution in Hungary, the 1956 Budapest Uprising (published by Biro Editeur, Paris, and Thames & Hudson, London) is, where the defining Hungarian moment is concerned, a valuable tool in this regard. It will remind many already familiarised readers of the hopeful and hopeless moments which shaped the event while allowing others to discover for the first time how the heroic resistance of a small, repressed people shook the world.

The photographs taken before, during and after the revolution by the great Austrian photographer Erich Lessing convey vividly the stages of a drama which stirred emotion and deep humanitarian concern - but no political solidarity - in the west. The text (written by three well-known historians of communism, Nicolas Bauquet, François Fejtö and György Konrad) emphasise what was at stake in those twelve days, what the consequences were, and how a cycle of history was closed only with Hungary and its neighbours' accession to the European Union in 2004.

Hungary 1956, it can be easy to forget, was one of a chain of cold-war uprisings against the Stalinist, communist system. It followed the failed uprising of East German workers against Soviet occupation (June 1953) and the Poznan protests in Poland (June 1956), the release of Khrushchev's February 1956 "secret speech" on Stalin's crimes in June of that year, and the arrival in power of the Polish reformist Wladyslaw Gomulka in early October in response to a fresh wave of Polish claims.

When approximately 2,000 citizens of Budapest took to the streets on 23 October to protest against their communist rulers, they helped propel to power a Hungarian reformist, Imre Nagy. After years of domination by the hated figureheads of Soviet power in Budapest, Ernö Gerö and Mátyás Rákosi, Nagy's efforts to win autonomy from Moscow's grip had near-universal backing from his people.

György Konrad, then a young student, portrays the days of mad hope and freedom which - after cat-and-mouse diplomacy and a fake withdrawal of Russian troops - ended with the empire's brutal extinction of the revolution. The cost to Hungary was immense: 2,740 Hungarians died during the bloody fighting and repression; 25,000 were arrested by the Soviet police; Nagy and his closest allies were hanged (some after a lengthy imprisonment); and 200,000 Hungarians - many of the youngest and brightest, among them the publisher of Revolution in Hungary - fled to the west.

Across five decades

The Budapest tragedy offered two main lessons: that the Soviet empire (like most dictatorships) was irredeemable, a truth further confirmed by Mikhail Gorbachev's late, vain, efforts to save it; and that its captive nations, abandoned in 1956 by the United States and western Europe alike, had to rely primarily on their own resources in the search for freedom.

The western European communist parties, notwithstanding their resolute support for Moscow's policy, were shaken to the core by Hungary: their memberships shrank (by as much as 200,000 in Italy), they lost the support of many intellectuals (in France, Jean-Paul Sartre, Pablo Picasso and historian Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie were among those who left), and the sight of Soviet troops shooting at Hungarian crowds shattered the Soviet empire's residual image as an agent of working-class liberation.

Meanwhile, western governments were bitterly divided over the Suez adventure and unwilling either to threaten the fragile "détente" initiated between Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and US President Dwight Eisenhower or to run the risk of a new armed confrontation which might eventually turn nuclear. As a result, they spoke loudly and acted cowardly.

At the very time that the US-sponsored Radio Free Europe was encouraging the insurgents, the US ambassador in Moscow, Charles E "Chip" Bohlen, was telling the Kremlin that Washington didn't consider the Imre Nagy government as an ally. US troops based in Germany were not even placed on alert. The signals were clear: the Yalta division of Europe was still firmly in place and the road was open for Soviet tanks (supported even by heretic communist regimes like Tito's Yugoslavia or Mao's China). After it was over, the restored Hungarian communist regime of János Kádár proceeded to create an unfree but moderately comfortable Hungary that became known as "the merriest barrack in the detention camp."

1956 sent communism as a conquering ideology towards the dustbin of history. In the next decade, "eurocommunism" - the attempt to carve a reformist model of communist politics independent of the Soviet model - was incubated, and eventually had a huge impact in France, Italy and Spain.

In August 1968, the Prague spring was crushed by Soviet tanks in Czechoslovakia. In December 1979, Leonid Brezhnev's USSR invaded Afghanistan, another signal of impending systemic failure. The "iron curtain" fell in 1989 and the Soviet Union in 1991.

If the democratic world had been stronger in its commitment to democratic values, if it had had the courage to give real public support to the Hungarian freedom fighters, the division of Europe might have been ended much earlier - and at a far lower cost in human lives and economic calamity.

After the collapse of 1989-91, what remained of the old communist world became confined largely to Cuba, North Korea, and Laos; Vietnam and China each shed Marxist ideology, retaining only their Leninist repressive apparatus as a crowd-control tool while their apparatchiks (and many of their people, more modestly) reap the benefits of capitalism. The ideologies that seemed so potent in 1956 gradually faded, until the most doctrinally zealous global citizens were to be found among Islamist fundamentalists and the Christian right in the United States.

Hungary today is in the grip of another revolt, one that follows fifteen years of post-communism, consumerism, and capitalist economics. The unresolved legacy of the past, including 1956, is part of its confusion. The outcome of Hungary's current political and moral crisis will be a signal of how far Hungarians - and their fellow Europeans - have understood the scale of and the principles that guided their grandparents' revolt.

Patrice de Beer is former London and Washington correspondent for Le Monde.

Taken from Oen Democracy Net

Also by Patrice de Beer in openDemocracy:

"France's incendiary crisis"
(September 2005)

"The Schröder-Merkel clash spills across the Rhine" (October 2005)

"France's political sclerosis"
(October 2005)

"Paris in flames: the limits of repression" (November 2005)

"France's enarchy"
(November 2005)

"Child's play at the CIA" (January 2006)

"France's immigration myths"
(February 2006)

"Law and disorder in France" (March 2006)

"Ukraine's inspiring boredom" (April 2006)

"France's crisis after crisis" (April 2006)

"The Ségolène phenomenon"
(May 2006)

"France and Europe: the democratic deficit exposed" (June 2006)

"Politics and soccer: France sings Les Bleus" (June 2006)

"Zidane's farewell, France's hangover"
(July 2006)

"France and Lebanon: diplomacy of tragedy" (August 2006)

"France in Lebanon: the strength of hesitation" (August 2006)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The legalization of torture and permanent detention

from 'Unclaimed Territory' by Gleen Greenwald

(updated below - updated repeatedly - including final vote in progress (see Update VI below) -- updated below with final vote tally (see UPDATE IX below))

There is some ambivalence in writing about the torture and detention bill because it seems to be a ship that has already sailed (the only real significant unanswered question is how many Senate Democrats will vote in favor of this atrocity). And, on a very real level, it is actually difficult to ingest the reality of what is taking place. There are nonetheless a couple of points which need to be urgently emphasized.

Opponents of this bill have focused most of their attention -- understandably and appropriately -- on the way in which it authorizes the use of interrogation techniques which, as this excellent NYT Editorial put it, "normal people consider torture," along with the power it vests in the President to detain indefinitely, and with no need to bring charges, all foreign nationals and even legal resident aliens within the U.S. But as Law Professors Marty Lederman and Bruce Ackerman each point out, many of the extraordinary powers vested in the President by this bill also apply to U.S. citizens, on U.S. soil.

As Ackerman put it: "The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights." Similarly, Lederman explains: "this [subsection (ii) of the definition of 'unlawful enemy combatant'] means that if the Pentagon says you're an unlawful enemy combatant -- using whatever criteria they wish -- then as far as Congress, and U.S. law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to 'hostilities' at all."

This last point means that even if there were a habeas corpus right inserted back into the legislation (which is unlikely at this point anyway), it wouldn't matter much, if at all, because the law would authorize your detention simply based on the DoD's decree that you are an enemy combatant, regardless of whether it was accurate. This is basically the legalization of the Jose Padilla treatment -- empowering the President to throw people into black holes with little or no recourse, based solely on his say-so.

There really is no other way to put it. Issues of torture to the side (a grotesque qualification, I know), we are legalizing tyranny in the United States. Period. Primary responsibility for this fact lies with the authoritarian Bush administration and its sickeningly submissive loyalists in Congress. That is true enough. But there is no point in trying to obscure the fact that it's happening with the cowardly collusion of the Senate Democratic leadership, which quite likely could have stopped this travesty via filibuster if it chose to (it certainly could have tried).

I fully understand, but ultimately disagree with, the viewpoint, well-argued by Hunter and others, that this bill constitutes merely another step on a path we've long been on, rather than a fundamental and wholly new level of tyranny. Or, as Hunter put it: "So this is a merely another slide down the Devil's gullet, not a hard swallow." But even with the extreme range of abuses the Bush presidency has brought, this is undeniably something different, and worse, by magnitude, not merely by degree.

There is a profound and fundamental difference between an Executive engaging in shadowy acts of lawlessness and abuses of power on the one hand, and, on the other, having the American people, through their Congress, endorse, embrace and legalize that behavior out in the open, with barely a peep of real protest. Our laws reflect our values and beliefs. And our laws are about to explicitly codify one of the most dangerous and defining powers of tyranny -- one of the very powers this country was founded in order to prevent.

One could cite an infinite number of sources to demonstrate what a profound betrayal this bill is of the fundamental promises of the American system of government. As Justice Jackson wrote in his concurring opinion in Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443, 533 (1953):

Executive imprisonment has been considered oppressive and lawless since John, at Runnymede, pledged that no free man should be imprisoned, dispossessed, outlawed, or exiled save by the judgment of his peers or by the law of the land. The judges of England developed the writ of habeas corpus largely to preserve these immunities from executive restraint.

Thomas Jefferson, in his letter to Thomas Paine, 1789. ME 7:408, Papers 15:269, said: "I consider [trial by jury] as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution." And Patrick Henry warned us well in advance about Government officials who would seek to claim the right to imprison people without a trial:

Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury and the liberty of the press necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty? Liberty, the greatest of all earthly blessings--give us that precious jewel, and you may take everything else! ...Guard with jealous attention the public liberty. Suspect everyone who approaches that jewel.

In one sense, these observations are compelling because they define the core of what our country is supposed to be. But in another sense, they don't matter, because our Government is controlled by people and their followers who literally don't understand and, worse, simply do not believe in the defining values and principles of America. They know that this bill is a seizure of the most un-American powers imaginable, but their allegiance is to the acquisition of unlimited power and nothing else.

It was taken as an article of faith by Beltway Democrats that Americans want to relinquish these protections and radically change our system of government in the name of terrorism, so no political figures of national significance really tried to convince them they ought not to. We'll never really know whether Americans really wanted to do this or not because the debate was never engaged. It was ceded.

And as a result, we are now about to vest in the President the power to order anyone -- U.S. citizen, resident alien or foreign national -- detained indefinitely in a military prison regardless of where they are -- U.S. soil or outside of the country. American detainees are cut off from any meaningful judicial review and everyone else is cut off completely. They can be subject to torture with no recourse, and all of this happens on the unchecked say-so of the administration. Really, what could be more significant than this?

UPDATE: Via Atrios, several noteworthy items: (i) One of the country's most stalwart defenders of our constitutional values, Sen. Russ Feingold, announces on the Senate floor his opposition to the torture/detention bill for all of the right reasons; (ii) Sen. Chris Dodd's prepared remarks announcing his opposition to the bill are here; and (iii) The Washington Post's Dan Froomkin unsurprisingly recognizes the significance of this debate: "Today's Senate vote on President Bush's detainee legislation . . . marks a defining moment for this nation."

Additionally, John Kerry and Tom Harkin will also vote against the bill. The Senate "debate" can be watched on C-SPAN here. Sen. Rockefeller is speaking now.

UPDATE II: The Specter amendment to provide the right of habeas corpus (in essence, judicial review) to detainees failed by a vote of 48-51, which means detainees will be completely prohibited from challenging the validity of their detention before any tribunal of any kind.

Whenever one watches one of these Senate debates, it becomes so viscerally clear just how dishonest and reprehensible so many of these Senators are. I just watched Sen. Kit Bond say that the President was absolutely right to invade Iraq because it was -- and I'm quoting -- "a hotbed of terrorism." He also said that Democrats were to blame for the lack of intelligence oversight because they insisted on such a frivolous investigation into how and why we went to war based on completely false pretenses.

After that, Sen. Pete Dominici spat out one banal, moronic slogan after the next, and said that we can't possibly allow detainees to access our courts because it would "clog the courts" -- a completely idiotic assertion given the number of petitions there would be as compared to the overall caseload. It is better to allow the President to imprison people for life with no hope of ever proving one's innocence because to allow them to go to court would create lots of administrative burdens. The blind loyalty to the President of Republicans in Congress is limitless -- there is no presidential power they would meaningfully oppose. People who genuinely favor this bill are craven, hollow and un-American followers.

UPDATE III: The roll call vote on the Specter amendment is here (h/t the EJ Wire). Four Republicans voted in favor (Specter, Smith, Sununu, and Chafee). Only one Democrat opposed it (Nelson). Jeffords voted in favor and Snowe didn't vote. At least Democrats opposed a denial of habeas corpus in unison. That's something, at least.

UPDATE IV: Robert Byrd is speaking now in favor of his amendment (co-sponsored with Sen. Obama, which is going to fail, just like all the amendments have and will) to have the military commission provisions in the bill elapse in five years unless they are renewed. To do so, Byrd is trying to explain to Republican Senators that it is theoretically possible that George Bush might turn out to be wrong about the wisdom of this bill since, after all, even Adam and Eve did things that were wrong, so maybe George Bush might once be wrong, too.

That might be a compelling argument on its face, but I think the tactic least likely to persuade Senate Republicans of anything is to get them to believe that, at least when it comes to terrorism, Geroge Bush might be wrong. If you watch any of these Republican Senators speak, it quickly becomes apparent that that simply is a possibility they do not recognize.

UPDATE V: The quality of the "debate" on the Senate floor is so shockingly (though appropriately) low and devoid of substance that it is hard to watch. Sen. Warner was designated to be the opponent of the Byrd/Obama amendment to have some provisions of the bill sunset in five years, but Warner literally had no idea why he was against the amendment. The Republicans have already decided to reject every single Democratic amendment and that's all Warner knew.

So when Byrd and then Obama asked him why he opposed it, he began babbling about how the amendment would somehow send the signal to other countries that we're not serious in our commitment to the Geneva Conventions -- a claim which makes no sense on multiple levels, not the least of which is that, as Byrd pointed out, the 5-year amendment has nothing to do with Geneva Conventions compliance, only with military commissions.

Ten minutes later, some aide handed Warner a statement which he read with a whole new reason to oppose the amendment -- because it would send the "wrong signal" to The Terrorists that as long as they avoid getting caught for five years, then they won't be held accountable, and we must not show weakness in this war. That is so incoherent that it's not even remotely worth addressing. The arguments being advanced in support of this bill, and the people advancing them, are not just craven and un-Americans but also just plain dumb. Listening to the "debate" is like listening to nails against a chalkboard. The whole process is so broken and corrupt, but what other type of process could produce a bill like this?

UPDATE VI: The final votes on the various amendments (Rockefeller, Kennedy and Byrd) are underway. They are currently voting on the first amendment, from Sen. Rockefeller, requiring the CIA to provide intelligence committees of the basic information regarding the CIA's interrogation program. All three amendments are going to fail. Then they will pass the bill itself. The Rockefeller vote is complete and failed, 46-53. Every Democrat has voted for it, while every Republican (except Chafee) has voted against it. That is likely to repeat itself on the other two amendments.

At this point, my guess is that between 33-38 Democrats will oppose the bill itself, along with Chafee and Jeffords. That's more than I thought a week ago, but that is just a guess. I will post more once the votes are complete. Passage of the bill itself is assured.

The Byrd/Obama amendment to have the military commission provisions elapse after 5 years (unless renewed) was just rejected 47-52 (it received one more vote than the Rockefeller amendment, though I'm not sure which other Republican besides Chafee voted in favor of it). All Democrats voted in favor of it. They are now voting on the Kennedy amendment, and will then vote on the bill itself.

The Kennedy amendment was just defeated 46-53 (Chafee voted for, while Ben Nelson voted against it). The next vote is on the underlying bill.

UPDATE VII: McCain is giving the closing argument for Republicans and Pat Leahy is doing so for Democrats. Numerous Senators (including, irritatingly, Carl Levin) all stood up to ooze reverent praise for John McCain, and then McCain himself proceeded to do the same thing, as he pompously strutted around pointing out all of the great protections he won for us in his hard-nosed negotiations with the President. His hard-nosed negotiations with the White House are about as effective as Arlen Specter's.

Sen. Leahy gave a superb closing speech, lamenting that the days when Congress imposes a meaningful check on the Presidency "are long past," and pointing out that the way our Government is operating contravenes all of the political values he was taught growing up. He was properly and genuinely angry as he described the simply astonishing fact that President Bush now has the power to abduct people from around the world and consign them to life in prison and torture them with no opportunity of any kind to prove one's innocence.

The vote is next.

UPDATE VIII: Actually, Harry Reid is speaking now, announcing his vote against the bill. This is part of what he is saying:

Second, this bill authorizes a vast expansion of the President’s power to detain people – even U.S. citizens – indefinitely and without charge. No procedures for doing so are specified, no due process is provided, and no time limit on the detention is set. . . .

History will judge our actions here today. I am convinced that future generations will view passage of this bill as a grave error. I wish to be recorded as one who voted against taking this step.

It's good to see that Senate Democrats (with what appear to be 4 or 5 exceptions) are voting against this bill, but it's too little, too late. Many of them announced only for the first time today that they are opposing the bill (though many blame the recent changes over the last few days, which were made even after the noble McCain-Graham-Warner-White House "compromise" was announced).

But it is still difficult to understand the Democrats' strategy here. They failed to try to mount a filibuster because they feared being attacked as coddlers of the terrorists. But now they are going to vote against the bill, thereby ensuring those exact accusations will be made, and loudly (the White House already started today). Yet at the same time, they absented themselves the whole time from the debate (until they magically appeared today) and thus lost the opportunity to defend their position. They make this same mistake over and over.

UPDATE IX: Final passage of the bill was 65-34. 12 Democrats voted in favor, 1 Republican and 1 independent voted against (there may be one or two errors because I compiled the list while listening to the vote):

Democrats in favor (12) - Carper (Del.), Johnson (S.D.), Landrieu (La.), Lautenberg (N.J.), Lieberman (Conn.), Menendez (N.J), Pryor (Ark.), Rockefeller (W. Va.), Salazar (Co.), Stabenow (Mich.), Nelson (Fla.), Nelson (Neb.)

Republicans against (1) - Chafee (R.I.).

Jeffords voted against.

I will have much more later, but a couple notes for now -- Jay Rockefeller (who voted for this bill) is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee. When he was defending the amendment he introduced to compel the CIA to disclose to the Senate and House Intelligence Committees information about their interrogation activities, he complained that the White House has concealed all information about the program and that the Intellegence Committee members (including him) know nothing about this interrogation program. His amendment was defeated with all Republicans (except Chafee) voting against it. He then proceeded to vote for the underlying bill anyway.

During the debate on his amendment, Arlen Specter said that the bill sends us back 900 years because it denies habeas corpus protections. Then he voted for it.