Ray McGovern: Accountability for Torture

On November 12 I went to hear former CIA analyst Ray McGovern speak on “Why Accountability for Torture is Crucial for Human Rights, Our Security and Our Souls,”  an event sponsored by the Washington State Religious Campaign Against Torture (WSRCAT) and co-sponsored by our local Amnesty International groups among others.

As the evening’s program notes:

Ray McGovern was a CIA analyst for 27 years. He is active in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) and has been an outspoken critic of the flawed intelligence used to justify the Iraq war and of the use of torture.


Rep. Jim McDermott

Representative Jim McDermott spoke before Ray McGovern. McDermott was one of the few members of congress willing to speak out on the lies leading up to the Iraq War, as well as against the use of torture.

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Ray McGovern

Ray McGovern spoke of the documents now available online detailing the Bush Adminstration’s justification and use of torture, including:

The Senate Armed Services Committee Inquiry into the Treatment of Detainees in US Custody:


The International Committee of the Red Cross Report on the Treatment of  Fourteen “High Value Detainees” in CIA Custody:


The Department of Justice memos (available on the ACLU website):


and the CIA Inspector General’s Special Review of Counterterrorism Detention and Interrogation Activities (September 2001 – October 2003):


Torture does not provide reliable information, so McGovern raised the question of “Why torture?”  As he noted, it’s great for getting unreliable information.  in the build up to the Iraq War, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi was sent to Egypt to be waterboarded and confessed that Saddam Hussein was training  Al Qaeda operatives. This “intelligence” was used by the Bush administration to justify the war.

As Col. Lawrence B. Wilkerson, former chief of staff of the Department of State during the term of Secretary of State Colin Powell revealed in May (shortly before the d:

Likewise, what I have learned is that as the administration authorized harsh interrogation in April and May of 2002–well before the Justice Department had rendered any legal opinion–its principal priority for intelligence was not aimed at pre-empting another terrorist attack on the U.S. but discovering a smoking gun linking Iraq and al-Qa’ida.

So furious was this effort that on one particular detainee, even when the interrogation team had reported to Cheney’s office that their detainee “was compliant” (meaning the team recommended no more torture), the VP’s office ordered them to continue the enhanced methods. The detainee had not revealed any al-Qa’ida-Baghdad contacts yet. This ceased only after Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, under waterboarding in Egypt, “revealed” such contacts. Of course later we learned that al-Libi revealed these contacts only to get the torture to stop.

There in fact were no such contacts. (Incidentally, al-Libi just “committed suicide” in Libya. Interestingly, several U.S. lawyers working with tortured detainees were attempting to get the Libyan government to allow them to interview al-Libi….)

McGovern stressed to importance of speaking out, and before the question and answer session, Rob Crawford from WSRCAT came out to tell us what we could do locally, and another WSRCAT member handed out action sheets to contact members of the Obama administration and congress.

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Rob Crawford

During the q&a, someone asked about what had changed for Ray McGovern, given his 27 years in the CIA, that he was now speaking out.  Interestingly enough (and I recall Bob Baer on the Amnesty International panel in San Francisco), McGovern didn’t have a problem with what he had been doing as an analyst with the CIA, which was providing accurate intelligence information to the White House. His job, as he noted, was “to speak truth to power.” Of course, often the President for other political reasons didn’t listen.  One case he noted was Johnson’s bombing of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in Vietnam, which none of the CIA analysts thought would work.

What the problem was (and Baer said this too), was adding in the former spies to the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency, who’s mission was to provide accurate intelligence in one place.  Also, Presidents telling the CIA to start wars, which totally goes against the mission of providing objective information.

Another reason for torture that McGovern brought up in the q&a session was the intimidation factor.  Citing the case of John Walker Lindh, who was the first person tortured in “the war on terror,” McGovern raised the issue of whether they really expected to get any information from Lindh, a misguided young man who had only recently joined the Taliban?  The green light was given despite the fact of Lindh being an American citizen.  Part of the message was “Don’t mess with us,” as McGovern notes, not only to those abroad, but to those in the US who might question what they were doing.

A major change McGovern sees is that we no longer have a free media reporting on what’s happening in DC and around the world (“the fawning corporate media”, is how he refers to them). I know others have noted how even papers like the New York Times and Washington Post have become stenographers for those in power, not questioning.  On the other hand, as McGovern notes, if you know your way around the web, you can find out considerably more than was possible in the past. Information most of the American public doesn’t see.

In closing, Ray McGovern said he did see the glass as half full, and was encouraged by the steps Obama has taken in releasing documents and letting Holder investigate in the face of pressure not to. Also, that it is up to us to hold Obama and the rest of our government accountable.

Ray McGovern’s whole lecture from November 12 is currently online, thanks to Talking Stick TV, and I’ve included it above. 

I wish I could say my memory would be this good a week and a half after the event, but the truth is, I just watched it again and took notes.


“Indefinite Detention” – Obama Continuing Bush Policies

So, on Friday the Washington Post and and ProPublica reported that President Obama is considering “an executive order that would reassert presidential authority to incarcerate terrorism suspects indefinitely,” furthering his slide into continuing the worst of the Bush administration policies in the so-called “war on terror.”

A month ago, on May 21, President Obama proposed what the New York Times described as “a new legal system in which terrorism suspects could be held in “prolonged detention” inside the United States without trial.”

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow rightly took the President to task on this, and his hypocrisy for proposing it in the same speech where Obama repudiated the abuses of the Constitution by President Bush’s administration, in front of the Constitution at the National Archives, no less.

Now, this would be just as bad as far as the constitutionality of what we’d be doing if the President got together with congress as he previously suggested, to imprison people indefinitely, without charge, because we think they may be dangerous.  Something we Americans grew up to believe could not happen in this country. 

Adding to the disturbing continuation of the Bush era policies though, is President Obama’s grab for executive privilege.  Like Bush, he’s going to decide who is or isn’t a threat to the United States of America.  Even more disturbingly, in the Washington Post article, his spokesperson claimed this is what civil liberties groups asked for!

White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said that there is no executive order and that the administration has not decided whether to issue one. But one administration official suggested that the White House is already trying to build support for an order.

“Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order,” the official said. Such an order could be rescinded and would not block later efforts to write legislation, but civil liberties groups generally oppose long-term detention, arguing that detainees should be prosecuted or released.


Thankfully Glen Greenwald’s excellent latest article in Salon on the subject challenges that statement:

Those journalistic practices produce egregious sentences like this:  “‘Civil liberties groups have encouraged the administration, that if a prolonged detention system were to be sought, to do it through executive order’, the official said.”  I’d love to know which so-called “civil liberties groups” are pushing the White House for an Executive Order establishing the power of indefinite detention.  It’s certainly not the ACLU or Center for Constitutional Rights, both of which issued statements vehemently condemning the proposal (ACLU’s Anthony Romero:  “If President Obama issues an executive order authorizing indefinite detention, he’ll be repeating the same mistakes of George Bush”). 

What makes this ironically more difficult, is that it’s harder to get people to pay attention and stand up to continuing these policies under the Obama administration.  My experience with the issue tabling for Amnesty International is that many think Guantanamo and the War on Terror are ancient history. If it’s not all over now, it’s going to end. Maybe, too, after years of fighting Bush, everyone wants a break and to get back to the rest of their life.  But this is our Constitution, and our lives.

As Greenwald notes:

Absent serious public opposition (and one recent poll shows overwhelming opposition), it seems highly likely that Barack Obama will wield the power to imprison people indefinitely without charges of any kind.

Then there’s the Presidential power grab, which certainly I never thought Obama would be party to.  Greenwald again (and the highlighting is from the original):

There has now emerged a very clear — and very disturbing — pattern whereby Obama is willing to use legal mechanisms and recognize the authority of other branches only if he’s assured that he’ll get the outcome he wants.

That bad?  Consider what’s already happened.

That, for instance, is the precise pattern that’s driving his suppression of torture photos.  Two federal courts ordered the President to release the photos under the 40-year-old Freedom of Information Act.  Not wanting to abide by that decision, the White House (using Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman) tried to pressure Congress to enact new legislation vesting the administration with the power to override FOIA.  When House progressives blocked that bill, the White House assured Lieberman and Graham that Obama would simply use an Executive Order to decree the photos “classified” (when they are plainly nothing of the sort) and thus block their release anyway. 

The Freedom of Information Act does not apply to this President.  I didn’t think I’d be writing these words again so soon after we innaugerated the good guy in January. So do we challenge it?  Where is everyone?

What ultimately matters here is that we not lose sight of the critical point:  no matter the form it takes, and no matter which route is used to implement it (act of Congress or executive order), indefinite detention without charges is a repugnant and tyrannical power.  Democrats and progressives had no trouble understanding that fact during the last eight years, so they should have no trouble understanding it now.

One of the most disturbing things about all this to me is that one of Obama’s strongest points to me as a candidate was that he was a constitutional professor.  I attended an Obama Salon a year ago highlighting that fact.

ObamaSalons: Restoring the Constitution (Community Service)
Please join us for Restoring the Constitution, the first installment of ObamaSalons. Christian Halliburton, a professor of constitutional law in the Seattle University School of Law, will offer his perspective on the role of the U.S. Constitution, the importance of habeas corpus and the ongoing legal issues surrounding detentions at Guantanamo Bay. Professor Halliburton will talk about Obama’s background as a constitutional law professor and lead a discussion about what having a constitutional expert in the White House could mean for restoring America’s legal foundation.
Don’t get me wrong.  I know Obama was the best we could do this time around (and all his Democratic opponents who were likely challengers are in fact in his administration, raising no protests I’ve heard of).  Kucininch or the Greens or Nader couldn’t have made it.  I knew we’d have to fight him to be stronger on some issues.  Still. . .  I didn’t expect us to be fighting on indefinite detentions and Presidential power grabs.  Accountability, yeah, I figured as a Democrat he’d wimp out on holding those in the Bush administration accountable for torture (while Republican’s try to throw people out of office for affairs, only to amusingly get caught themselves).
We can’t keep going down this path and thinking it’s okay because President Obama is in charge and he’s a good guy.  Our Constitution was created for a reason and without it, none of us are safe.  Sure, it may be easy for people to ignore us rounding up people in other countries, many of them turned in by their neighbors or strangers for huge rewards and no real evidence of threat to the US; but who’s to say it won’t happen here – to you or me.  Once the power is there, somewhere down the road we’re in danger of it being further misused.
Ironically, one of the songs I remember playing at the Obama rally I made it to early on in the campaign here, at the Qwest Field events center, was the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”  I was still, rightly, a skeptic at the time (even though I already thought he was the best electable choice).
Amazing how timely that tune still stays.  Here’s The Who at Live 8 in 2006:
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
Guess I should have been paying more attention to that song.

And I get on my knees and pray. . .

Freedom for the Guantanamo Uighurs?

So, we finally seem to be in the midst of freeing 17 Uighurs held at Guantanamo since 2002, even though most of them have been cleared for release since 2003. Even though, as Amnesty International noted in a February 19 report:

The Bush administration had conceded that the Uighurs were not “enemy combatants” (even under its own definition of the concept), and had accepted that they could not be returned to their native China because they would face a serious risk of torture or execution there.

No other country would take them, the Bush administration wouldn’t let them be released into the U.S. 

Wait, surely change has come?  Afraid not, the Democrats wimp out again on an important principle, first Congress, then the President. As the Boston Globe reports:

Years later, after the Uighurs’ plight emerged in court, the Bush administration formally admitted they were not enemies. A judge ordered their release.

Then, a new president, who had campaigned on a vow to close Guantanamo, was on the point of admitting them to this country. But suddenly Congress was stampeded by the right, and President Obama ducked for cover. Congressional Democrats and many Republicans had applauded the call to close Guantanamo, but when it came to action, they ran for the exits. There were a few exceptions, like Senators Dick Durbin and Pat Leahy, and Congressman Bill Delahunt of Massachusetts. But they seemed like schoolteachers after the bell had rung, trying to bring order to a ruck of noisy children, looking in vain for help to the principal’s office.

As the Washington Post notes:

The men were cleared for release by the Bush administration years ago; the federal courts that reviewed their cases concluded that there was no evidence to justify their imprisonment in the first place. Yet they languished behind bars because the United States could not return them to their native China for fear they would be tortured, or worse. Some 100 countries declined U.S. requests to take the Uighurs, in part because of Chinese threats of retaliation. U.S. lawmakers railed against the possibility of allowing the detainees into the United States, claiming that they were dangerous terrorists despite the assessments of a Republican and a Democratic president, military officers and an independent judiciary.

So far, four Uighurs have been freed from Guantanamo and released to Bermuda, with reports of Palau and maybe Italy to take others.  Unfortunately, not before “war on terror” frenzy was whipped up by some on the little island.  As the Boston Globe describes it:

Bermudian Premier Ewart Brown saw the humanitarian crisis that lay beneath the politics. He offered to accept four of them into the island’s guest worker program. At 3 a.m. on June 11, I watched on the Guantanamo airstrip as four innocent men were unshackled for the last time. They climbed aboard a charter aircraft. And when the sun rose, they stepped down to free soil in Bermuda, smiling broadly.

One said, “This is a small island, but it has a big heart.”

Others will have to judge the American heart. Within hours, the lunatic fringe was feeding lies to Bermudian media. CNN joined in the mugging with a false report from a Bush-era mouthpiece that the men had “trained in Al Qaeda camps.” (Before meeting interrogators, the men had never heard of Al Qaeda, and in court the Bush administration itself conceded that there was no Al Qaeda link. But in the feeding frenzy, truth did not matter.)

A political crisis exploded in Bermuda’s parliament. The minority called for a vote of no-confidence in the government. The British loudly protested not being asked permission.

The Uighurs are a Muslim ethnic minority group in China and live in an “autonomous region” similar to Tibet. Their culture and religion is under attack by the Chinese government, as is the Tibetans.  I first became aware of the Uighurs when AI was working to free Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur business woman and mother of 11, who was in prison 5 years, and Amnesty International considered a Prisoner of Conscience.

There was a time when fighting the Communist Chinese government  was viewed as a good thing by ours, who would have welcomed them with open arms.  Post cold-war and post Sept. 11, however, and we’re letting the Chinese define them as terrorists for us.

As the New York Times notes:

Washington has walked a thin line in the handling of the Uighurs. It sought China’s support in antiterrorism efforts after the Sept. 11 attacks, branded an obscure Uighur independence group as terrorist and in 2002 allowed Chinese officials into Guantánamo to interrogate Uighur captives. The four men released here said that interrogation was a low point of their Guantánamo incarceration, with Chinese officials questioning them for long hours without food and threatening them and their families.

My head kind of spins, as a former cold-war kid who grew up on our government being “anti-communist.”  We’re letting the Chinese interrogate prisoners in our prisons.  Oh, wait, our prisons that aren’t our prisons and are on some mythological island where our laws don’t apply.

At any rate, it is good that our government finally has freed four more of these men, and may soon release the others (most of whom even the Bush Administration acknowledged haven’t done anything against us).

Tortured Memos, Ignorance and Accountability

Looking at the recently declassified Justice Department memos, it’s pretty obvious there only purpose was to provide cover, using convoluted logic, describing torture, only to give excuses for why torture wasn’t torture and this conspiracy to commit torture wasn’t a conspiracy.

According to the New York Times, waterboarding was used 266 times on 2 suspects – at least 83 times against Abu Zubaydah and 183 times against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.

How did all of this happen?  According to an April 21 New York Times article:

In a series of high-level meetings in 2002, without a single dissent from cabinet members or lawmakers, the United States for the first time officially embraced the brutal methods of interrogation it had always condemned.

This extraordinary consensus was possible, an examination by The New York Times shows, largely because no one involved — not the top two C.I.A. officials who were pushing the program, not the senior aides to President George W. Bush, not the leaders of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees — investigated the gruesome origins of the techniques they were approving with little debate.

According to several former top officials involved in the discussions seven years ago, they did not know that the military training program, called SERE, for Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape, had been created decades earlier to give American pilots and soldiers a sample of the torture methods used by Communists in the Korean War, methods that had wrung false confessions from Americans.

Some of their ignorance I find incredible.  C.I.A. Director George Tenet didn’t know the history of waterboarding, and top officials who were briefed didn’t know the U.S. had prosecuted waterboarding in war crimes trials following World War II?

Wait, there was more they didn’t know:

They did not know that some veteran trainers from the SERE program itself had warned in internal memorandums that, morality aside, the methods were ineffective. Nor were most of the officials aware that the former military psychologist who played a central role in persuading C.I.A. officials to use the harsh methods had never conducted a real interrogation, or that the Justice Department lawyer most responsible for declaring the methods legal had idiosyncratic ideas that even the Bush Justice Department would later renounce.

In addition to never having conducted a real interrogation, the psychologist’s hypothesis was questionable.

By late 2001, the agency had contracted with James E. Mitchell, a psychologist with the SERE program who had monitored many mock interrogations but had never conducted any real ones, according to colleagues. He was known for his belief that a psychological concept called “learned helplessness” was crucial to successful interrogation.

Martin Seligman, a prominent professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who had developed the concept, said in an interview that he was puzzled by Dr. Mitchell’s notion that learned helplessness was relevant to interrogation.

“I think helplessness would make someone more dependent, less defiant and more compliant,” Dr. Seligman said, “but I do not think it would lead reliably to more truth-telling.”

No matter, apparently.

Still, forceful and brainy, Dr. Mitchell, who declined to comment for this article, became a persuasive player in high-level agency discussions about the best way to interrogate Qaeda prisoners. Eventually, along with another former SERE psychologist, Bruce Jessen, Dr. Mitchell helped persuade C.I.A. officials that Qaeda members were fundamentally different from the myriad personalities the agency routinely dealt with.

“Jim believed that people of this ilk would confess for only one reason: sheer terror,” said one C.I.A. official who had discussed the matter with Dr. Mitchell.

It’s beyond disturbing that these decisions to torture were made, and it was illegal as well as immoral.  There needs to be accountability, and an independent commission, as Amnesty International and others have called for. While I know I know it is difficult, due to the current political divide, that this is an issue that causes division is exactly why it should be examined.  There are too many people out there who believe the “ticking time bomb” theory and think that torture is alright, under certain circumstances.  In addition to the need for justice, the facts need to come out and there needs to be accountability so this will never happen again.


Obama’s Inauguration – Inspiration

Wow – the day has come!  President Obama.  Yes, President Obama. Wow.  Nearly 2 million people filling the National Mall.   An inspiring speech. I don’t know if there’s much more to say.

Even though I want to stay cynical and I know we’re going to have to work on him for some issues, he represents such change, especially after the nightmare of the last 8 years.  I don’t think it was a coincidence that Bruce Springsteen performed The Rising at the Lincoln Memorial concert for Obama.  A song about surviving and rebuilding after the September 11 attacks now referring to another disaster – Bush’s Presidency.

I found this quote from David E. Sanger’s analysis of Obama’s speech in the New York Times hilarious:

Yet not since 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt called for a “restoration” of American ethics and “action, and action now” as Herbert Hoover sat and seethed, has a new president so publicly rejected the essence of his predecessor’s path.

Well, do you have to say anything more?  Yet, it really isn’t funny, because among the other disasters, Bush has left the economy a mess, with many out of work, and many of us on shaky ground. 

President Obama has a lot to deal with.  I don’t expect miracles, but yet it is incredible to be feeling this much hope again.  To be this proud of being an American again.

Amnesty International made a very funny video (on a serious issue) poking fun at our expectations of Obama, while calling for the closure of Guantanamo, ending of torture, and accountability for abuses committed in the “war on terror” by the Bush administration.

It’s part of AI’s 100 Day’s Campaign, calling for President Obama’s administration, within the first 100 days to:

  • announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;
  • issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
  • ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

To sign the petition and for more information go to:




I am very hopeful about the first two items.  President Obama has said he will close Guantanamo and end torture.  Incoming Attorney General Eric Holder has stated unequivocally that waterboarding is torture.  I think we may have to push a bit on the accountability issue, though.  Democrats tend not to want to make waves.

I was particularly encouraged when President Obama spoke out about the false choice between security and human rights in his Inaugural Address:

As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils that we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience’s sake. And so, to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: Know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and we are ready to lead once more.

Recall that earlier generations faced down fascism and communism not just with missiles and tanks, but with sturdy alliances and enduring convictions. They understood that our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please. Instead, they knew that our power grows through its prudent use. Our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example, the tempering qualities of humility and restraint.

I really do believe President Obama has values we can believe in.  Even while I don’t kid myself and I know we will have to keep mobilizing and pushing him on the issues.  I remember past Democratic administrations.  What is especially encouraging, is the citizens movement he created and empowered by showing us “Yes, we can!”  is going to keep moving forward and pushing him to stand up for those ideals.

Music as Torture

Also on December 10, the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the British human rights organization, Reprieve, which, according to the Telegraph, represents 33 clients at Guantanamo Bay, launched the Zero dB initiative to end the use of music as torture.

The campaign urges supporters to help bring to an end the “brutal practice of music torture”. It will feature minutes of silence during concerts and festivals while a petition will call on governments and the UN to uphold their obligations under the UN Convention Against Torture.

America’s use of torture in the “war on terror” is outrageous, horrifying and disgusting in all it’s forms.  It’s particularly outrageous that the torturers can just co-opt an artist’s music for their sick game. Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name Of is one of the songs that has been used, and Tom Morello has been speaking out on the issue for some time, as noted by Andy Worthington in the Huffington Post:

Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine has been particularly outspoken in denouncing the use of music as torture. In 2006, he also spoke to Spin magazine, and explained, “The fact that our music has been co-opted in this barbaric way is really disgusting. If you’re at all familiar with ideological teachings of the band and its support for human rights, that’s really hard to stand.”

David Gray, who’s song Babylon has been used in torture has also been in the forefront against the use of music as torture, saying in the Telegraph:

“What we’re talking about here is people in a darkened room, physically inhibited by handcuffs, bags over their heads and music blaring at them,” singer-songwriter David Gray has said of the practice.

“That is torture. That is nothing but torture. It doesn’t matter what the music is – it could be Tchaikovsky’s finest or it could be Barney the Dinosaur. It really doesn’t matter, it’s going to drive you completely nuts.”

In fact, the theme from Barney has been used to torture, as well as the theme from Sesame Street.

Christopher Cerf, who wrote music for Sesame Street, told the Associated Press he was horrified to learn songs from the children’s show were used in interrogations. “I wouldn’t want my music to be a party to that.”

Trent Reznor has also spoken out on the Nine Inch Nails blog:

It’s difficult for me to imagine anything more profoundly insulting, demeaning and enraging than discovering music you’ve put your heart and soul into creating has been used for purposes of torture.
If there are any legal options that can be realistically taken they will be aggressively pursued, with any potential monetary gains donated to human rights charities.
Thank GOD this country has appeared to side with reason and we can put the Bush administration’s reign of power, greed, lawlessness and madness behind us.

Trent Reznor

There have been a few musicians, including Steve Asheim of Deicide, Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool and Jamie Hetfeld of Metallica who actually approve of the use of their music in torture; and too much apathy from the rest.

I think there are two problems that contribute to the lack of outcry from some, and outright approval or acquiescence of other musicians, whose music is being used to break people.  One, that music’s use as torture is viewed as “torture light.” The other, the belief that all, or at least most, of those locked up at places like Guantanamo are guilty and “the worse of the worse.”

Neither is true, and what our government is doing in our name is far more sinister than some people are willing to believe (which is why we need a thorough, independent, investigation once President Obama puts an end to all of this, with those responsible at the top of the Bush administration being held accountable, as Amnesty International is calling for)

As noted in a June 19 Guardian article, “the creator of Barney’s song I Love You, Bob Singleton, admits he ‘just laughed’ when he heard it was being used by interrogators”.

I would argue even the fact that Tom Morello can say repeatedly on stage, as quoted in the Huffington Post article and others, “I suggest that they level Guantánamo Bay, but they keep one small cell and they put Bush in there … and they blast some Rage Against the Machine,” highlights the problem.  Not that I probably didn’t laugh myself if he said it at the Get Out the Vote concert, and not that I haven’t heard similar from friends or people coming up to our Amnesty table (when I’ll say, of course as a member of AI, I oppose torture, or the death penalty, in all cases. . .). 

I do think the reason Tom’s fans, including, probably me, so easily laugh, however, is because we’re not taking seriously the idea that playing Rage Against the Machine music at a loud volume, non-stop would, in fact, torture and break President Bush. I also question, what would happen if Tom were to use some other suggestion of torture repeatedly each night, say of water boarding Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld.  In spite of the fact water boarding is also claimed to be “torture light,” I suspect the FBI might pay Tom a little visit (and frankly, would worry we may eventually need to file a habeas corpus petition for Tom).

Even for some of us who get that heavy metal or rap played loud all day and night could drive someone mad, the idea that something mellow like David Gray’s Babylon (or the Sesame Street or Barney themes) could have the same effect may sound crazy, or can it really drive you crazy?

Yet, as described in Vanity Fair, and quoted in the Dec. 26, 2005 (Dec. 7 online) edition of The Nation:

In a gripping Vanity Fair article, Donovan Webster searched for and found “the man in the hood” from the macabre Abu Ghraib photos. Haj Ali told Webster of being hooded, stripped, handcuffed to his cell and bombarded with a looped sample of David Gray’s “Babylon.” It was so loud, he said, “I thought my head would burst.” Webster then cued up “Babylon” on his iPod and played it for Haj Ali to confirm the song. Ali ripped the earphones off his head, and started crying. “He didn’t just well up with tears,” Webster later told me. “He broke down sobbing.”

Released former Guantanamo detainee Rahul Ahmed, whose case is documented in the film The Road to Guantanamo. talks about the use of music in torture in this clip from Reprieve:

Consider this comment in the Huffington Post by Guantanamo detainee Binyam Mohamed:

Speaking to his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith, the director of Reprieve, Mohamed, like Ruhal Ahmed, explained how psychological torture was worse than the physical torture he endured in Morocco, where the CIA’s proxy torturers regularly cut his penis with a razorblade. “Imagine you are given a choice,” he said. “Lose your sight or lose your mind.”

Of course, breaking down prisoners and causing them to lose their mind is exactly what these psychological techniques developed by the CIA were meant to do, as chronicled by Alfred W. McCoy on numerous occasions, including a May 29, 2004 edition of CounterPunch.

As the Dec. 2005 Nation article points out, the British also used loud noise against Irish detainees in the early 1970’s. “This was one of the so-called Five Techniques, scientifically developed interrogation practices that also included wall-standing, hooding, sleep deprivation and withholding of food and drink.”

 In his book Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People, John Conroy describes the “absolute” and “unceasing” noise that the Irishmen who were first subjected to the Five Techniques endured. While the other four techniques were clearly terrifying, the noise was “an assault of such ferocity that many of the men now recall it as the worst part of the ordeal.”

The Nation article continues the parallel:

Ex-interrogators at Guantánamo’s Camp Delta described their methods to the New York Times. These included shackling detainees to the floor, cranking up the air-conditioning and forcing them to endure strobe lights with rock and rap music playing at mind-numbing volumes for unbearably long sessions. “It fried them,” one said. Another admitted that detainees returned “very wobbly. They came back to their cells and were just completely out of it.”

This is when the mind begins its rebellion against the body. After you end up “wobbly” or “fried,” a severe post-traumatic stress disorder commonly results. Patrick Shivers, one of the Irish victims of the Five Techniques, developed a lasting and severe hypersensitivity to noise to the point where he was “disturbed by the sound of a comb placed on a shelf in his bathroom.”

Ah, but these techniques are only being used against terrorists, the worse of the worse, and certainly not Americans, right?  While it still would not be OK, or effective, the fact is – wrong.  The Huffington Post cites “Donald Vance, a U.S. military contractor in Iraq, who was subjected to music torture for 76 days in 2006”:

Vance’s story demonstrates not only that the practice of using music as torture was being used as recently as 2006, but also that it was used on Americans. When his story first broke in December 2006, the New York Times reported that he “wound up as a whistle-blower, passing information to the FBI about suspicious activities at the Iraqi security firm where he worked,” but that “when American soldiers raided the company at his urging, Mr. Vance and another American who worked there were detained as suspects by the military, which was unaware that Mr. Vance was an informer.”

Speaking to the Associated Press last week, Vance, who was held at Camp Cropper, said that the use of music as torture “can make innocent men go mad,” and explained that during his imprisonment the music “was almost constant, mostly hard rock. There was a lot of Nine Inch Nails, including ‘March of the Pigs.’ I couldn’t tell you how many times I heard Queen’s ‘We Will Rock You.'” He added that the experience “sort of removes you from you. You can no longer formulate your own thoughts when you’re in an environment like that.”

Worse of the worse?  Some statistics from Amnesty International’s fact sheet on Guantanamo:  55% of the detainees are not determined to have committed hostile acts against the United States, 44% of the detainees have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda, 18% have no definitive connection with Al Qaeda or the Taliban, with only 8% (typo corrected) being characterized as al Qaeda fighters.  Prisoners are bought, with the US offering large bounties for suspected terrorists: 66% of detainees were captured by Pakistani authorities and turned over to U.S. control, 20% were captured by Northern Alliance/Afghan authorities and turned over to U.S. control, with only 8% being captured by U.S. authorities and 3% by other coalition forces.

Torture is also not effective and puts our own troops at risk, as noted in the Washington Post by Matthew Alexander, the Air Force interrogator who tracked down Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, by building a rapport with the Guantanamo suspects and refusing to take part in torture.

That music has been, and maybe still is, being used as a torture method by the U.S. government is deeply disturbing.  Musicians whose work is being used in this twisted way should be outraged and speak out against it ever happening again.

Not in our name!  I hear this “Well, but what can we do?” from people when it finally starts to dawn on them what we’re doing.  Is this still America?  Is this still a democracy?  We speak out! Amnesty International, and the prisoners of conscience we defend, have made it a point of speaking out even in countries that are not alleged democracies.

Yes, I have hope now that we have elected President Obama that this will all soon end.  There must be accountability, too; along with building a consensus in America that this will never happen again.  I think those of us who believe in justice will have to push to make this happen, as moderate Democrats tend to want to not make waves.  This is too important to let pass and sweep under the rug.

America should stand for justice. It’s precisely because I love America that I find this all so appalling. 


100 Days – Closing Guantanamo and Ending Torture

Amnesty International has launched it’s 100 Days campaign, calling on President-elect Barack Obama to make human rights a priority and undo the damage done by President Bush in the name of anti-terrorism.

In the first 100 days, Amnesty International is calling on the new administration to:

  • announce a plan and date to close Guantanamo;
  • issue an executive order to ban torture and other ill-treatment, as defined under international law;
  • ensure that an independent commission to investigate abuses committed by the U.S. government in its “war on terror” is set up.

Our local Amnesty International group has had the letters to soon to be President Obama out at local events (collecting them for AI to present to him at the right moment, maybe after January 20?).  Just joking, after Barack’s in office is obvious, although even AI can barely wait for Bush to leave, can they? 

You can also take action online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/100days

How did it come to this? In America?

Amnesty International is not alone.  A group of retired generals and admirals are also calling for President Barack Obama to end torture “from the moment of his inauguration” according to Reuters.

“We need to remove the stain, and the stain is on us, as well as on our reputation overseas,” said retired Vice Adm. Lee Gunn, former Navy inspector general.

Gunn and about a dozen other retired generals and admirals, who are scheduled to meet Obama’s team in Washington, said they plan to offer a list of anti-torture principles, including some that could be implemented immediately.

They include making the Army Field Manual the single standard for all U.S. interrogators. The manual requires humane treatment and forbids practices such as waterboarding — a form of simulated drowning widely condemned as torture.

Other immediate steps Obama could take are revoking presidential orders allowing the CIA to use harsh treatment, giving the International Red Cross access to all prisoners held by intelligence agencies and declaring a moratorium on taking prisoners to a third country for harsh interrogations.

“If he’d just put a couple of sentences in his inaugural address, stating the new position, then everything would flow from that,” said retired Maj. Gen. Fred Haynes, whose regiment in World War Two raised the American flag on Iwo Jima.

Torture is not patriotic.  Torture is also not effective. 

Matthew Alexander, an interrogator in Iraq talks in the Washington Post about how he refused to “bend the rules” and use torture, instead going by the U.S Army Field Manual to get the information to capture Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq. “We got to know our enemies, we learned to negotiate with them, and we adapted criminal investigative techniques to our work”, he wrote. 

Over the course of this renaissance in interrogation tactics, our attitudes changed. We no longer saw our prisoners as the stereotypical al-Qaeda evildoers we had been repeatedly briefed to expect; we saw them as Sunni Iraqis, often family men protecting themselves from Shiite militias and trying to ensure that their fellow Sunnis would still have some access to wealth and power in the new Iraq. Most surprisingly, they turned out to despise al-Qaeda in Iraq as much as they despised us, but Zarqawi and his thugs were willing to provide them with arms and money.

As Alexander notes, not only is torture against his moral fabric and inconsistent with American principles.  “Torture and abuse cost American lives.”

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.

So we should be free from torture and excuses for torture now that we’ll have a Democrat in office, right?  Well, actually I do hold a lot of hope for Obama on this one.  He’s been very consistent against torture. What’s disturbing, is that, as the New York Times and Salon report, Senators Feinstein and Wyden have shifted their previous strong stances against torture, to one of, umm, greater flexibility.

According to the Times:

[I]n an interview on Tuesday, Mrs. Feinstein indicated that extreme cases might call for flexibility. “I think that you have to use the noncoercive standard to the greatest extent possible,” she said, raising the possibility that an imminent terrorist threat might require special measures.

Afterward, however, Mrs. Feinstein issued a statement saying: “The law must reflect a single clear standard across the government, and right now, the best choice appears to be the Army Field Manual. I recognize that there are other views, and I am willing to work with the new administration to consider them.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, another top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said he would consult with the C.I.A. and approve interrogation techniques that went beyond the Army Field Manual as long as they were “legal, humane and noncoercive.” But Mr. Wyden declined to say whether C.I.A. techniques ought to be made public.

Salon reports clarifying statements from he Senators’ offices.  Ron Wyden’s office claims he is against torture, but the statement is actually quite wishy-washy.

As you may or may not be aware, under current law, the Army Field Manual can be revised by the Executive Branch without prior consent from Congress. This is to allow for the possibility of incorporating other legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques that might be discovered to be effective in the future. Just because the Army Field Manual is currently the best available standard for interrogation does not mean we can’t do better.

Ah, so there are “legal, humane and noncoercive interrogation techniques” yet to be invented that the Army Field Manual somehow may not allow because they’ve banned torture or, err, “coercive techniques”, so we have to allow some wiggle room.

Feinstein’s clarification is even more disturbing.  According to Salon:

Sen. Feinstein has just now issued another statement, to Time‘s Scherer, asserting — much like Wyden just did — “that she still wants a law that mandates the Field Manual as the sole interrogation standard, but that she may be willing to be talked back from that position by the Obama Administration, if it chooses to do so.”  

So, she’s willing to consider torture (or “coercive methods”) if President Obama says so?

While I would hope this will never be an issue, the correct answer, Senator, is “No.”  No torture.  Period.  Torture would still be wrong even if President Obama were to order it, or his administration were to order it.  Does Senator Feinstein really believe torture is not okay under a Republican administration, but it is under a Democratic one?!!

This is not the American I believe in.

The America I Believe In doesn’t torture people or use cruel, inhuman treatment. . .doesn’t hold people without charge, without fair trials, without hope, and without end. . .doesn’t kidnap people on the street and ship them to nations known for their brutality. . .doesn’t condone prisoner abuse and excuse high-ranking government of-cials from responsibility for that abuse. . .doesn’t justify the use of secret prisons. . . and does not rob people of their basic dignity.

I’m joining with Amnesty International USA to restore The America I Believe In.

The America I Believe In leads the world on human rights. 



Habeas Corpus of Uighur Prisoners at Guantanamo

According to the New York Times, Federal Court Judge, Ricardo M. Urbina, has ordered the Bush administration to release 17 Uighur detainees from Guantanamo Bay on Friday.  While the U.S. conceded over a year ago, the Uighurs, members of a Muslim minority in China, were not enemy combatants; the Bush administration still contends they should be held at Guantanamo, as they cannot be returned to China for fear of torture, and have found no other country to agree to take them.

“I think the moment has arrived for the court to shine the light of constitutionality on the reasons for detention,” Judge Urbina said.

Saying the men had never fought the United States and were not a security threat, he tersely rejected Bush administration claims that he lacked the power to order the men set free in the United States and government requests that he stay his order to permit an immediate appeal.

Judge Urbina is ordering the 17 detainees be brought to his court on October 10, according to Amnesty International

The Uighurs would then be released, with the assistance of members of the local Uighur community, religious groups and refugee settlement agencies who have offered their support to help the detainees adjust to their lives outside Guantánamo.

The Judge has also scheduled a hearing for them on October 16 and “ordered that an official from the US Department of Homeland Security be present at that hearing.”

The U.S. Department of Justice is filing an emergency motion for a stay, pending an appeal to the Court of Appeals and the case could go to the Supreme Court.

As the New York Times article noted, “Judge Urbina’s decision came in a habeas corpus lawsuit authorized by a landmark Supreme Court ruling in June that gave detainees the right to have federal judges to review the reason for their detention.”

The centuries-old doctrine of habeas corpus permits a judge to demand production of a prisoner, a power Judge Urbina sought to exercise with his order that the men be brought to him.

“I want to see the individuals,” he said.

According to Amnesty International, the U.S. administration “has claimed authority to continue to detain those it no longer considers ‘enemy combatants’ under the executive’s ‘necessary power to wind up wartime detentions in an orderly fashion’.” 

So, not only is the U.S. saying it can hold people without charge indefinitely at Guantanamo; but even if the charges prove unfounded, they can still detain them. This does not seem very orderly to me; not in a democracy; not in the U.S.A..  This is not the America I Believe In.

Amnesty International is calling for the U.S. government to “comply with Judge Urbina’s order, drop it’s appeals, bring the Uighur detainees to the USA, and work to find lawful, safe and durable solutions in all their cases.”

Take action online on the “War on Terror” page:


Or from the main page, www.amnestyusa.org , left tab “Our Priorities”, top item on the pull down menu, “War on Terror”

IMG_6462 (2)

An American Reclamation Project – Bruce for Barack

Bruce Springsteen has just finished playing 3 voter registration rallies for Barack Obama in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan. Bruce spoke from his heart about the American promise (our hopes) vs the increasing distance from reality for too many people in America; and the disasters and damage of the last 8 years.  Then he spoke about the need for “someone with Senator Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, compassion, toughness, and faith, to help us rebuild our house once again.”


Photo from the official Barack Obama Flickr page.

That we could have fallen so far from those American ideals in the past 8 years is appalling; and I see nothing in the McCain/Palin that looks any different, beyond, perhaps, more vicious attacks (which is, I guess, the only way they believe they can win).  Barack brings back the kind of idealism and hope Bruce sings about in his songs.  Developing good paying American jobs, educating all of our youth to have a chance at those jobs and to compete in science and math on a world class level.  Encouraging community service, instead of shopping. 

Bruce’s comments in Philly on Oct. 4 (from his website):

Hello Philly,

“I am glad to be here today for this voter registration drive and for Barack Obama, the next President of the United States.

“I’ve spent 35 years writing about America, its people, and the meaning of the American Promise. The Promise that was handed down to us, right here in this city from our founding fathers, with one instruction: Do your best to make these things real. Opportunity, equality, social and economic justice, a fair shake for all of our citizens, the American idea, as a positive influence, around the world for a more just and peaceful existence. These are the things that give our lives hope, shape, and meaning. They are the ties that bind us together and give us faith in our contract with one another.

“I’ve spent most of my creative life measuring the distance between that American promise and American reality. For many Americans, who are today losing their jobs, their homes, seeing their retirement funds disappear, who have no healthcare, or who have been abandoned in our inner cities. The distance between that promise and that reality has never been greater or more painful.

“I believe Senator Obama has taken the measure of that distance in his own life and in his work. I believe he understands, in his heart, the cost of that distance, in blood and suffering, in the lives of everyday Americans. I believe as president, he would work to restore that promise to so many of our fellow citizens who have justifiably lost faith in its meaning. After the disastrous administration of the past 8 years, we need someone to lead us in an American reclamation project. In my job, I travel the world, and occasionally play big stadiums, just like Senator Obama. I’ve continued to find, wherever I go, America remains a repository of people’s hopes, possibilities, and desires, and that despite the terrible erosion to our standing around the world, accomplished by our recent administration, we remain, for many, a house of dreams. One thousand George Bushes and one thousand Dick Cheneys will never be able to tear that house down.

“They will, however, be leaving office, dropping the national tragedies of Katrina, Iraq, and our financial crisis in our laps. Our sacred house of dreams has been abused, looted, and left in a terrible state of disrepair. It needs care; it needs saving, it needs defending against those who would sell it down the river for power or a quick buck. It needs strong arms, hearts, and minds. It needs someone with Senator Obama’s understanding, temperateness, deliberativeness, maturity, compassion, toughness, and faith, to help us rebuild our house once again. But most importantly, it needs us. You and me. To build that house with the generosity that is at the heart of the American spirit. A house that is truer and big enough to contain the hopes and dreams of all of our fellow citizens. That is where our future lies. We will rise or fall as a people by our ability to accomplish this task. Now I don’t know about you, but I want that dream back, I want my America back, I want my country back.

“So now is the time to stand with Barack Obama and Joe Biden, roll up our sleeves, and come on up for the rising.”

Bruce’s The Ghost of Tom Joad describes the road we have been heading down once again.  Of the people struggling to make it at the bottom as the gap between rich and poor widens to the greatest since 1929.  The people who Bruce and Barack never forgot of stopped fighting for, long before the bank failures and stock market downturn started shaking the rest of America.

The last verse, which didn’t make it to the video:

Now Tom said “Mom, wherever there’s a cop beatin’ a guy
Wherever a hungry newborn baby cries
Where there’s a fight ‘gainst the blood and hatred in the air
Look for me Mom I’ll be there
Wherever there’s somebody fightin’ for a place to stand
Or decent job or a helpin’ hand
Wherever somebody’s strugglin’ to be free
Look in their eyes Mom you’ll see me.”

We need real change.  We need real hope.

Register.  Vote.


Golden Parachutes

The Bill Moyers Journal on PBS did a whole episode on the economic crisis last night. Bill Moyers paints this picture near the end of his show (reprinted on Thuthout (Moguls Steal Home While Companies Strike Out):

From our offices in Manhattan, we look out on the tall, gleaming skyscrapers that are cathedrals of wealth and power – the Olympus ruled by the gods of finance, the temples of the mighty, the holy of holies, whose priests guard the sacred texts of salvation – the ones containing the secrets of subprime lending and derivatives as mysterious and elusive as the Grail itself.

    This last couple of weeks, ordinary mortals below could almost hear the ripcords of golden parachutes being pulled as the divinities on high prepared for soft, safe landings – all this while tossing their workers like sacrificial lambs into the purgatory of unemployment.

While I know I shouldn’t be surprised, it is astounding how the very CEOs and board chairs who brought their financial corporations to disaster are so richly rewarded.

During the last five years of his tenure as CEO of now-bankrupt Lehman Brothers, Richard Fuld’s total take was $354 million. John Thain, the current chairman of Merrill Lynch, taken over this week by Bank of America, has been on the job for just nine months. He pocketed a $15 million signing bonus. His predecessor, Stan O’Neal, retired with a package valued at $161 million, after the company reported an $8 billion loss in a single quarter. And remember Bear Stearns’s Chairman James Cayne? After the company collapsed earlier this year and was up for sale at bargain basement prices, he sold his stake for more than $60 million.

    Daniel Mudd and Richard Syron, the former heads of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – aka the gods who failed – are fighting to keep severance packages of close to $24 million combined – on top of the millions in salary each earned last year while slaughtering the golden calf. As it is written in the Gospel According to Me, when the going gets tough, the tough get going.

Guess we won’t find this bunch on street corners selling apples in the coming Depression.

According to the New York Times, the Bush administration wants Congress to “grant it far-reaching emergency powers to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of distressed mortgages despite unknowns on how the plan would work.”  Bush’s treasury secretary says “that the upfront cost of the rescue proposal could easily be $500 billion,” while “outside experts predicted it could reach $1 trillion.” Locally, WaMu is holding their breath that this will bail them out.  Why do I not feel very reassured about all this?

Moyers interviewed first Grethchen Morgenson and Floyd Norris, business and financial columnists from the New York Times.  None of what’s going on with Wall Street makes a lot of sense, especially, as much as I can make out, common sense.

Morgenson describes part of the situation (from the transcript):

There was a lack of accountability where a banker didn’t care whether the loan was repaid. And the Wall Street firm that sold the securitization trust didn’t care if it ever got paid back, because they were happy with their commission. The broker making the loan didn’t care, because he got, all the way up the ladder to the CEOs of these companies, who are allowed to walk away from a financial cataclysm with huge payments.

Then there was the speculation by companies like Lehman:

FLOYD NORRIS: I believe Lehman believed it. Lehman, consistently during this, has believed that the bottom was upon us.

So they were buying as this started down last year, taking advantage of what they believed to be a temporary ridiculous decline. And they never quite realized that they were wrong. The prices on many of these assets now probably are ridiculously low. But buying them on heavy leverage is risking if you’re a little wrong, you can die. And that’s what happened to Lehman.

Gambling on borrowed money is probably never a good idea.  Ironically, though, Lehman’s biggest problem, given the way the current situation is set up, is that they weren’t big enough.

GRETCHEN MORGENSON: Well, the problem is that now, everything in our financial markets is super-interconnected. And so, one failure has the potential to push over other dominos.

BILL MOYERS: But why AIG and not Lehman?

GRETCHEN MORGENSON: Because AIG was so enormous, it’s almost a paradox. It’s almost perverse. Lehman was not big enough in the derivatives market.

That has counterparties, where if you fail, then they might then push over another domino. Lehman was not large enough in those areas. AIG was enormous. AIG had those derivatives from European banks, which may have failed. And so, you see, it’s a worldwide problem.

FLOYD NORRIS: To let AIG go under now would have created an awful lot of problems for an awful lot of other institutions. And the government doesn’t have any way to know exactly who and how much. And they were scared. And they probably were right to be scared.

Moyers then interviewed Kevin Phillips, author of Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism.  Phillips is pretty harsh on the roles of Alan Greenspan and both the Republicans and Democrats in their bi-partisan creation of the conditions that led to this mess.

Again, from the transcript:

BILL MOYERS: You’re very hard in here on Alan Greenspan’s tenure at the Fed.

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Well, I know Alan from the Republican campaign back in 1968. He was always a very scholarly, data-driven guy. But I think, for some reason or other, his chairmanship will be remembered as turn on the spigots.

BILL MOYERS: Turn on the spigots?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: Turn on the spigots. He started in 1987 with a crash that was a wicked one in one day in 1987. And he turned on the spigots. And they had the huge growth of the tech bubble in the 1990s. And then right after the tech and the stock market bubble blew up in 2000, you had 9/11. So there was a need for more stimulus. And they ginned up the stimulus again hugely.

And the upshot is that during Greenspan’s tenure from 1987 to 2006, what they call total credit market debt in the United States quadrupled, quadrupled from about $11 trillion up to $44, $45, $46 trillion. And finance got the great bulk of it. And Greenspan would do nothing to disturb finance.

He wouldn’t puncture a bubble. He wouldn’t crack down on the exotic mortgages. He really wouldn’t do much of anything except give obscure speeches in which, you know, he mumbled the different directions so nobody would know what he meant. But basically he gave finance what they wanted.

Then on the bi-partisan mess, especially Robert Rubin from the Clinton administration (and currently one of Obama’s economic advisors; and with McCain’s campaign being run by Phil Gramm, who also pushed through all this, it’s still a bi-partisan mess):

BILL MOYERS: And you write also that during this period the Clinton Administration aided and abetted this kind of speculation. Bill Clinton’s economic advisor, Bob Rubin, who later became Secretary of Treasury — wanting to fuel this, right?

KEVIN PHILLIPS: It’s been a bipartisan phenomenon. You can go back to the 1980s and say Reagan and George Bush, Sr., got a bubble started. Clinton got in and got an even bigger bubble going. And then George W. Bush with the biggest bubble of all. But it’s not that the Clintonites didn’t play. They did. Bob Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury — I mean, if he was a Hindu and he was being reincarnated, he’d come back as a pail because this guy bailed out everything you can imagine. They had the Mexican loan bailout. They had the long-term capital management bailout, the Russian Southeast Asian currency bailouts.

Then this:

Rubin was also central — Democrats more than Republicans in a lot of ways with the Clinton Administration — in getting rid of Glass Stiegel, was the old restriction that the banks couldn’t tie up with brokerage firms and insurance companies. Well, basically after they made their reform led by Clinton and by Bob Rubin, you had like four-color linguini here in a bowl. It’s all mixed up together.

BILL MOYERS: So you have it — for this disaster has bipartisan parentage.


Do we have hope?  I will say, from his statement on the economic crisis and bailouts (from a Truthout article), that Obama seems to not only get the crisis, but expresses his outrage at what’s going on.  He’s calling for help for Main Street, not just Wall Street (and, indeed, he has been speaking about these issues all along).  He’s calling for responsibility on Wall Street (and calling out the golden parachutes).  Obama is also calling for “tough new oversight and regulations of our financial institutions.”

Then he really nails how we got into this situation:

One last point. We did not arrive at this crisis by some accident of history. What led us to this point was years and years of a philosophy in Washington and on Wall Street that viewed even common-sense regulation and oversight as unwise and unnecessary; that shredded consumer protections and loosened the rules of the road. CEOs and executives got reckless. Lobbyists got what they wanted. Politicians in both parties looked the other way until it was too late. And it is the American people who have paid the price. The events of this week have rendered a final verdict on that failed philosophy, and it will end if I am President of the United States. We must build upon the ideas I have laid out over the last several years about how to modernize our financial regulation in this country, and establish commonsense rules of the road for our financial system to help restore confidence in our financial system.

Which is all really great, but. . . Obama’s financial advisors are still Robert Rubin and Lawrence Summers, who helped bring us this mess during the Clinton administration (with the bi-partisan help of people like Phil Gramm).

Kevin Phillips doesn’t hold out much hope for real change from Obama (though he has considerably less hope for any change from McCain):

KEVIN PHILLIPS: He doesn’t seem to have anything very specific to say. That’s part of the problem. A second problem is, for me at least, you know, just as I can’t believe that John McCain ever wanted to get his economic advice from Phil Gramm. I mean, Phil Gramm, a former Texas Senator, appalling. He and his wife were known as Mr. and Mrs. Enron because they were so flagrant, that’s McCain.

But then you’ve got Obama with Bob Rubin and he doesn’t have any problem with the hedge fund types. I mean, one of the Chicago people was a major financer of his. He gets a guy to pick his vice-president. Turns out to be somebody who was part of the Fannie and Freddie mess.

So I don’t exactly see Obama as this fellow riding in on a horse who represents all kinds of reformism. It’s an important thing probably to have to change from the Republicans but I don’t see that he is free of the ties to finance and Democratic Party financial types.

Phillips does mention Obama in the past telling him he read one of Phillips’ books, and said he would be impressed if Obama came in January and leveled with the American people (but doesn’t hold out much hope for Congress really wanting to deal with it other than a New Deal quick fix). 

Here’s a thought for Obama.  Why not have Kevin Phillips as one of your campaign economic advisors and/or Treasury secretary?  Or Gretchen Morgenson or Floyd Norris? 

Or is there really hope for that kind of change, when the reality is the Wall Street money helps fund both parties?

Don’t get me wrong.  I still think Barack Obama is our best hope, and will be the best President I’ve had a chance to vote for in my lifetime.  It’s just that the realities of who really funds the campaigns and has any politician in their back pocket, no matter how many of us send in $25 donations when we can afford it, makes real change really doubtful.