Saturday, June 03, 2006
Empty Boots and Baby Shoes
By Stacy Bannerman
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Saturday 03 June 2006
In the wake of the rising tide of allegations claiming that US forces executed a sort of vigilante justice by staging murderous attacks on Iraqi civilians, General Chiarelli, second in command in Iraq, stated his belief that it's important for troops to "take time to reflect on the values that separate us from our enemies." The Marines who were reportedly involved in the Haditha rampage were on their third deployment. Some soldiers are on their sixth tour of duty. Many have spent more time in Iraq than they have at home in the past few years, scooping up body parts of friends and "friendlies." When, precisely, does the General think our soldiers will have a little down time to reflect?
More importantly, why haven't our elected leaders taken the time to reflect, discuss, and decide on a clear exit strategy that would prevent more empty boots and baby shoes from being added to the growing pile of casualties in Iraq every day?
It has been more than a month since leaders of the US House of Representatives declared that they would convene a "full and lengthy" debate on the war. Theoretically, that debate would address questions pertaining to the legality of a confrontation that was initiated on false information and in violation of virtually all modern conventions and standards of warfare.
Presumably, that conversation would explore the morality of a conflict that has become a civil war in which 90% of the casualties are unarmed civilians, and the short- and long-term impacts of multiple deployments on troops already stretched to the breaking point.
One might suppose the discussion would address what the "noble cause" is, and whether or not it is within the purview of the United States Armed Forces to build a democracy (which is not what Congress or the American public were told they were paying for). One might also surmise that a dialogue would take place about whether that might be something better left to a regional, if not international, coalition of statesmen and diplomats. It may be difficult to appeal to the United Nations for assistance, but, as the wife of a National Guardsman who has already served a year in Iraq, I assure you, it would be no trickier than having your loved one sent off to fight in a war based on lies.
Which begs the question: If you support the troops, can you name one? If not, why aren't you signing up to become one? With an increasing number of Americans opposed to the war in Iraq, why aren't we doing anything about it? Why aren't our Representatives? It smacks of hypocrisy to ask our soldiers to do what we, from the comfort of our couches or the halls of Congress, won't. Namely, to align our morals with our actions.
If Congress waits until November to act, it is likely that 350 or more US soldiers will die, along with countless Iraqi children, women, and men. Since March 2003, on average, over two service men and women and nearly 20 Iraqi citizens have been killed in each day of the war.
Perhaps when what's left of the troops on the ground in Iraq are done with their values training, they can all come home and teach us. Until then, I suspect that the poem I wrote while participating in the Bring Them Home Now Tour (September, 2005) as a member of Military Families Speak Out, will continue to be relevant:
EMPTY BOOTS AND BABY SHOES
I am so tired of standing at memorials for soldiers; tired of weeping for the victims of this war.
I am tired of watching parents plant crosses for their dead children, day after day after godforsaken day.
I am tired of placing flowers in empty boots and baby shoes; of the way my body shakes at the first readings of the names that were added to the casualty count this week.
What's wearing me out is bearing witness to this war. This foreverness of death, and the unrelenting loss.
It drains my spirit to meet the widow's eyes; to watch the fathers falter, falling to their knees. Christ, that makes me weak.
To stand at the lip of the mouth of a grave that will never get enough
catching mothers tears, a nation driving by the dead, is exhausting to my soul.
I am deathly tired today.
Stacy Bannerman is a contributor to Foreign Policy In Focus and is on the Advisory Board of Military Families Speak Out. She is the author of When the War Came Home: The Inside Story of Reservists and the Families They Leave Behind, (Continuum Publishing, March 2006). Her husband deployed to Iraq with the Army National Guard 81st Brigade in March 2004, and returned home on March 11, 2005.
By Larry Johnson
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
" We must also accept that Americans as a whole share responsibility for
the actions of these soldiers. We sent them to war. We put them square in
the middle of the battle. We cannot simply sit idly on the sidelines
clucking our tongues over the awful thing that was done. We are complicit."
Saturday 03 June 2006
A sandstorm was swirling across the tarmac of a US military airfield in
Qatar last week. The only thing better then getting pelted in the kisser
with tiny grains of sand that pepper your face at 50 miles per hour is the
120-plus degree heat. You know the expression, "it's a dry heat." Yeah, well
so is a Texas barbecue pit. Qatar, at least in terms of heat and dust, is
the starting point of hell. How people live in an environment like this is
beyond comprehension, but they do.
I came to Qatar on my way to Iraq. I was among the first to board a New
Jersey National Guard C-130 that was revving its engines in preparation to
take us north. Another lesson learned - be the last to board, not the first.
The C-130 is an old workhorse of an aircraft. It was introduced into the Air
Force in 1954, one year before I was born. One of its great features, apart
from being able to haul stuff into tough areas, is the tail ramp that allows
soldiers or vehicles (or both) to be easily loaded and off-loaded.
Anyway, I move to the front of the cargo/passenger section. Two rows of
seats, one on the right side of the plane and one on the left side of the
plane, run the length of the aircraft from the bulkhead to the tail. You sit
in a piece of canvas and cargo net. You either face the side of the plane or
you are against the outside skin looking at the middle. You are up close and
personal with the people on either side and, of course, knee knocking with
the gal or fellow across from you.
Once on board, you sit sweating and waiting. Any benefit from the shade
of the aircraft is quickly eliminated by the proximity of other profusely
sweating bodies. My group, about 15 folks, settled into our seats. Another
bus pulled up and disgorged a platoon of Marines. Fully kitted in their
combat gear - body armor, weapons, helmet, and uniform - they were really
hot but managed not to sweat so much. I think it had something to do with
their youth. Kids under twenty five don't sweat as much as a fat bastard who
is over fifty.
The Marine unit had at least four women. Each one lugging the same
equipment load as their male counterparts. They were heading to Western
Iraq, the vicinity of the now infamous Haditha.
As the plane engines cranked louder, crew members circulated passing out
foam ear plugs. You don't want to be deaf before you get into combat.
Anticipating this contingency, I pulled out the Sonic II ear plugs I
acquired and used during CIA training at Camp Peary in 1986. They still
worked. While I was jamming the plugs into my ears, it suddenly dawned on me
that the damn ear plugs were older than many of the Marines on my flight.
The takeoff from Qatar was uneventful. Once we got altitude, the heat
let up. The landing in a combat zone is another matter. If you like a roller
coaster you would love the combat landing in a C-130 Hercules. I never knew
an old propeller aircraft could pull Gs. Another lesson learned.
As the Marines began to disembark, I asked a couple of the baby-faced
boys if this was their first trip in. "No sir, it is our second." And for
some, it marked their third trip to the sandbox. For being so young, they
were, appropriately so, very serious and professional.
One note for non-military folks about personal hygiene side onboard the
C-130 (this is like astronauts, how they pee in space). When the plane was
designed, the creators did not anticipate that men and women would share the
same space. If you need to take a piss (if you're a guy, that is) you can go
up to the bulkhead and relieve yourself into a small urinal attached to the
wall. There is no door or curtain. Women, on the other hand, have to troop
back to a throne located near the exit ramp. The toilet basin, which is
attached to the side of the aircraft, has a shower curtain arrangement. If
nature calls, you climb up, pull the curtain around you, and do your
business. Of course your head is poking above the curtain. You look like
someone is a school carnival dunking booth, only your pants are around your
ankles. I'm happy to report that after more than three hours on the plane no
one had to use the facilities.
As we keep sending our sons and daughters into the teeth of the
insurgency in Iraq, we are discovering that we have forgotten the horror of
fighting an insurgency. When tight knit units, like these Marines, lose
friends and colleagues, they normally are not thinking like philosopher
warriors. The Marines train these kids to kill (and well they should). They
are not trained to operate as police officers. Entirely different rules of
Insurgents don't play fair either. They do not show up in clearly marked
uniforms. They look like civilians and hide in the midst of populations.
Sometimes the locals are witting and supportive and sometimes they are
coerced. Both situations currently exist in Iraq.
I do not know who is personally responsible for the killings at Haditha,
but it certainly appears that some Marines lost control and are probably
guilty of manslaughter. Fortunately, this has not been a common event. But
that offers small comfort. In the war for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis
we do not have the luxury for any mistakes like this.
We must also accept that Americans as a whole share some responsibility
for the actions of these soldiers. We sent them to war. We put them square
in the middle of the battle. We cannot simply sit idly on the sidelines
clucking our tongues over the awful thing that was done. We are complicit.
If we think we can deal with this by simply "punishing" the guilty and move
happily on with the rest of our lives, then we have ignored our societal
obligation to the soldiers we ask to go to war to fight on our behalf. If
young Marines have murdered Iraqi civilians who were simply in the wrong
place at the wrong time, then they must be held accountable. But, in
punishing them, we must remember that we still have an obligation to these
soldiers. Leaders we selected put sent these young men and women to war (and
yes, I realize Al Gore probably won the election). We have an obligation to
help make them whole and return them emotionally intact to civil society.
We face a terrible dilemma in Iraq. At present, we keep most of our
military forces on secure bases. They have little interaction with the local
Iraqis except during combat operations and patrols. Unlike the Vietnam War,
during which US soldiers slept, ate, and partied with Vietnamese (at times,
to our detriment and theirs), our soldiers are not building the
relationships with the Iraqi people that will result in marriages and new
restaurants in the United States. Go to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and the
Vietnamese and Thai eating establishments are one of the Vietnam War's
I firmly believe that our sons and daughters in uniform can be our best
Ambassadors. But I am afraid that things are so far gone now in Iraq that
this possibility for American diplomacy is dead. I understand that the
Commanders of these young Americans are not keen to lower the security
barriers that protect our soldiers. The Generals and Colonels do not have
the stomach to put them at needless risk. I also recognize that putting more
of our forces into the communities will lead to more casualties, at least in
the short term. But, we must also recognize that if our soldiers are not
able to socialize with the Iraqis then we should not be surprised that they
view us as an alien, enemy force. Despite some early successes by US troops
in this regard in 2003, the community outreach is a rare event and new
opportunities are slipping away.
TO BE CONTINUED. . .
Haditha: Problem Solved!
The top U.S. general in Iraq has responded to the public disclosure, after six months of attempted cover-up, that Marines murdered men, women and little children in cold blood in the town of Haditha on Nov. 19, 2005.
I was worried there for a moment. But now, two years, a month, and some change after we invaded Iraq, after we have shot, bombed, beat and tortured unknown thousands, we are going to give the troops moral training.
I guess that means that we can't really hold soldiers responsible for what they've done 'til now, because they didn't have ethics training. Without review of "core warrior values," how could they have known that it is wrong to shoot bullets (real bullets! live ones! little chunks of metal going the speed of sound! from machine guns!) and throw grenades (you know, the ones that explode!) at six-month-old babies and 75-year-old women?
Similarly, when more Marines were sent in to clean up the bodies, lacking ethics training, they may not have realized that after carrying a "little girl in [their] hands and her brains splattering on [their] boots" should not tell their superior officers and members of the press that civillians were killed by an explosive device set by insurgents (version 1) or in a "crossfire" (version 2). They could not have possibly realized that this was a war crime.
I mean, the Geneva Conventions on Protection of Civilians During Times Of War have only been around since 1949. The Hague conventions that they were based on only date to 1907.
When the Attorney General of the United States calls the Geneva Conventions, the ones which the United States has signed, which every soldier is required to know, calls those Geneva Conventions "quaint," when Department of Justice attorneys write memos that justify taking a detainees' child and crushing his testicles in hopes of convincing the detainee to tell us what we want to know, when most of the troops fighting in Iraq think that Saddam planned 9/11, it's perfectly understandable, isn't it?
I mean, under those circumstances, wouldn't you think its okay to burst into three houses in a row, one taxi, and one other house, and shoot every unarmed family, every naked college student, every grandmother that you find?
There is a phrase that is tossed around in Israel, particularly among the Israeli left. "An enlightened occupation." Israeli human rights groups like B'Tselem, the Israeli version of Human Rights Watch for the occupied Palestinian territories, are sometimes accused of being complicit in trying to create an "enlightened occupation." The Israeli government boasts of having the most moral army in the world, one that bends over backwards to respect human rights. It worked with B'Tselem to create a pocketbook that every soldier could carry with him or her telling him explaining what the Geneva Conventions require in terms of treatment of civilians.
The problem is, there is no such thing as an "enlightened occupation." If the soldiers have received "ethical training" in "core warrior values" they are still hostile foreign occupiers, whether in Iraq or in Palestine, surrounded by a culture they don't understand, a language they don't speak, in a situation where every civilian looks like a potential threat. Even if we assume the best of intentions, even if we assume that most of our soldiers really do want to help Iraqis rebuild their country, really don't see them as "sand coons" or terrorists, even if they scrupulously try to uphold the rules of war, they are still an occupying army. They are going to face situations where trucks run checkpoints accidentally, and they will shoot the two female passengers inside, killing both, including one pregnant woman. Their own trucks will lose control over their breaks and kill four people in a traffic accident, and they will be "forced" to shoot three people in the crowd that forms afterwards.
There is no such thing as an enlightened occupation.
Ethical training isn't going to help.
The Marines in Haditha weren't confused about whether their actions were ethical. Soldiers at checkpoints in Baghdad don't think they are acting unethically.
This is what war looks like. This is what occupation looks like. Every war. Every occupation. Even the ones that have the best of intentions.
Can we go home now?--Ethan Heitner | Friday, June 2, 2006 10:21 AM
Border Patrol Draws Scrutiny as Its Role Grows
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
PHOENIX, June 2 — With a major expansion proposed by President Bush, the Border Patrol may soon overtake the F.B.I. as the largest federal law enforcement agency. But the stepped-up mission comes as the Border Patrol wrestles with recruitment and training difficulties and several agents face accusations of misconduct.
In response to concerns, the inspector general's office of the Homeland Security Department, which oversees the Border Patrol, said it would audit the agency's recruitment, hiring and training practices to determine if it can handle the rapid expansion. A spokeswoman, Tamara Faulkner, said the review could begin this month.
David V. Aguilar, the head of the Border Patrol, told Congress last week that the extraordinary growth was vital to national security, particularly as the authorities seek to clamp down on illegal crossings along the Mexican border. The agency has swelled to more than 11,000 agents from 4,000 15 years ago, with 6,000 more proposed by Mr. Bush by 2008 as a cornerstone of his immigration overhaul.
"The nexus between our post-Sept. 11 mission and our traditional role is clear," Mr. Aguilar said. "Terrorists and violent criminals may exploit smuggling routes used by migrants to enter the United States illegally and do us harm."
But as the Border Patrol seeks more agents, its training academy in Artesia, N.M., needs expansion, and some watchdog groups question its ability to prepare so many new agents in so little time. As a temporary measure, thousands of National Guard troops will soon be dispatched here in Arizona and elsewhere along the 2,000-mile border to assist with logistics and support work.
"This is not something where you can snap your fingers and have thousands go on the job," said Deborah W. Meyers, an analyst at the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. "It is a demanding job, and training is important and intense."
Big buildups in border security in the 1990's coincided with a rash of embarrassing disclosures about wayward agents and questions about how well the agency screened recruits. Those concerns have surfaced again as several agents have been accused of misconduct and immigrant smuggling, including one agent from Mexico who was hired in 2002 even though he is not a United States citizen, as is required.
In January, the Mexican man, Oscar Antonio Ortiz, who had falsely claimed citizenship on his job application, pleaded guilty to charges of immigrant smuggling and other crimes and is awaiting sentencing. Mr. Ortiz, 28, had told recruiters he had used cocaine in the past, and investigators later discovered that he had previously been arrested, though not prosecuted, on suspicion of smuggling after immigration officers at San Ysidro, Calif., detained him with two illegal immigrants in his car.
In March, two Border Patrol supervising agents in California, Mario Alvarez, 44, and Scott McClaren, 43, were also charged with smuggling. The agents had helped set up an antismuggling program with the Mexican authorities. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial in San Diego. In recent years, several agents have also been convicted of assaulting border crossers and other abuses. Advocates for immigrants have long accused the agency of too often stopping people, particularly Latinos, without proper justification and of giving little public accounting of any results of abuse accusations.
"It seems like they just hired Border Patrol agents from Ohio and brought them down here and put them in our communities," said Fernando Garcia, director of the Border Network for Human Rights, a group based in El Paso that monitors law enforcement at the border in Texas and New Mexico.
Todd Fraser, a spokesman for the Border Patrol, said a relatively few rogue agents had drawn more attention than the vast majority of honorable ones, including several who had won praise inside and outside the agency for efforts to rescue immigrants stranded in the desert.
Mr. Fraser said that much of the concern about agent misconduct was outdated and overblown. He said that the agents went through increasingly extensive preparation for jobs that often involve great risks, including the threat of confrontation with armed smugglers.
"Border Patrol agents go through a long and intensive training program that makes them among the most highly trained and professional officers out there," he said.
Some critics have also expressed greater confidence in the agency. Representative Xavier Becerra, a California Democrat who in the early 1990's called for a federal commission to oversee the agency because of its many problems, said it had made great strides in raising standards and curtailing questionable tactics.
"I certainly think over the years we are seeing border enforcement become more professional," Mr. Becerra said. "They have done a lot to get in line with professional standards."
The Border Patrol has over the years had trouble keeping agents and hiring enough to compensate for the losses. The agents union blames entry-level pay, which is $35,000 to $40,000, depending on experience, generally lower than many local and state law enforcement agencies.
The work, too, is demanding and calls for solitary patrols in the dead of night in forbidding terrain, often arresting the same people over and over again. In all, the agents are responsible for 6,000 miles of land border with Mexico and Canada and 2,000 miles of coastline around Florida and Puerto Rico.
"It is mind-numbingly boring to sit in one spot 10 hours a day and watch people stream by and be told your job is not to chase them but call the guy behind you," said T. J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the agents' union, referring to a common tactic of stationing agents and vehicles as a deterrent to smugglers. "The problem is there often is no guy behind you, because we are short-staffed."
A large number of agents left shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to take better-paying jobs in the newly expanded air marshal service. Many have since returned to their old posts, however, and the patrol reports attrition has fallen to about 6 percent, after spiking to nearly 20 percent after the attacks.
To help meet recruitment goals, the agency has begun an advertising campaign that emphasizes the potential excitement of the job; has raised the maximum starting age to 40 from 37, to attract more military veterans fresh from their service; and has shortened the 20-week training course for recruits who have a command of Spanish, which all agents are required to know.
The large unknown, Mr. Bonner and others said, is whether Congress will provide the money in coming years to hire agents and whether the agency can bring in enough quality recruits to meet Mr. Bush's goals.
Although Congressional legislation authorized 2,000 additional agents this year, the final budget wrangling left money for only 1,500.
"It's going to be tough and it's going to be a challenge, but we are confident we will be able to do it," said Maria Valencia, an agency spokeswoman. "But the money is the key part in all of this."
The Border Patrol traces its roots to a Texas Ranger named Jeff Milton, one of the last of the Old West gunslingers who gained fame as one of the men who helped hunt down Geronimo and patrolled the relatively newly drawn Mexican border in the 1880's with horse and pistol. A 1948 biography of him is subtitled "A Good Man With a Gun."
Its agents, some still riding horseback among the tumbleweeds, rely on an arsenal of pistols and high-power weapons that would surely awe Milton and tools he could never have imagined: pilotless aerial drones, all-terrain vehicles, infrared night scopes, embedded motion sensors.
These days, the job still attracts applicants with a bit of cowboy in them, people who enjoy the outdoors and do not mind the often rough-and-tumble borderlands.
Devin Harshbarger, 25, is in his first two months on the job at the Casa Grande station 50 miles southeast of here, some 700 miles from his hometown, Cheyenne, Wyo.
"After 9/11, I wanted to do my part to help keep terrorists out," Agent Harshbarger said, adding that he was also drawn to working outdoors.
The job also attracts people motivated by the immigration debate.
Adolfo Diaz, 30, an Air Force veteran who is another new recruit, said he got tired of illegal immigrants crossing his family ranch near the Arizona-Mexico border.
"Individuals have come to the house and they have threatened neighbors and families," said Mr. Diaz, who described his first arrest, of some 25 people hiking across the desert, as "scary" because he and the two other agents on hand were outnumbered.
But there is debate whether the new agents can significantly ebb the flow of people crossing the Mexican border, a never-ending stream that another new recruit, Christine Treviño, called "really crazy."
Last year, with 11,106 agents, the Border Patrol arrested 1.2 million people on charges of illegally crossing into the United States; in 1995, with 4,876 agents, it arrested 1.3 million. Arrests peaked in 2000, with 1.6 million made by 9,078 agents, and have swung up and down since even as the ranks of agents has swelled. The Border Patrol estimates that 98 percent of the arrests each year are made on the Mexico border.
The data, and the mix of political, economic and social factors that contribute to illegal immigration, make it difficult to explain the erratic nature of apprehensions and undermine "the widely accepted assumption that border security will be automatically improved by the hiring of more agents," found an analysis by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research group connected to Syracuse University.
The shocking truth about the American occupation of Iraq
Could Haditha be just the tip of the mass grave? The corpses we have glimpsed, the grainy footage of the cadavers and the dead children; could these be just a few of many? Does the handiwork of America's army of the slums go further?
By Robert Fisk
06/03/06 "The Independent" -- -- I remember clearly the first suspicions I had that murder most foul might be taking place in our name in Iraq. I was in the Baghdad mortuary, counting corpses, when one of the city's senior medical officials, an old friend, told me of his fears. "Everyone brings bodies here," he said. "But when the Americans bring bodies in, we are instructed that under no circumstances are we ever to do post-mortems. We were given to understand that this had already been done. Sometimes we'd get a piece of paper like this one with a body." And here the man handed me a U.S. military document showing with the hand-drawn outline of a man's body and the words "trauma wounds."
What kind of trauma is now being experienced in Iraq? Just who is doing the mass killing? Who is dumping so many bodies on garbage heaps? After Haditha, we are going to reshape our suspicions.
It's no good saying "a few bad apples." All occupation armies are corrupted. But do they all commit war crimes? The Algerians are still uncovering the mass graves left by the French paras who liquidated whole villages. We know of the rapist-killers of the Russian army in Chechnya.
We have all heard of Bloody Sunday. The Israelis sat and watched while their proxy Lebanese militia butchered and eviscerated its way through 1,700 Palestinians. And of course the words My Lai are now uttered again. Yes, the Nazis were much worse. And the Japanese. And the Croatian Ustashi. But this is us. This is our army. These young soldiers are our representatives in Iraq. And they have innocent blood on their hands.
I suspect part of the problem is that we never really cared about Iraqis, which is why we refused to count their dead. Once the Iraqis turned upon the army of occupation with their roadside bombs and suicide cars, they became Arab "gooks," the evil sub-humans whom the Americans once identified in Vietnam. Get a president to tell us that we are fighting evil and one day we will wake to find that a child has horns, a baby has cloven feet.
Remind yourself these people are Muslims and they can all become little Mohamed Attas. Killing a roomful of civilians is only a step further from all those promiscuous air strikes that we are told kill 'terrorists" but which all too often turn out to be a wedding party or -- as in Afghanistan -- a mixture of "terrorists" and children or, as we are soon to hear, no doubt, "terrorist children."
In a way, we reporters are also to blame. Unable to venture outside Baghdad -- or around Baghdad itself -- Iraq's vastness has fallen under a thick, all-consuming shadow. We might occasionally notice sparks in the night -- a Haditha or two in the desert -- but we remain meekly cataloguing the numbers of "terrorists" supposedly scored in remote corners of Mesopotamia. For fear of the insurgent's knife, we can no longer investigate. And the Americans like it that way.
I think it becomes a habit, this sort of thing. Already the horrors of Abu Ghraib are shrugged away. It was abuse, not torture. And then up pops a junior officer in the United States charged for killing an Iraqi army general by stuffing him upside down in a sleeping bag and sitting on his chest. And again, it gets few headlines. Who cares if another Iraqi bites the dust? Aren't they trying to kill our boys who are out there fighting terror.
For who can be held to account when we regard ourselves as the brightest, the most honorable of creatures, doing endless battle with the killers of Sept. 11 or July 7 because we love our country and our people -- but not other people -- so much. And so we dress ourselves up as Galahads, yes as Crusaders, and we tell those whose countries we invade that we are going to bring them democracy. I can't help wondering today how many of the innocents slaughtered in Haditha took the opportunity to vote in the Iraqi elections -- before their "liberators" murdered them
Robert Fisk latest book is "The Great War for Civilisation : The Conquest of the Middle East"
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
The Top 10 Things I Know About Drugs
By Tony Newman, AlterNet
Posted on June 2, 2006, Printed on June 3, 2006
I know a lot about drugs and the drug war, both personally and professionally. Drugs have had a positive and a detrimental impact on my life. I have laughed, played and found inspiration while intoxicated. I have also struggled, fought and cried because of my addiction to drugs.
I have spent the last six years working for an organization that is working to reform drug laws. I have read thousands of newspapers articles, had thousands of conversations and spent thousands of days thinking about drugs. What follows are the top 10 (plus one) things I have learned from my immersion with drugs and the drug war.
1. Drugs are everywhere. Despite a $40 billion a year "war on drugs" and political speeches about a "drug-free society," our society is swimming in drugs. Cigarettes, sugar, alcohol, marijuana, Prozac, Ritalin, Viagra, steroids and caffeine. The vast majority of Americans use drugs on a regular basis. People always have and always will.
2. Different people have different relationships with different drugs. My wife is someone who can enjoy an occasional cigarette and only smokes when she drinks. I am an addict who cannot control my cigarette problem. If I have one cigarette, I will end up smoking a pack a day. Some people have serious problems with alcohol and can't enjoy even a single drink. I can handle alcohol and enjoy a drink or two some nights, leave it alone on others, and I rarely have negative experiences with it. Different strokes for different folks.
3. People use drugs for joy and for pain. Many people enjoy using mind- and body-altering substances. How many of us enjoy having some drinks and going out dancing? How many of us enjoy a little smoke after a nice dinner with friends? Many people bond with others or find inspiration alone while high on drugs.
On the flip side, many people self-medicate to try to ease the pain in their lives. How many have us have had too much to drink to drown our sorrows over a breakup or some other painful event? How many of us smoke cigarettes to deal with anxiety or stress?
4. Drug abuse does not discriminate, but our drug policies do. Rush Limbaugh, Noelle Bush and Patrick Kennedy remind us that drug addiction does not discriminate. Unfortunately, our drug policies do. Ninety-three percent of the people incarcerated under New York's draconian Rockefeller drug laws are black or Latino, despite equal drug use among blacks and whites. Treatment for the privileged, jail for the poor.
5. Relapse happens. Anyone who has tried to quit cigarettes knows that relapse happens. I have unsuccessfully tried to quit cigarettes 15 times. While we know that drug treatment is more humane and more effective than prison, it is not a silver bullet. Many people will quit, relapse and need support to quit again.
6. Smoking five cigarettes is better than smoking 20. Using marijuana is better than using heroin. Many well-intentioned people think drugs are terrible and abstinence is always the answer. I believe that progress can be made, even if someone continues to use drugs. My 70-year-old landlord is a pack-a-day smoker. After some serious health problems, he is now down to smoking two cigarettes a day. This is progress. Some people who have struggled with heroin have been able to quit heroin, but still use marijuana. Our criminal justice system and many in the abstinence-only treatment world would view this as a failure and send the marijuana smoker to jail. I say congrats on giving up heroin. Keep it up.
7. Drug abuse is bad, but the drug war is worse. Locking someone up in a cage for using marijuana or some other drug when no harm has been done to anyone else is cruel and inhumane. People who prohibit clean syringes to reduce the spread of HIV have blood on their hands. Denying financial aid to students who have a drug offense is counterproductive. Many of our country's laws are more harmful than the substances they are trying to combat.
8. Prohibition doesn't work. Prohibition is responsible for most of the violence associated with drugs. We tried to prohibit alcohol in the 1920s. It did not get rid of alcohol, but it did create a black market for hooch, and empowered and enriched violent gangsters like Al Capone. Marijuana and cocaine are not responsible for the drug war shootouts. What is responsible is the fact that both are worth more than gold because they are illegal. It is the underground trade of these drugs that causes people to kill each other over the right to sell them. No one is shooting anyone else over a Budweiser anymore.
9. Drugs and the drug war touch most families. Almost every family in America has to deal with drug addiction or the war on drugs. Millions of people have a loved one behind bars on drug charges. Many millions more have struggled themselves or have a loved one who has dealt with addiction to illegal or legal drugs. By declaring a "war on drugs" we have declared a war on ourselves.
10. We have to learn how to live with drugs, because they aren't going anywhere. The drug war has been waged over the last 30 years. Currently we have 500,000 people behind bars on drug charges. We spend $40 billion a year, and despite the decades of war, incarceration rates and money spent, drugs are as plentiful as ever and easily accessible. We have to accept that drugs have been around for thousands of years and will be here for thousands more. We need to educate people about the possible harm from drug use, offer compassion and treatment to people who have problems and leave in peace the people who are causing harm to no one.
*Bonus point: The public is ahead of the politicians. The majority of Americans supports treatment instead of incarceration. Californian voters passed Proposition 36 in 2000. Since its passage, more than 60,000 people have received treatment instead of jail for their nonviolent drug offenses. Eleven states have approved medical marijuana for sick and dying patients. It is the timid politicians who are resistant to change. We need to continue to demonstrate to our leaders that we want an end to the war on our families. If the people lead, the leaders will follow.
Tony Newman is communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/36942/
Tyranny of the Christian Right
By Michelle Goldberg, AlterNet
Posted on May 30, 2006, Printed on June 3, 2006
Whenever I talk about the growing power of the evangelical right with friends, they always ask the same question: What can we do? Usually I reply with a joke: Keep a bag packed and your passport current.
I don't really mean it, but my anxiety is genuine. It's one thing to have a government that shows contempt for civil liberties; America has survived such men before. It's quite another to have a mass movement -- the largest and most powerful mass movement in the nation -- rise up in opposition to the rights of its fellow citizens. The Constitution protects minorities, but that protection is not absolute; with a sufficiently sympathetic or apathetic majority, a tightly organized faction can get around it.
The mass movement I've described aims to supplant Enlightenment rationalism with what it calls the "Christian worldview." The phrase is based on the conviction that true Christianity must govern every aspect of public and private life, and that all -- government, science, history and culture -- must be understood according to the dictates of scripture. There are biblically correct positions on every issue, from gay marriage to income tax rates, and only those with the right worldview can discern them. This is Christianity as a total ideology -- I call it Christian nationalism. It's an ideology adhered to by millions of Americans, some of whom are very powerful. It's what drives a great many of the fights over religion, science, sex and pluralism now dividing communities all over the country.
I am not suggesting that religious tyranny is imminent in the United States. Our democracy is eroding and some of our rights are disappearing, but for most people, including those most opposed to the Christian nationalist agenda, life will most likely go on pretty much as normal for the foreseeable future. Thus for those who value secular society, apprehending the threat of Christian nationalism is tricky. It's like being a lobster in a pot, with the water heating up so slowly that you don't notice the moment at which it starts to kill you.
If current trends continue, we will see ever-increasing division and acrimony in our politics. That's partly because, as Christian nationalism spreads, secularism is spreading as well, while moderate Christianity is in decline. According to the City University of New York Graduate Center's comprehensive American religious identification survey, the percentage of Americans who identify as Christians has actually fallen in recent years, from 86 percent in 1990 to 77 percent in 2001. The survey found that the largest growth, in both absolute and percentage terms, was among those who don't subscribe to any religion. Their numbers more than doubled, from 14.3 million in 1990, when they constituted 8 percent of the population, to 29.4 million in 2001, when they made up 14 percent.
"The top three 'gainers' in America's vast religious marketplace appear to be Evangelical Christians, those describing themselves as Non-Denominational Christians and those who profess no religion," the survey found. (The percentage of other religious minorities remained small, totaling less than 4 percent of the population).
This is a recipe for polarization. As Christian nationalism becomes more militant, secularists and religious minorities will mobilize in opposition, ratcheting up the hostility. Thus we're likely to see a shrinking middle ground, with both camps increasingly viewing each other across a chasm of mutual incomprehension and contempt.
In the coming years, we will probably see the curtailment of the civil rights that gay people, women and religious minorities have won in the last few decades. With two Bush appointees on the Supreme Court, abortion rights will be narrowed; if the president gets a third, it could mean the end of Roe v. Wade. Expect increasing drives to ban gay people from being adoptive or foster parents, as well as attempts to fire gay schoolteachers. Evangelical leaders are encouraging their flocks to be alert to signs of homosexuality in their kids, which will lead to a growing number of gay teenagers forced into "reparative therapy" designed to turn them straight. (Focus on the Family urges parents to consider seeking help for boys as young as five if they show a "tendency to cry easily, be less athletic, and dislike the roughhousing that other boys enjoy.")
Christian nationalist symbolism and ideology will increasingly pervade public life. In addition to the war on evolution, there will be campaigns to teach Christian nationalist history in public schools. An elective course developed by the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, a right-wing evangelical group, is already being offered by more than 300 school districts in 36 states. The influence of Christian nationalism in public schools, colleges, courts, social services and doctors' offices will deform American life, rendering it ever more pinched, mean, and divided.
There's still a long way, though, between this damaged version of democracy and real theocracy. Tremendous crises would have to shred what's left of the American consensus before religious fascism becomes a possibility. That means that secularists and liberals shouldn't get hysterical, but they also shouldn't be complacent.
Christian nationalism is still constrained by the Constitution, the courts, and by a passionate democratic (and occasionally Democratic) opposition. It's also limited by capitalism. Many corporations are happy to see their political allies harness the rage and passion of the Christian right's foot soldiers, but the culture industry is averse to government censorship. Nor is homophobia good for business, since many companies need to both recruit qualified gay employees and market to gay customers. Biotech firms are not going to want to hire graduates without a thorough understanding of evolution, so economic pressure will militate against creationism's invading a critical mass of the public schools.
Taking the land
It would take a national disaster, or several of them, for all these bulwarks to crumble and for Christian nationalists to truly "take the land," as Michael Farris, president of the evangelical Patrick Henry College, put it. Historically, totalitarian movements have been able to seize state power only when existing authorities prove unable to deal with catastrophic challenges -- economic meltdown, security failures, military defeat -- and people lose their faith in the legitimacy of the system.
Such calamities are certainly conceivable in America -- Hurricane Katrina's aftermath offered a terrifying glimpse of how quickly order can collapse. If terrorists successfully strike again, we'd probably see significant curtailment of liberal dissenters' free speech rights, coupled with mounting right-wing belligerence, both religious and secular.
The breakdown in the system could also be subtler. Many experts have warned that America's debt is unsustainable and that economic crisis could be on the horizon. If there is a hard landing -- due to an oil shock, a burst housing bubble, a sharp decline in the value of the dollar, or some other crisis -- interest rates would shoot up, leaving many people unable to pay their floating-rate mortgages and credit card bills. Repossessions and bankruptcies would follow. The resulting anger could fuel radical populist movements of either the left or the right -- more likely the right, since it has a far stronger ideological infrastructure in place in most of America.
Military disaster may also exacerbate such disaffection. America's war in Iraq seems nearly certain to come to an ignominious end. The real victims of failure there will be Iraqi, but many Americans will feel embittered, humiliated and sympathetic to the stab-in-the-back rhetoric peddled by the right to explain how Bush's venture has gone so horribly wrong. It was the defeat in World War I, after all, that created the conditions for fascism to grow in Germany.
Perhaps America will be lucky, however, and muddle through its looming problems. In that case, Christian nationalism will continue to be a powerful and growing influence in American politics, although its expansion will happen more fitfully and gradually.
The country's demographics are on the movement's side. Megachurch culture is spreading. The exurbs where religious conservatism thrives are the fastest growing parts of America; in 2004, 97 of the country's 100 fastest-growing counties voted Republican. The disconnection of the exurbs is a large part of what makes the spread of Christian nationalism's fictitious reality possible, because there is very little to conflict with it.
A movement that constitutes its members' entire social world has a grip that's hard to break. In The Origins of Totalitarianism, Hannah Arendt put it this way: "Social atomization and extreme individualization preceded the mass movements which, much more easily and earlier than they did the sociable, non-individualistic members of the traditional parties, attracted the completely unorganized, the typical 'nonjoiners' who for individualistic reasons always had refused to recognize social links or obligations."
America's ragged divides
Those who want to fight Christian nationalism will need a long-term and multifaceted strategy. I see it as having three parts -- electoral reform to give urban areas fair representation in the federal government, grassroots organizing to help people fight Christian nationalism on the ground and a media campaign to raise public awareness about the movement's real agenda.
My ideas are not about reconciliation or healing. It would be good if a leader stepped forward who could recognize the grievances of both sides, broker some sort of truce, and mend America's ragged divides. The anxieties that underlay Christian nationalism's appeal -- fears about social breakdown, marital instability and cultural decline -- are real. They should be acknowledged and, whenever possible, addressed. But as long as the movement aims at the destruction of secular society and the political enforcement of its theology, it has to be battled, not comforted and appeased.
And while I support liberal struggles for economic justice -- higher wages, universal health care, affordable education, and retirement security -- I don't think economic populism will do much to neutralize the religious right. Cultural interests are real interests, and many drives are stronger than material ones. As Arendt pointed out, totalitarian movements have always confounded observers who try to analyze them in terms of class.
Ultimately, a fight against Christian nationalist rule has to be a fight against the anti-urban bias built into the structure of our democracy. Because each state has two senators, the 7 percent of the population that live in the 17 least-populous states control more than a third of Congress's upper house. Conservative states are also overrepresented in the Electoral College.
According to Steven Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy, the combined populations of Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, North and South Dakota, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Alaska equal that of New York and Massachusetts, but the former states have a total of nine more votes in the Electoral College (as well as over five times the votes in the Senate). In America, conservatives literally count for more.
Liberals should work to abolish the Electoral College and to even out the composition of the Senate, perhaps by splitting some of the country's larger states.(A campaign for statehood for New York City might be a place to start.) It will be a grueling, Herculean job. With conservatives already indulging in fantasies of victimization at the hands of a maniacal Northeastern elite, it will take a monumental movement to wrest power away from them. Such a movement will come into being only when enough people in the blue states stop internalizing right-wing jeers about how out of touch they are with "real Americans" and start getting angry at being ruled by reactionaries who are out of touch with them.
After all, the heartland has no claim to moral authority. The states whose voters are most obsessed with "moral values" have the highest divorce and teen pregnancy rates. The country's highest murder rates are in the South and the lowest are in New England. The five states with the best-ranked public schools in the country -- Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey and Wisconsin -- are all progressive redoubts. The five states with the worst -- New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Mississippi and Louisiana -- all went for Bush.
The canard that the culture wars are a fight between "elites" versus "regular Americans" belies a profound split between different kinds of ordinary Americans, all feeling threatened by the others' baffling and alien values. Ironically, however, by buying into right-wing elite-baiting, liberals start thinking like out-of-touch elites. Rather than reflecting on what kind of policies would make their own lives better, what kind of country they want to live in, and who they want to represent them -- and then figuring out how to win others to their vision -- progressives flail about for ideas and symbols that they hope will appeal to some imaginary heartland rube. That is condescending.
Focus on the local
One way for progressives to build a movement and fight Christian nationalism at the same time is to focus on local politics. For guidance, they need only look to the Christian Coalition: It wasn't until after Bill Clinton's election exiled the evangelical right from power in Washington that the Christian Coalition really developed its nationwide electoral apparatus.
The Christian right developed a talent for crafting state laws and amendments to serve as wedge issues, rallying their base, and forcing the other side to defend seemingly extreme positions. Campaigns to require parental consent for minors' abortions, for example, get overwhelming public support and put the pro-choice movement on the defensive while giving pro-lifers valuable political experience.
Liberals can use this strategy too. They can find issues to exploit the other side's radicalism, winning a few political victories and, just as important, marginalizing Christian nationalists in the eyes of their fellow citizens. Progressives could work to pass local and state laws, by ballot initiative wherever possible, denying public funds to any organization that discriminates on the basis of religion. Because so much faith-based funding is distributed through the states, such laws could put an end to at least some of the taxpayer-funded bias practiced by the Salvation Army and other religious charities. Right now, very few people know that, thanks to Bush, a faith-based outfit can take tax dollars and then explicitly refuse to hire Jews, Hindus, Buddhists or Muslims. The issue needs far more publicity, and a political fight -- or a series of them -- would provide it. Better still, the campaign would contribute to the creation of a grassroots infrastructure -- a network of people with political experience and a commitment to pluralism.
Progressives could also work on passing laws to mandate that pharmacists fill contraceptive prescriptions. (Such legislation has already been introduced in California, Missouri, New Jersey, Nevada, and West Virginia.) The commercials would practically write themselves. Imagine a harried couple talking with their doctor and deciding that they can't afford any more kids. The doctor writes a birth control prescription, the wife takes it to her pharmacist -- and he sends her away with a religious lecture. The campaign could use one of the most successful slogans that abortion rights advocates ever devised: "Who decides -- you or them?"
A new media strategy
In conjunction with local initiatives, opponents of Christian nationalism need a new media strategy. Many people realize this. Fenton Communications, the agency that handles public relations for MoveOn, recently put together the Campaign to Defend the Constitution, a MoveOn-style grassroots group devoted to raising awareness about the religious right. With nearly 3.5 million members ready to be quickly mobilized to donate money, write letters or lobby politicians on behalf of progressive causes, MoveOn is the closest thing liberals have to the Christian Coalition, but its focus tends to be on economic justice, foreign policy and the environment rather than contentious social issues. The Campaign to Defend the Constitution intends to build a similar network to counter Christian nationalism wherever it appears.
Much of what media strategists need to do simply involves public education. Americans need to learn what Christian Reconstructionism means so that they can decide whether they approve of their congressmen consorting with theocrats. They need to realize that the Republican Party has become the stronghold of men who fundamentally oppose public education because they think women should school their kids themselves. (In It Takes a Family, Rick Santorum calls public education an "aberration" and predicts that home-schooling will flourish as "one viable option among many that will open up as we eliminate the heavy hand of the village elders' top-down control of education and allow a thousand parent-nurtured flowers to bloom.")
When it comes to the public relations fight against Christian nationalism, nothing is trickier than battles concerning public religious symbolism. Fights over crèches in public squares or Christmas hymns sung by school choirs are really about which aspects of the First Amendment should prevail -- its protection of free speech or its ban on the establishment of religion. In general, I think it's best to err on the side of freedom of expression. As in most First Amendment disputes, the answer to speech (or, in this case, symbolism) that makes religious minorities feel excluded or alienated is more speech -- menorahs, Buddhas, Diwali lights, symbols celebrating America's polyglot spiritualism.
There are no neat lines, no way to suck the venom out of these issues without capitulating completely. But one obvious step civil libertarians should take is a much more vocal stance in defense of evangelicals' free speech rights when they are unfairly curtailed. Although far less common than the Christian nationalists pretend, on a few occasions lawsuit-fearing officials have gone overboard in defending church/state separation, silencing religious speech that is protected by the First Amendment. (In one 2005 incident that got tremendous play in the right-wing press, a principal in Tennessee wouldn't allow a ten-year-old student to hold a Bible study during recess.) Such infringements should be fought for reasons both principled, because Christians have the same right to free speech as everyone else, and political, because these abuses generate a backlash that ultimately harms the cause of church/state separation.
The ACLU already does this, but few hear about it, because secularists lack the right's propaganda apparatus. Liberals need to create their own echo chamber to refute these kind of distortions while loudly supporting everyone's freedom of speech. Committed Christian nationalists won't be won over, but some of their would-be sympathizers might be inoculated against the claim that progressives want to extirpate their faith, making it harder for the right to frame every political dispute as part of a war against Jesus.
The challenge, finally, is to make reality matter again. If progressives can do that, perhaps America can be saved.
Fighting fundamentalism at home
Writing just after 9/11, Salman Rushdie eviscerated those on the left who rationalized the terrorist attacks as a regrettable explosion of understandable third world rage: "The fundamentalist seeks to bring down a great deal more than buildings," he wrote. "Such people are against, to offer just a brief list, freedom of speech, a multiparty political system, universal adult suffrage, accountable government, Jews, homosexuals, women's rights, pluralism, secularism, short skirts, dancing, beardlessness, evolution theory, sex."
Christian nationalists have no problem with beardlessness, but except for that, Rushdie could have been describing them.
It makes no sense to fight religious authoritarianism abroad while letting it take over at home. The grinding, brutal war between modern and medieval values has spread chaos, fear, and misery across our poor planet. Far worse than the conflicts we're experiencing today, however, would be a world torn between competing fundamentalisms. Our side, America's side, must be the side of freedom and Enlightenment, of liberation from stale constricting dogmas. It must be the side that elevates reason above the commands of holy books and human solidarity above religious supremacism. Otherwise, God help us all.
Reprinted from Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism by Michelle Goldberg. Copyright © 2006 by Michelle Goldberg. With permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
© 2006 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/36640/
Will the real patriots please stand up?
Sean Gonsalves - Cape Cod Times
05.30.06 - (Ed. note: Glenn Greenwald's How Would A Patriot Act? is the first book from Working Assets Publishing.)
Most dictionaries define a patriot as a person who loves, supports and defends his or her country.
But, according to Ambrose Bierce's “Devil's Dictionary,” a patriot is “one to whom the interests of a part seem superior to those of the whole. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors.”
Cynical as it is, the truth of Bierce's definition is plain, especially in light of the my-country-right-or- wrong mentality that has blossomed under President Bush.
Immediately following 9-11, it was hard to tell the difference between jingoistic "patriotism," which puts feelings of trust above truth, and the true patriotism that is emerging at this moment, triggered by the Bush administration's disregard for the Constitution.
It's not news to any reader of this column that I've never been a Bush supporter. I have a laundry list of reasons why, but what's far more interesting and important than my own sense of historical and spiritual consciousness is the burgeoning constitutional consciousness of ordinary citizens who once counted themselves among Bush supporters.
Glenn Greenwald is just such a citizen. A constitutional lawyer who lived and worked in Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001, Greenwald speaks for many in the preface of his new book “How Would A Patriot Act?”
Like many Americans, Greenwald felt like the Constitution prevented any serious abuses of power from either party and that since both parties had their share of extremists, “I was never sufficiently moved to become engaged in the electoral process.”
Over the past five years, “all that has changed.” Greenwald sees extremism shredding the Constitution, which once served to keep him from becoming politically engaged.
“This extremism is neither conservative or liberal in nature, but is instead driven by theories of presidential power wholly alien, and antithetical, to the core political values that have governed this country since its founding,” Greenwald writes.
He goes on to talk about his initial faith, even admiration, in Bush's leadership, which crystallized when the president wrapped his arm around a firefighter on top of a pile of Ground Zero rubble.
What first began to shake his “faith” was the Jose Padilla case, in which the Bush administration claimed it could hold a U.S. citizen indefinitely without issuing a charge or providing access to counsel.
The Iraq WMD farce really threw Greenwald for a loop. Then came Abu Ghraib.
In October 2005, Greenwald started the “Unclaimed Territory” blog as a way to uphold “the supremacy of our constitutional principles and the corresponding duty of every American citizen to defend these liberties when they are under assault.”
Greenwald's analysis, particularly of the NSA wiretapping debacle, is something that should be pondered by all those whose reaction to the NSA program is: “If you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to worry about.”
Greenwald walks the reader through how the Bush administration successfully urged Congress to broaden presidential powers with the Patriot Act, including the expansion of eavesdropping powers under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
After it was passed, the president said he had all the tools he needed to fight the war on terror. So when Bush admitted that he authorized the NSA eavesdropping program without going to the FISA court, he did so “in violation of the very act he had just signed into law,” Greenwald said.
“When George Bush ordered the secret NSA program,” he continues, “it was not the first time an American president had acted illegally. But what is so astounding, and so profoundly alarming, about the president's behavior is not that he just violated the law deliberately but that he did so repeatedly over the course of many years, and when he was caught he defiantly insisted he had the right to do so.”
Though exploring that one fact alone makes Greenwald's 144-page book worth reading, his argument doesn't rest solely on the NSA example. Rather, by analyzing the plethora of constitutional violations committed by the Bush administration over the past five years, Greenwald's book is important because it raises a fundamental question about patriotism: Loyalty to Bush or to the Constitution?
(c) 2006, Cape Cod Times
Data Stored on 3 Million Americans
"We already take blood from every newborn to perform government-mandated tests . . . so the right to take a sample has already been decided," Asplen said. "And we have a precedent for the government to maintain an identifying number of a person."
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 3, 2006; A01
Brimming with the genetic patterns of more than 3 million Americans, the nation's databank of DNA "fingerprints" is growing by more than 80,000 people every month, giving police an unprecedented crime-fighting tool but prompting warnings that the expansion threatens constitutional privacy protections.
With little public debate, state and federal rules for cataloging DNA have broadened in recent years to include not only violent felons, as was originally the case, but also perpetrators of minor crimes and even people who have been arrested but not convicted.
Now some in law enforcement are calling for a national registry of every American's DNA profile, against which police could instantly compare crime-scene specimens. Advocates say the system would dissuade many would-be criminals and help capture the rest.
"This is the single best way to catch bad guys and keep them off the street," said Chris Asplen, a lawyer with the Washington firm Smith Alling Lane and former executive director of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. "When it's applied to everybody, it is fair, and frankly you wouldn't even know it was going on."
But opponents say that the growing use of DNA scans is making suspects out of many law-abiding Americans and turning the "innocent until proven guilty" maxim on its head.
"These databases are starting to look more like a surveillance tool than a tool for criminal investigation," said Tania Simoncelli of the American Civil Liberties Union in New York.
The debate is part of a larger, post-Sept. 11 tug of war between public safety and personal privacy that has intensified amid recent revelations that the government has been collecting information on personal phone calls. In particular, it is about the limits of the Fourth Amendment, which protects people from being swept into criminal investigations unless there is good reason to suspect they have broken the law.
Once someone's DNA code is in the federal database, critics say, that person is effectively treated as a suspect every time a match with a crime-scene specimen is sought -- even though there is no reason to believe that the person committed the crime.
At issue is not only how many people's DNA is on file but also how the material is being used. In recent years, for example, crime fighters have initiated "DNA dragnets" in which hundreds or even thousands of people were asked to submit blood or tissue samples to help prove their innocence.
Also stirring unease is the growing use of "familial searches," in which police find crime-scene DNA that is similar to the DNA of a known criminal and then pursue that criminal's family members, reasoning that only a relative could have such a similar pattern. Critics say that makes suspects out of people just for being related to a convict.
Such concerns are amplified by fears that, in time, authorities will try to obtain information from stored DNA beyond the unique personal identifiers.
"Genetic material is a very powerful identifier, but it also happens to carry a heck of a lot of information about you," said Jim Harper, director of information policy at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington concerned about DNA database trends.
Law enforcement officials say they have no interest in reading people's genetic secrets. The U.S. profiling system focuses on just 13 small regions of the DNA molecule -- regions that do not code for any known biological or behavioral traits but vary enough to give everyone who is not an identical twin a unique 52-digit number.
"It's like a Social Security number, but not assigned by the government," said Michael Smith, a University of Wisconsin law professor who favors a national database of every American's genetic ID with certain restrictions.
Still, the blood, semen or cheek-swab specimen that yields that DNA, and which authorities almost always save, contains additional genetic information that is sensitive, including disease susceptibilities that could affect employment and health insurance prospects and, in some cases, surprises about who a child's father is.
"We don't know all the potential uses of DNA, but once the state has your sample and there are not limits on how it can be used, then the potential civil liberty violations are as vast as the uses themselves," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.
She and others want samples destroyed once the identifying profile has been extracted, but the FBI favors preserving them.
Sometimes authorities need access to those samples to make sure an old analysis was done correctly, said Thomas Callaghan, who oversees the FBI database. The agency also wants to be able to use new DNA identification methods on older samples as the science improves.
Without that option, Callaghan said, "you'd be freezing the database to today's technology."
Over the past dozen years, the FBI-managed national database has made more than 30,000 "cold hits," or exact matches to a known person's DNA, showing its crime-fighting potential.
In a recent case, a Canadian woman flew home the day after she was sexually assaulted in Mexico. Canadian authorities performed a semen DNA profile and, after finding no domestic matches, consulted the FBI database. The pattern matched that of a California man on probation, who was promptly found in the Mexican town where the woman had been staying and was charged by local authorities.
Congress authorized the FBI database precisely for cases like that, on the rationale that sexual predators and other violent felons tend to be repeat offenders and are likely to leave DNA behind. In recent years, however, Congress and state legislators have vastly extended the system's reach.
At least 38 states now have laws to collect DNA from people found guilty of misdemeanors, in some cases for such crimes as shoplifting and fortunetelling. At least 28 now collect from juvenile offenders, too, according to information presented last month at a Boston symposium on DNA and civil liberties, organized by the American Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics.
The federal government and five states, including Virginia, go further, allowing DNA scans of people arrested. At least four other states plan to do so this year, and California will start in 2009.
Opponents of the growing inclusion of people arrested note that a large proportion of charges (fully half for felony assaults) are eventually dismissed. Blood specimens are not destroyed automatically when charges are dropped, they note, and the procedures for getting them expunged are not simple.
Even more controversial are DNA dragnets, which snare many people for whom there is no evidence of guilt. Given questions about whether such sweeps can be truly voluntary -- "You know that whoever doesn't participate is going to become a 'person of interest,' " said Rose of the ACLU -- some think they violate the Fourth Amendment.
Civil liberties issues aside, the sweeps rarely pay off, according to a September 2004 study by Samuel Walker, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska. Of the 18 U.S. DNA dragnets he documented since 1990, including one in which police tested 2,300 people, only one identified the offender. And that one was limited to 25 men known to have had access to the victim, who was attacked while incapacitated in a nursing home.
Dragnets, Walker concluded, "are highly unproductive" and "possibly unconstitutional."
Familial searches of the blood relatives of known offenders raise similar issues. The method can work: In a recent British case, police retrieved DNA from a brick that was thrown from an overpass and smashed through a windshield, killing the driver. A near-match of that DNA with someone in Britain's criminal database led police to investigate that offender's relatives, one of whom confessed when confronted with the evidence.
Not investigating such leads "would be like getting a partial license plate number on a getaway car and saying, 'Well, you didn't get the whole plate so we're not going to investigate the crime,' " said Frederick Bieber, a Harvard geneticist who studies familial profiling.
But such profiling stands to exacerbate already serious racial inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system, said Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University.
"Incarceration rates are eight times higher for blacks than they are for whites," he said, so any technique that focuses on relatives of people in the FBI database will just expand that trend.
A Universal Database?
That's a concern that many in law enforcement raise, too -- as an argument in favor of creating a universal DNA database of all Americans. The system would make everyone a suspect of sorts in every crime, they acknowledge. But every criminal, regardless of race, would be equally likely to get caught.
Opponents cite a litany of potential problems, including the billions it would cost to profile so many people and the lack of lab capacity to handle the specimens.
Backlogs are already severe, they note. The National Institute of Justice estimated in 2003 that more than 350,000 DNA samples from rape and homicide cases were waiting to be processed nationwide. As of the end of last year, more than 250,000 samples were backlogged in California alone.
And delays can matter. In 2004, police in Indiana arrested a man after his DNA matched samples from dozens of rapes -- the last 13 of which were committed during the two years it took for the sample to get through the backlog.
A big increase in tests would also generate more mistakes, said William C. Thompson, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California at Irvine, whose studies have found DNA lab accuracy to be "very uneven."
In one of many errors documented by Thompson, a years-old crime-scene specimen was found to match the DNA from a juvenile offender, leading police to suspect the teenager until they realized he was a baby at the time of the crime. The teenager's blood, it turned out, had been processed in the lab the same day as an older specimen was being analyzed, and one contaminated the other.
"A universal database will bring us more wrongful arrests and possibly more wrongful convictions," said Simoncelli of the ACLU.
But Asplen of Smith Alling Lane said Congress has been helping states streamline and improve their DNA processing. And he does not think a national database would violate the Constitution.
"We already take blood from every newborn to perform government-mandated tests . . . so the right to take a sample has already been decided," Asplen said. "And we have a precedent for the government to maintain an identifying number of a person."
While the debate goes on, some in Congress are working to expand the database a bit more. In March, the House passed the Children's Safety and Violent Crime Reduction Act.
Under the broad-ranging bill, DNA profiles provided voluntarily, for example, in a dragnet, would for the first time become a permanent part of the national database. People arrested would lose the right to expunge their samples if they were exonerated or charges were dropped. And the government could take DNA from citizens not arrested but simply detained.
The bill must be reconciled with a Senate, which contains none of those provisions.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company
Do Hadithans Hate Us for Our Freedoms?
by Jacob G. Hornberger, June 2, 2006
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials announced that the terrorists were motivated by anger and hatred for American “freedoms and values.”
In other words, the terrorists hated the First Amendment and rock and roll and, therefore, decided to attack our country.
When asked whether U.S. foreign policy might have anything to do with the terrorists attacks, the federal attitude was, “Oh, no. The terrorists are either indifferent to U.S. foreign policy or they feel very positive about it.”
For example, when asked whether the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children who died from the more than 10 years of brutal sanctions that the U.S. government and the UN imposed on the Iraqi people might have engendered some negative feelings among people of the Middle East, the federal attitude was, “Oh, no. There is no way that those deaths could have been a factor in the anger and hatred that led to the 9/11 attacks because Saddam, not the sanctions, was responsible for the deaths of those children. The 9/11 attacks were carried out because the terrorists hate us for our freedom and values.”
And when U.S. official Madeleine Albright expressed the feelings of U.S. officials when she announced that the deaths of so many Iraqi children were “worth it,” the federal attitude was that such callousness, again, had absolutely nothing to do with producing anger and hatred against the United States. It all revolved around hatred for our freedom and values.
Today, defenders of the president’s war and occupation of Iraq are suggesting that the killing of 24 defenseless civilians in Haditha, including defenseless women and children and even an old man in a wheelchair, were committed by only a few U.S. soldiers and that the rest of America’s occupying force are performing “heroically.”
But when al-Qaeda recruiters show the Haditha photographs to men and women in the Middle East, will the reaction among prospective new recruits be, “Let’s not focus on or exaggerate the massacre in Haditha because the other American troops in Iraq are performing heroically”?
After all, don’t forget that in performing heroically U.S. forces have killed and maimed tens of thousands of other Iraqis as part of their invasion and subsequent occupation — many more people, in fact, than were killed in the 9/11 attacks.
Who honestly believes that the friends and family members and even countrymen of those who were killed and maimed in Haditha — or elsewhere in Iraq — are likely to say, “We hate America not because of what they did at Haditha and the rest of Iraq but because of America’s First Amendment and rock and roll”?
If there’s another major terrorist attack on American soil, here’s my prediction: Congress will again wake up from its slumber and respond positively to the president’s call for PATRIOT Acts 2, 3, and 4, followed by new rounds of indefinite military detentions, illegal wiretapping, kidnappings and renditions, censorship, and more.
And U.S. officials will again tell us that the suspension of our rights and freedom is only temporary and that it will protect us from the terrorists who hate America because of our freedom and values, not because of the homicides at Haditha, the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the torture and sex abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Iraqi deaths from the sanctions, the destruction of Iraq, and the other aspects of U.S. foreign policy.
After all, they’ll remind us, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq have brought love, peace, freedom, and democracy to the Iraqi people — well, at least to those who are not dead.
The only question will be: How many gullible Americans will buy it the next time?
Jacob Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. Send him email.
Multiply Haditha By Thousands
by Aaron Glantz
with Alaa Hassan
BAGHDAD - The Iraqi government has decided to launch its own investigation into the killing of 24 people by U.S. Marines in the western town Haditha last November.
The raid came to light after a local Iraqi videotaped the killings. The tape told a story dramatically different from the bland assertion by the U.S. military in November last year that some people died in a roadside bomb blast.
Reports of the massacre were carried recently by Time magazine. The killing has since then snowballed into a major controversy.
"The crime and misery of Haditha is a terrible crime where women and children were eliminated," Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters. Maliki also said his government would set up a joint task force with the U.S. Military to examine how foreign armies in Iraq carry out raids.
Violence against civilians is "common among many of the multinational forces," the new Iraqi Prime Minister said. Many troops had "no respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch."
That the occupation forces do this is well known. "We describe this kind of incident as 'normal' because it has happened over and over, not because it is normal or because the Iraqi people accept it," Iraqi lawyer Nezar al-Samarai told IPS.
"It's happened a lot and there has been no reaction from the U.S. government to stop it. So people will say it's normal."
Nezar al-Samarai knows from experience what he is talking about.
In 2004 U.S. soldiers detained two of his nephews, ran their car over with a tank and threw them off a bridge to their deaths. The killing was reported by IPS then.
Al-Samarai argued the case in court, winning 2,500 dollars in compensation for each dead nephew. One of the American soldiers was sentenced to 45 days in prison.
Nezar al-Samarai has had his own run-ins with the U.S. Military He was severely beaten by troops while driving his family to the hospital in 2004. On May 5 of this year, he says he was tied up and beaten up in his own home during a raid by American forces.
During that raid, U.S. Soldiers also attacked a neighboring home for the disabled. "The military killed three and injured another two," he said. "That was not because they did anything, of course. They were disabled. The other two are still in hospital, and we do not know what will happen to them."
From the early days of the occupation to the present, the pattern continues, whatever the political situation in Iraq.
Among the many such cases IPS has reported over the last three years was that of 62- year-old Sheikh Abu Yasin al-Zawi who was arrested after Friday prayers along with his son after calling Israel's assassination of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin in 2004 state terrorism.
"They arrived at the mosque at 5pm and surrounded the whole area with hummers and tanks and they said, 'you said bad things about the coalition at Friday prayers and your son said bad things too'," al-Zawi told IPS then.
He was not taken to Abu Grahib prison, but he and his son were taken to a U.S. Military base near his mosque.
"They kept me in a very small cell without any type of bed or blanket," he told IPS. "The soldier didn't allow me to wash for prayer and they put a hood over my face. And they didn't bring us food and even when I wanted to go to the toilet it was very complicated because the soldier would come with his gun and point it at me while I was in the toilet."
He was let off, one of the lucky few. But everyone knows of innocent people humiliated and killed by the occupation forces. The Haditha revelations now anger people, but do not surprise them.
At the White House, President George Bush's spokesman Tony Snow told reporters that the massacre reports are being investigated.
"There are two tracks," Snow said. "What happened with reporting the incident, and what happened, and the Marines are taking this very seriously and they're proceeding aggressively."
Few questions are being asked about other such killings, even in Haditha. Iraq's Ambassador to the United States, Samir Sumadai, is accusing the Marines of killing his cousin during a house to house raid in Haditha last June.
The Pentagon says they have investigated the matter and that there was no unlawful killing.
It is difficult to independently verify such reports, because most human rights groups have left the country citing security concerns.
"For some time we've been very much constrained and limited in our movements in Iraq," Nada Doumani, spokesperson for the International Red Cross-Iraq, which is now based in Amman, told IPS. "Unfortunately we cannot be present everywhere and therefore we cannot comment on events in all areas of Iraq."
Still, the number of disturbing allegations is staggering.
The BBC broadcast footage Thursday that it said came from an incident in March in which U.S. Soldiers were accused of executing 11 Iraqis, including four children, near the town of Ishaqi north of the capital.
The Americans say they were hunting an al-Qaeda suspect, but an Iraqi police report says American soldiers rounded up and executed an entire family in a house which they then demolished.
(Inter Press Service)
Discrepancy seen as administration says he didn't learn of massacre probe for nearly a month
BY CRAIG GORDON
Newsday Washington Bureau
June 2, 2006
WASHINGTON -- The White House said yesterday it took nearly a month for President George W. Bush to learn the military was investigating whether Marines gunned down civilians in Haditha - an incident Iraq's leader called "a horrible crime" as he launched his own probe.
That explanation appeared at odds with a White House statement earlier this week that Bush was told of the inquiry "soon after" it was launched in February. Bush never discussed Haditha in public until he was asked about it by reporters Wednesday.
Yet what happened there last November now looms as a serious threat to Bush's hopes of reviving public support for the war at home, as well as being a growing impediment to smooth relations with the newly formed Iraqi government.
Meanwhile, in Iraq, U.S. commanders announced that all 132,000 American troops and other coalition forces would receive a special course on proper battlefield conduct - a 30-day program to reinforce "the values that separate us from our enemies," said Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the No. 2 U.S. general in Iraq.
But Iraq's new prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, stepped up his criticism of U.S. forces yesterday as he announced an investigation into the Haditha killings, along with other incidents involving U.S. troops.
The Iraqi government also demanded that U.S. forces apologize for the deaths of 24 civilians in Haditha. Defense and congressional sources say the current investigation will show they were murdered by a handful of Marines in retaliation for the roadside-bombing death of a fellow Marine, and that the incident was covered up by mid-level officers.
"This is a phenomenon that has become common among many of the multinational forces," al-Maliki said. "No respect for citizens, smashing civilian cars and killing on a suspicion or a hunch. It's unacceptable."
Al-Maliki also is calling for new limits on coalition forces who are detaining Iraqis or carrying out raids in Iraqi neighborhoods - a move that could restrict the activities of U.S. troops in battling a deadly insurgency that seems to be gaining strength in Ramadi, Basra and elsewhere.
Such a move could become a major sticking point with the United States, whose forces now operate in Iraq without any formal restrictions by the government. An earlier order by the Coalition Provisional Authority also said U.S. forces aren't bound by Iraqi legal processes - another stipulation the United States would appear unlikely to give up without resistance.
Despite good relations so far with the United States, al-Maliki hasn't shied away from giving voice to the growing frustration among everyday Iraqis about the continuing U.S. presence there, and what many see as a heavy-handed and often insensitive approach by U.S. troops.
For his part, Bush has sought to reassure the public here and in Iraq that the Pentagon will "get to the bottom of this" and that the world would see "the full and complete investigation."
"If there is wrongdoing, people will be held to account," Bush said yesterday.
Bush also appears eager to avoid one mistake of Abu Ghraib - when he appeared to be caught off guard by the allegations of prison abuse, causing him to fault Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for not keeping him apprised of the investigation.
So the White House yesterday put out a timeline of Pentagon and White House actions to deal with Haditha. According to the timeline of events after the Nov. 19 shootings at Haditha, Chiarelli first ordered a military investigation of the incident Feb. 14 after Time magazine challenged the initial Marine account of civilian deaths in a bombing and subsequent firefight.
Chiarelli ordered a further review March 9. But it wasn't until March 11 that Bush was told about the case for the first time by National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.
Incident in Haditha
Military investigators are seeking to determine whether Marines killed as many as 24 civilians in the Iraqi city of Haditha. Here's how the case has come to light:
Nov. 19: U.S. Lance Cpl. Miguel Terrazas, 20, is killed by a roadside bomb in Haditha. Later that day, Marines are alleged to have retaliated by killing the civilians.
Nov. 20: Initial report by Marines states that insurgents had attacked a joint U.S.- Iraqi patrol with small-arms fire after the blast, triggering a gunbattle that left eight insurgents and 15 Iraqi civilians dead.
Feb. 10: A Time magazine reporter asks military officials about reports of a massacre in Haditha.
Feb. 14: Lt. Gen. Peter Chiarelli orders an investigation.
March 11: National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley briefs President George W. Bush about the investigation.
March 20: The U.S. military says it's investigating possible misconduct by the Marines and confirms there is a videotape of action in Haditha. Residents say U.S. troops entered homes and killed 15 people, including women, children and elderly men, after Terrazas' death.
April 10: The military says three officers were relieved of command in connection with problems including their battalion's actions in Haditha.
May 17: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) says a Pentagon war crimes investigation will show Marines killed more than a dozen innocent Iraqi civilians "in cold blood."
May 30: Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki says the killings were not justified.
May 31: Bush promises that any Marines involved in the alleged murders of Iraqi civilians will be punished.
June 1: Chiarelli orders U.S. commanders to hold ethical training on battlefield conduct.
Copyright 2006 Newsday Inc.