Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft cites the military tribunal that convicted eight Germans of plotting attacks on US soil during World War II as a precedent for the prosecution of foreign terrorists by secret US military courts, but the 1942 experience also shows how government officials can suspend civil rights, suppress facts and pervert justice to serve their agendas. George J. Dasch may have saved the lives of hundreds of American civilians when he tipped off the FBI that he and seven other Germans had landed in the US with instructions to sabotage industrial plants, military facilities, a railroad terminal, department stores and various bridges, tunnels and river locks. But he still was tried and convicted as a saboteur by a secret military tribunal in 1942. The FBI, under then-Director J. Edgar Hoover's orders, suppressed his initiative in uncovering the plot. Dasch was sentenced to 30 years at hard labor and he spent two years in the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary, where inmates tried to kill him before he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth and housed with hardened Nazis, who also threatened to kill him.
The records remained secret until 1980, when Atlanta Constitution reporter Seth Kantor disclosed them. Hoover originally blocked their release, declaring at one point that their disclosure "might lead to the embarrassment of the FBI," wrote Kantor, now dead. The trial transcript showed that in return for his pleading guilty, agents promised Dasch a quick presidential pardon, which never happened. Instead, Kantor wrote, Hoover was angling for a congressional medal for the way his agents uncovered the saboteurs as "the detective job of the century." Hoover, concerned that the press might find out the truth, prevailed upon then-Attorney Gen. Tom Clark in 1944 to suppress a Justice Department summary of the trial that referred to Dasch's contact with the bureau. "There is a possibility, if such references are permitted, that the press will be curious as to the manner in which the bureau received its information," Hoover wrote.
Dasch was a German-born legal resident of the United States and had an American wife but he was swept into the German army while visiting Germany when the war started, Kantor reported. Dasch claimed he always intended to betray the saboteurs, and within hours of being placed ashore with three others at Long Island Dasch phoned the FBI's New York office, according to the records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, but the FBI agent who took the call did not regard it as important. A few days later Dasch showed up at FBI headquarters in Washington with more than $30,000 in US currency and details on the plot, but still had to convince skeptical agents over five days of questioning before the agency rounded up the other seven Germans, along with explosives and $174,588 in cash found in Florida.
President Truman paroled Dasch in 1948 and he was deported to Germany, where he was subjected to still more threats from Nazi sympathizers. He moved from city to city and job to job, but his trail had vanished by 1980, Kantor wrote. Hoover continued to threaten civil liberties and pursue his political agenda, using blackmail when it suited him, for another 30 years after sending Dasch to prison. FBI headquarters is named after him.
The Bush administration proposes to revive military courts, which could use hearsay, secret and circumstantial evidence and sentence defendants to death on the vote of only two thirds of the presiding officers -- who won't necessarily be lawyers. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy, D-Vt., told Cox News after reading Kantor's 1980 story, "The lesson is that secret trials and lack of judicial oversight may be expedient, but they can also foster injustice and taint the legitimacy of the verdicts."
The US Supreme Court, in an impromptu two-day session in July 1942 during the military trial, upheld the tribunal's constitutionality in Ex parte Quirin. Six of the defendants were executed before the full ruling was released three months later. Some justices later reconsidered their rush to judgment, Tony Mauro of the American Lawyer noted. "Not a happy precedent," commented Justice Felix Frankfurter in 1953. Justice William O. Douglas regretted ruling so quickly without issuing a fully reasoned opinion. "It is extremely undesirable to announce a decision on the merits without an opinion accompanying it," Douglas later said of Quirin. Wrote scholar John Frank, who had been a clerk to Justice Hugo Black during the Quirin case: "The Court allowed itself to be stampeded." Even current Chief Justice William Rehnquist, in his 1998 book, All the Laws But One, offers Quirin as an example of how the Supreme Court through history has given the green light to restrictions on civil liberties while war is under way, whereas it is less willing to do so once hostilities have ended.
The use of the Bush tribunals -- which wouldn't even offer the rights accorded to soldiers in courts-martial -- also may undermine international cooperation with the US, noted the New York Times' William Safire, who called them "kangaroo courts" that showed a taste for dictatorial power. Spain has balked at turning over eight men charged with complicity in the Sept. 11 attacks, because of concerns about US special tribunals and the death penalty. Other European nations holding suspects may not extradite them. "And on what leg does the US now stand when China sentences an American to death after a military trial devoid of counsel chosen by the defendant?" Safire asked.
DASH: ANTI-TERROR WIRETAP IS ILLEGAL. One of those objecting to Attorney Gen. John Ashcroft's plan to listen in on conversations between prisoners and their lawyers is Sam Dash, the former chief counsel of the Senate Watergate committee, now a professor at Georgetown University Law Center. Dash noted that communications between prisoners and their lawyers "have been protected as confidential throughout our history as an essential ingredient of our system of justice." Interception of private communications without warrants has been declared illegal by the Supreme Court under the Fourth Amendment, and by a federal statute enacted to implement the high court's ruling, he added.
"Ominously, this overreaching by the attorney general has a dangerous precedent," Dash wrote. "During the 1973-74 Watergate period, Attorney General John Mitchell ordered, under the guise of national security, wiretaps of citizens who openly dissented from the president's policies. Mitchell claimed that the crisis at the time -- the violent protests against the Vietnam War -- justified the wiretaps. The Supreme Court ruled that such electronic surveillance violated the Fourth Amendment and that the attorney general and the president were under the law, not above it."
[Presumably Ashcroft knows the suspension of civil rights is unconstitutional, even if Bush doesn't, but for Republicans the move represents a win-win situation: Liberals are put in the position of protecting the rights of accused terrorists, and/or they let the Republicans have these powers.]
PRIVATIZATION LOSES STEAM. Governments are rethinking the push to privatize services in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The Wall Street Journal Nov. 19 noted that New Orleans has set aside plans to hire private contractors to upgrade and operate its municipal water and sewer system because of concerns about safety. President Bush acquiesced to those in Congress, many of them Republicans, who argued that air travel would be safer if passengers were screened by 28,000 government employees, instead of private contractors. Talk of turning the US Postal Service and Amtrak into shareholder-owned private corporations appears dead for now. The Pentagon has temporarily shelved plans to farm out the back-office operations of its high-tech mapping unit. An antiterrorism commission headed by the chairman of the Republican National Committee, Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, says the federal government should build and own a plant to make vaccines for anthrax, smallpox and other diseases. "There's no market for it normally," he says. "Why would a private manufacturer want to go through the expense?"
SUPREME COURT DID DECIDE ELECTION. Florida courts were moving to order the full recount of votes that would have elected Al Gore president if Republicans on the US Supreme Court had not stepped in to stop the recount, according to new disclosures. If "overvotes," in which voters marked the name of their choice and also wrote in his name, were counted, Gore would have carried Florida regardless of what standard of chad -&endash; dimpled, hanging, punched-through &endash; was used in counting the so-called "undervotes," according to an examination of those ballots by a group of leading news organizations. And Leon County Circuit Court Judge Terry Lewis, who was supervising the real-life recount on Dec. 9, 2000, when the US Supreme Court stopped it, told the Orlando Sentinel that "he would not have ignored the overvote ballots." Newsweek discovered a memo Lewis sent to a county canvassing board Dec. 9 showing that the judge was moving in that direction when the federal court stepped in. "If you would segregate 'overvotes' as you describe and indicate in your final report how many where you determined the clear intent of the voter," Lewis wrote the canvassers, "I will rule on the issue for all counties."
Robert Parry of Consortiumnews.com on Nov. 22 noted that the New York Times, the Washington Post and other leading news outlets reporting on the media-organized recount on Nov. 12 stated that Bush would have won regardless of the US Supreme Court's ruling, but those stories were based on hypothetical results if the state-ordered recount had looked only at "undervotes." If "overvotes" were excluded from the tally, Bush was left with a tiny lead. But Gore beat Bush by 60 to 171 votes, depending on the standard used in counting "undervotes," if a full statewide recount had been conducted in accordance with state law.
ARMY PLANNED '60'S US TERROR ATTACKS. In the early 1960s, America's top military leaders reportedly drafted plans to kill innocent people and commit acts of terrorism in US cities as a pretext to create public support for a war against Cuba. Plans were drawn up to assassinate Cuban émigrés, sink boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijack planes, blow up a US ship, or even orchestrate violent terrorism in US cities, James Bamford wrote in Body of Secrets [Doubleday]. The plans were developed as ways to trick the American public and the international community into supporting a war to oust Cuba's then new leader, communist Fidel Castro.
ABC.com reported on Bamford's disclosure of the military's terrorism plans May 1, but the story was picked up by few if any other media. The plans had the written approval of all of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including Gen. Lyman L. Lemnitzer, who was then chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and were presented to President Kennedy's defense secretary, Robert McNamara, in March 1962. But they apparently were rejected by the civilian leadership and went undisclosed for nearly 40 years.
Even after Lemnitzer was replaced, Bamford wrote, the Joint Chiefs continued to plan "pretext" operations at least through 1963. One idea was to create a war between Cuba and another Latin American country so that the United States could intervene. Another was to pay someone in the Castro government to attack US forces at the Guantanamo naval base -- an act which, Bamford notes, would have amounted to treason. And another was to fly low level U-2 flights over Cuba, with the intention of having one shot down as a pretext for a war.
Ironically, the documents came to light, Bamford told ABC.com, in part because the 1992 Oliver Stone film JFK swelled public interest in the possibility of a conspiracy behind the assassination of President Kennedy. Congress passed a law designed to increase the public's access to government records related to the assassination.
COMPANIES STILL IMPORTING HIGH-TECH WORKERS. Amid a massive wave of tech layoffs, US companies obtained approval to import a record 163,200 foreign workers under a program that critics say is being abused to hire cheaper overseas talent, the Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 23. The hiring binge in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30 caused a furor in an industry that has experienced more than 600,000 layoffs over the past 10 months. "At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans are out of work, many employers are rubbing salt in the wound by hiring foreign workers," said Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a Washington group critical of the H-1B visa program.
PORTLAND ENDORSES MAINE UNIVERSAL HEALTH CARE. Advocates of state-funded health coverage in Maine claimed a narrow victory in Portland on Nov. 6 as 52% of the city's voters supported universal health care, despite an expensive campaign by the insurance industry against the advisory referendum, the Portland Press Herald reported. Those who initiated a signature drive to put the question on the ballot are treating the results as a major step forward for a grass-roots movement to install a single-payer system in Maine as the most cost-efficient way to provide health insurance to all residents. Maine lawmakers created a commission to look into the pros and cons of a single-payer system in Maine. The group is expected to make a presentation to the Legislature by the end of March.
In Illinois, similar advisory votes in several counties and townships taken since 1999 showed support for a statewide health-care system. There is now a movement to put a binding referendum on universal health care on the statewide ballot, the Press Herald reported. A similar question was narrowly defeated last year in Massachusetts, but advocates reportedly are gearing up for another try in the coming years.
STOP WAR PROFITEERS. The US House passed an "economic stimulus" that, among other things, would repeal the Alternative Minimum Tax, which requires hugely profitable companies to pay at least some tax, no matter how many loopholes they can exploit. According to Campaign for America's Future, lobbyists succeeded in getting the repeal for 15 years of retroactive rebates, which would give IBM $1.4 billion, GM $833 million, GE $671 million -- "a total loss of over $12 billion in revenue next year alone." A Senate committee approved a more progressive bill, but Republican senators blocked it from reaching the Senate floor. For more information, see www.ourfuture.org or phone 415-901-0117.
A new report released by Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ), the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), and Public Campaign found that profitable corporations that will receive a total of $7.4 billion in immediate Alternative Minimum Tax rebates from the House economic "stimulus" bill gave $45.7 million to federal elections since 1991. The 30-page investigative report, "Buy Now, Save Later: Campaign Contributions and Corporate Taxation," shows how these companies and others use campaign money to manipulate the political process to win huge tax breaks unavailable to ordinary Americans -- and how they have been doing so for years. See the report at www.publicampaign.org.
PUBLIC POWER EDGED IN SF. Initiatives to create a public power authority in San Francisco were pronounced dead Nov. 11 after nearly five days of counting and questions about ballot security and accuracy. Measure F, which would allowing an elected board to buy Pacific Gas and Electric Co. infrastructure to serve the city, was defeated by 533 votes out of 129,077 counted. Proposition I, which would have created an independent municipal utility district, lost by 4,361 votes out of 124,575 counted. The count was delayed by damaged ballots, questions about ballot security and an anthrax scare in addition to San Francisco's legendary capacity for screwing up elections. Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano was among those who questioned the security and accuracy of the tally. PG&E and corporate allies, such as AT&T and Pacific Telesis, spent more than $2 million opposing the initiatives, and PG&E had promised legal obstacles if the proposals won.
ANTI-FAST-TRACK COALITION GROWS. While the Republican leadership appears committed to a Dec. 6 House vote on "Fast Track" trade negotiating authority, the largest coalition in the history of trade fights -- 169 groups from the American Corngrowers Association to the Vermont Workers Center -- has signed on to a letter opposing H.R. 3005, which would approve Fast Track. "The 'free trade' boosters and fatcat lobbyists for the transnational corporate elites, with their deep pockets and astroturf campaign, will never match the sheer people-power of this enormous grassroots movement," said Mike Dolan of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "We believe the United States should show responsible leadership in the global economy by calling for a new generation of international trade and investment policies that will ensure the benefits of globalization are broadly shared, that the environment is protected, and that ordinary citizens can understand and participate in forming the policies that affect their daily lives. H.R. 3005 accomplishes none of these goals. It follows the same framework that led to the rejection of fast track legislation by the Congress in 1997 and 1998." Call your Congress member toll-free at 1-800-393-1082 (courtesy of the AFL-CIO), 1-888-832-4246 (courtesy of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) or 202-224-3121 on your own dime. Or see (www.tradewatch.org).
GREENS TARGET 6 CONGRESSMEN. As the House heads for a vote on "Fast Track," Green Party officials Nov. 19 warned six congressional incumbents that Green challengers would run aggressive campaigns against them based upon their support for Fast Track legislation. "Green Party congressional candidates will fight to defend American sovereignty against anti-democratic trade pacts, and we will campaign to hold congressional incumbents accountable for their betrayal of working people and the environment," said Ben Manski, co-chair of the Green Party of the US. Targeted are Rep. Bob Clement, D-Tenn.; Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., Rep. Gerald Kleczka, D-Wis.; Rep. Mark Green, R-Wis.; Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. (Some oppose Fast Track but were singled out for their lack of leadership, Manski said.)
Greens noted that last year, Green Party candidate Joe Szwaja won 20% of the vote against Rep. Jim McDermott, who since then has questioned the bombing of Afghanistan and fought the passage of Fast Track. "Our message to Representatives Dicks and Smith is crystal clear: You won't be able to take the progressive vote for granted, we're going to speak for the interests of workers, consumers, and nature, and we will define the issues in this campaign," said Szwaja.
Greens also have declared their candidacies for Congress in Arkansas (2nd), California (41st), and Nevada (1st), and are gearing up to run in hundreds of other congressional and statewide races next year. Over 275 Greens vied for federal, state, and local office in 2001. At least 52 won election. See (gp-us.org).
REFORM WINS IN CINCY NAILBITER. Cincinnati voters on Nov. 6 narrowly approved an initiative to provide partial public financing of candidates in municipal elections. The Fair Elections Coalition passed Issue #6 by 547 votes. It also limits contributions, requires better disclosure and provides for enforcement.
'CHARLESTON 5' FREED. Five union dockworkers pleaded "no contest" to misdemeanor charges and paid fines of $100 each to resolve what originally were felony charges stemming from a Jan. 20, 2000, confrontation with state police who broke up a lawful informational picket of union members protesting a non-union crew unloading a Danish freighter in the port of Charleston, S.C. State Attorney General Charlie Condon, a Republican running for governor, intervened and brought charges of felony rioting and conspiracy to riot on the dockworkers. [See "Ghost of Denmark Vesey haunts S.C.," 8/1/01 PP.] After a Charleston judge dismissed those charges for lack of evidence Condon secured felony indictments against five of the men through a secret grand jury and subjected them to nearly two years of house arrest. Condon finally removed himself from the case Oct. 10 and the case was transferred to a local prosecutor. ILA Local 1422 President Ken Riley said he believes the prosecution was motivated by a desire to discourage workers in the state from exercising their rights on the job. South Carolina, a so-called "right to work" state, entices corporate investment by touting its anti-union climate and the lowest rate of unionization in the nation. "It's a tremendous victory, considering what we were stacked up against," Riley told Labor Notes.
PEACE AT PAFICICA? The national board of the Pacifica Foundation agreed Nov. 18 to voluntarily dissolve, reconstitute itself as an interim board with new members, including reps from local advisory boards at the foundation's five radio stations, and seek to address power struggles that have plagued the network for nearly two years. Among other things, the new board might resume feeds of the morning show, "Democracy Now," and lift a system-wide gag rule barring on-air discussion of internal matters, according to Current, which also reported the board faced a financial shortfall with $300,000 in cash dwarfed by $2 million in bills. See www.current.org, www.pacifica.org or www.pacificacampaign.org.