Enforce UN Convention Against Torture

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to urge you to avoid the disregard for international legal obligations that condemned your predecessor.

The issue concerns investigating or prosecuting torture.

The United States ratified the United Nations Convention Against Torture (CAT) in 1994. Article 12 of the CAT provides: “Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.”

Former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Richard Cheney have both openly conceded that they authorized waterboarding on at least three prisoners. Among others, Attorney General-designate Eric Holder has characterized waterboarding as torture. Susan J. Crawford, a military commission leader, also informed Bob Woodward of the Washington Post: “We [the United States] tortured [Mohammed al-Qahtani].” In addition, there have been several additional credible reports about torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and at secret prisons. See Carol D. Leonning, “The Stories of Torture Sounded Made Up. They Weren’t,” Outlook, the Washington Post, Jan. 18, 2009.

The federal criminal code punishes torture in accord with the CAT. See 18 U.S.C. 2340A. The United States recently prosecuted and punished the son of Liberia’s Charles Taylor for torture perpetrated in Liberia.

The public record clearly gives reasonable ground to believe Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney, and their subordinates are implicated in torture. Article 12 of the CAT thus requires that your administration conduct a “prompt and impartial investigation” of the individuals and their superiors involved in waterboarding the prisoners and in interrogating Mohammed al-Qahtani. We urge that the investigation be conducted by a nonpartisan special prosecutor appointed by the Attorney General to forestall charges of partisanship. If no investigation is forthcoming, you will have violated Article 12.

During your presidential campaign, you assailed the unilateralism of your predecessor which flouted international obligations or responsibilities. You promised change. You should not imitate former President Bush by defying Article 12 of the CAT.


Bruce Fein
Ralph Nader

Editor’s Note: Bruce Fein is a lawyer specializing in constitutional and international law. He served as associate deputy attorney general under President Ronald Reagan. Ralph Nader is a public interest lawyer and advocate.

Rent to the Rich

Ted Rall is right in “Only One Solution: Soak the Rich, Corporations,” (2/1/09 TPP). Not by higher income taxes, but by collecting the economic rent that should be our government revenue.

Henry George, ages ago, proposed just that in his “Single Tax” as the remedy for unemployment and industrial depression.

Dr. Mason Gaffney, professor of economics at University of California, Riverside, in “How to Thaw Credit, Now and Forever” [see masongaffney.org], basically applies Georgist principles to today’s vastly more complex situation. A review of Gaffney’s proposals would make interesting reading.

John A. Morales
California, Mo.

Stop Prohibition

Re: “Booze or Drugs, Prohibition Senseless” [1/ 1-15/09 TPP], if only Froma Harrop and the rest of us who agree with her could convince our legislators to stop their ineffective “war on drugs!”

Unfortunately, our puritanical heritage has led many Americans to believe that sin and crime are the same. But they are not—the non-violent “sin” of using drugs doesn’t belong in the same legal category with crimes that deserve the perpetrator’s loss of liberty.

Why then, after decades of waging war on drugs — and not even coming close to winning, do we refuse to change our thinking about how to handle that problem?

Why can’t we accept the fact that all our attempts to prevent drug use by force of law are as futile as trying to legislate morality? (Remember when drinking alcohol and looking at dirty pictures were serious crimes?)

We need to accept drug use for what it is: A harmful habit, but not a crime. It’s a dangerous addiction just like alcoholism, tobacco dependency or gambling. Our goal, then, should be rehabilitation through treatment—not incarceration.

Further, the billions of dollars we continue to spend on drug law enforcement should be recognized for what it is—a political scandal. As it is now, organized crime and vicious street gangs control drug trafficking, which results in daily horrors of death and mayhem.

A proof of a fool is his insistence on trying to solve a problem with methods that continually fail. I wish our leaders would consider a new drug policy embodying these three principles:

1. Common sense to recognize that self-destructive behavior is not the same as criminal behavior,

2. Honesty to admit that our drug laws are not only a costly failure, but indifferent to human life and suffering, and

3. Willingness to learn from the successes of European nations whose drug policies are compassionate and compatible with social progress.

David Quintero
Temple City, Calif.

What I Did Last Summer

It is disappointing to read that The Progressive Populist’s circulation actually dropped in 2008 despite my singular efforts to increase its circulation here in Utah. This is what I did last summer and I hope others do the same.

I’ve a small booth at the Salt Lake City Farmer’s Market selling wildflower seeds and native plants for homeowners’ xeriscaping projects. Unofficially, my booth is a distribution hub for independent media information. At every market, I had a ready stack of TPP’s , subscription forms, and an ever changing selection of independent media articles. Over the summer I handed out some 70 forms to market patrons. All were pleased and surprised to find such a thing at the market. I also sent the assistant editor of the Salt Lake Tribune’s editorial section a 6-month TPP subscription for Christmas even though they no longer deliver here. They “improved” the Trib yet again making it an even worse source for real news; it’s the least I could do.

So here is my suggestion for 2009. Any and all who have a local farmer’s market should find a reason to support it as a vendor. Sell extra produce, local native plants, homemade preserves, whatever is allowed by the organizers. Use your booth to distribute TPP subscriptions forms and supply back issues and articles to read. A few extra chairs will encourage patrons to sit and read. It’s a nice way to spend a few hours per week and make a few extra US dollars (however worthless) while weaning the masses from AP (American Propaganda) and other corporate indoctrination machines. Let’s double TPP subscriptions by Jan. 1, 2010. Get busy!

Paul Ames
Eureka, Utah

Outlaw the Car

Most of Jerome Bronk’s letter [“Not Dead but Comatose,” 2/1/09 TPP] was way over my head, but when he wrote “we favor (bailing the Big 3) not for the company, the shareholders, the management or even the product, but for the jobs. Let’s face it: the jobs are the product. Nothing new about that,” his assertion impels me to respond. If one’s job is spraying cyanide over a metropolis, one might have to seriously consider retraining for another job. After all, Eichmann had a job. It was murdering 6 million Jews, Poles, Gypsies, homosexuals, etc. I don’t know how many people the auto industry has killed since the beginning of the last century, but Eduardo Galeano hints in the chapter on the auto in his book Upside Down that the order of magnitude isn’t negligible. Why is it that we never hear anyone suggest that the automobile should be outlawed except for emergencies (ambulances, police)? Getting from point A to point Z, and all points in between doesn’t require the right to private transportation, given its cost in casualties and environmental wreckage. Mark Twain said “The only distinctly criminal class in the country is in the US Congress.” That being true, the Big 3 need never fear that our gang of thugs in the House and Senate will ever do anything so progressive as outlaw the car.

Bernard J. Berg
Easton, Pa.


Did you hear the one about the “No Elephants Trespassing” sign? A man saw this sign on his neighbor’s yard and noted that he had never seen any elephants walking on his friend’s yard.

The neighbor said, “See, it’s working!”

President George W. Bush gave his final press conference this week. He tried to influence his legacy with a positive defense.

He made a very significant claim that, as a result of his national response to 9/11, the people of the United States had not suffered any further attacks upon our soil.

I find this curiously related to the old joke about the elephants.

President Bush was saying, “See, no terrorist attacks,” implying that this is due to his use of torture on captured enemy combatants and his violation of the US Constitution’s guarantee against unreasonable search—ignoring the FISA law against tapping US citizens’ telephones. “No attacks; it must be working.”

Percy Pascoe
Cuba, Mo.

Where’s Outrage for Gaza?

Where’s our Congress? Where are those who supposedly set America’s foreign and economic policies? Are they all out to lunch? Don’t they care? Is it easier to ignore than to take action?

It is with utter disgust that I view the bloodletting in Gaza as Israel carries out its wholly over-compensatory killing of civilians in the Gaza strip. A déjà vu of southern Lebanon in 2006—dead and wounded civilians, most of them children, babies with no food or water, hospitals without adequate medical help or supplies and Israeli troops shooting up relief trucks flying the UN flag and killing the driver.

It is unbelievable that our Congress doesn’t rise up in indignation and demand Israel stop what it is doing. I watched our Secretary of State at the UN abstain from voting for an immediate cease-fire; the only nation to do so. Again our Congress stands mute.

American taxpayers are directly paying for the attack by Israel against Gaza. Google up Aid to Israel, AIPAC and Military Aid to Israel and prepare yourself for a shock. Since its inception in 1948 the US has fed Israel billions, if not trillions, of dollars, to build their infrastructure and military. Aid for armament alone costs American taxpayers $3.5 billion annually.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a complex issue with plenty of blame on both sides and at this point in time there appears no answer to it. Assuredly the pumping of billions of US tax dollars into Israel exacerbates the problem, which translates to the Arab world that Uncle Sam is buying the bullets and the Israelis are pulling the trigger.

With our own economy being flushed down the toilet, it is long overdue that we sever the moneyed umbilical cord between our treasury and Israel.

Ed Hodges
Appleton, Wis.

Obama is a Boomer

David Broder in his Op-Ed in the Washington Post, “Born to Build Bridges,” argues that President Obama, “by virtue of his birth date and birthplace, is spared the psychological burden” of the battles that mark the baby boomer generation. He implies that this generation can be summed up and dismissed from history in the old and tired debates of “our two baby boomer presidents,” Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. President Obama, however, by virtue of his birth is actually a baby boomer himself, a generation spanning all those born between 1945 and 1964. A richer insight into the generational significance of these three baby boomer presidents may be that the former two symbolize the tragedy and the latter the triumph of this generation.

Clinton represents the prodigality of talents and passions that characterize the creative and affluent coming of age of his generation during the 1960s, but ultimately, his legacy is the tragedy of unfulfilled promise due to self-indulgence and moral aimlessness. Bush represents the moral certitude of the truth-seekers of his generation and correspondingly the tragedy due to a failure to listen and appreciate the complexity and diversity of perspectives and cultures that is required of both leadership and citizenship is our modern age.

Obama, on the other hand, represents the triumph of his generation by his appeal to the enduring values and truths of our democracy and his style of strenuous pragmatism to fulfill these values in the realities of our present time. His ascendancy is not a passing of the torch from one generation to the next, but rather a clarion call to all generations to lead and to serve, to be responsible and accountable. This synthesis of idealism and practical accomplishment is a hallmark of effective community organizing and it is this ebullient optimism in the power of people to come together to effect change that is perhaps the lasting legacy of the baby boomer generation. The true gift that Obama so well illuminates is to have the charity to see what is best in everyone and generation and then to expect that they see it themselves and act on it.

Don W. Long
Vienna, Va.

Editor’s Note: Missing Page

Due to a printing error in the 2/1/09 TPP, page 18 was missing. The missing columns of Roberto Rodriguez, Alexander Cockburn and Norman Solomon can be found at www.populist.com.

Also, in the 2/1/08 Letters, the hometown of Al Hamburg was incorrectly listed. It is Torrington, Wyo.

We’re sorry for the errors.

No Change

Hillary Clinton, in the course of the Senate’s confirmation of her appointment as Secretary of State, uttered the dreadful sentence, “that all options will be on the table” in her future dealings with Iran. Where was the need to reiterate Bush’s words of “bravado,” which he often used to appease the “hawks”—words which never did impress our foes (and now with our pathetic performance against Iraq) impresses them even less. I thought the 2008 election, won by Mr. Obama, was all about presenting to the world a different and less confrontational image of America—no more the implied threats to nations by using phrases like “We will retain the option of bombing the heck out of you if you do not agree to our policies,” Mr. Obama must censure Hillary Clinton for following the failed policies of the Neo-Cons and that would be a CHANGE that we can believe in.

G.M. Chandu
Flushing, N.Y.

From The Progressive Populist, Feb. 15, 2009

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