Sunday, February 05, 2006

Spotlight: The Bush Commission Part 1

What do we call this spotlight? You know C.I. calls The Common Ills a "resource/review." So we can't call it a blog spotlight. We'll just call it a spotlight -- on an important organization doing work you should know about.

The Bush Commission Part I

When we first got there, the people that we were relieving, they gave us a training. They said that those who were in charge were three spooks. For those of you who don't know what a "spook" is -- a spook is someone who belongs in a highlly specialized unit. Could be CIA, perhaps FBI, civilian contractor, maybe special forces. Nobody knows who they are. They wear no name tags, no unit badges. They're basically untraceable. They go by codenames. The ones we had, for instance, were Rabbit, Scooter, the other one, I think, they called him Artie
[. . .]
When we were receiving this training we saw that there was this soldier who was yelling at the detainees telling them to stand up and sit down, telling them to turn around, to roll, to get up, to sit down again. And we asked how come these people understood? Because they did not speak English. And they said "Well if you yell at them enough, they're kind of like dogs, you yell at a dog enough, and the dog will get it. And its the same with these people. You just yell at them enough and they'll get the point."

The above is from Camilo E. Mejia's testimony to the Bush Commission conducting. Mejia gave that testimony in October. Huh? The Bush Commission just happened, right? This was the second of three planned hearings. The first was in October. The second was this month. In fact the verdicts for the second hearing will be announced this week: Thursday, February 2nd.

What's the purpose of the Bush Commission? It's a citizen's tribunal much like the World Tribunal on Iraq. It gathers testimony, it raises awareness. It does so without the aid of the press, in case you missed that. The New York Times hasn't been interested in covering the tribunal, but they weren't interested in covering the Bertrand Russell World Crimes Tribunal in 1967. If they had been, Americans would have been less shocked when ugly truths about Vietnam were later revealed.

Camilo Mejia, a name well known in this community, in the first hearings of the Bush Commission underscored this with his own testimony about what he saw in Iraq as well as in detailing his Conscientious Objector application:

In that application I spoke about the abuse of prisoners, I wrote about the abuse of prisoners, and this application was submitted to the commanding general of the 3rd Infantry Division which was in Ft. Stewart, Georgia. No investigation was conducted at that time. There was no Abu Ghraib scandal back then.

This is an echo of a time before, a time when it was possible to know what was happening but the press wasn't interested. Which is why we need to be interested. But to underscore a point Mejia made, let's note that Congress was aware of what Mejia saw. Their reaction (in the pre-Abu Ghraib days)? They "declined" and and preferred "to wait for the Pentagon to conduct an investigation."

So what do you gain by being aware of the Bush Commission? You gain information, you gain
insight and you raise your own awareness.

You know that Mejia testified, "We started conducting mission in cities. There's no such thing as a trench line in Iraq. This war is being fought in every corner of that country, not in the desert not in the vallies not in the mountains but next to schools, neighborhoods, mosques."

In the most recent set of hearings (January), independent journalist, Dahr Jamail testifited about "War Crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq committed by US forces, acting on orders from their commander-in-chief, George W. Bush."

We'll focus on some of his remarks regarding Falluja because Dexter Filkins may have won an "award" but he seems to have missed everything that happened in his rah-rah reporting (a journalistic war crime).

Jamail: Collective Punishment. I'll use Falluja for the model city for Bush policy in Iraq. The US caused actions to be taken in Falluja in violation of the laws of war. For example,
targeting by snipers of children and other civilians, targeting of ambulances, the placement of snipers on the roofs of hospitals and prevention of civilians from getting there for medical attention and also illegal weapons used. Article 48 of the Geeneva Conventions states that the basic rule regarding the protection of the civilian population provides QUOTE "in order to ensure respect for and protection of the civilian population and civilian objects the party to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objectives." Article 51 on the protection of the civilian population provides "the civilian population and individual civilians shall enjoy general protection against dangers arising from military operations. To give effect to this protection, the following rules, which are additional to other applicable rules of international law shall be observed in all circumstances.
It also notes the civilian populations, as such, as well as individual civilians shall not be the object of attack. Acts or threats of violence the primary purpose of which is to spread terror among the civilian population are prohibited. It also notes indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. It should also be noted that the US military, again following orders from their commander-in-chief, declared the entire city of Falluja, a city with a population of over 350,000 civilians, a "free fire zone" meaning once that operation began in November of '04 anything in the city was to be targeted by the US military. [. . . ] It should also be noted that approximately 70% of the entire city of Falluja was bombed to the ground during the US assault on that city in November of '04 which left dead estimates of between four and six-thousand civilians. Water, food and medical aid were cut off from Falluja both before and during the seige of that city. This form of collective punishment, which I've seen first hand in Ramadi and Sumara as well has even led the UN to declare in October of last year that this was QUOTE "a flagrant violation of international law.

Barbara Olshansky, who testified at the first installment, focused on two areas in her testimony for the second round in January. Speaking of Alberto Gonzales' involvement in devising the torture loophole, she noted that:

What becomes torture in the eyes of the administration, if they follow this memo, is really only that which brings a person to the brink of complete organ failure and/or death. So everything that they know, in their mind that does not accomplish that end, is not torture. So even the water boarding torture technique where people think they are about to drown and it's done repeatedly [isn't torture] because from the point of the view of the intent of the torturer they know they are not about to bring about the immenent death or organ failure of the individual and so therefore it does not constitute torture. That is the understanding of that memorandum.

So are you interested? You should be.

Speaking on the first day of the second rounds of hearings, Michael Ratner addressed Bully Boy's signing statement of the torture amendment:

It makes three points and I'll paraphrase. First, speaking as the president, 'My authority as commander in chief allows me to do whatever I think is necessary in the war on terror including use torture. Second, the Commander in Chief cannot be checked by Congress. Third, the Commander in Chief cannot be checked by the courts.' There it is. There you have it. That boring stuff I learned, as a junior high school student, about checks and balances or about limited law or about authority under law? Out the window. Gone. In other words, the republic and democracy is over. In Germany, what did they call that? They called that "the fuhrer's law." Why? Because the fuhrer was the law. That's what George Bush is saying here.

Interested? Grasping the importance?

The Bush Commission is something that the community's interested in (and something some members have already been following). We're going to cover it it a series of installment. The plan was to do it in one entry but I'm running behind due to depression over Coretta Scott King's passing. So we'll focus on getting a series of entries up to explain the importance of the commission.

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