Headlines: Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Democracy Now Headlines: CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld; House Weakens Emissions Bill

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Dozens Killed as Sri Lankan Military Bombs Hospital

Sri Lankan government forces have bombed the lone hospital in a northern war zone for the second time in as many days. At least fifteen people were killed and another forty wounded in today’s shelling, one day after at least forty-nine people were killed in the first attack. One of the bombs landed in a hospital ward filled with patients wounded in yesterday’s strike. Human rights groups say the Sri Lankan military is violating a pledge not to shell the tiny area controlled by the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Admin Might Not Release Torture Photos

The Obama administration is wavering on a vow to release several dozen photos depicting the torture and abuse of prisoners in CIA and military jails overseas. Last month, the Justice Department chose not to challenge an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit seeking the photos’ release. But on Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said the administration has “great concern” about the photos and declined to say whether they’ll be kept under wraps.

Senate Panel Holds Hearing on Torture

Lawmakers are holding the first congressional hearing today on the torture of foreign prisoners since last month’s release of Bush administration memos authorizing the torture. A Senate Judiciary subcommittee will hear from witnesses including former FBI agent Ali Soufan and former Condoleezza Rice aide Philip Zelikow. Soufan is expected to challenge Bush administration claims the torture techniques used on foreign prisoners were successful in gaining intelligence. According to ABC News, Soufan will tell lawmakers the interrogation of alleged al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah went awry after the CIA ordered him to follow the torture plan devised by military psychologist and private contractor James Mitchell.

Judge Orders Release of Gitmo Prisoner

A Yemeni national has been ordered released from the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay. On Tuesday, a federal judge said the government has failed to prove twenty-five-year-old Alla Ali Bin Ali Ahmed had ties to al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Ahmed has been jailed at Guantanamo since 2002.

Geithner: Social Security Not “Untouchable”

A new government report is warning the Social Security and Medicare programs are nearing insolvency sooner than predicted. On Tuesday, the Obama administration said the Medicare fund that covers hospital bills for senior citizens could run out of money by the year 2017. And it said the Social Security trust fund could be depleted by the year 2037, four years earlier than previous warnings. Republicans have long used the warnings of Social Security insolvency to push for its privatization. But the figures are controversial, in part because they fail to account for Treasury Department loans on Social Security’s estimated $2.5 trillion surplus. Economists have also long pointed out Social Security could remain solvent by minimal tax adjustments. On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner indicated the White House would be open to Republican attempts to undo Social Security, saying, “The President explicitly rejects the notion that Social Security is untouchable politically.”

Afghan Commission Reports Toll of 140 in US Attack

In Afghanistan, a government commission has concluded 140 civilians were killed in last week’s US bombing of two villages in Farah province. If confirmed, it would be the worst single mass killing of Afghan civilians by US forces since the invasion of 2001. Surviving relatives have begun accepting compensation payments, receiving $2,000 for family members killed and $1,000 for the wounded.

Army Sgt. Charged for Killing of 5 Comrades

In Iraq, an Army sergeant has been charged in Monday’s killing of five other American service members at a military base near Baghdad. Sergeant John Russell faces five counts of premeditated murder and one count of aggravated assault. Military spokesperson Major General David Perkins said Russell had previously had his gun taken away and had opened fire at a clinic where he’d been urged to receive counseling.

Maj. Gen. David Perkins: “The commander of the suspect, that being Sergeant Russell, had taken his weapon away. He had experienced or had been referred to counseling approximately the week beforehand. And through that process, his commander had determined that it would be best for him not to have a weapon. The suspect was apprehended outside the clinic shortly after shots were heard.”

Russell is on his third tour of duty in Iraq.

Saberi Addresses Media Following Release from Iranian Jail

In Iran, the Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi has spoken out for the first time since her release. Saberi was freed on Monday after being held since January on charges of being an American spy.

Roxana Saberi: “I’m, of course, very happy to be free and to be with my parents again, and I want to thank all the people all over the world, which I’m just finding out about, really, who, whether they knew me or not, helped me and my family during this period. I don’t have any specific plans for the moment; I just want to be with my parents and my friends and to relax.”

Ending Boycott, US Wins Seat on UN Human Rights Council

At the United Nations, the US has won a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. The vote puts an end to a boycott started by the Bush administration over the council’s criticism of the Israeli government. After the vote, UN Ambassador Susan Rice welcomed the United States’ new seat but echoed Bush administration concerns.

UN Ambassador Susan Rice: “While we recognize that the Human Rights Council has been a flawed body that has not lived up to its potential, we are looking forward to working from within with a broad cross-section of member states to strengthen and reform the Human Rights Council and enable it to live up to the vision that was crafted when it was created.”

Tillman Parents Calls for Review of McChrystal’s Role in Cover-Up of Son’s Death

The parents of the slain Army Ranger and professional football player Pat Tillman are calling for a review of the new US commander in Afghanistan’s role in the cover-up of their son’s death. The military initially said Tillman was killed by Taliban fighters but later conceded he died by friendly fire. Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, named this week to replace General David McKiernan, has been accused of urging top generals to ignore the evidence surrounding Tillman’s death. In a statement, Pat Tillman’s mother, Mary Tillman, called for “careful scrutiny” of Lt. Gen. McChrystal at upcoming confirmation hearings.

House Weakens Emissions Bill

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have weakened a landmark greenhouse gas emissions bill in what they call a necessary move to win broader support. The measure would cap US emissions at a certain level and allow polluters to buy pollution credits that would ostensibly cancel out their emissions. On Tuesday, bill sponsor and House Energy Committee chair Henry Waxman said the bill’s emissions cap has been reduced from 20 to 17 percent, and its required percentage for drawing electricity from renewable sources dropped from 25 to 15 percent. Waxman said the reductions were necessary to win the support of Democrats backed by coal and other major industries.

NY State Assembly Backs Gay Marriage

Here in New York, the State Assembly has approved a measure that would legalize same-sex marriage. The vote was 89-to-52. The bill now goes to the State Senate, where it faces a tougher challenge.

$12B in Withdrawn Madoff Funds Could Be Retrieved

The New York Times is reporting investors withdrew some $12 billion from accounts at Bernie Madoff’s firm last year. Half of that $12 billion was taken just three months before Madoff was arrested in December on allegations of operating a Ponzi scheme. Madoff is currently in jail awaiting sentencing next month. Under federal law, the trustee handling Madoff’s bankruptcy can sue the investors to retrieve the money they withdrew.

CODEPINK Protesters Confront Rumsfeld

Video has emerged showing two protesters confronting former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at the White House Correspondents’ dinner on Saturday night. As Rumsfeld entered the building, Desiree Fairooz and Medea Benjamin of CODEPINK were there to greet him.

Desiree Fairooz: “War criminal! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! Arrest the war criminal! I wish I had some handcuffs right now to arrest this man! He is responsible for the death of millions of people! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! War criminal! Arrest this man! War criminal! You’re protecting a man responsible for the deaths of millions of Iraqis! Shame on you! Shame on you! Shame on you!”

After Desiree Fairooz was taken away by security, Medea Benjamin continued to walk alongside Rumsfeld down a staircase. She announced his arrival to a crowded room by again calling him a “war criminal.”

Medea Benjamin: “Here comes the war criminal, Donald Rumsfeld! War criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! Donald Rumsfeld, war criminal! He killed people in Iraq! War criminal! There’s the war criminal! War criminal!”

Torture Memo Author Protested in Hawaii

In Hawaii, more than fifty people gathered outside a federal court building in Honolulu to protest the Bush administration torture memo author Jay Bybee. The demonstration was held as Bybee heard cases in his position as a judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. The group World Can’t Wait has called for protests against Bybee in every city where he hears cases.

Israel Arrests Journalist Amira Hass

In Israel, the Israeli journalist Amira Hass was arrested Tuesday after returning from the Gaza Strip. Hass has been reporting from Gaza for several years. She was arrested on charges of residing in an enemy state and ordered to stay out of Gaza for thirty days.

Prosecutors Win Conviction on Third Try in Sears Tower Case

And in Miami, five defendants have been convicted of a plot to blow up Chicago’s Sears Tower. One of the defendants was acquitted. It was the government’s third attempt to convict the so-called “Liberty City Six” after two mistrials. The case has been criticized for lacking any physical evidence and relying on an FBI informant who reportedly devised the plot for which the defendants were convicted.

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Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy

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Andrew Cockburn’s Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy is an illuminating account of the career of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Cockburn examines Rumsfeld’s career from his campaign for Congress in the 1960s, to his role in the White Houses of Ford and Nixon, and up to his more well known position in the Bush administration.

Cockburn portrays Rumsfeld as a “ruthless little bastard” showing repeatedly how Rumsfeld only looked out for himself and the interests of those most loyal to him (assuming that they fit within his goals). Cockburn shows how Rumsfeld was not afraid to make enemies and frequently orchestrated leaks, set officials against each other, and was willing to withhold information to achieve his desired ends within the Nixon and Ford White Houses. At the center of this was Rumsfeld’s so-called “charm,” through which he was able to fend of queries of the press and distort the truth with impunity, seeing reality as nothing more than an unfortunate obstacle. Cockburn explains how Rumsfeld frequently sought aggressive military strategies and aimed to position himself for the presidency, although his only serious attempt at securing the Republican presidential nomination failed miserably. Rumsfeld’s role in the Regan administration as the United States’ representative to Baghdad–and his assurance that the United States would look the way regarding Iraq’s use of chemical weapons–tied Rumsfeld to the future of Iraq even before the 2003 invasion. Similarly, when Cockburn explains how Rumsfeld was seeking deals with the Iraqi government on behalf of US corporations, it makes it clear where Rumsfeld’s priorities lie.

In between his role in the Nixon and Ford White Houses and his role in the Regan administration, Rumsfeld served as CEO the pharmaceutical company G.D. Searle. This has been largely ignored by the press, but Cockburn details Rumsfeld’s work as head of the company. Rumsfeld was hired to help the struggling company and he quickly increased its profits by slashing its workforce and selling off assets. His actions earned him a reputation as a “tough” manager, while his work in getting the company’s aspartame sweetener approved for sale showed how Rumsfeld was able to leverage his government connections to make himself and G.D. Searle millions. When aspartame was first suggested, numerous studies showed that it could potentially cause brain cancer and other serious health effects. Despite this, G.D. Searle lobbied aggressively for FDA approval of the sweetener, with cash contributions from the Searle family mixed with personal lobbying from Rumsfeld to gain approval for the drug. However, aside from the success of gaining approval for aspartame, Cockburn describes Rumsfeld as a failure as a manager. He explains how Rumsfeld frequently lost himself in the minutia of decisions on which he really did not need to be involved, drawing the ire of Searle’s employees.

Before gaining his position in the Bush White House and his media prominence following 9/11, Rumsfeld was heavily involved in the creation of a program known as Continuity of Government (COG) that was setup to maintain functioning of the government in the aftermath of nuclear war. His involvement often consisted of participating in “war games,” in which sources consulted by Cockburn reveal that Rumsfeld acted in a bellicose manner and frequently chose maximum retaliation as his strategy–frequently overriding the concerns of diplomats and others.

This is not surprising when one considers Rumsfeld’s role in the Iraq War as a prime architect of the war. There is little that can be said about Rumsfeld’s role that has not been said elsewhere, but Cockburn does an ample job of outlining Rumsfeld’s role. He explains that the Pentagon had intelligence before the war that there were no weapons of mass destruction, but it was ignored by the Pentagon and the Bush administration and even misused by the administration to build support for the war. Similarly, Cockburn explains how Rumsfeld inserted himself into the military planning of the war–against the protestation of his generals–and advocated for a significantly smaller force than what was being requested by the military. In this case, it is no surprise that the occupation has fared as poorly as it has, although Cockburn makes it clear that he is not certain a larger force would have curtailed the insurgency. Throughout the post-9/11 period to his resignation, Rumsfeld maintained a direct line of communication to President Bush and had considerable influence over the President. Cockburn also convincingly points out that Rumsfeld had a major role in sanctioning torture at both Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.

Rumsfeld is an interesting book not only in that it offers a number of facts and insights that opponents of the Iraq War and the Bush administration are probably unaware of, but also in that it provides a basis on which readers can develop a more sophisticated analysis of power dynamics in Washington. Rumsfeld’s career–from junior Congressman, to Secretary of Defense, to corporate CEO, “private intellectual,” and back to Secretary of Defense, shows the amazing continuity in power in Washington DC. Rumsfeld maintained considerable influence in Washington DC even when he did not hold a government position, moreover, many of the people with whom he frequently associated maintained similar positions. These politicians represent the elite strata of society and the ease at which people shift from government to private sector makes it clear who’s interest the government seeks to develop. Such a realization leads should lead readers to the conclusion that while Rumsfeld may have been a particularly “bad” Secretary of Defense, the problem is far bigger than Rumsfeld or this administration and is instead a matter of overthrowing an entrenched system of militarism and the dominance of government by the elites in society.

Andrew Cockburn, Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy, (Scribner, 2007).

Rumsfeld should be Tried for War Crimes, Gates should not be confirmed

According to a growing number of human rights groups, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld should be tried for war crimes due to his actions while head of the Department of Defense. However, these charges have been ignored by the corporate media, as has the questionable record of Rumsfeld’s likely replacement, former CIA Director Robert Gates.

The news media has been framing the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld as a “sea of change” in Washington. However, all the coverage of Rumsfeld’s announcement omitted any serious review or investigation of his role in War Crimes during his tenure as head of the Department of Defense (DoD). On November 14, the Center for Constitutional Rights will file a War Crimes Complaint against Donald Rumsfeld in a German court. The complaint is brought on behalf of 12 torture victims consisting of 11 Iraqi citizens who were held at Abu Ghraib prison and one Guantánamo detainee and charges numerous high ranking US officials for “authorizing war crimes.” This effort is part of a growing campaign by groups like Human Rights First and War Crimes Watch (a new website devoted to educating people on war crimes and holding those responsible accountable) to hold Rumsfeld accountable for his actions.

The local news media’s response was right in line with the national media in that there was no mention of Rumsfeld’s role in war crimes. In fact, besides running comments from Bush and Rumsfeld the only other voices heard were those of Senator Carl Levin and Representatives Pete Hoekstra and Vern Ehlers. Hoekstra was quoted in the Grand Rapids Press saying he was concerned about the troops. Ehlers responded more directly to the resignation by saying “’It was more than time to get new perspectives in there,’ said Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids. ‘That’s not saying anything against Rumsfeld. He’s a very capable guy. Six years is a long time in a job like that and it really can wear on you.’”

Bush’s nominee to replace Rumsfeld, former CIA director Robert Gates, was also part of the resignation story, but like the war crimes omission for Rumsfeld there was no critical assessment of Gates. Gates was CIA Director under George Bush Sr., a member of the intelligence community in the 1980s, and was implicated in the Iran Contra scandal and the illegal weapons trafficking to Iraq during their war with Iran in the 1980s (see declassified US government documents online at the National Security Archive) Investigative reporter Robert Parry, who broke the Iran/Contra scandal for Newsweek, provides an excellent analysis of Gates’ record in previous administrations as does James Ridgeway writing for Mothers Jones Magazine.

The local Grand Rapids anti-war group ACTIVATE sent out a media release today in an attempt to have these perspectives on Rumsfeld and Gates part of the public discussion, calling on local media outlets to report on both the war crimes lawsuit against Rumsfeld as well as Gate’s history.