30 September 2009

Security Tapes Shoot Blanks : Oklahoma City Bombing Revisited

Screen grab from security video after the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 shows people moving through nearby building. Photo from the FBI via The Oklahoman / AP.

Gaps in security tapes:
Revisiting the Oklahoma City Bombing

By Sherman DeBrosse / The Rag Blog / October 1, 2009

The Associated Press reported on September 28 that attorney Jesse Trentadue had obtained through the Freedom of Information Act security camera tapes of the vicinity around the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building at the time of the terrible bombing in 1995.

Trentadue failed to obtain some CIA documents he sought. The tapes came from the security system of neighboring buildings as the FBI never claimed it had tapes from the Murrah Building itself. Trentedue found that the tapes had blank points just before the time of the explosion, and he thought the blanks could mean the tapes were edited.

Trentadue pursued the case because he believes his brother Kenneth was murdered by guards in prison because some believed he was John Doe #2, Timothy Mc Veigh’s accomplice. However, Kenney was never officially a target in the bombing investigation. Jesse Trentadue thought the FBI linked his brother to the bombing because he had a tattoo on his left arm.

Prisoner Kenneth Trentadue was found dead in his federal prison cell in Oklahoma City in August, 1995. He had been pulled over on June 10, 1995, and was held for a parole violation. The body was covered with bruises and blood. The Bureau of Prisons and the FBI prevented Medical Examiner Fred Jordan from conducting a complete examination and pressured him to drop the matter. Trentadue’s death was ruled a suicide.

In 1997, Oklahoma Republican Senator Don Nichols said prison guards told him they were ordered not to talk about the death of Kenney Trentadue. In the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orin Hatch said it looked like Kenny was murdered. The Bureau of Prisons awarded the family $1,100,000 because its handling of the matter inflicted pain on them.

On April 19, 1995, the Alfred E. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City was bombed. The generally accepted account of the Oklahoma City bombing is that one man, with some assistance from an accomplice pulled it off. It was such a horrible event --costing 168 lives -- that none of us at the time could bear to think that there could have been something wrong with the official account.

Timothy McVeigh was quickly apprehended and labeled the main bomber. There was a brief search for the second man who was seen with McVeigh just before the explosion --John Doe #2. While still claiming to search for him, the head of the investigations ordered other agents to cease looking for him.

McVeigh’s Army buddy Terry Nichols, who was far away in Herington, Kansas at the time was arrested as an accomplice. Nichols admitted to helping to construct a bomb on April 18.

The prosecution’s supporting testimony came from Michael Fortier and his wife Lori after months of badgering and intimidation. The testimony was also compromised by the effects of drug use on their memories. Lori Fortier rehearsed her testimony with the FBI for four days before she went on the stand. She was granted immunity for her testimony, and Michael was to serve less than 11 years for not warning authorities about a crime he knew was about to be committed.

Some of the witnesses described a man who did not look like McVeigh renting the Ryder truck. McVeigh’s fingerprints did not turn up on the truck or the counter of the body shop where he allegedly rented it. Some of the workers say that two men came in to rent the truck, and that one of looked a lot like Tod Bunting, who was with McVeigh at Fort Riley.

Bunting later said he rented a truck at the same place a day later, but this was never pursued. Some experts think Bunting looked a lot like the John Doe- 2 composite. Some who believe there were two trucks, aside from the one Bunting said he rented, note that a second truck was rented a week before McVeigh allegedly rented one.

Stephen Jones, attorney for Timothy McVeigh and a former Nixon aide, was certain that McVeigh exaggerated his own role in the bombing to protect others. The bomber repeatedly said he alone should suffer so that the “revolution” could go on. Sixteen times the prosecution told the court it was not withholding any evidence from the defense. Then three weeks before the execution, it turned over some additional material.

Jones was ultimately able to prove that the FBI withheld hundreds of pages of documents from the defense. Eventually the bureau admitted to withholding over 4,000 pages. The Associated Press reported that 75% of the files used in the McVeigh trial were at least partially sealed. Jones filed a Petition of Mandamus to get access to some of those files, but the Appeals Court denied him on grounds of national security.

Jones suspected that McVeigh got some assistance from white supremacists and thought it possible that Nichols could have had a tie to Islamic extremists in the Philippines. A number of witnesses saw McVeigh with men who looked like they came from the Middle East. Jayna Davis, a former KFOR-TV reporter has amassed much evidence along these lines. Davis and her partner turned up the fact that McVeigh associated with a number of men from the Middle East. It cannot be established if John Doe #2 existed or if he was from the Middle East.

Some experts thought it would take from four to eight men to pull off the Oklahoma City bombing. Immediately after the event, police circulated composites of two men seen together 15 minutes before the blast. The people who saw more than one suspect were never called before the grand jury.

Craig Roberts wrote that a federal law enforcement official told him that the bombing was about the records of Mountain Aviation, which had operated at the Mena, Arkansas, Airport, and allegedly moved drugs. He has a fireman witness to support the report that records were removed from the building the next day. He had another law enforcement source that claimed money for the operation was provided by a Mexican national with previous CIA ties, who might have been working then for the Columbian drug cartel. He, like this writer, found all of the pieces of the story difficult to fit together.

Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City after 1995 bombing.

How much help?

McVeigh said he alone mixed all that fertilizer. And fuel oil. It is hard to believe one man could have done that. Charles Farley testified to seeing four men with McVeigh near Geary State Lake the day before the explosion. The accounts of the explosion raise a question about whether there was a second bomb in the building, and explosives experts, including Brigadier Benton Partin, are on record that the fertilizer bomb was not powerful enough to do the damage attributed to it.

It could not have been the only source of damage. It would have been impossible to destroy a large concrete pillar deep in the building. The general thought that demolition charges on some pillars would be necessary. The general is a self-described Christian who hates Communism. For four years, he was chairman of the Republican Party of Fairfax County, Virginia. The FBI interviewed him but ignored his carefully framed comments.

Dr. Roger Raubach, a physical chemist who worked at Stanford, agreed with Partin and said he didn’t care if there were a semi-trailer with 20 tons of ammonium nitrate, “it wouldn't do the damage we saw there." Testimony of people who were inside the building when the explosions occurred includes recollections that seem to support the general’s view.

Films of the explosion showed two smoke plumes, one outside the building and one inside. Allegedly two tons of ammonium nitrate was used in the McVeigh bomb, but the smell of ammonia was not present at the scene. The truck was 30 or 40 feet away from the building. Witnesses testified to a tremendous flash and feeling great amounts of static electricity, all characteristics of nuclear and sub nuclear blasts. The Feds demolished the building on May 23. Mc Veigh had military training and would have known that ANFO was not effective in destroying steel and concrete.

Terrance Yeakey, an Oklahoma Police Sergeant, was the first officer to get to the Murrah Building at the time of the explosion. He was certain he saw a flash within and that windows were blown out. He called his former wife to say, “it’s not what they are saying it was.” He also overheard ATF agents reveal something else that convinced him the official view of the explosion was very wrong.

Three days before he was to receive the department’s Medal of Valor in 1996 Yeakey’s body was found in a field, half a mile from his car. His arms and wrists were slit as well as both jugular veins. There was a downward gunshot wound in the head. When the car door was opened, blood ran out. The death was declared a suicide. No autopsy was done, and the car was not dusted for prints. There was no investigation. But the Medical Examiner did note that there were no “stellate” wounds, meaning a silencer prevented the head from being marked by escaping gas. The mortician found multiple rope burns. Yeakey’s notes on the bombing were never found.

The media reported that two unexplained bombs were removed from the building. There is also a FEMA memo on this subject. CNN reporter Suzanne Sealy told viewers that one bomb was found on the east side of the building and that the FBI sent people a few blocks away.

Yeakey’s former wife revealed that the sergeant shared a safe deposit box with Dr. Charles Chumley, with whom he worked during the rescue effort. After that they conferred several times about what had happened. Chumley and Yeakey had refused to turn in false reports as requested by federal officers. Chumley, a pilot, went down in a crash in August.

Far right white extremists

There is a dispute about the security tapes at the Murrah building. The FBI says the tapes show nothing, but a Secret Service memo claims the tapes could have shown accomplices. The “Major,” one of the men at the enclave, contacted McVeigh at Fort Bragg before he left the army. McVeigh was being recruited to gather intelligence on right-wing groups like the Klan and the Aryan Nation. McVeigh was deeply disappointed at the time that he had not been taken into Special Forces.

David Paul Hammer, a death row inmate, has a manuscript allegedly containing things McVeigh told him. The FBI tried to interview him before he was executed, but the interviews did not take place due to disagreements about who could be present. It claims that McVeigh and Nichols were helped by people connected to Elohim City, a Christian enclave in northeastern Oklahoma where Strassmeir was in charge of security. Mc Veigh and Nichols drove from Fayette, Arkansas to Elohim City, on October 12, 1993.

The enclave was run by a Reverend Robert Millar, 71, a Christian Identity minister. His church believes that white Anglo-Saxons are the chosen people and the descendants of the lost tribes of Israel. Three of the men there had ties to the military. Two of those men, Richard Guthrie and Pete Langan, and McVeigh, robbed banks to raise money for the community and to arm it. (The FBI probably thought Guthrie and Kenney Trentadue were the same person.)

Apparently the men McVeigh met at Elohim City went only by code names. One of them was “the major” who contacted him at Fort Bragg. McVeigh called Strassmeir “Andy the Kraut.” Elohim City constituted 1,000 acres and was home to racists, Neo-Nazis, right-wingers, and just plain criminals.

Danny Coulson, director of the FBI’s Anti-Terrorism Task Force checked into an Oklahoma City hotel on April 19, hours before the attack. Attorney General Janet Reno in 1994 established VAAPCON, an operation to learn if right-wing Christian groups and militias were capable of violence, and Coulson was part of that operation. However, the FBI said it had no prior knowledge the Murrah Building would be attacked. There is an Embassy Hotel receipt, but Coulson wrote four years later that he and his wife were house-hunting in Fort Worth that day.

Transcripts on a December 8, 1997, “in chambers” conference among Judge Richard P. Matsch, Nichols’ attorneys and Justice Department lawyers reveals that the judge never read the file on what ATF informant Carol Howe told her FBI handler, Angela Finley. She said that the Elohim City (City of God in Hebrew) community was plotting against the U.S. government. She described its inhabitants as racists.

Two days after the attack she talked to Finley about their plans to blow something up and mentioned Dennis Mahon, a member of White Aryan Resistance, as her source, and added that he talked about Andreas Strassmeir having made three trips to scout out the Murrah Building. She had also travelled with Reverend Millar. Howe was reinterviewed and confirmed Finley’s written report.

Howe was arrested for making a bomb threat when the prosecutors learned that Stephen Jones, Nichols’ attorney, was going to call her as a witness. She was acquitted; Judge Matsch issued a ruling that prevented the defense from using her file.

Agent Peter Rickel admitted in open court that Millar had been a paid informant since 1994. When he spilled the beans, a senior agent bolted the room for some reason. This means there were three informants within the compound, including Howe and Strassmeir.

Not long after the bombing, the FBI arrested the “Midwestern Bank Robbers,” men associated with the bank robberies -- in all 22 heists. They were part of the Aryan Republican Army. Its headquarters was a safe house in eastern Kansas, and Elohim City was one of many outposts.

Richard Wayne Snell, a neo-Nazi leader, was executed on the day the Murrah Building was attacked in 1995. He had been involved in an earlier plot to attack the building and told guards that Murrah would be attacked on the day of his execution. There were people at Elohim City who were sympathetic to Snell and knew about his prediction.

There are several leads that could point to the involvement of Islamic forces, particularly the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, with the bombing of the Murrah Building. Should this be revealed, it would be clear that people we helped in Afghanistan repaid our support with this terrible deed. That is reason enough to ignore these leads

Just as the far right militant organizations are filled with government informers, it is likely that there are also informers within the Islamic groups. Gene Wheaton, a former CIA agent, noted: “Every major Middle-Eastern terrorist organization is under surveillance and control of the intelligence agencies in the U.S. None of these guys move around as freely as they'd like you to think." Exploring the involvement of the white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Islamicists would eventually turn up information that federal agents knew about the planned attack and somehow failed to prevent it.

It should be noted that federal moles are not informed of one another’s presence. So they do not compare notes. It is possible that Hussain al-Hussaini of Oklahoma City was a federal mole and even now sees the tragedy simply as a sting gone wrong and something to keep quiet about so that other informants and operations can be protected.

In the last analysis, these people probably had very little grasp of the big picture. People above them must digest their reports and make intelligent decisions. What they were thinking, we will never know. We do know that days before the explosion William Colby told a friend that the right wing militias must be discredited.

He wrote: "I watched as the Anti-War Movement rendered it impossible for this country to conduct or win the Vietnam War. I tell you, dear friend, that this Militia and Patriot movement in which, as an attorney, you have become one of the centerpieces, is far more significant and far more dangerous for America than the Anti-War movement ever was, if it is not intelligently dealt with. And I really mean this.” He must have realized that the bumbling and bloody assault at Waco strengthened the militias and their allies.

“Two days after the event, FBI director Louis Freeh told the Senate Judiciary Committee, "Most of the militia organizations around the country are not, in our view, threatening or dangerous." Go figure!

On July 16, 2005, the McCurtain Daily Gazette reported that the Elohim City Christian fundamentalists were involved in the bombing. Mike German, a 17 year FBI man who led the investigation, resigned when he learned that the Bush Justice Department would not follow this lead.

Sketch of John Doe #2.

Nichols and Al Qaeda

The travels of Nichols have received too little attention. Usually accompanied by his second wife, Nichols travelled to the Philippines about 16 times. FBI 302 reports and investigators hired by Jones learned that Nichols met with Abu Sayyaf people, Philippine Muslim extremists, in late1993 or early 1994. Nichols is known to have made telephone calls to Cebu city when his wife was not there. The Nichols lived in Cebu City for a time in 1993. Also present were Ramzi Yousef, Abdul Hakim Murad, and Wali Khan Amin Shah.

In 1996, Edwin Angeles, military strategist for Abu Sayyaf, surrendered to the Philippine government and said that the Oklahoma City bombing was discussed at that meeting. He was subsequently killed. According to his widow, Elmina -- his third Muslim wife --Nichols was a deep penetration agent for the Philippine government. She said the meeting took place every day for a week in a warehouse in 1994 and that there were two Americans present, Terry the Farmer and another unnamed person. They discussed blowing up buildings. The dying woman said the money came from Yousef. She claimed to have heard Edwin discussing the role of Yousef as a representative of the Iraqis with a Philippine soldier.

In March 2008, Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher became interested in the tie between Terry Nichols and Ramsay Yousef and complained that the Bush administration has obstructed his efforts. Richard Clarke, former NSC counterterrorism director, has said the feds have not been able to disprove the Yousef-Nichols connection. Both Yousef and Nichols are now in federal prisons.

In late 1994, Nichols’ first wife discovered that he had $20,000 in stash and precious metals worth at least $60,000. Like McVeigh, Nichols came out of the army with a deep hatred of the U.S. government. McVeigh wanted to become an arms dealer but he told people his trips to the Philippines were to bring back little paper butterflies to sell in the U.S.

Cary Gagan, a government informant, attended a meeting at the Western Motel in Los Vegas on May, 1994 also attended by five people from the Middle East, two Columbians, and Terry Nichols. At the time he was moving drugs from Mexico to Denver for two Arabs, Omar and Ahmed, who were at the meeting.

The men took some cocaine and then moved to the Players Club, an apartment complex in Henderson, where they discussed drug dealing. They also discussed blowing up a federal building in Denver with a truck painted to look like a mail truck. On January 14, 1995, Gagan picked up the truck in Golden. It had about thirty duffel bags with ammonium nitrate. He took the truck to the location he was given and informed the FBI where it was and asked for instructions. The FBI did not recontact him, and he went home via bus.

At a March 17, 1995, meeting with his employers in Greenwood Colorado, he saw architectural drawings of the Alfred Murrah Building. There was a new figure at the meeting, whom Gagan suspected was an agent. He warned the FBI about what he learned and the bureau seemed disinterested. On March 27 and 28 he called the US Marshal’s office in Denver, but his calls were not returned. Then he sent a short letter to Tina Rowe, the head of that office. After the bombing, Rowe told KFOR-TV (Oklahoma City) that the letter had not been received.

The feds said Gagan had a history of mental illness, even though he had a letter of immunity on Justice Department letterhead. The effort to discredit him was led by Lawrence Myers, a journalist with likely ties to the government. He had previously succeeded in discrediting a federal grand juror who was viewed as a problem and played a major role in the conviction of a former CIA agent for allegedly looking for someone to shoot his son.

Jesse Trentadue thought McVeigh’s contact was Andreas Strassmeir, a former German intelligence officer who is thought to have worked for the CIA and German intelligence. In 1992, he was arrested for driving without a license, but all sorts of pressure was brought to bear to get the charges dropped. He appears to have infiltrated a number of right-wing militias.

Terry Nichols said McVeigh had been promised protection in a safe house. Strassmeir, from his home in Berlin, said he met McVeigh once and he denied any connections with intelligence operations. FBI teletypes verify that Timothy had connections with Strassmeir and Elohim City, where the German carried out military training for white supremacists.

McVeigh failed a psychological examination to get into Special Forces, but many thought he was the ideal soldier and was leadership material. After he left the Army, something seemed to have happened to him, he was cold and emotionally spent. Yet he was considered a good guard.

While visiting a friend in Michigan, he said something strange. McVeigh said the Army implanted a miniature subcutaneous transmitter on him to keep track of him. He said it hurt him when he sat down. It is known that the military had been experimenting with telemeterics from at least 1968. Dr. Carl Sanders, who has developed military biochips, claims they were used in the first Iraq War. Caspan Advanced Technology Center was working on artificial intelligence and was engaged in microscopic electronic engineering.

The sad fact is that the military has a history of using soldiers for experiments of this sort. After his arrest, McVeigh presented himself, according to an Oklahoma Assistant Attorney General, as “a polite young man who gave polite, cooperative answers to every question. It was like the dutiful soldier," Gibson said. "Emotions don't come into play, right and wrong don't come into play. What happens next doesn't come into play… his mood was so level, it was unnatural. I looked at him and realized I felt no repulsion or fear. It was like there was an absence of feeling. He exuded nothing.”

In a February 9, 2007, affidavit, Nichols said McVeigh was “apparently” being directed by Nichols and claimed in 2007 that McVeigh was being controlled by Larry Potts, a ranking FBI official. Nichols said Potts manipulated McVeigh to change the bomb target. Documents to support his claims have been sealed. Nichols said he wrote, offering to help John Ashcroft, but received no reply. Nichols also claims that the bomb used was very different and much more sophisticated than the device he and McVeigh built.

The claim that McVeigh was somehow connected to the government might have some merit. It is known that McVeigh claimed that he had done some special black missions for the Army, and there is much evidence that people like him are often recruited for intelligence work as soon as they leave the military. Before leaving Fort Bragg, McVeigh said a Major contacted him about doing intelligence work for the government by infiltrating right-wing militias.

There may be a parallel to the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993. It is now clear that the FBI was using an Egyptian double agent to teach followers of the Blind Shaik’s men how to make bombs. The agency actually provided the materials. When its agent warned that arrests should be made immediately, the FBI hesitated, wanting to gather more information. Perhaps Oklahoma City is another example of bad timing -- a sting gone terribly wrong."

[Sherman DeBrosse is the pseudonym for a retired history teacher. Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go here.]

The Rag Blog

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Gore Vidal: Pessimistic About Prospects for the U.S.

Gore Vidal in his colonial home in the Hollywood Hills. He is one of America's most significant writers and social critic. Photo: Source.

Gore Vidal: ‘We’ll have a dictatorship soon in the U.S.’
By Tim Teeman / September 30, 2009

The grand old man of letters Gore Vidal claims America is ‘rotting away’ — and don’t expect Barack Obama to save it

A conversation with Gore Vidal unfolds at his pace. He answers questions imperiously, occasionally playfully, with a piercing, lethal dryness. He is 83 and in a wheelchair (a result of hypothermia suffered in the war, his left knee is made of titanium). But he can walk (“Of course I can”) and after a recent performance of Mother Courage at London’s National Theatre he stood to deliver an anti-war speech to the audience.

How was his friend Fiona Shaw in the title role? “Very good.” Where did they meet? Silence. The US? “Well, it wasn’t Russia.” What’s he writing at the moment? “It’s a little boring to talk about. Most writers seem to do little else but talk about themselves and their work, in majestic terms.” He means self-glorifying? “You’ve stumbled on the phrase,” he says, regally enough. “Continue to use it.”

Vidal is sitting in the Connaught Hotel in Mayfair, where he has been coming to stay for 60 years. He is wearing a brown suit jacket, brown jumper, tracksuit bottoms; his white hair twirled into a Tintin-esque quiff and with his hooded eyes, delicate yet craggy features and arch expression, he looks like Quentin Crisp, but accessorised with a low, lugubrious growl rather than camp lisp.

He points to an apartment opposite the hotel where Churchill stayed during the Second World War, as Downing Street was “getting hammered by the Nazis. The crowds would cheer him from the street, he knew great PR.” In a flash, this memory reminds you of the swathe of history Vidal has experienced with great intimacy: he was friends with JFK, fought in the war, his father Gene, an Olympic decathlete and aeronautics teacher, founded TWA among other airlines and had a relationship with Amelia Earhart. (Vidal first flew and landed a plane when he was 10.) He was a screenwriter for MGM in the dying days of the studio system, toyed with being a politician, he has written 24 novels and is hailed as one of the world’s greatest essayists.

He has crossed every boundary, I say. “Crashed many barriers,” he corrects me.

Last year he famously switched allegiance from Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama during the Democratic nomination process for president. Now, he reveals, he regrets his change of heart. How’s Obama doing? “Dreadfully. I was hopeful. He was the most intelligent person we’ve had in that position for a long time. But he’s inexperienced. He has a total inability to understand military matters. He’s acting as if Afghanistan is the magic talisman: solve that and you solve terrorism.” America should leave Afghanistan, he says. “We’ve failed in every other aspect of our effort of conquering the Middle East or whatever you want to call it.” The “War on Terror” was “made up”, Vidal says. “The whole thing was PR, just like ‘weapons of mass destruction’. It has wrecked the airline business, which my father founded in the 1930s. He’d be cutting his wrists. Now when you fly you’re both scared to death and bored to death, a most disagreeable combination.”

His voice strengthens. “One thing I have hated all my life are LIARS [he says that with bristling anger] and I live in a nation of them. It was not always the case. I don’t demand honour, that can be lies too. I don’t say there was a golden age, but there was an age of general intelligence. We had a watchdog, the media.” The media is too supine? “Would that it was. They’re busy preparing us for an Iranian war.” He retains some optimism about Obama “because he doesn’t lie. We know the fool from Arizona [as he calls John McCain] is a liar. We never got the real story of how McCain crashed his plane [in 1967 near Hanoi, North Vietnam] and was held captive.”

Vidal originally became pro-Obama because he grew up in “a black city” (meaning Washington), as well as being impressed by Obama’s intelligence. “But he believes the generals. Even Bush knew the way to win a general was to give him another star. Obama believes the Republican Party is a party when in fact it’s a mindset, like Hitler Youth, based on hatred — religious hatred, racial hatred. When you foreigners hear the word ‘conservative’ you think of kindly old men hunting foxes. They’re not, they’re fascists.”

Another notable Obama mis-step has been on healthcare reform. “He f***ed it up. I don’t know how because the country wanted it. We’ll never see it happen.” As for his wider vision: “Maybe he doesn’t have one, not to imply he is a fraud. He loves quoting Lincoln and there’s a great Lincoln quote from a letter he wrote to one of his generals in the South after the Civil War. ‘I am President of the United States. I have full overall power and never forget it, because I will exercise it’. That’s what Obama needs — a bit of Lincoln’s chill.” Has he met Obama? “No,” he says quietly, “I’ve had my time with presidents.” Vidal raises his fingers to signify a gun and mutters: “Bang bang.” He is referring to the possibility of Obama being assassinated. “Just a mysterious lone gunman lurking in the shadows of the capital,” he says in a wry, dreamy way.

Vidal now believes, as he did originally, Clinton would be the better president. “Hillary knows more about the world and what to do with the generals. History has proven when the girls get involved, they’re good at it. Elizabeth I knew Raleigh would be a good man to give a ship to.”The Republicans will win the next election, Vidal believes; though for him there is little difference between the parties. “Remember the coup d’etat of 2000 when the Supreme Court fixed the selection, not election, of the stupidest man in the country, Mr Bush.”

Vidal says forcefully that he wished he’d never moved back to the US to live in Hollywood, from his clifftop home in Ravello, Italy, in 2000. His partner of 53 years, Howard Austen, who died in 2003, collated a lifetime’s-span of pictures of Vidal, for a new book out this autumn, Gore Vidal: Snapshots in History’s Glare (an oddly clunky title). The cover shows what a beautiful young man Vidal was, although his stare is as hawkish as it is today.

He observes presidential office-holders balefully. “The only one I knew well was Kennedy, but he didn’t impress me as a good president. It’s like asking, ‘What do I think of my brother?’ It’s complicated. I’d known him all my life and I liked him to the end, but he wrecked his chances with the Bay of Pigs and Suez crises, and because everyone was so keen to elect Bobby once Jack had gone, lies started to be told about him — that he was the greatest and the King of Camelot.”

Today religious mania has infected the political bloodstream and America has become corrosively isolationist, he says. “Ask an American what they know about Sweden and they’d say ‘They live well but they’re all alcoholics’. In fact a Scandinavian system could have benefited us many times over.” Instead, America has “no intellectual class” and is “rotting away at a funereal pace. We’ll have a military dictatorship fairly soon, on the basis that nobody else can hold everything together. Obama would have been better off focusing on educating the American people. His problem is being over-educated. He doesn’t realise how dim-witted and ignorant his audience is. Benjamin Franklin said that the system would fail because of the corruption of the people and that happened under Bush.”

Vidal adds menacingly: “Don’t ever make the mistake with people like me thinking we are looking for heroes. There aren’t any and if there were, they would be killed immediately. I’m never surprised by bad behaviour. I expect it.”

While materially comfortable, Vidal’s was not a happy childhood. Of his actress and socialite mother Nina, he says: “Give her a glass of vodka and she was as tame as could be. Growing up is going to be difficult if the one person you hate is your mother. I felt trapped. I was close to my grandparents and my father was a saint.” His parents’ many remarriages means that even today he hasn’t met all his step-siblings.

He wrote his first novel, Williwaw, at 19. In 1948, he was blacklisted by the media after writing The City and the Pillar, one of the earliest novels to deal graphically with homosexual desire. “You’ll be amazed to know it is still going strong,” he says. The “JT” it is dedicated to is James “Jimmy” Trimble, Vidal’s first love and, he once said, the love of his life. “That was a slight exaggeration. I said it because there wasn’t any other. In the new book there are wonderful pictures of him from our schooldays. He was a great athlete.” Here his voice softens, and he looks emotional, briefly. “We were both abandoned in our dormitory at St Alban’s [boarding school]. He was killed at the Battle of Iwo Jima [in 1945] because of bad G2 [intelligence].”

Vidal says Trimble’s death didn’t affect him. “No, I was in danger of dying too. A dead man can’t grieve a dead man.” Has love been important to him? “Don’t make the error that schoolteacher idiots make by thinking that gay men’s relationships are like heterosexual ones. They’re not.” He “wouldn’t begin to comment” on how they are different.

In 1956 he was hired by MGM, collaborated on the screenplay for Ben Hur and continued to write novels, most notoriously Myra Breckenridge about a transsexual. It is his satires, essays and memoirs — Live From Golgotha, Palimpsest and most recently, Point to Point Navigation — which have fully rounded our vision of this thorny contrarian, whose originality springs simply, and naturally, from having deliberately unfixed allegiances and an enduring belief in an American republic and railing sadness at how that ideal has been corrupted.

Vidal became a supportive correspondent of Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 killing 168 people. The huge loss of life, indeed McVeigh’s act of mass murder, goes unmentioned by Vidal. “He was a true patriot, a Constitution man,” Vidal claims. “And I was torn, my grandfather [the Democrat Senator Thomas Gore] had bought Oklahoma into the Union.” McVeigh claimed he had done it as a protest against tyrannical government. The writer Edmund White took the correspondence as the basis for a play, Terre Haute (the jail McVeigh was incarcerated in before he was executed in 2001), imagining an encounter between the bomber and Vidal charged with desire.

“He’s a filthy, low writer,” Vidal says of White. “He likes to attack his betters, which means he has a big field to go after.” Had he wanted to meet McVeigh? “I am not in the business of meeting people,” Vidal says. “That play implies I am madly in love with McVeigh. I looked at his [White’s] writing and all he writes about is being a fag and how it’s the greatest thing on Earth. He thinks I’m another queen and I’m not. I’m more interested in the Constitution and McVeigh than the loving tryst he saw. It was vulgar fag-ism.”

Vidal says that he hates labels and has said he believes in homosexual acts rather than homosexual people. He claims his relationship with Austen was platonic (though they reputedly met at a legendary New York bath-house). He was once quoted as saying that he’d had sex with a 1,000 men by the time he was 25. It must have been a little strange for Austen, Vidal’s life companion, to source those pictures of Trimble, his first, perhaps only, love.

Vidal puts on a scornful, campy voice. “People ask [of he and Austen], ‘How did you live together so long?’ The only rule was no sex. They can’t believe that. That was when I realised I was dealing with a public too stupid by half. They can’t tell the difference between ‘The Sun rose in the East’ and ‘The Sun is made of yeast’.” Was sex important to Vidal? “It must have been yes.”

He is single now. “I’m not into partnerships,” he says dismissively. I don’t even know what it means.” He “couldn’t care less” about gay marriage. “Does anyone care what Americans think? They’re the worst-educated people in the First World. They don’t have any thoughts, they have emotional responses, which good advertisers know how to provoke.” You could have been the first gay president, I say. “No, I would have married and had nine children,” he replies quickly and seriously. “I don’t believe in these exclusive terms.”

Impaired mobility doesn’t bother him — he “rose like a miracle” on stage at the National — and he doesn’t dwell on mortality either. “Either you accept there is such a thing or you’re so dumb that you can’t grasp it.” Is he in good health? “No, of course not. I’m diabetic. It’s odd, I’ve never been fat and I don’t like candy, which most Americans are hooked on.”

There is a trace of thwarted ambition about him. “I would have liked to have been president, but I never had the money. I was a friend of the throne. The only time I envied Jack was when Joe [Kennedy, JFK’s father] was buying him his Senate seat, then the presidency. He didn’t know how lucky he was. Here’s a story I’ve never told. In 1960, after he had spent so much on the presidential campaign, Joe took all nine children to Palm Beach to lecture them. He was really angry. He said, ‘All you read about the Kennedy fortune is untrue. It’s non-existent. We’ve spent so much getting Jack elected and not one of you is living within your income’. They all sat there, shame-faced. Jack was whistling. He used to tap his teeth: they were big teeth, like a xylophone. Joe turned to Jack and he says, ‘Mr President, what’s the solution?’ Jack said, ‘The solution is simple. You all gotta work harder’.” Vidal guffaws heartily.

Hollywood living proved less fun. “If there was a social whirl, you can be sure I would not be part of it.” He does a fabulous impression of Katharine Hepburn complaining about playing the matriarch in Suddenly Last Summer, which he wrote. “I hate this script,” he recalls Hepburn saying . “I’m far too healthy a person to know people like this.” Vidal snorts. “She had Parkinson’s. She shook like a leper in the wind.”

I ask what he wants to do next. “My usual answer to ‘What am I proudest of?’ is my novels, but really I am most proud that, despite enormous temptation, I have never killed anybody and you don’t know how tempted I have been.”

That wasn’t my question, I say. “Well, given that I’m proudest that I haven’t killed anybody, I might be saving something up for someone.” A perfect line: we both laugh.

Is he happy? “What a question,” he sighs and then smiles mischievously. “I’ll respond with a quote from Aeschylus: ‘Call no man happy till he is dead’.”

Source / Times Online

The Rag Blog

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Dems Who Voted Against Public Option : $19 Million in Healthcare Bucks

Max Baucus Health Care Lobbyist Complex

Democrats who voted against public option
Got $19 million from healthcare firms
...compared to the profits the insurance industry will make if a public option is defeated... They got a great deal for that 19 million.
By Muriel Kane / September 30, 2009

Five Democratic members of the Senate Finance Committee who voted on Tuesday to shoot down a proposed public option for the health care reform bill -- a measure which polls show is favored by 81% of Democrats -- are coming under close scrutiny for their ties to the health care industry.

According to Intershame.com -- a site which aims to draw attention to misbehavior -- those five senators have collectively been the recipients of over $19 million in donations from health care, pharmaceutical, and health insurance companies over the course of their Congressional careers.

Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-MT) alone accounts for nearly $8 million of the total. In addition, five of his former staff members -- including two former chiefs of staff -- are now lobbyists representing organizations with a strong interest in the health care bill.

Joan Walsh of Salon took Baucus to task for his vote, writing, "So let's get this straight: Baucus admits the public option would 'hold insurance companies' feet to the fire,' but he voted against it? Is there any clearer evidence that Baucus is in the pocket of the health insurance industry?"

Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) comes in second on the Intershame list, with about $4 million in health industry donations, and Kent Conrad (D-ND) is third at around $3 million. Like Baucus, both Lincoln and Conrad have former chiefs of staff who are now health industry lobbyists.

Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com did some number-crunching last June which revealed the extent to which health insurance donations can influence Congressional voting. "Lobbying contributions appear to have the largest marginal impact on middle-of-the-road Democrats," Silver wrote. "Liberal Democrats are likely to hold firm to the public option unless they receive a lot of remuneration from health care PACs. Conservative Democrats may not support the public option in the first place for ideological reasons, although money can certainly push them more firmly against it. But the impact on mainline Democrats appears to be quite large."

Calls are already appearing at places like the liberal message board Democratic Underground for progressives to sponsor primary challenges to all three senators.

Bill Nelson (D-FL) at $2.5 million and Tom Carper (D-DE) at $1.5 million fill out the Intershame list. Both voted in favor of the weaker Schumer version of a public option, which would not include robust measure to control costs, but against the stronger version proposed by Sen. Jay Rockefeller. Carper has also been a prominent supporter of a "trigger," which would activate a public option only "if there is no meaningful competition after a couple of years."

"If money is the reason these five Democrats rejected the public option," Intershame concludes, "then it only took a little over 19 million dollars over 20 years to buy the five votes the health insurance industry needed to kill any meaningful reform to their industry. 19 million dollars is nothing compared to the profits the insurance industry will make if a public option is defeated. They got a great deal for that 19 million. The American people? Not so much.

Source / The Raw Story

The Rag Blog

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29 September 2009

Steve Weissman : How Washington Learned to Love Nonviolence

The use of nonviolence for covert intervention

Sharp was talking 'about seizing political power or denying it to others,' and doing it without having to break things or kill people.
By Steve Weissman / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2009

Nonviolence can be a major force for democratic social change, but not when it becomes a tool for covert intervention.

A close-cropped, no-nonsense infantry officer, Col. Robert Helvey was studying at Harvard's Center for International Affairs on an Army fellowship. One day in 1987, he happened upon a seminar led by Gene Sharp, a draft resister imprisoned for refusing to serve in Korea and a systematic scholar of the kind of strategic non-violence that activists of my generation had helped to develop in the free speech, civil rights, and anti-war movements of the 1960s.

"I had an image of nonviolence as being a bunch of long-haired hippies," Col. Helvey recalled. But Dr. Sharp had come a long way from his Gandhian roots, and Helvey quickly realized that the older man's approach had "nothing to do with pacifism." Sharp was talking "about seizing political power or denying it to others," and doing it without having to break things or kill people.

The idea fascinated Col. Helvey. He invited Sharp to lunch, spent time at the Albert Einstein Institution (AEI), which Sharp had created in Cambridge in 1983, and came to see his new mentor as "the Clausewitz of the nonviolence movement." An energetic disciple, Col. Helvey would in time become president of AEI and a forceful champion of nonviolent conflict as a weapon of American intervention in other countries.

Were these interventions good or bad? In my opinion, they had elements of both, at least at the start. But they have become a major danger to democracy, not least our own, and an increasing threat to the lives of those that the United States and its allies encourage to make nonviolent revolutions.

The art of political defiance

Col. Helvey's first intervention was in Burma, where he had served as military attaché, reporting to the Defense Intelligence Agency. In December 1987, while still a serving officer, he invited two Burmese expatriates to spend several days talking with Gene Sharp about how best to overthrow their country's brutal military rulers. According to Helvey, the activists went back and explained Sharp's thinking to other of the regime's opponents.

Retiring in 1991 from thirty years of active duty, Col. Helvey took up a new career, traveling to the Burmese jungle village of Mannerplaw to run the first of a long series of intensive training sessions in nonviolence for the Democratic Alliance of Burma. Gene Sharp helped design the courses, which Helvey renamed political defiance. With armed struggle, he taught, you attack the generals where they are strongest. With political defiance, you look to hit them where they are weak.

”He used his military skills in strategic planning for nonviolent protest methods," one of Helvey's trainees later told Reuters. "Everybody was fascinated by Bob, because he was a military man and was applying that to non-violence."

Training the Burmese opposition was a small-scale operation, and Washington paid for it largely through its National Endowment for Democracy, or NED, which the Reagan administration had created in 1983 to take over the funding of foreign interventions formerly handled by the Central Intelligence Agency. Washington's interest in Burma was obvious, given its proximity to China and its enormous reserves of oil and natural gas.

Bringing down a dictator

In March 2000, Col. Helvey scored his biggest coup, running a 4-day training session at the Hilton Hotel in Budapest for more than 20 militants from a Serbian student group called Otpor. Helvey's purpose was to teach the militants how to undermine the authority of Slobadan Milosevich, "the Butcher of the Balkans."

"His presentation was something that I had never seen in my life, and I have seen maybe 200 trainings and maybe performed 200 or 300," recalled one of Otpor's founders, Srdja Popovic. "I am really experienced. But he is a miracle!" Returning to Serbia, Helvey's students became the backbone and creative masterminds of a multi-million dollar nonviolent revolution financed and stage-managed by Washington, its European allies, and George Soros's Open Society Institute.

The overthrow of Milosevich in the former Yugoslavia led Washington and its allies to finance and organize similar efforts all around the periphery of the former Soviet Union. These included the Rose Revolution in Georgia in 2003, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 and 2005, and the Pink or Tulip Revolution in Kyrgyzstan in 2005. In these interventions, Otpor veterans taught what they had learned to militants in the other
countries, while hundreds of thousands of ordinary people risked beatings, jail, torture, and even death. But, once the nonviolent protestors brought new governments to power, Washington and the Western Europeans used their influence to extend NATO eastward, push for economic privatization and strengthen Western sway over the oil, natural gas, and pipelines from the Caspian Sea, Caucuses, and Central Asia.

Less publicly, Washington and its allies made Optor a permanent part of their arsenal, as described by STRAFOR, a private intelligence newsletter available by subscription. "Otpor strengthened its connections with Western governments and nongovernmental organizations, which provided the group with funding and limited amounts of intelligence about potential weaknesses in regimes they were already targeting," STRATFOR explained.
"The tactics used in the crucible in Belgrade were 'marketed' in documentaries and training manuals. Otpor became more than 'just' a student group and transformed itself into the Center for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS). Among the group's strongest allies are Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institute and, through them, the US Agency for International Development and the US Department of State."
CANVAS itself has been anything but transparent about its funding and intelligence ties to Western governments. But the group proudly put the STRATFOR analysis on its website, while Freedom House confirmed in its annual report for 2001 that it received funding from NED, USAID, and the State Department and, in turn, continued to fund the Otpor students. In 2005, the U.S. Institute for Peace provided a grant to CANVAS to publish Nonviolent Struggle: 50 Crucial Points by Srdja Popovic and two other Otpor veterans. All of which put the lie to the group's oft-repeated claim that "CANVAS does not accept any governmental funding."

When a military coup fails

In April 2003, Reuters reporter Pascal Fletcher went to a university campus in east Caracas. On a closed classroom door, he found a sign that read, "Seminar on strategic marketing." Inside he found "representatives of Venezuela's broad-based but fragmented opposition, who are struggling to regroup after failing to force Chávez from office in an anti-government strike." According to Reuters, they were meeting with Col. Robert Helvey, "a consultant with the private US Albert Einstein Institution." Another AEI staff member, Chris Miller, also participated.

Opponents of Chávez had previously met with Gene Sharp in Cambridge after the failure of the U.S.-backed military coup against Chávez in 2002. These contacts continued after Col. Helvey's visit to Caracas and included a privately funded workshop in March 2005 in Boston, in which two Otpor veterans took part. The Center for Applied NonViolent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) in Belgrade then trained five student leaders from Venezuela in October 2005, and another four in October 2007. CANVAS also set up an office in Venezuela in latter part of 2007.

"Another color revolution may be forming -- in Latin America," wrote the sympathetic STRATFOR. "When you see students at five Venezuelan universities hold simultaneous demonstrations, you will know that the training is over and the real work has begun."

Signs of this "Marigold Revolution" became visible in May 2007, after Chávez refused to renew the broadcasting license for the privately owned Radio Caracas Televisión (RCTV), which had openly backed the military coup in 2002. The newly created Venezuelan Student Resistance took to the streets in their thousands, proclaiming their nonviolence and dedication to free speech. The student resistors then staged dozens of marches throughout the country to oppose Chávez in a constitutional referendum in which he tried to remove term limits so that he could run for president as many times as he wanted.

Mostly middle-class and leaning to the right, but including some on the left who found Chávez autocratic, the protestors openly acknowledged their debt to Otpor and the thinking of Gene Sharp. They painted their hands white to show their innocent intentions. They put flowers into the rifle barrels of the security forces. And, they staged street theater to mock Chávez and the constitutional rewrite he was promoting. The students made a significant impact on the December 2007 referendum, which Chávez lost 51% to 49%, one of his only electoral defeats.

Chávez put much of the blame on Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Foundation for attempting to overthrow him with "a soft coup." In a personal reply to Chávez, Sharp offered his usual disavowal. "Our work," he insisted, "has not been backed by powerful political or economic interests in the United States or internationally."

Washington and its nonviolent allies are already preparing similar, if smaller, interventions against populist governments in Ecuador and Bolivia and will likely use the same tactics against post-Castro Cuba.

Iran's Green Revolution

Nowhere has Washington's encouragement of nonviolent revolution caused greater grief than in Iran. While President Obama publicly appeared above the fray, his State Department used its Persian language radio services and its considerable influence with Twitter and Facebook to back the election campaign of the tainted reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi and to spur on the popular protests against Ahmadinejad and the hard-line ayatollahs that back him. I have previously written at length about the intervention itself. Here I want to consider what it means, especially to those of us who support the aspirations of so many Iranians for a freer and more democratic country.

Many friends hated that I raised the issue of American intervention. Few denied the facts I presented. They simply preferred to turn a blind eye. All they wanted to consider were inconclusive arguments that Mousavi had won the election, which many reputable scholars still dispute, and the need to stand in solidarity with the protestors, with which I agree. But, unless we explicitly acknowledge and condemn the American intervention, our solidarity will end up pouring more money into the National Endowment for Democracy, the CIA, and the State Department's propaganda radios. Do we really want to do that?

Other friends have argued that most of the money for training Iranians in nonviolent protest came not from Washington but from private sources, primarily Wall Street financier Peter Ackerman and his International Center on Nonviolent Conflict. This could be true, though the funding of much of the training remains secret. But what difference? Once Washington unleashed its propaganda radio and Internet resources, it made little difference who trained the non-violent protestors.

Finally, and most important to me, the undeniable evidence of Western intervention, both private and governmental, has made it far too easy for Ahmadinejad to crack down on the Iranian protestors. We should clearly condemn the crackdown and attempt to defend the activists. But our greatest show of solidarity would be to stop Washington's continuing intervention.

[A veteran of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement and the New Left monthly Ramparts, Steve Weissman lived for many years in London, working as a magazine writer and television producer. He now lives and works in France. For previous articles by Steve Weissman on The Rag Blog, including those about Iran's "Green Revolution," go here.]

The Rag Blog

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Austin Transit Threatening to Hike Fares Again

February 7, 1940, marked a dramatic change for Austin commuters. At 1:40 p.m. 500 Austinites boarded the electric streetcars at 6th and Congress for one final ride. The ceremonial ride also launched the Austin Transit Company's brand new fleet of buses. Photo: Source.

Austin Bus Fare Hike Re-Rumblings
By Glenn Gaven / The Rag Blog / September 29, 2009

For many years Capital Metro ran a free service that was known as "the Dillos." Quirky buses crisscrossed Austin from Pleasant Valley to Austin High School and from UT down to Oltorf. Thousands of workers and tourists used these buses. One of the busiest Dillo routes shuttled jurors to and from the courthouse.

In 2007, the Downtown Austin Alliance, a collection of real estate interests intent on building a light rail system for themselves convinced the transit authority to christen a "Dillo Task Force," which altered the Dillo service to serve just the Downtown area east of IH35, south of the Capitol and north of the river mimicking the future rail alignment. To keep people of little means off the new system they instituted a fare for the first time. But they forgot to ride it, and the Dillos quickly died.

Emboldened and undeterred, the Downtown Alliance led by millionaire developer Tom Stacy has set it's sights on those same people of little means. 72% of Capital Metro riders are non-choice riders who have no car option. Over 90% have incomes below Austin's mean. In an Austin American-Statesman op-ed piece on September 24th, Stacy pleaded with the transit authority to raise bus fares sooner and at a much higher rate than the 100% increase that was arrived at last year after much wailing and gnashing of teeth. The Statesman gleefully seconded the notion in an editorial the next day.

Earlier in the budget process Capital Metro staff drew up a balanced budget without the Alliance's quicker, steeper fare hike. The Board of Directors led by County Commissioner Margaret Gomez raised no objection and CMTA told the media and the public the fare hike would stay at the previously voted on rate and time.

On September 28th, the Board of Directors caved into pressure from the Alliance whose members own the property Capital Metro leases at a bargain rate at 323 Congress Ave. primarily to sell route schedule booklets and passes for senior and disabled riders. Their members also have sold many millions of dollars worth of real estate to Capital Metro over the years. Now Metro says the much harsher fare increase is back on the table.

The excuse Stacy and some others are using is that the stimulus money the transit authority is receiving should go 100% to hardware and specifically the Leander train. Not surprisingly, the most vocal person is Leander, TX mayor and realtor John Cowman who once called local transit workers "the help." Leander's 40,000 residents are the sole beneficiaries of the "Red Line," which has cost 112 million dollars and counting.

The rules for the transit portion of the stimulus money specifically allow for 10% to be used on operations. Regardless, there is no direct tie in to fares. The budget could be balanced any number of ways and the worst way would be to be on the backs of the residents of Austin with the lowest income. The Bus Riders Union of Austin has recommended cutting numerous areas of waste including leasing of the Metro store which is estimated to consume about one million dollars a year to do little more than sell passes and schedule booklets that we used to get at HEB or at Metro's opulent headquarters at 2910 East Fifth St. The stimulus chatter is nothing more than convenient teabagger rhetoric.

Raising fares lowers ridership. This flies in the face of Capital Metro's professed goal of doubling ridership by 2025. Lowering ridership harms the environment by forcing people off the bus and back into cars. As Austin approaches EPA non-attainment a fare hike is the opposite of what our air needs. The first stage of the hike has cost the transit system over one million trips in the first half of the year and the second stage set for next summer will further devastate ridership. Stacy's anti-people fare hike would be equally anti-environment, and compound an already bad situation.

When riders in San Francisco and Vancouver were pushed to the breaking point they staged fare strikes which not only denied those cities' versions of the Downtown Alliance their blood money, it also empowered transit riders to push for other changes to the system. They asserted their ownership and now these systems are seen as models for transit that Austin says it aspires to.

The Rag Blog

[+/-]

Prisoners of Conscience : U.S. Military Isolates War Resisters

Incarcerated anti-war GI and musician (above) Travis Bishop. Below, he is shown before his court martial at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas on Aug. 14, 2009. Photo by Alice Embree / The Rag Blog.

Army prisoners isolated,
Denied right to legal counsel
[Travis] Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a 'politically driven prosecution.'
By Dahr Jamail / September 29, 2009

The military's treatment of Army prisoners is "part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not letting visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends," according to civil defense attorney James Branum.

Afghanistan war resister Travis Bishop has been held largely "incommunicado" in the Northwest Joint Regional Correctional Facility at Fort Lewis, Washington.

Bishop, who is being held by the military as a "prisoner of conscience," according to Amnesty International, was transported to Fort Lewis on September 9 to serve a 12-month sentence in the Regional Correctional Facility. He had refused orders to deploy to Afghanistan based on his religious beliefs, and had filed for Conscientious Objector (CO) status. years.

Bishop, who served a 13-month deployment to Iraq and was stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, was court marshaled by the Army for his refusal to deploy to Afghanistan. Given that he had already filed for CO status, many local observers called his sentencing a "politically driven prosecution."

By holding Bishop incommunicado, the military violated Bishop's legal right to counsel, a violation of the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution, according to his civil defense attorney James Branum.

The Sixth Amendment is the part of the Bill of Rights that sets forth rights related to criminal prosecutions in federal courts, and reads, "In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district where in the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense."

Attorney LeGrande Jones, who practices in Olympia and was designated by Branum as the local counsel for Bishop, was also denied access to Bishop, on the grounds that Jones was on an unnamed and unobtainable "watch-list," which constitutes deprivation of counsel.

Jones was denied entry to Fort Lewis and told he would never be allowed to enter the base. Fort Lewis authorities never gave him a reason for his being denied access to the base and his client. To this, Branum told Truthout, "Fort Lewis authorities have a duty to tell LeGrande the reasons why he is being barred from Fort Lewis, and therefore [barred] from communicating with his client in the Fort Lewis brig."

Until September 18, Bishop's condition was unclear due to his having been completely cut off from the public.

Branum, who is the legal adviser to the Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline and co-chair of the Military Law Task Force, also represents Leo Church, another war resister being held at Fort Lewis.

Church, who was also stationed at Fort Hood, went AWOL (Absent Without Leave) to prevent his wife and children from becoming homeless. The fact that he was unable to financially support his family off his military pay alone dictated that Church seek other means to support them. With his pleas to the military for assistance going unheeded, he opted to go AWOL in order to support his dependents.

According to Branum, "Church received eight months jail time because he put the safety and welfare of his children over his obligation to the Army. Leo tried to get help from his unit, but was denied."

Branum told Truthout that Church had been able to contact him while at Fort Lewis, but the call was monitored by a guard, violating his attorney-client privilege.

Gerry Condon, with Project Safe Haven (an advocacy group for GI resisters in Canada), and a veteran himself as a member of the Greater Seattle Veterans for Peace, told Truthout he believes Bishop and Church are being held in a way that is both "intolerable and unconstitutional."

Condon, who is working to try to support both Bishop and Church, told Truthout, "They are denied all visitors, except for immediate family, clergy and legal counsel [legal counsel is limited at this time]. No friends or fiancés. This is not the normal practice at other brigs."

Branum told Truthout he feels that how Bishop and Church are being treated at Fort Lewis is "part of a broader pattern the military has of just throwing people in jail and not letting them talk to their attorneys, not let visitors come, and this is outrageous. In the civilian world even murderers get visits from their friends."

Speaking further of the conditions in which the military is holding Bishop and Church, Condon added, "Fort Lewis authorities have made it virtually impossible for Bishop and Church to make phone calls. They must first get money on their calling account. This must be done by money order and according to several other similarly prohibitive procedures. And the money may not be credited to the account until a month after it is received. Plus, officials at the Fort Lewis brig must approve the names of people that can be called."

Condon told Truthout, "Travis Bishop is a leader in what has become an international GI resistance movement that is attempting to bring troops home from both occupations by following their consciences and international law. They deserve all the support we can give them, especially while they are in prison - they are owed their constitutional liberties."

Branum told Truthout that as far as he knows, he may well be the only person on Bishop's call list.

Both Bishop and Church have been prevented from adding any names to their respective "authorized contacts" lists (even for family members), which effectively cuts them off from almost all contact with the outside world. According to Branum, mail and commissary funds sent by friends and supporters will likely be "returned to sender" due to what he feels is "a cruel and inhumane policy."

In addition, there are no work programs at the Fort Lewis brig, nor any classes available for soldiers to take while they are incarcerated. Generally, work programs and/or classes are available for incarcerated soldiers.

"By participating in work programs and school classes, soldiers being held in brigs can get time cut off their sentences," Branum explained to Truthout, "But these don't exist at Fort Lewis, so that means Travis and Leo can't get time taken off their sentences. Travis will do a minimum of 10 months, and could have theoretically worked an additional month off his sentence if Fort Lewis had these programs."

Branum, who is the lead attorney for both Bishop and Church, told Truthout the actions of officials at Fort Lewis violate his clients' constitutional rights.

"Bishop and Church's defense team and supporters are in the process of negotiating with Fort Lewis officials to ensure transparency and that Bishop and Church's legal rights are being met," Branum stated in a press release on the matter that was published on September 17. "The unusual circumstances of isolation of these soldiers is unquestionably illegal. If Fort Lewis doesn't change its ways, we will be forced to go to court and demand justice."

On September 18, officials at Fort Lewis finally allowed Branum to speak with Bishop on the telephone, but not privately.

Bishop was accompanied by two guards, who monitored his conversation with Branum. In addition, Fort Lewis authorities claimed that the recently rebuilt/remodeled brig does not yet have proper facilities to facilitate a private telephone conversation.

Speaking further about the conversation he was finally allowed to have with Bishop, Branum added, "In the phone call we did get to do, they still refused to let Travis talk to me privately. He actually had two guards in the room with him the entire time, which obviously negates any compliance with attorney-client privilege. And presumably the phone call was taped (all of the other brigs have special rooms for attorney calls, that have phone lines to the outside that are not taped) which is completely unconstitutional. The brig of course will say, "well we won't listen to that tape" but that is bullshit, and it is illegal."

"The only reason they [Fort Lewis authorities] let me talk to Travis on Friday [September 18] was that he was finally "medically cleared," Branum told Truthout, "This took 10 days in this case, and it looks like this is their standard operating procedure, which is completely wrong."

When Truthout questioned the public affairs office at Fort Lewis about Bishop's situation, we were told all matters were being handled "legally, and according to standard operating procedure," and "any wrongdoing would be investigated."

Branum added, "They are giving the excuse that "we don't have the secure room for attorney phone calls set up yet," but can't tell me when they are going to have the room set up."

Branum and Jones are planning to file a lawsuit against Fort Lewis in the near future, specifically targeting the denial of attorney-client privilege.

Both soldiers are being supported by two GI resistance cafes: Under the Hood cafe (in Killeen, Texas, near Fort Hood) and Coffee Strong (in Tacoma, Washington, near Fort Lewis).

[Dahr Jamail, an independent journalist, is the author of The Will to Resist: Soldiers Who Refuse to Fight in Iraq and Afghanistan, (Haymarket Books, 2009), and Beyond the Green Zone: Dispatches From an Unembedded Journalist in Occupied Iraq, (Haymarket Books, 2007). Jamail reported from occupied Iraq for nine months as well as from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Turkey over the last five years.]

Source / truthout / Courage to Resist

The Rag Blog

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Honduras : Micheletti Suspends Constitution

Cartoon D.R. 2009 Latuff / The Narco News Bulletin.

The second Honduran coup came today
Because the first one failed

By Al Giordano / September 28, 2009
See 'Honduras coup leader Micheletti decrees 45-day suspension of constitution,' Below.
On the morning of June 28, coup regime soldiers stomped into the offices of Radio Globo and Channel 36 in Tegucigalpa and silenced their transmitters. The two networks filed court orders to be able to get back on the air. And for the past three months they’ve each been subject to written orders from the Honduras regime to cease broadcasting (the journalists, in turn, refused to be censored) and to paramilitary attacks that poured acid on their transmitters, and yet they and their journalists heroically got themselves back on the air rapidly.

On this morning, three months later, it was déjà vu all over again, as those same military troops reenacted the battle of June 28, busting down the doors of both broadcasters and this time removing their transmitters and equipment. And soldiers have surrounded both houses of media to prevent the people from retaking them.

This time, due to yesterday’s coup decree [see below], there is no legal recourse for the journalists. Under the decree, if a judge even looks at a motion from those media, he, too, can be rounded up, arrested and detained. And if another media reports what happened, it, too, can be invaded and silenced by force.

Today’s “do over” of the June 28 Honduras coup proves two big truths.

First: that the original coup failed to establish control over the country and its people. More than 90 days of nonviolent resistance have demolished what little support the coup regime had inside and outside of Honduras, and left them only with their small core of oligarchs and security forces to defend their putsch against the majority.

And second: That despite all the regime’s Orwellian talk of how it was a “legal” coup, how it was executed to defend the Constitution, and how the continued broadcasting of critical media proved it was not a dictatorship, its intention all along was far more sinister: to erase democracy and its most basic freedoms in order to establish autocratic control by a few over 7.5 million Honduran citizens and the lush natural and human resources in that land.

A significant portion of the Honduran population has gone underground overnight. Tipped off that last night their homes would be raided and they would be hauled off to the soccer stadium in Tegucigalpa where the regime already holds at least 75 citizens incommunicado -- reports of the use of torture are all the more credible because the regime won’t allow any attorney, doctor or human rights observer inside the stadium to inspect -- other rank-and-file Hondurans opened their homes to resistance organizers throughout the country. They are hiding from the regime, but they are in constant contact with each other, and with our reporters.

Another part of last night’s wave of state terror came in the form of this provocation: Key human rights leaders and attorneys were notified anonymously of an alleged roundup of dissidents at a particular police station in the capital. They rushed down to look for the detainees, only to be greeted by the very nervous and heavily armed station police who had, simultaneously, received an anonymous phone call telling them that a mob was on its way there to burn down the station. Fortunately, cooler minds prevailed and once the human rights attorneys explained to the police the message they had received, both sides figured out it was an attempt trick them into a violent confrontation.

That the regime has to try and fool and manipulate its own police forces provides an indication that not all of them are thrilled with the latest decree and events.

This is what the coup plotters always wanted: the prohibition of constitutional rights and total authoritarian power in their hands. They tried to have it both ways for three months – defending themselves to the world with their absurd “the coup is not a coup” doublespeak – but that failed. Now they’ve gone to Plan B, which unmasks them for what they are: terrorists, and enemies of democracy and freedom.

Their first coup failed in only three months. That’s why the date of September 28 now enters the history books as the second coup attempt in Honduras of 2009. The second resistance is out there, regrouping, figuring out its next moves, and when those moves come, probably soon, we’ll be reporting their words and deeds, despite the fact that the coup regime has also just made that reporting illegal, too.

Similarly, our longtime friend and colleague, the Brazilian cartoonist Latuff, author of the image above, doesn't take orders from golpistas either. Today he makes public his email address -- carlos.latuff@gmail.com -- and offers support and his talents at image-making to all members of the Honduran resistance as the next phase of the struggle begins.

The second coup -- today's -- came because the first one failed miserably, as this one will, too.

Update 11:26 a.m. in Tegucigalpa (1:26 p.m. ET): And another few rings fall away from the coup regime "onion" of support. The daily Tiempo reports that National Party presidential candidate Pepe Lobo -- who leads in all polls for the November 29 "election" -- has now spoken out against yesterday's coup decree and its 45-day suspension of constitutional rights and liberties:
The National Party presidential candidate, Porfirio Lobo Sosa, lamented what has happened in the political crisis and after calling upon Manuel Zelaya Rosales and Roberto Micheletti to sit down and dialogue, he criticized the Executive Decree published in the Gaceta that restricts various freedoms inherent to human beings.

Lobo made those statements after leaving a meeting that four presidential candidates, a former president of the nation and various businessmen had with US Ambassador Hugo Llorens.

The presidential frontrunner confirmed that, in addition to him, candidates Elvin Santos, Bernard Martínez and Felicito Avila of the Liberal, the Innovation and Unity, and the Christian Democratic parties, respectively, were also present in the meeting.

Lobo Sosa questioned the military curfews and the emission of the Executive Decree against individual rights and news organizations because "they damage the image of the country abroad and directly harm the population."
The meeting with the US Ambassador from which Lobo emerged to make his first-ever public criticism of the coup d'etat and its repressive maneuvers was also attended by former Honduran President Carlos Flores Facussé, and business magnate Adolfo Facussé -- both whom had been original backers of the June 28 coup attempt. If either of them follow Lobo into denouncing the coup and its decree, the "coup onion" would lose one or more of its most inner and powerful layers of support.

12:12 p.m.: Meanwhile, the anonymous pro-coup blogger who calls herself La Gringa and personally approves each and every comment she allows to be published, has just gone to the illegal extreme of publishing an open call to assassinate both President Zelaya and U.S. Ambassador Hugo Llorens. The violent call is also revealing in its racist and misogynist language directed at U.S. President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, as well as homophobic fantasies about Zelaya and the Ambassador. I'll post that comment here because at some point "La Gringa" may realize that she has just made herself a party to a crime and may attempt to erase the evidence:
How long will it take the Constitutional Government to finally expel Llorens? And tell the monkey and she-dog in Washington to go to Hell. If Honduras must go down, then for History the patriots must kill Zelaya and his long-time LOVER Llorens.
May the U.S.Secret Service take notice at what that supposedly American citizen has just involved herself in: an open call to assassinate the U.S. Ambassador and a foreign elected head of state. We strongly denounce and reject her complicity in such illegal plots.

3:08 p.m.: Steve Benen at Washington Monthly makes note of another layer of the coup onion that seems to have gone silent today: U.S. Congressional Republicans:
WHERE'S THE CONGRESSIONAL COUP CAUCUS NOW?... In July, a variety of conservative Republican lawmakers were outraged by the official U.S. government opposition to the overthrow of the democratically elected government in Honduras. Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) officially endorsed the military-backed coup, and a variety of House Republicans organized a "congressional coup caucus" in support of the new, unelected government.

Oddly enough, we're not hearing much from this GOP crowd anymore. I wonder why that is...

When DeMint endorsed the coup, her heralded those responsible for ousting Zelaya as "guarantee[ing] freedom." House Committee on Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) hosted a private meeting for her Republican colleagues to "discuss how the U.S. can now work to support the democratic institutions and rule of law in Honduras."

All of a sudden, these GOP lawmakers don't seem to be bashing the Obama administration's position anymore. Interesting.

4:46 p.m.: Radio Globo is now broadcasting over the Internet from a clandestine location, at this link (click "listen").

There are also reports that the coup regime, unable to sell this 45-day suspension of the Constitution to the National Congress, is talking about withdrawing the decree. However, unless that includes returning the equipment to Radio Globo and Channel 36, and releasing political prisoners, any reporter who reports it as such would be a fool. Coup dictator Micheletti reportedly asks "forgiveness" for having executed the decree. No se olvide, ni perdón.

5:44 p.m.: Micheletti really seems to be losing it, mentally speaking. Today he handed out another ultimatum, this time to the governments of Spain, Argentina, Venezuela and Mexico (Mexico?!!):
"In the case of those countries that unilaterally decided to break diplomatic relations with Honduras... the situation of Argentina, Spain, Mexico and Venezuela, I'll let them know that the government will not receive diplomatic agents from those countries."
He gave them "ten days" to obey. I'm sure they're quaking in their shoes, crying and contemplating suicide because that silly little petty tyrant Micheletti threatened them. Not.

6:25 p.m.: Radio Globo -- via its Internet broadcast -- is calling on its listeners to go to its seized studios on Bulevar Morazan tomorrow (Tuesday) morning at 8 a.m.

11:05 p.m.: Regarding the aforementioned threats -- already having the attention of the U.S. Secret Service... and Blogspot, as well -- on the Gringa blog cheering political assassination and magnicide... They were (as we predicted they would be) removed late tonight, but reflecting the cowardice of the person who approved them for posting, no explanation nor denouncement was offered. It's that those people really believe in those things. You just can't get any lower than that.

Source / Narco News / The Field

Honduras coup leader Micheletti decrees
45-day suspension of constitution

By Al Giordano / September 27, 2009

Now they've really done it. On the same day that the Honduran coup regime detained six foreign diplomats from the Organization of American States (OAS) -- two US officials, two Canadian, one Colombian and Chilean OAS chief Jose Miguel Insulza -- for six hours in the Toncontin International Airport, barring their entrance into Honduras, it has made public the following decree, which bans freedom of assembly, transit, the press and orders National Police and the Armed Forces to arrest and detain any person suspected of exercising those rights.

There really really isn't much editorial comment necessary to explain what this means. Read the decree yourself, which we have just translated into English:

Article 1. For a period of 45 days beginning with this decree’s publication, the Constitutional rights of Articles 69, 72, 81 and 84, are suspended.

Article 2. The Armed Forces will support, together or separately with the National Police, when the situation requires, to execute the necessary plans to maintain the order and security of the Republic.

Article 3. The following is prohibited:

First: Freedom of transit, which will be restricted according to the parameters established by press releases broadcast on all radio and TV stations by the President of the Republic, which will be in effect in all national territory and during curfews, with the exception of cargo transport, ambulances, and urban traffic in the cities excluded in said communiqués, and medical personell and nurses that in those cities work during curfew hours.

Second: All public meetings not authorized by police or military authorities.

Third: Publication in any media, spoken, written or televised, of information that offends human dignity, public officials, or criticizes the law and the government resolutions, or any style of attack against the public order and peace. CONATEL (the Honduran communications commission), through the National Police and the Armed Forces, is authorized to suspend any radio station, television channel or cable system that does not adjust its programming to the present decree.

Article 4. It is ordered:

First: Detain all persons who are found outside of the established orders of circulation, or that in any manner are suspected by police and military authorities of damaging people or property, those that associate with the goal of committing criminal acts or that place their own lives in danger. All detainees will be read their rights, and at the same time must be brought to be booked in a police station of the country, identifying all persons detained, their motives, the hour of arrest and release from the police station, recording the physical condition of the detainee, to avoid future accusations of supposed crimes of torture.

Second: All persons detained must remain c onfined in the legally established detention centers.

Third: All public offices, national, state and municipal, that have been occupied by demonstrators or have persons inside of them engaging in illegal activities will be cleared.

Fourth: All Secretaries of State, decentralized institutions, municipalities and other state organisms must place themselves at the orders of the National Police and Armed Forces without any equivocation, along with all means at their disposal, for the development of these operations.

Article 5. The present Decree becomes law immediately, being duly published in the Official Daily “La Gaceta” and will be sent to the National Congress to be made law.

Ordered from the Presidential Palace in the City of Tegucigalpa, municipality of the Central District, on the 22nd of September of 2009.


The four articles of the Honduran Constitution that have been declared suspended for the next 45 days by this decree are:
Article 69: Personal liberty is inviolable and only through law can it be restricted or suspended temporarily.

Article 72: The expression of thought by any media, without censorship, is free. Those who interfere with this right or through direct or indirect means restrict or impede the communication and circulation of ideas and opinions will held responsible by the law.

Article 81: Every person has the right to circulate freely, leave, enter and remain in national territory.

No one can be obligated to move from his home or residence except in special cases in accord with the law.

Article 84: No one can be arrested or detained except through written order by competent authorities, executed through legal formalities and for motives established by law.

Notwithstanding, open delinquency can be apprehended by any person only to deliver the delinquent to the authorities.

The arrested or detained person must be informed clearly of his rights and the facts of the accusations against him, and, additionally, authorities must permit him to communicate his detention to a family member or person of his choice
In other words, out of 375 articles in the Honduran Constitution, it is revealing that those most basic liberties are the four that Micheletti and his coup regime have chosen to suspend for the next 45 days.

Those 45 days happen to coincide with more than half of the remaining period until the November 29 "election" that it insists will be carried out fairly and freely. I guess one can theoretically campaign for his or her candidate, but only with a written permission note, according to this decree, from police or military authorities...

Source / Narco News / The Field

Also see 'Honduras Alert: Call the State Department Today... / CISPES / Sept. 29, 2009

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