• Lessons Learned: Dead Bodies in Ukraine

    April 22, 2022 // 2 Comments »


    It is hard escape the images from the Ukraine but easy not to think about them.

    The bodies themselves are the only truth; for there but for the grace of them goes us. Were they Russian separatists, Ukrainian heroes, people on the way home from work, people far from home or abandoned by even loved ones in their own backyards, strangers in the north to blue water, patriots or fish mongers in the south? How little it matters when they are placed next to each other on the ground but politics, politics always makes for stranger bedfellows now and forever.

    As we make some deal over their deaths, war crimes accusations levied by a nation (it is America) who quit the International Criminal Court in 2002 ahead of the Iraq War and as CYA for Israel being charged for war crimes in the ‘Strip, what say the shadows, the 460,000 dead in that Iraq, never freed, or those 1,353,000 in Vietnam (say that one again, Vietnam, because yes it echoes behind each muddy footprint, down the halls of State and Defense, Vietnam, where the most senior generals learned their craft.) There is truth to the phrase “never again” but it is this truth not that one: we will never (admit to) lose another war which is why more are gonna have to die, because Putin’s win could be seen as again our loss.

    But… but… these in Ukraine are not American deaths, not really dead because of America, so we can point and declare right from wrong, right? Same as we decry those who judge us we shall judge trespasses against them. I saw a little of war, my year in Iraq, a civilian witness, saw more than a lot, saw a lot less than some, but even a little is enough. Because after the first one you can remember bodies become repetitive until all that matters is how many of them their are. The GOAT is six million, anything else something… less, made to matter by evoking the six million, or the 500 from My Lai, or 35,000 from Dresden, or the 800,000 from Stalingrad. Stalingrad taught us to think of “civilians and soldiers” was a joke left from the 19th century when armies walked to a nearby field, war a ritual, that “he who sheds his blood today with me shall be my brother” bullshit that has killed people forever.

    Karl Doenitz, the head of Germany’s U-Boat fleet during World War II stood trial at Nuremberg for war crimes, specifically unrestricted warfare against civilian shipping. Doenitz, in his defense, raised the fact that the Allies practiced much the same style of was at sea, and even sought testimony from U.S. naval personnel. Doenitz raised broad, almost philosophical questions about commerce warfare, including belligerent conduct by armed merchant ships, contraband hidden aboard “civilian” ships, war at sea as a required evil for a nation under blockade, war zones, commerce control, and unneutral service.

    But it was the non-rescue policy for enemy survivors which brought Doenitz to Nuremberg. Doenitz in 1940 issued Standing Order 154 to his U-boats, “Do not pick up survivors and take them with you… The enemy began the war in order to destroy us, so nothing else matters.” and at his trial raised the question of why it was allowable to seek to kill people literally one moment, before their ship sank, but not one moment afterwards. He pointed out weapons were designed not to win wars per se but to destroy people efficiently, as we now know with modern cluster bombs and so-called hyperbaric vacuum bombs in Ukraine. Doenitz was found guilty but his testimony resonated with other combatants. Over 100 senior Allied officers sent letters conveying their disappointment over the verdict. They understood killing was killing and that rules were for the victors to use, later, as politics required, and never wanted to find themselves so entrapped..

    We look at those horrible photos again from Ukraine. Who are the dead? Some are collaborators shot by Ukrainians, some are innocents shot by Russians, some are civilian combatants who nonetheless took up arms for one side or another. Some may even be ethnically cleansed people, or just fake images, or old photos. None of that matters. The media is telling us to react. All that’s left is for someone to find a way to have our computers deliver a little food pellet along with the ultraviolence. It’s just about stim, little jolts to the brain, isn’t it? None of us have any idea who the dead bodies are in Ukraine, and who shot them, and why. We just enjoy the thrill, and the flexibility of creating our own righteous story. But we don’t grieve, we politicize.

    The truth is much more restrained than reality as we understand it at this point in the war. Human Rights Watch documented Russian military forces committing law-of-war violations against civilians in occupied areas of the Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Kyiv regions of Ukraine. These include one case of rape, and two cases of summary execution, one of six men, the other of one man. There were other non-specific instances of unlawful violence and threats against civilians. Soldiers were also implicated in looting civilian property, including food, clothing, and firewood.

    Yes, that’s the sum of it. One rape, seven executed. No death is to be celebrated or dismissed but a handful of war crimes does not equal a holocaust, a genocide, or what Zelensky is claiming today. Over-stating the actual situation will only serve to make the public numb. The Ukrainians are approaching the jump the shark moment, and since we’re talking about propaganda here not deaths, the phrase is appropriate. Oh my God, HRW says the Russians looted firewood! What horrors will follow?!?

    But in the end there is always the small story, and the big story, often so big it runs over the edges of our monitors so because of its size we don’t see it. We talk about peace, but the only place we all seem to live in some sort of harmony is in the land described by the Panama Papers, countries and statelets that pimp out their economies and legal systems to the global rich (oligarchs and entrepreneurs, it’s just the difference in word choice and how many feet of waterline their yachts have) so that sanctions become  a poor man’s punishment.

    The cover story never really changed. Our parents were told the raison d’etre since at least WWII was to destroy Communism. We were promised once we achieved nuclear parity with the Russians it would all be over, then told once we won the next proxy war (Cuba, Greece, Laos, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Panama, Haiti, Iran, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Syria, Yemen…) things would be right. The bodies, you see, don’t matter. They never really matter in the biggest picture.


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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    Gina Haspel — As if Nuremberg Never Happened

    March 27, 2018 // 5 Comments »

    Nothing will say more about who we are — across three administrations, one who demanded torture, one who covered it up, and one who seeks to promote its bloody participants — than whether or not Gina Haspel becomes Director of the CIA.

    Gina Haspel tortured human beings in Thailand as the chief of a CIA black site in 2002. She is currently Deputy Director at the CIA. With current director Mike Pompeo slated to move to Foggy Bottom, President Donald Trump proposed Haspel as the Agency’s new head.

    Haspel’s victims wait for death in Guantanamo and cannot speak to us, though they no doubt remember their own screams, Haspel’s face as she broke them, what she said about freedom and America as they were waterboarded. We can still hear former CIA officer John Kiriakou say “We did call her Bloody Gina. Gina was always very quick and very willing to use force. Gina and people like Gina did it, I think, because they enjoyed doing it. They tortured just for the sake of torture, not for the sake of gathering information.”

    Kiriakou exposes the obsessive debate over the effectiveness of torture as false: torture works, just not for eliciting information. Torture and the people like Gina Haspel who conduct it seek vengeance, humiliation, and power. We’re just slapping you now, she would have said in that Thai prison, but we control you and who knows what will happen next, what we’re capable of? The torture victim is left to imagine what form the hurt will take and just how severe it will be, creating his own terror.

    Haspel won’t be asked at her confirmation hearing to explain how torture works, but these men could.

    I met my first torture victim in Korea, where I was adjudicating visas for the State Department. Persons with serious criminal records are ineligible to travel to the United States, with an exception for political crimes by dissidents. The man I spoke with said under the U.S.-supported military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee he was tortured for writing anti-government verse. He was taken to a small underground cell. Two men arrived and beat him repeatedly on his testicles and sodomized him with one of the tools they had used for the beating. They asked no questions. They barely spoke to him at all.

    Though the pain was beyond his ability to describe, he said the humiliation of being left so utterly helpless was what remained of his life, destroyed his marriage, sent him to the repeated empty comfort of alcohol, and kept him from ever putting pen to paper again. The men who destroyed him, he told me, did their work, and then departed, as if they had others to visit and needed to get on with things. He was released a few days later and driven back to his apartment by the police. A forward-looking gesture.

    The second torture victim I met while stationed in Iraq. The prison that had held him was under the control of some shadowy part of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces. In there masked men bound him at the wrists and ankles and hung him upside-down. He said they neither asked him questions nor demanded information. They did whip his testicles with a leather strap, then beat the bottoms of his feet and the area around his kidneys. They slapped him. They broke the bones in his right foot with a steel rod, a piece of rebar ordinarily used to reinforce concrete.

    It was painful, he told me, but he had felt pain before. What destroyed him was the feeling of utter helplessness. His strength had been his ability to control things. He showed me the caved in portion of his foot, which still bore a rod-like indentation with faint signs of metal grooves.

    Haspel blinded one of her victims. Another was broken as a human being so thoroughly he would, at the snap of his torturer’s fingers, simply lie down to be waterboarded. Haspel accused a victim of faking his psychological breakdown: “I like the way you’re drooling. It adds to the realism. I’m almost buying it.” As head of the black site Haspel had sole authority to halt the questioning but she made the torture continue.

    Gina Haspel is the same person as those who were in the rooms with the Korean, and the Iraqi.

    Gina Haspel is nominated to head the CIA because Obama did not prosecute anyone for torture; she is the future he told us to look forward toward. He did not hold any truth commissions, and ensured almost all of the government documents on the torture program remain classified. He did not prosecute the CIA officials who destroyed video tapes of the torture scenes.

    Obama ignored, as with the continued hunting down of Nazis some 70 years after their evil acts, the message that individual responsibility must stalk those who do evil on behalf of a government. “I was only following orders” is not a defense against inhuman acts. The purpose of tracking down the guilty is to punish those with blood on their hands, to discourage the next person from doing evil, and to morally immunize a nation-state.

    But to punish Gina Haspel “more than 15 years later for doing what her country asked her to do, and in response to what she was told were lawful orders, would be a travesty and a disgrace,” claims one of her supporters. “Haspel did nothing more and nothing less than what the nation and the agency asked her to do, and she did it well,” said Michael Hayden.

    Influential people in Congress agree. Senator Richard Burr, chair of the Senate intelligence committee which will soon review Haspel said “I know Gina personally and she has the right skill set, experience, and judgment to lead one of our nation’s most critical agencies.” Lindsey Graham expressed “She’ll have to answer for that period of time, but I think she’s a highly qualified person.” Bill Nelson defended Haspel’s actions, saying they were “the accepted practice of the day” and shouldn’t disqualify her.

    Dianne Feinstein signaled her likely acceptance, saying “Since my concerns were raised over the torture situation, I have met with her extensively, talked with her… She has been, I believe, a good deputy director.” Susan Collins added Haspel “certainly has the expertise and experience as a 30 year employee of the agency.” John McCain, a victim of torture during the Vietnam War, mumbled only that Haspel would have to explain her role.

    Nearly alone at present, Senator Rand Paul says he will oppose Haspel’s nomination. Senators Ron Wyden and Martin Heinrich have told Trump she is unsuitable and will likely also vote no.

    Following World War II the United States could have easily executed those Nazis responsible for the Holocaust, or simply thrown them into some forever jail on an island military base. It would have been hard to find anyone who would not have supported brutally torturing them at a black site. Instead, they were put on public trial at Nuremberg and made to defend their actions as the evidence against them was laid bare. The point was to demonstrate We were better than Them.

    We today instead refuse to understand what Haspel’s victims, and the Korean writer, and the Iraqi insurgent, already know on our behalf: unless our Congress awakens to confront the nightmare and deny Gina Haspel’s nomination as Director of the CIA, torture has already transformed us and so will consume us. Gina Haspel is a torturer. We are torturers. It is as if Nuremberg never happened.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    Jack Rice Interview: Torture Laid Bare, Nuremberg and Guantanamo

    June 7, 2014 // 6 Comments »

    A powerful interview with radio host Jack Rice of KTNF, 950AM. We discuss my article Torture Laid Bare at Nuremberg, and Maybe Guantanamo. What does it say to the world when we return to the days of torture, especially with the help of doctors?

    The full interview is online here.

    The interview itself starts about 4:45 in, after a detailed introduction.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    Torture Laid Bare at Nuremberg, and Maybe Guantanamo?

    May 7, 2014 // 19 Comments »

    In another time and place, the intentional mistreatment and torture of human beings, often with the assistance of medical doctors and learned men and women, was made public to destroy it. But open justice at Nuremberg and hidden justice at Guantanamo are so very, very different.

    Or maybe not. New details in the trial of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri may give the world the clearest view yet of America’s torture program.


    Following World War II the United States and its Allies could have easily executed Nazis responsible for the Holocaust at a black site, or simply have thrown them into some forever jail on an isolated, island military base. It would have been hard to find anyone who would not have supported brutally torturing them. Instead, those evil men and women were put on public trial at Nuremberg, supplied with lawyers and made to defend their actions as the evidence against them was laid bare. The point was in part to demonstrate justice, that We were better than Them. The hope was also to ensure it all would never happen again.

    Though the scale remains very different, the intentions and actions echo across the decades. The United States, as a policy of our nation, used its full range of global resources to kidnap, imprison and torture human beings for its political aims. Now, in an obscene reimaging of justice, that same United States government works to the extent of its ability to hide what it did.

    What it did was torture. Here’s how the United States is trying to hide it.

    The Sham of Justice

    Trials of a sort are ongoing at Guantanamo. The case of Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a Saudi accused of orchestrating the 2000 bombing of the destroyer USS Cole, is underway.

    Nashiri was held in CIA “black sites” and was one of three prisoners that the United States admits waterboarding. The CIA’s inspector general called Nashiri the “most significant” case of a detainee who was brutalized in ways that went beyond even the tortures approved by the Bush administration, including being threatened with a power drill. A specialist in treating torture victims (prosecuters aggressively tried to disqualify the witness as an expert) testified that Nashiri had been subjected to “physical, psychological and sexual torture.” As part of his torture, Nashiri was analy raped.

    Nashiri no doubt remembers every detail: his own screams, the looks on his torturers faces as they broke him, what they said to him about freedom and America as he was beaten, raped and waterboarded. But at Guantanamo, Nashiri’s lawyers cannot introduce those tortures as part of his defense, because the U.S. government classified them. Nashiri cannot discuss the details of his own torture at his own trial, nor can his lawyers access CIA files of his torture. They are classified.

    Even the court at Guantanamo found this too far from any concept of justice, and ordered the government to release the documentation, albeit still with the classifications, to Nashiri’s lawyer.

    (BACKGROUND: At one point government prosecutors argued against the release order as too broad, stating at one point that the defense must specify exact documents by name, impossible as even such details are classified– a Catch 22. Also in Nashiri’s case, the government admitted it had “inadvertently” accessed confidential e-mails among Nashiri’s defense lawyers made via Guantanamo’s computer systems. No mistrial was declared.)

    Torture Records Sought, Fought

    Despite the court’s order that the torture records be released to the defense team (the team also seeks testimony from the CIA torturers themselves, who, if they are indeed compelled to speak of their actions in front of their victim, will be allowed to testify under false names), the government is now arguing in a new motion that they should not be required to release any records.

    The government’s argument would be funny in less dire circumstances. In an motion, prosecuters state the chief reason not to release the torture documents is that information from Gitmo should not get ahead of information that may be made public out of the White House at some vague future date.

    (BACKGROUND: The Senate Intelligence Committee voted April 3 to ask the Obama administration to declassify a lengthy executive summary of its investigative report on the torture and rendition program. The administration punted the issue to CIA claiming they had to review the document and make redactions first. There is no target date for release even now, more than a month since that process should have started.)

    The real reason for trying to block release of the documentation of Nashiri’s torture however seems darker than just wanting to avoid upstaging the White House: Prosecutors at Gitmo likely remain fearful that the unredacted documents pertaining to Nashiri’s torture may reveal far more heinous actions by the government than whatever sanitized version emerges from the CIA-edited version. Here’s why.

    Why the Government is Trying to Block Release of the Documents

    The goal of the defense in seeking the torture records is to show that Nashiri’s treatment was so outside any standards of accepted human behavior that any statements or confessions he made should not be admissible in the trial designed to determine if he should now be executed. The defense also seeks to show that the traumas purposely inflicted on Nashiri, and the lack of medical care afforded him afterwards, rendered him so psychologically damaged that he is not competent to stand trial in defense of his own life.

    At the same time, these same documents could provide the clearest picture to date of the U.S. government’s torture program. That’s what the prosecutors in Guantanamo are very likely really trying to suppress. Specifically, why is the government so scared? Have a look at what the current judge’s order requires them to produce:

    — A chronology identifying where Nashiri was held in detention between the date of his capture to the date he arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in September 2006; [NOTE: Nashiri was captured in Dubai and believed to have been held in Afghanistan, Thailand, Poland, Morocco, and Romania.]

    — A description of how Nashiri was transported between the various locations including how he was restrained and how he was clothed;

    — All records, photographs, videos and summaries the Government of the United States has in its possession which document the condition of Nashiri’s confinement at each location, and Nashiri’s conditions during each movement between the various locations; [NOTE: The CIA destroyed video of Nashiri’s waterboarding in 2005.]

    — The identities of medical personnel (examining and treating physicians, psychologist, psychiatrists, mental health professionals, dentists, etc.), guard force personnel, and interrogators, whether employees of the United States Government or employees of a contractor hired by the United States Government, who had direct and substantial contact with Nashiri; [Note that former CIA case officer John Kiriakou is currently serving a sentence in federal prison for revealing the identity of a CIA staffer involved in the torture program.]

    — Copies of the standard operating procedures, policies, or guidelines on handling, moving, transporting, treating, interrogating, etc., high value detainees at and between the various facilities;

    — The employment records of individuals identified memorializing adverse action and/or positive recognition in connection with performance of duties at a facility or in transporting Nashiri between the various facilities;

    — The records of training in preparation for the performance of duties of the individuals at the various facilities or during transport of Nashiri;

    — All statements obtained from interrogators, summaries of interrogations, reports produced from interrogations, interrogations logs, and interrogator notes of interrogations of Nashiri and all co-conspirators identified on the Charge Sheet dated 15 September 2011; [Note the date. Despite the USS Cole bombing having occurred 11 years earlier, Nashiri was not charged with any crime until four days after 9/11.]

    — Un-redacted copies of requests with any accompanying justifications and legal reviews of same to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators;

    — Un-redacted copies of documents memorializing decisions (approving or disapproving), with any additional guidance, on requests to employ Enhanced Interrogation Techniques on Nashiri and all co-conspirators.

    What if Nashiri Wins?

    Ahead, many things are unclear. Prosecutors may win their motion now in front of the Gitmo judge, meaning some or all of the documents will not be released. They may succeed in editing or redacting what is released. They may block Nashiri’s lawyers from discussing in any public forum what is contained in the documents, meaning even their release will never see the information leave Guantanamo.

    But what if Nashiri wins?

    If, against very long odds, Nashiri wins, and if some or all of the documents are made public, the world will learn in much of the same banal evil of detail as from Nuremburg what the United States has done in the name of its own twisted definition of freedom.

    The world will learn– maybe by name– who did these things and thus have the ability to someday hold them responsible for their acts, should we acquire the courage to do so. It will learn in part who authorized and approved torture, and what efforts were made to train and equip the men and women who carried out that torture.

    Of most value to us all is that these detailed records from the case of Nashiri will pressure Obama to release the more comprehensive record of torture he and his CIA now hold in their hands. The sanitized version of events the White House would likely prefer to release would not stand up to the details that might be heard in Guantanamo.

    Obama and the CIA have to feel now that the troops are closing in on their bunker in Berlin. What will they do, now, with their enemy at the gates?

    We learned significant details of the torture program already out of Guantanamo, through the testimony of a psychiatrist in the trial of Shaker Aamer.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen

    Destroying Rights Guaranteed since the Magna Carta

    February 6, 2013 // 23 Comments »

    Here are the Department of Justice’s legal arguments granting permission to the president to assassinate Americans if they are connected with al Qaeda, essentially destroying rights guaranteed citizens since the Magna Carta— right to life, right to a trial, right to due process.

    This will be one of the documents historians study years from now while chronicling the end of the American experiment in democracy. Those historians will conclude that no foreign power defeated us; we ate ourselves.

    Torture as American Policy

    The release of these legal arguments comes on the same day that the Open Society Foundation detailed the CIA’s effort to outsource torture since 9/11 in excruciating detail. Known as “extraordinary rendition,” the practice concerns taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without a legal process — think of it like an off-the-books extradition — and often entailed handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture. The Open Society Foundation found that 136 people went through the post-9/11 extraordinary rendition, and 54 countries were complicit in it. The U.S. worked with Iran to take new prisoners, and sent others into Assad’s Syria for torture.

    Justification to Ignore the Constitution

    According to MSNBC, the undated DOJ memo is entitled “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force.” It was provided to members of the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary committees in June by administration officials on the condition that it be kept confidential and not discussed publicly. The white paper was represented by administration officials as a policy document that closely mirrors the arguments of classified memos on targeted killings by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The administration has refused to turn over to Congress or release those more detailed memos publicly, or even to overtly confirm they existence.

    In the DOJ white paper, it is determined that in order for the United States of America to kill one of its own citizens, all that is needed is that “an informed, high-level official of the U.S. Government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States,” and that capture is not feasible and of course that the laws of war are followed. For those tracking the amount of blood on the president’s hands, note that no review takes place, no due process, no jury, no anything, just death because the president (or, technically, any anonymous informed high-level official) says kill that man, woman or child. This is considered by the Department of Justice to be “a lawful act of national self-defense.”

    DOJ specifically states that if the targeted individual had rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Due Process Clause, such rights would not “immunize him from a lethal operation.”

    The Fourth Amendment is a now-quaint part of the U.S. Constitution that guards against unreasonable searches and seizures, along with requiring any warrant to be judicially sanctioned and supported by probable cause. The Due Process Clause is contained in the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. It once acted as a safeguard from arbitrary denial of life, liberty, or property by the Government. The clear intent of Due Process, appearing twice in the Constitution, is to assure Americans that the government cannot act against them outside of a judicial process, a set of laws to protect against the government having too much power.

    The Department of Justice also concludes that the murder of an American Citizen under such circumstances “would not violate certain criminal provisions prohibiting the killing of U.S. nationals outside the United States; nor would it constitute the commission of a war crime or an assassination prohibited by Executive Order.”

    It was found that “the realities of the conflict and the weight of the government’s interest in protecting its citizens from an imminent attack are such that the Constitution would not require the government to provide further process to such a U.S. Citizen before using lethal force.”

    The document notes that “the condition that the operational leader present an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future.” Instead, DOJ asserts a “broader definition of imminence.”

    Neatly, to conclude their argument, the Department of Justice states that due to the unique circumstances of the conflict with terror, “there exists no appropriate judicial forum to evaluate these constitutional considerations.”

    The End of the Experiment

    One is left literally gasping for air, pale with anger, wondering what we have become in America. Have we stooped to the level of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws, which in precise legalese justified the Holocaust? Have we reached the point where we believe we must destroy our beautiful Constitution in order to save it?

    Of what value anymore is the oath all Federal employees take, the same oath Obama took on the steps of the Capitol last month, promising to defend and uphold the Constitution? What value is that oath when with a memo he deems that that Constitution does not apply when there is killing to be done abroad. What type of nation declares war on its own citizens?

    Those questions are left rhetorical for now, but this much is now true: the president of the United States has granted himself legal justification to ignore the most basic tenet of freedom– the right to live– and empowered himself to kill his own citizens without any form of due process or judicial procedure. It is an easy way for a writer to grab headlines, claiming such-and-such is the end of our rights, such as the limits imposed on habeas corpus, online spying, no-fly lists, restrictions on free speech, etc. But now we have truly approached the edge, because when you are dead, killed extra judicially by your own government, well, no other theoretical rights really matter anymore.

    Abu Graid, Guantanamo, the CIA secret prisons, imprisonment without trial of Bradley Manning, those are not aberrations or exceptions– they were practice. These are indeed the darkest of days for our democratic experiment.

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    Posted in Biden, Democracy, Economy, Other Ideas, Syria, Yemen