Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Look Back and Ahead In An Age of Neocon Rule

A Look Back and Ahead In An Age of Neocon Rule - by Stephen Lendman

Borrowing the opening line from Dickens' Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...." He referred to the French Revolution promising "Liberte, egalite and fraternite" that began in 1789, inspired by ours from 1775 - 1783. It ended a 1000 years of monarchal rule in France benefitting those of privilege and established the nation as a republic the way ours did for us here a few years earlier.

That was the good news. The bad was the wrong people came to power. They were the Jacobins who at first were revolutionary moderates and patriots until they lost control to extremists like Maximilien Robespierre who ushered in a "reign of terror" (The Great Terror sounding a lot like today's "war on terror") characterized by brutal repression against perceived enemies from within the Revolution who didn't get a chance to prove they weren't. In the name of defending it, individual rights were denied and civil liberties suspended. Laws were passed that allowed charging those designated counter-revolutionaries or enemies of the state with undefined crimes against liberty.

It resulted in justice being meted out to thousands for what Orwell called "thoughtcrimes" or for their freely expressed opinions and actions judged hostile to the state under a system of near-vigilante justice by the Paris Revolutionary (kangaroo) Tribunal with no right of appeal. It led to the public spectacle of an inglorious trip to and quick ending from the death penalty method of choice of the times - the guillotine that was barbaric but quick, and a much easier, less painful way to die for its victims than the use of state-inflicted torture-murder in the commonly drawn out lethal injection process used in 37 of the 38 death penalty states and by the federal government making the condemned endure a slow agonizing death unable to cry out while they're being made to suffer during their last moments of life. Instances of this barbarity aren't exceptions. They're the rule, the exception being this time a report or two of what really happens slipped out and made news.

Fast forward to the past year and the previous five under George Bush and ask: sound familiar? French Revolutionary laws during the "reign of terror," like the Law of Suspects, were earlier versions of our Patriot I and II and Military Commission Acts today. The Revolutionary Tribunal, with no chance for justice or right of appeal, was no different than our military courts today, and too many civil ones, in which any US citizen may now be tried anywhere in the world, with no habeas right of appeal or hope for due process and from which those sent there won't fare any better than the French did, doomed to meet their unjust fate - even though much in these laws today is unconstitutional and one day will be reversed by a High Court upholding the law instead of the extremist rogue one now empowered that scorns it.

What May Lie Ahead As the New Year Approaches

At the end of the sixth horrific year under the reign of the Bush modern-day extremist Jacobin-neocons, we can now look ahead, but to what. We have an administration in charge for another two years one longtime analyst characterizes as "a bunch of crooks, incompetents and perverts" with the president's approval rating plunging as low as 28% in some independent polls and a growing number of people in the country demanding his impeachment and removal from office.

It's not likely from the new Democrat-led Congress arriving in January, as their DLC leadership took it off the table and so far only promises more of the same failed policy other than some minor tinkering around the edges to create an illusion of change no different than the deceptive kind of course correction proposed by the Baker "Gang of Ten" Iraq Study Group (ISG) that guarantees none at all. It doesn't leave members of the body politic with much hope for the new year that will likely just deliver more of the same rogue leadership and policy engendering growing public discontent and anger but not at a level so far to scare the those in power enough to want to address it.

The heart of the problem is the unpopular illegal war of aggression in Iraq, the cesspool of corruption and scorn for the law in Washington, and the assault on human rights and civil liberties in the country justified by the so-called "war on terror" now rebranded a "long war" against "Islamofascism" and "radicals and extremists" (who happen to be Muslims.) It's the same failed policy using the kind of deliberately provocative language intended to deceive the public to think a threat great enough exists to justify any state action in the name of national security including waging wars of aggression and all the horrors associated with them at home and abroad.

After the Baker "bob and weave,'' the now you see a change of course and now you don't, disingenuously suggesting a drawdown and exit strategy, the New York Times on December 16 reports "Military planners and White House budget analysts have been asked to provide President Bush with options for increasing American forces in Iraq by 20,000 or more."

The article goes on to say one option is to boost the force level by up to 50,000 even though any increase greater than 20 - 30,000 would be "prohibitive" - but it won't deter the Pentagon, on administration orders, from extending tours of duty even longer for forces now there and calling up thousands of reservists and greatly extended National Guard units to get into this quagmire even though it's recognized their presence will only make things worse as well as place an unfair burden on those called up, who've served before, and their families.

As of December 27, it's somewhat less clear what Iraq troop strength policy will emerge in January following comments by incoming Democrat chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Joseph Biden, who just stated "I totally oppose this surging of additional American troops into Baghdad. It's contrary to the overwhelming body of informed opinion, both inside and outside the administration." Senator Biden will hold hearings on Iraq on January 9, and at that time things may heat up a bit at least in rhetoric if not in final policy.

Additional heat may be created in January after George Bush admitted for the first time on December 19 that the US isn't winning the war even though two weeks before the November mid-term elections he said emphatically "absolutely, we're winning in Iraq." He wouldn't acknowledge what most every honest observer knows including the Pentagon Joint Chiefs - that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are lost. They can't be won and won't be. No military solution is possible now or any time ahead.

The president is living in a state of denial, obsessed with his messianic mission fed him by the vice-president and hardest of his hard line neocon allies, and it shows in the outlandish solutions he proposes to an insoluble problem - send in more troops (that will only make things worse) and increase the overall size of the military (that guarantees a permanent state of war).

It also clearly sounds a lot like the first official hint from the chief executive that a draft is needed and will come at some unspecified time ahead - likely following another "made in Washington" 9/11 calamity severe enough to get the public to go along with something now thought intolerable. The president's sentiment was echoed on December 21 by administration Veterans Affairs secretary Jim Nicholson who (incredibly) said that "society would benefit" if the US reinstated the military draft. He didn't say for whom. He did go further when asked in a press conference whether it should include women saying: "I think if we bring back the draft, there should be no loopholes for anybody who happens to be drafted." Maybe, to his thinking, it should include pregnant mothers as well and single ones with small children.

Such openness by the VA secretary apparently was too much, too soon, and too clear for the White House that quickly got the Department of Veterans Affairs to issue a separate follow-up statement from Nicholson saying: "Let me be clear, I strongly support the all-volunteer military and do not support returning to a draft." Let the reader choose which message to believe, but, with the nation in a permanent state of war, it looks like the trial balloon and hint of a draft now being floated is the opening round to instituting one at some designated time ahead. That likelihood looms even greater as the Selective Service System announced it's planning a comprehensive test of the military draft machinery, which it hasn't done since 1998 while, at the same time, saying the agency isn't gearing up for a draft. But what else would they say as they make plans to do this on orders from the administration.

It all amounts to an increasing level of insanity from a power-crazed administration as well as sounding much like Benjamin Franklin's wisdom who said "The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results." In the case of Iraq, doing it with more troops on the ground is even more insane as a greater occupying force there only guarantees a stronger resistance to it presenting more targets to aim at with virtually no chance for a peaceful resolution of the conflict short of a full unconditional withdrawal of all occupying forces, no strings attached, that won't happen. In the case of a future draft, now seeming more likely, it only guarantees this nation plans to stay in a permanent state of war against future enemies to be chosen with those in or to be included in the "axis of evil" heading the target list at some point ahead.

George Bush and others floating these lunatic schemes have no regard for the lives of those affected, and why should they. For now, their aim is to buy time, and as long as they can get away with it, they and their well-connected cronies and corporate friends stand to gain from the price everyone else has to pay - a huge one including the thousands of lives lost each week and the many more thousands of survivors whose lives will never be the same again.

Think what it means as the new year approaches. The nation is at war on two fronts, it's likely more ahead are contemplated by some in the administration, no substantive effort is being made to change course, and the condition at home is a relentless march toward becoming a full-blown national security police state we're already perilously close to. It's because the neocon-dominated Bush administration is reckless in ambition, out-of-control in policy, and the embodiment of a relentless and ruthless "weapon of mass destruction" unleashed on all humanity in its way.

It's underpinned by an extremist ideology based on rule by savage capitalism that's frighteningly close to and borders on the tipping edge of the classic definition of fascism combining corporatism with strong elements of patriotism and nationalism, a claimed messianic Almighty-directed and blessed mission, and characterized by authoritarian rule backed by the iron fist of militarism and 'homeland security" enforcers, illegally spying on everyone, and intolerant of dissent and opposition in an age where the law is what the chief executive says it is and all semblance of checks and balances no longer exist. In a word - despotism, but cloaked in the deceptive rhetoric of a modern democracy falsely claiming to serve the needs of all its people.

It's also an age of extreme greed and corruption infesting government and corporate boardrooms with the gap between rich and poor at levels greater than since the 19th century "Gilded Age" of the "robber barons." It's something economist Paul Krugman calls "entirely unprecedented" under George Bush that "For the first time in our history, so much (of the nation's economic growth has gone) to a small, wealthy minority" while the great majority can't stay even as inflation-adjusted wages fail to keep up with rising prices and poverty is growing in an age of affluence affecting tens of millions in the richest country ever in the world.

The grossness of this disparity was on the online business pages of the New York Times on Christmas Day in a story titled "Wall St. Bonuses" So Much Money, Too Few ($250,000) Ferraris. The article highlights that "The 2006 bonus gold rush has re-energized some luxury markets" like Manhattan real estate that had softened earlier in the year and echoed the lament of a real estate broker about a "dearth of listings for two clients trying to spend $20 million on Manhattan properties" while mentioning some of the Wall Street wealthy already in their luxury nests are buying $5 million apartments for their children and private resort vacation homes to boot.

The same ugly data is there overall worldwide in a newly released study by the Helsinki-based World Institute for Development Economics Research of the UN University that shows the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of its wealth compared, on the other end, with the assets of about half the world's population accounting for barely 1% of global wealth - lumps of coal only for them and a "Ba Humbug" dismissal for their plight by those with everything wanting still more.

The Cost to a Society Based on Predatory Capitalism and Out-of-Control Greed, Corruption and Militarism

The societal breakdown in the US is a national disgrace and affects many millions. A sampling of some of it is listed below:

-- 47 million Americans can't afford basic health insurance.

-- Over 80 million in total have no health coverage during some portion of each year and most of them are employed.

-- The Bush administration just proposed sweeping cuts in payments to pharmacies to reduce the Medicaid benefits 50 million poor in the country rely on, can't afford to make up the difference for on their own, and may have to forego medications they vitally need if pharmacies won't fill prescriptions at lower prices.

-- The US ranks 41st in infant mortality, and the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks the country 37th in the world in "overall health performance" and 54th in the fairness of health care despite spending at a current level overall of around $2 trillion a year or about double the amount per capita of the OECD countries that deliver superior health care overall to their citizens as a national priority.

-- Well over 12 millions Americans struggle daily to feed themselves, and many thousands across the country can't afford housing and are forced to sleep on the streets including in winter cold.

-- A just released December 14 US Conference of Mayors report said these conditions continue to worsen based on a survey of 23 cities showing 7% more requests for food aid in 2006 following a 12% jump in 2005 during a period of economic growth.

-- The same report showed requests for shelter rose 9% in 2006 with requests from families with children rising 5%.

-- Public education is deliberately being eroded with illiteracy in basic reading, math and computer skills shamefully high and rising.

-- The US prison population is the highest in the world at 2.2 million and increasing by 1000 a week, half of those in it are black, and half of the total prison population is there for non-violent offenses half of which are drug-related. The US prison system is a shameful Gulag and an affront to humanity. The appalling conviction and sentencing of first-time drug offender Weldon Angelos is but one of countless examples. He was convicted of three sales of marijuana in 2004 while in possession of a gun unrelated to the sale. Under the insane federal mandatory sentencing laws, he was sentenced to five years for the first offense and 25 years each for the other two totaling 55 years in federal prison or a likely life sentence if he's forced to serve it all because he possessed and sold a few "joints" of a substance less harmful than legal cigarettes that kill millions yearly while it's not known marijuana ever killed anyone using it. Only in America.

-- The true state of things overall is suppressed by the dominant corporate-controlled media (including the NPR and PBS parts of it) functioning as a national thought-control police controlling all mass communication and depriving the public of any real information vital to a healthy democracy and their welfare.

-- Racial segregation is as great as in the 1960s, and the national sport almost is demonizing Muslims as "terrorists, radicals, extremists and Islamofascists" and impoverished "people the color of the earth" Mexicans and Latin Americans as "illegal immigrant invaders polluting" our white western European society and culture, mindless that they only come el norte in desperate search of work because of the devastating effects of NAFTA on their lives that destroyed their ability to support their families.

Data from the Oakland Institute think tank specializing in social, economic and environmental issues shows that heavily subsidized US corn exports to Mexico have tripled since NAFTA came into force forcing two million Mexican corn farmers out of business, something that was predicted in advance but allowed to happen anyway. It also led to suicides but at a rate nowhere near the level globalized trade US-style had on farmers in India where as many as 100,000 of them have taken their own lives because "New World Order" indebtedness caused them to lose their farms and then everything else.

-- Childhood poverty in the US ranks 22nd and next to last among developed nations when there should be virtually none tolerated in the richest country in the world or toleration of any of the other listed abuses.

-- An alarming number of high-paying and other jobs have been exported abroad in a process that's gone on for decades but picked up in momentum since the 1980s and especially in recent years. Mckinsey Global Institute estimates the volume will grow 30 - 40% a year for the next five years. Forrester Research estimates 3.3 million white-collar jobs will be lost by 2015 with most affected areas in financial services and information technology, and University of California researchers estimate that "up to 14 million American jobs are at risk to outsourcing."

It adds up to a nation in decline, losing its industrial base and becoming primarily a service-oriented economy mainly offering low-skill, low-pay jobs with the better, higher-paying ones growing scarcer, making a college degree in areas outside of critical skills almost worthless. Exporting jobs to low-wage countries is a boon for corporate bottom lines in an age of "globalized free trade" never characterized as fair for the harm it does to millions of wage earners at home or in the developing countries on the receiving end being exploited by capital that sucks out their wealth and impoverishes their people, many of whom work for near-slave-rate wages in a modern era of serfdom in countries around the world in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin and Central America.

-- Worker outrage around the world in protest is growing in response to these abuses (unreported in the US) because most governments are doing little or nothing to ameliorate them. It showed up on November 22 in South Korea when over 200,000 workers belonging to the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) staged a general strike protesting in 17 cities against the bilateral US-Korea Free Trade Agreement currently being negotiated that will do to their members and farmers what NAFTA did to Mexicans and India's agricultural trade policies did to their small farmers. It continued on the streets in the days following and spilled over to the Big Sky Ski Resort in Big Sky, Montana where negotiations are being held in seclusion but are still unable to escape the daily protests held against them there.

-- It happened as well in Cebu City, Philippines where President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (closely allied to the failed Bush agenda and elected through fraud) had to cancel two Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) meetings in December attended by 19 countries including the US and Canada. It was an abrupt ending to the meeting held to ratify trade and security agreements because of the mass protests by workers, farmers and others against their harmful effects forcing thousands in the country to leave daily to go abroad for work paying enough to support their families at home.

-- Workers almost everywhere have been harmed, including in the US, as union clout and worker rights here have declined in an age where the social contract government once had with its working people has been dismantled with less than 13% of the work force (the lowest in the industrialized world) unionized today compared to one-third of it in 1958. In an age of modern-day "robber barons," the middle class bedrock of a democratic state is slowly disappearing as the nation moves closer to becoming a banana republic at a time when 51 of the world's largest economies are corporate giants, most of them US-based.

It all goes on with no redress or sign of change in an age of out-of-control militarism and outlandish budgets supporting it that began ratcheting up under Ronald Reagan, along with big budget deficits to pay for it, and have gone wild under George Bush. The White House just approved a fiscal year 2008 near $470 billion Pentagon budget on top of an additional $100+ billion off-the-books amount minimum more that will boost this year's war budget for Iraq and Afghanistan to a yearly record of about $170 billion. It also needs tens of billions annually for "Homeland Security" and tens of billions more for the "spy agencies" totaling numbers in the range of well over $700 billion a year and rising - while social spending continues to be slashed to pay for it all in a heartless society scorning its people and their essential needs as long as the interests of capital are served along with the militarists in it profiting from its blood money.

Since WW II, when the US emerged as the only dominant nation left standing, Washington, instead of disarming and fostering peace, embarked on a now long-running program of militarization to maintain the country's political, economic and military preeminence over all others. It takes a lot of military spending to do it, that could have been used far more productively investing in human capital (like health and education) and physical capital (like essential infrastructure) as well as promoting non-military related business and industry that over time pay back far greater dividends than the short-term gains from building weapons and having large standing armies, navies and air forces that only exist to kill and destroy.

Productive spending also pays off in creating a society free from a dominant military culture like now exists out-of-control and hard to contain in the Pentagon that scorns civil liberties and democratic principles and values that have nearly vanished. The course this nation chose 60 years ago led to today's corrupted society armed to the teeth for endless wars with the most destructive weapons in human history deployed on over 800 known military bases in about 155 of the 192 countries of the world. It cost an unimaginable amount creating this monster as documented by the Center for Defense Information. It reported this country spent an estimated $21 trillion in constant dollars since 1945 on defense, the numbers continue to rise sharply, and the mindset of most of the nation's leaders, especially George Bush, is when you've got the might, you have to throw it around to prove it as well as scare off potential challengers.

Shamefully the US stands as a modern-day Sparta glorifying war and those put in charge to wage it. Witness the retirement ceremony for Army Major General Geoffrey Miller last summer when Army Vice Chief of Staff General Richard Cody awarded the man who supervised the infamous US Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib torture-prisons with the Distinguished Service Medal (DDSM). This award was established by Richard Nixon in 1970 so the Secretary of Defense could reward officers of the US Armed Forces "whose exceptional performance of duty and contributions to national security or defense have been at the highest levels."

Witness also the December 16 retirement ceremony at the Pentagon for unindicted war criminal and torture-authorizer Donald Rumsfeld complete with pomp and circumstance, George Bush and Dick Cheney in attendance for the spectacle, and a 19 round cannon salute that might have been better aimed. In open defiance of growing public anger over the war, speakers, including the president, shamelessly lauded Rumsfeld for the war of aggression he directed and his leadership in doing it. The galling scene showed Bush hugging Rumsfeld saying: "This man knows how to lead, and he did. And the country is better off for it." He failed to say for whom, but it got worse with Dick Cheney saying: "I believe the record speaks for itself - Don Rumsfeld is the finest Secretary of Defense this nation ever had."

Contrast those spectacles with the fate of extraordinary people like Lynne Stewart prosecuted for her crime of courage, honor and resisting tyranny. She was unjustly charged under the 1996 Antiterrorism Act with four counts of aiding and abetting a terrorist organization and violating Special Administration Measures (SAMS) imposed by the US Bureau of Prisons, which included a gag order on Sheik Abdel Rahman whom she represented as counsel for the defense in his 1995 trial because former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark asked her to take the case.

Lynne took it in the same spirit she spent her entire 30 year professional life as a courageous champion for the rights of the poor, underprivileged and those in society never afforded due process unless they're lucky enough to have an advocate like her. She broke no law, and her trial was a gross miscarriage of justice. Still, the Justice Department asked for a harsh 30 year sentence. It wasn't for any crime committed. It was to send a clear message to all in the legal community not to represent "unpopular clients" and not to afford them their legal right of due process with competent counsel when the government wants them put away.

Lynne for the present had the last word being vindicated in court on October 17 when Judge John G. Koeltl rejected the prosecution's case in the 28 month sentence he handed down allowing Lynne to remain free pending her appeal to a higher court, acknowledging it might overturn her conviction and effectively rebuking the Justice Department for their prosecution of a courageous woman who spent a lifetime fighting for justice.

The outcome was painfully different in an age of Muslim demonization and persecution shown in the prosecution of Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a Muslim American of Iraqi descent and practicing oncologist until his license was unjustly revoked as a prelude to the greater outrage committed against him. Dr. Dhafir was charged and tried in another US "kangaroo court" for what Katherine Hughes called and wrote his "crime of compassion." Katherine followed the trial daily in court for 17 weeks and remains his champion, continuing to work tirelessly for his vindication and release.

Dr. Dhafir was convicted and is now serving a 22 year sentence in federal prison for violating the Iraqi Sanctions Regulations (the IEEPA) having used his own funds and what he could raise from others to bring desperately needed humanitarian aid, including food and medical supplies, to Iraqi people unable to get them because of the punitive, harsh and unjust sanctions imposed prior to the 2003 war. He did it through his Help the Needy charity, and for it was convicted of violating the sanctions, tax fraud, money laundering, and mail and wire fraud - a total of 60 counts and found guilty on 59 of them.

The verdict sent another chill through the Muslim community, and as Katherine explained on her web site - dhafirtrial.net - "If we can get Rafil Dhafir, we can get anyone." Not quite, as Lynne Stewart's vindication proves. But it proves something else too. In the age of George Bush, the chance of prevailing against injustice as a white American is a lot better than for a "not-as-white" Arab Muslim, even an American one, especially one courageous enough to take on a mission of mercy in defiance of state policy unjustly prohibiting it.

Dr. Dhafir was confined at the federal prison in Fairton, NJ until December when he was transfered further away from his family, who weren't told. He's now at what's been described as the hellhole in Terre Haute, IN, in an area of right wing extremism and KKK influence, in a deliberate act of further barbaric vengeance to break his spirit, restrict his access to legal help and his family, and cause him undue pain and suffering in an age of US-sanctioned and authorized torture as a method of social control and inhumanity and because no dissenting authority has the courage to challenge Washington's willingness to go against the most basic principles of equity and justice.

A Look Back to Find Direction Ahead

A look back to an important anniversary just reached should have been duly noted and reflected on in the major media, but it passed nearly unnoticed. It was the December 15 anniversary of the Bill of Rights of 1791 to the Constitution framed in 1787. It gave us unimaginable freedoms up to that time written into the law of the land that overall was a great democratic experiment never tried before outside of ancient Athens for a few decades before it ended. It gave people the rights of free expression, religion and peaceable assembly; protection from illegal searches and seizure; the right of due process, against double jeopardy and to remain silent if accused; to a speedy trial by jury if charged with the right to counsel and to be able to call witnesses; protection from any cruel and unusual punishment and more.

Most of the credit for this historic achievement goes to James Madison who drafted the first 10 amendments and with his perseverance got the other Framers to go along. He then managed to get the needed two-thirds vote from both Houses of Congress and ratification by the required three-fourths of the states in 1791 to have them become the law of the land - a major landmark achievement today being defiled by those in power who have contempt for the freedoms the Founders gave us.

Madison is thought of by some to be the "Father of the Constitution," but it's more accurate to call him its Godfather as he had a lot of help from the other 54 Founders who met in the Philadelphia State House, where the Declaration of Independence was signed 11 years earlier, to frame this historic document for the new republic they hoped would last into "remote futurity" - if we could keep it as Ben Franklin warned at the time and would shudder now at how things turned out and condemn those in power responsible.

Two future presidents, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were serving abroad as envoys to France and Britain and weren't in Philadelphia for this historic gathering. When they were back later on, Jefferson and Madison wanted twelve initial amendments to the Constitution instead of the original 10 that were adopted. Federalists John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, however, opposed the Bill of Rights entirely and managed to exclude from them the other two that included "freedom from monopolies in commerce," or what are now giant corporate predators, and "freedom from a permanent military," or today's standing armies waging wars of illegal aggression.

Imagine what might have been, what was lost, and how the country might be governed today had Jefferson and Madison prevailed. Still they deserve our gratitude for what they accomplished, and it's disconcerting at the least to wonder how much worse off we'd be now if they hadn't gotten any of the Bill of Rights freedoms in our founding law that although lost under neocon rule may one day be restored if we can survive in the meantime.

A Look Ahead In An Age of State-Sponsored Terror Under Neocon Rule

It's time to pause at year's end to give thanks for our blessings but reflect that the spirit of the season demands that the madness of Bush neocon rule be stopped and ended before it's too late. Six years is more than enough to know the administration's agenda at home and abroad is roguish, corrupted by greed and contempt for the law, ruthless in its pursuit of world dominance through the barrel of a gun, and arrogant enough to think it can get away with it because who'll challenge those in charge.

Internally, there no longer are checks and balances as the three branches of government under Republicans and Democrats are united for a common purpose, and their agenda to carry it out is hostile to the public interest. It's the ultimate expression of Lord Acton's dictum that "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Positively it does in the age of George Bush and a culture obsessed with power, the lust for more of it, and the worship of the wealth and privilege that comes with it. It wreaks of the Vince Lombardi philosophy that "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing," and the only rules are the ones those now in power make up as they go along justifying whatever they choose to do, regardless of its consequences always harmful to the great majority.

It's also based on might making right but not the way Abe Lincoln meant it when he said in his February, 1860 Cooper Union speech prior to his July presidential nomination that year: "Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it." He later expressed a spirit of reconciliation with the South and kind of humanity George Bush has contempt for in his second inaugural address in March, 1865 when he spoke of "malice toward none (and) charity for all" only weeks before his life was taken by an assassin's bullet. Imagining that language from George Bush, and meaning it, would be to imagine the unimaginable from a man who likely doesn't even understand it.

What is imaginable in the year ahead and thenceforth is a world without George Bush and his neocon extremist administration leading the nation on a path to hell. Those wanting justice demand the Congress act to impeach him and the vice-president and then remove them from office allowing for the chance charges will be brought against them both and others in their administration so they'll be held to account in the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague or another judicial venue where officials may be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. They committed them all and more against the people of Iraq, at least two of the three in Afghanistan, and a legion of others against the people of the United States and its Constitution.

It'll only happen if it comes from the bottom up, from enough public outrage bubbling to the surface vocally demanding justice be served and the rule of law restored and again respected. No one at any level in public or private life should ever be allowed to get away with the kind of reckless and gross criminality that's been rampant and out-of-control in Washington for the past six years under Republican neocon rule.

It's long past time to put an end to this criminal class of rogues in charge, running the country like their private fiefdom in a culture of galling corruption and scorn for the law that exceeds anything here ever preceding their tenure. Already there's a groundswell of growing outrage slowly building in size and intensity. As the new year approaches, it remains to be seen if a combination of those people of conscience can unite with enough others in the body politic to give us all what everyone should want and demand - an end to wars, a renewed respect for the law, accountability for those in government who violated it, and a commitment to serve the public interest with equity and equal justice for all in the true spirit of a real democracy restored from the grave and once again respected and cherished.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Reports of Fidel Castro's Impending Death Have Been greatly Exaggerated

Reports of Fidel Castro's Impending Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated - by Stephen Lendman

Reports of the Cuban President's impending demise come from such impeccable sources as US Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte who told the Washington Post earlier this month US intelligence agencies believe Fidel Castro is "terminally ill" and would be dead in "months, not years." This is the same man who also likely said or echoed what other high-level US officials declared with imperial bravado and certainty in early 2003: "The Iraqi people will welcome us with flowers and candy." Indeed, and so much for US intelligence accuracy that also missed the mark a bit on all those falsely claimed so-called WMDs Saddam was said to have that was the justification used for waging a war of genocidal extermination against the people living there as part of the overall US imperial agenda of conquest, control of the region's oil and all the other plunder this country had in mind to seize along with it.

Famed American writer and anti-imperialist vice-president of the American Anti-Imperialist League Mark Twain reportedly once said "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated." It's not known if Cuban President Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz ever read Twain, but he's likely familiar with the famous quote, in recent months might apply it to himself, and now can do it with even more justification after the report on his health by Spanish physician, and head of surgery at Gregorio Maranon Hospital in Madrid, Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido.

Dr. Sabrido held a news conference on December 26 in Madrid after returning home following his examination of the Cuban President in Havana last week. He reported Fidel Castro did not have cancer, as the US corporate press and Bush administration officials have been bleating since his surgery last summer, is recovering well from his intestinal surgery and can return to work. This is the first official report on President Castro's health, and it was an affirmation of the unofficial ones claimed by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez following his recent visits to Cuba and others who've seen the Cuban President in recent months. Dr. Sabrido gave his official medical opinion stating: "(Fidel Castro's) physical activity is excellent, his intellectual activity intact....I'd say (they're) fantastic. He's recovering (well) from his previous operation."

Dr. Sabrido explained that Castro's surgery to correct his intestinal bleeding was not caused by a malignancy. He said the Cuban President could make a full recovery, but "required muscular rehabilitation and a strict diet (that would be the same regimen prescribed for anyone following major surgery for almost any reason)." He added: "He does not have cancer, he has a problem with his digestive system. President Castro has no malign inflammation. It's a benign process in which he has had a series of complications. It is not planned that he will undergo another operation for the moment. His condition is stable. He is recovering slowly but progressively."

It wasn't reported what all doctors know about everyone post-op. Recovery from major surgery takes time as the human body needs it to heal. That's especially true for someone in his 9th decade when the healing process needs considerable time but can proceed as normally as it does for a much younger person if proper rehab procedures are followed. That seems to be the prognosis for Fidel Castro who will make a public appearance shortly according to what Cuban officials told US congressmen earlier this month when they visited the island state. When he does, the public can make its own unprofessional assessment of the Cuban leader by observing him in manner, speech and overall demeanor.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Chavez Landslide Tops All In US History

Chavez Landslide Tops All In US History - by Stephen Lendman

Well almost, as explained below. Hugo Chavez Frias' reelection on December 3 stands out when compared to the greatest landslide presidential victories in US history. Except for the close race in 1812 and the electoral deadlock in 1800 decided by the House of Representatives choosing Thomas Jefferson over Aaron Burr, the very earliest elections here weren't hardly partisan contests at all as the Democrat-Republican party of Jefferson and Madison was dominant and had everything its own way. It was like that through the election of 1820 when James Monroe ran virtually unopposed winning over 80% of the vote. A consistent pattern of real competitive elections only began with the one held in 1824, and from that time to the present Hugo Chavez's impressive landslide victory beat them all.

The nation's first president, George Washington, had no party affiliation, ran unopposed twice, and got all the votes. His "elections" were more like coronations, but Washington wisely chose to serve as an elected leader and not as a monarch which Federalists like Alexander Hamilton, John Adams and the nation's first Supreme Court Chief Justice John Jay preferred and one aligned with the British monarchy. They also were nationalists believing in a militarily strong central government with little regard for the rights of the separate states.

Most of them were dubious democrats as well who believed for the nation to be stable it should be run by elitists (the way it is today) separate from what Adams arrogantly called "the rabble." And John Jay was very explicit about how he felt saying "The people who own the country ought to run it." Today they do. Adams showed his disdain for ordinary people (and his opposition) when as president he signed into law the Patriot Acts (I and II) of his day - the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to protect the country from dangerous aliens (today's "terrorists") and that criminalized any criticism of his administration (the kind George Bush calls traitorous).

Jefferson denounced both laws and called the Sedition Act an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment right of free expression. It helped him and his Democrat-Republicans beat Adams in 1800 that led to the decline of the Federalists as a powerful opposition and their demise as a political party after the war of 1812. It meant that from 1800 - 1820, after Washington's two unopposed elections, presidential contests were lopsided affairs (except for the two mentioned above), the "loyal opposition" was hardly none at all, and the Democrat-Republicans weren't challenged until the party split into factions and ran against each other in 1824. Then Democrat party candidate Andrew Jackson beat National Republican John Quincy Adams in 1828. It's only from that period forward that any real comparison can be made between Hugo Chavez's impressive landslide on December 3 and presidential contests in the US. And doing it shows one thing. In all US landslide electoral victories from then till now, Chavez outdid them all, but you won't ever hear that reported by the dominant corporate-controlled media.

Earlier, there might not have been a basis for comparison had Washington chosen to be president for life as the Federalists preferred. If he'd done it, he could have stayed on by acclamation and those holding office after him might have done the same. Wisely, however, he decided eights years was enough and stepped down at the end of his second term in office setting the precedent of a two-term limit until Franklin Roosevelt went against tradition running and winning the presidency four times.

The 22nd Amendment to the Constitution ratified in 1951 settled the issue providing that: "No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once."

The US Constitution specifies that the president and vice-president be selected by electors chosen by the states. Article Two, Section One says: "Each state shall appoint, in a Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress." The electors then meet in their respective states after the popular vote to choose a president and vice-president.

That's how it's been done since George Washington was first elected president in 1789 with John Adams his vice-president. The method of choosing state electors changed later on, but the US system choosing presidents and vice-presidents by the Electoral College (a term unmentioned in the Constitution) of all the state electors has remained to this day, to the distress of many who justifiably believe it's long past time this antiquated and undemocratic system be abolished even though it's unimaginable a state's electors would vote against the majority popular vote in their states - at least up to now. Until 2000, it was also unimaginable that five members of the US Supreme Court would annul the popular vote in a presidential election to choose the candidate they preferred even though he was the loser - but they did, and the rest is history.

Hugo Chavez Frias' Electoral Victory Majority Greater Than For Any US President - Since 1820

Amazing but true. On December 3, 2006, the people of Venezuela voted in what hundreds of independent observers from around the world, including from the Carter Center in the US, called a free, fair, open and extremely smooth and well-run electoral process. They chose the only man they'll entrust with the job as long as he wants it reelecting Hugo Chavez with a majority 62.87% of the vote with the highest voter turnout in the country's history at almost 75% of the electorate. No US president since 1820, when elections here consistently became real contests, ever matched it or has any US election ever embraced all the democratic standards all Venezuelans now enjoy since Hugo Chavez came to office.

The Venezuelan Bolivarian Constitution Hugo Chavez gave his people states: "All persons have the right to be registered free of charge with the Civil Registry Office after birth, and to obtain public documents constituting evidence of the biological identity, in accordance with law." To see this happened Chavez established an initiative called Mision Itentidad (Mission Identity) that's now a mass citizenship and voter registration drive. It's given millions of Venezuelans full rights of citizenship including the right to vote for the first time ever.

As glorious and grand a democratic experiment as the US Constitution was and is, it had and still has lots of flaws including who's empowered to vote and what authority has the right to decide. It's the reason through the years many amendments and laws were needed and enacted to establish mandates for enfranchisement, but even today precise voting rights qualifications are left for the states to decide, and many take advantage to strike from their voter rolls categories of people they decide are unfit or that they unjustly wish to exclude from the most important of all rights in a democracy no citizen should have taken away.

It shouldn't be this way as millions in the US have lost the right to vote for a variety of reasons including for being a convicted felon or ex-felon in a country with the highest prison population in the world (greater than China's with four times the population). It exceeds 2.2 million, increases by about 1000 each week, one in every 32 adults in the country is either imprisoned, on parole or on probation, half the prison population is black, half are there for non-violent crimes, half of those are for mostly minor drug-related offenses, and most of those behind bars shouldn't be there at all if we had a criminal justice system with equity and justice for all including many wrongfully convicted because they couldn't afford or get competent counsel to defend them.

Virtually all citizens in Venezuela have the right to vote under one national standard and are encouraged to do so under a model democratic system that's gotten the vast majority of them to actively participate. In contrast, in the US, elections are especially fraud-laden today, but in the past many categories of voters were unjustly denied the franchise including blacks until the 1865 13th amendment to the Constitution freed them from slavery, the 1870 15th amendment gave them the right to vote, but it still took until the passage of the landmark Civil and Voting Rights Acts in the mid-1960s abolishing the Jim Crow laws in the South before blacks could exercise that right like others in the country could. Earlier, it wasn't until the 19th amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1920, before women got the right to vote they'd been fighting for over 70 years to get.

Back at the republic's birth, only adult white male property-owners could vote. It took until 1810 to eliminate the last religious prerequisite to voting and until 1850 before property ownership and tax requirements were dropped allowing all adult white males the franchise. It wasn't until 1913 and the passage of the 17th amendment that citizen voters could elect senators who up to then were elected by state legislatures. Native Americans, whose land this was for thousands of years before the settlers arrived and took it from them, couldn't vote until the 1924 Indian Citizenship Act granted all Native peoples the rights of citizenship, including the right to vote in federal elections. It didn't matter that this was their country, and it's they who should have had to right to decide what rights the white settler population had instead of the reverse.

In 1924, the 24th amendment outlawed discrminatory poll taxes in federal elections, and in 1966 the Supreme Court in Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections ended poll tax requirements in all elections for the four remaining southern states still using them including George Bush's home state of Texas. In 1971, the 26th amendment set the minimum voting age at 18, and in 1972 the Supreme Court in Dunn v. Blumstein ruled residency requirements for voting in state and local elections were unconstitutional and suggested 30 days was a fair period.

This history shows how unfair laws were and still are in force in a country calling itself a model democracy. The most fundamental right of all, underpinning all others in a democratic state, is the right of every citizen to exercise his or her will at the polls freely and fairly without obstructive laws or any interference from any source in the electoral process.

That freedom has been severely compromised today in the US, and unless that changes, there's no possibility of a free, fair and open democratic process here for all citizens. That happening is now almost impossible with more than 80% of the vote now cast and counted on easily manipulated electronic voting machines with no verifiable paper trail. The process is secretive and unreliable, privatized in the hands of large corporations with everything to gain if candidates they support win, and based on what's now known, that's exactly what's been happening as seen in the 2000 and 2004 fraud-laden elections.

The Six Greatest Landslide US Presidential Elections Since Contests Began After 1820

Six US presidential elections stand out especially for the landslide victories they gave the winners. Hugo Chavez's December 3, 2006 reelection topped them all.

1. In 1920, the first time women could vote in a federal election, Republican Warren Harding got 60.3% of the vote to beat Democrat James Cox getting 34.1%. This election was particularly noteworthy as Socialist Eugene Debs ran for the high office from prison getting over 900,000 votes. He was sentenced and was serving 10 years by the Wilson administration for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 that along with the Sedition Act of 1918 were the Patriot Acts of their day like the earlier Alien and Sedition Acts were under John Adams. Debs was found guilty of exercising his constitutional right of free expression after making an anti-WW I speech in Canton, Ohio. He served about 2.5 years before Harding commuted the sentence on Christmas day, 1921.

Harding capitalized on the unpopularity of Woodrow Wilson who took the country to the war he promised to keep us out of. The economy was also in recession, the country and Congress were mainly isolationist, and the main order of business was business and the need to get on with it and make it healthy again. It turned out to be the start of the "roaring twenties" that like the 1990s "roared" mainly for the privileged. It also was a time of scandal and corruption best remembered by the Teapot Dome affair of 1922 that involved Harding's Interior Secretary Albert Fall's leasing oil reserve rights on public land in Wyoming and California without competitive bidding (like the routine use of no-bid contracts today to favored corporations) and getting large illegal gifts from the companies in return that resulted in the crime committed.

Harding was dead (in 1923) and Coolidge was in the White House before everything came to a head with Fall eventually found guilty, fined $100,000 and sentenced to a year in prison making him the first ever presidential cabinet member to serve prison time for offenses while in office.

2. In 1928, Republican Herbert Hoover defeated Democrat and first ever Catholic to run for the presidency Al Smith with 58.2% v. 40.8% for Smith. It wasn't a good year to be a Democrat, especially a Catholic one at that time. The 1920s were "roaring," including the stock market (again only for the privileged), and Republicans were tough to beat as long as, at the macro level, the economy was strong. Coolidge was president but declined a second term (fortunate for him as it turned out) and Commerce Secretary and capable bureaucrat Hoover got the nomination winning big. As things turned out, fate dealt him a bad hand as the stock market crashed less than a year into his term, but bad administration and Federal Reserve policy turned what only should have been a stiff recession for a year or two into the Great Depression. It swept Republicans from office and ushered in the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, who won impressively in 1932, not one of our big six, but was reelected in 1936 and included in our select group with the second greatest landslide victory ever on our list. Number one is after the FDR years.

3. The Great Depression 1930s weren't good years to be Republicans, and in 1936, Democrat Franklin Roosevelt was reelected overwhelmingly with 60.8% of the vote to 36.5% for Republican Alf Landon who had no chance to convince the electorate the New Deal was corrupt and wasteful when it was helping a lot of desperate people. Roosevelt asked for and got a mandate from the public to continue his progressive agenda that included the landmark Social Security Act (now in jeopardy in the age of George Bush) and other important measures that included establishing the FDIC, insuring bank deposits, the SEC, regulating the stock exchanges, and the NLRB with the passage of the Wagner Act that was the high water mark for labor rights. It guaranteed labor had the right to bargain collectively on equal terms with management, something that began eroding badly with the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 over Harry Truman's veto that began reversing the hard-won rights gained that now have nearly vanished entirely in a nation dominated by corporate giants and both Democrat and Republican parties supporting them including their union-busting practices.

4. In 1964, Democrat Lyndon Johnson won the greatest landslide presidential victory on our list, unsurpassed to this day. He got 61.1% of the vote to 38.5% for Republican Barry Goldwater who was portrayed as a dangerous extremist in a still-remembered TV "Daisy Girl" campaign ad featuring a little girl picking petals from a daisy in a field, counting them and then segueing to a countdown and nuclear explosion. Ironically, the ad only ran once in September that year on NBC, but it stirred such a controversy all the broadcasters ran it as a news story giving it far greater prominence than it otherwise would have gotten.

From the Great Depression through the 1960s, Republicans had a hard enough time competing with Democrats (Dwight Eisenhower being the exception because of his stature as a war hero and the unpopular Korean war under Harry Truman), and Goldwater made it worse by being a conservative before his time and a hawkish one advocating the use of tactical nuclear weapons in Vietnam at a time the war was still in its early stages but would be an act of lunacy any time.

5. In 1972, most people would be surprised to learn (except those around to remember it) Republican Richard Nixon trounced Democrat George McGovern getting 60% of the vote to McGovern's 38%. The main issue was the Vietnam war (that drove Lyndon Johnson from office in 1968), and Nixon managed to convince the public he had a plan to end it and peace was at hand. McGovern was strongly anti-war, but had to replace his running mate Thomas Eagleton after it was learned he hadn't revealed he'd undergone electroshock therapy for depression.

It proved a decisive factor in McGovern's defeat, but oddly as things turned out, Nixon was popular enough at that time to sweep to a landslide win only to come a cropper in the Watergate scandal that began almost innocently in June, 1972, months before the election, but spiralled out of control in its aftermath along with growing anger about the war. It drove Richard Nixon from office in disgrace in August, 1974 and gave the office lawfully under the 25th amendment to Gerald Ford. It made him the nation's only unelected president up to the time five Supreme Court justices gave the office to George Bush violating the law of the land they showed contempt for.

6. In 1984, Republican Ronald Reagan won a decisive victory getting 58.8% of the vote to Democrat Walter Mondale's 40.6%. The "Reagan revolution" was in full swing, and the president was affable enough to convince a majority of the electorate his administration's large increases in military spending, big budget deficits run up to pay for it, tax cuts mainly for the rich, slashed social spending and opposition to labor rights were good for the country. Mondale was no match for him and was unfairly seen as a candidate supporting the poor and disadvantaged at the expense of the middle class.

In 1980s America, Hugo Chavez might not have stood a chance against the likes of Ronald Reagan even though Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution serves all the people while Reagan's ignored and harmed those most in need including the middle class, mostly helping instead those in the country needing no help - the rich and powerful, at the beginning of the nation's second Gilded Age, serving an empowered plutocracy that reached full fruition with the dominance of the privileged class under George W. Bush.

One Other Landslide Win for Chavez Unreported

Time Magazine just voted this writer and all others communicating online their "Person of the Year." In their cover story they asked who are we, what are we doing, and who has the time and energy for this? Their answer: "you do. And for seizing the reins of the global media, for founding and framing the new digital democracy, for working for nothing and beating the pros at their own game, TIME's Person of the Year for 2006 is you." Strange how underwhelming it feels at least for two reasons, but it must be stressed we beat the pros before they're even out of bed in the morning doing one thing they almost never do - telling the truth communicating real news, information and honest opinion on the most important world and national issues affecting everyone and refusing to genuflect to the country's power establishment.

While Time was honoring the free use of the internet, its importance, and the millions of ordinary people using it, it's parent company Time-Warner has for months been part of the corporate cabal trying to high-pressure the Congress to end internet neutrality and destroy the freedom the magazine praised so effusively in their disingenuous annual award just announced. If the cable and telecom giants win their lobbying effort, the public Time calls "YOU" loses. They want to be self-regulating, to be able to charge whatever they wish, to choose wealthier customers and ignore lesser ones, to have a monopoly on high-speed cable internet so they can take over our private space and control it including, at their discretion, the content on it excluding whatever portions of it they don't want in their privatized space. They want to take what's now free and open and exploit it for profit, effectively destroying the internet as we now know it.

Time also failed to report they held an online poll for "Person of the Year" and then ignored the results when they turned out not to their editors' liking. "Time's Person of the Year is the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year." It turned out Hugo Chavez won their poll by a landslide at 35%. Second was Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at 21%. Then came Nancy Pelosi at 12%, The YouTube Guys 11%, George Bush 8%, Al Gore 8%, Condoleezza Rice 5% and Kim Jong Il 2%. For some reason, the magazine's December 25 cover story omitted these results so their readers never learned who won their honor and rightfully should have been named Time's Person of the Year. An oversight, likely, in the holiday rush, so it's only fitting the winner be announced here - in the online space the magazine rates so highly:

Venezuelan President Hugo is Time Magazine's 2006 Person of the Year.

Venezuela under Hugo Chavez v. the US Under Republican or DLC Democrats Little Different From Republicans

The age of social enlightenment in the US, such as it was, lasted from the election of Franklin Roosevelt through the years of Lyndon Johnson and began heading south thereafter in the 1970s and ending with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. For the past generation, the US has been run for the interests of capital while the standard of living of ordinary working people, including the middle class fast eroding, had an unprecedented decline.

It shows in how wide the income disparity is between those at the economic top and ordinary wage earners. When Reagan was elected in 1980, average corporate CEO earnings were 42 times the average working person. The spread widened to 85 times in 1990 and skyrocketed to 431 times in 2004 as average top executive pay rose to about $14 million a year after the election of George Bush plus enormous benefits adding to that total, including huge ones at retirement, compared to working Americans who now earn less, adjusted for inflation, than they did 30 years ago.

This disparity is highlighted in tax data released by the IRS showing overall income in the country rose 27% adjusted for inflation from 1979 to 2004, but it all went to the top. The bottom 60% of Americans (earning less than $38,761 in 2004) made less than 95% of what they did in 1979. The 20% above them earned 2% more in 2004 than in 1979, inflation adjusted, and only the top 5% had significant gains earning 53% more in 2004 than in 1979. The largest gains of all went to the top 1% as expected - one-third of the entire increase in national income that translates to about 350% more in inflation adjusted dollars in 2004 than in 1979.

It all means since Ronald Reagan entered office, his administration and those that followed him, including Democrat Bill Clinton's, engineered a massive transfer of wealth from ordinary working people to the top income earners in the country while, at the same time, slashing social benefits making it much harder for most people to pay for essential services at much higher prices with the lower inflation-adjusted levels of income they now receive.

Especially hard hit are the 20% of workers on the bottom earning poverty-level wages - below $11,166 a year. The IRS definition of a taxpayer is either an individual or married couple meaning the 26 million poorest taxpayers are the equivalent of about 48 million adults plus 12 million dependent children totaling around 60 million Americans in the richest country in the world with incomes of about $7 a day (per capita) in a state of extreme destitution with the official poverty line in 2004 being $27 a day for a single adult below retirement age and $42 a day for a household with one child. The data excludes all public assistance like food stamps, medicaid benefits and earned-income tax credits, but since the Clinton administration's "welfare reform" Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) ended welfare payments after five years, that loss is much greater for the needy than the benefits remaining also being reduced.

It's hardly a testimony to the notion of "free market" capitalism under the Reagan revolution, the first Bush presidency following it, and eight years under Bill Clinton governing by Democratic Leadership Council (DLC) "centrist" principles eschewing the enlightened progressive party tradition, selling out instead, like Republicans, to the interests of wealth and power at the expense of ordinary people left far behind.

It all seemed like a warm-up leading to the election of George W. Bush in 2000 characterized by outrageous levels of handouts to the rich in the form of huge tax cuts for top earners and giant corporations; larger than ever corporate subsidies (aka socialism for big corporations) at taxpayer expense; and endless wars and all the bounty from them to well-connected corporate allies, some literally getting a license to steal, that never had it so good but getting it at the public's expense this president shows contempt for and is forced to follow the rules of law-of-the-jungle "free market" capitalism.

Today, under Republican or Democrat rule, the country is run by and for a rich aristocracy, in a rigidly structured class society promoting inequality and destroying the founding principles of the nation's Framers. In the last generation, the great majority of ordinary working people have been abandoned and are sinking lower in their losing efforts to make ends meet and survive in a heartless society caring only about the interests of capital. This writer will explore this issue more fully in a year-end review and outlook article due out shortly.

A Different Enlightened Way in Venezuela Under Hugo Chavez

Things are much different in Venezuela under Hugo Chavez that showed up in the overwhelming electoral endorsement he got from his people on December 3. Until he was first elected in December, 1998 taking office in February, 1999, the country was run by and for rich oligarchs, in league with their counterpart dominant interests in Washington and corporate America. They ignored the needs of ordinary people that left most of them in a state of desperate poverty. Hugo Chavez pledged to his people he'd ameliorate their condition and did it successfully for the past eight years, to the great consternation of the country's aristocracy who want the nation's wealth for themselves and their US allies.

Following the crippling US and Venezuelan ruling class-instigated 2002 - 03 oil strike and destabilizing effects of their short-lived coup deposing him for two days in April, 2002, Hugo Chavez's enlightened Bolivarian economic and social programs cut the level of poverty nearly in half from around 62% to where it is today at about one-third of the population, a dramatic improvement unmatched anywhere in Latin America or likely anywhere in the world. Along with that improvement are the essential social benefits now made available to everyone in the country by law, discussed below.

The Constitution of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela was created democratically by popular referendum and adopted in December, 1999. It established a model humanistic social democracy providing checks and balances in the nation's five branches of government instead of the usual three in countries like the US where currently all branches operate unchecked in lockstep under the Bush administration and will change little when the DLC Democrat-controlled 110th Congress convenes in January.

In Venezuela, in addition to the executive, legislative and judicial branches, the country also has independent electoral and prosecutorial ones. Chavez controls the executive branch, and his supporters control the four others because they democratically won a ruling majority in the legislature. They in the National Assembly have the authority to make appointments to the other three branches independent of the executive while Hugo Chavez has no authority to appoint to or remove members from the other four branches or have any power to dictate what they do. Today in the US, George Bush has a virtual stranglehold over all three government branches that mostly rubber stamp his agenda without opposition including the most outrageous and controversial domestic and foreign policy parts of it.

In Venezuela, the Constitution also stipulates that all the people are assured political, economic and social justice under a system of participatory democracy guaranteeing everyone a legal right to essential social services and the right to participate in how the country is run. The services include free high quality health and dental care as a "fundamental social right and....responsibility....of the state," housing assistance, improved pensions, food assistance for the needy, job training to provide skills for future employment, free education to the highest level that eliminated illiteracy and much more including the full rights of citizenship for everyone including the right to vote in free, fair and open democratic elections, now a model for the world and make a sham of the fraud-laden ones in the US.

While the ruling authority in Washington systematically destroyed democracy and deprived people most in need of essential social services, Hugo Chavez built a model democracy growing stronger by enhancing already established socially enlightened policies further using the nation's oil revenue to do it. Much in the country is happening from below, and it's planned that way by the government in Caracas. Community organizing in councils has been promoted that includes all sorts of committees around the country involved in urban land development and improvement, health, the creation of over 100,000 cooperatives outside of state or private control, and the revitalization of hundreds of bankrupt businesses and factories put under worker control.

In addition, Hugo Chavez aggressively pursued a policy of putting underutilized land to use by redistributing more than two million hectares of it to over 130,000 families in a country with the richest 5% of landowners controlling 75% of the land, the great majority of rural Venezuelans having little or none of it, and Chavez wanting to change that imbalance and do it fairly. He also established over 5,000 Urban Land Committees representing almost 20% of the population (CTUs). The law governing them stipulates Venezuelans who live in homes they built on occupied land may petition the government for title to it to be able legally to own the land they live on. This is in addition to the government's goal to build thousands of new and free public housing units for the poor without homes.

These are the kinds of things going on in Venezuela in that country's first ever age of enlightenment, but it's only a beginning. Chavez wants to expand existing programs and advance his Bolivarian Project to the next level implementing his vision of a social democracy in the 21st century. His landslide electoral victory now gives him a mandate to do it, and during the pre-election campaign in September announced he wanted to move ahead in 2007 with the formation of a single united political party of the Bolivarian Revolution to further "consolidate and strengthen" the Bolivarian spirit.

Post-election in mid-December, Chavez addressed his followers and party members at a celebratory gathering at the Teresa Carrena theater repeating his September announcement calling for the establishment of a "unique (or unity) party" to replace his Movement for the Fifth Republic Party (MVR) that brought him to power in 1998, has been his party until now and will end in January. Chavez surprisingly announced the MVR is history and will be replaced by a United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) hoping to include the MVR and all its coalition partners that wish to join. He wants it to be a peoples' party rooted in the country's communities created to win the Battle of Ideas that will move Venezuela ahead to become a fully developed social or socialist democracy for all the people.

Chavez has enormous grassroots support for his vision but faces daunting obstacles as well, not the least of which is a hostile administration in Washington committed to derailing his efforts and removing him from office by whatever means it chooses to use next in another attempt sure to come at some point.

He'll also likely get little help from the Democrat 110th Congress arriving in January with the likes of newly empowered House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a member of the US aristocracy, shamelessly calling Chavez an "everyday thug" and the US corporate-controlled media spewing the party line by relentlessly attacking him with tirades of venomous agitprop at times strong enough to make some old-line Soviet era aparachiks blush calling him an autocrat, a dictator, another Hitler and the greatest threat to US interests in the region in decades. It's the same kind of demonizing Chavez undergoes at home by the dominant corporate media that includes the country's two largest dailies, El Universal and El National, and the three main TV networks - Venevision (owned by arch-Chavez enemy and 2002 coup plotter billionaire Gustavo Cisneros), Radio Caracas Television and Globovision.

The only charge against Chavez that's credible, for quite another reason, is that he's indeed the greatest of all threats the US and Venezuelan oligarchs face - a good example spreading slowly through the region inspiring people throughout Latin America to want the same kinds of social benefits and democratic rights Venezuelans now enjoy. The powerful interests of capital in Washington, Venezuela and throughout the region are determined to stop him, but the momentum in Latin America is with Chavez if it can advance it. He has the power of the people behind him and a growing alliance of populist or moderate leaders emerging in Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Chile and for almost half a century in Cuba either wanting an end to savage capitalism, Washington-style, or a significant softening of it, along with the old-style military-backed entrenched elitism that denied long-oppressed people all the rights they now enjoy or are beginning to demand.

The people in the region yearning for freedom and demanding governments address their rights and needs are in solidarity with him, a modern-day Bolivar, a hero and symbol of hope that they, too, may one day get the equity and justice they deserve like the people of Venezuela have, if they can keep it, and help Hugo Chavez fulfill his vision to take it to the next level.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.

Criminalizing Compassion in the War on Terror - by Katherine Hughes

November/December 2006

Featured Story

Criminalizing Compassion in the War on Terror:
Muslim Charities and the Case of Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir

by Katherine Hughes

In May 2005, David Cole, professor of law at Georgetown University, testified before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary about the constitutional implications of a series of “anti-terrorism” laws rushed through Congress after 9/11. Cole said [emphasis mine]:

The statutes described above prohibit virtually all associational support to selected political organizations, while granting executive branch officials effectively unreviewable discretion to target disfavored groups. These laws make it a crime to write an op-ed, provide legal advice, volunteer one’s time, or distribute a magazine of any “designated” group, even if there is no connection whatsoever between the individual’s support and any illegal activity of the proscribed group.

Under these statutes, an American citizen who sends a treatise on nonviolence to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party to encourage it to forgo violence for peace can be sent to prison for 15 years. This is so even if he proves that he intended the treatise to be used only for peaceful ends, and that it was in fact used solely for that purpose. Such a moral innocent can be said to be “guilty” by association. 1

If you think this is an exaggeration and couldn’t happen, think again. This is precisely the situation in which Dr. Rafil A. Dhafir found himself.

The T-word


A group of interfaith supporters of Dr. Rafil Dhafir rally outside the courthouse in Syracuse, New York during his trial in 2004.
According to United Nations statistics, every month throughout the 1990s almost 6,000 children under the age of five in Iraq were dying from lack of food and access to simple medicines.2 Three senior U.N. officials resigned because of what they considered a “genocidal” policy against Iraq.3 The United States led the effort to place restrictive sanctions on Iraq, and when Madeleine Albright, then-U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was asked in a CBS interview if the deaths of half a million children was a price worth paying to punish Saddam Hussein, she infamously replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price – we think the price is worth it.”4 When the deaths of children over the age of five and adults are added, the number killed as a direct result of the sanctions rises to between 1.5 and 2 million dead civilians.5

In response to the humanitarian catastrophe created by these brutal sanctions, Dhafir, a man of Iraqi descent and Muslim faith, and an American citizen for almost 30 years, started the charity Help the Needy (HTN).

Dr. Dhafir is a pillar of the Muslim community in Central New York. He was a founding member of the local mosque, and he served as the imam at Syracuse University until it hired a full-time imam. He paid a substantial amount of the running costs of the mosque and provided free medical consultation to those at the mosque without health insurance. His medical practice was in Rome, New York, an underserved area in which he was the sole oncologist. In his practice he provided free health care to people without insurance, and he paid for their expensive chemotherapy medicine out of his own pocket.6

For 13 years, Dhafir worked tirelessly to help publicize the plight of the Iraqi people and to raise funds to help them.7 According to the government, Dhafir donated $1.25 million of his own money over the years.8 As an oncologist, he was also concerned about the effects of depleted uranium on the Iraqi population, which was experiencing skyrocketing cancer rates.9

For the crime of breaking the U.S. and U.K.-sponsored U.N. sanctions on Iraq and sending humanitarian aid to sick and starving civilians, Dhafir was held without bail for 31 months and then sentenced to 22 years in prison.10 By implication, his were terrorist acts.

The legal background

Since the events of 9/11, the government has implemented powerful new prosecutorial tools to gain convictions in its War on Terror. In an article entitled “Terrorist Financing,” Jeff Breinholt, deputy chief of the Department of Justice’s Counterterrorism Section, explains these tools and how they are being used.11 On page 31 of the article he lists the statutes employed in the criminal prosecution of terrorist financing. Among these statutes is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which Breinholt also labels as “United States economic sanctions.”12 IEEPA provides the president of the United States with authority to deal with any “unusual and extraordinary threat” that has its source in whole or substantial part outside the United States; this includes threat to “national security, foreign policy, and the economy.”13


Prosecutors armed with the statutes listed in Breinholt’s paper are further empowered by using them in conjunction with the “material support of terrorism” laws, Executive Order (EO) 13224, and civil asset forfeiture laws – particularly those under IEEPA, which were amended by the PATRIOT Act. Under the IEEPA civil asset forfeiture provisions, the government can close down an organization and seize its assets while an investigation is ongoing, without probable cause of criminal activity and without any charges ever being brought against anyone.14

EO 13224 was issued on September 23, 2001. It introduced a blacklist of organizations and individuals suspected of terrorism, materially aiding terrorism, or associating with terrorists. IEEPA and international law permit humanitarian assistance for these suspects, including food, clothing and medicine, but this humanitarian aid is outlawed under EO 13224.15 The penalty for an IEEPA violation for organizations that knowingly engage in terrorist financing already carried a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. What this new provision did was “drastically increase the penalties for knowing violations of non-terrorism-related IEEPA offenses.”16 People with a concern for civil liberties are troubled by the fact that the government provides no legal definition of what they consider a “specially designated terrorist” and by the broad manner in which the government is interpreting the new rules.17

The effect on Muslim charity

In a March 2006 article in the Washington Post, Laila al-Marayati and Basil Abdelkarim, board members of Kinder USA, a Muslim-American nonprofit humanitarian organization, wrote:

We are among those American Muslims who decided that because it is our right as Americans to fulfill our religious obligation to help the needy both here and abroad, we would start a new charity. We did so in 2002 and have experienced our fair share of government harassment as a result. None of us is interested in engaging in illegal activity; it is immoral, unethical, and un-Islamic, and it serves no useful purpose whatever. Our crime is that we care about what happens to the children of Palestine. Who knows what price we will have to pay for our hot-breakfast program for hungry kids in Gaza, for our playground project in the West Bank, for our psychological trauma center in Hebron.18

It is Muslim charities and individuals connected with these charities who are bearing the brunt of EO 13224.19 Since September 11, 2001, six major U.S. Muslim charities and several smaller Muslim charities have been shut down.20 The U.S. government closed the three largest Muslim charities in the country in December 2001, accusing each of supporting terror.21 Yet working in close collaboration with the U.S. government does not provide protection from this fate. In 2002 a new charity, KindHearts (KH), was established, determined to work together with government agencies to ensure compliance with all the new rules. KH has nonetheless suffered the same consequences as its sister organizations. In February 2006, KH’s assets were seized and its operations frozen because of dubious allegations of financing terror.22

In a report titled “Muslim Charities and the War on Terror,” OMB Watch23 documented its concerns about the treatment of Muslim charities and the people involved with them.24 Among the many concerns OMB voiced were the use of questionable evidence to shut down the largest U.S.-based charities, resulting in much-needed humanitarian assistance not reaching people who desperately need it; use of anti-terrorist financing policies that deny Muslim charities the right of due process and are unequally enforced; and holding of organizations and individuals associated with humanitarian work “guilty until proven innocent.” They concluded that despite the new investigative powers, the authorities have failed to produce evidence of terror financing by U.S.-based charities.25

Nudge nudge, wink wink: the Help the Needy case

Since the day of Dhafir’s arrest, February 26, 2003, when 85 (!) agents went to his home, government officials at national and state levels have portrayed Dhafir’s humanitarian work as support of terrorism.26 Simultaneous to Dhafir’s arrest, between the hours of 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., others associated with HTN were arrested in Syracuse, New York; Boise, Idaho; and Amman, Jordan. At the same time, about 150 mainly Muslim families who had donated to HTN were interrogated by government agents.27 On the same day, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that “supporters of terrorism” had been apprehended – a completely unfounded assertion that was reiterated by New York Governor George Pataki in August 2004, just prior to the start of Dhafir’s trial.28

At the same time, and throughout the trial, local government officials – the prosecutors and the District Attorney – denied that the case had any connection to terrorism. Instead they portrayed Dhafir as a common thief.29 District Attorney Glenn Suddaby said, “[T]here’s no evidence that any of the Help the Needy money went to al Qaida, the Iraqi government, or to buy arms and bullets that could be used against U.S. soldiers.”30

The inconsistencies in the government’s position were a startling feature of this case fromits inception. They suggested two possibilities: either one hand of the government didn’t know what the other was doing, or the government was aiming deliberately to deceive.

No media outlet challenged the government directly and demanded that it provide an explanation for its contradictory assertions. However, Michael Powell of the Washington Post drew attention to them shortly before the trial began:

There is a shadow-boxing quality to the terror allegations lodged against Dhafir. In August, Gov. George E. Pataki (R) described Dhafir’s as a “money laundering case to help terrorist organizations ... conduct horrible acts.” Prosecutors hinted at national security reasons for holding Dhafir without bail. But no evidence was offered to support the allegations.31

Despite Pataki’s pre-trial announcement, which was perfectly timed to reach potential jurors, the prosecution successfully petitioned Judge Norman Mordue not to allow the charge of terrorism to be part of the trial.32 Not surprisingly, the specter of terrorism hung over the trial throughout the proceedings, and prosecutors could hint at more serious charges but the defense lawyers were never allowed to follow this line of questioning.33

Dhafir’s 17-week court case was conducted as a 60-count case of white-collar crime with no charges of terrorism. As a direct result of this, only the local Syracuse newspaper, the Post Standard, covered the proceedings. The paper proved to be little more than a mouthpiece for the government; on the rare occasion that it did provide coverage of cross-examination, it immediately followed with a restatement of the charges in the indictment.34 During the 17 weeks of daily coverage of the proceedings, the paper failed to give more than a passing mention to an ecumenical group that met every morning outside the federal building to worship for half an hour before the trial commenced at 8:30 a.m., or to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) court watchers who were present in court every day.35

Concerns have been expressed about reporters being embedded in war zones; there should be equal concern about them being embedded in federal buildings.

Avoiding the issues

Of the 60 counts in the Dhafir indictment, most were related to breaking the sanctions: conspiracy, mail and wire-fraud, money laundering, and tax evasion. These charges are easily explained when viewed in the context of the sanctions. The government, however, did everything it could to prevent the condition of Iraq during the sanctions from being referred to at the trial.


According to the government, the investigation of HTN began with a Suspicious Activity Report (SAR) from a bank. The government encourages financial institutions to report “suspicious activity” by watching out for money transfers between related accounts of related entities. But many nonprofit organizations that have nothing to do with supporting terrorism make these kinds of transfers on a regular basis.36 Because of the SAR report, seven government agencies investigated Dhafir and HTN for five years. They intercepted mail, e-mail, and faxes; bugged his office and hotel rooms; and conducted physical surveillance.

Because the government was unwilling to prosecute Dhafir for sanctions-related charges alone, the last 25 counts of the indictment were related to Medicare fraud. The government evidence for this part of the case was extremely weak.37 For example, a bar chart that supposedly compared the dollar amount of Dhafir’s billing of Medicare with other doctors’ billing was completely meaningless. It showed Dhafir’s bar as being very tall and the other doctors’ bars being much smaller – but when the witness was asked by the defense to say what types of doctors the other doctors were, or what their geographic location was, she could not answer.38

The whole of the Medicare case revolved around a single rule called “incident to,” meaning any treatment performed by someone other than the doctor. The government claimed that Dhafir had filled out the forms incorrectly, and was therefore entitled to no reimbursement from Medicare, despite the fact that patients had received treatment and chemotherapy drugs. The defense contended that even if Dhafir’s office had filled the forms wrongly (which they did not believe he had), Medicare had only overpaid 15% of $1,102.80 – the difference between what they pay for a doctor’s time as opposed to a nurse practitioner’s time – for a total overpayment of $166.00. This was not fraud, merely incorrect billing. Medicare fraud usually involves fictitious patients and made-up illnesses. Dhafir’s case had none of this.

The government presented the Medicare evidence in the same way it presented the evidence related to the sanctions. After weeks of testimony following checks from bank to bank, the prosecution turned to day after day of testimony regarding Medicare forms, asking individuals from Dhafir's office to validate their signatures on the forms – thus proving that they had indeed signed the forms, but nothing else.39

The defense presented one witness, for 15 minutes. He was Dr. Edward Cox, head of the carrier organization that processes claims for Medicare.40 Reading from The New York State Handbook, Cox confirmed the defense’s contention that in order to bill Medicare under the “incident to” rule, a non-physician was required to have a license or training.41 Thus, according to the Handbook, Dhafir’s billing of Medicare was proper.

The Post Standard reported this testimony correctly on the day after it was given. On the following day, however, the paper had a front-page correction, with a picture of the witness apparently contradicting his testimony of the day before.42 And despite the testimony of this witness, the judge in his charge to the jury instructed them that under New York law a laboratory technician required a license; in other words, training alone was not sufficient.43

On the day of her sentencing, Mrs. Dhafir, Dr. Dhafir’s wife and bookkeeper, was ordered to pay back $62,000 to Medicare. Asked on the same day how much of that money had actually been spent on chemotherapy medicine that was administered to patients, Michael Olmstead, the head prosecutor, was unable to say. When Dr. Dhafir was asked the same question, he said that 90% of this money had been spent on medicine.44 This leaves 10% of the money for the doctor’s time, the nurse’s time, and blood work. Dhafir also said that in 2002, Medicare reimbursed him less than he had spent on medicine alone. A look at the records would confirm or refute this, but Dr. Dhafir has been continually denied access to his own records that were taken from his house and office on the day of the arrest.

Jennifer Van Bergen, a journalist with a law degree and author of The Twilight of Democracy45 has written a two-part article on Dhafir’s case entitled “New American Law: The Case of Dr. Dhafir” and “New American Law: Legal Strategies and Precedents in the Dhafir Case.”46 In this article and other writings, Van Bergen warns about the danger of civil liberties being undermined when the government uses parallel legal tracks not intended to be mixed.47 She notes that, as happened in Dhafir’s case, conspiracy laws and money laundering laws used “creatively” with the PATRIOT Act and IEEPA can be used to construct a vast distorted picture. Dhafir’s case sets a legal precedent and means that others who provide humanitarian and medical assistance to those in need could, like Dhafir, end up being put away for the rest of their lives.

The government’s strategy revealed

In November 2005, just weeks after Dhafir was sentenced to 22 years in prison for white-collar crimes, the government presented a lecture to a group of faculty and third-year law students at Syracuse University Law School in which Dhafir and the HTN case were highlighted. Jeff Breinholt, author of the article on terrorist financing mentioned above, and Greg West, one of the Dhafir prosecutors, presented the lecture, “A Law Enforcement Approach to Terrorist Financing.”48 The other two Dhafir prosecutors were also present, along with representatives from the Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT), a sponsor of the lecture.49


An Iraqi child holds a sign with the words "Help the Needy" written in Arabic, in front of cows that were purchased with funds from Dr. Dhafir's U.S. charity.
The slant of this lecture, along with Breinholt’s 2003 “Terrorist Financing” article and the fact that Dhafir and the other HTN defendants are listed on the FBI’s list of “terrorism convictions since September 11, 2001,” give credence to the idea that the government’s creative use of parallel legal tracks was a strategy from the outset.50

Breinholt stated that Dhafir’s case had been under-prosecuted. In the context of the lecture’s title, the implication was clear. He discussed the statutes being used as powerful tools for prosecution of terrorist financing, and explained that these tools were not widely known even among prosecutors. He voiced a hope that law schools could serve as a kind of farm system educating students in this new field of law, and that this in turn would create lawyers who would be familiar with and who could use these new prosecution tools.51

He explained that because the “American public won’t tolerate anything less than the rule of law,” creative ways had to be figured out to draft laws that can be used to prosecute what they are trying to prevent.52 According to Breinholt, this task was addressed by a Department of Justice Terrorist Financing Task Force that came together to craft ways to apply white-collar expertise to the problem of terrorism. In his article, Breinholt says:

Persons cannot be convicted of the federal crime of terrorism because there is no such crime. Instead, terrorism crimes have developed in the same manner as other crimes, policymakers determine what evil (or “mischief”) should be prevented, and then craft criminal laws that take into account how such mischief is generally achieved. On occasion, acts that are criminalized are not ones that should necessarily be discouraged, if committed by persons not otherwise involved in the targeted conduct. In such cases, laws are crafted to criminalize such conduct only when in particular circumstances.53

A major tool that emerged from the work of this task force, said Breinholt, is the use of IEEPA violations to gain convictions in terrorist financing cases. He added that to convict under IEEPA, all that is necessary is to build a chain of inferences from available circumstantial evidence.54

In Breinholt’s article, Dhafir and other HTN defendants are listed under the heading “Examples of ‘clean money’ cases.”55 Listed under this same heading are Enaam Arnaout of Benevolence International Foundation (BIF); Sami Al-Hussayen, a graduate student at the University of Idaho, associated with Islamic Assembly of North America (IANA);56 and Sami Al-Arian, a Palestinian professor from Florida.57 Further on, under the heading “crimes of terrorist financing,” Breinholt lists the statutes being used in prosecution of these cases.58 Statutes under this heading that were used in Dhafir’s case are 50 U.S.C. ss 1701,1702 (IEEPA) and U.S.C. ss 1956(a)(2)(A), “operating an unlicensed money transmitting business.”59 One of the Dhafir prosecutors, Mr. West, explained to the class that one of the biggest frustrations of his career was having access to intelligence and not being able to share it.

Neither Breinholt nor West stated that these “powerful prosecution tools” are being used mostly against Muslim charities and individuals associated with those charities, while violations by large corporations like Halliburton, which did billions of dollars worth of business in defiance of IEEPA, go largely unpunished. At the most these corporations have gotten a slap on the wrist and a fine, but no individual board member or officer has ever faced prosecution. 60 And although many non-Muslim charities work in the same troubled regions of the world as Muslim charities, not a single non-Muslim charity has been closed.61 None of this was mentioned at the lecture.

By hosting this lecture, Syracuse University Law School gave credence to a charge never brought against Dhafir, and in doing so they became an accomplice in the government’s subterfuge. After the lecture, a request was made that the ACLU court watchers who attended the trial be provided with “equal time” to speak to the students.62 Syracuse Law School Dean Hannah Arterian denied this request.

In testimony given on Capitol Hill by the U.S. Treasury Department, prosecution of Muslim charity cases is being used as a model of success in efforts to disrupt terrorism.63 However the testimony often contradicts the actual rulings in the cases, and the testimony fails to acknowledge that there are no terrorist convictions among any of the cases.

At a 2004 Pace University Law School symposium, Dr. Laila al-Marayati addressed the way this Treasury Department targeting of Muslim charities threatens civil liberties, constitutional rights, and the rule of law not just for Muslims, but for every American, regardless of creed:

The ever-present threat of a “terrorist designation” by the Treasury Department functions based on the principle of “guilty until proven innocent.” The use of secret evidence, hearsay, erroneous translations, guilt by association and press reports in recent court cases further erodes the ability of charities to rely on basic assumptions regarding their constitutional rights, especially when the courts ultimately favor the government when “national security” is allegedly at stake. Overzealous surveillance tactics of the intelligence community such as wiretapping, infiltrating organizations by bribing employees to work as spies (thereby disrupting normal and lawful humanitarian activities), and engaging in other forms of harassment – when added to the above bleak picture – will not only chill, but will freeze completely American Muslim charitable giving overseas. Perhaps this is the goal of the U.S. government. However, no one should be fooled into thinking that America or the American people will be much safer as a result.64

History watches

"Once we embark on shortcuts by creating a category of 'obviously guilty' whose rights are denied, we run the risk that the circle of the unprotected will grow."

- Judge Irving R. Kaufman

Writing during the McCarthy era, Judge Irving R. Kaufman warned, “Once we embark on shortcuts by creating a category of ‘obviously guilty’ whose rights are denied, we run the risk that the circle of the unprotected will grow.”65

We appear once again to have entered a dark time in which the civil liberties of a select group of people are being denied. The message being sent to Muslims across the country is that pillars of their community can be knocked down without any call for equal justice from the non-Muslim community. It is incumbent upon each of us to defend civil liberties for all, not least because “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”66

Donations can be made to Dhafir Appeal Fund, c/o Peter Goldberger, Esq., Attorney at Law, 50 Rittenhouse Place, Ardmore, PA 19003. Write “Dr. Dhafir Appeal Fund” in the memo line and please note that donations are not tax-deductible.

Katherine Hughes began attending the 17-week trial as a court watcher for the ACLU but quickly found that she could not in good conscience be the uninvolved observer their organization required. Since then she has worked to achieve justice for Dr. Dhafir. More information can be found at her Web site: www.dhafirtrial.net. A version of this article with detailed footnotes may be accessed online at www.forusa.org/fellowship.

David Cole, “Constitutional Implications of the Statutes Penalizing Material Support to Terrorist Organizations,” Testimony Before the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary (hereafter Cole Testimony), May 2004: http://www.bordc.org/resources/cole-materialsupport.php. Cole is talking about the same statutes that Breinholt mentions in his paper on “Terrorist Financing.”
“UNICEF: Questions and Answers for the Iraq Child Mortality Surveys" (August 1999), http://www.casi.org.uk/info/unicef/990816qa.html. See also the Voices in the Wilderness Web site for more information on the condition of Iraq under sanctions.
Because of his humanitarian work, Dhafir was named as the sole honorary member of the Brussels Tribunal Advisory Committee. Two of the United Nations people who resigned, Denis Halliday and Hans Von Sponeck, are also members of this committee: http://www.brusselstribunal.org/about.htm.
“Punishing Saddam,” 60 Minutes, CBS Television, May 12,1996, quoted in John Pilger, The New Rulers of the World, p. 63 (Verso, 2002).
Dr. Gideon Polya, “Passive Genocide In Iraq,” March 11, 2005 Countercurrents.org: http://www.countercurrents.org/iraq-polya110305.htm
Kristen Hinman, “The Iraqi Doctor: Patients Revere Him; The Government Wants to Put Him Away,” Fall 2004: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=287#more-287. Hinman’s grandmother was a patient of Dr. Dhafir’s. She was a student at Columbia University when she wrote this essay.
A video of a fundraising event at which Dr. Dhafir spoke was shown at his trial. The file is 120MB and can be viewed here: (Quicktime version): http://www.a39.net/Dhafir/Dhafir.html and here (Flash version): http://www.a39.net/Dhafir/DhafirFlash.html.
Katherine Hughes, notes of Dhafir Trial (hereafter Hughes, Notes.)
See also Dhafir’s address commemorating the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=264#more-264. The statement was made from prison on August 6, 2003, and Akira Tashiro Discounted Casualties: The Human Cost of Depleted Uranium, (The Chugoku Shimbum, 2001).
For more information see Katherine Hughes, “Crime of Compassion,” January, 2006: http://www.axisoflogic.com/artman/publish/printer_20800.shtml (hereafter Hughes, Crime of Compassion), and Katherine Hughes, “The U.S.A. v Rafil A. Dhafir: Individual Responsibility and Complicity,” November 2005: http://www.nightslantern.ca/prison/dhafirkh.htm.
Jeff Breinholt, “Terrorist Financing,” U.S. Attorney Bulletin, July 2003, Volume 51, number 4 (hereafter Breinholt); http://www.usdoj.gov/usao/eousa/foia_reading_room/usab5104.pdf. Page 31 lists the United States Code provisions used to criminalize “terrorist financing.”
Id.
IEEPA, Title 50, United States Code, section 1701(a), taken from indictment of Rafil A. Dhafir, August 18, 2004: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/static/indictment.pdf.
Jennifer Van Bergen, "How Government Forfeitures are Shutting Down U.S.-Based Muslim Charities: Going After Terrorism's Financiers Is the Right Strategy, But the Law Needs Reform," Findlaw Writ Guest Column, May 1, 2006: http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20060501_bergen.html.
For a more detailed description of the effects of these new regulations, see: Dr. Laila Al-Marayati, “American Muslim Charities: Easy Targets in the War on Terror,” presented on December 3, 2004 at Pace University Law Symposium, Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines: The Impact on International Philanthropy (hereafter Al-Marayati, Easy Targets): http://www.library.law.pace.edu/PLR/25-2/Al-Maryati.pdf.
ACLU Interested Persons Memo on the Conference Report Agreement on H.R. 3199, the USA PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005 (3/1/2006): http://www.aclu.org/safefree/general/24314leg20060301.html.
Cole Testimony, supra footnote 1.
Id.
Teresa Odendahl, “Philanthropic Patriot Games: How the U.S. Government Targets Charities in its War on Terror (hereafter Odendahl, Patriot Games), The Public Eye Magazine, Fall 2005: http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v19n2/odendahl_guest.html.
Laila al-Marayati and Basil Abdelkarim, “The Crime of Being a Muslim Charity” (hereafter Al-Marayati, Crime), Washington Post, March 12, 2006: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/03/10/AR2006031001859.html.
The three charities closed down in December 2001, Holy Land Foundation (HLF), Global Relief Foundation (GRF) and Benevolence International Foundation (BIF). Al-Marayati, Easy Targets, supra footnote 15.
Al-Marayati, Crime, supra footnote 20.
OMB Watch is a nonprofit research and advocacy organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decisions, and the use of fiscal and regulatory policy to serve the public interest: http://www.ombwatch.org/article/archive/250.
OMB Watch, “Muslim Charities and the War on Terror” (hereafter OMB Watch Report), revised March 2006: http://www.ombwatch.org//npadv/PDF/MuslimCharitiesTopTenUpdated.pdf.
OMB Watch Report.
See, for example, Michael Powell, “High-Profile N.Y. Suspect Goes on Trial: Arrest Was Called Part of War on Terrorism, but Doctor Faces Other Charges” (hereafter Powell), for a description of the arrest. The Washington Post, October 19, 2004: www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A43278-2004Oct18.html.
Other HTN defendants accepted plea bargains by pleading guilty to breaking the sanctions. Maher Zagha of Amman, Jordan, Dhafir’s co-defendant, was characterized during the proceedings as a fugitive by the government. On the contrary, he was held for two weeks after his arrest, interrogated by Jordanian authorities acting on behalf of the U.S., and then released to go about his normal business. Correspondence with Maher Zagha and Hughes, Notes, supra footnote 8 .
Powell, supra footnote 26.
Hughes, Crime of Compassion, supra footnote 10.
James Mckinnon, “Guilty As Charged … of Philanthropy?” The Bachelor, September 2004, p. 5, http://bachelor.wabash.edu/issues/2004f/issue2.pdf.
Powell, supra footnote 26.
Elaine Cassel, “The Lynne Stewart Case: When Representing An Accused Terrorist Can Mean The Lawyer Risks Jail, Too,” Findlaw Writ Column, October 8, 2002: http://writ.news.findlaw.com/commentary/20021008_cassel.html. Cassel comments on a similar incident when, just prior to Lynne Stewart’s case going to trial, Attorney General John Ashcroft appeared on the David Letterman show assuring viewers of her guilt.
The jury knew that Dhafir had been held without bail for 20 months and that it was the presiding judge, Mordue, who had denied him bail on four occasions. They also witnessed five federal marshals trade off every hour, approximately 240 times, throughout the trial so that two were always present in the courtroom. (This was done because Dhafir would not submit to a strip search on religious grounds.) One federal marshal sat directly behind Dhafir and the other sat adjacent to the jury near the opposite exit at all times. This marshal presence was over and above the two regular court guards, one at each exit. The non-verbal message that this sent cannot be over-estimated and it undoubtedly helped the government gain conviction in this case.
See, letter of Joel Cohen (one of Dhafir’s trial lawyers) to the newspaper about the coverage: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=15#more-15, November 15, 2004, and other letters at www.dhafirtrial.net under the headings, “court observers” and “media/judge letters.”
Despite the bitterly cold Syracuse winter, a group of seven to 12 people met every day with clergy members leading the worship in rotation. People who responded to the request of the ACLU for court watchers were also present every day at the trial. There was a core group of about 12 people, several of whom attended almost every day of the trial. Experience of the author who attended almost all of the trial.
Odendahl, Patriot Games, supra footnote 19.
Hughes, Notes, supra footnote 8.
My witness of the proceedings.
A big screen was available in the courtroom so that the jury and the public gallery could see each piece of evidence. Here is a link to a letter written by Dr. Dhafir in 1993 to Medicare complaining about their ever-changing rules, about which not even Medicare employees can agree: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=18. Judge Andrew Napolitano speaks about this tactic of the government overwhelming juries with evidence. He says: “When prosecutors seek victory through illegal threats — rather than through fair negotiation or through the slow methodical presentation of evidence to a jury — they corrupt the cause they seek to advance.” Andrew Napolitan, Constitutional Chaos: What Happens When the Government Breaks its Own Laws, p. 152 (Nelson Current, 2004).
The government presented their case in minute detail over the 17-week period. Due to a lack of finances (the government had frozen all Dhafir’s money) the defense was able to call one witness for 15 minutes.
Dr. Dhafir’s laboratory technician had been with him for many years and was highly trained by Dr. Dhafir himself.
Katherine Hughes, “Dr. Dhafir’s Trial Concluded Today,” (summary of the last day of the proceedings) and this witness’s testimony can be seen here: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=19#more-19.
Judge Norman Mordue, Jury Charge: U.S. v. Dhafir (U.S. District Court, Northern District of New York, Case No. 03-CR-64 (NAM)) February 2005: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/static/charge_to_jury.html.
From conversations the author had with Olmstead on June 1, 2005, and with Dhafir approximately one week later.
Jennifer Van Bergen, The Twilight of Democracy, The Bush Plan for America (Common Courage Press, 2004).
Jennifer Van Bergen, “New American Law,” Part 1: http://www.counterpunch.org/vanbergen10072005.html and Part 2: http://www.counterpunch.org/bergen10092005.html (October 8 & 9, 2005).
Jennifer Van Bergen, “The PATRIOT Act and Other Dilutions of the Constitution: America’s Parallel Legal Systems,” July 25/26 2005: http://www.counterpunch.org/vanbergen06252005.html.
The lecture was advertised by the “Institute For National Security and Counterterrorism” (INSCT), http://insct.syr.edu/Research_SWP0506.htm.
INSCT is hosted at Syracuse University.
The New York Jewish Times, June 27, 2006: http://nyjtimes.com/cover/06-27-06/TerrorConvictionsSince9-11.htm See also: The Washington Post, “330 Suspects Charged,” June 12, 2005: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/dojstats/full330.html
I attended this lecture. This section is based on my recollection and notes of that event. (Hereafter Hughes, Lecture Observations.)
In 2003, Breinholt was given the Attorney General’s “Award for Excellence in Furthering the Interests of U.S. National Security,” for his work in crafting creative legal theories that resulted in the initiation of several important prosecutions in the aftermath of 9/11: http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2003/July/03_ag_424.htm
Breinholt, supra footnote 11.
Hughes, Lecture Observations, supra footnote 51.
Breinholt, supra footnote 11, at p. 19.
IANA is a not-for-profit religious group registered in the U.S. and its purpose is purely religious and educational. See Elaine Cassel, The War on Civil Liberties: How Bush and Ashcroft Have Dismantled the Bill of Rights (Lawrence Hill Books, 2004). In a chapter called, “Guilt by Association: The Muslim Charities,” pp. 87-106, Cassel speaks about the cases of HLF, GRF, BIF, and HTN.
Mr. Arnaout accepted a plea bargain by pleading guilty to using BIF donations in providing boots, tents, uniforms, and an ambulance to units of the Bosnian army at a time when Muslims in Bosnia were attempting to defend themselves against the genocidal atrocities of the Serbian army. He was sentenced to 11 years in jail. More information: http://islam.about.com/library/weekly/aa021103b.htm. In July 2004, after being cleared of charges, Sami Al-Hussayen was deported to Saudi Arabia: http://www.nightslantern.ca/prison/prisoners.htm. In December 2005, Sami Al-Arian was acquitted of the most serious charges against him and the jury was hung on other charges. Despite agreeing to deportation he is still being held by the government: http://www.freesamialarian.com/home.htm.
Breinholt, supra footnote 11, at p. 31.
Since Dhafir’s conviction under IEEPA and for operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business, in February 2005, he and other HTN defendants have been placed on the FBI list of terrorism-related convictions since Sept. 11, 2001. On June 12, 2005, The Washington Post listed the HTN defendants as part of the government list of 330 suspects in terrorist related charges: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/nation/dojstats/full330.html. And on June 27, 2006, the New York Jewish Times listed Dhafir and other HTN defendants in an article entitled: “Examples of Terrorism Convictions. Since September 11, 2001:” http://nyjtimes.com/cover/06-27-06/TerrorConvictionsSince9-11.htm the FBI was given as the source. The indictment of Rafil A. Dhafir is available here: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/static/indictment.pdf
Barrie Gewanter, director of ACLU-CNY speaking on “Access” with George Kilpatrick, WCNY Public Television, Wednesday, October 26th, 11pm.
Al-Marayati, Crime, supra footnote 20.
Email from the author to Dean Arterian (11/27/05) available here: http://www.dhafirtrial.net/?p=478#more-478.
Al-Marayati, Easy Targets, supra, footnote 15.
Id.
Pete Seeger, The Incompleat Folksinger, p. 473 (Simon and Schuster, 1972).
Martin Luther King Jr. in a letter from a Birmingham jail: http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/4324.html.
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