Truthout Stories http://truth-out.org Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:36:43 -0500 en-gb The Invasion of Panama and the Proclamation of a Lone Superpower Above the Law http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28123-the-invasion-of-panama-and-the-proclamation-of-a-lone-superpower-above-the-law http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28123-the-invasion-of-panama-and-the-proclamation-of-a-lone-superpower-above-the-law

Twenty five years ago, before dawn on December 20, 1989, U.S. forces descended on Panama City and unleashed one of the most violent, destructive terror attacks of the century. U.S. soldiers killed more people than were killed on 9/11. They systematically burned apartment buildings and shot people indiscriminately in the streets. Dead bodies were piled on top of each other; many were burned before identification. The aggression was condemned internationally, but the message was clear: the United States military was free to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted, and they would not be bound by ethics or laws.

The invasion and ensuing occupation produced gruesome scenes: "People burning to death in the incinerated dwellings, leaping from windows, running in panic through the streets, cut down in cross fire, crushed by tanks, human fragments everywhere," writes William Blum. [1]

Years later the New York Times interviewed a survivor of the invasion, Sayira Marín, whose "hands still tremble" when she remembers the destruction of her neighborhood.

"I take pills to calm down," Marín told the paper. "It has gotten worse in recent days. There are nights when I jump out of bed screaming. Sometimes I have dreams of murder. Ugly things."

In the spring of 1989, a wave of revolutions had swept across the Eastern bloc. In November, the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War was over. No country was even a fraction as powerful as the United States. Rather than ushering in an era of peace and demilitarization, U.S. military planners intensified their expansion of global hegemony. They were pathological about preventing any rival to their complete military and economic domination.

U.S. government officials needed to put the world on notice. At the same time, President George H.W. Bush's needed to shed his image as a "wimp." So they did what any schoolyard bully would: pick out the smallest, weakest target you can find and beat him to a bloody pulp. The victim is irrelevant; the point is the impression you make on the people around you.

Panama was an easy target because the U.S. already had a large military force in 18 bases around the country. Until 1979, the occupied Panama Canal Zone had been sovereign territory of the United States. The Panama Canal was scheduled to be turned over to Panama partially in 1990 and fully in 2000. The U.S. military would be able to crush a hapless opponent and ensure control over a vital strategic asset.

Washington began disseminating propaganda about "human rights abuses" and drug trafficking by President Manuel Noriega. Most of the allegations were true, and they had all been willingly supported by the U.S. government while Noriega was a CIA asset receiving more than $100,000 per year. But when Noriega was less than enthusiastic about helping the CIA and their terrorist Contra army wage war against the civilian population in Nicaragua, things changed.

"It's all quite predictable, as study after study shows," Noam Chomsky writes. "A brutal tyrant crosses the line from admirable friend to 'villain' and 'scum' when he commits the crime of independence."

Some of the worst human rights abuses in the world from the early 1960s to 1980s did originate in Panama - from the U.S. instructors and training manuals at the U.S.'s infamous School of the Americas (nicknamed the School of the Assassins), located in Panama until 1984. It was at the SOA where the U.S. military trained the murderers of the six Jesuit scholars and many other members of dictatorships, death squads and paramilitary forces from all over Latin America.

The documentary The Panama Deception demonstrates how the media uncritically adopted U.S. government propaganda, echoing accusations of human rights violations and drug trafficking while ignoring international law and the prohibition against the use of force in the UN Charter. The Academy Award-winning film exposed what the corporate media refused to: the lies and distortions, the hypocrisy, the dead bodies, the survivors' harrowing tales, and the complete impunity of the U.S. military to suppress the truth.

The propaganda started with the concoction of a pretext for the invasion. The U.S. military had been sending aggressive patrols into the Panama City streets, trying to elicit a response.

"Provocations against the Panamanian people by United States military troops were very frequent in Panama," said Sabrina Virgo, National Labor Organizer, who was in Panama before the invasion. She said the provocations were intended "to create an international incident... have United States troops just hassle the Panamanian people until an incident resulted. And from that incident the United States could then say they were going into Panama for the protection of American life, which is exactly what happened. [2]

After a group of Marines on patrol ran a roadblock and were fired on by Panamanian troops, one U.S. soldier was killed. The group, nicknamed the "Hard Chargers," was known for their provocative actions against Panamanian troops. Four days later, the invasion began. [3]

Targeting Civilians and Journalists

Elizabeth Montgomery, narrating The Panama Deception, says: "It soon became clear that the objectives were not limited only to military targets. According to witnesses, many of the surrounding residential neighborhoods were deliberately attacked and destroyed." [4]

Witnesses recounted U.S. soldiers setting residential buildings on fire. Video footage shows the charred remains of rows of housing complexes in El Chorillo, one of the city's poorest neighborhoods.

"The North Americans began burning down El Chorillo at about 6:30 in the morning. They would throw a small device into a house and it would catch on fire," recounted an anonymous witness in the film. "They would burn a house, and then move to another and begin the process all over again. They burned from one street to the next. They coordinated the burning through walkie-talkies." [5]

People were crushed by tanks, captured Panamanians were executed on the street, and bodies were piled together and burned. Survivors were reportedly hired to fill mass graves for $6 per body.

Spanish fotographer Juantxu Rodríguez of El País was shot and killed by an American soldier. Journalist Maruja Torres recounted the incident in the Spanish newspaper the next day.

"'Get back!' the U.S. soldier yelled from his painted face brandishing his weapon. We identified ourselves as journalists, guests at the Marriot," she wrote. "'We just want to pick up our things.' He didn't pay attention. The hotel, like all of them, had been taken over by U.S. troops. Those young marines were on the verge of hysteria. There was not a single Panamanian around, just defenseless journalists. Juantxu ran out running toward the hotel taking photos, the rest of us took shelter behind the cars. Juantxu didn't return."

While the professed aim of the operation was to capture Noriega, there is ample evidence that destroying the Panamanian Defense Forces and terrifying the local population into submission were at least equally important goals.

American officials had been told the precise location of Noriega three hours after the operation began - before the killing in El Chorillo - by a European diplomat. The diplomat told the Los Angeles Times he was "100% certain" of Noriega's location "but when I called, SouthCom (the U.S. Southern military command) said it had other priorities."

No one knows the exact number of people who were killed during the invasion of Panama. The best estimates are at least 2,000 to 3,000 Panamanians, but this may be a conservative figure, according to a Central American Human Rights Commission (COEDHUCA) report.

The report stated that "most of these deaths could have been prevented had the US troops taken appropriate measures to ensure the lives of civilians and had obeyed the international legal norms of warfare."

The CODEHUCA report documented massively "disproportionate use of military force," "indiscriminate and intentional attacks against civilians" and destruction of poor, densely-populated neighborhoods such as El Chorillo and San Miguelito. This gratuitous, systematic violence could not conceivably be connected to the professed military mission.

When asked at a news conference whether it was worth sending people to die (Americans, of course, not thousands of Panamanians) to capture Noriega, President George H.W. Bush replied: "Every human life is precious. And yet I have to answer, yes, it has been worth it."

'Flagrant Violation of International Law'

Several days later, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution condemning the invasion. But the United States – joined by allies Great Britain and France – vetoed it. American and European officials argued the invasion was justified and should be praised for removing Noriega from power. Other countries saw a dangerous precedent.

"The Soviet Union and third world council members argued that the invasion must be condemned because it breaks the ban on the use of force set down in the United Nations Charter," wrote the New York Times.

After this, on December 29, the General Assembly voted 75 to 20 with 40 abstentions in a resolution calling the intervention in Panama a "flagrant violation of international law and of the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of the States."

The Organization of American States passed a similar resolution by a margin of 20-1. In explaining the U.S.'s lone vote against the measure, a State Department spokesperson said: "We are disappointed that the OAS missed a historic opportunity to get beyond its traditional narrow concern over 'nonintervention.'"

In the ensuing occupation, CODEHUCA claimed that "the US has not respected fundamental legal and human rights" in Panama. The violations occurred on a "massive scale" and included "illegal detentions of citizens, unconstitutional property searches, illegal lay-offs of public and private employees, and ... tight control of the Panamanian media."

Despite the international outrage, Bush enjoyed a political boost from the aggression. His poll numbers shot to record highs not seen "since Presidents Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower." The President had authorized crimes against the peace and war crimes. Rather than being held accountable, he benefitted. So did the Pentagon and defense contractors who desperately needed a new raison d' etre after the fall of Communism.

No longer able to use the fear-mongering Cold War rationales it had for the last 40 years, Washington found a new propaganda tool to justify its aggressive military interventions and occupations. Washington was able to appropriate human rights language to create the contradictory, fictional notion of "humanitarian intervention."

"Washington was desperate for new ideological weapons to justify – both at home and abroad – its global strategies," writes James Peck. "A new humanitarian ethos legitimizing massive interventions – including war – emerged in the 1990s only after Washington had been pushing such an approach for some time." [6]

The stage was set for the even more horrific invasion of Iraq the following summer. Operation Gothic Serpent in Somalia, the NATO bombing of Serbia, Iraq (again), and the Bush and Obama interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq (a third time), Pakistan, Libya, Somalia (again), Yemen, Iraq (a fourth time) and Syria would follow.

The invasion of Panama caused unthinkable devastation to the people of Panama. Because of the U.S. military's obstruction, the full extent of the death and destruction will never be known. The damage done to the legitimacy of international law compounded the devastation exponentially.

Indisputably, the U.S. invasion was aggression against a sovereign nation. Aggressive war was defined in the Nuremberg Trials as the "supreme international crime," different from other crimes (like genocide or terrorism) in that it contains "the accumulated evil of the whole." People convicted of waging aggressive war were sentenced to death by hanging.

Twenty five years later, the man who ordered the invasion of Panama, George H.W. Bush, enjoys a luxurious retirement at his Houston and Kennebunkport estates. He is considered by mainstream U.S. pundits to be a foreign policy moderate.

Works Cited:

[1] Blum, William. Killing Hope: U.S. Military and C.I.A. Interventions Since World War II - Updated Through 2003. Common Courage Press, 2008.

[2] The Panama Deception. Dir. Barbara Trent. Empowerment Project, 1992. Film. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j-p4cPoVcIo&list=PLBMiR6FLgz2-BEFx0w_V-jE6hKb9uP3Wh&index=3, (30:54)

[3] Ibid (31:40)

[4] Ibid (34:08)

[5] Ibid (37:06)

[6] Peck, James. Ideal Illusions: How the U.S. Government Co-opted Human Rights. Metropolitan Books, 2011.

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Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:46:31 -0500
The Beginning of the End of the Cold War http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28122-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-cold-war http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28122-the-beginning-of-the-end-of-the-cold-war

A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)

 The generations-old war against Cuba - which Castro won, by the way, hands down - appears to be coming to an end.

A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)A Cuban flag flies over a street in Havana, Dec. 19, 2014. President Barack Obama’s restoration of diplomatic ties with Cuba this week has snatched a major cudgel from his critics and potentially restored some of Washington’s influence in Latin America. (The New York Times)

Like everything we’ve published in 2014, this story was made possible by our readers! Will you join the community that supports Truthout by donating today?

I was walking home from grammar school one day beneath the bright blue ceiling of a late September afternoon. My street lay across the top of a hill and enjoyed a commanding view of the Brighton neighborhoods leading into downtown Boston. A storm was out to sea east beyond the city, and the clouds towered in the distant sky. At some point I looked in that direction, and stopped dead in my tracks, because one cumulus formation seemed the very definition of a mushroom cloud, and a trick of light and distance made it appear to be right over the city. I ran all the way home, terrified.

One night not long after, I was looking out the windows that faced the city. The distant buildings were beautiful in the evening light, but as I watched, a bright dot appeared in the sky. It was solid, unblinking, and moving fast toward downtown. My breath caught, and my hands tightened on the windowsill as I waited to be incinerated by a wall of nuclear fire.

One could, I suppose, chalk it up to the overactive imagination of a boy. The cloud above the city was just that, and not the aftermath of a nuclear strike. The light streaking toward downtown was a helicopter, or a plane headed for Logan Airport, and not a missile carrying destruction in its nosecone. But for a child mired during his formative years in the Reagan-era hysterics of the Cold War, a boy conditioned to listen for the sirens that could erupt at any moment to announce onrushing nuclear doom, these little hallucinations were daily fare. Living in constant low-grade fear of the possibility that "The Day After" would one day no longer be televised fiction was, as it turns out, the price of doing business.

These memories have been much on my mind as I watch these new and frankly remarkable developments unfolding between the United States and Cuba. My generation missed that whole show completely - the Cuban Missile Crisis happened nine years before I was born - and people my age are required to be students of history to understand what all the damned static is about in the first place. Read every book, watch every old white-knuckle black-and-white news broadcast from that time, however, and in the end those who did not go through that particular period are still left blinking in confusion under wrinkled brows: What's the big deal? Why did this take so long?

Answers: Serious human rights concerns, the politics of Florida and its Electoral College votes, and the lingering grip of the Cold War itself - the embedded policies that came from it, and the enduring influence of those who miss not only the simplistic binary polarity between "good" and "bad" it represented, but also the astonishing taxpayer cash spigot it provided. The reasons why the world has seemingly gone utterly and completely berserk in the years since the Berlin Wall came down are due in massive degree to the acts and actions of powerful nations during the Cold War, but there is a certain breed of cat that misses those days anyway, because the bright definitions at play helped the world make some semblance of sense. Plus, of course, dudes got mad paid.

As noted, I was not on the planet when Cuba was the flashpoint of doom and the most important island on the planet. Cuba, for me, has frankly been a topic that a few people rage heatedly over while everyone else basically shrugs because they don't understand what the fuss is about. I had to put some work in to understand it.

I did, however, get my own full budget of Cold War paranoia during the bedlam of the Nixon, Ford, Carter and Reagan administrations. Reagan, most specifically, was the one who very deliberately made me think I would be consumed by a wall of fire at practically any moment. We didn't do duck-and-cover at my grammar school, but every so often the teachers would herd us into the basement for a "special" fire drill, and we'd all huddle in a concrete room with the yellow and black "Fallout Shelter" sign on the door. Even at that age, knowing full well our close proximity to an obvious nuclear target, the futility of the gesture left an impression.

The Soviet Union may be gone, but the Cold War never really ended. This is a nation that needs an enemy, and beneath the bright blue ceiling of another September day thirteen years ago, a new one was established. Our haywire economy requires a state of permanent war; we lost it for a time when the Wall fell, but found it again when the Towers fell. The savage irony is that those Towers came down thanks to the chesswork of Cold Warriors who thought they could control the beast they created in Afghanistan in their desire to undo the Soviets. By any measurable standard, the United States of America, its people, its politics and its profiteering ethos stand as a bent monument to that era, which never really ended, but only metastasized into the so-called "War on Terror."

Yet the generations-old war against Cuba - which Castro won, by the way, hands down - appears to be coming to an end. This has to be a good thing, has to be made into a good thing, has to count for something beyond an opportunity for table-pounders to raise their voices and yell about Communists from the close end of the long, echoing corridor of history. The president is to be commended. At a bare minimum, we will soon hopefully have one less thing to argue about.

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Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 09:21:17 -0500
Your Holiday Guide to Avoiding Slave Labor http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28121-your-holiday-guide-to-avoiding-slave-labor http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28121-your-holiday-guide-to-avoiding-slave-labor

(Photo: David Leggett)(Photo: David Leggett)

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Pope Francis got into the holiday spirit this year by calling on shoppers not to buy products made by modern-day slaves.

This is, of course, excellent advice. Odds are, most of us — whether Catholic or not — would love to take it.

But how? Most products don't come with tags specifying whether or not slave labor was used in their production.

There are a few agricultural products in particular — including many popular stocking stuffers — that are notorious for using slave labor. Fortunately, you can avoid buying them with a little bit of thought.

Take chocolate, for instance. In 2012, CNN reported that half-a-million child slaves work on cacao plantations in the Ivory Coast, which supplies nearly 40 percent of the world's chocolate.

I did buy fancy truffles for a number of people on my gift list. Maybe you plan to as well.

The good news is that avoiding dubious chocolate sources is easy: Simply opt for Fair Trade-certified chocolate. The certification process ensures traceability and responsibility in the supply chain, and it means slightly better prices for cacao farmers.

Then there's shrimp. Earlier this year, The Guardian reported on widespread modern-day slavery in the Thai shrimp farming industry. Shrimp sold in the United States comes from domestic and foreign sources, both farmed and wild, but Thailand is a major supplier.

You probably didn't plan to put any shrimp under your Christmas tree, but if you're considering serving shrimp cocktail at a holiday party, check the Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guide to find a responsible source. (Or just serve something other than shrimp, because many sources of this popular seafood are, quite frankly, disgusting.)

Another item that comes to mind is palm oil. And there's a good chance — whether you realize it or not — that you've slipped a palm oil product into a loved one's stocking.

Palm oil is found in a large number of processed foods, cosmetics, and even candles.

It can be produced ethically — and some brands, like Dr. Bronner's Magic Soaps, source their palm oil responsibly. But in far too many cases it comes from plantations in Indonesia and Malaysia, where deforestation from palm oil production endangers orangutans, tigers, and a magnificent rainforest ecosystem.

Yet this is a haphazard and likely incomplete list of products to avoid. The easiest way to ensure that your gifts benefit your community and the workers who produced them is to buy locally.

That can mean purchasing handmade, unique products from Etsy, shopping at local stores or craft fairs, or giving loved ones experiences instead of things. A trip to see a musical or a sports game is a great gift, especially for a kid who already has more toys than he or she could ever play with.

One of the best gifts I've ever given was a set of "coupons from Santa" for my then-boyfriend's kids to do things like stay up late, pick the movie the family would watch, or choose what we had for dinner. It cost nothing to write them up and drop them into the kids' stockings, and they absolutely loved them.

As we thoughtfully buy gifts for our loved ones in festive stores this season, it's hard to remember the people who make the products we buy — especially given the lack of transparency in the supply chain. But a bit of extra thought can help us take the Pope's advice, without sacrificing the quality of gifts we purchase.

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Opinion Sat, 20 Dec 2014 11:04:29 -0500
Darren Wilson Wasn't the First: A Short History of Killer Cops Let Off the Hook http://truth-out.org/news/item/28120-darren-wilson-wasn-t-the-first-a-short-history-of-killer-cops-let-off-the-hook http://truth-out.org/news/item/28120-darren-wilson-wasn-t-the-first-a-short-history-of-killer-cops-let-off-the-hook

December 3, 3014: A sign at the "Ferguson to Madison" Movement, a silent vigil was held for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many more. (Photo: Kaitlyn Veto)December 3, 3014: A sign at the "Ferguson to Madison" Movement, a silent vigil was held for Mike Brown, Eric Garner, and many more. (Photo: Kaitlyn Veto)

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The Ferguson grand jury's decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson for the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown is heartless but unsurprising. But it is important to place the case in context with the history of police violence investigations and prosecutions in high profile cases—and the systemic and racist police brutality that continues to plague the nation. In doing so, there are lessons for the movement for justice in the Michael Brown case, as well as for those who are engaged in the broader struggle against law enforcement violence.

What follows, then, is a brief history of similar high profile cases where public outrage compelled the justice system to confront acts of racially motivated police violence—with, to say the least, less than satisfactory results.

Chicago

Over the past 45 years, Chicago has been a prime example of official indifference and cover-up when it comes to prosecuting the police for wanton brutality and torture.

On December 4, 1969, Black Panther leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark were slain in a police raid that implicated the Cook County State's Attorney and the FBI's Cointelpro program. A public outcry led to a Federal Civil Rights investigation. Despite finding that the raiding police fired more than 90 shots to one by the Panthers, the Grand Jury in 1970 did not indict, but rather issued a report that equally blamed the police perpetrators and the Panther victims.

Outrage at this decision led to the appointment of a Special Prosecutor who, in the face of extreme official resistance, obtained an indictment against the police and the State's Attorneys who planned and executed the raid—not for murder and attempted murder, but rather for obstruction of justice.

The case came to trial in front of a politically connected judge who dismissed the case without even requiring that the charged officials put on a defense. Again, the outrage, particularly in the African-American community was so extreme that the chief prosecutor, Edward V. Hanrahan, was voted out of office a week after the verdict was rendered in 1972.

The Jon Burge police torture scandal provides another stark example. Evidence that had been unearthed over the years demonstrated that a crew of predominately white Chicago police detectives, led by Jon Burge, tortured at least 120 African-American men from 1972 to 1991.

Cook County State's Attorney Richard M. Daley was tendered powerful evidence of this torture as early as 1982, but did not investigate or prosecute Burge and his men. Daley's office continued to use confessions tortured from the victims to send scores of them to prison—10 of whom went to death row, though they were later saved by a death penalty moratorium in 2000 and by a grant of clemency in 2003 by then-Governor George Ryan—during the next seven years.

In 1989, the local U.S. Attorneys' office declined to prosecute, as did the Department of Justice in 1996 and Cook County State's Attorney Richard Devine for the five years directly thereafter. In 2001, due to continuing public pressure, a politically connected Special Prosecutor was appointed to investigate the torture. But after a four year, $7 million investigation, he too refused to indict, instead issuing what is widely considered to be a whitewash report that absolved Daley, Devine, and numerous high Chicago police officials.

Finally, in 2008 the U.S. Attorney indicted Burge for perjury and obstruction of justice, and he was convicted in 2010, and sentenced to 4 ½ years in prison. However, the U.S. Attorney has subsequently declined to prosecute Burge's confederates for similar offenses.

New Orleans

Chicago is by no means an isolated example of how difficult it is to obtain justice for wanton police violence through the judicial system. In New Orleans, a crew of white detectives responded to the killing of a white police officer in 1980 by terrorizing the black community of Algiers, killing four innocent people and torturing numerous others by "booking and bagging" them: beating suspects with telephone books and suffocating them with bags over their heads.

Seven officers were indicted by the Department of Justice for civil rights violations arising from the torture of one of the victims and three were convicted. No officers were charged for the four killings or for the other acts of torture.

In 2005, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, an NOPD officer fatally shot an unarmed black man named Henry Glover, then several of his fellow officers burned his body to cover-up their crime. NOPD officers also shot and killed two unarmed black men on the Danziger Bridge.

After state authorities botched their investigation, the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department indicted the officers involved in the two cases and obtained convictions of some of the main police actors. However, the Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit overturned the verdict in the Glover case, and the trial judge, citing government misconduct, took the extraordinary step of granting the convicted officers a new trial in the Danziger case.

New York

In 1997, an NYPD officer sexually assaulted a Haitian-American man named Abner Louima in a precinct station bathroom by shoving a broken broomstick up his rectum. Louima's attacker was subsequently charged with federal civil rights violations, while three of his police accomplices were charged with covering up the crimes.

After Louima's attacker pleaded guilty, his accomplices were convicted, but the Second Circuit Court of Appeals overturned their convictions on the grounds that the lawyers who represented the officers had a conflict of interest. After they were convicted a second time, the Appeals Court again overturned their convictions—this time on the basis that there was insufficient evidence of intent.

In 1999, four officers from the NYPD's Street Crimes Unit fired 41 shots at Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was reaching for his wallet, hitting him 19 times. The officers were indicted for second degree murder and the case was moved to upstate New York, where a jury acquitted the officers.

In July of this year, NYPD officers arrested an African-American man named Eric Garner, allegedly for selling untaxed cigarettes. They put a prohibited chokehold on him, forced him to the ground face first with his hands behind his back, and shoved his face into the pavement, where he died a few minutes later of a heart attack. The deadly assault, which was captured on videotape, is now under investigation by a Special Grand Jury empaneled by the District Attorney's Office.

Los Angeles

Among the most notorious cases was the brutal 1991 beating of Rodney King by five LAPD officers. A videotape captured most of the brutality and also showed several other officers standing by and doing nothing to stop the pummeling of a defenseless black man.

Four officers were charged at the state level with assault with a deadly weapon and use of excessive force. The trial was moved to a predominantly white suburban county, and three of the officers were acquitted of all charges, while the fourth was acquitted of assault with a deadly weapon and other lesser charges. But the jury failed to reach a verdict on his use of excessive force.

After an angry uprising in the Africa- American community of Los Angeles that left 53 dead and around 2,000 injured, the U.S. Justice Department indicted the four officers, and a federal jury convicted two of them, while acquitting the other two.

This past August, LAPD officers fatally shot an unarmed mentally ill African-American man named Ezell Ford, who witnesses said was shot in the back while lying on the ground. Despite massive protests, there has been no grand jury investigation to date, the autopsy report is yet to be released, and the LAPD has not completed its investigation.

Oakland

In Oakland, California in the late 1990s, a unit of police officers dubbed the "Rough Riders" systematically beat, framed and planted narcotics on African Americans whom they claimed were dealing drugs. Four of the "Riders" were indicted by the District Attorney's Office, and the trial was moved to a suburban county. The ringleader fled the country, and was tried in absentia.

After a year-long trial before a bitterly divided jury on which there were no blacks, the officers were acquitted of eight charges, and the jury was hung on the remaining 27 counts. At the urging of then-Mayor Jerry Brown, the officers were not re-tried.

Also in Oakland, in the early morning hours of New Years Day, 2009, a BART officer shot and killed a young black man named Oscar Grant, who was lying face down, unarmed, in a busy transit station. The shooting was videotaped, and led to militant protests in Oakland.

Another jury with no black members rejected the charge of murder and instead found the officer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. As a result, Oscar Grant's killer spent less than a year behind bars. The Department of Justice subsequently opened a civil rights investigation, but no charges were brought.

Milwaukee

From 2007-2012 in Milwaukee, a unit of white police officers, spurred on by the Department's CompStat program of aggressive policing, stopped and illegally body cavity searched more than 70 African-American men whom they claimed to be investigating for drug dealing. In conducting these searches, most commonly performed on the street, the searching officer reached inside the men's underwear, and probed their anuses and genitals.

After this highly illegal practice came to light, the unit's ringleader, Michael Vagnini, was indicted by the Milwaukee County District Attorney on numerous counts of sexual assault, illegal searches, and official misconduct, while three of the other unit officers were also charged for participating in two of the searches. The unit's sergeant and several other members of the unit, all of whom were present for many of the searches, were not charged.

The charged officers were permitted to plead guilty to the lesser included offenses of official misconduct and illegal strip searches, with Vagnini receiving a 36-month sentence while the other three received sentences that totaled, collectively, less than a month in jail. By pleading guilty, they also received promises that they would not be charged with federal civil rights violations.

Pattern and Practice Investigations

These high profile cases represent only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cases where racist police violence has not been subjected to equal justice under the law.

Recently, the Justice Department declined to prosecute Little Rock, Arkansas, officers who shot and killed Eugene Ellison, an elderly African American man who was walking out of his home with a cane in his hand, while there have been documented reports of unarmed black men recently being shot down by the police in Chicago; Houston; San Antonio; Beaver Creek, Ohio; and Sarasota, Florida.

In 1994, the United States Congress, recognizing that police misconduct and violence was systemic in many parts of the country, passed 42 U.S. Code Section 14141, which empowered the Justice Department to file suit against police departments alleging patterns and practices of unconstitutional conduct, and to obtain wide ranging court orders, consent decrees, and independent monitors in order to implement reforms to those practices.

Although understaffed, the Pattern and Practice Unit of the Justice Department has attacked systemic and discriminatory deficiencies in police hiring, supervision, and monitoring in numerous police departments over the past 20 years. A particularly egregious act or series of acts of police violence often prompts the Unit to initiate an investigation, and its lawyers have obtained consent decrees or court orders in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Steubenville, Ohio, New Orleans, Puerto Rico, Oakland, and Miami.

Last month, lawyers handling the Little Rock cases requested that the DOJ do a pattern and investigation of the LRPD, and the Unit is reportedly now investigating the practices of the Ferguson Police Department. While these investigations are not a panacea, they offer a mechanism for exposing and reforming blatantly unconstitutional police practices, and have also demonstrated how pervasive the problem systemic police violence continues to be.

In light of this history, the pre-ordained failure of a biased local prosecutor to obtain an indictment against Darren Wilson should not surprise us. But the movement for justice for Michael Brown has brought widespread attention to the nationwide problem of systemic and racist police violence and highlighted the movement that has come together to battle against it.

Just two weeks ago, the Brown case, along with the Burge torture cases, was presented to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva. The movement should now turn its attention to the Department of Justice, demanding a federal civil rights indictment against Wilson a full scale pattern and practice investigation of the Ferguson Police Department, and, more broadly, an end to systemic and racist police violence.

As the history of the battle against racist police violence so pointedly teaches, the public outcry and agitation must continue not only in Ferguson but across the nation. Because as Frederick Douglas rightly stated many years ago, power concedes nothing without a demand.

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News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 13:41:36 -0500
In Border Disaster, Advocates Seek Names of the Dead http://truth-out.org/news/item/28114-in-border-disaster-advocates-seek-names-of-the-dead http://truth-out.org/news/item/28114-in-border-disaster-advocates-seek-names-of-the-dead

With her daughter missing, Dalila can’t give up hope.

“Sometimes I think … I’m going to find her alive, somewhere, where she might be recovering. A hospital, a shelter.”

Dalila, who lives in Oregon and works as a cleaner, asked that her last name be withheld for safety reasons. She came to the US on a visa nine years ago from El Salvador. In late 2013, Dalila paid a man $3,500 to take her 24-year-old daughter from El Salvador to the US, with the promise to pay another $3,500 when her daughter arrived.

Mother and daughter were never reunited. On Dec. 26, 2013, Dalila’s daughter sent her a text message saying she was about to start walking from McAllen, Texas, to Houston.

Thoughts of what might have happened to her daughter during that 350-mile journey haunt Dalila: “That is what keeps me up at night; that is what is most painful about it all – that I imagine my daughter crying, asking for help.”

Nearly 6,000 people have died crossing the southern border into the US since 1998, according to reports from the US Border Patrol. Violence and poverty in Mexico and Central America push migrants to leave, while family ties and economic opportunities pull them to the US

Many don’t survive the journey. So many bodies have been found – in deserts, rivers and on ranchlands – that local authorities have struggled to deal with the remains.

In southern Arizona, cemetery space used to bury the unidentified filled up, so legislators changed a law so that unidentified remains could be cremated. The morgue at the Pima County, Ariz., medical examiner’s office was expanded to accommodate the need.

The number of people who’ve died while crossing into Arizona went down in 2014, but human rights groups say the flow of migrants is being funneled into Texas, where the border area comprises about 30 poor, rural counties, like Brooks County (pop. 7,223).

In June, forensic anthropologists working in Brooks County discovered the unidentified remains of migrants buried in mass graves in the Sacred Heart cemetery.

Some of the remains were comingled and bones were found in shopping bags and trash bags, according to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times.

Such revelations spurred changes in how Brooks County handles unidentified remains, but they also cast light on the magnitude of migrant deaths and disappearances.

If hundreds of people perished in plane crashes in the desert, it would make headlines and garner federal support, said Robin Reineke, founder of the Colibrí Center for Human Rights in Tucson, Ariz.

“In other disasters, there is a disaster response agency where people will come in and manage things,” she said.

Show of Force

Fernando Garcia, executive director of Border Network for Human Rights, said the migrant-deaths disaster is the product of US government efforts to “seal” the border between Mexico and the US

The first of those efforts, Operation Hold the Line, began in El Paso in 1993. By concentrating agents and technology in urban areas, the Border Patrol created a “show of force” to deter people from crossing the border illegally. The approach was expanded in 1994 to San Diego under the name Operation Gatekeeper.

Citing a decline in the number of apprehensions, Border Patrol called deterrence a success.

But human rights groups say people continued to cross into the US, taking riskier routes and paying smugglers to help them.

“Actually the numbers of people crossing into the deserts, the mountains, they were not deterred,” Garcia said. “What you saw was people dying.”

Deaths increased almost immediately following increased border fortification, according to a 2014 report published by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The causes of deaths changed, too. After Gatekeeper was put into operation, for example, migrant deaths by drowning and exposure rose significantly at the California-Mexico border, the report said.

Prior to border fortification, migrant deaths were occasional and circumstantial, Garcia said. These days, they’re commonplace. When a body is found in the Rio Grande, “It’s like, OK, there’s another floater in the river.”

The death of thousands of migrants is met with apathy, Garcia said.

“If you had that many Canadians – White people – dying, this would be a different story.”

Missing Information

Dalila wants to put an end to the waiting and wondering. She made a missing-person report to Colibrí Center for Human Rights in hopes of finding out what happened to her daughter.

“Whatever it is, alive or dead, I want to be done with this,” she said.

Colibrí founder Robin Reineke is among a coalition of scientists, students and human rights activists working to collect better data from the remains of unidentified border crossers so that they can be positively matched with those reported missing.

Reineke and her colleagues have made 100 positive identifications from remains since 2006.

That leaves about 900 other John and Jane Does found in Arizona alone. Funerals will not be held for them; their families will likely never be notified.

“They have been made invisible many times,” Reineke said.

Clock Is Ticking

When an undocumented migrant dies trying to cross the US-Mexico border, the clock begins ticking. If the body is found before it has decomposed or been eaten by animals, investigators can determine the person’s weight and find scars or tattoos that might aid in identification. There’s also a better chance that clothing and personal items will be found.

“What we have to go on is pretty much in direct proportion to the condition of the remains when they were found,” said Pima County Medical Examiner Gregory Hess.

Despite its relatively small population of 6.6 million, Arizona ranks third in the US, behind California and New York, for number of unidentified remains.

In 2010, the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office saw a spike in the number of unidentified remains coming in. And, with that spike, came people searching for loved ones.

“We get families who show up in the parking lot,” Hess said.

The families had come to the wrong agency to file a missing-person report.

“It’s not like you could search those parameters in the records we use to house our cases. It’s not made for that,” Hess said.

At that time, Reineke was a graduate student working with University of Arizona anthropologist Bruce Anderson to centralize missing-migrant data from southern Arizona. She collected data from consulates – including paper records – and took reports from families.

“The breakdown of the case is most of the families of missing migrants can’t go to police, either because they are afraid of getting reported or because they are in Mexico or Central America,” she said.

Sometimes, the family will choose a delegate who is bilingual or has secure legal status in the US to make the report.

“Other times,” she said, “we can sense the person [making the report] is terrified.”

Colibrí, a nonprofit that grew out of this work, receives as many as 60 reports from families each week and also collects missing-person reports from consulates, nonprofits, journalists and BORSTAR, the Border Patrol’s search-and-rescue unit.

“We’re really just trying to be a clearinghouse of all this data so medical examiners across the border will have an easy list,” Reineke said.

Little is easy about determining migrants’ identities. In 2008, the body of a young woman was brought in to the Pima County ME’s office. Found with the body was an ID card, and the face of the woman matched the photo on the ID, which also had a name. Despite all this, Reineke was unable to locate the woman’s family.

“Sometimes it’s just a matter of the data not being comprehensive,” she said.

On one hand is the information collected from the remains. On the other, is missing-person information. One or the other – or both – may be missing or incomplete.

Family members may not file a missing-person report because they are estranged from the relative, involved in the drug trade or too scared, because of their own undocumented status, to make a report.

Information about the remains of unidentified bodies is often inconsistent, since there is no universal protocol on how an unidentified body is handled.

“The way death investigations work is very fragmented. Who is doing this [DNA sampling] depends on where you live,” Hess said.

Pima County takes DNA samples from all unidentified remains, but, as Hess points out, “a physical DNA sample can be useful only insofar as there are other samples with which to compare it.”

In the US, databases of DNA are linked to law enforcement. CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System, is managed by the FBI.

It contains DNA profiles of people who have been arrested, convicted offenders, and family members of missing persons.

Hess and his colleagues sometimes take DNA from unidentified remains and enter the information into CODIS.

“Sometimes that comes back as a hit,” he said. “But then again, do we know the name is a real name, or something that they made up?”

Investigators can also take fingerprints and send them to the Border Patrol, but even a match there can be inconclusive as border crossers often use false identities and addresses.

Dental records are likewise unhelpful because the population of border crosses often has had little access to dental care.

“A Mass Disaster”

Kate Spradley knows all too well the challenges of unidentified remains. A forensic anthropologist at Texas State University, she is conducting an analysis of the remains of 65 unidentified border crossers exhumed from Brooks County’s Sacred Heart cemetery.

The project, she said, is “a mass disaster that was dropped off at our lab.”

Texas state law requires DNA sampling of all unidentified remains, but the law, Spradley said, is rarely enforced.

Texas has 254 counties, only 13 of which have medical examiners, and those examiners serve only their own counties, Spradley said. There are three medical examiners in the border area. An autopsy of unidentified remains costs about $1,500, plus another $1,500 for transport.

“They don’t have the resources to process those deaths,” Spradley said of border counties.

As a result, no one knows for sure how many unidentified border crossers are buried in Texas cemeteries.

“I think whatever number is out there is very much an underestimation,” Spradley said.

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News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 12:19:56 -0500
Elizabeth Warren and the Independent Community Bankers of America Are Right: Antonio Weiss Should Not Become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28112-elizabeth-warren-and-the-independent-community-bankers-of-america-are-right-antonio-weiss-should-not-become-undersecretary-for-domestic-finance http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28112-elizabeth-warren-and-the-independent-community-bankers-of-america-are-right-antonio-weiss-should-not-become-undersecretary-for-domestic-finance

Antonio Weiss has been nominated to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance at the Treasury Department. A growing number of people and organizations have expressed reservations about this potential appointment, which requires Senate confirmation – including Senator Dick Durbin (D., IL), Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D.,NH), Senator Joe Manchin (D., WV), the American Federation of Teachers (in a press release on December 17th), and other groups. And, from another part of the political spectrum, the Independent Community Bankers of America has also come out strongly against Mr. Weiss.

In a speech last week, Senator Elizabeth Warren detailed her concerns about Mr. Weiss's background:

"He [Mr. Weiss] has focused on international corporate mergers and companies buying and selling each other. It may be interesting, challenging work, but it does not sufficiently qualify him to oversee consumer protection and domestic regulatory functions at the Treasury that are a critical part of the job."

And Senator Warren made it clear that the Weiss nomination needs to be seen in this broader context:

"Time after time in government, the Wall Street view prevails, and time after time, conflicting views are crowded out."

A line must be drawn and, as Senator Warren said on Friday evening, with regard to the Wall Street view that what is good for executives at big banks is good for the country,

"Enough is enough."

The latest round of pushback from Weiss supporters against Senator Warren makes three points. First, this administration is not captured by the Wall Street view. Second, Mr. Weiss is not captured by the Wall Street view. And, third, that Mr. Weiss is so perfectly qualified for the job that all these broader issues are irrelevant or even illegitimate. None of these points has a substantive basis or can withstand scrutiny. The ICBA, AFT, and Senators Durbin, Machin, Shaheen, and Warren are right to continue opposing Mr. Weiss's appointment.

On the extent of capture of this administration by the Wall Street view, the facts are straightforward. The Obama administration has continually refused to put forward any potential nominee for a senior position who has shown serious backbone with regard to financial reform. There appears to be a litmus test. If you want to be tough on reform – in the sense of confronting Too Big To Fail head-on or even just reducing the reckless risks that big banks take with derivatives – you cannot have a senior administration job.

A few reformers have, of course, managed to get through. Gary Gensler took financial reform seriously and implemented the Dodd-Frank law as chair at the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. The administration seems to have been surprised by how tough he was – and they did not reappoint him. Janet Yellen became chair of the Federal Reserve Board, but only because the White House could not get sufficient support for Larry Summers. And Tom Hoenig and Jeremiah Norton are strong voices for sensible policy at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation – but they were both put in office by the Republicans.

There is no balance of views at the top of the US Treasury. The Wall Street view – what's good for the people who run big banks is good for the country – is fully in control. The most recent demonstration of this point came just last week, when House Republicans proposed to repeal Section 716 of Dodd-Frank – a direct attempt to help Citigroup and other megabanks by allowing them to run more dangerous derivatives out of their insured banks (and therefore create more downside risks for taxpayers and the broader economy). Treasury and the administration not only did not oppose this measure – they actively undermined House Democrats and Senator Warren in their attempts to stick up for Section 716. There is no backbone on financial reform at Treasury.

Regarding Mr. Weiss himself, the reasonable question is: to what extent does he believe in any version of the Wall Street view?

We know many things about Mr. Weiss but we don't know everything. Therefore any reasonable observer faces a signal extraction problem – there is plenty of noise and distraction, but what are his real views? Here is what we have to work with:

  • Weiss has no known competence on anything to do with financial regulation. There is no track record.
  • Weiss has never communicated, in public or private, on financial reform issues with anyone who has worked hard against the Wall Street view over the past six years (or ever).
  • Weiss's employment has involved advising on international mergers and acquisitions for 20 years. Lazard, his firm, does deals involving big banks – and it hires plenty of people who previously worked at global megabanks such as Citigroup.
  • Many people who live and work in this kind of milieu share some version of the Wall Street view. For example, some of the most vociferous defenders of Citigroup are people in smaller financial firms and in law firms (and in think tanks) who make their living from the Citi ecosystem (and the implicit government subsidies that keep this bizarre and dangerous structure going).
  • Not everyone who has worked in finance believes in the Wall Street view (e.g., Gary Gensler). But at this point – six years after the crisis – most of the serious skeptics regarding the supposed advantages of megabanks have made their voices heard, at least in private.
  • Weiss is associated with Robert Rubin, for example through a paper (on fiscal issues) they both signed that was produced by the Center for American Progress. Mr. Rubin has, while in office during the 1990s, while at Citigroup during the 2000s, and still today, consistently exhibited a strong version of the Wall Street view.
  • Rubin has exerted great apparent influence on this administration, including by directly or indirectly encouraging the White House to hire people with minimal public track records on financial reform – who then prove to be profoundly disappointing by siding repeatedly with the big Wall Street players.
  • More broadly, the attitude of the Obama administration on financial reform has been profoundly disappointing – including, now, not even going to bat for their own legislation.
  • Everyone on the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System has at this point been appointed or re-appointed by the Obama administration. The only person on that Board who definitely does not share the Wall Street view is Janet Yellen.
  • The administration has steadfastly refused to take seriously any potential appointees to the Fed Board of Governors who would be tough on the Wall Street view. There have long been two vacancies on the Board – and the administration will not advance a single person who worries about the profound risks created by big banks or any kind of proven willingness to implement the Dodd-Frank reforms.

In recent days, Mr. Weiss's supporters have sought to rally support through two outside letters that stress Mr. Weiss's supposed qualifications for the job. But both these letters further weaken the case for Mr. Weiss – seen in terms of the signal extraction problem, these interventions strengthen the likelihood that Mr. Weiss shares a disturbing version of the Wall Street view.

One letter, dated December 11, is from four former Undersecretaries for Domestic Finance. The authors concede that Mr. Weiss has no experience in managing the national debt so, by their own definition, the issue is whether Mr. Weiss is suited to a key position relative to financial regulation. Their argument comes down to this:

"Mr. Weiss has spent a quarter century operating in financial markets, including more than 20 years at Lazard, the last five of which as Global Head of Investment Banking. He has specific expertise advising companies how to grow, and how to finance that growth. Lazard is not a money center or lending bank and does not engage in sales and trading. Mr. Weiss has been deeply involved on behalf of large and small client companies in negotiating every type of financing, from debt and equity through more complex structures."

All this says is: he worked on Wall Street, knows about corporate finance, and did not directly get bailed out in 2008-09. But there is no definite or specific information here that helps us understand or verify whether Mr. Weiss at all shares, or even deeply believes in, the Wall Street view – an important part of which now is "bailouts are fine" and "the government made money"; completely ignoring the costs of the financial crisis to the broader economy and to ordinary Americans.

The fact that Mr. Weiss's strong supporters would send a letter devoid of relevant information on this point should itself be interpreted as a signal. If Mr. Weiss were at all skeptical of megabanks, now would be a good time to communicate that point – and we see nothing of the kind.

The second letter, dated December 12, is from the Partnership for New York City, which is an organization comprised primarily of leading New York-based companies – naturally heavily weighted towards finance. The membership of the Partnership includes all the Too Big To Fail banks, although most of them chose not to sign this letter (with the exception of Morgan Stanley).

Instead, the prominent names among those signing include top Wall Street lawyers, people at financial firms that do a lot of business with TBTF banks as partners or counterparties, and former executives from the largest global megabanks (including the former chairman of Citigroup). Many of these individuals have no material interest in seeing an end to the distortive government subsidies associated with any financial firm perceived as being Too Big To Fail. Indeed, the net worth, status, and professional opportunities for many on the Partnership's letter are presumably closely tied to the fortunes of TBTF banks. These are smart, rational people with a good grip on how the world works – it does not seem unreasonable to think many of them wish to continue receiving, indirectly, the benefits of implicit taxpayer support provided to the likes of Citigroup.

Similar views to those of high-profile individuals in the Partnership for New York are not underrepresented in this administration and in this Treasury Department. Many of these people have access also to the very top of the White House.

And, as matter of routine, an influential subset of this group also appoints, oversees, and can actually remove from office one of our most important financial regulators, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. A major part of our modern difficulties can be traced back to the fact that the New York Fed has become completely captured by the Wall Street view. (Senator Jack Reed has a legislative proposal that would help deal with this problem by reducing the powers of the Board of the New York Fed, where the banking sector still holds the reins.)

It is hard to see the letter from the Partnership for New York as anything other than confirmation of the points made by opponents of Mr. Weiss. Camden R. Fine, president of the ICBA, put it this way:

"While Mr. Weiss has impressive credentials as a top Wall Street executive specializing in international mergers and acquisitions, Wall Street is already well represented at Treasury, and the narrow focus of Mr. Weiss's professional experience is a serious concern for ICBA and community banks nationwide."

Senator Warren agrees completely, with slightly different wording:

"It's all about the revolving door – that well-oiled mechanism that sends Wall Street executives to make policies in the government and that sends government policymakers straight to Wall Street. Weiss defenders are all in, loudly defending the revolving door and telling America how lucky we are that Wall Street is willing to run the economy and the government."

As argued by his opponents and as confirmed by the public statements of his strongest supporters, Antonio Weiss does not have the right background, qualifications, or – as far as anyone can reasonably determine – views to become Undersecretary for Domestic Finance.

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Opinion Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:34:38 -0500
Fracking Movement Wins as NY Bans Fracking http://truth-out.org/news/item/28111-fracking-movement-wins-as-ny-bans-fracking http://truth-out.org/news/item/28111-fracking-movement-wins-as-ny-bans-fracking

In a major victory for people who have been working to stop hydraulic fracturing for gas, known as fracking, Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York announced a ban on fracking in New York State.

This would not have occurred had it not been for the consistent and ongoing educating, organizing and mobilizing by groups like New Yorkers Against Fracking and We Are Seneca Lake, among others. This has been a six year campaign of creative protests, civil resistance, direct action and local communities voting to ban fracking, a power upheld by New York's highest court. One opponent of fracking, Walter Hang, an environmental mapping consultant wrote:

This stupendous victory was won by an unrelenting grassroots citizen campaign powered by amazing press coverage that systematically highlighted the public health and environmental concerns of shale fracking. That effort has won a victory unparalleled in the annals of the American environmental movement.

Tom Wilber who writes Shale Gas Review which covers gas development in Marcellus and Utica shales, noted the power of the anti-fracking movement and how it related to the science on fracking:

Science is part of the calculus. But despite what Cuomo would like us to believe, scientists don't make these kinds of decisions. The full equation is Science + politics = policy. Cuomo finally got tired of being hounded on the issue by his political base. The movement in New York against shale gas was relentless and it was focused on him.

People rising up and saying 'no' to fracking made it impossible for the government to ignore the health, safety and environmental problems caused by fracking. See this December 2014 compendium of the research. This victory is one that will spur the anti-fracking movement throughout the country and puts in question the fracking infrastructure being built, e.g. pipelines, compressor stations and export terminals, currently being pushed throughout the country by Big Energy.

Inside Climate News reports that Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and fracking activist in New York, told them from the parking lot of a sheriff's office where she was bailing out 28 musicians arrested in an ongoing protest against a fracked gas storage facility in the Seneca Lakes region of New York that when she told the activists the news, they picked up their instruments and there was "singing and dancing in the streets." She added "Fracking is able to roll over so many communities because people are told it is inevitable. This decision emboldens us all. It shows this fight is winnable."

At a meeting in Calvert County last night where Dominion Resources is building a fracked gas export terminal, Tracey Eno of Calvert Citizens for a Healthy Community, a member of We Are Cove Point, mentioned the Cuomo decision to inspire people to realize that we can defeat big energy.

Yesterday morning we received an email message urging people in New York to prepare to protest as Governor Cuomo was expected to announce three pilot fracking projects in New York, instead the governor decided to continue the moratorium on fracking. This reminds us that we often do not realize how close we are to victory, indeed people often feel like they are failing or cannot win, when in fact victory is within reach and much closer than they realize.

Cuomo spoke briefly at a press conference after his cabinet meeting announcing the fracking ban and saying he was following the advice of experts. He then turned the press conference over to them to explain the decision.

The New York Times reports that the state health commissioner expressed concerns about the health impacts of fracking:

In a presentation at the cabinet meeting, the acting state health commissioner, Dr. Howard A. Zucker, said the examination had found "significant public health risks" associated with fracking.

Holding up copies of scientific studies to animate his arguments, Dr. Zucker listed concerns about water contamination and air pollution, and said there was insufficient scientific evidence to affirm the safety of fracking.

Dr. Zucker said his review boiled down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place?

Zucker said that in other states where fracking is already happening, he found that state health commissioners "weren't even at the table."

At the same time, Joe Martens, the environmental commissioner described the economic stimulus from fracking was not as great telling a press conference that the prospects for fracking in New York are "uncertain at best" and describing economic benefits as "far lower than originally forecasted." As The Times reported:

Martens noted the low price of natural gas, the high local cost of industry oversight and the large areas that would be off-limits to shale gas development because of setback requirements, water supply protections, and local prohibitions. He said those factors combine to make fracking less economically beneficial than had been anticipated.

Chip Northrup, a former oil and gas investor who writes the No Fracking Way blog that opposes drilling in New York, wrote about the views of commissioners Zucker and Martens:

Both of them cited the greatly reduced area where fracking would actually take place in New York – since most upstate towns ban it.

And the only towns that might allow it are in an small area by the Pennsylvania border that is not currently economic. So, frankly, simply not worth fracking fooling with.

Which makes perfect sense from all standpoints: environmentally, economically and politically.

At the press conference Cuomo said "I think it's our responsibility to develop an alternative ... for safe, clean economic development."

We urge advocates and the governor to now put in place a strategy to make New York the first state to put in place a carbon-free, nuclear-free energy economy by 2025. This is not an impossible fantasy but an achievable goal. Here is one example of how New York could achieve a clean energy economy. Putting in place a clean energy policy is the kind of leadership that could revive Cuomo, who had a very difficult re-election, as a viable presidential candidate in 2020.

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News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:17:17 -0500
Another Black Boy Gunned Down by Police http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28110-another-black-boy-gunned-down-by-police http://truth-out.org/opinion/item/28110-another-black-boy-gunned-down-by-police

We will never learn of the names, lives, and deaths of countless Black men and boys murdered by police - and slavery enforcers, hate groups, vigilantes, and a host of others – dating back to the earliest days of this country's history. The names and stories of a slew of recent victims of extrajudicial executions, such as Eric Garner and Michael Brown, and the exoneration of their killers, have become widely known through the blowback of public fury.

This is a tale of another Black boy whose name and wrongful death were never reported in any official document or national media. The policeman responsible was not charged, indicted, or prosecuted. This child's prematurely snuffed life was not spent in the US but in the Black nation of Haiti, though the US government subsidized his murderer.

***

In Port-au-Prince on a sweltering day last spring, the collective taxicab I was traveling in turned onto Bicentennaire Street, barely avoiding the prone body of a young teen. Arms thrown out like a startled baby's, he lay in a pool of blood. I spun around in the seat to look. A Haitian passenger, more accustomed to gritty daily reality, looked at me strangely. "What's wrong with you?" she asked.

One truck of Haitian police and two more of UN occupation troops next to the body raised my suspicion, as both parties have been responsible for incalculable harm.

I extricated myself from the crowded cab and ran to the scene. The boy had been shot in his skull and eye. The part of his T-shirt that was not yet covered with blood, which was still flowing from the holes, gleamed white. His mother or sister had surely recently hand-scrubbed that shirt with care.

A policeman told me he had been shot by a "bandit." A bandit robbing and shooting this boy was implausible: emaciated children from that destitute neighborhood do not circulate with riches. That he himself might have been involved in banditry was equally incredible: plastic flip-flops do not make good getaway shoes.

I began asking onlookers and street merchants if they knew what had happened. But two policemen followed me, and so no one had observed anything. As I continued my investigation up a dirt alleyway, one of the cops asked, "Where are you going?" "Just walking," I said. "Don't you need company?" he replied. They laughed.

At a bend in the alley, I ducked behind a tin fence before the police caught up with me and asked a man welding what he had seen. He said the police had driven up and then the shots had rung out.

Police brutality is a time-honored tradition in Haiti. Today, under fraudulently elected President Michel Martelly, the force's killings and abuses – especially of demonstrators, activists, and journalists – are growing. Just this past Sunday, December 14, police attacked anti-government demonstrators in the capital city, killing one.

The US has had a hand in taking down these Black lives. In the three years since Martelly was imposed, the US has underwritten his unaccountable "security" forces to the tune of $73 million, courtesy of our tax dollars. The US has also sold the Haitian government weapons that make the assaults possible. (This same support has gone to many a Haitian autocrat, notably François and Jean-Claude Duvalier.)

Likewise, UN troops - globo-cops – have assassinated, raped, arbitrarily arrested, and committed other human rights violations during their ten-year occupation of Haiti. Moreover, the force is responsible for the deaths of more than 9,000 through cholera, after troops infected with the disease dumped their raw sewage in a river. When families of the victims filed a lawsuit for compensation, the UN claimed legal immunity. (The cholera lawsuit continues nevertheless.)

Haitian and UN forces are Daniel Panteleo, the NYPD officer who strangled Eric Garner to death as he placidly vended cigarettes on a sidewalk. They are Darren Wilson, the St. Louis cop who shot the unarmed teenager Michael Brown seven or eight times. These badge-wearers, and so many more like them, stand above the law.

The continual malfeasance, and exemption from accountability and punishment, of the Haitian police and the UN occupation force would be unthinkable, unacceptable, in a high-income white nation. However, those who control power and those with white skin typically respond to state-sanctioned lawlessness in low-income Black neighborhoods and countries by choosing to remain uninformed; ignoring the matter; or rewriting the narrative as gang activity, Black-on-Black violence, or common crime.

In the global division of capital and human value, a dead Black Haitian like the one lying on Bicentennaire Street was IS? one more worthless body in a worthless life in a worthless piece of real estate.

Both the street-beat cops and the blue helmets are themselves predominantly low-income and Black or brown. They are pawns in a globalized system of political and physical violence, underpaid proxies helping to maintain dominance of the world's elite nations and classes. On the streets, they mirror on a micro-scale the unjust global relations, endowed as they are with personal power that allows them to be protected perpetrators of crimes on those more vulnerable than they.

Two ambulances joined the police and UN trucks. The officials sauntered between the vehicles, talking to each other. No one paid any attention to the blood-drenched body. The men wrote nothing, photographed nothing. Finally, gloved corpse-slingers approached and searched the pockets of the child's nylon shorts; they found them entirely empty. They tossed the cadaver into a litter and into the back of the ambulance. I suspected they would dump him in a potter's field, perhaps after a quick stop at the morgue, and that that would be the end of the story. I would have wagered a large bet that there would be no time spent preparing documentation for headquarters or for possible later identification by his desperate mother. I would have bet everything I owned that a forthcoming lunch mattered a lot more to those men than due process. Likely, this had been just another stop in a routine day.

Still, more public resources were being spent on the boy at that moment than throughout his entire life. Now, however, they were too late to be of any use to him.

Walking back home, I got caught in a wave of little children leaving kindergarten with their parents. They were a sea of blue shorts, blue pinafores, and blue hair ribbons. Which of them would be blown away by their government?

And which would grow up to be protesters in marches, and advocates in campaigns, like those going on all over the US now? Which would commit him or herself to a country in which everyone's husband, father, son, and brother – and wife, mother, daughter, and sister - have worth? And what country would they create?

****

As I penned this article under the drone of police helicopters that circulate every night from sunset until well past midnight above the interlocked towns of Oakland and Berkeley – both of them in full rebellion - an email came in from a workers' rights group in Haiti. It read, "We are made nauseous by seeing assassination after assassination by the US police, with impunity, on any citizen – as long as they happen to be Black... and also by the complete protection of the corrupt justice system... We salute the mobilization of people in that country."

May the resistance and protest grow in strength. May they flourish into strategic organizing and sustained movement-building for physical security, economic and social equality, democratic rights, and government accountability vis-à-vis Blacks and other people of color. May this be so in the US and Haiti and everywhere that is sickened by the poison of structural racism.

Black lives matter.

A revised version of this article appeared as "Another Poor Black Boy Dead in Haiti", Truthout, April 7, 2013.

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Opinion Fri, 19 Dec 2014 11:05:33 -0500
The Millions March: The Post-Ferguson Moment Becoming a Movement http://truth-out.org/news/item/28109-the-millions-march-the-post-ferguson-moment-becoming-a-movement http://truth-out.org/news/item/28109-the-millions-march-the-post-ferguson-moment-becoming-a-movement

On Saturday, December 13th, tens of thousands of demonstrators (organizers put the number at 70 thousand) – outraged at police brutality and a system of racial inequality - marched in New York City from Washington Square Park, uptown through the heart of the holiday shopping district at Herald Square and then downtown to a rally and speak out at one police plaza. The march was lead by led by family members of those who have lost loved ones to police murder – including family members of Mike Brown, Jordan Davis, Shantel Davis, Sean Bell, Emmitt Till, Alberta Spruill, Ramarley Graham, and Kimani Gray.

What was striking- and encouraging- about this massive action was that it was organized and lead by young people of color- women in particular. The Millions March NYC originally organized by Synead Nichols, 23, and Umaara Iynaas Elliott, 19, in New York City, rapidly turned into an international Day of Resistance with protestors of all ages and ethnicities marching in their communities demanding more accountability in deadly and racially biased police tactics while declaring that #BlackLivesMatter.

Synead Nichols spoke with Acronym TV after the march. "50-70 thousand people were here tonight, showing that we can stand united peacefully. We can have emotions. We can be outraged. We can be angry, because we have a right to be angry. People are dying left and right – our children are dying – it's a travesty. But, we can be here, united and peaceful, and show that we want change. That is what we did today. "

Local organizers stressed that this movement is growing out of the historical moment brought on by the Mike Brown case in and the "incredible bravery" of organizers and protesters in Ferguson, MO who have been in the streets, often facing down a paramilitary police force, for over 100 days and counting.

"This is not something new, this is not just a response to Eric Garner. It is not just a response to Mike Brown. It is a response to building tensions and building issues of racial inequality," according to activist Sabaah Jordan. "The people in Ferguson
really have to be given credit, because it was a handful of young people who saw something wrong and stayed in the street and that was the catalyst that made people wake up and say: 'no, we can't take this anymore.'"

"The inequalities in this system come from white supremacy," according to NYC based activist George Machado. "The system is not broken. It is working perfectly OK. This whole thing needs to go. If we tie everything we win to that, then everything that this (system) is becomes illegitimate. (and then) this world becomes better for everyone, because black liberation is liberation for the entire world."

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News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:43:50 -0500
Does the Release of the Cuban Five Prove the US Failed to Destroy Cuba After Decades of Trying? http://truth-out.org/news/item/28108-does-the-release-of-the-cuban-five-prove-the-us-failed-to-destroy-cuba-after-decades-of-trying http://truth-out.org/news/item/28108-does-the-release-of-the-cuban-five-prove-the-us-failed-to-destroy-cuba-after-decades-of-trying

As a new chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations begins, we host a roundtable discussion about the prisoners released as part of the new deal. Cuba freed USAID contractor Alan Gross and a former Cuban intelligence officer who who worked secretly for the CIA, and the United States released the remaining members of the Cuban Five: Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino. We speak with attorney Martin Garbus of the Cuban Five legal team and broadcast an excerpt from our 2013 interview with the first freed member of the Cuban Five, René González, who describes why he came to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups. We also discuss the significance of the new relationship between the two countries. "Our government has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one ... and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed," says guest Michael Ratner, co-author of "Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder." We are also joined by Peter Kornbluh, director of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive, who met twice with Gross while he was detained.

TRANSCRIPT:

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman, on this historic day after the announcement of both President Obama as well as President Raúl Castro on the beginning of normalizations of relations between the United States and Cuba. But not everyone was happy. Republican Senator Marco Rubio of Florida blasted President Obama's new Cuba policy, calling it a, quote, "concession to a tyranny." Rubio is Cuban-American. This is part of what he said.

SEN. MARCO RUBIO: The White House has conceded everything and gained little. They gained no commitment on the part of the Cuban regime to freedom of press or freedom of speech or elections. No binding commitment was made to truly open up the Internet. No commitment was made to allowing the establishment of political parties or to even begin the semblance of a transition to democracy. And in exchange for all of these concessions, the only thing the Cuban government agreed to do is free 53 political prisoners, who could wind up in jail tomorrow morning if they once again take up the cause of freedom. ...

These changes will lead to legitimacy for a government that shamelessly, continuously abuses human rights, but it will not lead to assistance for those whose rights are being abused. It is just another concession to a tyranny by the Obama administration, rather than a defense of every universal and inalienable right that our country was founded on and stands for.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Florida Senator—that was Florida Senator Rubio.

We are joined right now by a roundtable of people. In Havana, Peter Kornbluh is with us, head of the Cuba Documentation Project at the National Security Archive. In Washington, D.C., Robert Muse is with us, who is a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer, an expert relating to U.S. laws with Cuba. Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights. And we're joined by Martin Garbus, who is part of the Cuban Five legal team. Time magazine calls him one of the best trial lawyers in the United States, while the National Law Journal has named him one of the country's top 10 litigators. Your response to what has taken place this week?

MARTIN GARBUS: I mean, it's extraordinary. It's marvelous. I saw Gerardo about three weeks ago in jail.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Gerardo is one of the three remaining Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Gerardo Hernández, who had a double life sentence. And it's hard to believe he ever would have gotten out under the American legal system. He was unjustly convicted, as you mentioned before. And it's just extraordinary to—I was looking at a guy over the last many years who—an extraordinary human being who was languishing in a jail, sometimes under solitary confinement. And the idea that he's now out, will be able to build a family with he and his wife, is just wonderful.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, what was it like when the three remaining jailed members of the Cuban Five arrived in Havana?

PETER KORNBLUH: Well, it certainly was a big moment for quite a few Cubans. Raúl Castro, in his presentation on television yesterday at noon, really led with the story that the counterterrorism heroes, as they're called here in Cuba, were coming home, that Cuba had released a Cuban CIA asset in return and also an American citizen, Alan Gross. And that was essentially his beginning. The normalization of relations with the United States kind of came second, and I wouldn't say it was secondary, but certainly was burying the lede, if you will.

And for Cubans, of course, there's been this campaign here in Cuba, also in the United States and around the world, a solidarity campaign, which Martin has been such a part of, to free these last remaining agents. And just like any other country that I think has people abroad in prison who have represented the government, these men have been away from their families for 16 years. The television last night was filled with images of them reuniting with their families, meeting with Raúl Castro, going to see their old friends. So, it certainly was an important event for Cuba. Certainly, it was. A lot of images on the television, a lot of discussion in the press.

AMY GOODMAN: Before we go to one of the—the first of the Cuban Five who were released, René González, who I interviewed when he returned to Cuba, Martin Garbus, if you could talk about these five men, convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in the United States, and yet they said they were here, yes, spying, but spying on violent anti-Cuba groups?

MARTIN GARBUS: They were here working with the United States government to try and stop the right-wing groups in Florida from continuing to invade Cuba, through the—sending arms down to Cuba, from flying over the island, and from actually killing people on the island. There was an explosion at a hotel, and many people were killed. So they were working with the cooperation of the American government.

Let me just say one thing before I get into that. There's a lawyer whose name hasn't been mentioned—Lenny Weinglass—who you know very well. And before me, Lenny worked for 10 years on the Cuban Five case, one of the great American lawyers. And whatever the result here is, he certainly is owed something for it, at least an acknowledgment.

AMY GOODMAN: He died a few years ago.

MARTIN GARBUS: He died a few years ago. Wonderful lawyer.

And then, after Elián González in Florida, and at the same time as you had the Bush-Gore vote in Florida, it became necessary to find someone to blame for some killings which occurred in 1996. My client was ultimately arrested and then convicted. He was arrested three-and-a-half years, for allegedly the killings, after the incident occurred, although the American government had all this information for some three-and-a-half years prior to that. And then, ultimately, he's charged. And the first time there's a conviction, the appellate court reverses the conviction, because the jury was unfairly composed of people hostile to the Cuban government. And—excuse me.

AMY GOODMAN: You said that they worked with the U.S. government. Explain.

MARTIN GARBUS: They worked with the U.S. government. They were turning information over to the U.S. government of terrorist activities done by the right wing. And that information was being spread, and there was in fact meetings in Havana between the American government and representatives of the Wasp group who were exchanging information.

AMY GOODMAN: And President Obama said in his address, about the release of these three men, that the release—well, he didn't name Trujillo, the Cuban agent working for the CIA who was held by Cuba for something like 20 years—

MARTIN GARBUS: Right, right.

AMY GOODMAN: —who was just released yesterday, but he said that that spy for the U.S. had helped give them information that led to the imprisonment of the Cuban Five.

MARTIN GARBUS: Yes, yes, yes, yes.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn for a moment to René González, to this Democracy Now! exclusive. He was the first of the men to be freed, the Cuban Five, in October 2011, returned to Cuba last year. He joined us on Democracy Now! from Havana, Cuba. And I began by asking him why he did come to the United States to investigate militant Cuban exile groups.

RENÉ GONZÁLEZ: Well, for my generation Cubans, it was part of our development or common experience to have seen people coming from Miami raiding our shores, shooting at hotels, killing people here in Cuba, blowing up airplanes. So, we were really familiar with the terrorist activities that the Cuban people had been suffering for almost four years back then. So it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission of going there and monitor the activities of some of those people, who had been trained by the CIA in the '60s. Some of them had participated in Bay of Pigs. Some of them had gone then—after that, had gone to South America as part of the Operation Condor. And if you look at the history of those people, you can see their link to the worst actions of the U.S. government, be they Iran-contras—even the Kennedy assassination plot was linked to them. So, it wasn't hard for me to accept the mission and to go there to protect the Cuban people's lives, and that's what I did.

AMY GOODMAN: That was René González. He has been now living back in Cuba for a few years, one of the Cuban Five. Now all five are back in Cuba. Less is well known in this country, or certainly in the last 24 hours there's almost no real discussion of who these men are, much more attention paid to Alan Gross, who was the USAID subcontractor who went down to Cuba and was sentenced to 15 years in prison. He served five of those years and was released yesterday. Martin Garbus?

MARTIN GARBUS: Robert Gross was a—

AMY GOODMAN: Alan Gross.

MARTIN GARBUS: Pardon me. Alan Gross was a USAID employee. He was sent down with satellite equipment, consistently. He made about six trips down there, sometimes using other people to send equipment. And the equipment was used to break—to allow people on the island to directly communicate with the United States so that the Cuban security networks or the Cuban Internet lines would not pick it up. So it was the setting up of a spy operation within Cuba.

He was supported, because he was Jewish, by Jewish groups. He originally claimed that he was down there working on behalf of Jewish groups to spread information to other Jewish groups in Miami. He ultimately admitted that that wasn't true. He ultimately sued the American government for sending him down there without warning him specifically about what was going to happen to him. So there's very little question any longer that he was sent down by the government. He said he was sent down by the government; the government admitted it. And in America, he's portrayed as something other than that, but that portrayal is wrong.

AMY GOODMAN: Peter Kornbluh, you met with Alan Gross in prison in Cuba, is that right?

PETER KORNBLUH: Yes, I met with Alan Gross twice over a one-year period for a total of seven hours. He was in a military hospital, a wing of a military hospital that had been converted to a prison. We talked a lot about what he was doing, what he was feeling. He became very angry at his own government for abandoning him here for all these years. It is clear, for the last year, through back channel means, the Obama White House has been negotiating to get him out. My sense of talking to him was that his mental state was so fragile that he might actually go on a hunger strike and die, attempt some type of suicide escape plan and be hurt or killed, or attack a guard.

And all of that would have—anything that happened to him here in a Cuban military prison would have certainly compromised any possibility of the Obama administration moving forward, as it did yesterday, on completely changing—reversing course 180 percent the history of U.S.-Cuban relations, burying the perpetual antagonism of the past and moving forward to a normal relation in the future. So, getting Alan Gross out through this prisoner exchange was extremely important. It really was the first step. And what we saw yesterday is the Obama White House deciding to do an entire package all at the same time, not doing one step at a time to change U.S.-Cuban relations, but getting Alan Gross out, returning the Cuban spies to Cuba, and then essentially ending, to the degree that the president can, the hostility and the aggression in U.S. policy towards Cuba.

AMY GOODMAN: Upon returning home from five years of imprisonment in Cuba, USAID subcontractor Alan Gross addressed reporters in Washington, D.C.

ALAN GROSS: What a blessing it is to be a citizen of this country. And thank you, President Obama, for everything that you have done today and leading up to today. ... But ultimately—ultimately, the decision to arrange—to arrange for and secure my release was made in the Oval Office. To President Obama and the NSC staff, thank you.

In my last letter to President Obama, I wrote that despite my five-year tenure in captivity, I would not want to trade places with him, and I certainly wouldn't want to trade places with him on this glorious day. Five years of isolation notwithstanding, I did not need daily briefings to be cognizant of what are undoubtedly incredible challenges facing our nation and the global community.

I also feel compelled to share with you my utmost respect for and fondness of the people of Cuba. In no way are they responsible for the ordeal to which my family and I have been subjected. To me, Cubanos—or at least most of them—are incredibly kind, generous and talented. It pains me to see them treated so unjustly as a consequence of two governments' mutually belligerent policies. Five-and-a-half decades of history show us that such belligerence inhibits better judgment. Two wrongs never make a right. I truly hope that we can now get beyond these mutually belligerent policies. And I was very happy to hear what the president had to say today.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Alan Gross speaking in his lawyers' offices yesterday in Washington, D.C. We're also joined by Michael Ratner, the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who co-authored two books on Cuba, one, Who Killed Che?: How the CIA Got Away with Murder, and, as well, another book on the FBI and Che Guevara. Michael, actually, technically, it wasn't a prisoner exchange between Alan Gross and the three remaining members of the Cuban Five. Cuba released Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds?

MICHAEL RATNER: Right. And in Raúl's speech, he was very clear on that. He said, "Under our legal system, what we have done is decide to release Alan Gross on humanitarian grounds." He was not part of the exchange. The exchange was, as Marty has pointed out, for the three Cuban Five members remaining in prison, for freeing this man named Trujillo, who you mentioned, who was the agent that the Cubans had jailed, as well as perhaps what we understand is 53 other, what the U.S. refers to as, political prisoners in Cuba. So, that was the exchange. But Alan Gross was let out on humanitarian grounds. As a broader picture, I mean, you know, when I heard the news first about the Cuban Five, I was just—I almost wept, because that, to me, was the most personal story of outrage.

AMY GOODMAN: They had been held for 15 years, more than.

MICHAEL RATNER: And on a complete—you know, on a case that was not worth anything, as Marty can tell you, as Lenny could have told us before. So I read that, and I found that extraordinary. But I think it should be understood—as Peter said, "finally," for this, after some 50 years—but in fact it's a great victory for the Cuban people and for the Cuban government, because this government, our government, has been trying to destroy the Cuban Revolution since day one, since before day one, and essentially this is an admission that it didn't succeed. Yes, it hurt it. Yes, it made it economically difficult. Yes, it changed it in terms of being an example for the rest of the world, perhaps. But it was unable to destroy it. And in the end, they had to cry uncle, the United States. They tried everything. They tried blowing up airplanes. They tried bombing cafés. And they tried economic—

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let's actually go back. It was—it started under President Eisenhower in the last few weeks of his administration, the overall embargo against Cuba, that was then just intensified by President Kennedy. This has gone through 10 presidents.

MICHAEL RATNER: Yes, intensified by President Kennedy, but our listeners should not forget—and many of them were not alive when it happened, unlike Marty and myself—the Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961, when the U.S. actually tried to overthrow the government of Cuba by landing on the beach in what we call in English the Bay of Pigs. And they failed. And thousands of people were taken prisoners by the Cubans. And after that is when things got very, very—I mean, they were serious then, but at that point, then the embargo was imposed, starting through 1962, with full force. But military actions, terrorism, that just continued up until, as we pointed out, even with Alan Gross and AID still going in there to undermine the government, both physically, like that, as well as economically, which—that we've seen now with the embargo. So, this is really a major, major victory.

Now, the other points I think that are important in Obama's speech and, of course, Raúl's speech, as well—Raúl, as you said, started with the Cuban Five, which shows how important that case was. But in Obama's talk, he talks about diplomatic relations, which we'll see, and then he talks about the embargo and starting to loosen up some aspects of the embargo, giving us a little wider travel, but of course not opening travel fully, which he could do immediately. He could allow you and I to just get on a plane tomorrow as tourists, Amy, and go to Cuba. He didn't do that. He could do a lot more on the embargo. In fact, with licensing, he can probably undercut the embargo completely, almost completely. But he said in that speech, "Well, I have to work with Congress to do it." In fact, he doesn't. So, in fact, he has still a lot to calibrate with regard to Cuba to continue to put pressure on Cuba through ways, or not ways, of lifting the embargo.

And, you know, you ask yourself, why did this happen now? That's one of the questions I think I'd like to hear other people talk about, because I'm not sure. I mean, part of it, of course, is the change in Latin America, and he referred to that. You have progressive, left-of-center and even leftist governments in many countries in Latin America, and Cuba is no longer isolated the way it was in the early '60s, when you had military dictatorships. And maybe to get along in that region, they had to do that. What he also said is, "Well, our policy doesn't work. It didn't work." And, of course, what he claims the policy was, was to bring democracy to Cuba. In fact, it was to destroy the Communist revolution in Cuba, so it couldn't be an example. So now, perhaps, he's buying into the idea if we flood more money into Cuba, maybe we'll be able to subvert the fundamental values of the revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: You mentioned blowing up an airliner. I want to go to that, to the late Saul Landau's film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up, about U.S. support for violent anti-Castro militants. This excerpt details in part how Cuban exiles like Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch teamed up in 1976 to bomb a Cuban airliner—something that they deny now. This is that moment that the Cubana Airlines, with 73 passengers on board, is hit.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: Cubana 455.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, [inaudible].

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: We have had explosion. We are descending immediately. We have a fire on board.

AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL: Cubana 455, are you returning to the field?

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: This is Cubana 455. We are requesting immediately, immediately landing. Close the door! Close the door!

FLIGHT RECORDER: The time is 17:27.

CUBANA AIRLINES PILOT: It's getting worse! Crash landing into the sea!

CBS EVENING NEWS: This is the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.

WALTER CRONKITE: Good evening. Nine days ago, a Cuban passenger jet en route from Barbados to Havana crashed into the sea following an onboard explosion. Seventy-three persons, 57 of them Cuban, were killed.

AMY GOODMAN: That was an excerpt of the film, Will the Real Terrorist Please Stand Up. We're going to go to break, then come back to this discussion on this day after the historic announcement of the beginning of normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States. Stay with us.

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bethania@truthout.org (Bethania Palma) News Fri, 19 Dec 2014 10:28:39 -0500