Truthout Stories Sat, 28 Feb 2015 14:15:38 -0500 en-gb End the US Blockade of Cuba and Military Occupation of Guantanamo Bay: An Interview with Manolo De Los Santos

This interview conducted in Matanzas, Cuba. Part Two will follow in next week's issue of BAR.

"Cuba is a country that has stuck its neck out for Black liberation struggles around the world."

I met Manolo De Los Santos during a recent trip to Cuba organized by Code Pink, a grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end US funded wars and occupations. The interview took place in the coastal city of Matanzas, one of the sites of the 16th century Euro-American Human Trafficking Trade (termed by European traders and historians as the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade) at the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Manolo was born in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. His family moved to the South Bronx, New York when he was five years old. He first visited Cuba in 2006 with the organization, Pastors for Peace. Pastors for Peace is a project of the Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization (IFCO.) IFCO's mission is to support the disenfranchised to fight human and civil rights injustices and to end US aggressive policies towards Cuba. The organization seeks to promote peace between the peoples of the US and Cuba. Manolo's focus at the Matanzas Evangelical Seminary is the study of liberation theology.

This interview takes place during the historic negotiations between to re-establish diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Americans have heard about the negotiations between the US and Cuba regarding the US Embargo. From your perspective, what are the politics of the embargo and do you think there is a chance for a successful completion?

Manolo De Los Santo: The politics of the embargo or blockage as the people of Cuba refer to it, is perfectly stated in 1961 by the US government; the blockade is a policy to deprive and to starve the Cuban people into submission so that they will overthrow their own government. So, (the US government) has sought through all means to make sure that Cubans do not have complete access to different material goods, everything as basic as medicines, food, technology that would allow Cuba to continue to develop itself in other ways.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: What do you do in Cuba?

Manolo De Los Santo: I'm here in Cuba, first of all studying. I'm a student of theology at the Evangelical Seminary in Matanzas. I am also here as a staff person for IFCO (Interreligious Foundation for Community Organization) Pastors for Peace working as a liaison between IFCO and the US medical students studying at the Latin American School of Medicine, which has been an amazing opportunity for hundreds of young people from the US, from communities of color, poor communities, to actually be able to study medicine for free here in Cuba.

"We have a responsibility, as people of color worldwide to defend all of the advances that Cuba has made."

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Is Cuba, at this point, even more than perhaps Nicaragua, the front line state against US imperialism and, if that's true, what does that mean to you?

Manolo De Los Santo: For a long time, Cuba was the front line. It was the sole country, in many ways, challenging US hegemony in Latin America and around the world. But, I think that times have changed precisely because of Cuba's role. Now we see in Latin America many progressive governments that try to uplift their own people, like what Cuba has done, for the last 55 years. [These governments] are making sure that health care is recognized as a human right, that the right to eat every day is a human right, that education is a human right so times have changed since 1959 (the date of the Cuban revolution) thanks to Cuba's role in the world.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: One of the things that I have been so pleased to see in Cuba is the number of people that I would identify, from a US perspective as Black or African. We have a progressive government about 90 miles from the coast of Florida. How can African-Americans contribute to the promotion and protection of Cuba?

Manolo De Los Santo: Cuba has secured these rights for black people, however... there is still much work to do. We have a responsibility, as people of color worldwide to defend all of the advances that Cuba has made. Cuba is a country that has stuck its neck out for Black liberation struggles around the world, not to mention the liberation struggles in Angola and many of countries and the strong role Cuba played in the liberation of South Africa in freeing Nelson Mandela. One must acknowledge what is currently happening, that Cuba was the first country to step up to fight the Ebola virus. When most countries, only committed money (and we don't know where this money goes), Cuba actually put up the lives of its doctors to stop the virus. It's amazing how Cuba has offered scholarships to young black people from all over the African continent and all across the America's to come study here and become professionals. For example, Cuba has educated more Blacks from Honduras than were educated in their own country. This is an example of the support and strong interest Cuba has in the upliftment of African people across the world.

Marsha Coleman-Adebayo: Can you give us some examples of the impact of the US Embargo against Cuba and its people. Has the US embargo been effective?

Manolo De Los Santo: The typical answer would be that Cuba has lost millions in trade due to the blockage but I like to think about how concretely the blockade has affected the lives of the people. For example, children who suffer from cancer who are receiving chemo-therapy here in Cuba can not always receive the medicines to relieve them of the pain caused by the chemo-therapy because that medicine is made in the US. There is medicine for Alzheimer's patients that can not be bought by Cuba because the medicine is produced in the US. Day to day life is limited because of this prohibition of trade with the United States. Thereby forcing Cuba to seek these products in markets that are farther and more expensive than the United States.

Opinion Sat, 28 Feb 2015 13:52:39 -0500
"Black Girls Matter": An Interview With Kimberle Crenshaw and Luke Harris

On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) released its groundbreaking report, "Black Girls Matter." Ahmad Greene-Hayes, a guest writer for The Feminist Wire, interviews Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw and Dr. Luke Harris, from AAPF, about this report's impact on the Black Lives Matter movement. The report, executive summary, and social media guide are also available online for viewing.

Ahmad: The African American Policy Forum has been an instrumental voice in the national dialogue centered on the inclusion of girls in racial justice policies and initiatives. Your work was pivotal in shaping the conversation on the limitations of President Obama's My Brother's Keeper initiative. Outside of the work AAPF has been doing, what was the genesis of Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Over-policed, and Under-protected?

Kimberle: The genealogy of this study began several years ago when I, along with one of the Report's co-authors, Priscilla Ocen, began a conversation with formerly incarcerated women, advocates, lawyers and service providers on the conditions that result in poor life outcomes for Black women and other women of color. We were especially concerned about the gendered pathways to confinement that seemed to be so prevalent in the lives of many Black women, but relatively absent in the public discussion about the school to prison pipeline and mass incarceration.

That dialogue grew into a conference organized with our third co-author, Jyoti Nanda, about how gender, race and class function together to create the context for the disproportionate criminalization of women of color.

We knew that many of the long term challenges facing Black women and girls are correlated with the failure to complete school, so we wanted young girls to tell us their stories in their own words. In this sense, Black Girls Matter provides a snapshot of the conditions that confront Black girls in two of our nation's school districts – New York and Boston. It draws attention to the ways in which educational policies and other societal factors contribute to the tenuous relationship that girls of color have with their schools.

Utilizing data disaggregated by gender and race, the report describes the racial disparities that Black girls face relative to white girls as well as to boys of color. By lifting up the stories of Black girls, we hope to convince policy makers and the public at large that girls of color face serious challenges that need to be addressed and addressed now.

Ahmad: You write, "Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Over-policed, and Under-protected seeks to increase awareness of the gendered consequences of disciplinary and push-out policies for girls of color, and, in particular, Black girls."

How has the contemporary Black liberation movement, after increased attention to blue-on-Black violence in response to the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Jr., Tamir Rice and so many other Black boys, intensified the need for this report?

Luke: It is heartening to see such a strong resurgence of the racial justice movement. But, it was not an accident that we decided to title our report "Black Girls Matter." As the movement draws attention to the deaths of Black men and boys, the deaths of women and girls in our communities remain on the margins of the conversation. This movement, however, has extraordinarily strong, vibrant, and visionary female leadership — women who recognize the need to develop a genuinely inclusive vision of racial justice. So they are well positioned to help us learn to talk about not only state violence, but violence in our homes and communities; to push men of color to be much more introspective about the ways in which we enjoy patriarchal privilege in American society; and to work to ensure that the movement targets the full array of concerns that plague the Black community.

At the end of the day, we have to be as concerned about the experiences of single Black women who raise their kids on welfare as we are about the disproportionate number of Black men who are incarcerated. We must care as much about Black women who are the victims of domestic violence as we do about Black boys caught up in the drug trade. We must emphasize the fact that Black women on average make less money and have less wealth than both white women and Black men in the United States as much as we focus on the ways in which Black men (and women) are disproportionately excluded from many traditional professions.

If the Black community walks down this path, we can reshape our rhetorical understanding of what it means to be an endangered Black person in a way that embraces the experiences of both boys and girls; and we can pursue a cosmopolitan vision of racial justice that embraces all of us.

Ahmad: As someone who mobilizes against sexual violence in Black communities, I was struck by the evidence of sexual harassment and sexual abuse experienced by Black girls in schools, and by the lack of protection offered by school administrators and school districts.

Do you think college and university rape policies are mirroring the ways sexual violence, involving Black girls, is handled in grades K-12?

Kimberle/Luke: Without question there is a need for greater sensitivity in both contexts. The problems for Black girls, however, are exacerbated by racial stereotypes. In the Black community, we often don't even see rape and sexual harassment as Black on Black crimes. In fact, we sometimes avoid talking about these issues out of a fear that to speak of such matters would be to fuel and encourage destructive racial stereotypes about Black men. This fear, more often than not, tends to minimize the importance of these issues. Yet, according to Black Women's Blueprint, close to sixty percent of Black girls have experienced sexual abuse before reaching the age of 18; and other researchers have documented that Black girls are much more likely to be the victims of sex trafficking than their white counterparts.

It is absolutely necessary that the devaluation of these concerns and the tremendous impact that they have on girls in our community be acknowledged and remedied. Our report, among other things, is designed to call attention to these problems and to earmark them as important racial justice issues.

Ahmad: On page 32 of the report, you feature the following words from a Black girl, "[I]f no one is celebrating with [you], then you kind of fade and then you have that other alternative culture that is waiting for you where you will be celebrated. . . . [When] you realize that you will be celebrated if you are a well-known figure of prominence in the school for something else, then you kind of go in that direction and then it's kind of a spiral.

In the aftermath of the My Brother's Keeper Initiative and the racist murders of Aiyana Stanley-Jones and Renisha McBride among so many Black women and girls, in what ways have Black organizing bodies failed Black girls?

Kimberle/Luke: We have failed Black girls when their experiences are not centered at the core of our vision of racial justice. We have failed them when we resist empowering women as core leaders of our organizations. We have failed them when we subject them to catcalling and other forms of sexual harassment on the front lines of protests against racialized violence. We have failed them when we applaud their work in these settings, while marginalizing them in the corridors of power behind closed doors.

We have also failed them when we encourage or force them to choose between their gender and their race; and when we question their loyalty to the race when they raise feminist issues rather than working with them to erase the roadblocks those concerns represent. So what has to happen?

We have to be honest and frank about the realities of the lives of Black women and girls and work to build capacity among policy makers, stakeholders, allies, and funders so that they are empowered to construct nurturing environments within which our girls can succeed. Simply put, we have to come to terms with the reality that women and girls must be at the heart of our racial justice agenda right alongside the boys.

Ahmad: Historically and contemporaneously, as your report shows, Black girls are treated and seen as women and mothers in their family, and in some regards, as surrogates for siblings. In what ways must local, state and national policy address non-traditional, non-nuclear, and alternative Black familial structures? In what ways can we reverse the trend such that Black girls have a right to childhoods and not be so easily pushed into adulthood?

Kimberle/Luke: Black girls are placed in these untenable positions because they are assumed to be the principle caretakers in our community, the ones who will and must sacrifice everything for the sake of the family even if their own needs and dreams must go unrealized. Often their parents are burdened with overwhelming responsibilities in a society where the social welfare system leaves much to be desired and the children, especially the girls, are left to pick up the pieces.

In this setting, there is a commonly accepted argument that the problems within Black communities principally result from absent fathers. But, this shortsighted and wrong-headed perspective actually devalues the women who are present, supporting and fighting for our families. So, we need to genuinely take stock of their situation rather than impose falsely moralistic norms onto these young people. Rather than disproportionately focusing corporate and philanthropic resources on men and boys in settings where all Black people confront serious institutional barriers, we should strive to promote large scale innovative initiatives that focus on the needs of both boys and girls.

Some of these needs will parallel one another. Others will be demonstrably different. For example, a well conceived broadly based vision of racial justice should embrace the need for adequate health care measures and childcare for teen mothers. It should increase support for girls sexually abused in and outside of school. It should heighten awareness of what constitutes sexual harassment and what it takes to effectively eliminate it. But, in no way should it endorse the idea that the nuclear family represents the only healthy family formation in modern America.

Ahmad: Why is it so hard for the Black community to mobilize around the suffering of Black women and girls. For example, the lack of outcry for the deaths of slain Black cis and trans women and girls, or the rapes of Black women and girls by police, such as in the case of Oklahoma Officer Daniel Holtzclaw?

Luke: It's so hard because, more often than not, we have assumed that racism harms Black men more than it does Black women. For a long time, I too bought into the belief that Black boys and men needed more help, more programs, and more interventions. I too believed that lifting us up would somehow solve the Black community's problems as a whole. In the process, I lost sight of the challenges I saw my own mothers confront on a daily basis. As their son, I had not only failed to understand how their health, wealth and security affected my future, I had completely disregarded how their dreams for themselves might have been more richly nurtured and supported had I embraced a vision of racial justice that centered their concerns as well as those of my father. So what must we do?

We know that both African American boys and girls confront serious racial barriers – including failing schools, unwarranted forms of criminalization and impoverished communities. We know that compared to all girls Black girls have the worst rates of suspension, juvenile detention, and homicide. Moreover, we know that the gender specific ways in which they experience sexual harassment, teen pregnancy and other familial burdens are seldom focused on in the quest for racial justice. So moving forward we must target these issues because they are central to developing the systematic and structural solutions necessary to dismantle the obstacles that Black girls face on a day-to-day basis.

Institutionalized racism affects all Black Americans; and Black girls are in crisis too. It is as simple as that.

For these reasons, we believe we need a new frame of reference for understanding racial inequality. The frame we envision is grounded in Black feminist values and is intersectional in nature. It's a frame that attends to issues of gender, race, and class as well as other socially constructed identities. In its most sophisticated iterations, this lens sheds light on the complex ways in which systemic forms of subordination can circumscribe opportunities for the members of marginalized groups in distinct and extraordinary ways; and without question this framework has the capacity to help us to reimagine and concentrate the needs of Black women and girls at the heart of our vision of racial justice.

Ahmad: As Black feminist scholars, do you have any recommendations for how Black girlhood studies should be shaped following this report? And what would you note are areas still left to explore?

We believe that we must resist a patriarchal sensibility that regards the ways that Black girls are disadvantaged as girls as largely unremarkable, while at the same time deeming all of the ways in which Black boys are disadvantaged as boys as uniquely problematic. In fact, we categorically reject this perspective. In the alternative, we advocate for studies that are sculpted to the contours of the lived experiences of all of the members of our community.

We know that research on Black girls and other girls of color is under-resourced, and under-acknowledged when it enters the public domain. We know there is a need to develop both qualitative and quantitative data that examines the historical and social roots of the problems that continue to plague communities of color in the United States. We also know that we need to produce disaggregated data that explores issues of sameness and difference both across racial groups and within them if we are to truly discern how girls of color are faring in the world. So we promote research designed to reveal pathways towards economic stability and optimal life chances for girls of color.

Our study was a critical first step, but it was limited in scope. Black Girls Matter focused on girls in the New York City and Boston public school systems. Going forward we would like to see reports undertaken in other cities and states across the nation. There is a need to develop more data that embraces the ways in which gender and race discrimination affect trans and gender nonconforming girls, girls of color outside the Black community, and girls with disabilities. In gist, research on school discipline, push-out, and the pathways to underachievement, low-wage work, poverty, and incarceration should include all youth of color, not just boys and young men.

A significant amount of data has already been disaggregated by gender and race to highlight the experiences of boys of color. We need to both develop and assess more data on women and girls, and to pay much more attention to the research we have already amassed on them. If we do these things, we can then promote a truly grand vision of racial justice — one that actually leaves no child behind, and that speaks eloquently to the lives of all of us.

Opinion Sat, 28 Feb 2015 13:37:15 -0500
At Last, Private Sector Faculty Get Green Light to Unionize

A new Labor Board ruling could finally unstick the unionization of professors in the private sector—a project that's been stalled for 35 years.

"People for years have talked about when Obama's NLRB finally gets stabilized and takes on the three big higher-ed issues," says longtime contingent faculty activist Joe Berry. "And finally we've got a decision on two of them."

About 1 in 3 higher-education instructors works at a private college or university. But unionization efforts there virtually halted after a 1980 ruling that, because of their role in campus governance, full-time faculty counted as managers.

If the reasoning in NLRB vs. Yeshiva seemed far-fetched then, it's become even farther-fetched in the 35 years since—something the board acknowledged in its precedent-setting December ruling. It upheld union rights for the faculty at Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) in Tacoma, Washington, who've been organizing with Service Employees (SEIU) Local 925.

The decision notes the creeping "corporatization" that's encroached on university decision-making. It observes that "colleges and universities are increasingly run by administrators, which has the effect of concentrating and centering authority away from the faculty."

And it sets out new criteria for deciding when full-time faculty will be eligible for the board's recognition, based on whether the administration really follows faculty recommendations on academics, enrollment, and finances.

"We think this means universities are going to have a very difficult time establishing that any faculty members have managerial authority under this framework," said SEIU lawyer Paul Drachler. "With respect to contingent faculty, it wasn't even a close question in this case."

The ruling also boosts faculty unionizing at religiously affiliated schools. The third issue still outstanding is union recognition for private sector graduate students.

All Together Now?

Faculty unionization boomed in the 1970s. But after Yeshiva, some administrations refused to renew contracts. Other bargaining units hung on, but lived under the threat that at any moment their administrations might ask the NLRB to review their certifications.

Private sector faculty union drives mostly ground to a halt. The big exception has been the recent spate of part-time adjunct organizing, most prominently by SEIU. Adjuncts are often hired to teach one course at a time, and bounce between campuses to patch together a meager living—they could hardly be ruled managers.

To be clear: the Labor Board can't ban anyone from collective bargaining. But if you're in its jurisdiction, once you've demonstrated majority support to the NLRB's satisfaction, your employer is legally obliged to come to the bargaining table. If the NLRB doesn't cover you—this is true of farmworkers and domestic workers, too—you have to find other ways to push the employer to bargain, such as strikes or public pressure.

Public sector faculty, meanwhile, aren't governed by the NLRB, but by state boards. Their organizing rights vary according to state laws. Some have organized all faculty, from tenured to adjuncts.

A recent example is the University of Oregon, where faculty recently won a first contract as a single bargaining unit, affiliated with both the Teachers (AFT) and the University Professors (AAUP). The contract included significant raises for everyone, and also boosted hundreds of adjuncts into permanent jobs.

The PLU ruling opens the door for private sector faculty to adopt a similar approach. "Our strategy is to look at faculty work, and not so much who's doing the work," said AAUP Executive Director Julie Schmid. "We believe the people doing the work of the faculty should be organized together, whether adjunct, tenure-track, or full-time, non-tenure track."

AAUP's 79 bargaining units are mostly on public campuses. The rest of its 152 U.S. chapters are known as "advocacy chapters," acting as professional organizations rather than unions. The ruling could clear the way for advocacy chapters on private campuses to move toward collective bargaining status, if they wish.

In the currently popular "metro strategy," adjuncts organize simultaneously on campuses in the same city. It's gotten farthest in the Washington, D.C., area, where SEIU Local 500 has unionized five out of seven campuses, representing 70 to 80 percent of adjuncts. Now they could reach out to full-timers at the same institutions.

"What we're really facing is this seemingly endless stratification," said Anne McLeer, a former adjunct now in charge of Local 500's higher ed campaigns. Three-quarters of faculty were on the tenure track in 1970, she said. Since then, full-time jobs have splintered into numerous layers, many of them contingent.

"One of the big goals is to deconstruct this multi-tiered system," McLeer says. "Not that it's going to be 100 percent tenure-track positions, but at least a return to a situation where there's more equity in the job market." The new ruling could help.

Losing Their Religion

Many higher education institutions in the U.S. have religious roots. Some, including PLU, have resisted faculty organizing on the grounds that forcing them to recognize unions violates their First Amendment religious freedom.

The decision lays out stringent criteria for a religious exemption. The board will exercise jurisdiction unless the school can show it requires faculty members to play a specific role in providing students with a religious educational environment.

The court found PLU didn't meet the criteria. "I do know what it means to perform religious functions, because I happen to be a Lutheran," said adjunct faculty member Jane Harty. "The religious functions that I perform are all done at my parish church. What I teach at PLU is entirely secular: I teach Beethoven and Shostakovich and things like that in the music department."

Joe Fahey, a religious studies professor at Manhattan College, expects few schools will qualify. He said schools are generally at pains to reassure faculty candidates the job doesn't entail religious duties.

The new clarity should unstick several cases where faculty have waited in limbo—including Manhattan College, where Fahey and his co-workers voted four years ago in their bid to organize with the New York State United Teachers. The ballots were impounded, uncounted.

Others include St. Xavier, with the Illinois Education Association; Seattle University, another SEIU 925 campaign; and Duquesne University, organizing with the Steelworkers-affiliated Adjunct Faculty Association as part of a Pittsburgh metro strategy.

Adjuncts won Duquesne's 2012 vote overwhelmingly. The university has stalled ever since, prolonging the process with doomed legal objections, said Robin Sowards, an adjunct now on the union staff. He expects the appeals to continue. "The legal process is not one we ever expected to be fast, so the legal process has not been our focus," he said.

"Our view has been we don't need the boss's permission or the government's blessing to be a union. Our focus has been on acting like a union, putting pressure on the administration over particular issues, and getting members involved."

In this way the union won a 50 percent raise—applied not only to the 88 adjuncts in the bargaining unit, but to 500 adjuncts campus-wide.

As for private sector graduate students, for a while it appeared New York University would become the test case—but after years of delay, the university agreed in 2013 to voluntarily recognize their union, affiliated with the Autoworkers (UAW). Recently New York grad employees at Columbia University and the New School have filed petitions to join the UAW too.

Window of Opportunity

Though the PLU ruling comes from the Labor Board's top body, it's not the last word on private sector faculty status or religious exemptions. PLU is expected to appeal. The case could reach the Supreme Court.

But it does create a window of opportunity that unions should seize for organizing now, says Berry. "The worst mistake people could make would be to wait two years to see what the Supreme Court decides," he said. "That would be tragic."

He compares this moment to the period right after a national labor law first passed in the '30s. As Berry tells it, organizers "went out and said, 'The President wants you to join the union,' and they rebuilt the Mineworkers union, which had almost died, and which then became the chief funder of the CIO."

Though the Supreme Court threw out the law a few years later, Berry said, by then it was too late to stop the momentum of organizing already underway. The president, Congress, and the court were forced to accept another labor law—establishing the NLRB.

PLU's votes were finally counted in January, but the outcome is too close to call. Thirty-eight of 122 ballots were challenged by either the employer or the union, so it's back to the NLRB for months' more haggling.

But like the Duquesne adjuncts, PLU faculty haven't waited for the government's approval. They're campaigning for equitable raises—acting like a union.

CORRECTIONS: The photo credit has been corrected. Also, the original version of this article erroneously identified Pacific Lutheran University as in Seattle; it is in Tacoma.

New book from Labor Notes: How to Jump-Start Your Union: Lessons from the Chicago Teachers tells how activists transformed their union and gave members hope. "A beacon to all rank-and-file members on how to bring democracy to their locals." Buy one today, only $15

News Sat, 28 Feb 2015 12:40:47 -0500
Flower Power: National Security, Civil Rights and the Washington Florist

At first glance, one can be forgiven for thinking that a floral arrangement for a gay wedding doesn't carry much significance for the essential national security of the United States of America. With perilously increasing military tensions spanning the Middle East, Asia, North Africa, and Eastern Europe, one can be absolved for making such an assumption. However, the military implications of this week's historic decision in Washington State by Benton County Superior Court Judge Ekstrom simply canNOT be understated.

Ekstrom's watershed decision came about when a case was brought before the Benton County Superior Court when the ownership of a small flower shop, Arlene's Flowers, refused to provide services on the professed basis of their Southern Baptist, Christian fundamentalist zeal to a frequent customer who sought arrangements for his same-sex wedding ceremony. Judge Ekstrom struck down this reprehensibly unlawful and unconstitutional behavior when he stated, "While religious beliefs are protected by the First Amendment, actions based on those beliefs aren't necessarily protected." Indeed, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution is NOT a license for private business owners to sanctimoniously bully, marginalize, and violate civil rights as they see fit because of their alleged "relationship with Jesus Christ" (or Allah, Jehovah, Yaweh, Odin, Shiva, Spiderman etc.). Indeed, just as it isn't a license for anyone else to engage in whatever extremist, unlawful practice they might imagine their chosen deity to prefer.

For those of us who have been leading the civil rights fight of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF), the only organization devoted solely to fighting the scourge of extremist Christianity within the U.S. Armed Forces, the story is a common one. Since the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT), we saw that various Dominionist bigots within the military were pathetically prostituting the flimsy gauze of "free speech" as a means towards turning back this historic victory for sex & gender minorities (and by implication, all Americans) within the U.S. armed forces. Squealing like stuck pigs, disingenuously, that DADT's repeal represented a grave offense against their so-called "religious liberty", these reprehensibly homophobic Christian extremist predators created a virtual media cyclone of misinformation, disinformation, and bald-faced lies. As they say, "haters gonna hate."

However, when the Religious Right echo chambers are filled with hot air, fire, and brimstone concerning some fictitious and utterly specious "War on Christianity," monsters tend to proliferate, and sometimes we even find them in the hallowed halls of Congress. The Constitutionally-derelict Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) is one especially odious fundamentalist Christian monstrosity. Fleming, and other members of Congressman Randy Forbes' (R-VA) "Congressional Prayer Caucus", have repeatedly attempted to warp the meaning of "freedom to worship" via their grossly misnamed "Religious Liberty Amendments" to the recent years' drafts of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) commonly referred to as "The Pentagon Funding Bill." Fleming & Co.'s "Religious Bigotry Amendments" would have torn asunder the unit cohesion, military readiness, morale, good order, and discipline of U.S. servicemembers, adding ANY type of "actions and speech" (including anti-gay, theologically racist, or sectarian hate speech) to the roster of protected religious freedoms of American service members. Further still, it would offer essentially an invulnerable shield of protection for anyone who seeks to use such actions or speech to "actually harm" (i.e. grievously injure) the aforementioned compelling governmental interest of insuring maximum military unit cohesion, good order and discipline et al. At this very same time, we at MRFF stated that if these amendments were allowed to go forward, they would result in a "thoroughly dreadful nightmare of civil rights desecration wrought by a tsunami of unabated fundamentalist Christian supremacy, exceptionalism, and tyranny."

Thankfully, the law remains the law (oh, and take a good look at the confirming, 1974 Supreme Court case of Parker vs. Levy) and the Fleming thugs' Amendments failed, just like the attempts in court by Arlene's Flowers to justify their hideously bigoted treatment of LGBTQ customers. Individuals' religious beliefs may be protected by the First Amendment; however, those same individual's ACTIONS, based upon those very same religious beliefs, are not necessarily likewise protected. Discerning Americans can see clearly that the actual goal of these fundamentalist Christian jackals isn't at ALL the protection of their twisted "right to worship". Quite on the contrary, their real intention is to furiously cast stones upon the "apostates", the "disbelievers", and those "aberrant" elements who diverge from the "flock" being shepherded by such vile "Good News Gospel" scoundrels as the Rev. Pat Robertson, Rev. Franklin Graham, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Boykin, Tony Perkins, and the rest of the Dominionist rogues' gallery.

The allowance of such limitless religious oppression and villainy inside the U.S. military would be a national security threat of unparalleled dimension and magnitude.

However, the courageous decision by Washington state Judge Ekstrom was a decisive deathblow to the dastardly designs and craven mendacity of the embittered Religious Right. Perhaps it would be appropriate to send a floral arrangement to these barbaric wretches as a gesture of our sincerest condolences?

Hey, I like it: Perhaps a dozen black roses to celebrate the demise of their dreams of fundamentalist religious domination of our United States Constitution?

Opinion Sat, 28 Feb 2015 10:26:46 -0500
What's Butylated Hydroxyltoluene and Why Is it In Your Food Even Though It's Banned in Europe?

From the perspective of corporations, the less the public knows about what their products contain or emit, the better. (Photo via Shutterstock)From the perspective of corporations, the less the public knows about what their products contain or emit, the better. (Photo via Shutterstock)A speaker at an event I recently attended asked why U.S. food companies put butylated hydroxyltoluene, a food preservative and endocrine disruptor, in cereal sold stateside, while in Europe the same companies formulate the same product without BHT.

There are three answers to that question:

  1. The European Union prohibits numerous harmful ingredients U.S. regulatory agencies allow.
  2. Well-informed European citizens have organized and pushed for those regulations.
  3. U.S. citizens have not yet pushed for such regulations in sufficient numbers.

The precautionary principle is an approach to risk management which places the burden of proof to demonstrate a product or ingredient's safety on the corporations that produces the product— prior to releasing it to the public. Over the last few decades, the U.S. has become lax with this approach while Europe proceeds with a greater amount of caution. But that contrast may not survive efforts by the U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman and multinational corporations, which are currently negotiating super trade treaties behind closed doors.

Such treaties are enacted by Congress through what's known as "fast-track" legislation, meaning that the President negotiates trade agreements and Congress can only approve or disapprove, but cannot amend or filibuster the legislation.

According to sources at the negotiations of these treaties, the provisions in them may well eradicate the EU's higher standards. Instead of getting the BHT and other questionable additives out of American products, the negotiated language will likely "harmonize barriers to trade," meaning corporations can put all the bad stuff in European products that they can't now.

Many Europeans vehemently oppose such trade deals because the mainstream media is extensively covering them. Here in the U.S., however, there's pretty much a coverage blackout except for MSNBC'sThe Ed Show.

Despite leaks, side conversations and Wikileaks revelations that have given experts the opportunity to assess the deals, the American media and public don't seem too concerned about the outcome. But important questions remain. Let's begin with the obvious: Why are these deals secret? And why should ordinary citizens go along and trust that the secret handshake devised by corporations will serve the greater public good?

To borrow a phrase from the GMO labeling movement, we need to safeguard the public's right to know. It doesn't matter whether we're talking about secret trade deals or the contents of food, shampoo, building products, industrial emissions, knowledge protects us.

Is Knowledge a Barrier to Trade?

While the most visible proponents of labeling are groups, like the Organic Consumers Organization, Food Democracy Now!, and Just Label It! which call for mandatory labeling of GMO-containing foods, GMOs are not the only food ingredients some people would like to see labeled in food. A small sample of others include:

  • Allergenic ingredients (like wheat or egg)
  • Pro-inflammatory ingredients (like MSG or food colorings)
  • Obesogenic substances (like high fructose corn syrup aka HCFS)
  • Other stuff that has not been well studied (or studied at all) like certain "flavors" or "fragrances"

It doesn't end with food. Women purchasing cosmetics or face creams want to know whether they contain methyl parabens which studies find concentrated in cancerous tumors. Parents buying their children's car seats or nursing pillows want assurances that these products don't contain toxic flame retardants. Homeowners and office dwellers want to know if their building materials and furnishings contain toxins like phthalates, which are associated with damage to the liver, thyroid and reproductive system.

And let's not forget the chemicals used in fracking, emissions from manufacturing plants and gas pipeline infrastructures, methane and carbon dioxide releases contributing to climate change, and nuclear waste. Whether it's consumer goods, building materials, or the energy industries, toxic outputs need to be monitored for health and environmental impacts. That's impossible to do without the right to know what they contain, emit or produce. The only way to track them is through product labeling.

Banning the Precautionary Principle

From the perspective of corporations, the less the public knows about what their products contain or emit, the better. When knowledge deters people from a product or process, the industry considers that knowledge a barrier to trade. And the new uber-trade deals, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) are poised to be fast-tracked through Congress with a quick up or down vote, even before the treaties' contents are made known to Congress or the public.

"Big chemical companies, pesticide manufacturers, the manufacturers of products which are associated with cancer, autism, learning disabilities in children, and a host of other serious illnesses are attempting to use these trade regulations to stop government regulations of dangerous chemicals all around the globe," says William Waren, senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth.

"When we can't adequately quantify risk, the burden of proof is on the party that would introduce a potentially risky product to show that the risk is low enough to avoid harm public health and the environment," he continues.

When the precautionary principle is dismantled, as it is in U.S. policy, companies make it the public's responsibility to show harm. Unless people go to extraordinary lengths to demonstrate a safety problem, corporations have no responsibility to guarantee safety.

Current federal regulations are riddled with loopholes due to four decades of industry lobbying and legal opposition to proper safeguards. Efforts by major coalitions like Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families have been stalled.

In the void left by our nation's failure to regulate, some states, such as California, have taken it upon themselves to regulate toxic chemicals. The California Environmental Quality Act requires that "no projects which would cause significant environmental effects should be approved as proposed if there are feasible alternatives or mitigation measures that would lessen those effects," and "environmental impact reports shall be used to provide full public disclosure of the environmental impacts of a proposed project."

"It's incremental but it's real important, given the incapacity of the EPA to act," notes Waren.

Waren says that the "Technical Barriers to Trade" chapters in treaties would also enact stringent limits on all governments, rolling back product safety regulations in Europe and elsewhere and freeze in place the current ineffective U.S. federal regulations. In addition, state regulations would be rolled back or nullified.

Europeans would have to eat their BHT and like it. No longer able to study health or environmental impacts, under threat of lawsuits by international trade tribunals, Californians would not be empowered to prevent fracking companies from dumping fracking waste into water aquifers—as recently occurred in Central Valley, California.

"This is one of the leading negotiating points for the U.S. and they are making a lot of headway," says Waren. "The whole question of rolling back state and local safeguards on food and the environment is a very, very important one because a lot of states have already acted in various ways, like New York which banned fracking."

Waren says fast-track trade legislation is a "fundamental attack on democracy. It's frightening."

Listen to my Connect the Dots radio programs with William Waren.

News Sat, 28 Feb 2015 13:23:27 -0500
Unless Faced With Popular Opposition, Syriza Will Turn Into an Empty Promise

The Syriza government has not shown publicly that it views exiting the Euro as a real option, leaving it at a dead end, captive to the whims of Germany. (Photo via Shutterstock.)The Syriza government has not shown publicly that it views exiting the Euro as a real option, leaving it at a dead end, captive to the whims of Germany. (Photo: Christos Siarris /

In the latest agreement with the Eurogroup, in which the Greek government had won four months of respite, Syriza had also managed to backtrack on its election promises and agree to the imperatives laid out by Eurogroup chief, Jeroen Dijsselbloem. It has been untruthful, yet it will inevitably run into problems along the road.

Earlier, it could have been suggested that Syriza has a Plan B in mind. One could have interpreted the meeting held between Tsipras and the Russian ambassador to Greece immediately following his appointment as prime minister as a sign indicating that Greece has additional cards on the table. Furthermore, it could be argued that the Greek government intends to pursue a process of radicalizing the public, which is in favor of remaining in the Euro, by making it go through the process of negotiations, rejection and humiliation. Faced with the suffocating demands of the Troika, now renamed Institutions, the public would realize that it cannot free itself from austerity as long as it remains part of the Euro. However, the Syriza government has not shown publicly that it views exiting the Euro as a real option, leaving it at a dead end, captive to the whims of Germany.

Following the Eurogroup agreement, Prime Minister Tsipras said that "we succeeded at the end of our main purpose," while clarifying that Greece "won the battle but not the war." Tsipras said that "yesterday we canceled their plans," referring to the attempt to cut Greece off of funds on February 28. In his view, the agreement contained "mutually viable compromises" rather than "subordination." He said, "Yesterday we made a decisive step, leaving behind us the austerity, the memorandums and the troika. Our common struggle continues."

Tsipras presented the agreement as a victory in a battle, as an end to austerity. Was his statement truthful, and what does the new Eurogroup agreement entail?

In the area of taxation and cracking down on oligarchs, Greece has an easy meeting point with the Eurogroup. The agreement calls for expanding a crackdown on tax evasion, and creating a "new culture of tax compliance." Indeed, Syriza made pledges to crack down on oligarchs in the past. However, it is likely that oligarchs will engage in lengthy legal battles or move their finances overseas to avoid taxes, and a sufficient collection of taxes remains improbable.

In the area of public spending, the government vowed to "review and control" spending in all areas and improve the efficiency of governmental agencies. It stated it would control health-care spending while providing for universal healthcare. This renders the government's earlier pledges to provide free electricity and repay the debts of citizens who cannot afford to repay as nearly impossible to implement - while providing universal health care and controlling health spending are contradictory goals.

Pensions are to be consolidated and incentives for early retirement cut down. This may satisfy the demands of the Eurogroup, but in a country where pensions have already been cut down by 50 percent, people will suffer more.

On privatizations, the government pledged not to go back on already-agreed-upon privatizations, while reviewing existing privatizations with the goal of both ensuring the state's revenues and increasing competition. These are again contradictory goals, and it is likely that the government will be pressured to continue with privatizations. However, government ministers already voiced their opposition to the ongoing privatization of Piraeus Port and to privatizing state companies of gas and electricity. While Varoufakis is keen on pleasing the Eurogroup, opposition at home will expand.

The agreement also conditioned the raise of minimum wages on the basis that it would not harm hiring. Decisions on hiring wages will be done in collaboration with the Institutions. The government already raised the minimum wage by 10 percent, but it may not come into effect.

On a section dedicated to the humanitarian crisis, the government agreed to provide food stamps for the needy and extend the Minimum Guaranteed Income plan. However, the agreement states that government will "ensure that its fight against the humanitarian crisis has no negative fiscal effect." Social policies cannot exceed the mandated 3 percent government surplus.

The nearly schizophrenic agreement makes clear that Institutions will supervise spending, and that austerity will continue placing in serious doubt Tsipras' comments on leaving austerity behind. It is therefore unclear that Greece has "a Government that will always tell the truth," as he claimed.

The response of Dijsselbloem to the agreement was far more straightforward than Tsipras' attempts to circle the square. Dijsselbloem said that a Greek exit is not on the table and that "there is strong support under the Greek population to stay within the Eurozone." Indeed, the majority of Greeks supports remaining in the eurozone. Dijsselbloem also said, "If the new government didn't want to continue the current program, that would have been possible" - thereby rightly putting the responsibility for the program on the Greek government rather than the Eurogroup.

Dijsselbloem made it clear that "the simple fact that the new government has got financing needs cannot reverse the order in which things must be done." This means that the government must first conform to the demands of the Institutions - i.e. austerity - before it can receive additional funding. Addressing perhaps the argument laid out against him by journalist Paul Mason, Disselbloem said, "We are dealing with 19 electorates. You may not find that democratic. It would be a very strange interpretation of democracy to think one single election could change the course of everything."

While Greeks have come to realize that their electing an anti-austerity government is meaningless, as the Troika has the final say, democracy in the Eurogroup means that the 18 members can decide how to treat the demands of a single member. That the Eurogroup opposed granting Greece what it wished for, for fear of creating a precedent and in order not to encourage additional anti-austerity parties in Europe, is irrelevant. Hence, Disselbloem's "National politicians should assume responsibility."

Disselbloem has been truthful on the agreement, unlike Tsipras. Even his statement that Greece has been growing economically - which is true in strictly mathematical terms only but inaccurate on the ground - is true, according to neoliberal economics. Furthermore, Disselbloem even gave Greece a backhanded compliment by saying the document arrived "just in time" although it arrived on Tuesday rather than Monday night.

The backlash at home is already noticeable, with many Syriza MPs and energy minister Lafazanis opposing the deal. Tsipras is attempting to garner their vote in parliament, yet will run into growing opposition in the future. The first opposition emerged from iconic MEP Manolis Glezos, a Communist partisan who removed the Nazi flag from the Acropolis and who declared that he will wage a war against the Eurogroup plan. Glezos said , "I ask the Greek people to forgive me for contributing to this illusion," possibly referring to Syriza. Glezos said that renaming the Troika the Institutions is "baptizing meat into fish."

Syriza MP Costas Lapavitsas, a potential finance minister, raised five burning questions to the Syriza government. Stathis Kouvelakis explained that "to present a defeat as a success is perhaps worse than the defeat itself . . . because it dissolves the criteria by which success can be distinguished from retreat." In France, anti-austerity Right leader Marine Le Pen, said that Greece capitulated and that this proves that the Euro is incompatible with democracy.

One can rightly ask whether the criticism of Syriza has been overblown. After all, it has been only one month since it assumed power, and it faced the prospects of being cut off from funds and further economic collapse. Greece had little choice but to accept the Eurogroup conditions, if only to gain time.

This argument, however, fails to take into account two significant points.

First, two weeks of hard negotiations made it clear that it is impossible to reform the EU from within as it currently stands. As long as Greece remains in the Euro, it is subject to the neoliberal dictates of the Eurogroup, dominated by Germany.

A more viable option - although a risky one - would be for Greece to default on its loans, adopt the drachma and receive massive investment from the BRICS while trading its agricultural products with Russia and increasing tourism from China.

If Greece has serious intentions of redeeming itself, it must pursue other options, or at the very least, suggest a "Grexit" as a realistic possibility to increase its leverage. However, Tsipras and Varoufakis made no public statements which would indicate that this is a possibility they will consider.

While it could be too early to make such statements, it is equally clear that negotiations in the immediate future with Germany will not change much. Therefore, Greece's leaders appear to be stuck in a pro-Euro paradigm, that prevents the possibility of genuinely leaving austerity behind, and have made no effort to publicly inform the public of the dangers of remaining in the Euro.

Secondly, even if it is too early to hint at a Plan B, Syriza should have been honest with the public as it claims to be and admitted that this agreement was far from ideal, but was a necessary evil. It has not done so. Instead, it has chosen to mislead its people by claiming that it was a "victory" and a compromise that benefited both sides. This untruthful depiction sets a dangerous precedent.

If the government continues to practice neoliberal austerity after the current agreement expires, it will effectively turn itself into a replica of PASOK, which also began with great social promises but ended up practicing neoliberal policies. The BBC rightly argued that "Syriza dumps Marx for Blair," referencing British Labour, which turned from being a socialist party into one pushing for a neoliberal agenda.

For Syriza to remain true to its original agenda, the public must mobilize against continued austerity, and opposition in parliament must expand. As things stand, the agreement cannot be implemented, and its internal contradictions will become clear.

Massive protests scheduled for Thursday and Friday, February 26 and 27, are being organized by the Communist KKE and ANTARSYA and the Communist tendency in Syriza expressed its disapproval of the government. The degree to which these will be publicly attended will indicate where things are heading, although a more crucial period will be in the summer if the current program is extended.

"This Syriza government is the same as all earlier governments. It is lying to the people," said Nikos - who asked a pseudonym be used out of fear of retaliation from Golden Dawn supporters. "The government does not explain the situation clearly to the people." He was referring to the fact that the government has not been truthful in presenting the agreement for what it is. Nikos added, however, that in light of the frustration felt by the public due to the economic conditions, "more and more of my friends like Chrysi Avgi (Nazi Golden Dawn)." Nikos opposes Golden Dawn entirely, saying that "It will bring us back 1,000 years," but he explained that due to people's ignorance and anger, the third largest party in parliament is becoming increasingly popular.

Should Syriza continue to practice austerity and mislead the public, it is increasingly likely that it will be voted out sooner or later, and the public frustration will result in a turn to the right with a coalition forming between a right New Democracy and Golden Dawn. In that scenario, Syriza harked not only a new dawn, only a Golden one. "Syriza [in its actions] is feeding Golden Dawn," he said. The key question remains whether the public will allow Syriza to market neoliberalism as "austerity with a human face," leading to massive disappointment.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 13:40:58 -0500
Exporting Torture: Former Chicago Police Detective Tied to Brutality at Guantanamo

A former Guantánamo Bay interrogator involved in torture was also a longtime Chicago police officer known for abusing people of color. According to The Guardian, Richard Zuley spent three decades as a notoriously brutal detective on the Chicago police force. From 1977 to 2007, Zuley used tactics including torture, threats and abuse to elicit confessions from suspects, the majority of whom were not white. One of those confessions was later ruled to be false, and the sentence was vacated. Zuley's methods included shackling suspects to walls through eyebolts for several hours, allegedly planting evidence, and issuing threats of harm to family members and sentences of the death penalty unless a suspect confessed. Zuley was also accused of brutal methods at Guantánamo Bay, where he was a reserve officer in charge of interrogating a prisoner who said he made a false confession due to torture. The Guardian report comes just after the notorious Chicago police commander Jon Burge was released from a halfway house after he served four-and-a-half years for lying under oath about torturing prisoners in Chicago in the 1970s and 1980s. We speak to Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We're speaking to Spencer Ackerman of The Guardian. Last week, he published a story headlined "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." The article looked at Richard Zuley, who used torture to extract confessions from minorities for years in Chicago and then went on to work at Guantánamo. This is a clip of Lathierial Boyd, one of the innocent men Zuley interrogated in Chicago.

LATHIERIAL BOYD: I was mounted to the wall and floor. I remained in that room through two lineups. And I remember I asked—after that second lineup, I asked Zuley if anybody had picked me out of the lineup, and he said no. And I said, "See, I told you. You got the wrong guy. I haven't done anything." He smiled at me and said, "We're charging you anyway."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Lathierial Boyd served 23 years in prison before he was found to be wrongfully convicted. So, Spencer, can you talk more about Richard Zuley and how you came across his police record?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Sure. The Guardian excerpted the Guantánamo Bay manuscript of Mohamedou Ould Slahi, whose interrogation at Guantánamo Bay is just one of the most brutal that we've ever known about thus far. And my editor asked me if I would go through the manuscript ahead of the excerpt and just see if there were any news stories we might want to do out of it. And one of the footnotes mentioned that in government reports and other sources, including a really fantastic piece of reporting by Jess Bravin of The Wall Street Journal, his 2013 book, The Terror Courts, the lead interrogator during the most intense torturous period of Slahi's interrogation was a Chicago police officer named Richard Zuley.

And I thought, "Well, I had never heard about a U.S. police officer being in any U.S. military or intelligence interrogation facility. What must his record in Chicago have been like?" and, from there, found some court cases, including Lathierial Boyd's federal civil rights case against Zuley, got in contact with his lawyer, found out about some more cases and started pulling records to find out what this guy's record in Chicago was. And we found some really ominous parallels between how he policed Chicago streets and what he did in Guantánamo Bay torture centers.

AMY GOODMAN: And what happened with Lathierial ultimately?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Lathierial Boyd, after 23 years of being put in prison on a murder that there was never any physical evidence that he committed, was found in 2013 by an investigation from the Cook County state's attorney to have his conviction voided, as it was completely baseless, and they found there was no evidence that could justify keeping him in prison, even though he had served 23 years.

AMY GOODMAN: And the suit?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: And now, after he got out, they file—Lathierial Boyd and his attorney, Kathleen Zellner, filed a civil rights suit to try and get some kind of justice for Lathierial and, as well, try and create both more disclosure around the way Chicago police practices have operated, including Richard Zuley.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to one of Zuley's victims—this one, though, not in Chicago, in Guantánamo—Mohamedou Ould Slahi. During interrogations at Guantánamo, you report—approved then by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld—Slahi detailed the treatment in his memoir, which was just published. In this clip from The Guardian's video report about his case, we hear his lawyer Nancy Hollander and actor Dominic West reading from his diary.

NANCY HOLLANDER: Mohamedou was subjected to a whole list of torture techniques that had been approved by the secretary of defense.

YAHID OULD SLAHI: [translated] They told him they had taken my mother from Mauritania and put her in a single cell in Guantánamo. And if he didn't give officials the information they expected, she would be severely tortured.

NANCY HOLLANDER: Significantly, they included what in Guantánamo was known as the "frequent flyer program." And they called it that because they wouldn't let people sleep. And they proceeded to torture him.

MOHAMEDOU OULD SLAHI: [read by Dominic West] "Blindfold the [expletive] if he tries to look." One of them hit me hard across the face, and quickly put the goggles on my eyes, ear muffs on my ears, and a small bag over my head. They tightened the chains around my ankles and my wrists; afterwards, I started to bleed. I thought they were going to execute me.

AMY GOODMAN: Mohamedou Ould Slahi remains at Guantánamo to this day and is yet to be charged with a crime. Spencer Ackerman, if you can talk about this and then also talk about whether the Chicago media is following up on these explosive reports where you're making these connections?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Yeah, so, it wasn't just that the military couldn't charge—or anyone couldn't charge—Slahi with anything. Military investigators for the prosecution found that the reason why they couldn't charge him with anything is what Richard Zuley did to Mohamedou Slahi, that the torture that Slahi was subjected to by the United States of America so tainted all of the evidence in this case that it became fundamentally unchargeable. In 2010, by the way, a federal judge ruled in Slahi's habeas case that he had to be let go. Barack Obama's Justice Department has appealed that decision, and that's why Slahi is still in Guantánamo Bay today.

Now, as we were reporting this, we found that there were these connections between the way Zuley tortured Slahi and his police work as a Chicago detective. Slahi was short-shackled for extended periods of time. We found that happened to Lathierial Boyd. We found that happened to Benita Johnson. We found that happened to Andre Griggs. Johnson and Griggs, for instance, were shackled for between, they say, 24 and 30 hours in their cases. Andre Griggs was suffering through heroin withdrawal during that time, and he wasn't given medication for that.

This was done as a method to try and get Griggs and Johnson to confess to crimes that they say they never committed. Those confessions formed the vast majority of the evidence against them. And this was something that we saw, as well, Zuley doing at Guantánamo. He told Slahi, "You can either be a witness, or you can be a defendant." All he had to do was confess. Slahi's torture, much like with Griggs and with Johnson, was so bad that eventually he just said, "I'll sign whatever you put in front of me." As he put it in his book, "If you want to buy, I am selling."

Before that happened, as just one of the methods that Zuley employed, Zuley threatened to have his mother taken to Guantánamo Bay in what he described as its all-male environment. I don't think it's particularly hard to understand that to be a rape threat.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, before we go, Chicago has a long history of this issue of police torture. This month, the notorious Chicago police commander, Jon Burge, was released from a halfway house after he served four-and-a-half years for lying under oath. But what he's accused of was leading a torture ring that interrogated more than a hundred African-American men in Chicago in the 1970s and '80s. They routinely used electric shock, suffocation with plastic bags, typewriter covers, among other methods, to extract confessions from men who were later shown to be innocent. The Chicago Torture Justice Memorials Project documented some of the men's stories. This is Shadeed Mu'min.

SHADEED MU'MIN: He handcuffed me real tight, know what I'm saying? He cut my circulation off. He went out of the room and stayed, I guess, for about an hour, and then came back and tried to talk to me. What could I tell him, you know, about the robbery? I told him, "I couldn't tell you anything about no robbery. I know nothing about what you're talking about." And he said then that, "Oh, you're going to play tough." Said, "You will tell us, before you leave here, what we want to know." Said, "I've been known to get out of peoples what I want." He got real upset and said, "You will talk, you black mother [bleep]." He said, "I'll make you talk, or kill you as I want." So, I still don't understand. So he—in anger, he rushed to the typewriter and grabbed the plastic cover off there and just crammed it down over my head. And it's like he was a madman. And several officers were helping him. But I was trying to get my arms out from behind the chair, but I couldn't do anything. And I passed out. And like I say, he gave me a breath of air. And I came to, conscious. And he—"You ready to talk?" And I said, "I don't have anything to tell you still." So he do it again. The third time, out of the third time, that's when I told him, I said, "I'll tell you whatever you want to know, man. Just don't do this no more."

AMY GOODMAN: That's Shadeed Mu'min speaking about his interrogation by former Chicago police commander Jon Burge. Statistics compiled by the People's Law Office show Chicago has paid at least $64 million in settlements and judgments in civil rights cases related to Burge's police abuses alone. The Chicago Reader reported some of the Burge techniques may have been learned when he was in Vietnam, where he served as a military policeman. Spencer, we're going to end on Jon Burge. Any connection to Richard Zuley?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: So, not directly. Even though they served in Chicago around the same time, supposedly, from everyone I've talked to, including Flint Taylor, who's Burge's probably chief legal investigator, doesn't seem like they actually worked together. Nevertheless, there is a context for this in Chicago. There's a long-standing tradition of police abuses, primarily against African-American residents of Chicago. It sits now, with what we're reporting, at this uncomfortable intersection between both that long and nefarious history of abuse against African Americans, primarily, in Chicago and this post-9/11 era in which secret detentions, longtime interrogations without charge, and so forth, seem to be now increasingly influencing domestic police work.

AMY GOODMAN: And is the Chicago media picking it up, especially in this time of a mayoral re-election race?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: They seem to be running reports based primarily on the Chicago police denial given to us. We'll see if that changes.

AMY GOODMAN: Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, where he's published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago, "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site'" and "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." We'll link to them at our website, as well as your interview, as well, with Victoria Suter.

This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. When we come back, we go to northern Iraq, to Erbil, to speak with journalist Patrick Cockburn. Stay with us.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:49:12 -0500
Obama's Trans-Pacific Partnership Promises Echo Clinton's on NAFTA

NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – was sold with promises of jobs and prosperity on all sides of the border. What really happened was that an increased trade deficit sucked demand and jobs out of the U.S. economy; workers lost bargaining power, resulting in pay and benefit cuts; and income inequality rose as corporations pocketed the wage differential.

Now the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being sold with literally the same promises. Here is why TPP is not going to work out better than NAFTA did.

Note the pitch used to sell NAFTA by President Clinton and former presidents Ford, Carter and George H. W. Bush as they were featured together in this September 14, 1993 news report.

From the transcript:

"I believe that NAFTA will create American jobs in the first two years of its effect. I believe if you look at the trends … over one-third of our economic growth, and in some years over one-half of our net new jobs came directly from exports. And on average, those export-related jobs paid much higher than jobs that had no connection to exports.

I believe that NAFTA will create a million jobs in the first five years of its impact. And I believe that that is many more jobs than will be lost, as inevitably some will be as always happens when you open up the mix to a new range of competition.

NAFTA will generate these jobs by fostering an export boom to Mexico."

"Many Americans are still worried that this agreement will move jobs south of the border because they've seen jobs move south of the border and because they know that there are still great differences in the wage rates. There have been 19 serious economic studies of NAFTA by liberals and conservatives alike; 18 of them have concluded that there will be no job loss."

Now here is President Bill Clinton at the NAFTA signing.

Clinton said NAFTA will "promote more growth, more equality, better preservation of the environment and a greater possibility of world peace." He also said it will "pull down foreign trade barriers" and that it will create 200,000 more jobs in the U.S. by 1995.

The Results Of NAFTA

Lori Wallach writes in "NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Higher Income Inequality":

Not only did promises made by NAFTA's proponents not materialize, but many results are exactly the opposite.

Such outcomes include a staggering $181 billion U.S. trade deficit with NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada and the related loss of 1 million net U.S. jobs under NAFTA, growing income inequality, displacement of more than one million Mexicancampesino farmers and a doubling of desperate immigration from Mexico, and more than $360 million paid to corporations after "investor-state" tribunal attacks on, and rollbacks of, domestic public interest policies.

The study makes for a blood-boiling read. For instance, we track the specific promisesmade by U.S. corporations like GE, Chrysler and Caterpillar to create specific numbers of American jobs if NAFTA was approved, and reveal government datashowing that instead, they fired U.S. workers and moved operations to Mexico.

The Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) concluded in "Did NAFTA Help Mexico? An Assessment After 20 Years":

… Mexico ranks 18th out of 20 Latin American countries in growth of real GDP per person, the most basic economic measure of living standards; Mexico's poverty rate of 52.3 percent in 2012 was almost identical to the poverty rate of 1994; real (inflation-adjusted) wages for Mexico were almost the same in 2012 as in 1994; and unemployment has increased significantly.

Robert Scott at the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in "NAFTA's Legacy: Growing U.S. Trade Deficits Cost 682,900 Jobs" wrote that "it's clear that things didn't work out as Clinton promised":

NAFTA led to a flood of outsourcing and foreign direct investment in Mexico. U.S. imports from Mexico grew much more rapidly than exports, leading to growing trade deficits… Jobs making cars, electronics, and apparel and other goods moved to Mexico, and job losses piled up in the United States, especially in the Midwest where those products used to be made. By 2010, trade deficits with Mexico had eliminated 682,900 good U.S. jobs, most (60.8 percent) in manufacturing.

Claims by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that NAFTA "trade" has created millions of jobs are based on disingenuous accounting, which counts only jobs gained by exports but ignores jobs lost due to growing imports. The U.S. economy has grown in the past 20 years despite NAFTA, not because of it. Worse yet, production workers' wages have suffered in the United States. Likewise, workers in Mexico have not seen wage growth. Job losses and wage stagnation are NAFTA's real legacy.

Today, The Same Promises

Today corporate lobbying groups and President Obama make the same promises about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They say that it will increase the number of jobs in the U.S. by increasing exports. But they never mention that imports exceed exports, resulting in an enormous, humongous trade deficit.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce promotes trade deals by ignoring that our imports exceed exports, which creates a trade deficit that costs jobs, by saying, "Exports have been one of the rare bright spots in the American economy. They have risen by more than 50% over the past five years. More than 38 million American jobs depend on trade."

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas Donohue, speaking to the Economic Club of Grand Rapids on Monday, said, "When it comes to the benefits of trade, American workers are among the biggest winners. Commerce with our trade agreement partners supports more than 17 million American jobs."

"Approving these agreements would put hundreds of thousands of Americans back to work, jumpstart our economy, and restore America as a global leader," he said.

President Obama, in his State of the Union address, implied that the U.S. would gain jobs from TPP, saying, "21st century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. … [N]inety-five percent of the world's customers live outside our borders, and we can't close ourselves off from those opportunities. More than half of manufacturing executives have said they're actively looking at bringing jobs back from China. Let's give them one more reason to get it done."

The administration has also given specific promises that TPP will create 650,000 new U.S. jobs. This was fact-checked and debunked by The Washington Post, in "The Obama administration's illusionary job gains from the Trans-Pacific Partnership." The Post's Glenn Kessler concluded, "Our advice remains: be wary whenever a politician claims a policy will yield bountiful jobs. In this case, the correct number is zero (in the long run), not 650,000, according to the very study used to calculate this number. Administration officials earn Four Pinocchios for their fishy math."

Why TPP Is Likely To Cost Jobs And Worsen Inequality

TPP is a massive "trade" agreement with countries around the Pacific rim, including Vietnam. Vietnam has an average minimum wage of less than a dollar an hour.

A September 2013 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) titled, "Gains from Trade? The Net Effect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on U.S. Wages," looked at the effect of past trade agreements and estimated the effect of TPP. The study estimated that the TPP would force wages down (even more) for almost all U.S. workers.

The CEPR study estimated that U.S. economic gains would be only 0.13 percent of gross domestic product by 2025. In exchange for these small gains, according to the study, "… most workers are likely to lose—the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition."

In "'Trade' Deal Would Mean a Pay Cut for 90% of U.S. Workers," from September 2013, Public Citizen's Eyes on Trade blog explains just who would lose:

[CEPR's] Rosnick shows that if we assume that trade has contributed just 15% of the recent rise in inequality (a still conservative estimate), then the TPP would mean wage losses for all but the richest 10% of U.S. workers. So if you're making less than $87,000 per year (the current 90th percentile wage), the TPP would mean a pay cut.

An additional worry is what would happen to Central American and Mexico and the effect of that on the U.S. NAFTA doubled migration northward as small farms in Mexican and Central American were wiped out. December's post, Immigrant Groups Warn Fast Track/TPP Could Cause More Migration North reported on a call with the leaders of immigrant rights groups who warned that TPP could force a second northward migration as jobs in Mexico and Central America are moved to low-wage, low-rights countries like Vietnam.

An AFL-CIO report released Tuesday, described in "TPP: Four Potential Partners Don't Comply with International Labor Rights," explains why American workers should be concerned:

A new AFL-CIO report released today finds that four nations that would be major players under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are out of compliance with international labor standards and, therefore, with the commitments they would undertake under the TPP. The report—The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Four Countries That Don't Comply with U.S. Trade Laws—finds that workers in Mexico, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei face ongoing and systematic abuse and violations of workers' rights with the complicity or direct involvement of the governments.

The report points out that previous FTAs have forced countries to compete on the basis of lowering labor costs and attracting business by ignoring, or in some cases actively interfering with, the fundamental labor rights.

By not requiring fundamental changes of these countries first, the TPP gives away leverage that could be used to protect workers and raise standards. If workers do not have the legal freedoms to act collectively, they will not be able to exert the power needed to raise wages, increase worker protections or gain the social policies necessary for the creation of a middle class and broadly shared prosperity.

The president and corporate lobbyists promise that TPP will have strong labor standards to protect Americans from having even more jobs shipped overseas. However, TPP is being kept secret, even from congressional staff who could analyze these promises. TPP will be pushed through Congress using "fast track" trade promotion authority that allows Congress only 90 days to debate and conduct an up-or-down vote after it and the public first see the agreement. This does not give Congress and the public enough time to read and fully understand this enormous, complex agreement and especially not enough time to consider the ramifications on our economy and our working people.

The question to ask is, if this agreement is so good for us, why is it kept secret, and why are they insisting on rushing it through before the public has time to understand it and rally opposition if opposition is warranted?

P.S.: Obama In 2008 Said "NAFTA Was A Mistake"

Here is Barack Obama campaigning in 2008, saying that corporate lobbyists negotiated trade agreements like NAFTA and we need to renegotiate it.

"It is absolutely true that NAFTA was a mistake … NAFTA was an enormous problem."

"You travel through communities in my home state of Illinois … You will see entire cities that have been devastated…"

Opinion Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:44:49 -0500
A Black Site in Chicago? Police Accused of Running Secret Compound for Detentions and Interrogations

An explosive new report in The Guardian claims the Chicago police are operating a secret compound for detentions and interrogations, often with abusive methods. According to The Guardian, detainees as young as 15 years old have been taken to a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square. Some are calling it the domestic equivalent of a CIA "black site" overseas. Prisoners were denied access to their attorneys, beaten and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. Two former senior officials in the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice are calling on their colleagues to launch a probe into allegations of excessive use of force, denial of right to counsel and coercive interrogations. We speak to Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian. We are also joined by Victoria Suter, who was held at Homan Square after being arrested at the NATO protests in Chicago in 2012.


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

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today with an explosive new report that Chicago police continue to operate a secret compound for detentions and interrogations, often with abusive methods. According to The Guardian, detainees as young as 15 years old have been taken to a nondescript warehouse known as Homan Square. Some are calling it the domestic equivalent of a CIA black site overseas. Prisoners were denied access to their attorneys, beaten, and held for up to 24 hours without any official record of their detention. Brian Jacob Church, who was arrested during Chicago’s 2012 anti-NATO protests, said he was shackled to a bench for 17 hours without being read his Miranda rights.

BRIAN JACOB CHURCH: When they first arrested us, they took us to this building. We were never booked. We were never processed. I was in Homan Square for about 17 hours, handcuffed to a bench, before I was actually finally allowed to see an attorney. So, essentially, the bench was about this wide, and at the back it had a bar that came across like this. They wouldn’t unhandcuff to sleep, so when I slept, I slept with like my hand cuffed to the bar, and I kind of slept like this. All of our ankles were handcuffed together, as well. I asked them to make a phone call. I asked, you know, to talk to my lawyers. And again, they pointed at the phone number and was like, "Oh, you’re not getting any phone calls from here." And they were like, "Just tell us what we want to know, and you can go home."

NERMEEN SHAIKH: At least one victim was found unresponsive in an interrogation room and later pronounced dead. The Guardian says the detainees brought to the Homan site, quote, "are most often poor, black and brown."

AMY GOODMAN: Now, two former senior officials in the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division are calling on their colleagues to launch a probe into allegations of excessive use of force, denial of right to counsel, and coercive interrogations.

For more, we’re joined right now by Spencer Ackerman, national security editor at The Guardian, where he’s published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago. This latest story is headlined "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site.'" In his first installment last week, Spencer Ackerman reported on a Guantánamo Bay interrogator involved in torture who was also a longtime Chicago police officer known for abusing people of color. We’re going to go through all of this.

Spencer, welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: Tell us more about this, about Homan.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Homan Square is a place where a number of undercover Chicago police task forces operate—the anti-gang force, the anti-drug task force—and it operates out of a warehouse on Chicago’s West Side that just sort of fades into the background view of the neighborhood. If you look out on the façade, as we’ve done, it doesn’t appear to have any normal police insignia signifying that it’s a precinct, like you would at your local police precinct. If you look a little closer, the signs are there. There’s a checkpoint out front with a yellow barrier to block traffic. There are both marked and unmarked cars in the yard. There’s an evidence locker in Homan Square that the cops have been saying makes the whole place public, and allows people to go look for that.

But as we started investigating, we had heard reports from lawyers and from police reform activists, criminologists, that what happens in Homan Square, beyond the sort of above and visible practices, involve things that you would only really hear about at CIA black sites overseas—extended detentions in which people are shackled and don’t have records made of where they are. That might seem, on the face of it, mundane, until you think: Relatives and lawyers have no way, when someone’s taken there, to figure out where these people are, which, as we had heard again from the attorneys who had dealt with police there, was a really disturbing thing. Finally, they had told us that when they went, as attorneys, to try and seek out their clients at Homan Square, on the few times that they were able to find out that someone was there, police would either turn them away or, when they tried to ascertain whereabout information over the phone, they would get the runaround and people maybe not telling them that they were sure that their clients had been there, or asking them, "How do we know that you’re actually a lawyer?" We subsequently found out that, you know, kind of sotto voce, in 2011, ’12, local activists and lawyers had brought this up with the Chicago police and had gotten the police to change some of their procedures, to make it clear that attorneys were allowed to visit. But we had found cases even after that where attorneys had said that they had been waiting outside Homan Square for the better part of an hour and gotten turned away.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: I want to get your response to the Chicago Police Department’s statement to your reports in The Guardian about Homan Square. They wrote, quote, "CPD abides by all laws, rules and guidelines pertaining to any interviews of suspects or witnesses, at Homan Square or any other CPD facility. If lawyers have a client detained at Homan Square, just like any other facility, they are allowed to speak to and visit them. It also houses CPD’s Evidence Recovered Property Section, where the public is able to claim inventoried property." So could you respond to what the Chicago Police Department’s response was to the report, and also elaborate who exactly first likened this facility to a CIA black site? One of the people whom you interviewed for the piece?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s correct. To go first to the Chicago police’s response to our story—and I appreciate you allowing me the time to talk about it—notice all the things they don’t say. They don’t say when attorneys have the right to talk to their clients there. They don’t say when attorneys get to access their clients at Homan Square. They don’t say what those booking—what those records are. They don’t say—that would document someone’s appearance at Homan Square. They don’t say when those records have to be made. They don’t say in what method those are supposed to be public. They never address at all the central question of someone being booked at Homan Square, of records being made available to the public, available to their lawyers and available to their families there. We asked the police those questions when they issued us and other news organizations those statements, and we’ve still yet to hear anything. For that matter, before we published the story, days before we published the story, we sent an extensive list of questions to the police. We got nothing. I went to Homan Square on Friday and was promptly turned away. There are lots of questions here that the police really do have to answer that are outstanding.

AMY GOODMAN: The mayor was running for—was running again for his office. Did you go to Mayor Emanuel himself or to his office to ask some questions?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: I didn’t go to Mayor Emanuel’s office. One of my colleagues at The Guardian has put questions to Rahm Emanuel, and we’ll see if we get any answers from that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to bring into the conversation Victoria Suter, who traveled to Chicago on May 12, 2012, to attend the NATO protest. Four days later, she and 11 others were taken to Homan Square in Chicago after police raided the apartment where they were staying. Suter spent 18 hours in solitary confinement before being allowed to speak to a lawyer. She joins us now from Charlotte. We welcome you to Democracy Now!, Victoria.

VICTORIA SUTER: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you got in touch with us after we reported on the piece yesterday, and said, "Wait a second, I am one of those people who was held at Homan Square." Talk about your experience.

VICTORIA SUTER: In Homan Square itself, from the raid in the Bridgeport neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago, I was put in an unmarked vehicle. It was the standard undercover cop car, you know, a silver Crown Vic. And not being from Chicago, I tried to keep track of what turns they were making where, at first, but after a certain point I couldn’t keep up with it. I was already asking to see a lawyer. And I kept asking, "Where are you taking me? Where are you taking me?" And the only response that I got was: "We’re going to give you a tour of hell on Homan." And—

AMY GOODMAN: Wait a second. What did they say?

VICTORIA SUTER: I had no idea what that meant. And—

AMY GOODMAN: "We’re going to give you"—what did they say? "We’re going to give you a tour"—

VICTORIA SUTER: They said, "of hell on Homan." And when we arrived there, it was dark. I couldn’t see the outside of the building. But we went in through a garage. There were really large, like military vehicles. They were black, just absolutely massive. There was—one of the other people arrested in that raid with me, they took him in first and left me outside with another officer, and then they took me inside. I was taken to a room, not particularly big, no windows. They put ankle shackles on me at that point and cuffed my right arm to a bar that ran behind the bench, where I stayed for 18 hours prior to being able to see an attorney. There was only one small window and a door that had—

AMY GOODMAN: Did you ask to speak to an attorney before that 18-hour period?

VICTORIA SUTER: Yes, I had been asking since the time of my arrest and the entire transport between Bridgeport and Homan.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And did you ever come to learn, Victoria, why the police had raided the apartment you were staying in and why you were detained for as long as you were and under the conditions you were?

VICTORIA SUTER: At that point in time, I had no idea what was going on. I was laying down to go to sleep when the raid occurred. And so, you know, you’re going down to—laying down to go to sleep, and then, all of a sudden, the doors are kicked in, and there’s guns on you, and you’re being taken away in handcuffs in an unmarked car to this place that you have no idea where you are. No one’s telling you anything. No one’s telling you what charges are possibly being filed against you. And it was all very chaotic and disorienting. And then, as we continued asking, while in Homan, "What are the charges? What are the charges? Where are we? Why are we here?" we got absolutely no answers the entire time I was there.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, ultimately, after 18 hours, what were you charged with?

VICTORIA SUTER: I was not charged with anything. After 18 hours, I was transferred into the Cook County Jail at 26th and California on the West Side, and I was released several hours after my transfer in with no charges. I was told—they knew that I was there to protest NATO. And upon my release, I was told, you know, "If we see you out there this weekend, we’re going to pull you back in and charge you with these guys." But we still had no idea what those charges were at that point in time.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian’s investigation found that Homan Square has been in operation since the 1990s, is that correct?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: They took over the facility itself in the late ’90s.


SPENCER ACKERMAN: The Chicago police, started operating out of that facility around, I want to say, like 1997 or so. They started—they moved more and more operations in there. The period where it looks like, according to our sources, that they’ve started operating these sorts of interrogations and detentions without booking and without legal access seems to have really picked up around 2005, although we’re not totally sure when in fact it—when in fact it starts.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what drew your attention to this facility?

SPENCER ACKERMAN: Thank you so much for asking. I was investigating a story that Amy mentioned about a connection between a Chicago detective who became a Guantánamo Bay torturer, tortured a man named Mohamedou Ould Slahi, who’s still at Guantánamo today. And as I was discussing this with a Chicago police reform activist, in the course of that conversation, that guy, Tracy Siska of the Chicago Justice Project, mentioned to me that institutional problems with Chicago policing ran so deep that Chicago even operates its own form of a black site. And I was just like, "What? That can’t be right. That doesn’t happen in the United States. That’s nuts."

And I started looking at it further and talking to more and more attorneys about this, particularly people who do front-line visits to police facilities, and they said, "No, there’s this place called Homan Square. We try to get access to it, and routinely we don’t." One attorney told me that it’s even become, amongst people in this legal community, almost like an open secret, where if you hear from someone that their relative has been picked up by police, but there’s no record of them in central booking, they just start figuring, "Well, they must be at Homan. We’ll call and try and find out if we can get access to them." And most often they don’t.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, we just showed two white prisoners at Homan—Brian Jacob Church, we showed a clip of, who you interviewed, and then, as well, Victoria Suter. But you say mainly what we’re talking about here, people taken to this site and, as you call it, disappeared—many don’t know where they are—are black and brown people in Chicago.

SPENCER ACKERMAN: That’s right. The attorneys who do these front-line police visits told me that typically these are people of color who are most often impacted, including people who, when we tried to speak with them through their attorneys, declined, out of fear that there would be retaliation by the Chicago police.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break, and then we want to come back and talk about this police detective, Richard Zuley, who went from Chicago to Guantánamo, and what happened there. We’re also going to ask you about Jon Burge, known for torturing people in police stations in Chicago, and what has happened to him. Spencer Ackerman is national security editor at The Guardian, where he’s published a two-part series on police abuse in Chicago, "The Disappeared: Chicago Police Detain Americans at Abuse-Laden 'Black Site'" and "Bad Lieutenant: American Police Brutality, Exported from Chicago to Guantánamo." That’s what we’re talking about next. Stay with us.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:38:53 -0500
Criminalizing 10 Year Olds Is No Way to Run a Justice System

At age ten, children in England, Northern Ireland and Wales can be found guilty of a criminal offence. They can face trial and be placed in detention.

We don't allow children of ten to hold a driver's licence or get married or travel on a plane unaccompanied – we don't even allow them to be left at home alone. Yet we treat them as responsible enough for their own actions – and indeed as significantly au fait with the law – to face court if they commit a crime.

Children of this age cannot consent to sex – for this you have to be 16. Yet our criminal laws mean that children from age ten upwards can be charged with a sexual offence. There is something very contradictory here.

The age of criminal responsibility in England, Northern Ireland and Wales is well below the average of other countries in the European Union – which is 14. In the Netherlands children cannot be charged with an offence below the age of 12. In France it is 13, in Sweden it is 15. In Belgium the age of criminal responsibility is 18.

Rare cases shouldn't set the age

While the youth justice system operates separately from the adult criminal justice system, its processes largely mirror it. The consequences for a young person when they enter the criminal justice system mirror those of adults too.

In countries with a higher age of criminal responsibility, young people whose behaviour is causing concern are dealt with in the child protection and welfare system. This approach reflects wider social and cultural attitudes towards children and young people. The same goes for England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Those who resist calls to raise the age invariably point towards the case of James Bulger, the toddler murdered by two ten-year-old boys in 1993. The crime provoked a strong public reaction and the boys eventually became the youngest convicted murders in modern English history. But the UK government was challenged in the European Court of Human Rights over the way it treated these young defendants.

While evoking understandable concern, incidents as serious as the Bulger murder are extremely rare. And where they do occur they are invariably symptomatic of deeper problems and need. They should not form the basis for setting the age of criminal responsibility.

Out and staying out

International evidence shows that offending by young people is best addressed by keeping them out of the criminal justice system. Once inside it, there are all kinds of negative consequences – not least being labelled a "young offender".

What's more, the range of circumstances under which a criminal record can be disclosed is widening and it is possible for criminal records acquired as a juvenile to follow a person for the rest of their life.

This has profound implications for a young person's educational opportunities and employment prospects. We know that many of the young people that are processed through the youth justice system already suffer the consequences of this.

Groups are emerging to call for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised and I would argue that 16 is more in line with other responsibilities.

Suggesting that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised does not mean ignoring behaviours of concern. It means precisely the opposite. Rather than labelling and punishing children and young people, support should be provided to help them and their families.

News Fri, 27 Feb 2015 11:08:30 -0500