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SpeakOut is Truthout's treasure chest for bloggy, quirky, personally reflective, or especially activism-focused pieces. SpeakOut articles represent the perspectives of their authors, and not those of Truthout.

As the hunger strikers at Guantanamo Bay approach their 100th day of refusing to eat this Friday, May 17, we urge President Obama to take specific steps now to release or transfer prisoners and close the prison.

More than 100 of the 166 prisoners at Guantanamo are participating in a hunger strike. More than two-dozen are being brutally force fed. We join with those throughout the United States and world calling for their release or transfer and ending the injustice of indefinite detention without trial. We also call for the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison which has become a human rights embarrassment to the Obama administration and the United States.

May 17

Neglecting to Forget: Lessons from Guatemala

By Julie R Butler , SpeakOut | News Analysis

On Friday, May 10, 2013, José Efraín Ríos Montt became the first head of state to be tried in their own country for genocide and found guilty. It was a hard-won battle to bring a modicum of justice in a country still divided along racial lines, still separated into the very poor rural indigenous class and the wealthy and powerful white privileged class.

This outcome heralds a warning to the most powerful war criminals in the world, that impunity cannot withstand the patient perseverance of the truth that they try so hard to suppress. And it is a commanding message, as even Ríos Montt's "scorched-earth" policy of destroying entire villages suspected of supporting Marxist guerillas and blaming the violence on the guerillas, themselves, could not obliterate all of the truth. Even his campaign of horrifying terror could not silence the few surviving victims, once they were convinced that their voices could make a difference. Nor could it annihilate the pangs of conscience that haunted a few of the soldiers who participated in the horrors.

Today, as the majority of men detained at Guantánamo enter their fourth month on hunger strike in protest of their indefinite detention, the Center for Constitutional Rights participated in a congressional briefing on Guantánamo titled, "From Crisis to Solution."

The briefing was co-sponsored by Members of Congress James P. Moran and Gerry Connolly of Virginia, The Constitution Project, The New America Foundation, and The National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Panelists included CCR Senior Staff Attorney Pardiss Kebriaei, along with Colonel Lawrence B. Wilkerson who served as Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, Brigadier General David R. Irvine, and the ordained Presbyterian minister Dr. George Hunsinger. It was moderated by Kristine Huskey, counsel on Rasul v. Bush (2004) and Boumediene v. Bush (2008).

Today, ten House Judiciary Committee members joined together to pass a resolution to form the Over-Criminalization Task Force of 2013 to examine and make recommendations for paring down the federal criminal code, which has expanded rapidly in recent years. The Task Force will conduct hearings and investigations on over-criminalization issues within the Committee on the Judiciary's jurisdiction, and has the opportunity to issue reports to the Committee on its findings and provide policy reform recommendations. This is the first review of the expansive federal criminal code since a Department of Justice review in the 1980s.

The Task Force could choose to examine federal marijuana policy because only Congress can remove federal criminal penalties for marijuana – even for individuals who are in compliance with state laws (such as the 18 medical marijuana states plus the District of Columbia and the two states, Colorado and Washington, that are legally regulating marijuana). More broadly, the Task Force will likely also explore the draconian drug sentencing policies of the last three decades that have contributed to severe overcrowding in the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

In order to see the 9/11 Memorial in lower Manhattan you must first remove your belt and anything metal, pass through airport-level security, and show your ticket at six separate check points. After making it past all this on a sunny afternoon I did not feel especially free by the time I entered the site.
Still, the Memorial can provoke powerful emotions that tend to eclipse the oppressive experience of being processed, prodded and examined before acceptance. Standing in the wide court surrounding the two pools, built on the same spots where the Twin Towers stood, you cannot help sensing what is missing. Still water circulates below the names of victims, each die-cut into bronze, and then descends the thirty-foot waterfall into a void.
The guide touts it as the largest water cascade in North America.

On Thursday, the Drug Policy Alliance will release An Exit Strategy for the Failed War on Drugs, the group's first-ever federal legislative guide. This comprehensive report contains 75 broad and incremental recommendations for legislative reforms related to civil rights, deficit reduction, law enforcement, foreign policy, sentencing and re-entry, effective drug treatment, public health, and drug prevention education. The guide will be released at a forum on the Hill cosponsored by Rep. Beto O'Rourke (D-TX) and Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), both of whom fought for major drug policy reform at the local level before running for Congress and winning.

"The United States has approximately five percent of the world's population but twenty-five percent of its prison population, largely resulting from failed policy decisions connected to the war on drugs," said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-New York). "The over-criminalization phenomenon has cost us in lost human capital and economic productivity. I look forward to thoroughly reviewing DPA's recommendations and working closely together to improve the fairness and humanity of the criminal justice system."

The conviction of former Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt is unprecedented. Never has a previous head of state been convicted of genocide or crimes against humanity in his own country. Members of the judiciary, including Claudia Paz y Paz, the first female Attorney General of the country, courageously pursued the court case in spite of numerous threats against them and their families and efforts by the current president to halt the proceedings. With evidence that the United States government under Reagan and the current president of Guatemala were complicit, one might even hope this event will start a chain reaction of accountability and turn the tide on globalism.

However, it was the hundred or so Ixil Mayan witnesses, people who barely escaped the 1982-83 atrocities of the government that tens of thousands suffered, whose courage brought forth the court’s verdict. A population of less than 1% of the country, they suffered through the unimaginable horrors perpetrated by the government’s militia and supported by American money, weapons and consultants. Declassified CIA documents reveal knowledge of the atrocities and decisions to do nothing about them. Like "Indians" throughout the Americas, the victims were not combatants for the most part, but peaceful villagers who were massacred  under mandates from the oligarchy, essentially to protect its and the US investors who backed it by preventing land reform by the Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala.

The following petition, signed by over a dozen experts on Latin America and the media, was sent today to Margaret Sullivan, Public Editor of The New York Times:

May 14, 2013

Dear Margaret Sullivan,

In a recent column (4/12/13), you observed:

Although individual words and phrases may not amount to very much in the great flow produced each day, language matters. When news organizations accept the government’s way of speaking, they seem to accept the government’s way of thinking. In The Times, these decisions carry even more weight.

In light of this comment we encourage you to compare The New York Times’s characterization of the leadership of the late Hugo Chávez in Venezuela and that of Roberto Micheletti and Porfirio Lobo in Honduras.

Despite media exposes and a public backlash, a lot of meat today continues to be treated with gasses to keep it looking red. Like mercury in tuna, just because the risks are exposed and the public is outraged doesn’t mean the producers change anything. They know the furor will die down and the public will forget.

Treating meat with carbon monoxide keeps its oxymyoglobin, what makes it red, from turning brown or gray. In defending the use of gasses to keep meat looking fresh, the meat industry says that meat turning brown is no different than apples turning brown when exposed to the air–a harmless discoloration that does not affect wholesomeness. Right. But the Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service and the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food have voiced concerns about meat food appearing fresher than it is because of the artificial hues.