John McCain’s about face on torture.

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McCain Torture Endorsement Lost Amid Media Sex Scandal Frenzy

 

By Liliana Segura, AlterNet
Posted on February 22, 2008, Printed on February 22, 2008
http://www.alternet.org/story/77505/

Upon being confronted with The New York Times’ “bombshell” report of his too-cozy relationship with a “lady lobbyist” during his last presidential campaign, GOP contender John McCain took a page from the Bush playbook and blamed the media.

His spokesperson, Jill Hazelbacker, called it “a hit-and-run smear campaign.” McCain invoked his service to his country and issued a blunt denial: “Obviously I am very disappointed in The New York Times article,” he said. “It’s not true.” And in what might be her second public utterance since she piped up to say that she is very proud of her country, would-be First Lady Cindy McCain — who bears an eerie resemblance to the lobbyist in question — joined her husband at a press conference to say that she, too, was “very disappointed in The New York Times.”

“Americans are sick and tired of this kind of gutter politics,” Hazelbacker declared in an official statement.

Maybe so — but you can’t say the same for the media. Just when it looked like McCain was comfortably, boringly, settling into his role as GOP nominee, a sexy front-pager broke that would not only spice things up, it would give the press a chance to drop everything and indulge in a little journalistic naval-gazing.

Hours after the Times posted its story Wednesday night, The Washington Post followed with its own version of a politician-meets-lobbyist tale told amid fundraising venues and inside private jets. AlterNet’s Joshua Holland provides the sordid summary:

“The heart of the Times (and Washington Post) story is that staffers became concerned that McCain, the Patron Saint of Straight-Shooterdom, was overly cozy with a lobbying hottie — a lobbyist whose clients had business before a committee McCain chaired — and warned her off of the Senator’s campaign. That comes from a named source, John Weaver, who says he was personally present at a meeting with (Vicki) Iseman, and personally warned her off.”

The blogosphere lit up overnight, and following McCain’s 9 a.m. press conference, every talking head on television was weighing in on the McCain “sex scandal” — a scandal that ultimately has precious little to do with sex, given that the Times fell short of proving anything actually happened between McCain and Iseman.

In some ways, McCain is right: The media should be blamed — but not just for shoddy reporting of a rather sexless scandal. They should be castigated for ignoring a much more important and damning story about the so-called principled maverick — one that has actual implications for American democracy.

Mere hours before The New York Times broke its story on Wednesday, McCain made a totally unrelated — and apparently un-newsworthy — statement to reporters, in which he called for President Bush to veto the Senate’s anti-torture bill. He talked in support of “additional techniques” for interrogation, sounding ever more in line with the White House’s official stance. McCain, the “war hero” who has been an outspoken opponent of torture, voted against the bill, which would restrict the CIA to some 19 interrogation techniques listed in the Army field manual.

Now, having passed the Senate, the bill is headed for a veto at the hands of President Bush. For a man who would be president — and who is practically giddy at the prospect of being Commander in Chief — McCain’s push for a veto is ominous.

His evolving position on torture should be deeply troubling — much moreso than the current scandal. Yet it has received a fraction of the media attention that has already been devoted to whatever he did or did not do with a blonde lobbyist eight years ago.

Meanwhile, right-wing McCain supporters and critics alike are making so much noise chattering about family values and attacking the Times, McCain’s about-face on torture is likely to stay buried.

In fact, “the Times story may have succeeded in accomplishing what politics itself could not,” observed The Atlantic‘s Marc Ambiner, “unifying the conservative base around McCain by way of their visceral disgust with The New York Times and its lib-ber-ral politics.”

So how did this mess get started?

According to an article published Thursday afternoon in The New Republic, word got out about the Times‘ months-long investigation of McCain, so the publishing giant may have rushed to press to keep from getting scooped by another publication.

But that theory — ripped from the mouths of none other than McCain’s own advisers — is about as flimsy as the sex scandal itself.

Between right-wing howling against the Times and nerdy journalism gossip, the McCain fracas has largely become a story about a story. “We’re going to war with The New York Times,” the McCain camp announced the night the article broke. Robert Bennet, McCain’s lawyer, complained to Wolf Blitzer that he had sat down with reporters and shown them “10 to 12 instances” where McCain had refused to do her bidding — but those examples had remained conspicuously absent from the piece.

At least some in the media have acknowledged that, distilled to its base, there’s very little that’s news in this story — unless you actually bought into the myth that McCain is the straight-shooting, ethical politician he claims to be.

Yet the coverage continues. “I think we’re going to have a feeding frenzy for a day, maybe a day and a half, then it will go away because it’s a nothing story,” one McCain adviser said.

In contrast, no media feeding frenzy followed McCain’s vote against the anti-torture bill last week. It was forgotten faster than you could say “waterboarding.”

Of course, this is a “sex scandal.” Torture, by comparison, is old news.

© 2008 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/77505/

Canada caves to US on torture list

Canada Takes U.S. and Israel Off Torture Watchlist

by Jarrett Martineau | January 19, 2008

 Canada has moved into damage control mode as it attempts to reassure two of its closest and most powerful allies that it does not consider them to be “countries where prisoners risk being tortured”.
Nice.

OUR CHRISTIAN ARMY

 

Building God’s (Christian) Army

 

By Jane Lampman, Christian Science Monitor
Posted on October 19, 2007, Printed on October 19, 2007
http://www.alternet.org/story/65597/

At Speicher base in Iraq, U.S. Army Spec. Jeremy Hall got permission from a chaplain in August to post fliers announcing a meeting for atheists and other nonbelievers. When the group gathered, Specialist Hall alleges, his Army major supervisor disrupted the meeting and threatened to retaliate against him, including blocking his reenlistment in the Army.

Months earlier, Hall charges, he had been publicly berated by a staff sergeant for not agreeing to join in a Thanksgiving Day prayer.

On Sept. 17, the soldier and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) filed suit against Army Maj. Freddy Welborn and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, charging violations of Hall’s constitutional rights, including being forced to submit to a religious test to qualify as a soldier.

The MRFF plans more lawsuits in coming weeks, says Michael “Mikey” Weinstein, who founded the military watchdog group in 2005. The aim is “to show there is a pattern and practice of constitutionally impermissible promotions of religious beliefs within the Department of Defense.”

For Mr. Weinstein — a former Air Force judge advocate and assistant counsel in the Reagan White House — more is involved than isolated cases of discrimination. He charges that several incidents in recent years — and more than 5,000 complaints his group has received from active-duty and retired military personnel — point to a growing willingness inside the military to support a particular brand of Christianity and to permit improper evangelizing in the ranks. More than 95 percent of those complaints come from other Christians, he says.

Others agree on the need for the watchdog group, but question the conspiratorial view and some of its tactics. They say dealing with religious issues is a complex matter, and the military is trying to address them appropriately.

At the Defense Department, spokeswoman Cynthia Smith says the DOD doesn’t comment on litigation, but “places a high value on the rights of members of the Armed Forces to observe the tenets of their respective religions.”

Since the Revolutionary War, the armed services have tried to ensure that soldiers can practice their faiths, and that chaplains serve not only those of their own sect but all who may need pastoral care. The services have also sought to adhere to the First Amendment prohibition of any government “establishment of religion.”

In the 1990s, for instance, the Air Force’s Little Blue Book of core values highlighted religious tolerance, emphasizing that military professionals “must not take it upon themselves to change or coercively influence the religious views of subordinates.”

Weinstein insists, however, that there are improper actions at high levels that not only infringe on soldiers’ rights but, at a very dangerous time, also send the wrong message to people in the Middle East that those in the US military see themselves engaged in Christian warfare.

For example, he says, Lt. Gen. William Boykin, who gave speeches at churches while in uniform that disparaged Islam and defined the war on terror in fundamentalist, “end times” terms, was not fired but promoted. (Speaking of a Muslim warlord he had pursued, Lt. Gen. Boykin said, “I knew my God was a real God and his was an idol.” And our enemies “will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.”)

“There’s an eschatologically obsessed version of Christianity that … is trying to make American foreign and domestic policy conterminous with their biblical worldview,” Weinstein charges. And “there’s improper pressure within the military command structure to make members join them.”

The most serious allegations from the field cannot be corroborated for this article. A few will be raised in the lawsuits, but some incidents have been documented.

Perhaps the most visible situation — and the one that set Weinstein off on his mission — involved the evangelizing of cadets on the part of some faculty and staff at the Air Force Academy (AFA) in Colorado Springs, Colo., which came to light in 2004. Congress held hearings, DOD conducted an investigation, and the head of the academy acknowledged significant problems. Weinstein’s cadet son experienced the pressures as a Jew.

Col. David Antoon (ret.), another alumnus of the AFA and now a 747 commercial pilot, says his heart was broken when he took his son, Ryan, to an orientation at the academy in the spring of 2004. An overt evangelistic approach during part of the orientation so upset them, he says, that they decided his son would reject the treasured appointment and instead go to Ohio State University.

“My son had dreamed of doing what I had done, but it was no longer the institution I went to,” Colonel Antoon says, his voice cracking with emotion.

The Air Force set about reaffirming basic principles in religion guidelines, as a basis for widespread training, but a pushback by Evangelicals later led to Congress setting them aside until hearings could be held. The hearings have not taken place.

In 2006, MRFF learned of a video produced by Christian Embassy, a group that conducts Bible studies at the Pentagon and seeks to evangelize within the armed services. Aimed at fundraising for the group, the video was improperly taped in the Pentagon and involved endorsements by Army and Air Force generals in uniform.

MRFF’s public alert spurred a DOD investigation. In a report critical of the senior officers, the Inspector General said they gave the appearance of speaking for the military. One general defended his role by saying “Christian Embassy had become a quasi-federal entity.”

The report noted that Maj. Gen. Paul Sutton participated while he served as chief of the US Office of Defense Cooperation in Turkey, a largely Muslim nation whose military takes pride in protecting the country’s secular status. After a Turkish newspaper wrote about the video as promoting a “fundamentalist sect,” General Sutton was called in and questioned by members of the Turkish General Staff.

“They had to give him a lesson in the separation of church and state,” Weinstein says. “Imagine the propaganda bonanza! And how this upset Muslims.”

The DOD report on the video recommended “appropriate corrective action” be taken against the officers. According to Army spokesman Paul Boyce, “The Army has not yet completed any planned actions associated with the Christian Embassy review.”

MRFF claims a victory in the case of the evangelical group Operation Stand Up. Earlier this year, OSU was preparing to send “freedom packages” to soldiers in Iraq as part of an Army program. Along with socks and snacks, the packages included proselytizing materials in English and Arabic, and the apocalyptic video game, “Left Behind: Eternal Forces.” In it, Christians carry on warfare against people of other faiths.

After the plans were made public, the Pentagon announced in August that the materials would not be mailed. OSU did not respond to a request for comment.

Weinstein — an intense, voluble attorney who prizes blunt, no-holds-barred language — has struck more than one nerve with his bird-dogging. He says numerous threats have been made on his life. Last week, the front window of his house was shot out for the second time. After the lawsuit was filed, talk of “fragging” (killing) Specialist Hall surfaced on some military blogs. The Army is investigating.

Others sympathetic to Weinstein’s concerns say some tactics undermine his efforts, and they question aims.

“He’s uncovered some very disturbing stuff that shouldn’t be going on in the armed forces,” says Marc Stern, a religious liberty expert at American Jewish Congress. “But it’s important that you not go too far.” Mr. Stern disagrees, for instance, with Weinstein’s stance on the Air Force guidelines, such as preventing military supervisors from ever speaking of religion to people under their command.

“He did a disservice to his and our cause by taking a position beyond what the law requires, and in fact may intrude on people’s rights,” Stern adds.

Several conservative Christian ministries publicly proclaim an evangelistic aim “to transform the nations of the world through the militaries of the world,” and they are active at US military installations in many countries. (See www.militaryministry.org or militarymissionsnetwork.org.)

MRFF sees that as a harbinger of a volunteer military falling under the sway of increasing numbers of Christian soldiers. Others see a military leadership, with the exception of a few generals here or there, well aware of its constitutional responsibilities, but challenged by the demands of training on these issues in a military of millions. A group such as MRFF can provide a crucial service, they say, if it is willing to work with the military.

Right now, Weinstein is counting on a set of lawsuits to bring serious issues to the fore. The question is whether those suits will go beyond individual cases of discrimination to prove an unconstitutional pattern within the armed forces.

Jane Lampman is a staff writer at the Christian Science Monitor.

© 2007 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at: http://www.alternet.org/story/65597/

NEW BUT SHOCKING LOW- OMG

Priests Protesting Torture at Fort Huachuca Jailed for Justice

by Bill Quigley

TUCSON, Arizona — October 17 — Louis Vitale, 75, a Franciscan priest, and Steve Kelly, 58, a Jesuit priest, were each sentenced today to five months in federal prison for attempting to deliver a letter opposing the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca in Arizona. Both priests were taken directly into jail from the courtroom after sentencing.

1017 10Fort Huachuca is the headquarters of military intelligence in the U.S. and the place where military and civilian interrogators are taught how to extract information from prisoners. The priests attempted to deliver their letter to Major General Barbara Fast, commander of Fort Huachuca. Fast was previously the head of all military intelligence in Iraq during the atrocities of Abu Ghraib.

The priests were arrested while kneeling in prayer halfway up the driveway to Fort Huachuca in November 2006. Both priests were charged with trespass on a military base and resisting orders of an officer to stop.

In a pre-trial heating, the priests attempted to introduce evidence of torture, murder, and gross violations of human rights in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib in Iraq, and at Guantanamo. The priests offered investigative reports from the FBI, the US Army, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Physicians for Social Responsibility documenting hundreds of incidents of human rights violations. Despite increasing evidence of the use of torture by U.S. forces sanctioned by President Bush and others, the federal court in Tucson refused to allow any evidence of torture, the legality of the invasion of Iraq, or international law to be a part of the trial.

Outside the courthouse, before the judge ordered them to prison, the priests explained their actions: “The real crime here has always been the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca and the practice of torture around the world. We tried to deliver a letter asking that the teaching of torture be stopped and were arrested. We tried to put the evidence of torture on full and honest display in the courthouse and were denied. We were prepared to put on evidence about the widespread use of torture and human rights abuses committed during interrogations at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo in Iraq and Afhganistan. This evidence was gathered by the military itself and by governmental and human rights investigations.”

Fr. Vitale, a longtime justice and peace activist in San Francisco and Nevada, said: “Because the court will not allow the truth of torture to be a part of our trial, we plead no contest. We are uninterested in a court hearing limited to who was walking where and how many steps it was to the gate. History will judge whether silencing the facts of torture is just or not. Far too many people have died because of our national silence about torture. Far too many of our young people in the military have been permanently damaged after following orders to torture and violate the human rights of other humans.”

Fr. Kelly, who walked to the gates of Guantanamo with the Catholic Worker group in December of 2005, concluded: “We will keep trying to stop the teaching and practice of torture whether we are sent to jail or out. We have done our part for now. Now it is up to every woman and man of conscience to do their part to stop the injustice of torture.”

The priests were prompted to protest by continuing revelations about the practice of torture by U.S. military and intelligence officers. The priests were also deeply concerned after learning of the suicide in Iraq of a young, devout female military interrogator in Iraq, Alyssa Peterson of Arizona, shortly after arriving in Iraq. Peterson was reported to be horrified by the mistreatment of Iraqi prisoners.

Investigation also revealed that Fort Huachuca was the source of infamous “torture manuals” distributed to hundreds of Latin American graduates of the U.S. Army School of Americas at Fort Benning, GA. Demonstrations against the teaching of torture at Fort Huachuca have been occurring for the past several years each November and are scheduled again for November 16 and 17 this year.

Bill is a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans. He served as counsel for Frs. Vitale and Kelly. You can reach Bill at Quigley@loyno.edu For more about their trial, see http://tortureontrial.org

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