Posted by Fran Korotzer - October 28, 2009 | News


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On October 26, between 6 and 7 p.m., the 2nd Monday THAW (Theaters Against War) vigil outside the Metropolitan Correctional Center took place. Fahad Hashmi, an American citizen, has been held there for 2 1/2 years while waiting to go on trial. He is being charged with 2 counts of providing and conspiracy to provide material support to Al Qaeda and 2 counts of making and conspiracy to make a contribution of goods or services to Al Qaeda. His trial is scheduled to take place on November 30th.

Hashmi has consistently maintained that he is innocent. His family and a large group of supporters from both inside and beyond his community believe that he is innocent. At all pre-trial hearings the courtroom is packed to capacity. There is also a growing group of people who object to the terms of his imprisonment which, they maintain, amount to cruel and unusual punishment of someone who has, thus far, not been convicted of anything. Under the special administrative measures (SAMs) he is being held under a kind of enhanced solitary confinement. He cannot communicate with anyone inside the prison (other than officials), neither other prisoners nor guards. Family visits are limited to 1 person every 2 weeks for 1 1/2 hours and cannot involve physical contact. He may write 1 letter a week, no more than 3 pages, to a family member. He may read only certain portions of newspapers after they are 30 days old. He cannot listen to news oriented radio stations. He cannot participate in group prayer. He is electronically monitored 24 hours a day – including when taking care of body functions. He is allowed 1 hour of exercise a day, alone and in a cage.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

There is now an increased understanding that living under these conditions for a prolonged period of time may have very severe consequences for Hashmi’s mental state. It may also make it difficult for him to participate in his own defense. But, beyond that, there is an even bigger issue. Should people, especially those who have not been convicted of any crime, be incarcerated for long periods under conditions that are clearly punitive and that amount to mental torture. The people gathering at the THAW vigil would answer, “No”.

Last week actors Wallace Shawn and Kathleen Chalfant joined the 50 people at the vigil. This week Bill Irwin, an actor, and Remi Kanazi, a Palestinian-American poet, were there. There was street theater, scenes from pre-trial hearings, both Shawn and Irwin read from 30 day old newspapers, Shawn read from his play, “Fever”, and Irwin spoke of the historical role of theater in issues of war and peace. Two kneeling people wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods were there to remind participants of the connection between the conditions at Guantanamo and these at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

The vigils opposite 150 Park Row in lower Manhattan will continue for the foreseeable future. For additional information see:
www.educatorsforcivilliberties.org/liftthesam.html
and to view a video of the events search Youtube, Radio Free Fahad.

View Photos From The Event…

Posted by TAG - October 27, 2009 | News


Staten Island clergy called for health care reform
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — October 26, 2009. On Monday, clerics from Staten Island issued a statement calling health care “a basic human right.”


Staten Island clergy outside the Ferry Terminal
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

At a press conference outside the Ferry Terminal, with the Statue of Liberty in the background, clergy from an array of traditions issued a statement that said in part, “The religious leaders of the borough of Staten Island affirm that health care is a basic human right that should be afforded to all people regardless of their social, economic, or legal status.”

The statement was read aloud by Reverend Dr. Victor Allen Brown, senior pastor of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church, who said that, “This affirmation is rooted in the teachings of our respective faith traditions. We acknowledge that here on Staten Island, more than 50,000 of our neighbors live and work without health insurance. We advocate for the reform of our current health care system.”


Rev. Dr. Victor Allen Brown of Mt. Sinai United Christian Church (foreground)
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Flanked by Reverend Will Nichols, president of the Staten Island Council of Churches, and Reverend John Dello Russo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Catholic Church, Brown said that “We are advocating a reform that will provide for health care coverage for our Staten Island neighbors in need and the more than ten million uninsured persons throughout our nation.”

Rev. Nichols said that “We believe that any health care reform should have a universal provision based on the respect and dignity of all human life.”

“We affirm the pursuit of the common good while preserving pluralism, including the freedom of conscience and a variety of health care options,” he added.

Reverend Dello Russo said that health care reform should include coverage of pre-existing conditions and should preserve Medicare benefits for seniors.

“We affirm the need for a public option for health care for the working poor and those currently uninsured. We urge our congressional representatives to consider these principles in their deliberations and when voting on the issue of national health care reform,” he said.


The statement was endorsed by a diverse group of clergy
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Endorsing the statement was Monsignor James Dorney, co-vicar of the Staten Island Vicariate, Rabbi Gerald Sussman, president of the Staten Island Rabbinical Association, the Staten Island Council of Churches, Mt. Sinai United Christian Church, Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, the Unitarian Church of Staten Island, Trinity Lutheran Church, the St. Vincent De Paul Society, the Religious Society of Friends (the Staten Island Quakers), the Staten Island Sisters of the Congregation of Notre Dame, the Staten Island Clergy Leadership and the Presentation Sisters of Staten Island.

“Health coverage is a right that’s comparable to the right to education, the right to legal equality, the right to police protection and many of the other rights that our citizens enjoy,’ said Mary Eberhardt of the Religious Society of Friends.

Rev. Brown said “It would be most unfortunate … if health care reform is allowed to be crucified on the cross of political gamesmanship and, unfortunately, it is an issue that has been politicized to the point that there are many gross misnomers about Washington is trying to do.”


Rev. Terry Troia (left): NY has a viable public option
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Rev. Terry Troia, executive director of Project Hospitality, said that the public option is nothing new.

“New York currently has a public option and has had a public option for seven years. It’s called Family Health Plus and in the last seven years 26,000 Staten Island families have registered for Family Health Plus. So there is a viable public option in the state of New York. We haven’t collapsed the economy because of it and in fact we are serving Staten Islanders who are working and do not qualify for Medicaid or other forms of public insurance and who are citizens of this nation,” she said.


Watch the press conference (Video)
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

View Photos/Videos From The Event…

Posted by TAG - October 25, 2009 | News



Will The Real Mike McMahon Please Stand Up?

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — October 20, 2009. A variety of speakers urge Congressman Mike McMahon to stand up for the people, not the insurance companies. (Video)

***



Protesting Obama’s Wars

NEW YORK — October 20, 2009. A group of War Resisters and World Can’t Wait protesters expressed their dismay with Obama’s Wars during the President’s recent visit to New York. (Photos)

***



Poetry of Resistance

NEW YORK — October 20, 2009. The Activist Poets’ Roundtable hosted a reading at the Brecht Forum — in solidarity with workers and communities in struggle. NLN was there. (Videos and Photos)

***



THAW Protest — “No Guantanamos at Home or Abroad” Vigil at Metropolitan Correctional Center

NEW YORK — On October 19, 2009, Theatres Against War kicked off a series of weekly vigils on behalf of Syed Fahad Hashmi, an American citizen who has been held in severe solitary confinement at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in lower Manhattan for the past two and a half years awaiting trial. He is under 24-hour electronic surveillance, is allowed no fresh air or sunshine, and can receive no letters or visits, outside of limited contact with his parents. (Photos)

***



Arrested At Grand Central

NEW YORK — October 7, 2009. A WRL organizer was arrested during a protest of the Afghan War at Grand Central Station — on the 8th anniversary of the war. This clip contains footage of the arrest. Filmed by Thomas Good, Carlos Sabater and Tom Martinez. (Video)

***


UAW member George Albro urges Mike McMahon to “side with the people”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — October 20, 2009.

“This is how it’s supposed to be,” the union leader said.

Ed Luster of the Communications Workers of America was referring to Congressman Mike McMahon’s (D, NY-13) second town hall meeting on health care reform, held Tuesday, October 20. The meeting took place at the Shore Hill Community Center in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and contrasted starkly with the first town hall, held two weeks ago on Staten Island. What stood out wasn’t what happened but what didn’t — or who didn’t. The “Tea Party”, anti-reform activists who shout down anyone they disagree with, weren’t present. And so the meeting was marked by a civility that, at times, was downright cordial. Not that McMahon didn’t hear some passionate arguments.

McMahon’s health care town hall began with a power point presentation outlining the various bills before the Senate and the House, including HR 3200. After the slide show, anyone wishing to speak was given two minutes to do so. It was clear immediately that the speakers were overwhelmingly for a health care package that includes a strong public option. And many of those who supported the public option also spoke in favor of HR 676, the John Conyers bill that would establish a single payer system or “Medicare for all.”


Congressman Mike McMahon — Undecided
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

In the audience were a number of labor leaders including Luster, who is president of CWA Local 1102 (Staten Island), Larry Goldbetter, president of the National Writers Union (UAW Local 1981), and Joyce Patrella, executive vice president of CWA Local 1110. The leaders were not alone. Labor rank and file filled the hall, perhaps in response to an appeal from the Central Labor Council. The faithful wore union t-shirts and many cradled signs in their laps — in response to McMahon asking people to be careful “not to poke someone’s eye out” by waving signs.


Members of CWA Local 1102 (Ed Luster is on the left)
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

The first speaker, a CWA member named Sam, asked McMahon if the rhetoric of those who oppose the public option — rhetoric filled with dire warnings of impending “communism” and “death panels” — contributed anything to the ongoing discussion.

“Do you feel this rhetoric has any productive value in achieving real health care reform,” he asked.

McMahon responded with an unequivocal No. Yet the congressman has not taken a position on health care reform.

CWA member Steve Lawton told McMahon, “I believe that it’s your obligation to represent the people and so that you should take the burden of health care costs off the people and put it back on the employers.”

United Auto Workers member George Albro also made a direct appeal:

“We need you, Congressman, to side with the people, not the insurance companies. We need you for a strong public option, like your colleagues in New York.”

Albro mentioned former congressman Vito Fossella’s antipathy towards working people and told McMahon that “We rejoiced in your election — so you could vote differently.”

McMahon said that he has voted “differently” and is proud of his voting record. But his position on single payer — he does not support it — came under fire early on.

A UAW member who identified herself as a “senior” said, “I believe that there’s only one – and that’s single payer – that does for all.”


Doug Biviano: “Are you just going to sit in the middle?”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Doug Biviano, a progressive who recently lost a bid for for a city council seat, spoke about the Weiner Amendment. Congressman Anthony Weiner’s amendment would convert HR 3200 into HR 676 — single payer health care.

Biviano asked McMahon, “Are you willing to lead and join with Anthony Weiner and do that or are you just going to sit in the middle and just kind of drift with the insurance companies? Are you going to show some leadership? That’s what we need.”


McMahon – under pressure to take a position
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

McMahon commented that he liked how Biviano characterized HR 676 as “Medicare for all” but said he would not support it or the Weiner Amendment. Although pressured by Biviano, McMahon refused to cite any specific reasons for not supporting single payer.


Kathleen Kelly may lose her home to medical bills
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

MoveOn organizer Kathleen Kelly told McMahon that she is being foreclosed, having exhausted her savings on medical bills. After recovering from a serious illness, Kelly is now trying to hold on to her home. She urged McMahon to stand up for people in her situation.


Rosalie Caliento lost her cousin
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Rosalie Caliento lost a cousin to pancreatic cancer — her cousin was unable to get proper treatment due to inadequate health care coverage. “I miss her greatly,” Caliento said as she held up a photo of her cousin.

A Brooklyn man named Gerard Perry identified himself as a member of an organization opposing illegal immigrants. Perry asked if HR 3200 would provide health care to the undocumented. McMahon said that it would not.

As was the case at the Staten Island town hall, held earlier this month, McMahon was accompanied by some medical experts. He asked them to address the crowd.

Responding to an audience member who asked “what’s the rush?”, Dr. Vincent Calamia, of Staten Island University Hospital, said that nothing is being “rushed”, reform is overdue. He praised McMahon for being “meticulous” in gathering information before taking a position. He said he did not know what the congressman’s position would ultimately be.

Dr. Harold Eichler, the second expert speaker, complained about treatment delays resulting from dealing with insurance company and HMO denials. Eichler was emphatic about the need for change.

At several points in the event, McMahon cited the cost of reform as a stumbling block. One of the speakers, Carol from Bay Ridge, addressed this issue.

“All of this could be paid for, everybody is worrying about how we can pay for this, if we get out of Iraq and Afghanistan. There’s no reason for us to be there. None at all,” she said.


Dr. Katrina John wants a single payer system
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Speaking in support of single payer, Dr. Katrina John, a resident in the Maimonides emergency room said, “I support more than the public option. Obviously, I support the single payer system because I was trained in that system, I worked for several years in that system, I’ve been a patient in that system and I have many family and friends who have received life-saving treatment in that system.”

John added that, “As a doctor I have a moral standard, for me, nothing should come between my treatment of a patient. And certainly, it should be what’s best for that patient and never should it be a financial incentive or profit motive or anything of that sort.”

She sees no place for profit in health care.

“I think until profit can be taken out of medicine in this country then we will never be able to move forward and the health care that everybody would like to have would not be achieved. Profit is not necessary for excellent health care,” she said.

A number of clergy and lay people from various social concerns committees were present.

Craig Miller, pastor of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, said that, “Churches are impacted by this as they see the cost of health care for their staff, particularly for pastors, rising.”

Miller told McMahon that his health care costs are a great burden on his congregation. He said that health care reform is urgently needed by everyone and that it “is a basic human right” — not just in China but here in the U.S.

CWA’s Sarah Brandston, said that “This is not about dollars and cents, it’s a moral issue.”


Sarah Brandston sees health care as more than a monetary issue
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Brandston argued a small percentage of the population has the bulk of the nation’s wealth while many can’t afford proper health care.

“Not to deny the great American dream of everybody being rich one day, but why don’t we just live a decent life?”

A United Federation of Teachers (UFT) member echoed this sentiment: “There is nothing rushed about health care in this country being taken up … it has become an absolute emergency for the middle class.”

“We do have to have a public option. Just take a look at the profits of the pharmaceutical and the health care and insurance companies while many people are losing their jobs and their coverage and many companies are going under, they are getting profits after profits after profits,” she added.

The human cost of insurance companies profiting while many can’t afford coverage was underscored by Dr. Wisly Augustin, an opthalmologist, who told the town hall that one of his patients lost her eyesight as a result of being unable to afford health care.

“I don’t think anyone in this hall would like to see themselves losing their eyesight simply because they don’t have any insurance coverage to seek medical care,” he said.

A business analyst with 25 years experience in health care said: “The Post Office is pretty good and that is a delivery system that competes with Fedex and UPS and they co-exist. So, the idea of a public option is viable.”

“We do need it now … go make it as good as you can, make it the best you can, don’t demand that it be perfect,” he added.

***


Scott Klein asked McMahon to stand up on the issue of health care
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

The final tally told the story: 32 people spoke in favor of health care reform with a strong public option — and the majority of those supported single payer. 8 people opposed the public option and 3 people spoke about other issues: illegal immigrants, stopping cancer, better regulation of insurance carriers.

Scott Klein, president of the American Heritage Democratic Organization of Bay Ridge, expressed the sentiments of many present when he told Rep. McMahon that “We need you to stand on the side of, at a minimum, the public option.”

“We elected you for a reason. We elected you to stand up on an issue like this. And we need you to do that. This is the most important issue that faces us today,” he said.

View Photos/Videos From The Event…

Posted by Fran Korotzer - October 19, 2009 | News


Leafleting outside Leviev
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — On Saturday afternoon, October 17, there was a lively demonstration at the Leviev jewelry store on upscale Madison Avenue in N.Y.C. The New York Campaign for the boycott of Israel and Adalah-N.Y., The Coalition for Justice in the Middle East organized the event at this time because:

“Boycott activist Mohammad Othman, from the West Bank village of Jayyou, was abducted by Israeli forces on September 22, on his return from Norway. Mohammad had been asking the Norwegian government to boycott companies that support Israeli repression, including Lev Leviev’s companies that are building settlements on Jayyous’ land. The people of Jayyous have been protesting nonviolently against Leviev’s settlement and Israel’s wall for seven years. No charges have been filed against Mohammad. At the same time, Israel has stepped up repression against Bil’in’s 5 year nonviolent campaign of boycott, legal suits, and protests against Leviev’s settlement and Israel’s wall on Bil’in’s land. More than 20 Nil’in activists have been arrested since June. Bil’in protestor Adeeb Abu Rhame and 17 others are still being held, and Bil’in non-violent organizer Abdullah Abu Rahme is ‘wanted’ by the Israeli army.”

About 40 people held signs, handed out leaflets,spoke to passers-by, and sang and chanted for two hours in front of the Leviev store. Most of the people on the street were politely interested in what was happening and why. While the demonstrators were there no customers entered the store.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Business has not been good for Lev Leviev who, according to Forbes.com, is the world’s biggest cutter and polisher of diamonds. His worth was estimated at $1.5 billion but his stock has dropped 84 percent over the past year. Sara Ivry, in Tablet, wrote “Leviev and his diamond mining company, Africa-Israel, are now mired in debt”. Leviev made his fortune by controlling much of the diamond market in Angola where his business has been linked to human rights abuses — an accusation he denies. According to Rotem Starkman writing in Ha’aretz, Leviev failed to forsee the economic crisis that was coming. He took out enormous loans to buy property in N.Y. at top prices. What he once bought for $4 billion is now worth less than half that amount.

The U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation says that while his company, Africa-Israel, suffered losses because of falling real estate prices, “There are some indications that Africa-Israel’s difficulty finding additional capital is due to the boycott and divestment (BDS) campaign that has been targeting Leviev for two years”. Leviev is a major builder of Jewish-only settlements on West Bank Occupied Palestinian land. He built Ma’ale Adumim (a huge bloc that makes travel for Palestinians between the Northern and Southern West Bank almost impossible), Har Homa, Adam, Matityahu East and Modi’in ilit. Modi’in and Matityahu East are the settlements that made Israel build a wall taking away 60% of the Palestinian village of Bil’in’s land. The existence of these projects made BlackRock, a British investment bank, divest it’s holdings in Africa-Israel. A week after their announcement Leviev said that his company could not raise the money to repay its debts.


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The demonstration this week was just one of a series of actions against that Leviev store. People working for justice for the Palestinian people have been there before and will keep returning until Palestine is free.

View Photos From The Event…


(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

NEW YORK — Two days, 2 more healthcare reform rallies. One, on October 14th, was organized by moveon.org and took place at Union Square in N.Y.C. It drew about 200 people and the theme was to tell Senator Schumer, “We’re counting on you” and thanks for pushing for real health care reform, including a public option in spite of the insurance companies and HMOs spending $5 million a week to defeat reform. David Greenson of moveon.org said, “A public insurance option is the best way to lower costs and help ensure quality, affordable, coverage for N.Y.S. residents”.


Alex Blum
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Dr. Alex Blum, a pediatrician at Mt. Sinai Hospital and a member of Physicians for America, spoke. He told of a crying baby being brought into the emergency room desperately scratching himself and causing bleeding. The baby’s little body was covered with a terrible case of eczema but the mother explained that her insurance company wouldn’t give her a referral to see a dermatologist. Dr. Blum called the insurer, explained the condition of the child, and asked them to pay for the dermatologist in the emergency room to treat the child. The insurance company refused and the dermatologist treated the child without getting paid. He pointed out that there are 87 million people in this country that are under insured and another 47 million with no insurance at all. We need healthcare reform and we need it now – with a public option.

The rally on October 15th, organized by ACT-UP and by Mobilization for Healthcare for All, took place at 1 Penn Plaza, N.Y.C., where the offices of the insurance giant UnitedHealth Group are located. This was part of a national effort taking place in 9 cities around the country. When the organizers announced the event and asked for volunteers who were willing to be arrested for an act of non-violent civil disobedience, a sit-in at the insurance companies, they got 700 positive responses.


Single Payer advocates
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The position of ACT-UP and Mobilization for Healthcare for All is different from that of moveon.org. They want Medicare for all, a single payer system covering everybody – “Everybody in, Nobody out” – and are supporting HR 676.

In N.Y. UnitedHealth Group was chosen to be the focal point of the protest because they are the largest in the country with one of the worst records. The company “earned” 4.6 billion in profits in 2008 and it’s CEO, Stephen Helmsley, was paid $13 million in 2007. The former CEO, William McGuire, was paid $124.8 million in 2005. Apparently denying claims is very profitable. Now the healthcare industry is spending $1.4 million a day lobbying to defeat reform.


Laurie Wen at the Aetna protest last month
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

Laurie Wen, one of the activists who was arrested for sitting-in at the Aetna Insurance Company 2 weeks ago said, ” We are here because the legislation in the Senate Finance Committee is written by lobbyists, for lobbyists. Congress isn’t listening to the public about healthcare reform because the industry bought them off”. Another activist, who was also arrested at Aetna, Constancia Romily, a retired nurse, said, “Private health insurance companies are the real ‘death panels’ – they make decisions about people’s healthcare based on profits rather than the health of the patients. These ‘death panels’ must be stopped”.

The weather on October 15th was cold and a steady rain was falling. For awhile it looked like no one was going to show-up, but within a half hour about 50 people had gathered. Then, arriving together, 14 people, all wearing t-shirts that read MEDICARE FOR ALL on the front and VICTIM OF PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE on the back, and chanting “United profits, People die. Medicare for All” and “Healthcare not Wealthcare. Medicare for all” arrived to the cheers of the crowd. They linked arms and stood in front of the building’s doors. By then there were many police and many journalists and photographers – including the corporate press there. The demonstrators who were not planning to be arrested stood chanting on the sidewalk. At a certain point those risking arrest went into the lobby and sat down, their arms still linked and still chanting. The police, press, and some demonstrators followed them in. The manager of the building, using a megaphone, asked them to leave. Nobody moved. The police gave a warning and asked everyone to leave the lobby or be arrested. Those sitting-in stayed. The police started cuffing the participants and removing them 1 or 2 at a time. Some were carried out, adding the charge of resisting arrest to the charge of trespassing. From what we could see the police were acting in a professional manner. There was an observer from the National Lawyers Guild watching the operation. The TARU (Technical Assistance Response Unit) police made a video of the arrest process. One woman, watching from the sidewalk, began to cry because, she explained, they were arresting someone that looked like her grandpa.


“Victims Of Private Health Insurance” arrested by the NYPD
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

According to journalist, Greg Palast, “Medical Loss Ratio (MLR)” is the term used by health insurance companies to refer to their profit. “The ‘MLR’ is the difference between what you pay the insurance company and what the insurance company pays out to doctors, hospitals,and pharmacists for your medical care”. “…the MLR, the insurance companies’ margins is about to top… a quarter trillion dollars a year. That’s 2.7 trillion over the next decade”.

Michael Moore, who made the film SICKO, said that 14,000 people a day lose their health insurance and medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy and home loss. More than 45,000 people die every year because they can’t get the medical care they need – that is 120 deaths everyday.

If there is any meaningful improvement in health insurance that comes out of congress, a very dubious proposition at the moment, politicians will be falling over each other in the rush to take credit for it. But the credit should go to the unsung heroes of this battle – to the men and women, many very elderly, being carried into police vans and risking jail time, to the hundreds of community organizers who work tirelessly to propel this movement forward, to the medical workers who tell us what is happening on the front lines and explain why we need reform, to the many victims of private health insurance who share their tragic stories as well as their fighting spirit with us, and to the millions of extraordinary people who repeatedly come into the streets to demand what should be an inalienable right for everyone in this country – high quality, affordable healthcare – nothing less.

View Photos From The Event…


Inside Cooper Union
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

On October 13th the ACLU and Pen American Center co-sponsored a meeting at Cooper Union in N.Y.C. The subject, “Reckoning With Torture: Memos and Testimonies from the ‘War on Terror’”, attracted hundreds – more than enough people to fill the Great Hall where issues of major importance have been discussed and debated for about 150 years. Over the past 5 years the American Civil Liberties Union has been struggling to find documents that would shed light on the origins and extent or torture, first seen with the 2004 release of the photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. Before that the ACLU, Center for Constitutional Rights, Physicians for Human Rights, Veterans for Common Sense, and Veterans for Peace filed a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for documents concerning the treatment of prisoners outside the U.S.

The FOIA request was meant to determine whether the government’s interrogation policies were consistent with domestic and international law. Nothing happened. Stonewalling. But after the photographs were released the ACLU filed a lawsuit to enforce the request. The court ordered the Bush Administration to respond to the request. Since that ruling more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released.

Collectively the documents show that the administration’s lawyers invented a new legal framework – what President Bush once called a ‘new paradigm’ – meant to permit barbaric interrogation practices and to insulate interrogators and officials from prosecution for war crimes. Relying on this new legal framework, interrogators subjected prisoners to abuse and even torture. The documents show that the abuse of prisoners was systemic, not limited to Abu Ghraib, and indeed that hundreds of prisoners have died in the custody of the U.S. military and that many others have disappeared into the CIA’s secret detention system.

In the course of the evening writers, lawyers, artists, a former military interrogator, and a former CIA agent read from the pages that brought these abuses to light. There were also videos of former Guantanamo prisoners, Moazzam Begg, Omar Deghayes, Rual Ahmed and Shafiq Rasul, describing the nightmare of their arrest and treatment.


K. Anthony Appiah, President of PEN American Center
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

K. Anthony Appiah, President of PEN American Center, opened the meeting. He said that he was shamed by the record of U.S. torture and that we, our people, created Guantanamo. But voices against torture are American too. Tonight we will read the record of torture – the place we must start.


Jameel Jaffer, the Director of the ACLU National Security Project
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Jameel Jaffer, the Director of the ACLU National Security Project, then spoke. He said that although the documents we will be hearing about tonight have been declassified by the government, there are thousands more that are still being withheld. Also, very little is being done about those that have been released. There has been no congressional investigation and, in fact, congress is considering a bill that would allow the remaining torture documents to remain hidden.


Don Delillo
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

20 people then read from 20 documents. The accounts of victims were remarkably similar, making it clear that there was a well thought out sadistic protocol. Don Delillo read from a CIA background paper sent to the Justice Department’s office of Legal Counsel, 12/30/04. It states that the purpose of the interrogation is to get information, therefore, psychological and physical pressures have to escalate. A state of “learned helplessness and dependence” has to be created. The capture leads to shock, then rendition to a black site in shackles while deprived of light and sound. There is to be no interaction with the prisoner. When he arrives at the black site the hood or blindfold is removed and he sees that he is surrounded by Americans – they are in complete control. Apprehension is created. His head and face are shaved. Nude photos are taken. Then there is a medical and psychological examination.


David Cole
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

David Cole continued, he read from a legal memo signed by Jay Bybee (now a federal judge), Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s office of Legal Counsel, 8/1/02, relating to the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah. It said that he was a high level prisoner and they should “dislocate his expectations” to grasp his attention. Then there is an escalating list of punishments, all very specific, that begins with a slap in the fleshy part of the cheek using fingers only, moves on to being smashed into a wall that made a loud sound and caused the prisoner to bounce back towards the interrogator, and finally ends with waterboarding. There is a lot of instruction regarding the waterboarding process: the angle of the board, the perception of drowning, how long it should take (20 minutes), and that it should be done repeatedly. Bybee writes that there is no pain or severe suffering in waterboarding – it is a “controlled acute episode”.


Art Spiegelman
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

Art Spiegelman read excerpts from Abu Zubaydah’s first hand account of his interrogation in a secret CIA prison – part of a Red Cross Report, 2/14/07. He tells how he was beaten, smashed into walls, put into confinement in a small dark container, and repeatedly waterboarded causing him to vomit and lose consciousness.


George Saunders
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

George Saunders read a statement by a German citizen, Khaled El-Masri, 12/18/05, a father of 5 children and a victim of the CIA’s “extraordinary rendition program” (kidnapping with the intent to torture). He gave an account of being seized, hooded, dealing with the horror of sensory deprivation, beatings, injections that caused blackouts, interrogations, and a 27 day hunger strike which led to painful tube feedings. One day he was put on a plane and dumped in Albania. From there he made his way back to Germany. He never received an explanation or an apology.

Jonathan Ames read a selection of emails written by FBI personnel describing abusive interrogations at Guantanamo, 6/2003 – 7/2004. There were reports of very loud music, lights flashing, he saw a detainee wrapped in an Israeli flag, and aggressive and improper techniques used by the military and contractors. Some Department of Defense interrogators were claiming to work for the FBI. They also said that no information was being collected. Instructions to the FBI personnel from the FBI were for them to stay within FBI policy guidelines and use the proven methods.

Paul Auster read a series of autopsy and death reports of detainees in U.S. custody in Iraq and Afghanistan, 12/02 – 11/04. One after another, they were ruled to be homicides resulting from blunt force injuries, asphyxia, and strangulation.


Ishmael Beah
(Photo: Bud Korotzer / NLN)

The final report was read by Ishmael Beah. It was the declaration by Lt. Col. Darrel Vandeveld, former lead prosecutor in the military commission case of Mohammed Jawad, a 16 year old. He said that the attacker in the crime which Jawad was being held for was never seen. Other people had confessed to the crime. The prisoner was mistreated, put through sleep deprivation, he made several suicide attempts by banging his head against walls,and he could not have written the confession the government was presenting because he was illiterate. There was no justification for keeping him prisoner for 6 years. Lt. Col. Vandeveld asked JAG to be relieved of his position and they did as he requested.

It has been said that torture is not about getting information, It is about the suppression, domination and terrorizing of the enemy. Listening to the sickening descriptions of the victims, descriptions of extreme light and sound, sensory deprivation,nudity to humiliate and make people feel more vulnerable, beatings, extreme sleep deprivation, extremes of temperature, being enclosed in a tight dark place in a stress position with insects, waterboarding, and murder, and then hearing the cold, “scientific” equally sickening instructions written by bureaucrats who are devoid of any sense that they are dealing with human beings that will die or never recover, it is hard to believe that we are now openly discussing torture as a policy to be considered. How did we, as a nation, reach this point of moral depravity?

Chris Hedges, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and author, once said that he has covered wars all over the world and he has seen torture in very many places. It is a weapon of war, part of the us vs. them culture of war, and an inevitable part of the dehumanization, the need to enhance death. Building an empire, he said, destroys democracy.

The ACLU and PEN believe that, “We can’t sweep the abuses of the last 8 years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative. To restore the rule of law, we must condemn these violations of our Constitution, domestic and international law, and seek to hold accountable those who authorized the abuse and torture of prisoners in America’s name.”

View Photos From The Event…

Posted by TAG - October 16, 2009 | Editorial




NLN Editor Thomas Good: “How green is Toyota?”
(Photo: Thomas Good / NLN)

NEW YORK — Do you own a Toyota? Click Here: http://pol.moveon.org/toyota/


Military rape victim Sandra Lee with Colonel Ann Wright (U.S. Army, Ret.)
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

NEW YORK — October 9, 2009. To kick-off a weeklong events of national campaigns to educate the public on recent reports that one in three women in the military are raped, Veterans for Peace, the sponsor of this campaign, along with activists from local New York City area groups descended upon the Times Square Recruiting Station in Manhattan. A press conference was conducted by retired U.S. Army Colonel Ann Wright. Media attention on this topic was quite impressive. The cameras and reporters swarmed Col. Wright as she made her statement.

“It is a responsibility of us as veterans to warn young women that according to Veterans Administration studies, one in three women are sexually assaulted or raped while they are in the military,” Wright said.


Eve Ensler, Vagina Monologues author
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

There to speak about her first hand experience was Staff Sergeant Sandra Lee, who was raped twice in 2005 while serving at a combat duty station in Iraq. This was her first time speaking about her trauma in public. She was physically, emotionally and mentally upset when recounting her abuse in the military by a member of her own unit. She stood, supported by Ann Wright and Eve Ensler, author and playwright of the “Vagina Monologues and V-Day”, as she recounted the details of how she survived her ordeal to come forward and face the sea of cameras in Times Square.

VFP chapters will have actions during the week of October 13 – 16 at Armed Forces recruiting stations around the country — demanding that military recruiters alert women who are thinking about joining the military about the high possibility they will be raped while in the controlled, highly disciplined military environment. Sexual assault and rape of women and men in the U.S. military increased so dramatically during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that in 2005 then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld formed a task force on sexual assault, however, the task force did not meet until 2008. Nearly one-third of a nationwide sample of women veterans who sought health care through the Veterans Administration said they experienced rape or attempted rape during their service. Of that group, 37 percent said they were raped multiple times and 14 percent reported they were gang-raped. The Department of Defense has been reluctant to release statistics on sexual assault of men in the military, but anecdotal evidence indicates that the statistics are alarmingly high. Over the past 10 years, more than 700 U.S. Army recruiters have been accused of sexual misconduct or rape. Sixty years of U.S. military studies and task forces reveal that, since women began entering the military in larger numbers, incidences of rape and assault have increased.

Also speaking at the rally and press conference was Leah Bolger, National Vice-President of Veterans for Peace. She stated that although she was not herself a victim while she served 20 years in the U.S. Navy as an officer, she had witnessed abuse inflicted on others under her command.


Protesters marched through Times Square
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

After the conference, 50 activists marched on the Times Square Recruiting Station, holding signs announcing “STOP RAPE IN THE MILITARY!” and bumper stickers stating that “1 in 3 women are raped in the military”, which they planned to paste on the windows of the target building. But this proved unsuccessful since there was a media event surrounding the area, and although Colonel Wright demanded access to the recruiting station building, none was granted. The spirited continued around “military island” — positioned on 47th and Broadway.

For more information please visit:

Recruiter Sexual Abuse: Friendly Fire at Home?: http://www.alternet.org/story/57378/

Pentagon Acts to Crack Down on Recruiter Misconduct:
http://www.boston.com/news/nation/washington/articles/2007/03/19/pentagon_acts_to_crack_down_on_recruiter_misconduct/

The Women’s War:
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/18/magazine/18cover.html?ref=magazine

Amy Goodman, “The Private War of Women Soldiers: Female Vet, Soldier speak Out on rising Sexual Assault Within US Military: http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=07/03/08/1443232

To view videos from the press conference:

Statement by Ann Wright:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sbawokk62xo

Statement by Staff Sgt. Sandra Lee:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o75YetoTCyw

Statement by Leah Bolger, VFP:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AS4DOZxWh70

March to Times Square Recruiting Station with Ann, Eve Ensler and Staff Sgt. Lee:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gNKQByGd2aU

Marching around the recruiting station:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ay-6xOGAvNw


Protesters gathered outside McMahon’s office
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

On Friday, October 9, members of Movement for a Democratic Society, and other local activists, gathered in front of Congressman McMahon’s (D, NY-13) Staten Island office location on New Dorp Lane. Angry about eight years of occupation of Afghanistan, and the continuing war in Iraq, anti-war group members decided to end the honeymoon with their Democratic congressman — who courted the progressive vote in the last election.

Protesters arrived at 6 p.m. on Friday with signs stating “TROOPS HOME NOW!” “NO TO EMPIRE”, and “National Guard Home Now.” Seven pair of empty combat boots were lined up in front of the Congressman’s office doors on the sidewalk signifying the death toll in Afghanistan. As of Friday, 875 U.S. soldiers and marines had been killed since the invasion. An untold number of Afghan civilians have also been killed.


Leafleting near McMahon’s office
(Photo: Elaine Brower / NLN)

Flyers were handed out declaring that the war in Afghanistan has cost too much money and too many deaths. McMahon has spent a brief time in Congress, has voted twice to fund the wars, and has positioned himself with those who oppose public option or single payer health care.

With the upcoming discussions in Congress around sending more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, and continued funding of both wars, activists said “enough is enough!” They are demanding that their Congressman, who was voted in on the wave of public sentiment against the war, listen to their views by bringing all the troops home now. Congressman McMahon has met with Peace Action members, but has yet to vote with his constituency.

Activists vow to turn up the heat on McMahon in the upcoming weeks and months.