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Rohrabacher at War: Rendering democracy in the homeland

by John Earl Tuesday, May. 29, 2007 at 8:51 PM 714-656-3607 Huntington Beach/Cosa Mesa, California

Man of War: Congressman Dana Rohrabacher says that he doesn't care if 50 innocent people are falsely accused of terrorism, even, apparently, if it means killing American Democracy. This story was submitted to the Orange Coast Voice newspaper May 24, 2007 and will appear that newspaper's June edition, available online also at John Earl is the editor of that paper.

Rohrabacher at War: ...
320px-bush_signing_military_commissions_act_of_2006.jpg, image/jpeg, 320x249

Rohrabacher at War

Rendering democracy in the homeland, Congressman Dana Rohrabacher wants your habeas corpse

By John Earl

OC Voice editor

Mistakes are made during war, says Dana Rohrabacher, the Republican congressman serving Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa.

But he doesn’t care if “one or two,” or 50, people are falsely imprisoned and tortured without legal recourse by the government, as long as the purpose is to protect America and its allies from another 9-11.

“We’re at war, and we’ve got to make sure that we do not let go 50 terrorists, who will go out and plant a bomb in London and kill 20,000 people, in order to protect that one person who we arrested accidentally,” Rohrabacher said.

But he left out what should be the fine print for President George Bush’s “war on terror:” Warning, the arbitrary imprisonment and torture of detainees weaken national security and kill democracy.

Rohrabacher’s comments were made in the context of his role as a member of the House Committee on Trans Atlantic Relations during its April 17 hearing on “extraordinary rendition,” the Bush administration’s program of kidnapping suspected terrorists to detention centers, like the American base at Guantảnamo, Cuba, where they are tortured and held in isolation for years without legal recourse.

Against the law

Carried out largely in secret by the CIA, FBI and U.S. armed forces, those practices are condemned by Amnesty International and the Red Cross as violations of international and United States law, including the Bill of Rights.

Since January of 2002, Guantảnamo has detained 775 prisoners representing 45 nationalities, including children as young as 13-years-old. As of late 2006, 385 prisoners remained locked up inside its walls, including four children, according to Amnesty International in a recent report.

Guantảnamo’s prisoners have been kept in mesh cages like kennel dogs, or in long-term isolation inside dungeon-like rooms devoid of windows or natural light, according to Amnesty International.

A secret Red Cross report revealed by the “New York Times” (“Red Cross Finds Detainee Abuse in Guantảnamo,” Nov. 30, 2004) described psychological and physical abuse heaped upon prisoners at Guantảnamo, as well as “humiliating acts, solitary confinement, temperature extremes, [and] use of forced positions.” It called the prison’s conditions “an intentional system of cruel, unusual treatment and a form of torture.”

The children detained at Guantảnamo are given the same abuse meted out to adults, although international law mandates that they receive special protection (“Age is not a determining factor in detention,” said the US Department of Defense in 2004).

Torture and Suicide

That abuse is so bad that over 40 prisoners have attempted suicide in the past five years, Amnesty International reported. Three of them, including one 17-year-old, were successful.

The allegations of torture at Guantảnamo are remarkably similar to torture inflicted upon detainees at American prison facilities in Afghanistan and Abu Ghraib, Iraq. Those cases have been confirmed by videos and photos, military insiders and official inquiries.

Black Sites, Tarnished Image

Similar conditions have been reported at covert CIA prisons, called black sites, where some victims of rendition are held. Others are transported to countries where torture of detainees is the norm.

Hundreds of people have been targeted by the U.S. for extraordinary rendition, say human rights groups, but government secrecy makes it difficult to get accurate figures.

Not a single detainee picked up through extraordinary rendition or held at Guantảnamo has been tried or convicted in an American court of law, even after years of confinement. It’s the kind of situation that one would expect to exist in a dictatorship, not a free and democratic society.

Julianne Smith, director of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), told the congressional panel, led by William Delahunt (D-MA), that America’s declining public image in Europe, due to the Bush administration’s disregard for human rights and international law, threatens its ability to work with its most important allies to stop terrorism. “[T]here are already signs that negative public opinion is making it more difficult for political leaders in Europe to cooperate with the U.S.,” she warned.

Rohrabacher’s Reality

Rohrabacher had different concerns, however. An audible moan from a shocked and awed audience floated across the hearing room when he said “mistakes” of false imprisonment and torture were an “unfortunate consequence” of the war on terror.

“I hope it’s your families that suffer the consequences [of not catching terrorists],” the congressman cursed in return.

So much for the traditional American jurisprudence of “innocent until proven guilty.” Guess our society should throw out the old Benjamin Franklin adage, “That it is better one hundred guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer."

Rohrabacher claimed that his views reflected the needs of the “real world,” but his theory of jurisprudence, which assumes that the accused are guilty until proven innocent, has done far greater harm than good throughout history.

It brought execution to hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children during the European witch-hunts of the 15th and 16th centuries, for example, when torture was used to force alleged witches to confess their crimes against Christianity and name accomplices.

But the real goal of the accusers, despite their seemingly single-minded fanaticism and paranoia in protecting the one true faith, wasn’t to seek truth but to consolidate their power by eliminating their fantastical enemies and plundering their fortunes.

Any witch hunt is based on a big lie from which many other lies grow in order to sustain it, but that lie can sprout from a single kernel of truth.

Based on Lies

Terrorists did fly through the air on Sept. 11, 2001 and crash into the World Trade Center, killing 3,000 people.

But Bush’s claim that Iraqis were in league with Bin Laden and had hidden “weapons of mass destruction,” that directly threatened the American homeland, were lies that grew from the ashes of Ground Zero.

As a cruel result of that lie, over 3,000 more Americans, along with at least tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, including women and children, have died in the President’s seemingly endless war.

Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act of 1966

Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions expressly prohibits the kinds of torture alleged at Guantảnamo and other U.S. prison cites, but there have been no prosecutions of high level U.S. personnel under anti-torture law or the War Crimes Act, despite the U.S. military’s own documented evidence of violations.

The Geneva Conventions held after World War II codified international laws to protect POWs and civilians from inhumane treatment during wartime.

Article 3 provides the minimum human rights standards that must be upheld in armed conflicts regarding all noncombatants, i.e., anyone who is effectively out of the fight, either through surrender, imprisonment or injury.

Habeas Corpus

It also requires that sentences, including execution, only be carried out after due process of law through with “all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples,” including the right of habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus is the right of every imprisoned person or their designated agent to appear before a judge to determine whether they can be lawfully detained or not. Habeas corpus is guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution in the 6th Amendment. It implies a fair and speedy trial, safeguards against wrongful prosecution and arbitrary detention by tyrants and is considered the legal foundation of any free and democratic society.

The 1996 War Crimes Act put teeth into America’s adherence to the Geneva Convention by holding high ranking government officials, including CIA and the president, accountable for war crimes through fines, imprisonment or execution.

Hamdam v. Rumsfeld

Fearing that top Bush administration officials could be subjected to war crimes prosecution under a future president, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez urged President Bush to unilaterally declare that Article 3 does not apply to the treatment of suspected Taliban or Al-Qaeda captives, who would be tried by military tribunal (instead of a regular court) without the right of habeas corpus.

That attempt to escape accountability and kill habeas corpus was rebuffed by U.S. Supreme Court decision (Hamdam v. Rumsfeld) in 2006 that stated that the President must abide by the rules of the Geneva Conventions, including Article 3, and that all detainees must be tried in a regular court of law.

Military Commissions Act

But despite that rebuke, the Supreme Court allowed Congress the option to change the law and give the president everything he wanted, and that’s exactly what happened with overwhelming passage of the Military Commissions Act (MCA) in October, 2007.

For the purpose of prosecuting enemy combatants, the MCA replaces courts with military commissions whose procedures are determined by the president and are, no matter how arbitrary, beyond appeal of a any other court. It also makes virtually every kind of torture that the Bush administration was responsible for since 9-11, or will be responsible for in the future both legal and beyond judicial review in a civilian court.

That means that the Bush administration can prosecute others—without providing them due process of law—but are immune from prosecution for their own war crimes.

Habeas Corpse

But most important, however, is realizing that MCA means the end of habeas corpus. For any citizen, according to officials of the Bush administration.

A less informed interpretation is that the loss of habeas corpus in the MCA applies only to non-citizens, but the more legally astute note that two text passages within it—and a different reading by the Bush administration indicates that—it could apply to citizens as well, as journalist Robert Parry (“Still No Habeas Rights for You,” Feb. 3, 2007) and others have pointed out.

Indeed, the MCA states that “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission” (emphasis added).

Another passage says that “any person who breeches his allegiance” to the United States by aiding its enemies shall be subject to punishment by a (extra-judicial) military commission (emphasis added). Breeching “allegiance,” Parry reasons, would certainly refer to a U.S. citizen.

But U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez has an even more worrisome view of habeas corpus, a precedent of definition manipulation reminiscent of his work on allowing torture. Testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee, last January, Gonzalez said, “There is no expressed grant of habeas in the Constitution; there’s [only] a prohibition against taking it away.”

Western Jihad

Dr. Michael Scheuer, the Georgetown University professor and best selling author, who created America’s first extraordinary rendition program for the CIA (under President Clinton) and ran its first Bin Laden unit from 1996-99, inspired our representative Rohrabacher with his own westernized version of Jihad, which he expressed angrily throughout and, at times, with a lip-smacking disregard for the fundamental human rights of his past victims.

When asked about Al Qaeda suspects rendered during the Clinton administration, Scheuer admitted that the conditions they faced in foreign prisons “probably weren’t up to U.S. standards,” but that didn’t bother him.

“This is a matter of no concern, as the rendition program’s goal was to protect America and the rendered (alleged) fighters delivered to the Middle Eastern governments are now either dead or in places from which they can not harm America,” Scheuer said, with his face muscles noticeably twitching, erratically.

“Mission accomplished, as the saying goes,” he added, with a triumphant air.

Did the legal analysis of CIA lawyers conclude that the seized suspects were “unlawful enemy combatants,” asked Chairman Delahunt, during the hearing in April.

“I neither know nor care sir,” Scheuer defiantly answered, “That’s not under my concern. My concern is to identify enemies to America.”

But what about those eventually determined to be innocent, Delahunt asked.

Even the CIA admitted to investigating 36 cases based on “erroneous rendition,” caused by flawed evidence, including mixing up names of terrorists with non terrorists.

“Mistakes are made, sir,” Scheuer smugly replied.

“It’s just a mistake,” Delahunt echoed with indignant resignation.

“Yes, they’re not Americans. (Laughing) I really don’t care.”

“They’re not Americans. You really don’t care,” Delahunt mocked

Scheuer looked straight ahead without answering.

“That’s very interesting,” Delahunt said softly.

“I never got paid, sir, to be a citizen of the world. I get paid to protect…”

Before Scheuer could finish, a disdainful Delahunt shot back that as a representative of the American people he must respect the Constitution and “that America has justifiably a certain claim to moral authority—and we do care.”

Rohrabacher Doesn’t Care

Rohrabacher, however, expressed his great respect for Scheuer and sought common ground with him: “You made the point that these terrorists rot in prison. You don’t care,” Rohrabacher said.

“I don’t, sir. No,” Scheuer responded.

“Thank you. I don’t either,” Rohrabacher concluded, smiling ear to ear.

Then he cited the execution of Nazi war criminals after World War II and lamented that “Today, our European friends, who are criticizing us, oppose the death penalty” and that when America imprisons “absolute terrorists” it is “scrutinized and called to task about our treatment of these people.”

Besides, asked Rohrabacher, “Is it not true Guantảnamo (base) has been inspected by Amnesty International and a plethora of human rights organizations, and [was] not found to be inhumane in its conditions?”

Julianne Smith deftly chose not to confront Rohrabacher’s willful ignorance of the condemnation of human rights violations at Guantảnamo by Amnesty International and the Red Cross, but she made it clear that statements by U.S. officials that they don’t care are “hypocritical” and tarnish America’s image abroad.

“We need European help in Iraq,” Smith said, “but it’s very hard…to go to Europe hat in hand to say please do more with the United States, when we have folks also on this side of the Atlantic saying ‘And, oh by the way, we don’t care how people are treated when they are interrogated.’”

Dangerous Apathy

Apathy may be a greater enemy to American democracy than hypocrisy.

Over 65 percent of Americans oppose the war in Iraq, but where are the masses of them demanding the impeachment of the president. A leader whose actions have lead to the death of thousands of innocent people; actions based on lies about weapons of mass destruction.

It is not a stretch to state that what the president, and his administration, with the help of Republicans and many Democrats in Congress, is doing to the Constitution parallels what Bin Laden did to the World Trade Center.

In his classic 1987 PBS television documentary, “Secret Government: The Constitution in Crisis,” Bill Moyers warned that “Once we decide that anything goes, anything can come home to haunt us.”

Moyer’s documentary was a classic and prophetic history lesson about how America’s many illegal wars against sovereign (and often democratic) nations have chipped away at its own democracy.

“But,” he said, “we don’t seem to learn from the lessons of history.”

Let’s listen to the lesson and do something. Write to Rohrabacher and the president and express your opposition to these constitutionally questionable practices. And push for a repeal of the Military Commissions Act and impeachment and prosecution of all those involved in our government that have broken their vow to “Uphold the Constitution of the United States.”

Honorable Dana Rohrabacher

101 Main Street, Suite 380

Huntington Beach, CA 92648

Phone: (714) 960-6483


2300 Rayburn House Office Building

Washington, D.C. 20515

Phone: (202) 225-2415

Note: The Orange Coast Voice is a progressive and independently owned and operaed month community newspaper that is distributed in Huntington Beach and Costa Mesa with a circulation of 15,000. Back issues may also be read at

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Rohrabacher: Congressman wants your habeas corpse.

by John Earl Tuesday, May. 29, 2007 at 8:51 PM 714-656-3607 Huntington Beach/Cosa Mesa, California

Rohrabacher:  Congre...
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File photo by John Earl, OC Voice.

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