December 4, 2006

NEA Joins Major Labor and Civil Rights Groups to Support Local School Districts

Supreme Court Hears Arguments
in School Desegregation Cases

NEA joins major labor and civil rights
groups to support local school districts

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments today on whether school districts should be able to use tailored policies to ensure equitable, diverse enrollment and desegregate local schools. The National Education Association and leading labor and civil rights organizations have supported the policies of the two school districts in question, saying the modest measures are one part of fulfilling the promise of Brown v. Board of Education .

“These districts saw schools re-segregating and knew that separation in education can never be equal,” said Reg Weaver, NEA president. “They made the decision to use modest, narrowly tailored policies to protect the right of every child to a quality public education. They’ve had the support of their local communities, and their plans have been successful. These school districts are models for how to achieve more equitable and diverse schools.”

The cases involve constitutional challenges to voluntary, race-conscious student assignment plans adopted by the Seattle School District and the Jefferson County Board of Education in Kentucky. They will likely be decided by June of 2007 in what will be the most significant Supreme Court decision in years on the role of race in education.

A host of other organizations, including the AFL-CIO, People for the American Way, American Federation of Teachers and 43 NEA state affiliates, signed on to NEA’s amicus brief in support of the schools.

The Seattle policy allows students to attend the schools of their choice and uses race as one of several tiebreakers for popular schools if it helps bring the schools closer to the district’s average racial composition. A similar program at issue in the Kentucky case aims to keep the Black student population between 15 and 50 percent of the total population at most schools. About 35 percent of the 97,000 students in the district are Black. In 2004, the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University called Kentucky schools among the most integrated in the nation.

In its brief, NEA urges the court to uphold the value of diversity in education, which a substantial body of research has shown actually improves the quality of education for all students. “Interactions among students of different races—with different vantage points, skills, and values—are of great consequence not only to the students’ development as citizens in a multiracial, democratic society, but also to their intellectual development,” the brief says. “The impact of encountering and dealing with racial diversity as part of their education is positively linked to growth in cognitive and academic skills of both racial minority and white students. These educational benefits are realized not only while children are in school, but in their subsequent lives as well.”

In the Supreme Court’s 2003 decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger and Gratz v. Bollinger , two cases involving challenges to the University of Michigan’s student admission plans, Justice O’Connor made similar points. She said diversity better prepares students to be successful and the benefits of diversity are “not theoretical, but real.”

“There’s no quick fix legal or legislative measure to ensure diversity, close the achievement gaps between students and wipe out a long history of discrimination in education,” Weaver said. “These policies are one part of a solution that must also include adequate and equitable funding, qualified teachers and professional respect to get the job done.”

A copy of NEA's complete amicus brief is available online (PDF, 209KB, 45 pages ).

The National Education Association is the nation's largest professional employee organization, representing 3.2 million elementary and secondary teachers, higher education faculty, education support professionals, school administrators, retired educators and students preparing to become teachers.

November 24, 2006

When Votes Disappear

November 24, 2006

You know what really had me terrified on Nov. 7? The all-too-real possibility of a highly suspect result. What would we have done if the Republicans had held on to the House by a narrow margin, but circumstantial evidence strongly suggested that a combination of vote suppression and defective - or rigged - electronic voting machines made the difference?

Skip to next paragraph...

Fortunately, it wasn't a close election. But the fact that our electoral system worked well enough to register an overwhelming Democratic landslide doesn't mean that things are O.K. There were many problems with voting in this election - and in at least one Congressional race, the evidence strongly suggests that paperless voting machines failed to count thousands of votes, and that the disappearance of these votes delivered the race to the wrong candidate.

Here's the background: Florida's 13th Congressional District is currently represented by Katherine Harris, who as Florida's secretary of state during the 2000 recount famously acted as a partisan Republican rather than a fair referee. This year Ms. Harris didn't run for re-election, making an unsuccessful bid for the Senate instead. But according to the official vote count, the Republicans held on to her seat, with Vern Buchanan, the G.O.P.candidate, narrowly defeating Christine Jennings, the Democrat.

The problem is that the official vote count isn't credible. In much of the13th District, the voting pattern looks normal. But in Sarasota County,which used touch-screen voting machines made by Election Systems and Software, almost 18,000 voters - nearly 15 percent of those who cast ballots using the machines - supposedly failed to vote for either candidate in the hotly contested Congressional race. That compares with under vote rates ranging from 2.2 to 5.3 percent in neighboring counties.

Reporting by The Herald-Tribune of Sarasota, which interviewed hundreds of voters who called the paper to report problems at the polls, strongly suggests that the huge apparent under vote was caused by bugs in the ES&S software.

About a third of those interviewed by the paper reported that they couldn't even find the Congressional race on the screen. This could conceivably have been the result of bad ballot design, but many of them insisted that they looked hard for the race. Moreover, more than 60 percent of those interviewed by The Herald-Tribune reported that they did cast a vote in the Congressional race - but that this vote didn't show up on the ballot summary page they were shown at the end of the voting process. If there were bugs in the software, the odds are that they threw the election to the wrong candidate. An Orlando Sentinel examination of other votes cast by those who supposedly failed to cast a vote in the Congressional race shows that they strongly favored Democrats, and Mr.Buchanan won the official count by only 369 votes. The fact that Mr.Buchanan won a recount - that is, a recount of the votes the machines happened to record - means nothing.

Although state officials have certified Mr. Buchanan as the victor, they've promised an audit of the voting machines. But don't get your hopes up: as in2000, state election officials aren't even trying to look impartial.

To oversee the audit, the state has chosen as its "independent" expert Prof. Alec Yasinsac of Florida State University - a Republican partisan who made an appearance on the steps of the Florida Supreme Court during the 2000 recount battle wearing a "Bush Won" sign.

Ms. Jennings has now filed suit with the same court, demanding a new election. She deserves one. But for the nation as a whole, the important thing isn't who gets seated to represent Florida's 13th District. It's whether the voting disaster there leads to legislation requiring voter verification and a paper trail.

And I have to say that the omens aren't good. I've been shocked at how little national attention the mess in Sarasota has received. Here we have as clear a demonstration as we're ever likely to see that warnings from computer scientists about the dangers of paperless electronic voting are valid - and most Americans probably haven't even heard about it.

As far as I can tell, the reason Florida-13 hasn't become a major national story is that neither control of Congress nor control of the White House is on the line. But do we have to wait for a constitutional crisis to realize that we're in danger of becoming a digital-age banana republic?

October 19, 2006

After Pat's Birthday: A Soldier Speaks Out from Iraq

After Pat’s Birthday
Posted on Oct 19, 2006
By Kevin Tillman

Editor’s note: Kevin Tillman joined the Army with his brother Pat in 2002, and they served together in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pat was killed in Afghanistan on April 22, 2004. Kevin, who was discharged in 2005, has written a powerful, must-read document.

It is Pat’s birthday on November 6, and elections are the day after. It gets me thinking about a conversation I had with Pat before we joined the military. He spoke about the risks with signing the papers. How once we committed, we were at the mercy of the American leadership and the American people. How we could be thrown in a direction not of our volition. How fighting as a soldier would leave us without a voice… until we got out.

Much has happened since we handed over our voice:
Somehow we were sent to invade a nation because it was a direct threat to the American people, or to the world, or harbored terrorists, or was involved in the September 11 attacks, or received weapons-grade uranium from Niger, or had mobile weapons labs, or WMD, or had a need to be liberated, or we needed to establish a democracy, or stop an insurgency, or stop a civil war we created that can’t be called a civil war even though it is. Something like that.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow our elected leaders were subverting international law and humanity by setting up secret prisons around the world, secretly kidnapping people, secretly holding them indefinitely, secretly not charging them with anything, secretly torturing them. Somehow that overt policy of torture became the fault of a few “bad apples” in the military.

Somehow back at home, support for the soldiers meant having a five-year-old kindergartner scribble a picture with crayons and send it overseas, or slapping stickers on cars, or lobbying Congress for an extra pad in a helmet. It’s interesting that a soldier on his third or fourth tour should care about a drawing from a five-year-old; or a faded sticker on a car as his friends die around him; or an extra pad in a helmet, as if it will protect him when an IED throws his vehicle 50 feet into the air as his body comes apart and his skin melts to the seat.

Somehow the more soldiers that die, the more legitimate the illegal invasion becomes.

Somehow American leadership, whose only credit is lying to its people and illegally invading a nation, has been allowed to steal the courage, virtue and honor of its soldiers on the ground.

Somehow those afraid to fight an illegal invasion decades ago are allowed to send soldiers to die for an illegal invasion they started.

Somehow faking character, virtue and strength is tolerated.

Somehow profiting from tragedy and horror is tolerated.

Somehow the death of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people is tolerated.

Somehow subversion of the Bill of Rights and The Constitution is tolerated.

Somehow suspension of Habeas Corpus is supposed to keep this country safe.

Somehow torture is tolerated.

Somehow lying is tolerated.

Somehow reason is being discarded for faith, dogma, and nonsense.

Somehow American leadership managed to create a more dangerous world.

Somehow a narrative is more important than reality.

Somehow America has become a country that projects everything that it is not and condemns everything that it is.

Somehow the most reasonable, trusted and respected country in the world has become one of the most irrational, belligerent, feared, and distrusted countries in the world.

Somehow being politically informed, diligent, and skeptical has been replaced by apathy through active ignorance.

Somehow the same incompetent, narcissistic, virtue less, vacuous, malicious criminals are still in charge of this country.

Somehow this is tolerated.

Somehow nobody is accountable for this.

In a democracy, the policy of the leaders is the policy of the people. So don’t be shocked when our grand kids bury much of this generation as traitors to the nation, to the world and to humanity. Most likely, they will come to know that “somehow” was nurtured by fear, insecurity and indifference, leaving the country vulnerable to unchecked, unchallenged parasites.

Luckily this country is still a democracy. People still have a voice. People still can take action. It can start after Pat’s birthday.

Brother and Friend of Pat Tillman,

Kevin Tillman

October 12, 2006

Pentagon Surveillance of Peace Activists

Documents Shed New Light on Pentagon Surveillance of Peace Activists (10/12/2006)


Defense Department Tracked Quakers, Student Groups

NEW YORK -- Documents released today by the American Civil Liberties Union reveal new details of Pentagon surveillance of Americans opposed to the Iraq war, including Quakers and student groups. The documents show that the Pentagon was keeping tabs on non-violent protesters by collecting information and storing it in a military anti-terrorism database.

"There is simply no reason why the United States military should be monitoring the peaceful activities of American citizens who oppose U.S. war policies," said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. "When information about non-violent protest activity is included in a military anti-terrorism database, all Americans should be concerned about the unchecked authority this administration has seized in the name of fighting terrorism."

The documents come in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit filed by the ACLU earlier this year after evidence surfaced that the Pentagon was secretly conducting surveillance of protest activities, anti-war organizations and groups opposed to military recruitment policies. The Pentagon shared the information with other government agencies through the Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) database.

The TALON database was intended to track groups or individuals with links to terrorism, but the documents released today show that the Pentagon gathered information on anti-war protesters using sources from the Department of Homeland Security, local police departments and FBI Joint Terrorism Task Forces.

Among the documents are reports on protest activities across the country organized or supported by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker peace group. The source for the information is identified as "a special agent of the federal protective service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security," who is apparently on the AFSC e-mail list.

One document, which is labeled "potential terrorist activity," lists events such as a "Stop the War NOW!" rally in Akron, Ohio on March 19, 2005. The source noted that the rally "will have a March and Reading of Names of War Dead" and that marchers would pass a military recruitment station and the local FBI office along the way.

Also included in the documents is information on a series of protests mistakenly identified as taking place in Springfield, Illinois (the protests actually occurred in Springfield, Massachusetts). According to the document, "Source received an e-mail from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), e-mail address: [REDACTED] that stated that on March 18-20, a series of protest actions were planned in the Springfield, IL area… to focus on actions at military recruitment offices with the goals to include: raising awareness, education, visibility in community, visibility to recruiters as part of a national day of action."

"Spying on citizens for merely executing their constitutional rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is chilling and marks a troubling trend," said Joyce Miller, AFSC Assistant General Secretary for Justice and Human Rights. "Our country is built upon a system of checks and balances. The Pentagon’s actions violate the rule of law and strike a severe blow against our Constitution."

Another document provides further details of surveillance of a protest planned by the Broward Anti-War Coalition during the Fort Lauderdale Air & Sea Show, which was previously revealed in an NBC news report. The document released today reveals that the Miami-Dade Police Department provided the Defense Department with information on the protest, and that the U.S. Army Recruiting Command and the Joint Terrorism Task Force in Miami were also briefed on the planned protest, which was intended to "counter military recruitment and the ‘pro-war’ message with ‘guerrilla theater and other forms of subversive propaganda.’"

The ACLU said it is concerned that the Defense Department cites acts of civil disobedience and vandalism as cause to label anti-war protests as "radical" and potential terrorist threats in some of the TALON reports. In a document listing upcoming Atlanta area protests by the Georgia Peace and Justice Coalition, the Pentagon - citing the Department of Homeland Security as its source - states that the Students for Peace and Justice network poses a threat to DOD personnel.

To support that claim, the TALON report cites previous acts of civil disobedience in California and Texas, including sit-ins, disruptions at recruitment offices and street theater. Describing one protest in Austin, Texas, the document notes: "The protesters blocked the entrance to the recruitment office with two coffins, one draped with an American flag and the other covered with an Iraqi flag, taped posters on the window of the office and chanted, ‘No more war and occupation. You don’t have to die for an education.’"

"The Pentagon has gone too far in collecting information on Americans who pose no real threat to national security," said Wizner. "It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust for the military to play any role in monitoring critics of administration policies."

The documents released today are online at: (Florida protests) (Georgia, California and Texas protests) (AFSC protests in Massachusetts and Ohio)

More information on government surveillance of Americans is online at:

September 29, 2006

Paul W. Mann

Paul W Mann died suddenly Friday, September 29, 2006 at Iowa Methodist Medical Center. He graduated from East Monona High School in 1965. Paul earned his BS in Education at Central Missouri State University in 1969 and a Masters of Public Administration from Drake in 1981.

Paul taught in the Des Moines Public Schools from 1969 until present. He had been a social science and English teacher, a School Within a School Work Advisor, In-School Suspension Advisor, and currently was a world civilization and government teacher at Central Academy. He had served as President of the Des Moines Education Association (8 years), National Co-Chair of the NEA Peace and Justice Caucus, NCUEA Midwest Regional Director, NEA and ISEA Resolutions Committees, NEA Congressional Contact Team, and ISEA PAC Vice President. He also served as a member of the DSM Teacher Retirement System Advisory Board. Paul was a delegate for the NEA Representative Assembly for the past 30 years. He currently served on the DMEA and ISEA Executive Boards. Paul was a national delegate to the National Democratic Conventions (1976 - 1984). He was also a member of the Iowa Democratic Party Central Committee and was active in the Democratic Party.

"...Did you ever know that you're OUR hero..."

In 1977, Paul accepted President Carter's invitation to attend his White House Reception following his 1977 Inaugural Address (and Paul played Peter Gunn on the piano in the White House)! In 1980, Paul attended a White House Briefing on Strategic Arms Limitation Talks by US Secretary of Defense, Zbigniew Bryzezinski. In 1981, Paul was one of 2 people nominated by Drake University to be a US Presidential Management Intern. In 1989, he received the DMEA Ruth Foster Award.

Paul worked tirelessly to improve conditions for students and educators alike. Paul dedicated his knowledge and leadership to Des Moines Public Schools for 37 years. He was an effective, creative, caring, fun loving, and enthusiastic teacher.

Whatever Paul pursued, he did with passion and joy which is evident by his love of spending time with his family and numerous friends, helping others, creating simulations for his classes, traveling, astronomy, archeology, geology, history, politics, canoeing, multiple personal collections, biking, bocce ball, soccer, RAGBRAI, woodworking, puzzles, animals, singing and music.
We will miss you at the microphone sir... I think that our assembly will be quiet in your absence. That is why we will celebrate you...and why we will miss you.

Memorials may be made to the Paul W. Mann Peace and Justice Fund or the Paul W. Mann Memorial Fund.

September 17, 2006

The Longer the War, the Larger the Lies

The Longer the War, the Larger the Lies
by Frank Rich
The New York Times
Sunday 17 September 2006

Rarely has a television network presented a more perfectly matched double feature. President Bush's 9/11 address on Monday night interrupted ABC's "Path to 9/11" so seamlessly that a single network disclaimer served them both: "For dramatic and narrative purposes, the movie contains fictionalized scenes, composite and representative characters and dialogue, as well as time compression."

No kidding: "The Path to 9/11" was false from the opening scene,when it put Mohamed Atta both in the wrong airport (Boston instead of Portland, Me.) and on the wrong airline (American instead of US Airways).It took Mr. Bush but a few paragraphs to warm up to his first fictionalization for dramatic purposes: his renewed pledge that "we would not distinguish between the terrorists and those who harbor or support them." Only days earlier the White House sat idly by while our ally Pakistan surrendered to Islamic militants in its northwest frontier, signing a "truce" and releasing Al Qaeda prisoners. Not only will Pakistan continue to harbor terrorists, Osama bin Laden probably among them, but it will do so without a peep from Mr. Bush.

You'd think that after having been caught concocting the scenario that took the nation to war in Iraq, the White House would mind the facts now. But this administration understands our culture all too well.This is a country where a cable news network (MSNBC) offers in-depth journalism about one of its anchors (Tucker Carlson) losing a prime-time dance contest and where conspiracy nuts have created a cottage industry of books and DVD's by arguing that hijacked jets did not cause 9/11 andthat the 9/11 commission was a cover-up. (The fictionalized "Path to9/11," supposedly based on the commission's report, only advanced the nuts' case.) If you're a White House stuck in a quagmire in an election year, what's the percentage in starting to tell the truth now? It's better to game the system.

The untruths are flying so fast that untangling them can be a full-time job. Maybe that's why I am beginning to find Dick Cheney almost refreshing. As we saw on "Meet the Press" last Sunday, these day she helpfully signals when he's about to lie. One dead giveaway is the word context, as in "the context in which I made that statement last year." The vice president invoked "context" to try to explain away both his bogus predictions: that Americans would be greeted as liberators in Iraq and that the insurgency (some 15 months ago) was in its "last throes."

The other instant tip-off to a Cheney lie is any variation on the phrase "I haven't read the story." He told Tim Russert he hadn't read The Washington Post's front-page report that the bin Laden trail had gone "stone cold" or the new Senate Intelligence Committee report(PDF)contradicting the White House's prewar hype about nonexistent links between Al Qaeda and Saddam. Nor had he read a Times front-page article about his declining clout. Or the finding by Mohamed El Baradei of the International Atomic Energy Agency just before the war that there was"no evidence of resumed nuclear activities" in Iraq. "I haven't looked at it; I'd have to go back and look at it again," he said, however nonsensically.

These verbal tics are so consistent that they amount to truth in packaging - albeit the packaging of evasions and falsehoods. By contrast, Condi Rice's fictions, also offered in bulk to television viewers to memorialize 9/11, are as knotty as a David Lynch screenplay.Asked by Chris Wallace of Fox News last Sunday if she and the president had ignored prewar "intelligence that contradicted your case," she refused to give up the ghost: "We know that Zarqawi was running a poisons network in Iraq," she insisted, as she continued to state again that "there were ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda" before the war.

Ms. Rice may be a terrific amateur concert pianist, but she's an even better amateur actress. The Senate Intelligence Committee report released only two days before she spoke dismissed all such ties. Saddam,who "issued a general order that Iraq should not deal with Al Qaeda,"saw both bin Laden and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi as threats and tried to hunt down Zarqawi when he passed through Baghdad in 2002. As for that Zarqawi"poisons network," the Pentagon knew where it was and wanted to attack it in June 2002. But as Jim Miklaszewski of NBC News reported more than two years ago, the White House said no, fearing a successful strike against Zarqawi might "undercut its case for going to war against Saddam." Zarqawi, meanwhile, escaped.

It was in an interview with Ted Koppel for the Discovery Channel,though, that Ms. Rice rose to a whole new level of fictionalizing by wrapping a fresh layer of untruth around her most notorious previous fiction. Asked about her dire prewar warning that a smoking gun might come in the form of a mushroom cloud, she said that "it wasn't meant as hyperbole." She also rewrote history to imply that she had been talking broadly about the nexus between "terrorism and a nuclear device" back then, not specifically Saddam - a rather deft verbal sleight-of-hand.

Ms. Rice sets a high bar, but Mr. Bush, competitive as always, was not to be outdone in his Oval Office address. Even the billing of his appearance was fiction. "It's not going to be a political speech," Tony Snow announced, knowing full well that the 17-minute text was largely Cuisinarted scraps from other recent political speeches, including those at campaign fund-raisers. Moldy canards of yore (Saddam "was a clear threat") were interspersed with promising newcomers: Iraq will be "a strong ally in the war on terror." As is often the case, the president was technically truthful. Iraq will be a strong ally in the war on terror - just not necessarily our ally. As Mr. Bush spoke, the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, was leaving for Iran to jolly up Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Perhaps the only way to strike back against this fresh deluge of fiction is to call the White House's bluff. On Monday night, for instance, Mr. Bush flatly declared that "the safety of America depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad." He once again invoked Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, asking, "Do we have the confidence to do in the Middle East what our fathers and grandfathers accomplished in Europe and Asia?"

Rather than tune this bluster out, as the country now does, let's try a thought experiment. Let's pretend everything Mr. Bush said is actually true and then hold him to his word. If the safety of America really depends on the outcome of the battle in the streets of Baghdad,then our safety is in grave peril because we are losing that battle. The security crackdown announced with great fanfare by Mr. Bush and Mr. Maliki in June is failing. Rosy American claims of dramatically falling murder rates are being challenged by the Baghdad morgue. Perhaps most tellingly, the Pentagon has now stopped including in its own tally the large numbers of victims killed by car bombings and mortar attacks in sectarian warfare.

And that's the good news. Another large slice of Iraq, Anbar Province (almost a third of the country), is slipping away so fast that a senior military official told NBC News last week that 50,000 to 60,000additional ground forces were needed to secure it, despite our huge sacrifice in two savage battles for Falluja. The Iraqi troops "standing up" in Anbar are deserting at a rate as high as 40 percent.

"Even the most sanguine optimist cannot yet conclude we are winning," John Lehman, the former Reagan Navy secretary, wrote of the Iraq war last month. So what do we do next? Given that the currentcourse is a fiasco, and that the White House demonizes any plan or timetable for eventual withdrawal as "cut and run," there's only one immediate alternative: add more manpower, and fast. Last week two conservative war supporters, William Kristol and Rich Lowry, called for exactly that - "substantially more troops." These pundits at least have the courage of Mr. Bush's convictions. Shouldn't Republicans in Congress as well?

After all, if what the president says is true about the stakes in Baghdad, it's tantamount to treason if Bill Frist, Rick Santorum and John Boehner fail to rally their party's Congressional majority to stave off defeat there. We can't emulate our fathers and grandfathers and whip today's Nazis and Communists with 145,000 troops. Roosevelt and Truman would have regarded those troop levels as defeatism.

The trouble, of course, is that we don't have any more troops, and supporters of the war, starting with Mr. Bush, don't want to ask American voters to make any sacrifices to provide them. They don't want to ask because they know the voters will tell them no. In the end, that is the hard truth the White House is determined to obscure, at least until Election Day, by carpet-bombing America with still more fictions about Iraq.

September 12, 2006

Lie by Lie: The Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline

Lie by Lie: The Mother Jones Iraq War Timeline (8/1/90 - 6/21/03)
In this timeline, we've assembled the history of the Iraq War to create a resource we hope will help resolve open questions of the Bush era. What did our leaders know and when did they know it? And, perhaps just as important, what red flags did we miss, and how could we have missed them? This is the second installment of the timeline, with a focus on how the war was lost in the first 100 days. This is an incredible site...just follow the timeline.

September 11, 2006

Bush Confesses to War Crimes

By Nicolas J S DaviesOnline Journal Contributing WriterSep 11, 2006, 00:31

Email this article Printer friendly page

George W. Bush's speech on September 6 amounted to a public confession to criminal violations of the 1996 War Crimes Act. He implicitly admitted authorizing disappearances, extrajudicial imprisonment, torture, transporting prisoners between countries and denying the International Committee of the Red Cross access to prisoners.

These are all serious violations of the Geneva Conventions. The War Crimes Act makes grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions and all violations of Common Article 3 punishable by fines, imprisonment or, if death results to the victim, the death penalty.

At the same time, Bush asked Congress to amend the War Crimes Act in order to retroactively protect him and other U.S. officials from prosecution for these crimes, and from civil lawsuits arising from them. He justified this on the basis that "our military and intelligence personnel involved in capturing and questioning terrorists could now be at risk of prosecution under the War Crimes Act . . . ," and insisted that “passing this legislation ought to be the top priority” for Congress between now and the election in November.

His profession of concern for military and intelligence personnel was utterly misleading. Military personnel charged with war crimes have always been, and continue to be, prosecuted under the Uniform Code of Military Justice rather than the War Crimes Act; and the likelihood of CIA interrogators being identified and prosecuted under the act is remote -- they are protected by the secrecy that surrounds all CIA operations.

The only real beneficiaries of such amendments to the War Crimes Act would be Bush himself and other civilian officials who have assisted him in these crimes -- Rumsfeld, Cheney, Gonzales, Rice, Cambone, Tenet, Goss, Negroponte and an unfortunately long list of their deputies and advisors.

Bush asked Congress to do three things in these amendments. “First, I am asking Congress to list the specific recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes under the War Crimes Act so our personnel can know clearly what is prohibited in the handling of terrorist enemies.”

One prong of the U.S. government’s attack on the Geneva Conventions has been the assertion that they do not provide a laundry list of what techniques of treatment and interrogation are permitted or prohibited. This is, of course, because the Geneva Conventions instead contain blanket prohibitions on torture, cruelty and humiliation. It has only been the efforts of U.S. officials to encroach on these prohibitions that may have raised doubt among U.S. personnel as to what is and is not permitted.

Captain Ian Fishback, the military interrogator who blew the whistle on Camp Nama (Nasty Assed Military Area) in Iraq, has contrasted his orders in Iraq with the rules he had been taught, "My feelings were that it clearly violated what I had learned as the appropriate way to treat detainees at West Point. . . . You don't force them to give you any information other than name, rank, and serial number. That's the gist of the Geneva Conventions." Captain Fishback’s account of the war crimes he was involved in at Camp Nama is in the latest edition of Esquire magazine.

Bush continued, “Second, I’m asking that Congress make explicit that by following the standards of the Detainee Treatment Act, our personnel are fulfilling America’s obligations under Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.”

This is the crucial change that Bush wants in the law. The War Crimes Act currently criminalizes murder, mutilation, cruel treatment, torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, and arbitrary punishment of prisoners, based on the prohibitions in Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions. Bush is asking Congress to replace the straightforward prohibitions in Common Article 3 with the provisions of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, which includes extraordinary protections for U.S. officials.

These protections are clearly designed to undermine the Geneva Conventions, the War Crimes Act and even the Nuremberg Principles. Section 1004(a) of the Detainee Treatment Act states that, in the case of “operational practices . . . that were officially authorized and determined to be lawful at the time they were conducted, it shall be a defense that such officer, employee, member of the Armed Forces or other agent did not know that the practices were unlawful and a person of ordinary good sense and understanding would not know the practices were unlawful.”

This would shift the legal standard from the clear one defined by the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act as it is presently written to one of who knew what when, requiring courts to conclude beyond reasonable doubt that the perpetrator knew his actions were unlawful. Even if opinions written by Alberto Gonzales, John Yoo, Jack Goldsmith and David Addington were found to have no legal basis at all, they could suffice to cast doubt on Bush and his colleagues’ knowledge of their crimes, which would be crucial under the amended law.

“Third," Bush said, "I’m asking that Congress make it clear that captured terrorists cannot use the Geneva Conventions as a basis to sue our personnel in courts, in U.S. courts. The men and the women who protect us should not have to fear lawsuits filed by terrorists because they’re doing their jobs.”

This would protect U.S. officials from civil liability for human rights violations. Prisoners released from Guantanamo have already filed such lawsuits against the U.S. government, Bush, Rumsfeld and other officials, which might help to explain why these amendments are Bush’s “top priority.”

The central myth of the War on Terror is that the world faces an unprecedented threat from terrorism that renders obsolete the existing laws of war and international behavior.

Bush framed his justification of torture in a classic use of this mistaken logic: “And in this new war, the most important source of information on where the terrorists are hiding and what they are planning is the terrorists themselves. Captured terrorists have unique knowledge about how terrorist networks operate. They have knowledge of where their operatives are deployed and knowledge about what plots are under way. This is intelligence that cannot be found any other place. And our security depends on getting this kind of information. To win the war on terror, we must be able to detain, question and, when appropriate, prosecute terrorists captured here in America and on the battlefields around the world.”

The context Bush did not provide is that this applies equally to all prisoners of war. Captured soldiers usually do possess information that would be valuable to their captors, and the Geneva Conventions do constrain the ability to extract this information from them, but this is by design. Based on bitter experience, the people and governments of the world have decided that torture is so abhorrent that it must be completely outlawed, even though this results in the loss of information that might save lives or even alert captors to an existential threat to their country.

The purpose of the Hague and Geneva Conventions is to provide all people with certain protections in times of war, to place some limits on the otherwise limitless human suffering that war inflicts. Arguably, governments have agreed to rules of war precisely so that they can continue to wage limited war without plunging their societies into the total chaos that would result from unrestricted use of increasingly destructive modern weapons against entire populations. The Geneva Conventions afford different status to different classes of people, giving rise to different protections for combatants, prisoners of war and civilians. However the notion that certain classes of people fall entirely beyond the protection of these Conventions is not a serious interpretation, unless one is talking of something other than human beings.

For five years, U.S. government officials have justified unlawful actions with political arguments that have no legal merit. Now that the political tide is turning, Bush and his associates are behaving like other war criminals throughout history, marshalling what power they have left to shield themselves from the legitimate consequences of their actions.

Copyright © 1998-2007 Online Journal

August 9, 2006




Planning for Peacefest Iowa 2006 is well underway. We're excited to announce our keynote speaker, Antonia Juhasz, author of the book The Bush Agenda. In addition, Peacefest will include local musicians, workshops, and speakers from local organizations working towards peace and justice . PeaceFest 2006 brings together peace and justice activists and supporters for a day of community action calling for the immediate U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. Our aim is to help to create and strengthen ties among the progressive/activist/grassroots community, and reach out to others who want to work to help build a democratic, just and peaceful world.


As you can imagine, there are considerable expenses involved in planning such an event. So we welcome donations of any amount from individuals and organizations. Donations can be sent to the following address(checks may be made out to “Peacefest”): PeaceFestc/o Ralph Siddall1100 Arthur St. Apt O-2 Iowa City, IA 52240 Since we do not have nonprofit status, unfortunately we can not issue donation acknowledgements for tax purposes. If you are unable to make a donation at this time, consider eating at Thai Flavors on September 5th from Noon to1:30 and/or 5:30 to 8:30pm. Thai Flavors is donating a percentage of its revenue that day to Peacefest, and we are eternally grateful to them for this. [Thai Flavors is located at 340 E Burlington St.,Iowa City]. For more information on Peacefest, links to progressive/left resources, websites for veterans and current military enlistees, the event schedule list and co-sponsors (in progress), and other good and useful stuff, check out our website: One more thing: we are now reaching out to local peace and justice organizations to participate in the event by setting up an information table and spread the word about work that is being done locally.

If your group is interested in co-sponsoring Peacefest and/or having a table, let us know (

We will send you the details. (We may already be planning on contacting you)

Contact us at
with any questions?.Subscribe to our announcement list at

We’ll see you September 23rd at College Green Park! In Solidarity, The Peacefest Iowa 2006 Organizing Committee *********************University of Iowa Antiwar Committee Contact us at:

August 5, 2006

Guess Who's Not Fighting These Wars?!?!

Absence of America's Upper Classes From the Military

Aug. 3, 2006 — - Thanks to Sen. John McCain's youngest son checking into Marine Corps boot camp, the number of Congress members with enlisted children will skyrocket a whopping 50 percent. McCain's son Jim joins two other enlisted service members who have a parent in Congress (a few members of the officer corps are children of federal legislators).

In all, about 1 percent of U.S. representatives and senators have a child in uniform. And the Capitol building is no different from other places where the leadership class in this country gathers -- no different from the boardrooms, newsrooms, ivory towers and penthouses of our nation.

Less than 1 percent of today's graduates from Ivy League schools go on to serve in the military.

Why does it matter? Because, quite simply, we cannot remain both a world power and a robust democracy without a broad sense of ownership -- particularly of the leadership class -- in the military. Our military is too consequential, and the implications of our disconnect from it too far-reaching. We are on the wrong path today.

Those who opine, argue, publish, fund and decide courses of action for our country rarely see members of their families doing the deeds our leaders would send the nation's young adults to do, deeds that have such moment in the world.

These deeds hardly begin and end with the Iraq War -- 200,000 U.S. troops are deployed in 130 other countries around the world, keeping it "flat," to borrow Thomas Friedman's phrase. They train other nations' security forces, help keep the peace, provide humanitarian assistance, rescue Americans from Lebanon, stand ready to go to Darfur if sent, to go wherever the country calls on them for assistance. In short, they do the complex work of the world's sole superpower. Yet these doers are strangers to most of us, and the very missions they do are mysterious.

When the deciders are disconnected from the doers, self-government can't work as it should. Most of these decisions about whether and how to use the U.S. military are hard, and we need to be as best equipped as possible to make them. We need to be intellectually capable and have as much real knowledge as possible about what the military actually does, but we also need to be morally capable, which means we need a moral connection to those Americans we send into harm's way. Moreover, we need the largest pool of talent from which to draw those troops. Military work must not simply become fee for service.

A Duke University study demonstrates that it matters whether civilian decision makers have military experience: A review of U.S. foreign policy over nearly two centuries shows that when we have the fewest number of veterans in leadership and staff positions in Congress and the executive branch, we are most likely to engage in aggressive (as opposed to defensive) war fighting. And we are most likely to pull out of conflicts early.

A study by the eminent military sociologist Charles Moskos shows that people living in a democracy are not willing to sustain military engagements over time if those in the leadership class do not serve in the armed forces. When they don't serve, they send a signal that the conflict is not vital or worthwhile. Since we don't know what conflicts lie ahead -- or what party will be in power when they hit -- these findings should matter to all of us.

The Triangle Institute of Security Studies has tracked the growing disconnect between the military and the leadership class, and it finds evidence of a growing distrust of both groups toward one another. The group in America that reports having the lowest opinion of the military is the elites: The elites are almost six times more likely than those in the military to say they would be "disappointed if a child of mine decided to serve."

In past wars, the Kennedys, the Bushes, the Sulzbergers of The New York Times -- in other words, the elites -- served. Sure, there were always shirkers, but many did join their middle-class and working-class compatriots. Today narrow self-interest, a sense of other priorities or a misguided sense of moral preference means most of the upper class never considers military service.

In my own travels to talk about this issue, the most problematic comment I've come across is an idea expressed by many, including many in the upper classes, that it is somehow more moral to refrain from military service than to serve, because that way one can avoid an "immoral" war.

There are so many problems with this statement. It certainly shows a misunderstanding of military service. Military service is not about our political opinions, which can after all be wrong. The oath given at the "pinning on" ceremony for a second lieutenant or a general involves not a promise to fight a particular war or support a given president but to protect and defend the Constitution. Young men and women who join the military do not know what future conflicts or engagements will bring. They even know that some of the decisions that flow from the deciders will be flawed, because people are flawed.

But service members also know that Americans will be sent to do the nation's bidding. And we want those who are sent to act with skill, judgment and integrity. Many of those who serve see that Americans are being sent to act in the interests of our country and say, as the famous sage Rabbi Hillel said, "If not me, who?"

Military service is not a political statement. Democrats did not rush to sign up when Clinton became president, and wealthy Republicans didn't suddenly join when Bush was elected. Military service is service to the country, and even more perhaps, service to your fellows.

But how can we expect privileged young people to do military work? Military work is dangerous. You could be asked to kill or be killed. It is fraught with the risk of being sent into an unpopular conflict, as many now understand Iraq to be. Why should the children of our leadership classes or those ambitious for leadership chose such a path, when there are so many better options available to them?

In World War I, one of Congress's stated reasons for proposing a draft was that without it, too many of the upper-class children would rush to service, and we'd lose the leadership class of the country. In 1956, a majority of the graduating classes of Stanford, Harvard and Princeton joined the military, and most were not drafted. Leadership was then understood to have a moral dimension. The cry "follow me" was more convincing than "charge!" Those who aspired to future leadership saw military service as necessary to their credibility.

As a country, we have stopped viewing military service as a way to make a principled statement. We sell it instead as a job opportunity, one from which those with better options are excused. We need to revisit our stance on who should serve, and why. All members of our elite class need not serve, just a representative number, enough to bring the country's leadership in line with the rest of the country. With such leaders, with such a military, we will be a stronger, fairer, better country. With such leaders, the enlistment plans of young Jimmy McCain need not seem so surprising.

Kathy Roth-Doquet co-wrote "AWOL, The Unexcused Absence of America's Upper Classes from Military Service and How It Hurts Our Country" (Harper Collins, 2006).

Copyright © 2006 ABC News Internet Ventures

August 2, 2006

International Peace Day--Let's Plan Some Midwest Events

The International Day of Peace is September 21st! Here is the basics if you want more ideas or information check out the link referenced in the title...

WHAT? The International Day of Peace provides an opportunity for individuals, organizations and nations to create practical acts of Peace on a shared date. Use the International Day of Peace annually to highlight the Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World, 2001 to 2010.

WHEN? Established by a United Nations resolution in 1981, the International Day of Peace was first celebrated September 1982.Now held annually, 21st of September - The International Day of Peace!

WHERE? Wherever you are!

WHO? You and all who care about building Cultures of Peace for the children of this and future generations.

WHY? To mark our individual and collective progress toward building Cultures of Peace, and serve as a reminder of our permanent commitment to Peace, above all interests and differences of any kind.So do any of us have some great ideas about how we in the Midwest can get active on this day? DISCUSS YOUR IDEAS HERE AND GET ORGANIZED!!!

July 25, 2006

AFT Peace & Justice Caucus Action

From the AFT Convention.....

On Sunday, at its biannual convention in Boston, the American Federation of Teachers declared that it opposes the war in Iraq, calls upon the US for withdrawal of troops and military bases in "a rapid and timely manner," and directs the AFT to urge its local and state affiliates to work with AFT and AFL-CIO in working to bring the troops home rapidly. The actual resolution follows below.It should be noted that the resolution also includes the resolution that passed the AFL-CIO last summer, with all its outdatedness and weaknesses, but members of the newly formed AFT Peace and Justice Caucus were glad that we finally got the membership to agree that we OPPOSED THE WAR!Unfortunately, some pretty awful resolutions got passed as well, and I will report on that soon (as well as the exciting activities of the Caucus and its future plans). These included a resolution supporting Israel in its attacks on Lebanon (???????), which we believe will marginalize AFT, and another resolution in support of Chinese workers, which for the most part is good, but has some red-baiting in it, and fails to also condemn the US government and the multi-national corporations for their role in the exploitation of those same workers, due to its neoliberal policies.

Submitted by Andy Griggs

Amended Resolution 31: US Policy in Iraq
(as passed by the AFT Convention)

(bold type indicates language inserted by members of AFT Peace and Justice Caucus in the International Relations Committee, after narrowly losing an effort to substitute language calling for immediate withdrawal)

WHEREAS, AFT has always supported American troops in combat; and

WHEREAS, we have now lost more than 2,500 brave Americans in Iraq to date, and Iraqi civilian dead and wounded number over 100,000;

RESOLVED, that the American Federation of Teachers oppose the war in Iraq, and call upon our country's leaders to withdraw all troops, bases, and operations in a rapid and timely manner and to put a stop to the unending military presence that will waste lives and resources, undermine our nation's security and weaken our military; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT support AFL-CIO Resolution 53, below, on the war in Iraq; and

RESOLVED, that the AFT actively encourage its state and local affiliates to join AFT in working with the AFL-CIO to end the war in Iraq and bring our troops home rapidly.

Well it is just too bad that our national organization is still too squemish to get involved in an issue that is killing OUR STUDENTS.

July 23, 2006

Sad Results of Israeli Strikes....

This story just rips your heart out. And remember folks, the Israelis are using American made weaponry paid for through our tax dollars....

Collateral Damage
An Israeli air strike in southern Lebanon hits a bus filled with women and children trying to flee the region, raising questions about whether Israel is doing enough to avoid civilian casualties.

By Kevin Sites, Sun Jul 23, 9:02 PM ET

Email Story IM Story

TYRE, Lebanon -- Israeli air strikes are taking a tremendous toll on the civilian population in southern Lebanon, with an attack Sunday on a bus filled with women and children that left three dead and 13 injured, many of them severely.

At Jabal Amel Hospital in the southern city of Tyre, where most of the victims were taken after the incident, Rhonda Shaloub is wheeled into a recovery room next to her 15-year-old niece, Radije, following emergency surgery.

Their faces are both mummy-wrapped with gauze bandages. There are openings only for their noses and mouths. What can be seen of their faces is deeply disturbing. There is blood seeping at the edges of Rhonda's bandages, while Radije's lips are stitched with medical sutures, the skin on her chin speckled with red tissue damage caused by the blast.

Rhonda is still deeply sedated from surgery, but when she does regain consciousness she will be told that her husband and her mother are dead, both killed when the bus was hit.

A nurse at the hospital says the victims were traveling from their village of Tairi, fleeing north because of the air strikes, when their own bus was hit.

In another room down the hallway, another victim of the bus attack, Radia Shaitoo, raises her bandaged and broken arm near her face, which is covered with tiny blast lacerations. She rolls her head back and forth on the pillow and moans almost as if she is sick. She mumbles something like, "only people with no religion would do this," an insult against

The bus incident is the latest, and one of the most dramatic, illustrations of civilians being killed and wounded by Israeli air strikes, which Israel claims are focused on Hezbollah forces and weapons. Yet the strikes are having a punishing effect on the general Lebanese population and infrastructure.

Shell shock in Tyre » View

"People are starting to realize this isn't a war against Hezbollah," says Timor Goksel, former head of the U.N. peacekeeping force in southern Lebanon for more than 25 years. "It's a war against the country, against the infrastructure."

Some analysts have theorized that with attacks against civilians and non-military installations, Israel is trying to turn the Lebanese population against Hezbollah by making them pay a price as Hezbollah's host nation. Goksel says the strategy will never work, since Hezbollah isn't just an organization, but part of the fabric of Shia society.

"I spent a lot of time in the south," he says. "I've seen women down there attack Israeli tanks with knives. You're not going to turn these people against Hezbollah by making their lives miserable."

At the entrance to Jabel Amel Hospital, an exhausted medical technician, Bassem Mteirek, lies on an empty gurney, taking a short break from the flood of patients.
"We've seen more than 400 people come through this hospital in the last ten days," he says, shaking his head.

At the base of the gurney is a suitcase covered with blood. It belonged to one of the passengers on the bus. A man comes out of the entrance, talking on the telephone. He has lost his wife in the attack. He says he's too heartbroken to speak. He picks up the suitcase and walks back inside.
In another hospital room inside, Aneza Hamza lies in bed with a head injury and a broken leg, a victim of an earlier air strike. When I approach her, she covers the bandages on her head with her scarf. She is an older woman, but despite her injuries smiles beatifically and seems almost cheerful.

Aneza Hamza

"What can we do," she says, with a slight shrug.

Imani Darwish doesn't have a scratch but lost her husband and four of her eight children in an air strike against an apartment building in Tyre. The only reason she is alive, she says, is because one of her daughters was in the hospital, pregnant, and she was visiting. She shows no sign of grief or emotion about the loss.

"We can't cry every day," she says. "What good will that do? It's all up to God what happens."
Amina Shaloub and her 12-year-old son, Hussein, were victims of an air strike against a civil defense building in Tyre. Her face has the now familiar marks of blast trauma. Her son took shrapnel in the stomach, which had to be removed by surgeons.

"I'm happy for my life and I'm happy for the life of my son," she says. "But it doesn't really matter if we live or die. Whatever [happens] is God's will."
Asked if they can ever live in peace with Israel, especially after the toll from the recent air strikes, she is surprisingly conciliatory.

"If they stop bombing the women and children, if they let us live in freedom," she says, "then we can live with them like family, like brothers and sisters."

July 16, 2006

NEA Representative Assembly--Orlando

The NEA held it's representative assembly in Orlando over the 4th of July holiday. The major peace and justice issuses that came up were as follows...* We asked President Reg Weaver what the NEA had done in the previous year after we adopted a call for a timetable for withdrawl from Iraq at the last rep. assembly. The President admitted on the floor of the RA that the national leadership had not yet taken any action on that New Business Item. Supposedly, the leadership will try to do something this year but there are no promises. (My own editorial comment here: This is frustrating when the elected body of representatives votes for such a commitment by our organization and then one year later nothing has been done. I urge you to e-mail President Reg Weaver and express your concern. Kudos to Andy Griggs from California for asking the question at RA!)* We failed to get a new business item discussed on the floor asking for a pull out of the troops. It was met with the old "Object to Consideration" trick. I should say that the body was pretty well split on the issue however.* We did get a commitment to give NEA's assistance (and some money) to assist the striking teachers in Oaxaca, Mexico.* Iowa's delegation raised a large amount of money to send to schools in Chiapas, Mexico. A big thanks to Muscatine's Carol Kula who donated $30 a month to the cause!* Another issue that was debated was whether the NEA should sponser/co-sponser a march on Washington D.C. to try and influence the nation and Supreme Court over the desegregation case that will be heard next year. This case could alter the desegregation plans of schools around the country. The R.A. did not feel it necessary to sponser a march based on a huge cost estimate and a doubt on some peoples' part that marches are effective anymore. Instead the NEA is filing an amicus brief with the court.Enrollment in NEA Peace and Justice continues to grow. In our Iowa delegation we signed up more people than we had last year thanks to the velvet touch of Tom Wolfe.

June 24, 2006

January 26, 2006

"Opt Out...How to Get the Military Off Our Students' Backs"

One of the major ideas we are working on at P and J is to assist teachers in a push to publicize and get "opt out forms" to be made available to high school students and their parents. In Des Moines there has been a successful effort by a parent group to push the school district to make the "opt out" forms available during registration.Here is some background information on the current situation...

How Do Students Get Recruited?In the US, public schools are frequent targets of military advertising, military youth programs, and visits by military recruiters. The No Child Left Behind Act guarantees recruiters the right to private contact information for all secondary school students, so that students may also be contacted at home. Many school administrators and teachers are unaware of, or turn a blind eye to recruiter abuses of their privileges.Recruiters employ a variety of ways to get personal contact information, including student lists from schools, JROTC, marketing databases, the ASVAB test and other standardized tests like the SATs.

Follow this link to the American Friends Service Committee's "Opt Out" page where you can download an "opt out" form. Then discuss on this blog how we can support each other in a campaign to help make "opt out" forms widely available throughout the schools of the Midwest.

Tom Wolfe said...
Andy -Thanks to the information you sent me from Des Moines, I've found a Davenport teacher who is now seeking parents who will approach the Board so that a clear district policy might be advertised widely. Perhaps it already is done, but I doubt it. Thans for your help.Tom Wolfe
9:26 PM

Razzpunk said...
Tom,That is great news. Keep me up to date on what happens there and I will post it here on our site. Also any P and J members who want to contact me with news of their own "opt out" campaigns please do so at my e-mail which
10:21 PM

alwaysthinking62 said...
I'm pretty sure some interesting things were done in either Seattle or Portland, maybe both. I'll try to investigate a little. - Alan Young
11:30 PM

Paul Mann said...
Andy, I like what you have done with our blog! Thanks! Paul Mann
8:18 PM