One of my guests this past Saturday on Sirius was Leonard Goodman, a defense attorney practicing in Chicago.
Mr. Goodman is one of the dozens of lawyers who have been volunteering their time and efforts to free?or at least get a legitimate day in court for?the remaining 230 prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Many of these defense lawyers were recruited by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York.
?On my show we?ve talked many, many times about the two tragic and unnecessary invasions/occupations we’re involved in right now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the terrible cost in lives and money involved? not to mention the utter political incompetence and moral failure that these wars represent… Further, we?ve talked about the astounding hypocrisy and twisted values of a Congress and a President who are so terribly concerned about finding money to provide life-saving health care to Americans when the very money that’s needed is regularly flowing out to the Pentagon and defense contractors, and the corrupt politicians and military establishments of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
You’ve all heard the various figures?it?s the simplest math in the world? Someone at a third grade level can see that the billions spent weekly for these evil and useless occupations?which daily destroy lives and rekindle enduring hatred for this country?these same billions would supply at least half of the money needed to fund real health care reform. And, again, it?s the simplest math, the rest of the money needed to pay for a Medicare-for-all plan (or even the watered-down law we will get) can come from windfall profit taxes on the Wall Street predators (i.e., Goldman Sachs) that are getting obscenely rich while the rest of us sink into economic despair. Even a one percent tax on every Wall Street stock and bond transaction could provide tens of billions in revenue each year. You have to ask yourself the obvious questions: Why are we spending billions of dollars to occupy countries and destroy lives?and why are not taxing the immoral rich who have plunged us into economic ruin, when we could be using the money saved and raised to provide free virtually free?or at least inexpensive health care for every American?
The greatest evils in the world flow from fundamentalism?no matter which religion we’re talking about. Holy wars?wars for some imagined deity who requires us to kill, torture and steal for ?his? greater glory; more ?holy? crusades against ?heathens? and ?unbelievers?? or absurd claims that some unseen god has decreed some particular patch of dirt and rock in the world the special property of one particular religion or another. George Bush (the younger) and Osama Bin Laden are pure mirror images of each other.
Then there are the great criminals, like Dick Cheney, Henry Kissinger, and George Bush (the elder) and members of their international corporate mafia who cynically take advantage of these foolish and crazy fundamentalist believers to further their own purely mercenary or power-driven agendas.
Certainly there is something unique, uplifting and purely altruistic to be found in the teachings of the major religions, but it seems to me that if there is any higher, unifying force or power in the universe, whether benevolent or merely indifferent, than ALL human beings are equal under this power and ALL places on earth are equally “holy”?not any one religion?s or God?s personal property.
There is one fundamentalism, at least in this country, that trumps all others, and that is Capitalism.
When you have almost our entire government (the majority of the members of The House and The Senate) and a President and his “advisors” (most of them from Wall Street or some lobbying firm or corporation)? When you have these bombastic corporate front men taxing their wits (and wasting our time and money)? All of them acting terribly righteous and fastidious about paying for every penny of health care reform at the very same moment they are considering sending tens of thousands more combat and support troops to Afghanistan and continuing to maintain our useless presence in Iraq? Well, then what you’re really looking at is nothing else but the workings of religious fundamentalism? and that religion is Capitalism.
When the priority is to bring misery, death and destruction to American soldiers and misery, death and destruction to the inhabitants of foreign countries, RATHER than preventing misery death and destruction to millions of Americans who suffer from lack of health care?then you are dealing with a religious belief in money and power?and that clearly goes just as deep as any Papal decree, Islamic Fatwa, or ultra-orthodox Rabbi?s support of the Israeli “settler’s” holy property claims. It?s just as deep because, like many of the standard, inflexible proclamations of major religions, there are human beings whose very lives are at stake, and no amount of reason, logic or plain humanity stands a chance against it.
So, we have immoral, unnecessary, and dishonestly promoted wars; a corrupt Congress, a spineless President who will probably sign an executive order (what happened to asking Congress to declare war? I guess that’s not fashionable anymore) sending more troops to continue to fight one of these wars? And we have a health care system that works for the drug and insurance companies and the politicians they own but not for the average American.
So… what’s new? Nothing.
What?s happening right now is on a bigger scale than ever before but its still business as usual in the USA?
Now back to Leonard Goodman, who I was talking about at the beginning of this essay… What I think is new-to America (at least any concept or reality of America I?ve known in my life) is our own government?s systematic attempt to destroy our rights and liberties as set down in the Constitution? Government spying on American citizens?warrantless wiretaps and searches? all of that, and then the particular instance which involves lawyer Leonard Goodman, the complete denial of Constitutional rights (and of universally accepted human rights) as epitomized by the creation and continued operation of Guantanamo Bay prison.
At the beginning, and for a while after our invasion of Afghanistan, we air-dropped leaflets all over the country; one of the poorest in the world, promising to pay American dollars (when they were still worth something) to anyone who had information about, or could turn in a “terrorist”. Immediately the American occupation forces and CIA reaped a bumper crop of terrorists? amazing how that worked, right?
In the end, it turns out that around 90% of the men turned in were/are completely innocent. They were clearly turned in by neighbors who coveted their property or businesses?or, simply, someone who had a grudge against them. Some were kidnapped by corrupt warlords and sold to the Americans for cash.
Then, without any evidence whatsoever except the word of unidentified informants, the CIA and the American military locked these men up for years on end?torturing some of them to get them to “confess” their crimes or provide information? Locked them in solitary 23 hours a day and granted them a “recreation” period of one hour every twenty-four hours (at night), in solitary cages; Didn?t provide them with legal representation; didn?t (still doesn?t) allow them any visitors or contact with their families?no reading or writing materials; doesn’t provide them with the any rights acknowledged as the bare essential required treatment of any prisoner in any part of the ?civilized? world.
Volunteer lawyers like Leonard Goodman spend their own time and money trying to procure the simplest rights for these prisoners? These lawyers hire their own translators, pay their own plane fares and hotel expenses to try to get their clients’ rights enforced in Federal Court in Washington D. C. and Virginia (so far with only minimal success) despite the fact that no judge has ever positively said that evidence they have se
en (confidential evidence) justifies any of the government?s actions.
After years of trying, years of torture and solitary confinement and separation from anything or anyone that is connected to them, the prisoners are finally permitted to see their lawyers for a couple of brief interviews?during which time, these prisoners, still never proved guilty of anything in a court of law, are shackled to the floor! Where are they going to escape to?surrounded by thousands of Marines on a fortified American naval base? Are they going to jump into the bay at the eastern edge of Cuba and swim back to Afghanistan?
Note too that the military and Congress and the President and courts all continue to refer to these poor souls as ?detainees.? Detainees! As if they were just a bunch of random commuters held up by a traffic jam or people stopped temporarily by a cop and issued a speeding ticket.
This is a way the military and the President and Congress have of semantically (and semi-legally) skirting (and despising) the law? If they were called ?prisoners?, that would be a constant embarrassment. If they were called prisoners, then they would have to be granted the rights of any prisoner taken into custody by the authorities in this country (and most civilized countries)?the right to a lawyer, habeas corpus, a hearing within 24 hours, humane detention facilities, etc. etc. But they?re not prisoners?they are ?detainees?? ?detained? for seven years in solitary cells and steel cages.
In Guantanamo prison, when a defense lawyer takes notes, the notes are reviewed by prison authorities then returned to the lawyer. Can you imagine that happening in an American city, state or Federal jail? A lawyer sees his client, and then turns his notes over to a correction officer, who then gives them to the head of the prison and, presumably, to other, unidentified persons?then returned to the lawyer!?
And, at Guantanamo, when the lawyer tries to give their client any books or even writing materials, they are confiscated as “inflammatory”.
This is the world-wide visible shame of America?
The right of habeas corpus, the right of someone accused of a crime?or his lawyer?to see any of the Government’s “evidence”, the right to a trial or to question any of the Government’s witnesses?the same rights that are granted to the worst serial killer (and certainly were granted to Bernie Madoff) are denied to these ?detainees? at Guantanamo.
Of course, there are a tiny minority of people locked up at Guantanamo who are dangerous to this country?and they should be brought (should have brought years ago) to this country and tried in a court the same way any other alleged criminal is tried. If we are a country of laws, then let the world see that we treat people equally under that law. If someone is guilty, let them have their day in court or let them go free.
Hundreds of prisoners, most of them innocent to begin with, have long been either acknowledged as harmless (as quietly as possible so as not to shame the military and the government that ruined their lives in the first place) and set loose. And there are still 230 of them rotting in jail?and some of them might remain there forever if our current President has his way? They might actually be dangerous but the President says they can?t be tried in American courts to prove it. Why is that? Maybe because there?s no real evidence, or maybe because what it would really prove, for all the world to see, is how shameful our government has behaved. Better to just leave them there forever, chained like some Roman galley slave or peasant buried in the Bastille?until they go crazy or die from disease or old age.
Apparently, some of the people set free have been caught identified as fighting against American forces. Well, who would have better reason or right?
Turning in your neighbor for material gain or to even a grudge was regular practice in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. And now our country has, by its behavior in the last several years, retrogressively validated this kind of behavior.
As I look at what our country has done and continues to do, domestically, and internationally, in the last decade or so, I am thoroughly ashamed to be an American? But if I have any incentive left to feel some pride, its because of individual Americans like Leonard Goodman and the other volunteer lawyers who represent prisoners at Guantanamo.
In the eighteenth century, the Imperial British landed an overwhelming professional army, (complete with mercenaries) on our shores. They burned towns and cities, indiscriminately bombarded civilian populations?and imprisoned, and killed (always without trial) both combatants and non-combatants. Their attitude was that everybody in this country was a traitor and that any American?man, woman or child, in or out of uniform, was either a terrorist or a potential terrorist. We had no basic human rights and they could treat us any way they liked.
Now, two hundred years later, our Imperial forces land in foreign countries, indiscriminately bombard and kill innocent people, imprison people without evidence, torture them and give them not the slightest chance to defend themselves.
You have to wonder? What did we have a revolution for?
– Mike Feder (New York City – October 26, 2009)