Monthly Archives: June 2012

Obamacare Survives, Supreme Court Rescues ‘Big Health’

Just a quick comment on the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the constitutionality of the Obama healthcare legislation, i.e. that the single mandate stands. I recently watched a fascinating video of a talk given by Dr Oliver Fein, a member of the Physicians for a National Health Program, that is doctors in favor of socialised medicine or as it is called in the US, ‘Single Payer’, analysing the Obama health reform. His view on the Supreme Court decision was that the judges, and in particular Chief Justice John Roberts, would rule in it favour for fear of what might come if they didn’t. In other words striking down Obamacare would put Single Payer or other radical reform back on the table. Well, Roberts deserted his conservative colleagues and voted for Obama’s law. So, Dr Fein may well be right.

The problems in the healthcare system will however not be solved by the Obama legislation – it is more a reform of health insurance than of health care and for reform read financial bonanza. Meanwhile costs are rising at a frightening rate and the power and wealth of Big Health, as the consortium of pharmaceutical and health insurance companies can be called, will surge with negative consequences for patients. Nor is there any guarantee that coverage will increase to anything resembling sufficient levels. More to come……

UPDATE:

This statement just in from one of America’s largest nursing unions:

Nurses: ‘Court Ruling Does Not End Healthcare Crisis
Or the Need to Continue the Campaign for Reform’

The Supreme Court decision should not be seen as the end of the efforts by health care activists for a permanent fix of our broken healthcare system, said the nation’s largest union and professional association of registered nurses today.

To achieve that end, the 175,000-member National Nurses United pledged to step up a campaign for a reform that is not based on extending the grip of a failed private insurance system, but “on a universal program based on patient need, not on profits or ability to pay. That’s Medicare for all,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. “It is not time to stop, but a reminder to begin that effort anew.”

“Nurses experience the crisis our patients continue to endure every day. That’s the reason we will continue to work for reform that is universal, that doesn’t bankrupt families or leave patients in the often cruel hands of merciless insurance companies,” said NNU Co-president Karen Higgins, RN.

Stepping up the fight for Medicare for all is even more critical in the midst of the still persistent economic crisis,” added NNU Co-president Deborah Burger, RN, noting that nurses have seen broad declines in health status among patients related to loss of jobs, homes, and health coverage.

NNU has been holding free health screenings and hosting town halls on the ongoing healthcare crisis over the past two weeks – and hearing daily reminders of the ongoing plight of many patients. In addition, NNU will be joining with Michael Moore to host a national town hall later this summer.

“The continuing fiscal crisis at all levels of government and the anemic economic recovery remind us that rising healthcare costs and shifting costs to workers burden our society, cause much of these fiscal problems, and limit the opportunities for working people. Only real cost control through a national health program can solve this crisis. Improved Medicare meets that challenge,” said Ross.

“Medicare is far more effective than the broken private system in controlling costs and the waste that goes to insurance paperwork and profits, and it is universally popular, even among those who bitterly opposed the Obama law,” said Higgins. “Let’s open it up to everyone, no one should have to wait to be 65 to be guaranteed healthcare.”

The Affordable Care Act still leaves some 27 million people without health coverage, does little to constrain rising out of pocket health care costs, or to stop the all too routine denials of needed medical care by insurance companies because they don’t want to pay for it.

“Some opponents of expanding Medicare to cover everyone dismiss the idea as out of reach. If political opposition is the criteria for social progress, we would never have outlawed Jim Crow segregation, or won enactment of voting rights for women, Social Security, and the original Medicare,” said Burger.

“Nurses know how to fight for our patients. We fight every day to make sure our patients will get the care we need, and we are not about to stop,” Burger said.

The healthcare crisis is greater than ever, say nurses who see patients in distress every day. After all the attention on the court ruling fades, the problems will remain, said Higgins.

“We will continue to see a steady stream of employers dropping health coverage or shift more and more costs to their employees.”

Even after this decision, said Higgins, who was at the Supreme Court when the ruling was announced,

“We will continue to see patients who postpone filling prescription medications, or delay doctor-recommended diagnostic procedures or even life saving medical treatment because of the high out of pocket costs, or families faced with the terrible choice of paying for medical care or food or clothing, or who delay payment on medical bills at the risk of bankruptcy or a destroyed credit rating.”

“We will continue to see hospitals, insurance companies and drug companies engage in price gouging and  insurance companies refusing to authorize treatment recommended by a doctor under the pretext it was “experimental” or “not medically necessary,” euphemisms for care that doesn’t meet the real test of a profit driven bottom line. “

“And we will continue to see the U.S. from falling farther behind other countries in a wide range of health barometers, including life expectancy, deaths of women of child bearing age, and long waits for care, even though we spend twice as much per capita or more than those other nations,” Higgins said.

The U.S. outspends all other nations per capita on care, yet trails dozens of other nations, which have a national system, such as our Medicare program, in a wide array of vital barometers, including life expectancy. While some of those countries are also mired in economic troubles due to the global banking crash, the presence of a national health system has softened the blow on peoples’ health.

NNU is joining one of the first post-decision public events Saturday, a fifth anniversary of Michael Moore’s film “SiCKO” chronicling the healthcare crisis. The event, featuring Moore and several of the real life stars of the film who continue to struggle with multiple problems in the health care system, will be held in Philadelphia at 7 p.m. at the Plays and Players Theater, 1714 Delancey St.

McGUINNESS AND THE QUEEN – THE MOUNTBATTEN MOMENT

Anyone up for a caption contest?
Email in suggestions and I will publish the best

(UPDATES BELOW)

Last week I attended an academic seminar at Exeter University on the production of knowledge during conflicts and peace processes. A very interesting and enjoyable time was had by all, and all included academics from Israel, Palestine, Serbia, India, France, the US, Britain & Germany. So, many thanks to the Exeter Center for Ethno-Political Studies (EXCEPS) and the delightful Mary-Alice Clancy, our gracious hostess and a fellow refugee from Belfast.

My contribution was an old chestnut that I take out to chew and worry on from time to time: the role of censorship during the Troubles, especially self-censorship in Ireland. My view has always been not just that censorship failed to achieve the goals that its Irish architects and champions like Conor Cruise O’Brien and Garret FitzGerald claimed it would but that it made things worse. It prolonged the Troubles and made the eventual peace process harder and longer to get off the ground and then made the peace process itself unnecessarily long (and awfully tedious) while helping the two parties with more blood on their hands than most to emerge politically victorious at the end (although I do concede that the blood-on-hands contest was a tightly fought affair and for most people the jury is still out!).

During the conference, speculation grew in the media that Martin McGuinness might shake the hand of the Queen of England, and some of my conference colleagues were eager to know what my view was: would he, or wouldn’t he? At this point, things were at the “Sinn Fein pours cold water on the idea” stage because the party had “not been consulted” about a visit the Queen would make to the Stormont parliament and Gerry Adams was in a huff, complaining that there was no “do-able” proposition on the table for a SF-House of Windsor rapprochement. The idea that SF would not have been told about the Queen’s plan was of course ludicrous but it did not deter the media from greeting it with gravity, credibility and significance.

It was all depressingly familiar, a ploy we had seen Sinn Fein execute so many times during the peace process but each time greeted by the media with astonishment and surprise, as if it had never happened before. The classic example of the ploy in motion was SF’s efforts throughout the many years of the peace process to deny that IRA decommissioning was on the cards when for all sorts of reasons, not least self-interest, it was clear that it was.

That particular journey was accomplished in a number of steps which each shared similar levels of dishonesty and manipulation. Stories would be put out, and happily circulated by our credulous media, that this or that move towards disarming the IRA would/could never happen, was the invention of a malicious one or two journalists (mostly myself) and the party’s supporters should be assured that whatever it was, it was just not on the agenda. Then having reassured the base, the Provo leadership would make the move they said would never happen, their supporters would be rendered impotent by their own dismay and confusion while the odd one or two angry enough to voice their frustration could be handily identified as potential troublemakers and isolated in preparation for future needs.

It got to the point when you would think the media would catch on, that when Sinn Fein said something was not going to happen, this was actually a signal that it absolutely would. But it never worked that way. The journalists I knew in Belfast who wrote the story this way were never that stupid or ingenuous. Then as now, I regarded this sort of behaviour as evidence of the media censoring itself in the sense that to act otherwise risked being labelled “unhelpful” to the peace process.

Translating that into simple English, journalists who were “unhelpful” in this way also laid themselves open to the charge that they wanted the process to fail, that they believed the Provos were selling out and that, one way or another they were in the dissident camp and wanted to see blood running on the streets of Belfast once again. That is the sort of accusation that can end a promising career and was a variation and inversion of what happened when the IRA’s war was raging, that to cover the Provos seriously, to burrow into their internal affairs, to explain why they did what they did risked being accused of being an IRA sympathiser, a “fellow-traveller” or “sneaking’ regarder”, to use the argot of the day. Fear was the engine of censorship during the Troubles years and a very effective if ultimately self-defeating engine it was.

By the stage of the handshake story the media should have “wised up”, to use a Belfast phrase and realised that it doesn’t matter any more, the IRA’s war is over for good (against Britain that is, if not against those whose offend it – but that’s a whole other story), while its leaders have their sights set on very different targets. The media should have known that it’s now okay to tell the truth, time to treat sources who have been caught out lying, misleading or hoodwinking time and time again with an appropriate level of mistrust and skepticism and that when Gerry Adams says something is not “doable” then it almost certainly is. But old habits die hard, it seems.

You could see evidence of this when finally the music stopped and the dreary dance ended. The real significance of the promised handshake was overlooked by all but a tiny number of the media who wrote about the story, and it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that it was not incompetence that caused this (although you always have to be careful about that one) but the same old timidity and fear that made media coverage of the Troubles in Ireland so forgettable.

The significance of the handshake is simply that the Queen is not just extending a friendly hand to a former IRA commander/member whose organisation happened to have killed her uncle, Lord Louis Mountbatten – as most of the media reported the story – but that Martin McGuinness actually gave the order for him to be killed. Seen in that raw light, it is a very different and meaningful story.

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Lord Louis Mounbattem – ‘Uncle Dickie’ to the Queen

McGuinness was Chief of Staff of the IRA, its military commander, on August 27th, 1979,  when Mountbatten’s holiday boat was blown to pieces off the Co. Sligo coast by a remote controlled bomb. He gave the order for the operation to go ahead. That’s how the IRA worked, that’s how all armies work. Operations as sensitive as this one was obviously required a political input, which was given by the Army Council, but the top general always gives the final word in the light of the military circumstances of the day. The top IRA general on August 27th, 1979 was Martin McGuinness. Without his say-so, Mountbatten would possibly have lived for many years more.

So, from the Queen’s point of view (and one can be sure that the intelligence briefing she received from Downing Street made all this abundantly clear, as she has the right to know whose hand she is shaking on these occasions) she will be extending an amicable palm to the man who dispatched her great-great grandmother’s great grandson to eternity (as well his own grandson, his daughter’s mother-in-law and a member of the boat’s crew).

Image

Mountbatten’s remains are carried ashore at Mullaghmore. Co Sligo

While much of the media coverage has dwelt on the significance of the handshake from the point of view of Sinn Fein, the person who has actually has made the greatest concession here is surely the Queen. Ask yourself this question: if you were asked to shake the hand of the man who killed your favourite uncle as well as an assorted bunch of relatives, would you do it?

(Incidentally, the journalist who came closest to telling the truth about McGuinness’ role was someone who lives furthest away, Kevin Cullen of the Boston Globe who wrote, inter alia: “There are many law enforcement officials, Irish and British, who believe McGuinness was running the IRA or was at least on its ruling Army Council, when the plan to blow up Mountbatten was approved.” So, how come a guy who works 3,000 miles away got the story more right than journalists who live right over the shop? Anyway, take a bow, Kevin!)

The inadequacies and failings of the media regarding this story don’t, alas, stop there. There is virtually no historical context to any of the coverage, which is a great pity because there is a direct but unexpected linkage between the peace process being cemented with that handshake in Belfast and the events of August 27th 1979, a linkage that actually makes the story so much more interesting, significant and, in its way, ironic.

About six hours after Lord Mountbatten’s boat was reduced to matchwood, the IRA killed eighteen paratroopers at Narrow Water near Warrenpoint on the shores of Carlingford Lough in Co Down. It was a skilled and audacious piece of guerrilla warfare. A cleverly disguised bomb hidden in a hay lorry detonated as a lorry full of soldiers passed by, killing six. Reinforcements were helicoptered in and the IRA correctly guessed where it would land and another well-hidden bomb killed twelve more soldiers, including the Paras’ CO. The eighteen killed that day was the highest British military death toll  at the IRA’s hands since Tom Barry’s legendary ambush at Kilmichael, Co Cork in November 1920.

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Eighteen paratroopers were killed in the Warrenpoint ambush, the greatest death toll inflicted by the IRA on British troops since 1920

The combined effect of the two blows produced an unprecedented military and political crisis for the newly elected government of Margaret Thatcher and the IRA came very close to forcing the British to execute a U-turn in security policy, taking control away from the local police, the RUC, putting it back into the British Army’s hands and undoing the myth that Northern Ireland was slowly returning to normality by employing police methods and the courts to undermine the IRA.

That was one point of significance. The other was the impact it had on the IRA’s future direction. In fact it is no exaggeration to say that without the killing of Mountbatten, without the carnage at Carlingford Lough there might well be no peace process today, no reason to shake hands in Belfast.

Martin McGuinness had become IRA Chief of Staff by virtue of series of military and political changes in the Republican movement plotted and planned by Gerry Adams and a small number of his allies while they had been imprisoned in Long Kesh internment camp.

Arrested by British soldiers in late 1973, Adams and his Young Turks could only sit in jail helpless as their largely Dublin-based leaders steered the IRA into a disastrous ceasefire, which the British used to their own ends. They prolonged the cessation with false promises of withdrawal and used the time to revamped security policy by using “enhanced” police interrogation methods to extract confessions which were processed by juryless courts which then sent convicted IRA members to jails which refused to recognise them as anything but common criminals with no political motivation.

The new security approach nearly defeated the IRA and a frustrated and angry group in jail led by Adams argued for the overthrow of the leadership responsible and for a more politically directed IRA constructed in such a way that it would have popular support to fight a long war against the British.

Adams left jail in 1977, the old leadership was deposed and he became Chief of Staff in December that year, until he was arrested three months later. Adams was succeeded by McGuinness. The changes plotted by his group – among them the creation of a special Northern Command, the reconfiguration of the IRA into cells, anti-interrogation training and the creation of a spy catching unit – were nonetheless put in place and when Adams was released from jail in late 1978, he became McGuinness’s deputy and the IRA’s Adjutant-General. The new team was fully in charge, calling the IRA’s shots.

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Mountbatten’s killing cemented the Adams-McGuinness leadership and paved the way for the peace process

The killings at Mullaghmore and Narrow Water were the first evidence that this reorganisation and reorienting of the IRA was paying big dividends; it enormously strengthened the leadership of Gerry Adams and his young, radical allies and vindicated their uncompromising takeover of the IRA. In its review of 1979, the leadership’s new national newspaper An Phoblacht-Republic News (AP-RN) crowed: “Last year was one of resounding Republican success when the IRA’s cellular reorganisation was operationally vindicated, particularly through the use of remote-control bombs”.

And so a myth was born. Adams and McGuinness had rescued the IRA from defeat and they had the military skills to put the British on the back foot. The killing of Mountbatten was proof of that and it helped make Adams and his allies invulnerable to internal challenge. In undisputed charge of the IRA, the Adams leadership was free to maneuvre the IRA in entirely different directions.

Within three years Sinn Fein had entered conventional electoral politics, the primacy of the gun and bomb was under internal challenge for the first time and Gerry Adams had begun his secret dialogue with the Redemptorist priest, Fr Alex Reid. The peace process was born and soon there were clandestine contacts with the Irish and British governments. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history.

When Martin McGuinness shakes the Queen’s hand in Belfast this coming week, no-one outside a small select circle will know what they say to each other. But here’s my suggestion of what the deputy first minister could say: “Terribly sorry about the uncle, ma’am. But he did die in a good cause.”

UPDATE:

This piece of political art has appeared on the slopes of the Black Mountain, the hill which overlooks much of West Belfast, the former Westminster constituency of Gerry Adams. It reads, or appears to read: ‘Erin is our Queen’ (another website says it is actually ‘Eriu’ not ‘Erin’ but it’s not clear. ‘Eriu’ is, apparently, the older Irish word for Ireland, so ‘Erin’ could be a good fit. Also ‘Eriu’ is the name of the ancient Queen of Ireland which makes better sense). I am also beginning to pick up traces of unrest in the Sinn Fein camp about the handshake. We’ll see soon if there is anything more to it than just talk.

SECOND UPDATE:

Here is a recently produced Sinn Fein poster clearly designed to counter internal Republican criticism of the planned handshake. I can’t recall the Provos feeling it necessary before to answer their detractors in such a way.

THIRD UPDATE:

The significant aspect of the Sinn Fein poster above is that it portrays Martin McGuinness as someone he has recently, and not so recently denied ever being, that is a member of the IRA. In fact this poster revels in IRA militarism, portraying McGuinness a determined-looking soldier with a face that says ‘I will happily die for Ireland and I will kill for her’, which is the image that made him so useful during the peace process, when the political gymnastics of Gerry Adams and others often confused and dismayed the grassroots.

But while he often played that role to assuage rank and file doubts, he was also beginning to distance himself from his IRA past and even followed in Gerry Adams’ path by denying he had ever been in the organisation. In August 1993, for instance, when the Cook Report broadcast a documentary alleging he had enticed a suspected IRA informer back to Derry with false promises about his safety and that the suspect was subsequently shot dead, McGuinness told the media, “I have never been a member of the IRA”. A month later he told the London Independent: “..the reality is that I am not a member of the IRA.”

He modified this stand less than a decade later when it became clear that the Saville inquiry into Bloody Sunday would confront him with a TV interview he gave in the early 1970′s in which he did not deny being the IRA’s Derry commander and went on to talk knowledgeably about the bombing campaign in the city and the Derry IRA’s relationship with the Dublin leadership.

So he changed his story. Yes, he said, he had been in the IRA but left in 1974. Not quite in the same league as Gerry Adams who has denied ever being in the IRA but only because the fiction could easily be disproved. Until Adams and McGuinness adopted this approach to membership allegations, IRA activists were never expected to admit their affiliation, not least because they could be charged and jailed, but they were expected never to deny it either, as to do so meant disowning their comrades and everything they stood for.

That half-denial has become McGuinness’ standard response to the IRA question and we all saw it in action during his bid last October for the Irish presidency, on one memorable occasion being confronted by the son of an Irish army private shot dead during an IRA kidnapping in the early 1980′s.

McGuinness being confronted during the presidential campaign by David Kelly whose father was shot dead by the IRA

So, the fact that McGuinness, or those acting for him in Sinn Fein, is now enthusiastically embracing the IRA connection by allowing the publication of a photo of himself, the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland, in full paramilitary garb suggests to me that there has been more of a kickback against the handshake-with-the-Queen decision than the Sinn Fein apparatchki would normally dare to admit in public. But we shall see. It will all come out in the wash, although I have to say I don’t expect much. The time for that sort of thing was long ago. Too late now, methinks, but perhaps the handshake is one step too far. We shall find out soon enough.

FOURTH UPDATE:

Nice cartoon in the Daily Telegraph, Britain’s foremost royalist newspaper but nonetheless a publication with a sense of humour.

U.S. Official Behind Boston College Subpoenas Shielded Bush Torture Team

March 2011 was a busy month at the Department of Justice’s International Affairs Office (IAO) in Washington D.C. The British Home Office had just started the process of serving subpoenas on Boston College’s Belfast Project archive and its officials had begun liaising with the IAO’s staff. The subpoenas were routine matters covered by the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and the UK and it is unlikely that at this point they were causing the office’s director, Mary Ellen Warlow any grounds for anxiety or concern.

Mary Ellen Warlow, the woman behind the Boston College subpoenas

The British had requested the subpoenas be kept sealed, i.e. secret, the US had agreed and if Boston College co-operated then the requested material – interviews with the late IRA Belfast leader Brendan Hughes and former leading IRA activist Dolours Price – could be on the desks of the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) within weeks and before anyone knew the subpoenas even existed.

The UK was one of the few enthusiastic allies of the US in its never-ending war against militant Islam and as a sign of his readiness to work with the Americans, British prime minister Tony Blair had agreed changes in the extradition treaty with America that enormously eased the process of transferring suspects from Britain to the US. The changes, which meant UK citizens could be extradited on the minimum of evidence, had outraged liberal opinion in Britain so the request from the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) offered a chance for an American quid pro quo, an opportunity to demonstrate gratitude for Blair and Britain’s generous co-operation.

IRA – ‘disappeared’ Jean McConville

Not only that but the alleged offence at the heart of the British request was regarded in some circles as a dreadful war crime. Jean McConville, a widowed mother-of-ten had been abducted, taken across the Irish border and killed by the Irish Republican Army at the outset of its lengthy war to eject Britain from Northern Ireland, her body buried in an unknown grave and her death kept a closely guarded secret, even from her family. She had been caught spying for the British Army in a public housing project in Belfast regarded as an IRA redoubt and the IRA had exacted punishment as only it could.

The ‘disappearing’ of some of its victims during the Troubles was a dark stain on the IRA’s reputation and when Mary Ellen Warlow reviewed the subpoena request it would have been surprising had she not concluded that no-one would take up cudgels for the IRA over the killing of Jean McConville. It would be an open and shut case: a terrorist group involved in a heinous crime.

It was very possibly because of these considerations that Mary Ellen Warlow failed to conduct the due diligence such requests normally warrant. Had she done so, she would have discovered that the PSNI had ample opportunity to collect the evidence they allegedly needed in Belfast and had no reason to seek it on the campus of Boston College, but had sat on their hands for over a year and done nothing.

She would also have discovered that the principal subject of the subpoenas, Dolours Price – who lives in Dublin, outside the jurisdiction of the PSNI – had actually been in the custody of a court in Northern Ireland in May 2010, could have been arrested by the PSNI and questioned about alleged admissions she had made in a newspaper interview regarding the disappearance of Jean McConville – but that the PSNI had let this opportunity pass by.

Dolours Price

She would also have discovered that the PSNI had made no effort at all to establish the truth of a key justification for the subpoenas – a claim by a Belfast reporter that he had listened to Price’s interview with Boston College and that in it she had admitted to abducting McConville.

And she would also have discovered that the same police force seeking to bring former IRA members before the courts in Belfast is, along with its political masters in London, determinedly refusing to pursue policemen, soldiers and intelligence officials who committed, authorised, connived at and turned a blind eye to multiple murders in Ireland.

Pat Finucane – the Belfast attorney was shot dead by Loyalist gunmen in 1989. British military intelligence provided this photo to the Loyalist agent who set up the killing. The British government has refused to hold an inquiry into his death but wants to raid the archive at Boston College. Finucane is one of dozens of police, intelligence and army-linked deaths that the PSNI will not probe.

And finally, if she and her staffers had dug a little deeper, they would have discovered that the PSNI had another possible motive in seeking the subpoenas that helped to explain why, after some forty years of non-investigation of the McConville ‘disappearance’, police detectives in Belfast had suddenly become energised.

The man who was widely suspected of ordering McConville’s disappearance was none other than Gerry Adams, the IRA’s leading force during the Troubles and the chief architect of the peace process which, inter alia, had led to the effective disbandment of the PSNI’s predecessor, the overwhelmingly Unionist and Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.

PSNI officers

RUC officers

There was reason to believe, in the form of public statements by former senior RUC detectives, that revenge against Adams for destroying the police force they loved and cherished – and which they saw as their bulwark against Irish unity – was a major factor in the legal move. In short, had Mary Ellen Warlow done her homework, she would have discovered that there were reasons for thinking the subpoenas were flawed and even politically-motivated – and that by pursuing the subpoenas the US might be party to an action that could have seriously negative consequences for the peace process in Northern Ireland, a process the US had helped bring to life. But she didn’t.

The routine nature of the subpoenas, the gravity of the alleged offence and the distinct possibility that Boston College would play ball may well have combined to encourage her to regard the PSNI request as an easy hit out of the park. But there was something else on the desk of Mary Ellen Warlow in March 2011, something that put the Boston College subpoenas in the ha’penny place, something that merited all her attention and skills. A letter had to be written to rescue six American officials from prosecution for their own war crimes, offences that were the hallmark of the Bush White House during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan – the torture and killing of detainees held by the US military and CIA. Mary Ellen Warlow would have to write the letter. This was one war crime that mustn’t be pursued; after all there are war crimes and then there are war crimes. Mary Ellen had been called up to play her part.

The story of how she was assigned this sensitive and vital task has its origin in two very separate events. One was the decision by Bush’s successor, Barack Obama not to pursue those responsible for fashioning and implementing the torture policy that had set the Bush White House apart from any other administration. By 2011 the sheen had already worn off Obama’s presidency. His supporters had hoped for great things from Amewrica’s first African-American leader but in a wide range of policies, from reining in Wall Street to repudiating Bush’s odious foreign policy excesses they had tasted only bitter disappointment. In particular, Obama had reneged on his promise to close Guantanamo and to use due process to try alleged Al Qaeda members; instead the notorious Cuban prison camp stayed open and military tribunals were convened to try alleged terrorists. And to cap it all, Obama refused to pursue the architects of torture, the people seen as responsible for dragging America’s name for championing human rights around the globe through the mud.

There were six of them: former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Dick Cheney’s chief of staff and legal adviser, David Addington; the Pentagon’s former general counsel, William Haynes; the former undersecretary of defense, Douglas Feith; the former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, Jay Bybee and one of his former senior officials, John Yoo.

John Yoo – his torture memos legalised torture, murder and the ‘disappearance’ of Iraqis

Of the Bush Six, none was regarded as more responsible for the carnival of torture that followed 9/11 and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq than John Yoo, a law professor from California who had joined the Bush Department of Justice. Yoo was the author of the so-called Torture Memos, which were written in August 2002 and gave legal cover for the policy implemented at Guantanamo, in Afghanistan, in Iraq and at numberless CIA black sites dotted around the world.

Yoo’s memos were multi-faceted. He first justified the view that presidential power in relation to the so-called war on terrorism was effectively unlimited, at one point going so far as to tell DoJ officials that because of his duty to protect America, the “president’s war-making authority was so broad that he had the constitutional power to order a village to be ‘massacred’”.

Like the British had during their war against the IRA in Northern Ireland, Yoo also argued that prisoner-of-war status did not apply to enemy combatants captured during the conflict in Afghanistan and held at Guantanamo and also to those captured in Iraq. Therefore the Geneva Conventions governing the treatment of prisoners in wartime did not apply and so the US was free to torture them if it was thought necessary.

The consequence of his memos became disturbingly visible in the Spring of 2004 when photos of torture victims at Abu Ghraib prison near Baghdad, once Saddam Hussein’s torture centre, were aired on CBS television. Iraqi detainees, many of whom had been arrested on the most flimsy grounds, had been systematically abused, beaten, tortured and humiliated by US servicemen and CIA employees for months, the scandal coming to light only through the whistle-blowing of one prison guard who was disgusted by what had happened. When the photos, showing naked prisoners being abused by American personnel, became public there was an international outcry but from the Bush White House came a lying denial and a concerted effort to shift responsibility onto the shoulders of the grunts who had obeyed orders to torture and abuse.

Some of the prisoners had been killed by their interrogators. Writing in the New Yorker magazine, Seymour Hersh described one part of the testimony given by the whistle-blower, Specialist Joseph Darby:

“In November….an Iraqi prisoner under the control of what the Abu Ghraib guards called ‘O.G.A.’, or other government agencies – that is, the CIA and its paramilitary employees – was brought to the unit for questioning. ‘They stressed him out so bad that the man passed away. They put his body in a body bag and packed him in ice for approximately twenty-four hours in the shower….The next day the medics came and put his body on a stretcher, placed a fake IV in his arm and took him away.’ The dead Iraqi was never entered into the prison’s inmate-control system….‘and therefore never had a number’”.

You could even say that the unnamed Iraqi, like Jean McConville, had been disappeared – but by the CIA and the American military machine, not the IRA.

Abu Ghraib circa 2003 – a US servicewoman gloats over a dead Iraqi torture victim

Abu Ghraib prison circa 2003 – no justification for prosecuting authors of torture policy says Mary Ellen Warlow

Abu Ghraib prison circa 2003 – another dead torture victim

Abu Ghraib prison circa 2003 – no evidence to justify prosecutions, says Mary Ellen Warlow

Abu Ghraib prison circa 2003 – no evidence to justify prosecutions, says Mary Ellen Warlow

Slowly but surely, the denials of the Bush White House were stripped away and eventually John Yoo’s notorious Torture Memos became public. The pretence that the privates and corporals manning Abu Ghraib had been responsible for the abuse was exposed as a lie and international outrage at the Bush White House grew, and with it the demand that those responsible be brought to justice, if not in America then abroad.

George W Bush – his White House denied torture, Mary Ellen Warlow says there is no justification for prosecutions

And so began the second event which led to Mary Ellen’s letter-writing task.

The precedent for bringing national leaders to book for their crimes was set by the Spanish government’s pursuit of the Chilean dictator, Augusto Pinochet who had led the US-backed coup that overthrew the elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973, killing, disappearing and torturing thousands of leftist supporters in the process. The Spanish authorities filed an international arrest warrant for Pinochet, alleging he was implicated in the death and torture of Spanish citizens in Chile and at one point the former Chilean dictator was arrested and held in Britain. A public relations campaign to free Pinochet led by supporters of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher was launched and the Blair government predictably buckled and released him on medical grounds.

General Augusto Pinochet – the Spanish warrant for his arrest set a precedent for the Bush Six

The move to indict the Bush Six began in the Spring of 2009 when once again a Spanish court took the initiative. It ordered a criminal investigation into allegations made by a British barrister, Phillipe Sands, that the six officials had enabled and abetted the torture of five former Spanish prisoners who were tortured at Guantanamo. The charges were filed by Gonzalo Boye, a Chilean-born Spanish lawyer and the judge assigned to the case was Baltasar Garzon, the same judge who initiated the legal proceedings against Pinochet.

The Spanish move was the signal for a major American fightback led by Team Obama. We know what happened and the extent of the pressure applied to Madrid by the Americans thanks to the Wikileaks cables.

The details were reported by the Crooks and Liars blog in December 2010:

“In its first months in office, the Obama administration sought to protect Bush administration officials facing criminal investigation overseas for their involvement in establishing policies the that governed interrogations of detained terrorist suspects. An April 17, 2009, cable sent from the US embassy in Madrid to the State Department—one of the 251,287 cables obtained by WikiLeaks—details how the Obama administration, working with Republicans, leaned on Spain to derail this potential prosecution.

“The previous month, a Spanish human rights group called the Association for the Dignity of Spanish Prisoners had requested that Spain’s National Court indict six former Bush officials for, as the cable describes it, “creating a legal framework that allegedly permitted torture.” The six were former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; David Addington, former chief of staff and legal adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney; William Haynes, the Pentagon’s former general counsel; Douglas Feith, former undersecretary of defense for policy; Jay Bybee, former head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and John Yoo, a former official in the Office of Legal Counsel. The human rights group contended that Spain had a duty to open an investigation under the nation’s “universal jurisdiction” law, which permits its legal system to prosecute overseas human rights crimes involving Spanish citizens and residents. Five Guantanamo detainees, the group maintained, fit that criteria.

“Soon after the request was made, the US embassy in Madrid began tracking the matter. On April 1, embassy officials spoke with chief prosecutor Javier Zaragoza, who indicated that he was not pleased to have been handed this case, but he believed that the complaint appeared to be well-documented and he’d have to pursue it. Around that time, the acting deputy chief of the US embassy talked to the chief of staff for Spain’s foreign minister and a senior official in the Spanish Ministry of Justice to convey, as the cable says, “that this was a very serious matter for the USG.” The two Spaniards “expressed their concern at the case but stressed the independence of the Spanish judiciary.”

“Two weeks later, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) and the embassy’s charge d’affaires “raised the issue” with another official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The next day, Zaragoza informed the US embassy that the complaint might not be legally sound. He noted he would ask Cándido Conde-Pumpido, Spain’s attorney general, to review whether Spain had jurisdiction.

“On April 15, Sen. Mel Martinez (R-Fla.), who’d recently been chairman of the Republican Party, and the US embassy’s charge d’affaires met with the acting Spanish foreign minister, Angel Lossada. The Americans, according to this cable, “underscored that the prosecutions would not be understood or accepted in the US and would have an enormous impact on the bilateral relationship” between Spain and the United States. Here was a former head of the GOP and a representative of a new Democratic administration (headed by a president who had decried the Bush-Cheney administration’s use of torture) jointly applying pressure on Spain to kill the investigation of the former Bush officials. Lossada replied that the independence of the Spanish judiciary had to be respected, but he added that the government would send a message to the attorney general that it did not favor prosecuting this case.

“The next day, April 16, 2009, Attorney General Conde-Pumpido publicly declared that he would not support the criminal complaint, calling it “fraudulent” and political. If the Bush officials had acted criminally, he said, then a case should be filed in the United States. On April 17, the prosecutors of the National Court filed a report asking that complaint be discontinued. In the April 17 cable, the American embassy in Madrid claimed some credit for Conde-Pumpido’s opposition, noting that “Conde-Pumpido’s public announcement follows outreach to [Government of Spain] officials to raise USG deep concerns on the implications of this case.”

“Still, this did not end the matter. It would still be up to investigating Judge Baltasar Garzón—a world-renowned jurist who had initiated previous prosecutions of war crimes and had publicly said that former President George W. Bush ought to be tried for war crimes—to decide whether to pursue the case against the six former Bush officials. That June—coincidentally or not—the Spanish Parliament passed legislation narrowing the use of “universal jurisdiction.” Still, in September 2009, Judge Garzón pushed ahead with the case.

“The case eventually came to be overseen by another judge who last spring asked the parties behind the complaint to explain why the investigation should continue. Several human rights groups filed a brief urging this judge to keep the case alive, citing the Obama administration’s failure to prosecute the Bush officials.”

Despite the pressure from Team Obama, the Spanish legal authorities would not quite take the final step and dismiss or close down the criminal investigation. When the new Spanish judge wrote to the DoJ in early 2011 asking for information about the six accused men and their part in formulating the torture policy, Mary Ellen Warlow was given the task of putting together the official answer from the US government. The letter she and a subordinate penned to their opposite numbers in Madrid requested the Spanish to drop the investigation and instead hand the case over to her colleagues for further action, a request that was, in the words of the Center for Constitutional Rights, “misleading” and “disingenious”.

The same woman who is seeking interviews from Boston College to sustain charges of “disappearing” Jean McConville against Dolours Price and possibly others, had no qualms telling the Spanish that “there is no basis for the criminal prosecution of John Yoo” and his five co-accused even though they gave the intellectual and legal justification for the CIA’s torture and disappearance of that unnamed Iraqi prisoner at Abu Ghraib – and others – as well as the torture, abuse and degradation of hundreds if not thousands of his countrymen; and no basis  even though the Bush Six also gave the intellectual and legal justification for water-boarding detainees at Guantanamo and at secret CIA black sites in Europe and the Middle East, a practice that had prompted the US government of the day to bring war crime charges against Japanese soldiers who had inflicted the same torture on Americans during World War II.

No justification either because two civilian contractors – neither of whom were direct US government employees – had been indicted and convicted of torture in Afghanistan thus demonstrating the US’ determination not to tolerate such abuse. No justification because the CIA is allowed to keep its self-investigations secret, no justification because an internal DoJ investigation cleared John Yoo of criminal behaviour and no justification even though the Senate Armed Forces Committee had, in an April 2009 report, not only indicted the Bush White House for planning to use torture soon after the 9/11 attacks but said it employed torture in an effort to justify the war in Iraqi by “discovering” links between the Saddam Hussein regime and Al Qaeda:

“The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees.”

Mary Ellen Warlow’s letter to the Spanish government demonstrated, the Center for Constitutional Rights concluded:

“…that the US is unwilling, not unable, to investigate these crimes for which there is a sufficient factual basis and indeed, an obligation to investigate under, inter alia, the Convention Against Torture. Spain must not, and cannot, defer to a policy decision not to prosecute, and must not transfer a case to the United States that it has been told unequivocally will not be prosecuted.”

As a case study in government hypocrisy the story of the two Mary Ellen Warlow’s takes the breath away. One demands that the crime of disappearing Jean McConville is so terrible that Boston College’s archives must be turned over to a government and police force which shows no willingness to investigate its own crimes so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice. The other indignantly denies the right of other governments to bring American officials to book for torturing, degrading, killing and disappearing Iraqis, Afghanis and assorted Arabs. Welcome to Obama’s America.