Monthly Archives: July 2012

Free Eskinder Nega!

During the more than a year that myself and Anthony McIntyre have been fighting the ill-advised attempts by the PSNI and the Obama Justice Department to confiscate the Belfast oral history archive at Boston College, we have been lucky to have secured the support of many good people from all walks of life who have been outraged and disturbed by this effort to censor and silence truth and history-telling.

As a journalist, I have been particularly gratified at the support shown by fellow members of the media, many of whom have been generous with their time and advice. At times like this solidarity is really a great thing.

Now, it is my time to give a little bit back and ask people who read this column to give their support to a journalist whose fate makes our predicament seem like an afternoon picnic by a beautiful lakeside.

In mid-July the Ethiopian government sentenced journalist Eskinder Nega to 18 years in jail, ostensibly for violating the country’s anti-terrorism laws but really for criticising arrests made under the same laws. In particular Nega, who has been involved in the local media since 1993 when he founded his first newspaper, criticised the arrest of Debebe Eshetu, one of Ethiopia’s best known actors who had been the face of political opposition during the 2005 election campaign and had questioned the validity of the election results.

Following his criticism of the election, riots flared and 200 people were killed. Debebe was convicted of treason and sentenced to life but was later pardoned. His recent arrest followed the passage of stringent anti-terrorism laws which government critics, such as Eskinder Nega say the government is using as a waepon to silence any and all political opposition.

Eskinder Naga’s arrest and conviction have outraged human rights groups and media organisations like the Committee to Protect Journalists have thrown their weight behind efforts to get him freed while Pen America awarded him its annual ‘Freedom to Write’ prize in May. Amnesty International made him a prisoner of conscience and said in a statement: “The imprisonment…is emblematic of the Ethiopian government’s determination to gag any dissenting voice in the country….(It is) treating calls for peaceful protest as a terrorist act and is outlawing the legitimate activity of journalists and opposition members.”

Here’s a video of that Pen ceremony in New York last May.

This just the sort of case, you might imagine, that would allow the Obama White House to flourish its human rights credentials. After all here is a journalist who also happens to be a legal resident of the US, the next stage to being an actual citizen, who has been jailed on trumped up charges under a widely criticised law for reasons that have nothing to do with combatting terrorism and everything to do with stifling normal political dissent.

Well, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton did issue a strongly worded condemnation of Eskinder Nega’s jailing, using words that I must say brought a cynical smile to my lips: “The arrest of journalists has a chilling effect on the media and on the right to freedom of expression. We have made clear in our ongoing human rights dialogue with the Ethiopian government that freedom of expression and freedom of the media are fundamental elements of a democratic society.”

But aside from that there has been only silence from the Obama administration. Now maybe I am too old and sardonic these days to see the good in people, and in this case I will try to suspend judgement for a while yet. As we say in Ireland ‘Fine words butter no parsnips’. But maybe something is going on behind the scenes. We shall see.

But I immediately started researching Ethiopia’s relations with the United States and surprise, surprise discovered reasons not just to think that Hillary’s condemnation is probably so much hot air but that if she or her minions make any more complaints to the Ethiopian regime about breaching human rights the government in Addis Ababa would have every right to laugh them out of the room.

It turns out that the government which Hillary is now scolding for its disregard for “freedom of expression and freedom of the media” turns out to have been Washington’s staunchest and most reliable allies in the never-ending Global War On Terrorism (GWOT) in the Horn of Africa and in such capacity has assisted the US to render and torture hundreds if not thousands of people.

The story begins in 2007 in the dying months of the Bush White House when the US backed an Ethiopian invasion of Somalia to unseat the Islamic Courts Union government that according to reports had brought a certain degree of order to a country that had been in turmoil for more than a decade.

Somalis in their thousands began fleeing the country but many were arrested in nearby Kenya or Ethiopia and rendered to secret CIA prisons in Ethiopia where many were interrogated under torture as suspect supporters of Al Qaeda or other jihadist groups. The Associated Press reported the story back in April 2007.

Direct US involvement in torture ended when Obama was elected and took office in January 2009 but according to American reporter Jeremy Scahill, the focus switched to Mogadishu, capital of the new US-friendly Somalian government where at a secret CIA jail near the international airport jihadist suspects rendered by Ethiopia and Kenya were interrogated, and possibly tortured by Somali agents in the pay of the US. It was a classic Obama operation; he could honestly say America no longer tortured people. It just paid others to do the dirty work.

The important part of this story is that the government which has jailed Eskinder Nega helped run torture jails for the CIA and now delivers rendered captives for torture by Somalis whose checks are cut by the US government. So when Hillary raises her deep concerns about the jailing of Eskinder Nega and its meaning for human rights in his country, the response of Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Senawi would not be difficult to predict.

All of which makes Eskinder Nega’s plight even more parlous and deserving of concern. My own fear is that with the presidential election looming in November and Obama intent on playing the role of ‘I’m the guy who got Osama’, Eskinder Nega is likely to fester away in jail so that the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave can get to enjoy a second term.

Which makes it all the more important that people register their support and concern for Eskinder Nega. You can do so by putting your name to this petition.

Wikipedia: Which? is a product-testing and consumer campaigning charity with a magazine, website and various other services run by Which? Ltd.

Who Will Win In November 2012 – Tweedledum or Tweedledee?

This fascinating and important analysis of Obama’s second term agenda comes courtesy of ‘Naked Capitalism’, a great site and the piece is written by Matt Stoller. He makes the vital point that both Obama and Romney are united in their desire to cut swathes into what remains of the New Deal and that essentially, and probably since the Carter presidency, substantial policy differences between Democrats and Republicans really no longer exist.

Obama’s Second Term Agenda: Cutting Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid

By Matt Stoller, a political analyst on Brand X with Russell Brand, and a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. You can follow him at http://www.twitter.com/matthewstoller

This is probably the least important Presidential election since the 1950s. As an experienced political hand told me, the two candidates are speaking not to the voters, but to the big money. They hold the same views, pursue the same policies, and are backed by similar interests. Mitt Romney implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts, or Obama implemented Romneycare nationally. Both are pro-choice or anti-choice as political needs change, both tend to be hawkish on foreign policy, both favor tax cuts for businesses, and both believe deeply in a corrupt technocratic establishment.

So while the election lumbers on like the death rattles of the wounded animal known American democracy, no one on either side is asking what the plan is for the next term. For Obama, his team is going into rooms of donors and shouting “Supreme Court”, while mumbling something about bipartisanship and $4 trillion, or Simpson-Bowles. What this means is that term two of the Obama White House will be organized around cutting entitlements.

The White House already tried cutting all three main entitlement programs, last year (cuts to Medicaid are actually cuts to Obamacare, for what it’s worth, since an expansion of Medicaid was a key plank of the new health care law).

The White House agreed to cut at least $250 billion from Medicare in the next 10 years and another $800 billion in the decade after that, in part by raising the eligibility age. The administration had endorsed another $110 billion or so in cuts to Medicaid and other health care programs, with $250 billion more in the second decade. And in a move certain to provoke rebellion in the Democratic ranks, Obama was willing to apply a new, less generous formula for calculating Social Security benefits, which would start in 2015.

Going after entitlements is in fact a tradition of Democratic politicians since the 1980s. The post-WWII model of dealing with entitlements was to expand them as a way of boosting aggregate demand. But as Carter, Reagan and Volcker ushered in an era of Wall Street greed and austerity, that trend reversed. In the early 1980s, Speaker of the House Tip O’Neil collaborated with Ronald Reagan to raise taxes on the poor and middle class with a “grand bargain” around Social Security. Later on, Bill Clinton had his go at the programs, with an even more aggressive plan to destroy the remains of New Deal liberalism.

One of the little known political stories of the late 1990s is how Bill Clinton tried to work with Newt Gingrich to cut Social Security for recipients and pour some of the Social Security trust fund into the booming stock market. Clinton was willing to oppose the liberal wing of his party to cut a deal, and accept Republican demands for private accounts and a higher retirement age. Gingrich was willing to let Clinton succeed at doing so. And Clinton put Erskine Bowles, a conservative Democrat, in charge of the effort.

But then Monica Lewinsky happened, and Clinton had to take refuge with the liberals, who might have abandoned him during his impeachment had he cut entitlements. As Bowles said, “Monica changed everything”. Bill Clinton was an obscenely corrupt politician, starting with NAFTA in the early 1990s and ending with financial deregulation until his final days in office. After he left office, he took over $80 million in bribes, and his team of advisors – people like Gene Sperling, Bob Rubin, and Larry Summers – operated just like he did, spinning between DC power and New York money for decades in a sea of graft and pay-to-play favors.

Barack Obama continues in this fine tradition of Democratic policymaking, and his advisors are quietly laying plans to cut Social Security, Medicare, and/or Medicaid in the second term of his administration. Obama appointed Erskine Bowles, who now works for a Wall Street botique, to head up his commission on fiscal responsibility. Bowles, along with an old man named Alan Simpson, came out with a set of proposals to cut the programs. And while Obama couldn’t get the Republicans to agree to it in 2011, he will try in his second term. Here’s the New Yorker laying out the plan.

There is a possibility that a second Obama term could begin with major deficit reduction and serious reform of taxes and entitlements. A similar opportunity arose in the second terms of Reagan (who in 1986 signed into law a historic tax-reform bill) and Clinton (who in 1997 reached a significant budget deal with Republicans). Although both victories occurred when the two parties were less polarized, many White House officials regard the successes as encouraging precedents. Several senior Clinton officials involved in the 1997 deal now work for Obama, including Jacob Lew, Obama’s chief of staff, and Gene Sperling, the head of the National Economic Council.

And sure enough, as Dean Baker points out, a gang of incredibly wealthy CEOs are planning to gut entitlements regardless of which candidate wins in 2012. It’s not just CEOs, of course, it’s also the usual gang of corrupt Democratic establishment folk. Here’s Steven Pearlstein describing one riveting meeting of the designated austerity group.

In addition to Cote, Dimon and Bertolini, the charter business members include Sandy Cutler of Eaton, Gregg Sherrill of Tenneco, Marty Flanagan of Invesco, Gary Loveman of Caesars, Thomas Quinlan of R.R. Donnelley & Sons and financiers Steven Rattner and Pete Peterson.

Later that evening, at Honeywell’s Washington office, over a salmon dinner with the floodlit Capitol dome as a backdrop, the executives huddled with their political co-conspirators: Simpson and Bowles, Warner and Saxby, and Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House. Also on board: Simpson-Bowles commissioners Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, and Andy Stern, former president of the Service Employees International Union.

It’s Senate leader Dick Durbin, House leader Steny Hoyer, and a bevy of CEOs and political leaders. As for non-CEO non-politicians, Andy Stern is a key tell. Back in 2009, when he led the powerhouse union SEIU, Stern visited the White House more often than anyone else. Back when he was trying to woo bloggers in the mid-2000s, Stern invited me on a trip around the country to see the union. On that trip, he told me that SEIU was growing so quickly he wished he could cash out and take it public. Since retiring from SEIU, Stern is now on the board of a bio-weapons company and his political connections are what he sells. So he’s one of the links between shutting down liberal opposition to this plan, the White House, and the business community. That level of self-serving cynicism has become the basis of our political system, and it’s an important cultural element in delivering austerity to a public that doesn’t want it.

It’s useful to remember, this election season, that the way the debate is framed matters. That Obama isn’t choosing to discuss in public what he will do to cut Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and that Romney isn’t specific about it either, should show you who this election is for. But in addition, that both Bush, Clinton, and Obama (in his first term) failed at cutting Social Security means that an aroused public can stop austerity, when politicians feel their office is at risk. Clinton chose to abandon his plans to gut entitlements when facing impeachment and Bush chose to stop when his plan threatened the Republican Congress.

The joke during the transition in 2008 was that the people who supported Obama got a President, and those who supported Clinton got a job. The Clintonistas didn’t manage to gut entitlements in the 1990s, but they will sure try again and again until they succeed or someone takes their keys to the White House away.

This election, aside from not being much of an election for anyone but the billionaire funders who have the real votes, doesn’t really matter. But keeping in mind who is doing what does. Because if there’s a chance to save anything for anyone who isn’t ultra-wealthy from 2013 going forward, it’s going to require being able to create credible threats to the politicians making the policy.

 

Boston College Subooenas – Our Lawyers’ Verdict On First Circuit

Myself and Anthony McIntyre have been blessed in our fight to protect the IRA archive at Boston College from the PSNI and US Attorney-General Eric Holder, to have had the legal wisdom of two great lawyers on our side, Jim Cotter from Boston and Eamonn Dornan, a Castlewellan native who shuttles between the Bar in Dublin and Belfast and his law practice in Queens, New York. It is no exaggeration to say we would not have come this far without them.

 

Jim and Eamonn have written a great article for publication in Irish-American newspapers. It was originally written as a response to the Boston Globe which published an editorial supporting the First Circuit court of appeal’s verdict on our appeal against being barred from being allowed to intervene in the case. That editorial was followed by an OpEd written by the Globe’s resident neocon, a thorougly stupid woman called Juliet Kayyem who, needless to say, had orgasms of delight over the judgement. Jim and Eamonn asked for space to respond but were denied by the Globe’s editors. So they have circulated it for publication elsewhere. It is an excellent critique of the appeal judgement which is a must-read for all who have followed the case. Here it is:

Americans’ 1st Amendment right to know trumps foreign treaty agreements

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Ed Moloney

By James J. Cotter III and Eamonn Dornan

A recent US Federal Appeals Court decision upholding subpoenas of research by two Boston College scholars into “The Troubles” has grave implications for political stability in Northern Ireland but it also highlights the threat to Americans’ rights to free speech, a concern that will be shared, we believe, by the Irish people and all who value this most sacred and basic of human rights.

Academics—and journalists—take considerable risks in providing the American public with insightful information into the thoughts and processes of combatants in the world’s trouble zones. They deserve protections that the Court’s recent ruling denies.

In this case, the British Government, with the acquiescence of US Attorney General Eric Holder, sought interviews that IRA combatants contributed to the “Belfast Project” and held at Boston College under the strictest conditions of security and confidentiality. We believe that these materials should be kept sacrosanct, and that their disclosure threatens to swing a wrecking ball through a painstakingly-constructed Irish Peace Process that Americans, as well as Irishmen, can rightly view with the pride of ownership.

The Belfast Project researchers, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, made a number of compelling arguments advancing the free flow of information to the American public in the face of a subpoena from a foreign government, namely:

- British law enforcement could not demonstrate that the subpoenaed materials were essential to a good faith criminal investigation, as opposed to a politically-motivated propaganda exercise;

- the British made no attempt to obtain the information from less sensitive sources within its own jurisdiction, which they easily could have, instead turning the matter to our Attorney General to sort out;

- American citizens subject to a foreign subpoena will be deprived of their due process right to be heard in defense of government action and to raise allegations of bad faith on the part of the foreign government.

Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals decided that, pursuant to a treaty between the U.S. and U.K., the researchers did not even have the right to be heard or to assert a challenge that the request for evidence into the 40-year old killing was not the result of a police investigation made in good faith.

This decision means that our universities and citizens will be that much less informed, having been robbed of testimony from combatants in trouble zones throughout the world.

It also means that American citizens paradoxically have fewer rights when served with a subpoena from a foreign nation than when served with one from a U.S. law enforcement agency. Depriving U.S. citizens of their constitutional right to be heard on government actions which might adversely affect their interests was not the result anticipated by the US Senate or the President when the mutual legal assistance treaty with the British was ratified. In fact, this matter is of particular concern to Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee.

Anthony McIntyre

Some commentators, such as Boston Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem (“BC case throws cold water on IRA, academia,” July 12) took a rather simplistic view of the world in relation to the release of these records when she wrote that “there should be no exception for ‘good’ terrorists.” But, of course, there have always been exceptions for “good terrorists” – those paid by the British government who have enjoyed immunity for the murder of innocent Irish nationalists, including human rights lawyers. Where stands, for instance, British prime minister Tony Blair’s promise of a full public inquiry into the killing of Pat Finucane?

The U.S.-sponsored Good Friday Agreement was designed to end the days when a partisan police force could engage in politically-motivated prosecutions of participants from only one side of the combat.

Americans cherish their history. Our clients and others will continue to fight to protect the hard earned rights enshrined in our Constitution, including the rights of U.S. citizens to be heard when our government acts adversely to all our interests. We hope and believe that the people of Ireland will share in our quest.

James J. Cotter III and Eamonn Dornan are attorneys for Boston College researchers Ed Moloney and Anthony McIntyre.


 

Welcome To America

The two stories below speak for themselves. If ever a country needed a new revolution, it is America. Words fail me.

A Tribute To Alex Cockburn

Alexander Cockburn, who died at the weekend

If there was always one reason to look forward to a Friday, it was because that was the day Alex Cockburn’s Counterpunch piece appeared and you could be assured of a forceful, well informed take on a topical issue, of the sort the conventional, conforming media would usually strive to avoid.

It would be quite late, New York time before his article appeared so I used to cheat and take a peak at ‘The Week’, the lively internet newspaper which every week carried a truncated version of his Counterpunch column.

Last Friday, however, there was no sign of it, nor in Counterpunch later. I was disappointed and curious but thought no more of it until late Saturday afternoon when the dreadful news of his death came through.

I had never met Alex Cockburn but we had talked by phone, he in California and me in Belfast. I will always remember, with gratitude and a sense of humility, the piece he wrote in The Nation magazine in 1999 about my run-in with Scotland Yard over my interview notes with Billy Stobie.

The police were trying to frame Stobie with the murder of Belfast attorney, Pat Finucane even though as a Special Branch agent in the UDA he had done his best to warn his handlers, both before and after the killing. I had interviewed Stobie eight years before about his role in the killing and his work for the RUC on the understanding that the interview would stay secret until he gave the say-so. When he was arrested and charged by the team led by Hugh Orde with the Finucane murder, he gave the green light and I wrote up the story in the Sunday Tribune, a disgraceful tale of collusion with killers by the RUC Special Branch to remove a lawyer whose speciality was defending IRA members.

A few days after the article appeared, Scotland Yard appeared on my doorstep with a subpoena demanding I hand over my interview notes. I refused.

A campaign to resist the subpoena was launched and was particularly effective in the US where, in those days at least, they still took matters like journalistic confidentiality seriously and did not at all like the idea of cops helping to kill defence lawyers. Alex phoned me to say he wanted to use his weekly column in The Nation to publicize the case and as he interviewed me, he also composed the article. Within twenty minutes he had the piece written and it was as cogent and biting an article as appeared anywhere at that time. It was an astonishing and rare gift, as anyone who has practised this trade can tell you.

I write this tribute to him with a sense of deja vu. The cops, this time in the shape of the PSNI, are attempting to seize interviews from the Belfast Project archive at Boston College and once more I am in the midst of a campaign to defend source confidentiality. And once again, Alex Cockburn in the shape of his invaluable Counterpunch site came up trumps, giving space to myself and Eamonn McCann to write about aspects of this affair that the mainstream media will not.

Thanks Alex. They broke the mould when they made you.

Hillary and Holder Now Free to Stop Boston College Subpoenas

In the wake of what was otherwise a disappointing and intellectually unimpressive judgement from the First Circuit Appeal Court on the PSNI subpoenas for the Boston College oral history archive, it is now clear that any obstacles in the way of Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder stopping this foolish and counterproductive move by the PSNI have been removed.

First of all, the First Circuit has delivered its verdict. No matter that it was not the verdict we wanted to read, nonetheless the Obama White House can no longer say that their hands are tied because the matter is still being considered by the courts.

The second reason comes at the end of this distinctly unimpressive and unconvincing verdict. The last four pages are taken up by what might be called a semi-dissent from the first Hispanic to sit on the the First Circuit bench, Judge Juan Torruella whose view was that while he disagreed with the other two judges’ reasoning, he reluctantly went along with the judgement, if only because of Supreme Court precedent.

In the midst of his commentary one or two diamonds sparkle and catch the eye. And one lustrous gem makes it very clear that a) the alleged offences that are the subject of the subpoenas are undeniably political in nature and b) while we as the individual appellants are unable to make that objection in court because the legislation that enabled these subpoenas, the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between the US and UK, renders that impossible the US government could and if they did, the subpoenas would be dead in the water. In other words Eric Holder, either by himself or because of pressure from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton could stop these subpoenas in their tracks.

Judge Juan Torruella: The conflict in Northern Ireland was political

There are two things to say about this. The first is that this determination by such a senior American judge that the conflict in Northern Ireland was essentially political in nature is of enormous significance and a real slap in the face to all those, from Roy Mason to Margaret Thatcher and beyond who insisted it was never anything but a criminal conflict. Judge Torruella is, in essence, saying that Bobby Sands was justified to demand political status, as were all those other IRA prisoners who either died on hunger strikes or endured years of prison protest because the British had declared them criminals.

Hillary Clinton signs autographs in Belfast after the Good Friday Agreement was signed – she could ask Eric Holder to dump the PSNI subpoenas

The seoond point is that the judge has now given perfect cover to Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder to dump these subpoenas. If they want to and, presumably, if enough pressure is applied to them from Irish-America.

Eric Holder – He could take Judge Torruella’s advice, tear up the PSNI subpoenas and win fans in Irish-America. It is an election year, after all.

Here is what Judge Torruella had to say. It comes as footnote number 28 on page 45:

Appellants also claim that the Attorney General’s actions are not in compliance with the US-UK-MLAT, among other reasons, because “the crimes under investigation by the United Kingdom were of ‘a political nature.’” Pursuant to Article 3, ¶ 1(c)(i) of the treaty the United States may refuse assistance to the United Kingdom’s request if it relates to “an offense of a political nature.” Ignoring the underlying and pervasive political nature of the “Troubles,” as the Irish-British controversy has come to be known in Northern Ireland, is simply ignoring one hundred years of a well-documented history of political turmoil. These came into focus when Ireland was partitioned, and six of its Ulster counties were constituted into Northern Ireland as an integral part of the United Kingdom by virtue of the Government of Ireland Act of 1920. See generally Northern Ireland Politics (Arthur Aughley & Duncan Morrow eds.) (1996). That the academic investigations carried out by Appellants in this case, and the evidence sought by the United Kingdom involve “offenses of a political nature” irrespective of how heinous we may consider them, is borne out by the terms of the Belfast Agreement (also known as the “Good Friday Agreement”) entered into by the Government of the United Kingdom and the Irish Republican Army, whereby almost all prisoners were released by the British government, including many who had been convicted of murder. See Karl S. Bottigheirmer & Arthur H. Aughley, Northern Ireland, Encyclopaedia Britannica (2007). Unfortunately for Appellants, they are foreclosed from pursuing their claim by virtue of Article 1, ¶ 3 of the treaty, which prohibits private parties from enforcing any rights thereunder.

Press Statement On Boston College Subpoenas

Press Statement
From Ed Moloney & Anthony McIntyre
July 8th, 2012

After consulting with our attorneys, Eamonn Dornan and JJ Cotter we have agreed to consider a motion for a re-hearing of the case en banc* because there are issues of exceptional importance raised in the judgement of the First Circuit Federal Appeals Court which the court did not properly address. Not least of these are our constitutional right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment including the protection of academic research; our rights, not least to life, under the Fifth Amendment and the fact that this is the first time in US legal history that a Federal Appeals court has dealt with the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) under this particular section 18 USC 3512.

We continue to keep our legal options in the Belfast courts open.

*An en banc hearing would mean that the case would be re-heard in front of the entire bench of the First Circuit appeals court.