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SPOILER ALERT: my review of this 5 star book is not only a recommendation but a summary of its plot
This book has it all. Patriotic American soldier compelled by his conscience to prove his government’s attempt to cover up a war crime? Check. Neckless corpses of prisoners of war returned to their families with no further explanation? Check. Autopsy reports showing mysteriously high dosages of an unnecessary vaccine whose side-effects at such a high dose are the psychological equivalent of the terror of 30 days of nonstop waterboarding? Check. Tom Clancy style intelligence community tipsters who call late at night from a blocked phone number to drop URL breadcrumbs leading to missing pages of a 3,000 page NCIS report so redacted it takes a team of law students to make heads or tails of it over months of research? Check. But this is no novel. “Murder at Camp Delta” is a true story written by a marine who values his oath to serve his country and protect the Constitution so intensely that it trumps all concern for any potential consequences he might suffer as a result of this book’s publication.
Sgt Joseph Hickman paints a picture of his experience at the prison at Guantanamo Bay in a series of vivid and sometimes even funny memories of his deployment to JTF-GTMO, among them a bit of culture-shock when an English speaking detainee, replete with British accent, calls him “mate” and asks him to toss a fugitive soccer ball back over a fence, the time he gets called Satan and told he fights like a demon by a group of detainees who rush his team in a communal cell, or the brotherly (and hilarious) grief he gets from his squad for going to a movie with a younger female medic. All of these vignettes show us the unique personality of a soldier who serves in the military with pride and honor. But it is the moments where Sgt Hickman serves our country, willing to make sacrifices many in his position might not, that make this story one of heroism. One of the most memorable is when he stops two guards from playing a game with a detainee who had a prosthetic leg. The guards liked to make the man, al-Gazzar, put on his prosthetic leg, shackle him, and make him walk that way so that when one of them tapped the prosthetic leg, the detainee would collapse and flail on the ground. Why? When Sgt Hickman asks them why, they say because it’s “f—ing hilarious.” In contrast, Hickman addresses this man as a human being — an alleged terrorist — not as a monster, and speaks to him in a rapport-building manner, affording him basic decency, the kind the United States used to lead the world in displaying even in times of desperation such as war. Sgt Hickman’s resistance to the steamrolling of our national moral compass, not only when he protects al-Gazzar from torment (and, no, not because reverse-Stockholm syndrome kicked in and he was sympathizing with al-Gazzar or even because Geneva Convention dictates: he did it because treating prisoners of war humanely is the right thing to do) but again when he goes to the Inspector General, adhering to all military protocol, to report discrepancies in the official Pentagon version of the story of the deaths of 3 detainees on the night of June 9, 2006. What the Pentagon announces to the media is that the three deaths were part of a suicide pact among 3 detainees determined to commit asymmetrical warfare against the US by hanging themselves in their cells. The discrepancy? Sgt Hickman was on duty as SOG (Sergeant of the Guard) and assigned to watch over the entire Alpha Block where all 3 of those detainees were housed, standing fewer than 200 feet away from those very cells. As he states in the book, he was a witness to the fact that three men were not carried from Alpha block to the medical clinic after midnight or at any time that evening, contrary to what the NCIS investigation report stated; but he was witness to three men – three alive men – being let out and taken away from their cells hours before the “suicides” were alleged by the Pentagon to have taken place. (For those familiar with recent history’s revelations that GTMO was also used as a black site for the EIT program, you can guess that they were being taken to that black site building for some “Q & A;” Sgt Hickman is very careful, however, to merely state the facts as he observes them which in my view, lends even greater credibility to his testimony. And he does state that it was a common occurrence for detainees to be removed from their cells and brought back at a later time.)
Haunted by his memories and how they compare to the “official version” of the night of June 9, 2006, Sgt Hickman describes the anguish that compels him to find out if his government was involved in a true cover-up. When he realizes he’ll need help to prove it — or, as he initially and optimistically hopes, to disprove any hint of conspiracy — he chooses Seton Hall University School of Law’s Center for Policy and Research based on their impressive “Report on Guantanamo Detainees: A Profile of 517 Detainees Through Analysis of Department of Defense Data” which deduced that only 8% of Guantanamo detainees were actually al qaeda fighters. The most interesting thing about Seton Hall’s team of researchers is the methodology they employ, relying only on the government’s own public reports and public federal court findings to identify contradictions and then use the process of elimination to reveal the truth, much like solving an elaborate logic square puzzle. So without knowing anything about any Joseph Hickman or his side of the story, the graduate students on the Seton Hall team focus only on the heavily redacted and incomplete 3,000 page NCIS report of the investigation into the events of June 9, 2006 and slowly but surely scrape away the layers of misdirection that inundate it. Their conclusion? Three prisoners died but not in their cells.
Three Guantanamo prisoners died on the night of June 9, 2006. But not in their cells.
Additionally, after the research team learns that the cell blocks had cameras both inside the cells and out, they are shocked to see that NCIS had made this illogical note in the report: “No video evidence is available.” Really? And conveniently, when the the bodies of the dead were sent back to their families, the families could not have their sons properly autopsied to independently verify death by hanging. Why? Because they were sent back without the necks. And then there was the repeated reference NCIS made to an unnamed Senior Medical Officer (SMO) who had examined all three of the detainees and pronounced them dead, yet, oddly, none of the investigators had taken a statement from him or her.
The reader soon learns that, meanwhile, the IG (Inspector General) has declined to order the FBI to investigate Sgt Hickman’s claims, and then, disappointingly, that ABC declines to air the TV interview of Sgt Hickman they had filmed (after running it by the Pentagon, they changed their mind). Harper’s magazine does run an award winning story about the deaths in 2010, but the backlash from both government officials and the mainstream media is endless. All hope seems lost when — very suddenly — the story takes an unexpected Tom Clancy turn and Sgt Hickman gets a mysterious phone call from someone whose caller id is blocked. Someone, the reader gasps to discover, within the intelligence community who won’t even say his name before rushing to alert Hickman to an obscure file on the Department of Defense website, one of over 200,000 released in response to a FOIA request, showing a memo from, and signed by, Admiral Harris – the highest ranking military official at GTMO on June 9, 2006 – to General Craddock (then head of SouthCom) encouraging him to encourage NCIS to specifically seek evidence of a suicide plot in their investigation despite the fact that NCIS had already concluded that there was not one. While this is surprising and a blatant attempt to manipulate the outcome of the investigation, this reader concluded that the real point of Unnamed Caller’s tip was to get Sgt Hickman onto the page of the DoD website with the data dump so that Hickman would eventually ask himself, “wait – if this Admiral Harris memo somehow mysteriously ended up on here, what if something else having to do with the NCIS investigation got inadvertently uploaded too?” Which something else did. Two something elses that Hickman finds after three weeks of sifting through a hay-mountain.
Remember the missing Senior Medical Officer’s statement? The one the Seton Hall researchers were shocked was never taken by NCIS when that person would have been the one to examine the bodies and pronounce them dead? Lo and behold, that missing page of the NCIS report was part of the same FOIA “data dump” as the Admiral Harris Memo, and in it, the Senior Medical Officer clearly states the cause of death of one of the three detainees who died on June 9, 2006, al-Zahrani: asphyxiation caused by a blockage of the airway, a result of cloth inserted through his oral cavity and into the windpipe. Not hanging. Not suicide. Cloth. Rags stuffed so far down his throat that he choked to death.
The second document Sgt Hickman found in the data dump was the sworn statement — three pages long — of a master-at-arms (military police officer here identified as an MA3) who said he saw al-Zahrani in the early hours of June 10, 2006 in the medical clinic still alive, but limp, his feet blue. This MA3 and his partner had been called to assist by the use of a medical brevity code that indicated a living detainee having life-threatening symptoms, a code used frequently to call responders to hunger-striking detainees who had become faint from lack of food, not one used to indicate a suicide in progress. And, this MA3 described medical staff then telling the Camp 1 guards to remove al-Zahrani’s handcuffs so an IV could be inserted. (Slightly difficult for a person to hang themselves with handcuffs on – even more odd for a person to put his or her head in a noose and get all set to jump and then put handcuffs on before jumping.) This MA3 makes 2 more astounding claims, under oath: 1) that after the handcuffs were removed, he observed a corpsman binding an altered detainee bed sheet to each of al-Zahrani’s wrists, leaving approximately a foot of cloth in between and 2) that two Combat Camera personnel began to film all three detainees before “Colonel B” stopped them.
Then we learn that those three pages comprising the MA3’s statement were not only removed from the 3,000 page NCIS report, but three other pages of it were copied and RE-NUMBERED BY OUR GOVERNMENT and inserted back into the 3,000 page report as if no one would ever pore over each page and realize that three pages had duplicates. (The Seton Hall students at first merely assumed those pages were misnumbered, not that they were re-numbered by a federal government employee and deliberately falsely substituted in place of the actual pages. However, I would like to give that person the benefit of the doubt, because perhaps he or she is actually a whistleblower and had planned all along to release the missing three pages during a FOIA data dump, and once they were available online, to call an IC tipster with the specific DoD website folder they were uploaded to who would then contact someone in the press if it wasn’t discovered by them without any clues.)
Then the plot takes a blood-curdling turn as Sgt Hickman makes another devastating discovery. And the specific horror we learn our government allowed to be inflicted on other human beings at GTMO at the direct behest of George W. Bush and Donald Rumsfeld defies all sense of wrong and right and knowing the difference between the two. Each detainee, upon arrival at GTMO, was given the drug mefloquine at 5 times the normal dose, a dose known to cause hallucinations, suicidal thoughts and the feeling of being terrified — non-stop — for at least 30 days. And while these human beings were being subjected to the equivalent of psychological waterboarding from the mefloquine, they would also be held in isolation. That’s the government’s word for solitary confinement which we now know can cause insanity on its own, to say nothing of combining it with pharmacological warfare.
There is no doubt in my mind that “Murder at Camp Delta” will be required reading in every U.S. high school’s American History class half a century from now. If only it were required reading for Congress, today. And there is a commensurate lack of doubt in my mind that this book’s author’s testimony will be instrumental in the conviction and sentencing of alleged war criminal Donald Rumsfeld. If reading this review makes you wonder what happened to your country, stop. We know what happened. A culture of vengeance-gone-wild, nurtured by Orwellian terms like “detainees” instead of prisoners, “enhanced interrogation” instead of torture and “unlawful combatants” instead of prisoners of war, a Wall Street incentivized by incredible returns on investments made in companies like Halliburton, a Congress incentivized by re-election campaign donations from behemoth national security contractors, and an entire intelligence community held hostage by Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld as surely as the passengers on flights on September 11, 2001 were held hostage by terrorists, all contributed to the stain on our nation’s history that is Guantanamo Bay. Mix in a recession so damaging to national morale that Americans were too consumed with worry over imminent layoff, foreclosure and/or bankruptcy to protest the Bush Administration’s moral bankruptcy, and presto, change-o: unbridled tyranny.
Buy this book. Read this book. Ask your Senators and Representative to read this book. Ask the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to hold a congressional hearing to fully investigate the factual information available to them through this book and from other sources regarding the Special Access Program that, through the stroke of a secret, classified 2002 executive order issued by President Bush, turned a detention center into a battle lab, one in which the most heinous of war crimes were allegedly committed.
**Think no one at GTMO back in 2002 protested the horrors being done in the American people’s names? Think again. Hickman learned over the course of writing this book that Mark Fallon, then the deputy commander of the Criminal Investigation Task Force at Guantanamo, wrote an email to a CIA lawyer and a military lawyer about the use of torture techniques, stating, “This looks like the kind of stuff Congressional hearings are made of. Someone needs to be considering how history will look back at this.”
**See also the impeccable investigative reporting in this 2010 truthout article by Jason Leopold and Jeff Kaye mentioned by Sgt Hickman in the book on the use of mefloquine on all GTMO detainees as part of the “Standard Inprocessing Orders for Detainees” given in 1250 mg dosages, five times the normal dose, which the military already knew would cause “severe neuropsychiatric side effects, including seizures, intense vertigo, hallucinations, paranoid delusions, aggression, panic, anxiety, severe insomnia, and thoughts of suicide.”
The following text is re-blogged with permission from JoslynStevens.com from her blog post entitled “Q & A with Sarah Reynolds.” Joslyn is a social justice activist who promotes income equality and the #RaiseTheWage movement, like myself. I was lucky enough to receive a DM from her asking me if I would like to be interviewed as part of her series of weekly Q & A’s with people who are making a progressive difference in our country and the world. We share a love of Jesse Ventura, Ralph Nader, and the Bill of Rights, and I admire her independent, 3rd party-loving passion and drive for truth and justice so of course I couldn’t wait to see what awesome topics she would come up with for me to write about. Please check out her blog when you have a chance and be sure to follow her on twitter at @JoslynStevens. If you enjoy her thought-provoking questions below, please click here to be taken directly to the original post in order to like and share. And if you enjoyed my thought-provoking answers, please like this post. Your comments are welcome, as always. Especially from any patriots who might want to be interviewed in Nathan Hale Park and talk about the (opposite of how a) Patriot (would) Act and closing Gitmo.
This week I spoke to Sarah Reynolds, author, messenger, and millennial about our government’s abuse of its power, what it means to be a patriot, and why there’s still time for the Millennial generation to change things.
Last month in North Carolina over 80,000 people came out for a Moral Monday protest against extreme austerity and the other weekend close to 100,000 Australians protested the corruption of their prime minister and government. I know you are a big fan of signing online petitions to bring about change but it seems a more hands on approach is necessary. In terms of citizen engagement, do you think petitions are just as an effective form of activism as opposed to hitting the streets?
A. If not more effective. What I’ve noticed — and this is so so unfortunate — is that when people’s commute is lengthened by protesters in
the street blocking the flow of traffic, the protest’s purpose (to shed light on an injustice) is actually now associated in the bystander’s mind
with the pain and discomfort of an inconvenience. People are funny. If you piss them off on the way home from work, they’ll hate you for a long time. It’s that whole primal reward and punishment part of the brain we have to appeal to as activists if we’re going to motivate the unaware and inactive to read up on issues and take action.
It’s my thought that if those same number of activists spent the same number of hours door-knocking, registering people to vote, and organizing monthly meetups where people engage in calling, post-carding and letter writing to Congress, that we would get a lot further a lot faster in our efforts to achieve progress. I always tweet that a petition a day keeps the fascism away and then follow up with the line from the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting…the right of the people…to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” Any time we exert pressure on our rulers (politicians) to get what we want instead of what monied interests want, we are petitioning authority. And sustained pressure will be the key to our progress – we’ve got to request and remind, request and remind. Hey, Congress, Mr President, this is what we want.
And then, we have to remind these elected officials that they work for us. The day we turn 18, we become the employer of 4 federal employees: the President, our 2 U.S. Senators, and our 1 U.S. Representative. Yes, elected officials have the authority, but we have the power — the power to keep them on the payroll or vote them out.
By the same token, the history in our country of the right to peacefully assemble is very interesting: the right to gather became enshrined in the
1st Amendment because the Crown had prevented the early American colonists from gathering and discussing the issues of the day by making town meetings illegal. Essentially, King George knew if people could get together and share ideas, they would soon start organizing and protesting injustice and revolting against tyranny. Organization is like rocket fuel to a movement. Additionally, I 100% agree with you that taking to the streets is a great way to publicize a cause — and as long as the emphasis is on signing a petition, and writing, and calling Congress as soon as everyone gets home, I’m all for it, as step 1 in a 2 Part Action Plan.
You are passionate about and committed to seeing Gitmo closed and filmed yourself calling Obama on this issue. Here we are over 5 years into Obama’s presidency and Guantanamo Bay is still open and at least 76 prisoners, who have been exonerated, remain captive. What’s going on?
A. There are two issues here: the transfer of the 76 cleared-for-release “detainees,” or as you more accurately put it, prisoners, and the remaining 79 men who really could be charged and tried for crime in federal court or a military commission. But Congress has repeatedly passed legislation that prevents them from being transferred to the United States from Cuba. President Obama said in January of this year that, “The executive branch must have the authority to determine when and where to prosecute Guantanamo detainees.” Ironically, the desires of the executive branch shouldn’t have anything to do with why they get charged and tried in federal court.
They should get charged and tried in federal court because Camp Justice should never have come into existence; there should never have been off-the-grid interrogations at Gitmo or anywhere else. AUMF — the travesty of legislation known as the Authorization for the Use of Military Force passed in the wake of 9/11 — is the only thing that allowed a “detention facility” off US soil used to hold people indefinitely without charge or trial to be built in the first place. You know, they could hurry up and do the military commissions right at Gitmo. They’re not doing that because of lack of evidence or evidence that was obtained through torture – so by delaying trial, Fed Gov is essentially admitting that they couldn’t get the guilty verdicts they want. And the truth is that there is a very real possibility that men who are guilty of engaging in terrorist acts could go free after a not-guilty verdict is rendered because the burden of proof that a trial requires might not be satisfied.
There’s a cost/benefits analysis built into our justice system: the founding fathers, the framers of our constitution, believed that it would be better if a hundred guilty people went free (due to lack of satisfying the burden of proof) than for one single innocent person to end up imprisoned for a crime they didn’t commit. This was their mathematical formula — a justice to injustice ratio! — for calculating the value of preventing injustice. They valued preventing injustice (wrongful imprisonment) 100 times more than getting justice (“rightful” imprisonment). Our entire court system is predicated on this concept, the idea and ideal that the price to prevent injustice is the cost of lost justice, and the founders had decided that the resulting margin of error was one that society should accept and be happy to pay, for the greater good.
And for a very specific greater good: to protect the common man or woman from a corrupt government that would plant evidence and/or charge the innocent – as an act of retaliation for protesting that government corruption – with crimes they did not in fact commit. So the founders made the guilty conviction a lot harder than the not-guilty one: the prosecutor has to sell 12 people (a whole jury) on guilt whereas the defense attorney only has to sell one person on doubt of that guilt. So due process ends up being a lot like the Yelp review filter: not all the guilty get caught but only a very few innocent people end up wrongly categorized.
The other half of the delay is the incredible amount of money that is being made from Gitmo: 2.7 million dollars a year isn’t the cost of each Gitmo detainee – it’s the price. The cost is less, so there’s a profit. Just the building being open is causing the whole Bill of Rights-violating set-up to act as a source of profit for an untold number of people. And that is the primary reason I believe that Congress doesn’t budge on the transfers – the military industrial complex is lobbying against it, and that means lots of re-election campaign funding dollars for lots of representatives and senators. Again, sustained pressure is the key: request and remind, request and remind.
Like many others, I love Jesse Ventura’s no-bullshit approach to the truth especially when it comes to confronting the greed of the one percent. Ventura has held office before and isn’t ruling out a 2016 run. Why do think a presidential ticket of Jesse Ventura and Dennis Kucinich would be good for America?
A. Oh, yes — my dream ticket would have Ventura for President, Kucinich for Vice President. Call it the Progressive Patriot Party. I love Jesse
Ventura!! And I love Dennis Kucinich — the man carries a copy of the Constitution around with him in his pocket. I LOVE YOU, DENNIS, if you’re reading this. (Kidding … mostly kidding). But seriously. I was seventeen and a senior in high school when Jesse Ventura ran for Governor in Minnesota in the fall of ’98. I missed being old enough to vote for him by six weeks — I was so disappointed that I didn’t get to vote in that
election. I was so excited about him as an independent politician. He had such an aura about him, what you refer to, Joslyn, as the no-bullshit,
take-no-prisoners, doesn’t suffer-fools-gladly approach, along with this neighborly, down to earth, what we call a true Minnesotan, personality. He just says what he’s thinking.
He’s not trying to polish it up or impress anyone, he speaks the truth and isn’t afraid to make a mistake, knowing full well the media will beat him over the head with the reminder of it every chance they get. He can handle it. We know he wants minimal government interference in personal preferences and civil liberties (like gay marriage, drug use, abortion, etc) but he understands that some things are better socialized, like the military. He’s a SEAL so he gets that while we ought to have a military (what I call the original Department of Homeland Security), we certainly don’t need to be spending billions of dollars every year enriching private security contractors like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, etc. Not only is it more expensive, it’s not wise to ever give anyone an incentive to prolong war.
What a dangerous game that kind of greed engenders — building F35′s that don’t fly is the tip of the iceberg. And Kucinich is such an old school democrat. He really understands that he is to represent the people in everything he does, and that without taking care of our planet, future generations will be left with a legacy of ever increasing cancer rates due to chemicals in the air and water, that no mater how cheap nuclear power is, the costs of the inevitable tragic meltdown are far greater — and he said this years before Fukushima. He wants us to be done with war for profit (voted against invading Iraq post-9/11) and supports Medicare for All, as just one step in achieving income equality. The man loves his country and everyone in it, let’s put it that way. He proposed a Department of Peace and wants us to pull out of NAFTA – I love this guy.
Many people-powered political uprisings have been the result of food insecurity, a global problem, in countries like Egypt. Here, we have over 46 million people living in poverty so we’re seeing more families going hungry and food pantries popping up on college campuses. Given repeated cuts to the SNAP program and congress’ continued proposals to steal Social Security from seniors, do you see Americans finally having our own Arab Spring?
A. I hope it never comes to that because revolutions involve such chaos: women get raped, children have to witness horror, schools shut down, hospitals get looted — revolutions are hell, second only to hell of war itself. That’s the extreme side of it, of course. Can they be worth the outcome? Yes, definitely. I remain somewhat skeptical of the six of one, half a dozen of the other dictator-switch that happens so often in the Arab world. What I would like to see blossom in the hearts and minds of Americans are the buds of awareness of our own collective power. The people of Tunisia took to the streets because they do not have have the right to vote for representatives in a democratic republic also known as a constitutional republic (our system) or anything remotely close to our referendums and other forms of direct democracy.
We have the power here in the U.S. And more and more people are waking up to the responsibility that having power requires us to take. Social Security is a good example. President Obama and party-line dems thought they could pass chained CPI and the American people wouldn’t bat an eye last year. Wrong. We called, we wrote, we signed the petitions. And we did it – we succeeded at getting chained CPI off the table. This past summer we collectively prevented an attack on Syria the same way. It was amazing! Again it started out as a “support the President; you love Obama, right? Cuz you totally just re-elected him so do what he says, okay, you guys?” and we were all like, no. I wrote my Rep and my two Senators, and called all three and tweeted at them and told them, “hey, I voted for you before and I was happy to do it. You support an attack on a country that is not a threat to us? I’ll be writing in Nathan Hale in the next election, thanks.”
If more people continue to wake up and take action, and realize that we the people are in the superior position in the power/control/authority dynamic with our elected representatives, we won’t ever need an actual in-the-streets revolution. But good point on Social Security – they don’t quit, do they? If it’s not chained CPI, it’s Abby Huntsman saying we have to raise the age or reduce benefits. No, we can just remove the income cap, Abby, and tax all income, not just the first $117,000 per year, at the same rate. So all of us normal people with a moral compass that tells us to make sure the elderly aren’t starving in their old age have to keep reacting to the anti-Social Security crowd’s ploys with sustained pressure, the same way corporate lobbyists do, by informing Congress, “Don’t do what we want, we’ll find someone who will — next election.”
“There are two ways to get and maintain justice: protest the injustice and demand that a specific solution be implemented by those in the position of authority to make it happen OR occupy a position of authority and implement it yourself.” Our government isn’t listening to us so I take your quote to mean that more people need to run as Independents at the local level to bring about justice. Thoughts?
A. Oh, you read my blog post on “How to Adopt A Zero Tolerance for Weakness in Yourself”! Yes, more people ought to run as independents or even as democrats and republicans with either a progressive or libertarian bent, and not just at the local level, the federal level too. You know I eschew labels and will always say, “I’m not a can of soup so labels are not going to stick to me” because it’s part of this #OpDivideAndConquer, and by that I mean a strategic effort to use language that induces the feeling of Us and Them, Left and Right, and inevitably, right and wrong. And once people are divided, they’re conquered. And once they’re conquered, they stop speaking up because they think it doesn’t matter. So is the government really not listening to us or is it that not enough people are talking? Well, okay, yes – a combination of both. But one thing is for sure: the more we talk, the more they listen. And not the louder we talk.
The more: the frequency of protests (calls, letters, petitions, gatherings on a consistent basis) and the quantity of the people doing the protesting (in every state, organized, if by city, all the better). And we’ve got to stop viewing politicians through the lens of their self-adhered labels (which often turn out to be masks) too. I ask myself, what does this politician believe and believe in? Are they likely to stand up to greed in both its expressions, and protest greed for power and greed for money? Or are they lying liarpaths with the moral compass of styrofoam? Then I make my decision from there, regardless of whether they call themselves democrat, republican, green, independent, libertarian, or what have you. It’s really a common misperception that the party of individual congresspeople matters at all — we remind them, “you work for us. You don’t do what we want, you don’t keep your job. Bottom line.”
Thanks to Edward Snowden, Americans are now aware of the National Security Agency and their illegal data collection of our every communication. However, the Fourth Amendment 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act is supposed to provide some protection from government intrusion but it’s outdated and allows for the same thing. What do you think is the purpose for all of this data mining aside from “keeping us safe”?
A. And don’t forget President Reagan’s Executive Order 12333: “Most of NSA’s data collection authorized by order Ronald Reagan issued.” As I have said in the past, I love a good conspiracy theory as much as any Millennial daughter of a liberal Boomer, and if my mom were alive today, she would love that Snowden brought Ellsberg out of “whistleblower retirement,” if you will. And Ellsberg makes an excellent point that via PRISM, the system is in place for anyone to be blackmailed for anything by the NSA: with the literally limitless capacity to collect the details of our entire lives via our internet trails, the government could use the kind of porn we watch, the affairs we’re having, or the political candidates or political movements we might have preferred to keep supporting anonymously, or anything — any random seemingly innocuous site we visited without a second thought — against us. And how the Stasi worked most pervasively was to use the intel it gathered on/against certain individuals to get those easier targets to then provide the juicy and/or gory details of the deep dark secrets of the un-spy-on-able harder targets. So let’s say for the sake of argument that it’s a huge conspiracy. Maybe it is.
But I really don’t think it’s as sinister as gathering secrets to set up a Stasi network. I’m going to say it’s pure greed. If I were a betting woman, I would bet the house on greed for money, plain and simple. Piles and piles of money — our tax dollars — are sitting there and these war mongers want to rake in the money pile. “Oh, we need even more data to protect us from the Terr’ists, so hire more analysts, build more data centers, and don’t forget to outsource wherever possible at a 300% markup compared to in-house spies.” The desire to profit from everything as much as possible – unbridled greed – will be the cause of the fall of our empire before any other catalyst.
But … on the off chance there is something sinister going on, let me stress here that it’s imperative that we demand that our elected
representatives repeal the entire USA PATRIOT Act, and not just section 215. After all, Snowden said in his Greenwald interview that the NSA was hell bent on “making every conversation and every form of behavior in the world known to them.” Ellsberg describes this as “a global expansion of the Stasi, the Ministry for State Security in the Stalinist ‘German Democratic Republic,’ whose goal was ‘to know everything.’”
And just in case, have everyone sign this one too: It’s a letter to your 2 Senators and 1 Rep asking them to support the Email Privacy Act, which would require law enforcement to get a warrant to view any email, the same as the law currently requires now for them to read any of our regular USPS mail.
On your website you write about patriotism, dying for your country, and giving thanks to those who have. It’s a word proudly claimed by conservatives who don’t really know the true meaning. What is patriotism?
A. Patriotism is true unconditional love for everyone in your country. The true patriot is happy to die for any American — not just the ones who share the same political beliefs. I try to wrap my mind and my heart around being willing to die for anyone in our country at any time. Every time I get trolled on twitter, I think, “hey, this person is expressing their right to freedom of speech, the same as I am” and I block them and move on. But the soldier, the vet, the true patriot – they’re happy to die so the troll can tweet word-vomit, you can blog about raising the wage, I can tweet @whitehouse every single night to close Gitmo, and the tea partiers can tell the President that Obamacare is communism. To the true patriot, all that matters is that someone always be there, ready and willing to give their life on demand as payment on an insurance policy against tyranny, as the premium that will insure that no government does to us again what the government we revolted against did to us.
The Founders delineated those tyrannical injustices with the Bill of Rights to insure that we’d be protected from specific violations. Freedom of speech is just one of many rights, but here’s an example using it. People will quote Voltaire and say, “I may detest what you say, but I will defend to the teeth your right to say it.” The true patriot lives this idealism as a lifestyle, always ready to die – to defend to *the death* – our right to protest injustice and object to abuse of power by authority, our right to practice any religion we choose, our right to be free from religion, our right to bear arms, our right to free speech and a free press, the right to a jury trial, the right to remain silent and make the accuser prove whether or not we’ve actually done something wrong in a court of law, the right to gather in protest or to gather to organize and discuss the government’s unjust actions out in the open, and the list goes on and on. That’s love – being willing to die for freedom, not because any specific person has earned it with behavior that deserves it, but simply because freedom itself is worth dying for.
Last week you tweeted, “Not voting at the polls is the same as voting with our silence for everything to stay the same.” Despite the high level of voter apathy and low approval of congress, voting matters and it’s a right we still have. It seems congress would prefer that we not vote so they can go back to pretty much electing themselves like they did before the 17th amendment. What do you think?
A. Well, members of congress definitely count on apathy to get re-elected, that’s for sure. Apathy, I believe, comes from a shortage of time. People literally don’t have the time to care: at the end of the day, after dealing with their survival needs (working, taking care of offspring, etc.), they’re literally and figuratively spent. The 24 hours in their Time Account is tapped out and they have to go to sleep, without one minute left to read an article or sign a petition. And you make a great point — prior to the 17th Amendment, it was state legislatures that elected each state’s U.S. Senators.
In my state, the only reason pro-consumer, anti-Citizens United, Al Franken was able to win the senate race was because he was running in 2008, the same year people turned out in droves to elect Barack Obama and many — but not all — voted for Franken because they voted Democrat all the way down the ticket (it was such a close call here in Minnesota that there had to be a recount of all the ballots and it took months). There’s a very real possibility that Senator Franken will not be re-elected this fall because the people simply don’t turn out to vote in high enough numbers for Senate and House elections for the outcomes to represent the actual desires of the populace, so in a way, it’s as if the 17th amendment is repealed by default.
The same party-line establishment dems and republicans are predominantly the ones who take the time to go and vote in those elections, so yeah, it might as well be the state legislatures choosing the Senate, the same as it was pre-Amendment 17. I call this winning by a default plurality– probably every politician holding office in our country won because the majority of people didn’t vote at all.
I’m always so sad when I meet people who do not realize how lucky they are to live in a country where we get to vote. I’ll never forget going with my mom to vote when I was 7, in the Bush/Dukakis election in 1988: she lifted me up in the tiny booth to show me the ballot and explained that people had died for us to be free of a monarchy, to be able to elect our leaders, and that those people, during the Revolutionary War, didn’t fight so that they would get the right to vote, because they wouldn’t get to, and they knew it. They knew they were going to die on a bloody battlefield. No, they fought so that we would get the right to vote. And they were happy to die, to put another generation’s happiness above their own.
I am so thankful for the right to have my voice and opinion literally counted – I know I’m honoring all vets, living or dead, when I cast my ballot. It’s not an option or an obligation to me, it’s a true privilege. I love voting – I try to take the day off work when I can and enjoy the whole day of being alive and not living under a monarchy or a fascist regime.
You’ve been on hiatus for almost a year now from blogging and posting Youtube videos mainly using Twitter to communicate your message for social and economic justice and to incite progressive action. When can we expect you back?
A. Spring time is always a productive time of year for me — in some ways, I do hibernate during winter which here in Minnesota lasts about 5 months; some years, it’s even longer. On the calendar for this spring is more Nathan Hale Park Interviews (the snow has to melt off the bench though or my butt gets wet during the interview), and specifically I’d like to interview someone from my co-op, the Mississippi Market, about how they run a business paying everyone a liveable wage and how that same business model could be applied to large companies. I’m a huge proponent of the #FifteenNow movement for a fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage and it would be a dream interview to have Seattle City Council Member Kshama Sawant on the bench to discuss how she mobilized an entire city to vote for her and support her $15/hr minimum wage agenda.
I’d also love to interview Colonel Morris Davis and Coleen Rowley about being whistleblowers: his first hand experience with the Gitmo military commissions and her front end experience with terrorist act prevention. And I’d really like the opportunity to have a conversation with CIA Director John Brennan if he had a chance to make it out to St Paul some time. I’d ask him a few questions about the differences between the PATRIOT Act and how a Patriot would actually act. I’d also like to pitch to him my idea for an overt op (like a covert op, only different) for closing Gitmo: what it would be is a collaborative effort to meet with every single member of Congress, 535 people, in 90 days, to get them to pass the legislation required to transfer all the men in Gitmo to a prison on U.S. soil and finally close the detention facility in Cuba for good. I would be the warm sell, he would be the deal closer. Gitmo isn’t going to get closed until someone on the inside comes forward and says, hey, what we did by opening this prison was not good (or “was the best decision we could make under the circumstances at the time”), but we can stop doing it now. I’m all about idealism so my gift is inspiring people to consider doing the right thing.
To actually get Congress to vote to close Gitmo will require upping the ante: someone who can apply sustained pressure and make good use of the power of persuasion. That person needs to be big and scary and federal, in order to radiate the sense of safety and confidence necessary to convey that “bad guys” getting transferred to a prison in the U.S. will not be the end of the world. As I always say, it really could be worse – instead of (alleged) terrorists, they could be child pornographers and child rapists; and we give those people a trial in a court of law, don’t we? To put it into perspective, those kinds of pedophiles aren’t under a religious delusion that violence is justified; they’re fully aware that they are hurting minors and/or profiting from it. Bin Laden’s stated goal was to ruin our country financially — he wasn’t even trying to morally bankrupt us, but here were are 12 years later holding people without charging them with, or trying them for, a crime, 76 of whom could be released. Indefinite detention is torture! There must be someone inside the intelligence community who is brave enough and patriotic enough to volunteer to help Congress realize it’s not too late — that there’s still time to restore our nation’s moral authority, what President Obama called our greatest currency in the world.
Thank you so much for interviewing me, Joslyn! I love your passion and drive — it’s so inspiring. It’s up to our generation to shift the paradigm and it’s people like us who are making it happen right now.
If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I’ve been in the planning stage as far as getting my NHP interviews off the ground for about 3 months, getting people to agree to dates and times, and finally, this past Wednesday, the very first interview took place!!
My good friend “m” (who voted for the first time in November because someone she knew, someone close to her, someone blonde, enticed her into casting that very first ballot ever of her life by offering to buy* her Perkins in exchange for enduring the long line at the polls) is helping me do all the filming. And it’s in gorgeous hi-def thanks to my newly upgraded smartphone! (I asked myself, what’s more important? food or an iPhone 5? I don’t think we need to take a voice vote to know the answer to that question.)
And Aaron Tovo, a local Amnesty International organizer, was super enthusiastic about being interviewed on the 3 D’s: Drones, Due Process and Detention of an Indefinite Nature. It’s split into 2 parts. At the end of the 2nd one, watch for my Progressive Patriot Reflections, a segment I’ll do at the close of every video where I talk about my own gratitude for all the freedoms we enjoy in the United States, how they have been endangered, and how that paradox relates to that particular interview’s topic(s).
Here’s the first half:
And here’s the second half:
And here’s the link to the Amnesty International petition on Drones I talk about with Aaron: Take Action to Prevent Unlawful Drone Killings
Thanks for watching, everybody! I’ll keep you posted on when the next interview will be up. The 2 postal carriers I had ready for my Save USPS video bailed on me, so I need a new one or two who are fed up with the 2006 mandate that requires retiree healthcare benefits to be prefunded 75 years in advance, a law that was passed because some greedy individuals realized, “Holy crap, they’re making $900,000/year at 40 cents a letter!” and then asked themselves, “How much could we make if we cut union pay out of the deal and jacked the price up to $3.00 a letter? A crapload!” So if you are a postal service employee and are interested in being interviewed or know someone who would be, comment below and provide your email address and twitter handle, please please please!
*you can’t technically call this a bribe because we ended up splitting the check anyway (plus I barely tried to influence her vote)
President Obama won re-election on Tuesday night and I was overwhelmed with relief. The next morning, I was filled with resolve.
There are humanitarian and constitutional rights issues where the President has taken actions I morally object to, the first being the use of weaponized drones; and the second being the unlawful detention of alleged criminals — that is indefinitely detaining them without charging them of a crime in the first place and then denying them a trial in a court of law (denying “due process”) in the second place.
I don’t have a problem with the collection of information that aids the government in preventing terrorist attacks, a.k.a. intelligence gathering. Maybe be it’s sneaky and shady. And maybe it IS. (Yeah, it is.) I do have a problem with killing innocent civilians by dropping bombs on them. It makes a kill list look like a grocery list you’d jot down for a going away party on a post-it note. At least the kill list doesn’t say, “A. Smith and everyone else in a 1 mile radius who happens to be there. And B. Jones and everyone else in a 2 mile radius who happens to be there.” Wow. The moral compass on meth. Using weaponized drones is immoral, unethical, unjust and absolutely unconstitutional in the absence of a declaration of war (which requires an Act of Congress) on the country whose people our government is killing.
And Gitmo. Guantanamo Bay. It’s time for this “detention facility” to get shut down. Charge everyone there with a crime in a federal court of law (the good people of Texas or New York would be happy to be on that jury, so send ’em over), get them convicted or acquitted and let’s be done with it. The system is awesome. The system is not broken. But there are people — like the President — who are either being threatened in order to keep them from allowing the system to work and achieve justice or too morally weak to uphold its innate greatness.
It’s time to demand greatness.