- Please send as far and wide as possible.
Editor, The Konformist
Robalini's Note: This may be the most important story of the year. Simply put, anyone who defends the continued jailing of John Walker Lindh has no reason to feign outrage over any of the Bush Team's war crimes of torture...
Free John Walker Lindh, Bush's and Cheney's First Torture Victim!
Enough is enough. It's time to free John Walker Lindh, poster boy for George Bush's, Dick Cheney's and John Ashcroft's "War on Terror," and quite likely first victim of these men's secret campaign of torture.
Lindh is in the seventh year of a 20-year sentence for "carrying a weapon" in Afghanistan and for "providing assistance" to an enemy of the United States. The first charge is ridiculously minor (after all, it's what almost everyone in Texas does everyday). The second is actually a violation of a law intended for use against US companies that trade with proscribed countries on a government "no trade" list like Cuba or North Korea. Ordinarily, violation results in a fine for the executives involved.
As I wrote in an article in the Nation back in 2005 (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20050214/lindorff), Lindh was put away for so long on these minor charges not because he was a traitor or terrorist, but because he was living proof, back at the time of his trial in 2002, that the US had begun, way back in late 2001, a program of brutal torture in the so-called "War on Terror."
Lindh, in fact, was never really an enemy of the US. Son of middle-class white parents in suburban San Francisco, he had developed an interest in Islam which, following his graduation from high school, he decided to pursue by traveling to Pakistan. In 2001, still just 18, he began studying at a religious madressa. There he learned about the struggle of the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan to free that nation of the influence of warlords who had collaborated with a brutal Soviet occupation. Attracted by what he saw as the nobility of that struggle, and with a youthful sense of adventure, Lindh volunteered. In August of 2001, at a time that Bush administration officials were negotiating about a possible oil pipeline deal with Afghanistan's Taliban government, and talking about providing funds for a program to get farmers to shift away from opium cultivation to more useful cash cropsa time, that is, when the Taliban were not considered America's enemyLindh crossed the border and started training to be a fighter.
A month later, of course, the World Trade Center in New York, and the Pentagon in Washington, were struck, and the US launched a war against both Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. Lindh, who was still just in training, found himself suddenly in the wilds of the Hindu Kush, with American planes bombing and with US Special Forces troops firing at him and his companions. Whether he wanted to be there or not, he was in no position at that point to change sides. You don't just walk away from a group like the Talibanespecially if you are an American to begin with, and you're deep in the bush.
Eventually, a malnourished, dehydrated, and wounded (in the leg) Lindh was taken prisoner along with a group of Taliban fighters by American forces.
At that point, when the Americans discovered they had an American amont their captives, Lindh's situation worsened dramatically. Stripped naked and duct-taped, blindfolded, to a gurney, he was then placed inside an unheated metal shipping container. Left there for days in the cold and dark, Lindh was removed once daily and interrogated. His interrogators allegedly tortured him, as well as threatening him repeatedly with death. His pleas to see an attorney were mocked, and word that his parents had already arranged for representation was withheld from him (a situation that led a government lawyer involved in his case to protest and ultimately resign).
At some point during this abuse, Lindh caved in to his fears of death at the hands of his captors and signed a "confession" to being a traitor to America. At that point he was flown back to the US, where Attorney General Ashcroft touted him as the "American Taliban," initially vowing to try him for treason (which carries a death sentence).
What changed things dramatically, as I reported in 2005, was a surprise decision by Federal District Judge T.S.Ellis (a Vietnam-era fighter pilot and Reagan appointee to the bench) to permit Lindh and his defense teamover strenuous government objections--to challenge that confession letter by introducing evidence that Lindh had signed it while being subjected to torture at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan. The judge ruled that Lindh would be able to call witnesses from Guantanamo and from among the soldiers where he had been held in Afghanistan. Suddenly, the Justice Department, in the person of Michael Chertoff, then head of the Justice Department's criminal division and in charge of terrorism prosecutions, offered a one-day-only, take-it-or-leave-it a plea deal. Chertoff (acting with an alacrity that stands in marked contrast to his sluggish response time several years later when faced, as secretary of homeland security, with the Katrina disaster in New Orleans) offered to drop the serious charges in return for a guilty plea to the two minor charges, but only ifand this is the keyLindh would cancel the scheduled evidentiary hearing into torture. Under the offered deal, Lindh was also required to sign a letter stating that he had "not been intentionally mistreated" by his American captors, and waiving any right to claim such mistreatment or torture any time in the future. Lindh agreed, but following sentencing, Chertoff also added a gag order, technically a "special administrative measure," barring Lindh from even talking about his experience for the duration of his sentence.
It is now clear why Chertoff went to such hurried great lengths to completely silence Lindh. His wasn't just the first trial in the "War on Terror." Lindh was the first victim of the secret Bush/Cheney torture program.
Now that we have the trail of memoranda that set that wretched torture campaign in motion, it's time for the Obama Justice Department to free Lindh. If President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder think Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens suffered from malicious prosecution and were willing to drop charges against him, they certainly should toss out the case against Lindh, who besides being innocent of the original serious charges leveled against him, was a victim of war crimes perpetrated by his own fellow Americans, and authorized by his own government. His arrest, conviction and sentencing are a travesty of justice, and perhaps, given that torture is a criminal offense in the US Code, even constitute a crime of cover-up. He should be the first witness in any official investigation by Congress or the attorney general's office into the origins of the Bush/Cheney torture campaign.
Free John Walker Lindh!
(Note: This article was offered to the Nation magazine, and rejected. It was also offered to Salon magazine, which never responded.)
Scott Rose Mole Audition Tape
True, he didn't make the show, but it's still worth watching this 2002 tape of Scott Rose of ScottWorld.com, guest-starring Rob Jacobs of RealFoodDaily.com, Maggie Rowe of Hollywood Hellhouse, and The Konformist's own Rob Sterling in a cameo...
Tuesday April 28, 2009
What Specter's switch says about him, the Democrats and our political spectrum
(1) The idea that Specter is a "liberal" Republican or even a "moderate" reflects how far to the Right both the GOP and our overall political spectrum has shifted.
Consider Specter's most significant votes over the last eight years, ones cast in favor of such definitive right-wing measures as: the war on Iraq, the Military Commissions Act, Patriot Act renewal, confirmation of virtually every controversial Bush appointee, retroactive telecom immunity, warrantless eavesdropping expansions, and Bush tax cuts (several times). Time and again during the Bush era, Specter stood with Republicans on the most controversial and consequential issues.
(2) Democrats will understandably celebrate today's announcement, but beyond the questions of raw political power, it is mystifying why they would want to build their majority by embracing politicians who reject most of their ostensible views.
Reports today suggest that Democratic officials promised Specter that the party establishment would support him, rather than a real Democrat, in a primary. If true, few events more vividly illustrate the complete lack of core beliefs of Democratic leaders, as well as the rapidly diminishing differences between the parties. Why would Democrats want a full-blooded Republican representing them in the blue state of Pennsylvania? Specter is highly likely to reprise the Joe Lieberman role for Democrats: a "Democrat" who leads the way in criticizing and blocking Democratic initiatives, forcing the party still further towards Republican policies.
(3) Arlen Specter is one of the worst, most soul-less, most belief-free individuals in politics. The moment most vividly illustrating what Specter is: prior to the vote on the Military Commissions Act of 2006, he went to the floor of the Senate and said what the bill "seeks to do is set back basic rights by some 900 years" and is "patently unconstitutional on its face." He then proceeded to vote YES on the bill's passage.
(4) Today is the best day to watch Fox News since the election -- mass grieving flavored by impotent bitterness.
What happened in the skies over New York City?
By Alex Lantier
29 April 2009
On the morning of April 27, one of two Boeing 747 jetliners used by the US president flew at low altitude over downtown New York, escorted by fighter jets. The official explanations and media commentaries concerning this extraordinary event raise more questions than they answer.
For half an hour the planes banked over the city, passing the Statue of Liberty, Lower Manhattan and the former site of the World Trade Center, where two jetliners crashed into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. CNN and YouTube videos show the planes passing only a few hundred feet above the New York skyline.
President Barack Obama was not on board the 747.
Residents and passers-by ran for cover, fearing that another terrorist attack might be in progress.
According to unnamed military and administration sources cited in the Wall Street Journal, the flight was a "secret" photo-op, of which only select officials at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the White House, the New York Police Department and New York City Hall had advance knowledge.
One Obama administration official told the Journal: "The mission was to send [the aircraft] up to get a picture of it flying around the Statue of Liberty. They said they needed to get a picture of it flying up around the Statue of Liberty. They said they needed to update their photo files."
An FAA email, sent to New York City Hall and reviewed by the Journal, specified a "photo-op altitude of 1,000 to 1,500 feet." It added that this information "shall not be released to the public."
It added, "Due to the possibility of public concern regarding aircraft flying at low levels, coordination with federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies ... has been accomplished." The FAA official who wrote the email refused to speak to the Journal.
President Obama and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg both claimed they had not been told of the operation in advance. In a press release, White House officials said Obama was "furious" but called the operation a "mistake."
At a press conference, Bloomberg said: "I'm annoyedfurious is a better wordthat I wasn't told. Why the Defense Department wanted to do a photo-op right around the site of the World Trade Center defies the imagination."
New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine and US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also told the press that they had not been made aware of the flight.
This official version of events is not credible.
How could one of two specially-designed presidential jets be requisitioned for a flight over New York City, where nearly 3,000 were killed in the 9/11 attacks, without the knowledge of the president, the mayor or high-ranking US military officials such as the defense secretary and the joint chiefs of staff? If the official story is indeed true, it raises the question of who is in control of the US military.
Certain details of the incident raise further questions. No explanation has been given for the obsessive secrecy of the operation. By its very nature, such an undertakingflying a presidential jet in broad daylight and at low altitude over the US' largest city, miles from normal air traffic routescould not remain hidden.
The claim that the flight was needed to obtain photos of Air Force One strains credulity. In minutes, a designer using software like Photoshop could produce a convincing image, superimposing a shot of Air Force One over a picture of the Statue of Liberty. This would have saved a great deal of effort and money. Flying Air Force One cost $56,518 per hour in 2006, according to ABC News.
The security preparations outlined in the FAA email are provocative and sinister. FAA officials anticipated that the unannounced appearance of a low-flying passenger jet over New York City would create panic. The logical conclusion is that they set out to provoke public fear in some kind of test run of the response by the state, involving numerous police agencies.
This incident is only the latest in a series of odd and disquieting events involving the US military. In 2006, US nuclear missile parts were sent to Taiwan, reportedly by accident. In September 2007, a nuclear-armed B-52 bomber was discovered to have flown over the US without authorization. Last year, the European press leaked a US military report claiming that over 1,000 nuclear missile parts had somehow gone missing.
Louis Caldera, the chief of the White House Military Officethe official in charge of Obama's personal securityis being held responsible for this bizarre incident. There have been calls in the media for his removal.
Yesterday evening, the Obama administration announced it was planning an investigation into the overflight. While many details about the incident have yet to emerge, the official story already reeks of a cover-up.
Zodiac Killer's `Unmasking' Lacks Cryptographic Proof
By Kevin Poulsen
April 29, 2009
The Southern California women who claimed Wednesday that her deceased father was the famed Zodiac killer says she can prove it in part by providing the secret key to the murderer's encrypted messages with one rather serious caveat.
San Francisco was abuzz this morning with Deborah Perez's claim that she was present as a 7-year-old girl during at least one of the string of seven confirmed murders that paralyzed San Francisco in the late 1960s.
But Perez's 20 minute press conference turned out to be sadly devoid of solid evidence of her claims. Perez says she wrote some of the letters the Zodiac killer sent out decades ago, a claim her attorney, Kevin McLean, says is supported by a handwriting expert. She also claims she has the eye glasses the killer took from one of his victims cab driver Paul Stine and McLean hopes police can recover DNA evidence from the glasses, or at least match the prescription to Stine.
Perez says she realized her father was behind the famous unsolved killings when she saw a composite sketch of the Zodiac killers on an episode of America's Most Wanted in 2007, though she did not offer reporters a photo of her father for comparison.
That left the cryptographic claim as the most promising something that could be easily and decisively verified.
The Zodiac killer sent two coded messages to Bay Area newspapers in 1969. One of them a 408 character cryptogram was quickly cracked by a high school teacher. The other, a 340 character message, has never been convincingly solved.
"There are letters that were sent that were in cryptic code," McLean teased at the press conference. "Debra has been able to decipher some of those codes, because it was a code between she and her father."
If Perez can decypher the 340 character message which has defied cryptanalysis for decades that would be incredibly strong evidence of her claim. Perez declined at the press conference to elaborate on the secret code.
So Threat Level reached her and her lawyer by phone later. And it turns out she can only decypher the code that's already been decyphered.
"My dad didn't give me one of the codes, which is that 340 cipher," she said.
"He didn't give her the key but she knows how it works," added McLean.
The jury is still out on Perez's other evidence. But Threat Level suspects that the Zodiac killer's real identity remains a mystery.
In struggle and sports,
Jeremy Tyler, Euro-Pro
By Dave Zirin & Billy Buntin
Jeremy Tyler has chosen to shovel his way out of the sleazy world of youth sports. Whether this move proves to be audacious or audaciously stupid remains to be seen.
Tyler, a 17- year-old high school junior who stands at 6-foot-11 and possesses an irresistible mix of grace and power, recently announced he would forgo his last year of high school to play pro basketball in Europe., Yes, high school.
Doing so, he circumvented the National Basketball Association's bizarre policy, enacted in 2005, requiring US players to wait one year after their graduating high school class before turning pro. The hope of NBA Commissioner David Stern has been that high school grads would get a year of free exposure to college and develop what he cryptically calls "maturity."
This has led to the "one and done" phenomenon, in which players like the last two NBA Rookie of the Year winners Derek Rose and Kevin Durant stroll into the league after just one farcical year of college. Last year, high school point guard phenom Brandon Jennings bucked the system: instead of going to college to play for free, he competed in Europe. Jennings earned $1.2 million in salary and endorsements, but his first season has been a personal disaster. He's told stories of homesickness, culture shock and not getting his game checks. Jennings e-mailed the New York Times, "I've gotten paid on time once this year. They treat me like I'm a little kid. They don't see me as a man. If you get on a good team, you might not play a lot. Some nights you won't play at all. That's just how it is.... It's tough man, I'll tell you that. It can break you."
Unlike Jennings, a polished phenom, Tyler is raw like sushi. His high school team went 15-11 and he is judged to be years away from harnessing his skills. But given the fraudulent nature of the entire high-school-to-pro process, it's hard to get on the moral high horse about his decision. That hasn't stopped the sports media from strapping on the saddle.
Doug Gottlieb, basketball analyst at ESPN, said he was "vehemently opposed" to Tyler's decision. "When did our society become completely and totally focused on the paper chase and not on the substance of the human being chasing the paper?" Gottlieb asked.
He also wonders, "Where is the value on getting an education? A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but Tyler's handlers are not concerned with his brain, only his brawn. Tyler is not even going to finish his junior year academically, let alone begin his senior year. That means he's forfeiting all the experiences that come with high school--no prom, no cap and gown, no SAT, no college, just hoops from here on out. Have we really gotten to this point?"
Well, yes. We bought that point and paid off its mortgage years ago. It's a fantasy to think that top athletes have anything resembling the "normal experience" for their six months in college before they "one and done" it for the pros, let alone the senior high school slump of having your college chosen and locked up before the fall. For today's players, it's AAU ball from the time they are out of Underoos. The professionalization of youth sports has been going on for a generation. Jeremy Tyler is just putting into contract form what has in the past been done under the table.
There is definitely a racial and class dynamic to the chorus of disapproval. Consider the whole concept of branding basketball players as "immature" when they attempt to go pro.
Washington State University ethnic studies professor David Leonard told me, "The endless criticism directed at Tyler and the focus on his maturity reflects the longstanding process of imagining African-Americans as children incapable of making mature decisions, all while celebrating the white parent (the coach and the sports commentator) who always knows best. Of course, these critics not only ignore fact that Tyler will be 18 this June but the maturity and intelligence evident in this decision. Quoted in New York Times's Quad Blog, Tyler noted: 'If I go to college and fill up an arena with 30,000 people, I don't get a penny. In my profession with what I'm doing in my life, it doesn't need a full college degree.' Now that is maturity."
It's also worth noting that while Tyler's career decision sparked controversy among the yipping heads of the sports blabocracy, there is less vehement concern over maturity in other sports. Country club games like golf and tennis--not to mention figure skating and gymnastics-- regularly groom young players to be professionals.
Graceful, agile, and essentially bred for Olympic excellence from their first baby steps, successful amateur gymnast careers can begin at the age of 5 or 6.
Doug Browne, director of tennis at the Hideaway Beach Club, admitted the following about common practice on junior tennis tours around the country in a recent piece in the Sun Times of Naples, Florida.
In the past three-plus summers on the junior tennis circuit, it has been commonplace for my students to compete against kids who do not formally attend a public or private school. Perhaps what is most disturbing to me is that most of them begin to pull out of school at the tender age of 11 or 12.... to allow at least five hours of practice each day before they head to a weekend tennis tournament.
The arguments against Jeremy Tyler's decision to go Euro-pro become all the more twisted when we consider what military recruiters are able to do in a typical public high school. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 requires high schools that receive federal money to provide students' names, addresses and telephone numbers to military recruiters. The law effectively gives the military unrivaled access to schools and to young people from their freshman year.
If you can carry a gun in Iraq at 18, you should be able to play in the NBA. if you are good enough to make millions for a college and coaching staff, you should be able to be paid. Maybe becoming a Euro-pro will turn out to be wrong decision for Jeremy Tyler. But maybe the system shouldn't be set up so wrong decisions look like common sense.
Dave Zirin is the author of "A People's History of Sports in the United States" (The New Press) Receive his column every week by emailing dave@.... Contact him at edgeofsports@....
Billy Buntin is a DC-based journalist and the co-founder of slepton.com.