World Socialist Web Site New 10-29-10
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Editor, The Konformist
Child soldier Omar Khadr coerced into plea-bargain
27 October 2010
With Canada's Conservative government acting as their accomplice and in violation of international law, the Obama administration and US military have coerced child soldier Omar Khadr into a plea bargain.
Khadr, who was captured after a firefight in Afghanistan in 2002 when he was just 15 years old, has spent the last eight years in the legal black holes that are the Bagram and Guantanamo Bay detention camps. This summer he became the first person to be dragged before a Military Commissiona special military court where the normal rules governing evidence do not apply.
No sooner did Khadr's trial begin last August, than the military judge ruled that "evidence" obtained from Khadr when he was lying severely wounded in the Bagram prison hospital was "not coerced" and could be used against him in court. Similarly, the judge discounted testimony showing he had been threatened with rape, subject to sleep deprivation, and other "aggressive" interrogation techniquestechniques that his military-appointed lawyer, himself a US colonel, categorized as torture.
Under the plea bargain, Khadr pled guilty to murdering a Delta Special Forces soldier during the firefight and to four other charges: spying, attempted murder, conspiracy and providing material support for terrorism. He also had to declare in open court that he had "voluntarily" agreed to an eight-page, 50-paragraph "stipulation" or statement "of facts," that portrays him as an "alien unprivileged enemy belligerent"i.e., a war criminalwho was eager to kill Americans and Jews and was fully cognizant of the import of his actions.
In exchange for his guilty plea, the US government has agreed that Khadr will be incarcerated for one year in solitary confinement at Guantanamo Bay, then transferred to Canada, where he was born and his family now resides, to serve out the remainder of a sentence of no more than eight years imprisonment.
When Khadr returns to Canada, he will become subject to that country's more liberal parole laws. It is anticipated, moreover, that his Canadian lawyers will aggressively fight for his early release from prison on multiple grounds. These include that under international law child soldiers are not legally responsible for their actions and therefore not subject to prosecution, that the Military Commission process does not meet basic juridical norms, and that under Canadian law Khadr should be deemed a "young offender," making him subject to more lenient treatment, given his age at the time of his reputed crimes.
The prosecution and conviction of Khadr via plea-bargain is a legal and political travesty.
As a child who became implicated in a military conflict while under the care of his father, Khadr is by rights a "victim" under international law. And that is before any consideration is given to the abuse that he has suffered at the hands of the US military over the past eight years.
The crimes for which has been convicted are standard practice in the Afghan war or any other military conflict. Those who have prosecuted Khadrthe US government and militaryare themselves guilty of horrific war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In July, Khadr defiantly and courageously rejected a plea bargain, saying it would "give [an] excuse for the government for torturing and abusing me when I was a child."
But Khadr's lawyers clearly felt compelled to warn him that under the rules fashioned for the Military Commissions by the Bush and Obama administrations he could expect no justice. If he did not accept a plea bargain, he would effectively be placing himself at the mercy of a US military that had shown it was eager to lock him up for life as part of a vendetta against his father, reportedly a high-ranking Al Qaeda operative.
In an interview Monday, Khadr's Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, declared, "Had Omar refused [the plea bargain offer] he would have faced an unfair trial, based on evidence that would have been inadmissible in any real court and he would have been exposed to life in Guantanamo Bay or even worse if there is such a place."
Edney added that Khadr and his lawyers "all feel unhappy, sadthat this process is an absolute sham."
"International lawyers, international judges, international governments have all said that this Military Commission process is just designed to make findings of guilt.
"In our view, it is clear that Omar admitted to things he clearly didn't do."
Then in a pointed reference to Canadian authorities' role in the prosecution and persecution of Khadr, Edney said, "You can't say this is a fair process and a viable outcome We have got to look at why no one came to his rescue."
It had been rumored for months that the Obama administration was seeking to end the Khadr case with a plea bargain. For Obama, who during the 2008 presidential campaign had claimed that he would shut down Guantanamo Bay and criticized the Military Commissions, it was something of an embarrassment that the first Military Commission trial involved a child soldier.
As the same time, the Obama administration and the military can now hold up Khadr's coerced guilty plea, claiming that it legitimizes the ordeal to which he has been subjected over the past eight years.
This was the line taken by the chief prosecutor at Kahdr's trial. Navy Capt. John F. Murphy told reporters Monday after the plea bargain had been presented in court, "Omar Khadr is not a victim. He's not a child soldier. He's not a product of any kind of abuse. He's convicted on his own words.''
In all of this the Canadian government, its national-security apparatus and political establishment, have played an especially shameful role.
Under Liberal and Conservative governments alike, Canada failed to press for Khadr's release from the patently illegal Guantanamo Bay concentration camp. Earlier this year Canada's Supreme Court found that the Canadian government had violated Khadr's fundamental constitutional rights by having members of its national security forces interrogate Khadr at Guantanamo Bay when they knew he had been "softened up" by sleep-deprivation torture.
Canada's current Conservative government enthusiastically supported his prosecution by a Military Commission, repeatedly challenging court rulings that it should seek Khadr's repatriation and publicly declaring its support and confidence in the drumhead courts. Indeed, it effectively signaled that its preference would be for Khadr to be kept in Guantanamo Bay indefinitely.
From all accounts, the Canadian government only agreed to the plea bargain under strong pressure from Washington. Last Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called up Canada's Foreign Affair Minister Lawrence Cannon to insist that Canada facilitate the plea bargain deal by allowing Khadr to complete his sentence in Canada.
50 years ago: Kennedy intervenes for imprisoned Martin Luther King
25 October 2010
With days to go before his 1960 presidential contest with Vice President Richard Nixon, Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy intervened to secure the release of Martin Luther King Jr. from a Georgia state prison. Kennedy called King's wife, Coretta, while Robert Kennedy personally pressured the judge in the case.
King had been arrested for participating in a Georgia sit-in. The misdemeanor charge of failing to vacate private property would not have resulted in prison, but the judge in the case seized on an earlier trumped-up charge against Kingoperating a motor vehicle without a proper Georgia drivers licenseto order King's jailing for four months. The civil rights leader was hustled away on October 26 in the early morning so that his attorneys could not lodge a habeas corpus plea.
Kennedy's intervention arose from his emphasis during the campaign on what he argued was the erosion of US global prestige during the Eisenhower administration. He understood that the abuse of King by state authorities was an embarrassment to the US, which was attempting to portray itself in its Cold War duel with the Soviet Union as an unswerving advocate of democracy and freedom.
The move was not without its political risks. The Southern elite had been drifting out of the Democratic Party "New Deal coalition" for some time, and Nixon was leading in the polls in a number of Southern states. During the 1960 campaign, prominent "Dixiecrats" openly campaigned against Kennedy. Among them were Sen. Harry Byrd of West Virginia, Sen. Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, and Gov. S. Ernest Vandiver of Georgia, who defended the prison sentence and called King a "race agitator."
Debtors' prisons on the rise in the US
27 October 2010
Both the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Brennan Center for Justice released reports in early October on a disturbing trend in the American justice system: the abuse of jail sentences and probation to collect more money in fines for cash-strapped courts.
The ACLU report, "In For a Penny: The Rise of America's New Debtor's Prisons," focuses on interviews and personal stories in the five states they predicted to be the worst offenders (Louisiana, Michigan, Ohio, Georgia, and Washington). The Brennan Center report, "Criminal Justice Debt: A Barrier to Reentry," covers ten states in addition to the five in the ACLU report (California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Arizona, North Carolina, Virginia, Alabama and Missouri) and provides more detailed statistics on a wider array of abuses.
In each of the 15 states examined (covering 60 percent of all state criminal filings), courts placed special "user fees" on defendants to generate revenue.
These fees differ from other legal financial obligations because their sole, express purpose is to put money into the state's budget instead of punishing the criminal or giving the victim restitution. As many states face budget cuts, they are turning increasingly to these types of fees to fund their court systems. In one example, the district court of Orleans Parish in Louisiana, the ACLU estimated that these fees totaled almost two thirds of the court's general fund.
This method of funding the courts is thoroughly regressive, fully placing the burden on the poor who constitute the vast majority of defendants. The National Center for State Courts estimates that 80 to 90 percent of all criminal defendants qualify for indigent defense programs due to their financial inability to afford legal counsel. The regressive nature of these fees is compounded by widespread failure to enforce longstanding constitutional protections of the poor.
The United States inherited a tradition of incarceration for private debts from colonial times. By the 1830s, it had reached such absurd proportions that in some states there were three to five times as many people imprisoned for debt as for actual crimes. Imprisonment for debt was abolished under federal law in 1833, but many states continued the practice.
In particular, Southern states would imprison debtors and lease prisoners out to plantation owners as a means of effectively perpetuating slavery after the Civil War. More recently, however, the US Supreme Court has ruled that prison can only be used as a means to collect debts "when a person has the ability to make payments but refuses to do so," according to the Brennan Center.
In one such ruling, Bearden v. Georgia (1983), the Supreme Court ruled that courts cannot revoke a defendant's probation for failure to pay a fine that the defendant made a bona fide effort to pay. Like many of the other rulings of the high court on this matter, it is routinely ignored in an effort to squeeze more revenue from defendants.
According to Supreme Court rulings, the only legal way to imprison someone for debt is to demonstrate that a defendant had the means to pay and willfully did not. Yet it has become common for courts to arrest and jail a debtor and only check their ability to pay on appeal.
The Brennan Center noted that in all 15 states its report examined, individuals have been arrested for missing a court-ordered debt payment or failing to appear at a debt-related proceeding. Only after a few days in jail was a hearing granted to determine whether the individual willfully missed his or her obligations. This practice is particularly disturbing because every state except Ohio assessed mandatory fees without taking into consideration ability to pay.
Jailing someone before determining that person's ability to pay is not only inhumane and contrary to legal standards, but frequently disrupts the debtor's ability to earn money. In one perverse example in Michigan described by the ACLU, Louis Kalman fell behind on his child support payments of $75 a week, despite paying what he could. At the time he was brought to trial, he was responsible for his elderly and sick father while earning $200 a week, $100 of which went to rent.
Despite documentary evidence that Mr. Kalman had been trying to increase his hours at work to full-time employment and a plea from the mother of his children that the court "not put Mr. Kalman in prison because simply as a practical matter it means she gets no money," the court sentenced him to a prison term of two to four years. The court further ordered that the child support payments continue to accrue while he was in prison.
In addition to jail time, many states have started charging fees for being in prison, being on probation and parole, and even using a public defender. All but one of the states examined in the reports assessed some form of penalty on anyone incapable of paying their fees immediately. These penalties can include anything from a flat $300 civil assessment for falling behind in payments to a fee for simply entering into a payment plan.
Other states assess excessive collection fees totaling a certain percent of the amount due. Florida authorizes a collection fee of 40 percent of the total debt, while Alabama only allows 30 percent. Telling in the case of Alabama is that state usury laws prohibit interest rates over 8 percent for private debts.
These fees can create a situation of runaway debt, where no matter how hard someone tries to pay it down, the debt keeps growing. The story of a woman referred to as Lisa, interviewed by the ACLU, provides a perfect example of this phenomenon.
A former drug addict in King County, Washington, she was convicted on four felony counts nine years ago. Although she has not committed any new crimes in the past nine years, her inability to make sufficient payments combined with the mandatory 12 percent interest rate on all unpaid legal financial obligations in Washington has caused her debt to balloon to $60,000.
In addition to this excessive financial burden, Lisa has been imprisoned three different times in the past nine years, for a total of 40 days, solely for nonpayment of her legal debts. She understandably feels overwhelmed by the situation and told the ACLU about her debt, "It's just like a nightmare, you know? Like is this ever going to go away? And the only thing, I keep hearing the judge say `if you have to pay $20 for the rest of your life, that is what you are going to be doing.' "
At the root of this systematic exploitation is an attempt to pad state coffers. Both the ACLU and the Brennan Center acknowledge state budget cuts, under the impact of the financial crisis, as the driving force for these efforts to raise funds through the courts. However, refunding court and public defender systems is the last thing on the minds of Republican and Democratic politicians who continue their calls for austerity.
Activist assaulted by Rand Paul supporters in Kentucky
27 October 2010
A video widely distributed on the Internet documents supporters of Rand Paul, the Republican and Tea Party-backed senate candidate in Kentucky, physically assaulting a liberal activist prior to a debate held on Monday in Lexington.
The victim, Lauren Valle, 23, a member of the pro-Democratic Party group MoveOn.org, was among a crowd of Paul supporters who had gathered at the site of the final debate of the election. As the candidate made his way into the debate hall, Valle attempted to present him with a satirical "employee-of-the-month award" from a fictional company called "RepubliCorp," used by MoveOn.org to draw attention to Republican candidates' ties to major corporations.
Video captured a number of Paul's supporters reacting to Valle's presence with evident rage. They violently forced Valle, a small woman who clearly posed no threat, to the ground. At least one man in the crowd then held her on the ground against her will, while another man holding a Rand Paul campaign sign stomped on her head, shoving her face into the concrete sidewalk. The assailant was later revealed to be Tim Profitt, a Paul campaign worker.
It is clear that the force of the kick could have severely injured Valle. While Valle was able to speak with the local media following the incident, her face was left swollen and her neck and shoulders were hurt. She spent the night in a Lexington hospital with a concussion and a sprained shoulder.
The attack is another indication of the type of deranged and fascistic elements being mobilized by the Tea Party movement and its candidates as they seek to form a popular base for extreme right-wing politics in the US. The Tea Party appeals to the most backward sentimentsanti-immigrant chauvinism, militarism, racism, religious intolerance, anti-gay bigotrywith the full support of its corporate backers and the Republican Party establishment.
The viscious rhetoric espoused by leading figures in the Tea Party movement, including Rand Paul, has created a political climate that, in effect, sanctions and encourages attacks like the one carried out on Lauren Valle.
The emergence of the far-right, and the growing threat of violence it portends, cannot be fought through the Democratic Party. This is made clear by the immediate context in which the attack on Valle occurred, the Senate race in Kentucky, which has been a thoroughly reactionary affair in which the objective interests of the state's working class, devastated by the economic crisis, are completely blocked out.
Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway, Paul's Democratic opponent in the election, has run a right-wing, anti-working class campaign in which he has attacked Paul from the right.
Conway is a millionaire, a supporter of the Iraq War, an advocate of the indefinite extension of the Bush tax cuts, an outspoken advocate of the death penalty, an opponent of gay marriage, and a steadfast ally of the state's coal companies.
Most recently, Conway has attempted to smear Paul by questioning his devotion to Christianity in a series of television attack ads.
It was revealed late Tuesday afternoon that the assailant filmed in the video is Profitt, who serves as Paul's campaign coordinator in Bourbon County. The Paul campaign said in a statement that is has "disassociated itself" from Profitt.
On Tuesday, Profitt was served with a summons to appear in court. Police have lodged fourth-degree assault charges against him.
Profitt insisted the incident was not as bad as it looked and attempted to justify his actions. "I'm sorry that it came to that, and I apologize if it appeared overly forceful, but I was concerned about Rand's safety," he told the Associated Press.
In comments to the Huffington Post, Valle said she sensed the assault might have been premeditated. Several people came up behind her before the attack, and she said she heard one of them say, "We are here to do crowd control (and) we might have to take someone out."
"One or two people twisted my arms behind my back and took me down," Valle wrote. "It was about two-to-three seconds after that that another person stomped on my head."
Police said that Rand supporters had earlier fingered Valle as a threat, but said that they declined to act because she had not done anything illegal. "It's not illegal to take a picture with somebody," Lexington police spokesperson Sherelle Roberts said.
Another Conway supporter said he was also threatened by Paul campaign workers at the event. Michael J. Grossman, described by the Lexington Herald-Leader as "a corporate official in Lexington," said a Paul supporter tried to "take me down" moments after Valle was attacked.
"It was a relatively calm political event until the Rand Paul people simply went nuts when their candidate arrived," Grossman said. "By and large they appeared to be a very hostile group of people who were looking for trouble, and I guess they got it."