Saturday, October 21, 2006

Speaking Truth to Power - can get you into trouble

I spend a lot of time over at the left-wing blog Daily Kos. It's far and away America's most-visited political blog, with around 800,000 visits and over a million page views a day now. You can see the Daily Kos visitor stats here.

Daily Kos is full of passion, and anger at what's happening in America and around the world, and it's bursting with inspiration, ideas, clear thinking and support for fellow Kossaks.

It's this aspect of support that I want to talk about today - and the fact that it's even needed in the first place. This is a story about Speaking Truth to Power - and how it can get you into trouble.

There's a diary on the Recommended List today by kestrel9000. kestrel9000 is a DJ in Virginia, on a oldies (Classic Top 40) radio station called Magic 95.5 WBOP FM. It streams online so you can listen live. It's brilliant. I've been listening for past few hours, and I've loved every song they've played so far (and have sung along with quite a few!). You can listen to his show on weekdays between 10am and 2pm Eastern Time. His real name is Eddie Garcia.

Anyway, kestrel9000's story doesn't have anything to do with the music he plays - it's all about what he said on-air yesterday - and how he's feeling right now about the consequences of what he said. You can read his diary on DailyKos - Ay, cabròn, now I've done it.

Today, during his radio show, he read out Article 1, section 9 of the Constitution of the United States:

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

Then he pointed out that, in his opinion, neither of these conditions are met - America is in no sense in a Case of Rebellion or Invasion. And yet the signing into law of the Torture Bill - the Military Commissions Act 2006 has suspended the right of habeas corpus to anyone labelled an "unlawful enemy combatant" by George W Bush.

kestrel9000 also talked on-air about José Padilla, who's an American citizen accused of being a terrorist by the United States government. He's been in detention in a military prison since May 8, 2002. For the first three years of his detention he was held without charge, and without access to a lawyer; he is now charged with "conspiracy to murder, kidnap, and maim people overseas."

You can find out more about José Padilla at the end of this blog post. My God. It's a horrifying story, and it's not over yet. The US administration has in the past described José Padilla as an illegal enemy combatant, arguing that he was thereby not entitled to the normal protection of US law, nor protection under the Geneva Convention. The Military Commissions Act 2006 now legalises the ongoing mis-treatment and torture of US citizen José Padilla by the US government.

In his diary, kestrel9000 describes what happened on his radio show after he made his comments:

And an hour later, three wingnut calls came in. Bam-bam-bam.
One person was a college professor demanding my on-air apology or termination of employment. Another was a woman who wanted to know where I got my law degree. The third, I think, was her husband. Three fascists, gathered around the coffeepot trying to figure out how to ruin the life of a patriot.

Now I need to point out that, thus far, kestrel9000's boss has not fired him. He still has his job right now. But he's scared. Really scared. He feels alone and is afraid that his career (and his ability to support his family) could be in jeopardy because he was brave/foolhardy enough to say what he thought on-air. That's why he wrote his diary on Daily Kos, and why he asked for support and reassurance from the Kos community.

And I guess this is what I find completely and absolutely astonishing. How did America get to a point where someone reading out a section of the Constitution can be accused of - I'm not actually sure what - but something which requires an on-air apology or the termination of his employment? And since when did you need a law degree to read the Constitution and to understand that habeas corpus has been suspended by the Military Commissions Act under circumstances that are fundamentally un-Constitutional? And how is it that a broadcaster such as Eddie Garcia (kestrel9000's real name) can feel such fear for his job, just by speaking the truth?

Why isn't the American public protesting in the streets against this latest reduction in their freedoms? Why aren't more people publicly questioning what the Bush regime is doing? Where is the outrage at the direction in which this once-great country has been moving for the past 6 years? Why aren't the ordinary folk of America appalled at the gradual reduction of their inalienable rights as Americans? Why do they not understand what they are losing, bit by bit, degree by degree? And how did America reach the point where laws are able to be passed legalising torture, where habeas corpus is suspended, and where the President has the right to have anyone imprisoned indefinitely without trial or representation?

HOW DID THIS HAPPEN? And why isn't there a bloody REVOLUTION against it?

This, to me, is chilling. The fact that kestrel9000, just an ordinary American who happens to have access to a microphone and a bunch of listeners, is now afraid for his job, his family and his own safety, is something I find quite horrific. The guy can't read out a section of the Constitution without being afraid of the consequences??? Holy shit! What happened to you, America?

I guess you might be wondering, as I'm a Kiwi, and I live in New Zealand rather than the US of A, why I'm so interested in American politics, and why I write so many blog posts about the state America finds itself in. You might be feeling a little resentful that I have the temerity to point out what I see as wrong in a country that isn't mine. You might not appreciate the fact that I'm suggesting you vote in next month's mid-terms. What right do I have to pass judgement on your country, you may ask?

I think firstly it's because what happens in America affects what happens in the rest of the world. Like it or not, America is the only superpower on the planet right now, and the fact that it's being ruled by a man I believe to be a sociopath, in a manner more befitting a King than a President, scares the shit out of me.

My family lives in the UK, and as a direct result of Bush and Blair's policies on Iraq, they are now more at risk from terrorist attacks than at any time since the height of the IRA's terror campaign.

I see estimates of the dead in Iraq since the war began, and I am horrified that over 2,750 American lives and up to 600,000 Iraqi lives have already been sacrificed by Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney and the rest of the criminals in the White House. Sacrified for a lie, for oil, for imaginary WMD, in order to force democracy at the point of a gun, for whatever-the-hell this week's "reason" for the invasion might be - and still Bush insists on "staying the course" in Iraq, even as that beleaguered nation decends into civil war and anarchy.

I look around at places in the rest of the world where the Bush regime is meddling. His international "policies" have made the situation in North Korea worse, not better, and I am certainly not happy about the fact that a nation in my part of the world is now happily testing nuclear weapons and rumbling about the consequences of the US declaring war on them! I worry for the people of Syria and Iran, and wonder whether Rove has an "October Surprise" lined up (aimed at increasing Republicans' popularity in the polls) which might include invading one, or nuking the other.

I see ordinary Americans slowly but surely losing the very freedoms that Bush has sworn an oath to protect, and I see him and his cohorts destroying, piece by piece, the Constitution that his country was founded upon. I see them paying scant regard to the opinions of anyone else in the rest of the world, and I see their arrogance as they stomp all over the rights of ordinary citizens in their own country - and I wonder when (or even if) America is going to wake up and realise what's happening in "the land of the free and the home of the brave". From over here, it doesn't look as free to me as it was even six years ago, and the brave appear to be very few and far between right now.

The only power I have, not being able to vote or make financial contributions to the Democratic campaign in the US, is to get as informed as I can, to speak out, and to write what I know and how I feel in my blog. That's it.

I believe in fairness, justice and truth. I do not believe that the decisions made by the leader of any country should be above the law, and I do not believe that the decisions made about America by George Bush are in the best interests of anyone except those in power, and the ultra-rich "base" they represent.

Bush is hovering on only 30% approval right now, and over two thirds of Americans believe that the War on Iraq is wrong and getting wronger by the day. That gives me hope, but only if your average American cares enough, or realises he/she is in sufficient danger to actually get off their collective ass and vote on November 7. If the landslide in favour of the Democratic Party is large anough, I'm praying that Rove and Co won't be able to Diebold the results and steal yet another election - because whatever decisions are made in America eventually affect the rest of the world. And right now, I'd much rather those decisions were made by a consensus of the true representatives of The People of the USA, rather than by George W Bush - "The Decider".

For my many friends who live in the US, I would like a return to a nation where the right to free speech is upheld, and where people like kestrel9000 feel they can publicly question their representatives without running the risk of losing their job - or worse. I would like to see a country where the people are free to demonstrate, or campaign, or speak out, or even agitate against decisions made by their government. Where Speaking Truth to Power does not get you into trouble. A country where you don't have to fear that one day you will be named "unpatriotic", "un-American" or "enemy combatant", tortured and imprisoned indefinitely without trial.

My American friends fear that their country is moving inexorably in the direction of Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mao and Pinochet. Your vote on November 7 can and will make a difference. Please use it, for all of us.

Background info on José Padilla

- from lawyer Glen Greenwald's blog Unclaimed Territory - The Bush administration's torture of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla:

The Bush administration's May, 2002 lawless detention of U.S. citizen Jose Padilla -- on U.S. soil -- was, as I recounted in my book, the first incident which really prompted me to begin concluding that things were going terribly awry in our country. The administration declared Padilla an "enemy combatant," put him in a military prison, and refused to charge him with any crime or even allow him access to a lawyer or anyone else. He stayed in a black hole, kept by his own government, for the next three-a-half-years with no charges of any kind ever asserted against him and with the administration insisting on the right to detain him (and any other American citizen) indefinitely -- all based solely on the secret, unchallengeable say-so of the President that he was an "enemy combatant."

To this day, I have trouble believing that we have a Government that claims this power against American citizens and has exercised that power and aggressively defended it -- and even more trouble believing that there are so many blindly loyal followers of that government who defend that conduct. The outrage that it provokes when thinking about it has not diminished even a small amount and does not diminish no matter how many times one reads, writes or speaks about it. It is as profound a betrayal of the most core American political principles as one can fathom.

The Bush administration finally charged Padilla with a crime (after 3 1/2 years of detention) only because the U.S. Supreme Court was set to rule on the legality of their treatment of Padilla, and indicting Padilla enabled the administration to argue that his case was now "moot." The Government's indictment made no mention of the flamboyant allegation they originally trumpeted to justify his lawless incarceration -- that he was a "Dirty Bomber" attempting to detonate a radiological bomb in an American city (because the "evidence" for that accusation was itself procured by torture and was therefore unreliable and unusable). Instead, the indictment contained only the vaguest and most generic terrorism allegations. Since then, the federal judge presiding over Padilla's case (in the Southern District of Florida) has repeatedly expressed skepticism over the Government's case against him and has, on several occasions, admonished them to provide more specific information setting forth exactly what Padilla is alleged to have done.

Please go read Glenn's account of the treatment of José Padilla in its entirety. It's an absolutely shocking story. José is an American citizen, born in the US. During the first three years and eight months of his incarceration he was kept in complete isolation, with no access to the outside world, no watch or clock, no view of anything outside his cell at all and he was tortured. Endlessly. Extreme sleep deprivation (his steel bed didn't even have a mattress for most of that time!), shacked in stress positions for hours on end, threatened with knives, threatened with imminent execution, hooded, threatened with removal from the US and imprisonment at Guantanamo Bay, given "truth" drugs against his will... the list goes on and on. It's awful - and the Torture Bill makes it legal.

Even if José is a terrorist - and the evidence for that is sketchy to say the least - can this treatment be justified? Doesn't torture of a captive make you as bad as the terrorists themselves? It's morally wrong! If you can't get at the truth without resorting to cruel and inhuman treatment (which won't give you the truth anyway!) then either you're not doing your job properly, or the truth is not what you believe it to be. Either way, you lose if you stoop to that level. It disgusts me, and it demeans you.

I didn't mean to write this much today, and I didn't mean for this to turn into such a rant, either. I guess I'm just shocked and appalled that this is happening in America, and that many Americans are content to just stand aside and let it happen. Many of them haven't even bothered to find out what is happening, and that saddens me greatly. So in case you are interested in finding out information served to you from a left-wing viewpoint...

Here's a bit more background info on Daily Kos:

Daily Kos was set up by Markos Alberto Moulitsas Zúniga who has this to say about the purpose of his blog:

This is a Democratic blog, a partisan blog. One that recognizes that Democrats run from left to right on the ideological spectrum, and yet we're all still in this fight together. We happily embrace centrists like NDN's Simon Rosenberg and Howard Dean, conservatives like Martin Frost and Brad Carson, and liberals like John Kerry and Barack Obama. Liberal? Yeah, we're around here and we're proud. But it's not a liberal blog. It's a Democratic blog with one goal in mind: electoral victory. And since we haven't gotten any of that from the current crew, we're one more thing: a reform blog. The battle for the party is not an ideological battle. It's one between establishment and anti-establishment factions. And as I've said a million times, the status quo is untenable.

Daily Kos FAQs are here. There are currently over 100,000 registered members of DKos, each of whom is allocated a UID number and is allowed to write one diary per day, which is posted on the site. A Kos diary is pretty much the same as a post on a blog. Members can also comment on other diarists' daily diaries. Your UID number indicates how long you've been a member of DKos, with lower numbers indicating an earlier sign-up date. My number is 29543.

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kestrel9000 said...

My thanks to you for your kind words and support, webweaver. It may well all just blow right over. We'll have to see.
If anything comes down today, I'll diary it on dKos tonight.
Thanks again.

webweaver said...

Hi Eddie!

Thanks so much for dropping by! I'm crossing my fingers that your station manager had a sensible point of view. I'll be keeping an eye out for your Kos diary. Kia kaha!