Obama’s Collateral Damage

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HAT TIP:  Al Jazeera English

An investigation into a missile strike carried out by US-led forces in Afghanistan earlier this week has found that 13 civilians were among 16 people killed, the US military has said. The military made the admission on Saturday, after originally saying that 15 opposition fighters had been killed in the strike in the Gozara district of Herat province.

Afghan officials insisted all along that six women and two children were among those killed. Following Afghan outrage over the attack, US generals undertook an investigation, travelling to Gozara and talking to locals there. The generals said some anti-government fighters had also been killed in the strike. Michael Ryan, a US brigadier general, said that the investigation proved how seriously the US takes civilian casualties.

The US has come under increasing criticism over the past few months over the deaths of civilians in military operations in Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said that rising civilian deaths was a source of tension between Kabul and Washington. There are currently 80,000 US and Nato soldiers in Afghanistan, battling Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters. Barack Obama, the US president, is expected to approve the deployment of about 30,000 extra US troops to Afghanistan soon.

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An earlier Al Jazeera English article from late January amplified the criticism of the Pakistan’s President toward U.S.  bombing raids in his country.

Asif Ali Zardari, the Pakistani president, has called on Barack Obama, his US counterpart, to end American missile attacks in South Asian nation’s tribal border regions with Afghanistan.Zardari’s comments were reported in the local media on Saturday, a day after the first US attacks in Pakistan since Obama’s inauguration.

“With the advent of the new US administration, it is Pakistan’s sincere hope that the United States will review its policy and adopt a more holistic and integrated approach toward dealing with the issue of terrorism and extremism,” a ministry statement said. Such strikes against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters are counterproductive, the private NNI news agency quoted Zardari as saying.

Eight alleged foreign fighters, including one aligned with al-Qaeda, were killed with 14 other people in a double strike in the Waziristan area on Friday, according to Pakistani security officials.

The foreign ministry said that an unspecified number of civilians were also killed in the air raid by an unmanned aircraft.The foreign ministry said that it had informed US officials of its “great concern”.

“We maintain that these attacks are counterproductive and should be discontinued,” it said.”

While there are some on this board that discount the collateral damage of U.S. Imperialism, I cannot.   Historically, foreign invasions of this region have yielded nothing but death and failure.  They’ve never succeeded.  For the last thirty years, these people have been subjected to unending war and it has reduced the Pashtun region spanning both Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Dark Ages.   Primitive tribalism, Muslim extremism and Sharia Law reign supreme and repress the collective promise of the people.

Even more troubling are signs that President Obama is continuing Bush Administration policies immunizing government officials and their private sector agents from accountability for torture and extra rendition.   Democracy Now reports:

The Obama administration has decided to continue a Bush administration policy of invoking “state secrets” to dismiss a lawsuit accusing a Boeing subsidiary of helping the CIA secretly transport prisoners to torture chambers overseas.

On Monday, a San Francisco appeals court heard arguments on the American Civil Liberties Union’s attempt to reinstate the case against Jeppesen International Trip Planning on behalf of five former prisoners.

The lawsuit accused Jeppesen of arranging at least seventy flights since 2001 as part of the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program. The Bush administration successfully won the case’s dismissal on the grounds it would risk exposing “state secrets.” On Monday, Obama administration lawyers told judges the government’s stance is unchanged.

ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero said, “The] Justice Department stood up in court today and said that it would continue the Bush policy of invoking state secrets to hide the reprehensible history of torture, rendition and the most grievous human rights violations committed by the American government. This is not change. This is definitely more of the same.”

The Administration has made great strides and taken major steps toward intelligence reform in the thirty days it’s been in power, but its policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is troubling and deserves far more scrutiny than it is getting from the corporate media.  It damn sure deserves more scrutiny by blackfolks. Unnecessary civilian deaths and immunizing the facilitators of torture are not  and will never be “Change We Can Believe In.”

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Dispatches from Post-Racial America

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I’m interrupting your regularly scheduled corporate propaganda to bring some disturbing news from the West Coast.  Apparently, the post-racial America that signaled Barack Obama’s election as President of the United States is a fraud.

 

Shalca, a blogger on MyDD posted the following video, which graphically shatters the myth of a post-racial America.

 

The two-minute video shows how quickly an unarmed black man can die while in the custody of unprofessional toy cops like those that police the Bay Area Rapid Transit System.  

 

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Oscar Grant, a 22-year old unarmed black man, was executed by a Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer on New Year’s Day.

 

 

Amnesty International’s Dalia Hashad, released the following statement:

 

When an unarmed man is shot in the back after police put him face down on the ground, it is the time for authorities to demand action, not patience. Days after the incident, the officer still has not been interviewed. The delay in this critical part of the investigation hints at the callousness to the worth of human life to a public that is all too familiar with racial profiling, police brutality and cover-ups. Whatever the final investigation reveals, the bottom line is that there is never justification to shoot an unarmed person, especially one who is restrained. It is an obvious violation of the most basic human rights standards, and a clear cut abuse of power.

 

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The corporate media have taken to making excuses for the police by peddling the canard that the cop mistakenly went for his Glock instead of his Taser.  

 

Junya, writing for the Black San Francisco Bay View, blows this pernicious lie to smithereens:

 

 

1. The manual states that the Taser X26 weighs 7 ounces. Depending on model and bullets loaded, a Glock pistol can weigh from 25-38 ounces. You don’t have to be a weapons expert to feel the difference between holding about two pounds and holding less than half a pound – try it.

2. Police pistols are all black, sometimes with a very dark brown grip. The X26 has bright yellow markings on it. It also has a 2-digit LED display.

3. The X26 has a safety on the grip that must be released. The Glock safety is on the trigger.

So let’s review the minimum steps of a Taser deployment:

1. You pull out the lightweight, brightly colored weapon. You load the cartridge onto the tip of the barrel. The cartridge is fat and rectangular, looking nothing like a pistol barrel.

2. You reach on the grip and flip the safety up. The LED display lights up like half of your digital alarm clock, then shows the percentage charge.

3. Police are taught NEVER to use Tasers in life-threatening situations (ensuring that the “Tasers save lives” mantra remains a fairy tale). So, since that eliminates the “split-second judgment” defense, every Taser policy I’ve seen requires a warning before firing, to give the victim the opportunity to comply. Police like to report that merely pointing the Taser and issuing the warning is often sufficient.

Most likely, this cockamamie rumor is spread by the police in order to buy time. It’s damage control, to pacify an angry public until they can come up with some way to blame the victim.

A small scale riot the other day confirmed that the lies, excuses, and spin hadn’t been effective in disguising an execution as a “mistake.”  In a “post-racial” America, it would be nice if the deliberate, pre-meditated effort to cover-up an execution got an automatic federal investigation, followed up by prosecution.

Sadly, this has happened twice before and no prosecutions for murder or manslaughter were ever brought against the BART cops in those cases.  They’ve murdered a naked, mentally ill man, and a 19 year-old boy erroneously suspected of armed robbery.  The boy was shot in the back of the head. Both were black. 

In the reality based community I live in, these incidents, taken as a whole, constitute a pattern or practice of misconduct that is actionable under federal law.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice:

…it unlawful for State or local law enforcement officers to engage in a pattern or practice of conduct that deprives persons of rights protected by the Constitution or laws of the United States. (42 U.S.C. § 14141). The types of conduct covered by this law can include, among other things, excessive force, discriminatory harassment, false arrests, coercive sexual conduct, and unlawful stops, searches or arrests. In order to be covered by this law, the misconduct must constitute a “pattern or practice” — it may not simply be an isolated incident. The DOJ must be able to show in court that the agency has an unlawful policy or that the incidents constituted a pattern of unlawful conduct.

BART cops have no civilian review board and are virtually unaccountable for their crimes.  Based on the small amount of research I’ve found (here and here), it seems that they are following the same racist playbook that allowed them to justify questionable uses of deadly force and are simply hoping that the third time is a charm.

 

The Obama Justice Department, at the very least, should be monitoring this case to see what the local prosecutor does. If he does nothing, they should move swiftly on Civil Rights prosecutions against Johannes Mehserle and the rest of the officers in these old cases and use it’s power to force reforms in this rogue agency.  “Change We Can Believe In” is either a slogan or a mantra with teeth—I’d like to see which it is.

Eric Holder: the triumph of tokenism

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Word has been leaking like a sieve from the catacombs of Washington power about an interesting list of cabinet appointments. First, Obama appears to have selected former Clinton Administration Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder as his choice for Attorney General; finally, a Black appointment. Folks were beginning to wonder. The Holder appointment is not exactly Earth shattering and has been on the radar for several months.

Having met Obama in 2004, Holder was immediately impressed with the Senator’s depth and the feeling was mutual. Along with President Kennedy’s daughter, Caroline, Holder oversaw the vetting process that facilitated the unimpressive addition of Joe Biden to Obama’s ticket.

A longtime Justice Department lawyer, U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and a former DC Superior Court Judge, Holder is qualified to become Attorney General and it is my contention that Hillary would have appointed him as well as a sop to black folk for having defeated Obama through ruthless and deceptive means.

Holder, 57, is a standard issue establishment Negro who is safe, unimaginative, competent and compliant. As a partner in Covington & Burling, he has profited from his firm’s flacking for Halliburton’s bloated no-bid contracts and for other corporate predators like the Southern Peru Copper Corporation that left a trail of environmental devastation, economic dislocation, and a populace suffering from the deleterious health effects of toxic lead contamination.

While defending corporate criminals like Southern Peru Copper from any accountability for their crimes against the defenseless poor under the Alien Tort Claims Act, Covington & Burling has an interesting record of pro-bono work that has established the Fifth Amendment rights of Guantanamo detainees and defended abortion rights against the right-wing. Moreover, they’ve won a number of significant and high profile employment discrimination lawsuits on behalf of people of color.

What bothers me about Holder, though, is the law firm he is a partner in and what that ultimately says about Barack Obama’s oft stated “Change We Can Believe In.”

Yolanda Young, a writer, fellow blogger at spadeproject.com, and former staff attorney at Covington Burling, has written of the firm’s culture of face saving tokenism.

Staff attorneys are non-partner track lawyers who handle the menial legal tasks–generating binders and attaching “relevant” or “not relevant” codes to thousands of emails, spreadsheets, and any other documents associated with a particular case–that associates shun. While paralegals have their own offices, as many as ten staff attorneys share windowless file rooms. Segregated from other lawyers in the firm, we go uninvited to attorney-only firm functions and are not provided jury duty or maternity leave. The base pay and bonus structure is half that of a 25 year old first year associate’s.

Blacks at Covington comprise less than 5% of the Washington office’s partners and associates, but make up 30% of its staff attorneys. A peek at the firm’s website doesn’t reveal this since, unlike all other lawyers there, staff attorneys aren’t pictured. Were they, a peculiar pattern would emerge.

In a Legal Times essay, “The Unqualified Myth,” Veta T. Richardson, Executive Director of the Minority Corporate Counsel Association wrote, “Law firms claim to have consistent hiring criteria, but their ranks are actually filled with exceptions to the rule. These exceptions are more likely to be white lawyers.” Indeed, Covington’s black staff attorneys (like its black partners and associates) hail from top law schools like Harvard, Duke and Georgetown while several white associates and partners attended schools like Catholic, Kentucky and Villanova (all ranked well below 50). Taken as a whole, the black staff attorneys’ average law school rank is higher than that of white staff attorneys at the firm.

Blacks bought into the notion, stressed by legal literature, ranking systems and law firm recruiting departments, that investing in a top legal education is paramount for those wishing to work at top law firms. It’s disheartening to then discover that the black student who borrows $120,000 to attend Georgetown will only earn half that of the white associate who’s [sic] paid $60,000 to attend the University of Maryland.

Covington began stockpiling its staff attorney ghetto with blacks and other minorities in 2005, shortly after the General Council of some of the country’s largest companies joined Roderick A. Palmore, Executive Vice President, General Counsel & Secretary of Sara Lee in taking a tougher stance on law firm diversity. Signed by hundreds of General Counsel, this new “Call to Action” states they will retain firms that demonstrate a level of diversity reflective of their employees and customers and end their relationship with firms “whose performance consistently evidences a lack of meaningful interest in being diverse.”

Covington has certainly diversified its firm; however, its attorneys are far from equals. The vast majority of Covington’s black attorneys do no substantive work; have no control over their case assignments and no opportunity for advancement. This seems to be just the sort of structure the U. S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission warned against in its 2003 “Diversity In Law Firms” report which stated, “In large, national law firms, the most pressing issues have probably shifted from hiring and initial access to problems concerning the terms and conditions of employment, especially promotion to partnership.”

Having worked in the private sector, I’ve experienced both subtle and blatant forms of employment discrimination.  The politics of corporate diversity, in my view, is nothing more than a deceptive shell game.  I have worked for an organization whose CEO was a black man, the first ever, and still been subjected to retaliatory racism that led, in part, to my resignation.  Whatever feelings about race I may have, I come by them honestly.   It’s troubling to hear about better educated black professionals in supposedly high prestige workplaces being subjected to disparate treatment while a prominent black partner did little or nothing about it.

The Justice Department, in a sense, is the most powerful law firm in the world. The Bushites in control for the last eight years have done their level best to destroy it by turning it into a partisan dumping ground for the most far right hacks in their stable of fools.  They have conspired to undermine the administration of justice, facilitated torture and spied on the american people without probable cause. If a black partner in one of the most powerful Washington law firms can turn a blind eye to the discrimination in his own firm, I have to question why Barack Obama believes he is the right man to become Attorney General of the United States at this time. Finally, if he’s confirmed, I fear that Holder is just another token incapable of delivering anything resembling “Change We Can Believe In.”