victims of torment and apathy

Guantánamo Prisoners Go on Hunger Strike

By Neil A. Lewis

Published: September 18, 2005 in The New York Times

WASHINGTON, Sept. 17 – A hunger strike at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay has unsettled senior commanders there and produced the most serious challenge yet to the military’s effort to manage the detention of hundreds of terrorism suspects, lawyers and officials say.

As many as 200 prisoners – more than a third of the camp – have refused food in recent weeks to protest conditions and prolonged confinement without trial, according to the accounts of lawyers who represent them. While military officials put the number of those participating at 105, they acknowledge that 20 of them, whose health and survival are being threatened, are being kept at the camp’s hospital and fed through nasal tubes and sometimes given fluids intravenously.

The military authorities were so concerned about ending a previous strike this summer that they allowed the establishment of a six-member prisoners’ grievance committee, lawyers said. The committee, a sharp departure from past practice in which camp authorities refused to cede any control or role to the detainees, was quickly ended, the lawyers say.

Maj. Jeffrey J. Weir, a spokesman at the base, said that the prisoners who are being fed at the hospital are generally not strapped to their beds and gurneys but are in handcuffs and leg restraints. A 21st prisoner at the hospital is voluntarily accepting liquid food.

Major Weir said the prisoners usually accept the nasal tubes passively because they know they will be restrained and fed forcibly if necessary. “We will not let them starve themselves to the point of causing harm to themselves,” he said, describing the process as “assisted feeding” rather than force-feeding. On at least one occasion, he said, a prisoner was restrained and forcibly fed.

One law enforcement official who has been fully briefed on the events at Guantánamo said senior military officials had grown increasingly worried about their capability to control the situation. A senior military official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, described the situation as greatly troublesome for the camp’s authorities and said they had tried several ways to end the hunger strike, without success.

The comments of the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, probably because their accounts conflict with the more positive descriptions in official military accounts, generally mirrored the statements of lawyers for the detainees, who have received their information from face-to-face interviews with their clients.

Clive Stafford Smith, a British lawyer for several of the detainees, said he was visiting some of his clients in August when the most recent strike began. He said that a detainee, Omar Deghayes, told him that the strike was largely to protest their long imprisonment without being charged with any crime as well as the conditions of their confinement.

He said that Mr. Deghayes, a Libyan who has lived in London, told him: “Look, I’m dying a slow death in this place as it is. I don’t have any hope of fair treatment, so what have I got to lose?”

Mr. Stafford Smith said an earlier hunger strike ended on July 28 after the camp authorities agreed to improve conditions.

He said that one inmate, Shaker Aamer, negotiated the end to that hunger strike with a camp official he identified as Col. Michael Bumgarner, who said he had been authorized to address some of the prisoners’ grievances. Mr. Stafford Smith, who represents Mr. Aamer, said his client told him that Colonel Bumgarner said he would ensure that the detainees would thereafter be treated “in accordance with the Geneva Accords.” That included, Mr. Stafford Smith said, the establishment of the six-member committee to represent the prisoners in talks with the authorities. Such representative committees are called for in the Geneva Conventions, although they had not been formed at Guantánamo. The Bush administration has said that while the Guantánamo detainees are not entitled to the protections of the Geneva Conventions, they are generally treated by its standards.

Mr. Stafford Smith said the committee only functioned for a few days before authorities disbanded it.

Major Weir disputed Mr. Stafford Smith’s description of a prisoners’ grievance committee. “There have been no meetings with detainees refusing to eat,” he said in a written statement in response to a question about the existence of such a committee. He said that commanders and soldiers interact with the prisoners daily and that they are also made aware of prisoners’ needs and complaints from representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He declined to elaborate further.

Mr. Stafford Smith said the current strike began after some detainees reported witnessing the abuse of a prisoner, Hisham Sliti, when he returned to his cell after an interrogation session. He said that Mr. Deghayes told him that he had also seen a guard throw Mr. Sliti’s copy of the Koran onto a cell floor. The military has acknowledged that isolated incidents of abuse of the Koran have caused some unrest among detainees, but authorities said that they investigate any such reports and discipline any offenders.

Kristine Huskey, a lawyer with Shearman & Sterling in Washington who returned from visiting Guantánamo last week, said that three of the Kuwaitis she represents in federal court were among the hunger strikers. She said she could not discuss everything she learned because of an agreement with the military that lawyers may not disclose information from their visits until the authorities review their notes for classified information. Nonetheless, she said, “The situation in the camp itself is very bad,” adding that the hunger strike was “far more widespread than the government is letting on.”

She also said that the camp authorities seemed greatly harried as they tried to cope with the situation.

The comments by Mr. Stafford Smith and Ms. Huskey demonstrate the vast changes in the military’s task since federal courts have become involved in cases involving detainees and ordered the military to allow defense lawyers to travel to Guantánamo. Before the advent of lawyer visits, the military had total control over information from Guantánamo. There is now general acknowledgment that there were hunger strikes in 2002 and 2003, but they were largely unknown at the time. The only parties who had solid information when the strikes were occurring were the military authorities and Red Cross officials, who had pledged not to reveal what they learned in their visits in exchange for continued access.

The discrepancy between the military’s figures for participation in the strike and those of the lawyers may partly be explained by their using different definitions. Major Weir said a detainee was deemed to be on strike if he refused nine consecutive meals. Gitanjali Guiterrez, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York group that issued a recent report on hunger strikes at Guantánamo, said that more than 200 detainees have said they have participated in the strike, and that could mean they ate only some meals or consumed only beverages.

Ms. Huskey said that the government tried to prevent lawyers from her firm from visiting their clients in recent weeks. She said officials had to be pressed to allow the visits by Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the Federal District Court in Washington in at least three telephone conferences.

Ms. Huskey and her colleagues filed a motion before Judge Kollar-Kotelly on Aug. 29 asking her to order the government to allow them to visit their clients at Guantánamo who they believed were involved in the hunger strike.

“The judge essentially said they weren’t being accommodating enough, and she pressed them to explain why we couldn’t go,” Ms. Huskey said. “When they said they didn’t know if our clients were involved in the hunger strike, she asked them to find out.”

Ms. Huskey said that when the government lawyers later reported that three of the firm’s clients were involved, Judge Kollar-Kotelly said the lawyers should at least be able to visit those detainees.

“The government then became more accommodating,” she said.


Chavez staying true to pledge for U.S. poor

Edited from the article by Estanislao Oziewicz:

When Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on the weekend that he was going to open the taps on subsidized heating oil for poor folks in the United States, many assumed it was a drive-by comment aimed at raising the ire of his frequent critics in Washington.
But, as it turns out, Mr. Chavez is a man of his word.
Officials at Citgo Petroleum Corp. — the Houston-based company that is wholly owned by Venezuela’s state-owned energy company — say they are scrambling to put the fine points on Mr. Chavez’s promise to supply some of the poorest neighbourhoods in the United States with cheap heating oil this winter.
“The idea is to work with communities in need, with schools, and we’ll have to work through not-for-profit organizations that will serve as intermediaries,” public affairs manager Fernando Garay said.
The Venezuelan leader’s program is scheduled to begin next month in the Mexican-American community in Chicago, followed by the South Bronx, and then Boston.
Bradford University scholar Julia Buxton said Mr. Chavez’s action is “quite unprecedented but consistent with the influence the oil has in the world economy.”
“When Mr. Chavez first came to power nearly seven years ago, oil was at $9 a barrel and it’s now above $60. That’s given him huge fiscal leverage.”
That is clearly not lost on Mr. Chavez’s foes in the U.S. administration. Only days before Mr. Chavez took his message directly to Americans after speaking at the United Nations, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice complained — hypocritically, in the eyes of many Venezuelans — that oil was “warping” international politics. “It gives certain power and leverage to certain countries and not to others,” she said in a meeting with The New York Times editorial board. “We’re experiencing it with Venezuela, for instance, where the oil profits are being put to use across the region to, you know, push forward Chavez’s particular view of the world.”
One thing that sticks sharply in Washington’s craw is Mr. Chavez’s close collaboration with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Under Chavez, Venezuela has been moving toward social democracy.
Venezuela is the fifth-largest oil exporter in the world and the fourth-largest supplier of oil to the United States after Canada, Mexico and Saudi Arabia. Last year, PDVSA accounted for nearly 12 per cent of U.S. imports. Citgo has eight petroleum refineries in the United States as well as nearly 14,000 gas stations.
Ms. Buxton said that Mr. Chavez’s U.S. foray was borne of pragmatism and ideology. “He’s been deeply, deeply frustrated by coverage in the U.S. media and the attitude of the U.S. government, and he’s trying to counter a very Republican-directed vendetta,” she said, a vendetta that included a call by U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson for his assassination.
“He clearly needed to build constructive alliances with more liberal sections of American society and open a way to insulate himself against Washington enemies.”
On the weekend, Mr. Chavez, of mixed African and native Indian ancestry, toured the heavily black and Latino-populated Bronx and was treated like a rock star.
Ms. Buxton said Mr. Chavez’s pledge to help poor Americans may have been ad hoc but follows a recent pattern to provide subsidized oil to 13 Caribbean countries — including Cuba, in exchange for the long-term loan of about 20,000 Cuban health workers.
“He does have an interest in providing oil to the poorest in the Americas, including North America,” she said.

This article was reproduced in the rad-green news listserve. The original article can be found at:

Globe and Mail Friday, September 23, 2005 Page A22

Egalitarian prospects in the US single-member district plurality system

Bill Domhoff does absolutely necessary work. See his books and website

Here I will adumbrate what I view are the problems (to be further investigated) with his thesis that the US Democrat Party primaries can and should be taken over by egalitarians (leftists). Domhoff’s provocative suggestion that egalitarians can today take over the Democrat Party as the right took over the Republican Party in the late 20th century is good fodder for research.

With a public policy scientist and radio documentary producer, I am formulating a research program that traces the legacy of the US Democratic Party “machines” within contemporary Democratic Party and AFL-CIO institutions, politics, and culture, and uses those findings to assess the structural and cultural openness to radical reformists of Democratic Party primaries in comparison with that of the Republican Party. We will endeavor to use our study data to address the political sociology common-sense claim that American egalitarians would make most effective use of their political energies by attending Democratic Party primaries, where an ideological vacuum is presumed to exist. The literature presumes that egalitarians can reform the Democratic Party to mirror the late twentieth century radical right renovation of the Republican Party. The fate of Dr. Howard Dean (D-VT) in the Democratic Party primary process, for one example, suggests otherwise. Our proposed methodology uses historical sources and secondary literature, Democratic primary participant-observation, and interviews to test the claim that the anti-egalitarian commitment disappeared from the Democratic Party as a result of the Civil Rights Movement and political keynesianism (given the ensuing transfer of Southern elites and their followers to the Republican Party as well as the decline of northern machine infrastructure).

Suspecting that too many analysts accidentally adopt as common sense the crafted Republican Party discourse that claims that Democrat Party members are void of deeply-seated moral commitments, we seek to test the assertion that among this range of American political actors, it is the egalitarians who are especially moral and inclined to reject political compromise. This assertion runs counter to widely-held Anglo-American beliefs about the historical political opportunism of, for example, East European and Latin American egalitarians. Is it the US egalitarians’ uniquely moralistic political approach that causes the failure of coalition-building with Democrat Party members, as political sociologist Bill Domhoff suggests, or is it possible that Democrats maintain an emphatic legacy of liberal moral commitments that favor, for example, class inequality, rendering many egalitarian political positions much less palatable to Democrats than rival Republican Party politics? Further, we critically evaluate the assumption that elite interests in the two US parties have been equally opposed to and vulnerable to reformist challenges, irrespective of the challenges’ egalitarian or anti-egalitarian content.

In conclusion, we will strive to put the ox back before the cart in political sociology and social movement strategy by reviewing the historically fundamental imperative of extra-institutional mobilization and organization for socio-political change within the context of the single-member district plurality system. The contrasting case of the occasionally-cooperative relationship between the Social Democratic Party and the Left Party in Sweden presents one example of the possibility that those liberal political organizations prone to restricting egalitarianism will compromise with and incorporate egalitarian goals where disparate agendas can be fostered within separate political organizations.

Neoliberal = zombified

Can anyone answer me this: How did Schroeder become a neoliberal putz? How did the South African socialists become neoliberal stooges? What the fuck? Do politicians like Schroeder pose as progressives to rise up the ranks of the SPD and then just huddle with a little cabal of neoliberal fucks to sell out a whole society’s achievements to their capitalist masters? A trojan horse for a new round of primitive accumulation?

I got news for you deaf, dumb & blind Europeans: What do you get with neoliberalism? Economic dynamism? A solution to US-centric trade imbalances? I don’t think so. You get the US itself: a crapola, Louisiana-style lotto society, and a one-way ticket down the fascism chute.

Congrats to Oskar Lafontaine and the Linkspartei for their excellent showing. It’s a fucking pity that that old goat Schroeder blocks a left coalition, which could help differentiate the SPD from the rightwing Xian Democrats and Liberals. Apparently Schroeder prefers to imagine that the most important accomplishment he can achieve as the leader of the SPD and Germany is to just implement a bunch of national degradation policies that the Christian Democrats could fix up without him or any social democrats.

I now know why leftists the world over spit when you mention European social democracy. Where the fuck is it going? Why bother? Why call it social democracy? Why not “This Old Political Network (Including Working Class Votes) That We’re Using”?

Why have social democratic parties at all, if they can only come up with right wing coalitions? They’re going to bury themselves, preening their suits and egos, beavering around, smoking hash under the tuteledge of their neoliberal Rasputins from Harvard and Oxford.

And now the Swedes are polling for the neoliberal right parties. Why? What do they think they’ll achieve?