Archive for August, 2007

August 30, 2007

Cartoon for August 30

Alberto Gonzales, mastermind of legalized torture, spying on Americans and the elimination of habeas corpus, resigns–joining fellow retired criminals Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove.

Click on the cartoon to see it larger.

August 29, 2007


Here’s this week’s column. Comments may be posted here.

A Torturer Takes a Victory Lap
NEW YORK–Al Capone served six years at Alcatraz–for tax evasion. The true Original Gangsta was never held to account for the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre that left seven men cut in half by machine gun fire. Or the two disloyal wiseguys he ordered beaten to death with baseball bats. Or the corruption and mayhem his gangsters inflicted during the years he terrorized Chicago. Eliot Ness was cute, but the justice system failed. Capone won in the end.

Like Capone, Alberto Gonzales has gone down for a mere misdemeanor: firing U.S. attorneys for investigating Republican politicians. What led to his resignation as attorney general was his smearing them as incompetent. Hell hath no fury as a man fired without a positive recommendation. (Gonzales, a buffoon on his best day, perjured himself in spectacularly inept style in testimony about domestic wiretapping before Congress–an outfit that has forgotten more about lying than lesser lights will ever know.)

Gonzales’ crime was a doozy: He created the legal framework for American fascism. No punishment could suffice for America’s Eichmann, author of infamous pseudolegal rationales for torture and the end of habeas corpus. And none will he face.

“Fredo” (Bush’s nickname for him) quit over a procedural personnel matter. If he ultimately faces justice, it will be for mere perjury. Even his critics don’t care about his monstrous role as the legal architect of our post-9/11 gulags–proof positive that the master corrupter of democracy has triumphed, that we Americans are not a decent people.

“Are we being forward-leaning enough?” Gonzales used to ask his colleagues. “Forward-leaning” was Bush Administration jargon for toughness in the war on terror. It didn’t mean bending the rules. The Bushies were radicals. Trashing centuries-old constitutional protections–the right to an attorney, to face your accuser in a court of law, not to be tortured–wasn’t enough for our suburban Robespierres. They longed for an American Rome ruled by a harsh, omnipotent emperor over legions of troops standing ready to destroy all who challenged them, foreigners and Americans alike. They said 9/11 had changed everything. The new order required new laws.

One of the first steps down the road to perdition was a January 25, 2002 legal memorandum advising Bush to deny legal rights to Afghan POWs. “There are reasonable grounds for you to conclude that [the Geneva P.O.W. Convention] does not apply…to the conflict with the Taliban,” wrote Gonzales, then working as White House counsel. Deploying his characteristic blend of ignorance, arrogance and illogic, he called the Geneva Conventions–which have saved the lives of thousands of captured American soldiers–“quaint.” He then argued “that the Taliban and its forces were, in fact, not a government but a militant, terrorist-like group.” Actually, the Clinton and Bush Administrations had treated the Taliban regime as a government, negotiating with its leaders over oil-pipeline transit fees and subsidizing it with millions of U.S. taxdollars. U.S. allies, including Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, had embassies in Kabul. History was collateral damage in the war of terror.

Having denied captured Afghan soldiers POW status–“detainees,” newspapers began calling them–the Bush Administration looked for “forward-leaning” ways to abuse them. Children as young as 12 were beaten, shipped in shackles, their heads shaved and covered with gunny sacks, to Guantánamo Bay. Years have passed; they’ve grown up in Camp Delta. These kids–rural conscripts who couldn’t have attacked the U.S. even if they’d thought of it–still haven’t been allowed to see a lawyer or their parents.

Worried that the American people might someday return to its senses and prosecute them for their monstrous crimes against humanity, the Bushies again turned to their affirmative-action poster child–this time for a C.Y.A. memo validating torture. The CIA wanted permission to use six “pressure techniques” against prisoners. Mock burial, Gonzales and his legal staff thought, was a mite “too harsh.” The medieval practice of waterboarding, on the other hand, was OK. Another practice, “open-handed slapping of suspects, drew much discussion,” reported Newsweek. The idea was “just to shock someone with the physical impact,” one of Gonzales’ staffers said, with “little chance of bone damage or tissue damage.” Gonzales approved it.

The discussion resulted in an August 1, 2002 memo to Gonzales, which he passed on to Bush. The CIA and U.S. soldiers were free to subject prisoners to “cruel, inhuman or degrading” treatment. All they needed was permission from the Emperor. “Those committing torture with express presidential authority,” The Washington Post reported about the memo, “were probably immune from prosecution.” Abu Ghraib followed.

Slippery slopes are usually cited as cautionary tales. Gonzales saw post-9/11 fear as an opportunity to be exploited. He pushed for the USA Patriot Act. Foreign detainees, he decided, would get military kangaroo courts. Using Gonzales’ advice as back-up, Bush signed an executive order authorizing himself to declare any U.S. citizen an “enemy combatant” and have him assassinated. Next came the terrifying Military Commissions Act, which allows a president to declare martial law, seize control of the National Guard from the states, and throw U.S. citizens into concentration camps for the rest of their lives.

But no one objected to any of these attacks on our freedom. Not the news media. Not the Democrats–they voted for them.

After Torturer-in-Chief Gonzales announced his departure, Ted Kennedy slammed him–for perjury. “He has exhibited a lack of candor with Congress and the American people and a disdain for the rule of law and our constitutional system,” said the liberal stalwart. “The rampant politicization of federal law enforcement that occurred under his tenure seriously eroded public confidence in our justice system,” added House speaker Nancy Pelosi, focusing, like everybody else, on the fired U.S. attorneys. The word “torture” didn’t come up.

Gonzales will be remembered as corrupt and intellectually deficient. Nevertheless, his legal legacy will likely remain in place for the foreseeable future. Torture isn’t in the news because it isn’t news. It’s normal.

The monster dragged the rest of us down to his level. We are all Alberto Gonzales.


August 27, 2007

Cartoon for August 25

If Rudy Giuliani, who spent a mere 29 hours sucking up corpse dust at and around Ground Zero during the months after 9/11, can run for president based on his “heroism”–why not me?

Normally I shy away from “breaking the third wall” in cartooning. This time around, this was the funniest approach, so I went with it. Let me know what you think.

Click on the cartoon to see it larger.

(Original artwork still for sale, now back to regular price. Thanks to this weekend’s buyers!)

August 26, 2007

We Will Bury You!
posted by Susan Stark

An urban legend has it that Soviet Leader Nikita Khrushchev pounded his shoe on a table and said those four words to the West, indicating that Communism will bury Capitalism.

We chuckle at that now, because after all, we won, didn’t we? We buried communism.

Well, yes, we did, after a fashion.

Unfortunately, though, it’s rearing it’s ugly head again. No, I’m not talking about Hugo Chavez with his Bolivarianism, or Putin with his resurgent Mafia-socialism. What I’m talking about is popping up in the good old U S of A.

Comrades, let me introduce you to Chairman Rupert Murdoch. He is doing what Khrushchev wanted to do but didn’t live to do: He is burying us.

If we are all eventually forced into reading or listening or watching HIS media for our information, it would certainly be the equivalent of reading Pravda.

Just as much as if the Walton family owned every means of buying stuff, as they are trying to do right now. Imagine long lines at Wal-mart snaking around the block, parallel to the Soviet lines to buy clothing or toilet paper.

Because, that’s the irony. The greater the corporate and individual concentration of ownership in our society, the closer we come to Soviet-style economy, where everything is owned and distributed by a single entity (in their case, it was the State).

When Chairman Murdoch gains control of a newspaper, for instance, he “promises” not to change the content. But he turned the New York Post from a mainstream liberal paper into a tabloid/fascist rag that hasn’t made a profit since he acquired it. But profit isn’t nearly as important as dominance, when you’re trying to manipulate public opinion.

Fortunately, we have an alternative to this corporate-communism, if we are willing to make the effort. There is a little-known news network that aims to become an alternative to not only to Fox News, but also to CNN and the rest of the cookie-cutter networks.

It’s called the REAL NEWS!!!!

August 24, 2007

Cartoon for August 25

This one resulted from a few conversations I’ve had lately with conservative friends. There are other differences between lefties and righties, of course, but one of those we’ve neglected is this one. Many Republicans wonder, given all the things America does right, why we whine so much about what it does wrong. We, of course, wonder why conservatives don’t want to make our country even better.

Click on the cartoon to see it larger.

Special offer: Original artwork for this cartoon available for $250–half off my usual price–if you buy it within 24 hours. Email for details.

August 24, 2007

“Silk Road to Ruin” Review

A Central Asia-knowledgeable blogger reviews “Silk Road to Ruin.” I think he does a good job.

August 22, 2007


Here’s this week’s column, available for comment:

American Citizen Tortured, Convicted of Thought Crime

NEW YORK–“Just about everyone agrees that the recent conviction of Abdullah al-Muhajir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla, is a good thing,” wrote right-wing pundit Neil Kressel in The New York Post. Indeed, just about everyone did. “It is hard to disagree with the jury’s guilty verdict against Jose Padilla, the accused, but never formally charged, dirty bomber,” opined the liberal editorial board of The New York Times. (They went on to criticize the way the Bush Administration denied Padilla due process.)

Meet Mr. Not Everyone.

Padilla, a 36-year-old American citizen born in Brooklyn who converted to Islam, was arrested at Chicago’s O’Hare airport in May 2002. Using the bombastic “1984”-style rhetoric of the post-9/11 era, then-attorney general John Ashcroft announced that Padilla had participated in an “unfolding terrorist plot to attack the United States by exploding a radioactive dirty bomb.” Padilla’s arrest, Ashcroft ranted, would have caused “mass death and injury” in an American city.

But there wasn’t any evidence. Or there wasn’t enough to convict him in court. Which was, under the system of justice citizens of Western countries have lived under for eight centuries, the same thing.

Before 9/11 and “preventative detention” and legal torture and scary new laws like the USA-Patriot Act and the Military Commissions Act eliminated habeas corpus, Padilla would have sat in jail a day or two. He might have gotten roughed up. Then he’d have walked.

That was under democracy. In Bush’s neofascist security state, Padilla rotted in solitary confinement–in a military brig–for three and a half years. (Read Henry Charriere’s classic prison memoir “Papillon” if you doubt that solitary confinement is a form of torture.) No family visits. No lawyer. They subjected him to sensory deprivation, covering his eyes and ears to make him lose his mind.

And still no trial. Because the government knew Padilla was innocent.

By 2006 Bush was unpopular. Federal judges had begun to regrow their ‘nads, ruling that the Administration had to charge Padilla or release him. So the Bushies came up with a clever dodge whose narrow legalism was worthy of depends-on-the-meaning-of-is: they transferred Padilla to the civilian justice system and charged him with something else.

Or, to be specific, something less. They added Padilla to a case against two Middle Eastern men on trial for “conspiracy to murder, kidnap and maim people in a foreign country” and “material support” for Islamic terrorism. Padilla had met the two in Florida and, prosecutors say, traveled to Afghanistan in 2000 to join Al Qaeda. The key evidence presented was Padilla’s supposed Al Qaeda application form, which fingerprints proved he had handled.

Padilla’s public defenders claimed that their client was forced to pick up the “Al Qaeda form” in the brig. Who knows what happened while he was “disappeared” during those three and a half years?

“There is no need to show any particular violent crime [in a conspiracy trial],” said law professor Robert Chesney, of Wake Forest University. “You don’t have to specify the particular means used to carry out the crime.” Nevertheless, Padilla faces the possibility of life in prison.

Of course, the United States wasn’t at war with Afghanistan in 2000. Before 9/11 the Clinton and Bush Administrations both sent millions of dollars to the Taliban. The vast majority of Muslims who trained at Al Qaeda camps never plotted against the U.S. They planned to fight in places like Chechnya, Kosovo and Xinjiang. Padilla’s membership in Al Qaeda, even if proven, doesn’t prove anti-Americanism.

Post-9/11 conspiracy prosecutions are de facto attempts to make anti-Americanism–the mere thought, not any action–illegal.

“It is a pretty big leap between a mere indication of desire to attend a camp and a crystallized desire to kill, maim and kidnap,” said Peter Margulies, a law professor at Roger Williams University. The conspiracy count against Padilla, Margulies continued, “is highly amorphous, and it basically allows someone to be found guilty for something that is one step away from a thought crime.”

The charge was laughable and the standard of proof rock-bottom. But the masters of Padilla’s show trial didn’t miss a chance to cheese up the proceedings.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brian Frazier never presented evidence that Padilla actually joined or was accepted by Al Qaeda. Nevertheless, reported the Associated Press, he “mentioned Al Qaeda 91 times in his opening statement and more than 100 times in his closing, according to court transcripts.” Padilla had nothing to do with 9/11. To link him to the attacks in jurors’ minds, Frazier had them watch a seven-minute video clip of Osama bin Laden. (There’s no evidence that Padilla ever watched the 1997 CNN interview.)

Padilla’s lawyers asked the judge in the case to dismiss the case because he had been denied a speedy trial. Marcia Cooke said no–and ordered them not to talk to the jury about the three and a half years the defendant had spent being tortured and deprived of his rights.

Reporters’ eyes rolled as Frazier said that government wiretappers heard Padilla and his two co-defendents use code words like “football” to mean jihad and “eggplant” and “zucchini” for weapons. “They wanted to recruit, fund and train fighters,” he told the jury. “Playing this kind of football was more important than anything else to these men. What they were doing was no game.” But, reported the AP, Padilla’s “voice was only picked up on seven of the FBI intercepts, [and] he never talked in code.” He shouldn’t have been convicted–even on those lame-ass conspiracy charges.

Osama bin Laden is an ends-justifies-the-means kind of guy. So, apparently, is Uncle Sam. Jeffrey Addicott, director of the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University, said after the verdict: “It’s kind of a dirty victory because of the way the case came about, but still it’s a victory nonetheless.” Yeah. But for whom?

(Ted Rall is the author of the new book “Silk Road to Ruin: Is Central Asia the New Middle East?,” an in-depth prose and graphic novel analysis of America’s next big foreign policy challenge.)

August 20, 2007

Cartoon for August 20

Here’s my cartoon for today, inspired by conversations I’ve had with editors of various newspapers. It seems incredible (no pun intended!) that politicians–who have lots of motivation to lie and do so like they breathe–get access to the media whenever they open their maws. Meanwhile, other people–political activists, academics, etc.–whose credibility is intact are routinely ignored.

Click on the image to make it bigger and post any comments here.

August 19, 2007

Stop the Genocide . . . in Iraq
posted by Susan Stark

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “selective compassion”?

This would characterize anyone, particularly Westerners, who zealously champion the cause of the Darfurians.

The actess Mia Farrow, and journalists like Nat Hentoff of the Village Voice and Nick Kristof of the New York Times shout at the top of their computer software and shed hot tears for Darfur. They regularly use their columns and celebrity status to guilt-trip us that we are not doing enough to “save” the hundreds of thousands who have died, and the millions who’ve become refugees in the Sudan.

And, I would have to agree with them. We aren’t doing enough. But . . . is it really “our” job to do anything for the Darfurians? I am about to argue, heresy of heresies, that it’s not.

It may be the job of the Europeans, the Africans, the Asians, or even the South Americans to save Darfur. Maybe it’s the job of Canadians to save Darfur.

But for Americans, our task is to save Iraqis, not Darfurians. There are now around 700, 000 Iraqis dead as a result of the Iraq War, and there are 3 million refugees, either exiled or internally displaced. And we Americans are either directly or indirectly responsible for this condition, whether we’ve supported the War or not, because we pay for it with our tax dollars. And if such a condition in Darfur is called a “genocide”, then the same label also applies for Iraq.

Yet, you don’t see Ms. Farrow or Mr. Hentoff or Mr. Kristof crying and guilt-tripping Americans over these pour souls. I guess it’s easier see genocide when some else is doing it, like the Arab Sudanese, then when you are doing it. Yes, all this constant concern for Darfurians provides a wonderful distraction away from the many more Iraqis suffering under the same conditions.

To all of these “selectively compassionate” celebrities and journalists shedding crocodile tears for Darfur, I say this: You can stop the waterworks right now, and you can start doing something for the Iraqis suffering because of you.

Stop the Genocide in Iraq.

Oh, and let’s not forget Afghanistan:

August 18, 2007

Cartoon for August 18

Here’s my cartoon for today; feel free to comment. As usual, click on the image to make it bigger. As not usual, at least on my browser, all the colors are totally screwed up. But in a fun way! So I’m leaving it that way. Of course, it might look normal to you–i.e., no purple people-eater faces.