Letter to Congressmen and Senators
I have not written to you for some time. As the year comes to an end, I am writing to tell you some of my concerns, lest you think everything is okay with this constituent.
My main concerns are:
1. Torture carried out by the US Government,
2. Poor progress of the Iraq War,
3. US failure to honor the rule of law,
4. Government corruption,
5. Immigration mess, and
6. Failure to follow up Hurricane Katrina.
Torture. There seems to be little doubt from reliable press reports that the US has used torture in Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and Iraq. I express my concerns about torture as a Vietnam veteran who served in the Army artillery on the DMZ, an attorney who is a member of the Alabama bar, and a retired Foreign Service officer who spent over 20 years with the U.S. Department of State. In Vietnam, one of our worries was that we would be captured by the “barbaric” North Vietnamese or Viet Cong and tortured. If you are properly trained as a soldier to hate the enemy, there is always the temptation to torture or mistreat a prisoner you take, but on the other hand, if you are properly trained, you will resist this temptation and uphold what used to be the high standards of the West in general and the United States in particular. As a junior Foreign Service officer, one of my jobs was to look after Americans who were arrested in Brazil, where prisoners were often mistreated. It was my impression (based on an unscientific sampling of what I saw and heard) that those who carried out this mistreatment, which often fell short of real “torture,” were not normal people. They were often sexual deviates, among other things, who delighted in the pain of others. I cannot understand why the US has not reacted in horror at torture by Americans, whether military or CIA. Incidentally, as a Foreign Service officer, I worked regularly with CIA officers, including from the operations side in Washington and overseas, and I do not think they would use torture. I think the CIA people who used torture were probably some kind of paramilitary types, who are a small minority of all CIA employees. The press reports that the Bush Administration, particularly Vice President Cheney, supports the use of torture. I hope that the Congress will assert its authority and force the Government — the military, the CIA, and anybody else — to stop using torture against anyone in US custody. We should also stop “rendition” of prisoners to other countries in the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, where they may be tortured by the foreign police or military. Prisoners captured by the US should be treated humanely, no matter what the circumstances were under which they were captured. We cannot let Saddam Hussein be the model for our democracy.
Iraq War. I am very concerned that the Iraq War will end up creating more serious problems in the Middle East than it solves. Iraq had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but now it has become a breeding ground for terrorists. It may degenerate into civil war, with the Sunnis, Shias, and Kurds fighting one another. Iraq could become a giant, black hole of violence that will roil the Middle East for decades to come. Outside of the usual suspects, the Kurds are seen as a threat by Turkey, because of their desire for a greater Kurdistan, which would include part of Turkey, as well as part of Iraq. Although Turkey is a relatively moderate Muslim state, the disintegration of Iraq may radicalize Turkey and draw it into the already volatile mix. Furthermore, the US occupation of Iraq has made the US a focal point of Arab and Muslim hatred. Finally, I am concerned that the main beneficiary of our war there will be Iran, because we have facilitated the ascendancy of the Shiites in Iraq, who have a natural alliance with Iran, which is the only other predominately Shiite country in the world. Iran, of course, is working on an atomic bomb, which we are powerless to stop, because we destroyed our credibility on non-proliferation by being dead wrong about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, and because we are so tied down in Iraq, we have no remaining forces even to make a credible military threat against Iran (not to mention North Korea). In addition, I am disappointed that the Iraq War prevented us from killing or capturing Osama bin Laden, who masterminded the 9/11 attacks. I am concerned that we entered the ill-advised Iraq War because of pressure from Jews, who may have been more concerned about the welfare of Israel than about the US. Many of the neo-conservatives who argued for the war were Jews — Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and William Kristol, just to name a few. In light of the Abramoff and AIPAC (America Israel Public Affairs Committee) scandals, I am concerned that American politicians are sending Christian soldiers to die in Iraq in return for Jewish money. In the old days, Jews were mostly Democrats, but both of these scandals involve Jews who were trying to influence this Republican Administration and Republicans in Congress (and succeeding). I realize that this is a politically incorrect accusation, but one of the concerns underlying all of the issues I raise in this letter is the American abandonment of the New Testament of the Bible. The Old (Jewish) Testament said “an eye for an eye,” (torture?), but the New (Christian) Testament said, “Love your enemies.” Christians should certainly be tolerant of Jews, but Christians should also live up to their own moral standards. By waging what is a particularly Jewish war in Iraq, we are losing sight of those standards. I have not seen the new Spielberg movie, “Munich,” but I am concerned that it is propaganda supporting the Old Testament, Jewish response to terrorism. I am also disappointed that the US Government does not trust its American troops in Iraq. Most senior officials are protected by private contractors, such as Blackwater or Triple Canopy, not by soldiers or marines. More and more the war is being fought by these private contractors, who may earn ten times what their counterparts in the military make. Many are not Americans. Giving so much money and prestige to these non-military fighters dishonors the troops who are fighting for our country and flag, not just for money.
Rule of Law. US failure to adhere to the rule of law is related to the torture issue, but much broader. For me it began with the US abrogation of the Kyoto Treaty and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. I was particularly upset by the American failure to adhere to the Vienna Convention, which deals with consular access to prisoners arrested in a foreign country, because as a vice consul, I personally used the Vienna Convention to protect Americans arrested in Brazil. As a veteran, I was also dismayed by the US failure to adhere to the Geneva Convention. We will have no basis to protest if American soldiers are captured and tortured by their enemies. (According to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Hitler “considered denouncing the Geneva Convention in order… ‘to make the enemy realize that we are determined to fight for our existence with all the means at our disposal.’ …When some of the officers present raised legal objections Hitler retorted angrily: ‘To hell with that!’” (Page 1100). Hitler apparently did not follow through on his threat.) I thought early in the Bush Administration that these actions indicated only contempt for international law, but as time has passed, the Bush Administration has shown contempt for domestic law as well, up to and including the Constitution and the judicial branch of government in general. If the Bush Administration had been interested in law, it would have negotiated some kind of exit from Kyoto and the ABM Treaty, but it just said, like Hitler, “To hell with that.” Now we find that the Administration created a prison in Cuba to try to escape American law, that it engages in “extraordinary rendition” to evade American legal protection for prisoners, and that it even does weird things with prisoners arrested in the US. The US courts have slapped the Administration’s hand for its handling of Jose Padilla. It remains to be seen what action the Supreme Court will take, if any. Recently revelations about National Security Agency spying on private American citizens have been published. The Administration’s denial of habeas corpus (a right granted in the Constitution, Article I, section 9) for Padilla and possibly others, and its violation of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures by wiretapping without a court warrant are certainly serious concerns to law-abiding Americans. It may warrant impeachment proceedings. An editorial in the financial newspaper Barron’s for December 26 stated, “Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later.”
Corruption. Jack Abramoff, Congressman Tom DeLay, Congressman Duke Cunningham, White House aide David Safavian, Congressman Bob Ney, and the list of possibly corrupt politicians and lobbyists goes on. AIPAC, which is supposed to be a lobby for Israel, was found to be spying against the US for Israel. Outside government, we find a number of CEO’s in trouble with the law, from Joe Nacchio of Qwest here in Colorado, to Ken Lay of Enron, and even to business icon Jack Welch, who according to the December 26 issue of Barron’s, cooked the books at GE to the tune of about $6 billion to make his reign as CEO look better. I believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg, mainly those who got caught because they were too greedy. I am particularly outraged at Halliburton and Vice President Cheney, who personally benefits financially from Halliburton’s profits, for their war profiteering in Iraq. Halliburton has not performed well, but has raked in millions, perhaps billions, from unsupervised contracts with the US government. Others, who were perhaps a little less greedy, have stayed below the radar and gotten away with billions. I was particularly irked that the US Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of illegal immigration, no doubt because their constituents, the major businesses of America, benefit from this illegal traffic. I think it is odd that Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper has not gotten more criticism for employing an illegal alien, working for him at the Cherry Cricket restaurant in Denver, who killed an off-duty cop. Apparently businessmen think that violating laws regarding immigration is not really breaking the law. I think it is. If you don’t like the law, change it, don’t violate it.
Immigration. As I noted above in connection with corruption, immigration is a big mess. I think this country needs a policy and needs to adhere to it. I don’t favor amnesty. If we want to have a guest worker program, it should start prospectively. We should not reward people who have come to the US illegally for committing an illegal act. This is one point on which I disagree with Senator John McCain, whom I respect for standing up on many other issues that agree with him on, from torture to funding political campaigns. More generally, I don’t believe that the Department of Homeland Security is up to any of its jobs. It failed in New Orleans after Katrina; it’s failing to control immigration, and it would certainly fail to protect the homeland from another attack. Somebody needs to do something to whip the Department into shape, although I think it is probably impossible. It’s too big; its various activities — from the Coast Guard to the Secret Service, from border patrol to FEMA — are too diverse to produce any synergy.
Katrina. The failure to help New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina epitomizes many of the failures listed above. On the Jewish issue, many families in New York who suffered losses in 9/11 received millions of dollars from the federal government. Osama bin Laden probably attacked the World Trade Center because the New York financial district contains one of the highest concentrations of Jews of any place in the world outside of Israel. A number of Jews working in the financial district were killed, and their families and politically connected friends demanded huge sums in reparations. They got it through their enormous power on Capitol Hill. Payments to New Yorkers from the reparations fund run by Kenneth Feinberg came to about $7 billion, separate from money for reconstruction. If New Orleans had had as many Jewish residents as New York City, it would have been buried in federal money before the rain stopped falling. In addition on the corruption side, then-Senator Tom Daschle’s wife was a lobbyist for American Airlines, one of the companies that could have been sued by victims of the 9/11 attacks. Thus, he shepherded the bill through Congress which made the federal government responsible for paying victims, rather than American Airlines or its insurers. The residents of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are just plain old Americans, and the federal government could care less about them. They were treated like the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, who were also just ordinary citizens, like me.
It looks like the government only does what lobbyists and campaign donors pay it to do. I hope that you will consider changing that.