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Op-Ed

Tortured ‘Reasoning’ for Using Torture

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Bill Fletcher

By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
NNPA Columnist

 

I found it quite amazing to hear the reactions by much of the public to the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture. The first was the attempt at denial. The second was a defense of torture.

The attacks on the exhaustive report began with the assertion that the report was under-researched and inaccurate. This attack was very difficult to sustain. The report was based on 6 million internal CIA documents and assorted reports, including reports concerning the relative utility of interrogation techniques. It was also not a document that was produced over night. It took more than five years to complete this. This was not, in other words, a last minute job.

So, the initial attacks, though loud, obnoxious and inflammatory, began to collapse. Next came something more interesting, and actually quite disturbing. Among some in the CIA, and later within the public, there was the defense of torture. Most people in the U.S. were not naïve enough to deny that torture took place. Instead, large numbers of those polled suggested that while, yes, it was torture, at the same time it was acceptable because – supposedly – useful information had been obtained.

There are several sources of concern here. Let’s start with the very fact that we are talking about torture. Supposedly, the U.S. does not engage in torture. Other countries have been accused in the past as having been perpetrators of torture, including Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan and the former Soviet Union. The U.S.A was supposedly morally superior. Yet, in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, all of that. was thrown out the window and the U.S. joined the list of countries openly conducting torture. And, by the look of some of the polls, a few too many people seem to be quite proud of it.

We cannot stop there, however. Not only are the majority of those polled willing to embrace torture, but they have accepted the fiction that the torture resulted in useful information. What is noteworthy here is that the documentation indicates that very little of use has been obtained by torture. It is all there in black and white, yet much of the public appears unwilling to accept that fact and, instead, substitutes its own imagination for reality. There is a name for this in psychology.

Once a nation embarks on torture, it is forever on a slippery slope. Not only does it lose the right to criticize others, but there is also a question of limits. In other words, who else can be tortured once one has opened the gates of hell? If someone is thought to have terrorist connections, does that justify subjecting them to torture? What sorts of alleged connections justify torture? Can torture be used as a preemptive approach with someone who might, under certain conditions, engage in alleged terrorist activity? Hopefully, you see where this is going.

Torture is not a new instrument in the arsenal of the USA. What is new is the willingness of much of the government – and the population – to quite openly embrace it. And with that step any suggestion of a moral high ground evaporates like a morning mist…and with that, quite probably many of our Constitutional rights.

 


Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice activist and writer. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at www.billfletcherjr.com.

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Activism

We Will Not Incarcerate Our Way Out of This

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

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As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety.
Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area.

People Are Liberating Public Spaces to Fight the Criminalization of Poverty

By Cat Brooks

How many times have you walked by an unhoused neighbor and told yourself it’s their fault, that they made the wrong life choices?

But the truth is that our unhoused crisis is the result of decades-long policies that criminalize poverty, addiction and mental health disabilities and treat human beings like garbage to be swept away with Friday’s trash while ignoring root causes.

Every city in the U.S. responds to visible poverty with fences, fines, cops, courts, and cages. These shortsighted responses make great photo ops, and let politicians pontificate, but all only accomplish terrorizing the most vulnerable, who move into new neighborhoods and reestablish their right to exist.

No matter how many arrests or evictions, the people will continue to be, and as part of that being — reclaim public spaces.

When San Francisco Supervisor Hillary Ronen called for the erection of fences around the 24th Street Bart Plaza, the community struck back and retook the plaza. @MissionDeFence_SF posted a statement in solidarity with other current public land struggles, including: People’s Park in Berkeley, Parker Elementary in Oakland, Echo Park in Los Angeles and Mystic Garden in Daly City.

These struggles are proof positive that the power lies with the people who will rise up, resist and reclaim the people’s space.

Last week, California Highway Patrol (CHP) and CalTrans violently evicted the Wood Street community, the largest encampment in the Bay Area. CHP (the 4th most murderous law enforcement agency in California) descended on the camp for phase one of an armed eviction that will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Wood Street’s estimated 200-300 residents are being offered little relocation support or resources. Only a fraction has been given shelters or RV spots. Two were arrested for non-violent civil disobedience amidst an outpouring of community support.

Most of the Wood Street folks are Black, several are elders, many extremely vulnerable, and almost all are victims of gentrification and criminalization.

I was there to bear witness as the state demolished a tiny home, towed RVs, and destroyed lives. No effort was made to move their homes and belongings. Mayor Libby Schaaf doesn’t believe the city has any obligation to do so.

In an open letter to Schaaf, Governor Gavin Newsom, and others, residents offered concrete solutions and laid out their needs. They’ve been asking for sanitation services and fire safety for years. They’ve been ignored.

In their letter, they wrote, “The Wood Street community stands strong in our determination to keep our community together. We plan to continue organizing and fighting for long-term and permanent housing solutions.”

For now, they’ll be forced to move into residential areas where NIMBYS will call cops to protect their fragile senses from the brutality of visible poverty. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

This story is playing out across California.  Instead of meeting people’s basic needs, the state legislature does things like “CARE Courts” — to force unhoused people into court-ordered treatment that will cost millions and target Black and brown folks. The bill is Governor Newsom’s brainchild and a continuation of criminalizing the unhoused under the guise of “care” which he’s done since his days as mayor of San Francisco.

Housing is a human right. We can use public resources to ensure everyone has a safe place to live and effective mental health and substance use treatment. Instead, we’ve gutted our social programs to the point where they don’t function and assume this lack of functionality means there’s no solution.

Poverty is a political choice. Oakland’s unhoused population increased 24% since 2019 (thank you Libby), yet the Town spends 10 times as much on police as it does on housing.

As we’ve overfunded police and underfunded housing, treatment, and other essential services, we’ve seen more policing but less safety. We are less safe when we build walls to keep unhoused neighbors out of public spaces. We are less safe when we respond to mental health crises with a badge and gun.

We are less safe when the treatment plan for substance use problems is a cage.

If seeing unhoused people makes us uncomfortable, then we should invest in housing for all. If public drug use offends us, then we should invest in safe injection facilities (a proven public health intervention that Newsom just vetoed).

If watching someone experience a mental health crisis is distressing, then we should invest in community-driven approaches to support individuals in crisis.

Until we do these things, no matter how much our elected officials try to sanitize the crises we face, the people will keep knocking down fences to liberate public spaces.

Cat Brooks is co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and host of Law & Disorder on KPFA, a new show that exposes the cracks in our system and agitates for resistance.

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Activism

OP-ED: Just Say No to the A’s at Howard Terminal

The voters said they wanted the right to weigh in on whether to spend public funds on the Howard Terminal project. The Council refused to place a measure on the ballot, saying no public funds would be spent and they preferred a financial review before such a vote could be scheduled. But the City never did the financial review. 

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Paul Cobb, publisher, Post News Group
Paul Cobb, Publisher, Post News Group

By Paul Cobb

What an absolute mess!  The City of Oakland promotes a baseball stadium and luxury real estate development at Howard Terminal for the Oakland A’s, but it has not completed a financial analysis of risk and benefits associated with the project. It does not know what the project will cost, how it will be paid for, how many public dollars will be spent, and how much the City is at risk for anticipated cost overruns that are likely because of changing economic conditions due to inflation.

This situation is worse than the Raiders debacle at the Oakland Coliseum. You would think that once burned, the City would make sure that would not happen again.

But here we are.

Public funds from the city, county, state, and federal government will exceed $1 billion.  Worse, because of changing economic conditions, the City now admits for the first time that anticipated cost overruns could pose a risk to the city of Oakland. The City Administrator won’t say how much is at stake, because he doesn’t want to “throw numbers around.” But a source close to the A’s said some estimates have pegged the cost to the city to be more than $300 million.

Before we go further, let’s be reminded how we got here. Last spring, the voters of Oakland asked the City Council to place an advisory vote on the November ballot on whether any public funds should be spent on billionaire John Fisher’s baseball and luxury real-estate deal at Howard Terminal. That request was denied.

On April 28, 2022, Councilmember Noel Gallo convinced the City Council to unanimously vote to have an independent analysis done on the risks and benefits of the project.  The analysis was scheduled to be presented to the public on Sept. 20. When the date came around for the report, the City had not done the analysis even though five months had passed since it was approved.

On Sept. 20, after the meeting started, staff sent out an e-mail with an attached 18-page report that was chock full of new data and a dire warning that “significant increases in costs are anticipated and there are not yet sufficient funds currently in-hand to cover the estimated costs of the off-site infrastructure (on the project). As a result, under the current structure, there is a risk that the City would be required to fund the remaining costs as well as any cost overruns, each of which may prove significant.”

Councilmembers were stunned. They had been assured that the City would have no risks, but the report included an admission that the City could be at risk and the amounts may prove significant. Councilmember Carroll Fife asked how much was at stake. The City Administrator refused to give an estimate.

So, again, here we are.

The voters said they wanted the right to weigh in on whether to spend public funds on the Howard Terminal project. The Council refused to place a measure on the ballot, saying no public funds would be spent and they preferred a financial review before such a vote could be scheduled. But the City never did the financial review.

This process has been a disaster. Promises made have been reneged on. Assurances that no public funds would be used, and that the City would not have risks turned out to be false. Oakland voters demanded the right to be heard on whether public finds should be spent, but they were turned down.

This is the same kind of incompetence and lack of transparency displayed during the Raiders deal. But the amounts at risk on this deal make the money spent on the Raiders look like chump change.

The Oakland City Council needs to put this on pause and figure out all the details before anything moves forward. Now, more than ever, City Council must insist on an independent financial analysis on the costs and risks of the project. Since public funds are clearly being spent, and the administration now admits Oakland has financial risks, City Council needs to revisit the question of letting the voters weigh in. As Councilmember Dan Kalb said previously, if that requires a special election, so be it.

Is the Council woke yet? They have been bullied, misled, and disrespected in this entire process. Transparency be damned! Will they finally say “enough,” or will they continue to move forward with their eyes wide shut?

It is time to Just Say No!

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Activism

OP-ED: Interfaith Faith Council of Alameda County Laments Gun Violence in Oakland

With all the shocked and grieving members or our community, and with the devastated members of the Oakland Islamic Center, we call on those who committed these crimes to turn themselves in, we call on our leaders to redouble their efforts to bring violence to an end, we call on those who glorify the use of weapons to reconsider their stance and we call on those of us who can exert some influence on those most likely to shoot to plead with them to put down their guns.

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Rev. Jim Hopkins, Pastor of Lakeshore Baptist Church, Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) Co-Founding Board Member and Rev. Ken Chambers, Head Pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church and ICAC Founding President.
Rev. Jim Hopkins, Pastor of Lakeshore Baptist Church, Interfaith Council of Alameda County (ICAC) Co-Founding Board Member and Rev. Ken Chambers, Head Pastor of West Side Missionary Baptist Church and ICAC Founding President.

By Rev. Jim Hopkins, ICAC Co-Founding Board Member and Rev. Ken Chambers, ICAC Founding President

The headline in the September 20, 2022, East Bay Times read, “‘Everybody was devastated’: Four people killed, five others wounded in string of violence across Oakland.” The article began, “A torrent of violence during an 18-hour stretch Monday evening and Tuesday left four people dead and five other people wounded by gunfire across Oakland, including three men who had just finished praying at a local mosque and a teen girl who was left gravely injured.”

The Interfaith Council lifts its voice in lament over these deaths and this violence. We cry out “How long O Lord, how long, must our city live in the deadly grip of guns and gun violence? How long will the fear of our loved ones being hit by a bullet cause parents to worry, grandparents to be anxious and children to live in terror?’

With all the shocked and grieving members or our community, and with the devastated members of the Oakland Islamic Center, we call on those who committed these crimes to turn themselves in, we call on our leaders to redouble their efforts to bring violence to an end, we call on those who glorify the use of weapons to reconsider their stance and we call on those of us who can exert some influence on those most likely to shoot to plead with them to put down their guns.

We long for the day when the faith communities of Oakland are united in peace. Today, we acknowledge that we are united in grief even while we are united in our commitment to bring about a better day.  To this end we will pray, organize, and labor.

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