Dennis Loo

Sometimes asking for the impossible is the only realistic path

Dennis Loo

Dennis Loo
Los Angeles, California,
December 31
Professor of Sociology
Cal Poly Pomona
Author of Globalization and the Demolition of Society; Co-Editor/Author of Impeach the President: the Case Against Bush and Cheney, World Can't Wait Steering Committee Member, co-author of "Crimes Are Crimes, No Matter Who Does Them" statement, dog and fruit tree lover. Published poet. Winner of the Alfred R. Lindesmith Award, Project Censored Award and the Nation Magazine's Most Valuable Campaign Award. Punahou and Harvard Honor Graduate. Ph.D. in Sociology from UC Santa Cruz. An archive of close to 500 postings of mine can be found at my blogspot blog, Dennis Loo, link below. I publish regularly at, (link below) and also at OpEd News and sometimes at Counterpunch.

MARCH 9, 2009 11:47PM

From the Uncola to Cola: Obama rebrands rendition et al

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The New York Times on March 8, 2009 featured an article entitled “Obama Ponders Outreach to Elements of Taliban.” As far as I can tell, the reactions to this story have focused on Obama’s attempts to work with some parts of the Taliban. The bigger story here, however, has been overlooked.

Some excerpts from this article accompanied by my commentary in italics, followed by some other relevant source materials:

“The president went on to say that ‘we don’t torture’ and that ‘we ultimately provide anybody that we’re detaining an opportunity through habeas corpus to answer to charges.’

So you have a right to challenge your detention, “ultimately.” Be warned then, you could wait a very long time. Ultimately you have a right, but in the long run, as they say, we’re all dead. Obama’s a constitutional lawyer by training. It’s a bit disturbing that he would qualify a right such as habeas corpus this way. And, by the way, there’s yet another qualification.

“Aides later said Mr. Obama did not mean to suggest that everybody held by American forces would be granted habeas corpus or the right to challenge their detention. In a court filing last month, the Obama administration agreed with the Bush administration position that 600 prisoners in a cavernous prison on the American air base at Bagram in Afghanistan have no right to seek their release in court.

“Instead, aides said Mr. Obama’s comment referred only to a Supreme Court decision last year finding that prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to go to federal court to challenge their continued detention.”

If you’re at GITMO ultimately you can challenge your detention. But if you’re one of the hundreds (who have been and are being tortured, some murdered by torture, such as the taxi driver Dilawar) at Bagram you’re out of luck because the Obama Administration says that you have no habeas corpus rights - not now, and not ultimately either.

“Mr. Obama signaled that those on the left seeking a wholesale reversal of Mr. Bush’s detainee policy might be disappointed.”

Evidently, those who uphold one of the sacrosanct rights the violation of which precipitated the American Revolution - King George’s suspension of the “Great Writ” of Habeas Corpus – are now “those on the left.” Those who don’t consider habeas corpus rights core principles of law are therefore those right thinking Americans on the right and in the center. Since members of the political right are proud of being the very most patriotic among us, it only stands to reason that such great patriots should regard as dispensable the Great Writ in the US Constitution, a due process right so fundamental that it dates from almost 900 years ago to the Magna Carta, and a right so critical that its absence unmistakably marks a tyranny.

“Mr. Obama said that by the time he got into office, the Bush administration had taken ‘steps to correct certain policies and procedures after those first couple of years’ after the Sept. 11 attacks.”

The abuses were corrected within a “couple years.” Now that’s some news. No one on the left, right, or center has ever made that claim before. Let’s see what Obama’s evidence for that is…

“Obama credited not Mr. Bush but the former Central Intelligence Agency director Michael V. Hayden and the former director of national intelligence Mike McConnell, who ‘really had America’s security interests in mind when they acted, and I think were mindful of American values and ideals.’”

The proof: they "really had America's security interests IN MIND." They corrected illegal practices by being "MINDFUL of American values and ideals." 

It’s not what you do. It’s what you claim that you were THINKING when you did it.

Speaking of what you do: what do we know about what Hayden and McConnell have done?

Michael Hayden as Director of the NSA approved and oversaw the secret warrantless and felonious wiretapping of hundreds of millions of Americans that began in February 2001 (before 9/11) and continued through both terms of the Bush White House. This surveillance presumably continues to this day since the Obama Administration has not announced its cessation and Senator Obama voted for the Telecom Amnesty Bill, retroactively protecting and sanctioning the telecom companies who went along with the Bush Regime’s illegal requests for that surveillance.

From Sourcewatch:

“Hayden … spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on January 23, 2006.

“Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay prefaced a question by noting that ‘the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution specifies that you must have probable cause to be able to do a search that does not violate an American's right against unlawful searches and seizures.’ Hayden responded: ‘No, actually--the Fourth Amendment actually protects all of us against unreasonable search and seizure.... That's what it says.’ When Landay continued, ‘But does it not say probable—‘ Hayden said: ‘No. The amendment says...unreasonable search and seizure.’

“In fact, the amendment refers to both ‘reasonable searches and seizures’ and ‘probable cause.’

“Later, responding to Landay's question, Hayden stated:

“’Just to be very clear--and believe me, if there's any amendment to the Constitution that employees of the National Security Agency are familiar with, it's the Fourth. And it is a reasonableness standard in the Fourth Amendment…The constitutional standard is "reasonable." And we believe--I am convinced that we are lawful because what it is we're doing is reasonable.’”

What Hayden was doing, then, in trying to verbally redact the “probable cause” requirement from the Fourth Amendment was claim that the NSA’s surveillance of us all was not a violation because all of the NSA’s surveillance was “reasonable” search and seizure. This was not according to the FISA court that was supposed to make this judgment but was bypassed by the Bush Regime; it was reasonable according to the NSA itself. This is known in layperson’s terms as the fox guarding the hen house. The simple fact that all of us were being spied upon means that Hayden thinks that it is reasonable to spy upon us all. The price of freedom, apparently, is to lose your freedom. And not just our freedoms, but anyone that our government deems suspicious. 

“Writing up the exchange, the online magazine Editor & Publisher (January 23, 2006) wrote that Hayden ‘appeared to be unfamiliar with the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when pressed by a reporter with Knight Ridder's Washington office--despite his claims that he was actually something of an expert on it.’"

That's alright because even though Michael Hayden doesn't grasp what the Fourth Amendment says, he has our best interests in mind. Government figures who assure us that they are doing everything with our best interests in mind can always be trusted and taken at their word, especially after they have been caught lying repeatedly.

Sourcewatch goes on to recount Hayden’s claims about rendition in a September 2007 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations:

Hayden claimed that renditions have "...been conducted lawfully, responsibly, and with a clear and simple purpose: to get terrorists off the streets and gain intelligence on those still at large."

In contrast to this, Sourcewatch recounts:

“According to a December 2005 Washington Post article on the abduction of German citizen Khaled El-Masri,

"’Masri was held for five months largely because the head of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center's al Qaeda unit 'believed he was someone else,' one former CIA official said. 'She didn't really know. She just had a hunch.'"

"...In the first weeks of 2004, an argument arose over whether the CIA should take Masri from local authorities and remove him from the country for interrogation, a classic rendition operation. The director of the al Qaeda unit supported that approach. She insisted he was probably a terrorist, and should be imprisoned and interrogated immediately. Others were doubtful. They wanted to wait to see whether the passport was proved fraudulent. Beyond that, there was no evidence Masri was not who he claimed to be -- a German citizen of Arab descent traveling after a disagreement with his wife. The unit's director won the argument. She ordered Masri captured and flown to a CIA prison in Afghanistan."

Once the mistake was realized, the agency appeared to be more concerned about avoiding scandal than about the fact they'd kidnapped and tortured an innocent man:

"At the CIA, the question was: Now what? Some officials wanted to go directly to the German government; others did not. Someone suggested a reverse rendition: Return Masri to Macedonia and release him. 'There wouldn't be a trace. No airplane tickets. Nothing. No one would believe him,' one former official said. 'There would be a bump in the press, but then it would be over.'"

Who are you going to believe, us patriotic, hardworking, security-minded CIA agents, or some guy with a Muslim name? 

Regarding that other patriot, Michael McConnell:

As reported by Robert Parry in a February 6, 2008 article:

“At a Feb. 5 [2008] hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bush’s Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell said al-Qaeda was refining ‘the last key aspect of its ability to attack the U.S.’ by training Western recruits, who could blend in with American society and carry out attacks on U.S. targets…

So a little over a year ago McConnell was drumming up fear of sleeper Al-Qeada agents.

“The Washington Post on November 12, 2008 reported on McConnell and Hayden:

‘A number of influential congressional Democrats oppose keeping Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell and CIA Director Michael V. Hayden in their posts because both have publicly supported controversial Bush administration policies on interrogation and telephone surveillance.’”

According to President Obama, these two gentlemen had America's security in mind when they promoted, implemented and defended their illegal practices of massive, unwarranted surveillance and torture. Therefore their illegal actions were carried out with the best of intentions. They were, after all, "mindful of American values and ideals" when they did them. 

Which values and ideals would those be? Humane treatment? Innocent until proven guilty? The right to challenge your detention in court, to confront your accusers, to know the evidence presented against you, and the obligation of the state to show probable cause and file charges? Respect for the Constitution and due process, international law, the Covenant against Torture, the UN Charter? 

Obama has rebranded these practices. But the shockingly egregious practices remain under the man who ran for office promising “change.” 

* * * 

To the Anti-War Movement from the World Can't Wait:

“That which you do not resist and mobilize to stop you will learn – or be forced – to accept.”

From the Call to Drive out the Bush Regime, 2005

Barack Obama is sending a surge of 20,000 troops to Afghanistan.

An antiwar movement that does not move immediately to oppose the Obama doctrine of shifting the central front of the war on terror to Afghanistan, no longer deserves to be called an anti-war movement.

Millions of people voted for Obama because they thought he would end the war. Yet Obama filled his cabinet with Hillary “Obliterate Iran” Clinton, Robert Gates, James Jones and Susan Rice (“a kettle of hawks,” said Jeremy Scahill).

He is not only continuing an unjust war by leaving 80,000 troops and 17 permanent bases in Iraq, and all over the region, including nuclear carrier-led task forces with enough firepower to "annihilate" any country in the region, but Obama is enlisting many progressive sections of society to support and be complicit in waging a spreading war for U.S. hegemony and imperialist expansion known as the “war on terror.”

The election of the first Black president is effectively re-branding preemptive and illegal wars of aggression to make us feel good about them. Massive anti-war sentiment and action is already being transformed into flag-waving patriotism, passivity and capitulation in the face of horrors.

The U.S. military, stretched thin and full of discontent after six years of carnage in Iraq, is now being replenished. Military recruiters are targeting Black and Latino youth, telling them if they sign up now they’ll be fighting for Obama. Their lives will be expended as cannon fodder in a brutal war of occupation that is not in their interests.

The U.S. war on Afghanistan is an unjust war of aggression—the supreme war crime. The Bush regime occupied Afghanistan and drove out the Taliban regime, not to bring democracy and liberation to the Afghan people, but to control Afghanistan and spread the U.S.empire, with the goal of permanent domination of the Middle East.

The “war on terror” begun after 9/11 by the U.S. was not just a campaign against the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and Osama bin Laden, but a broad, global war to continue the U.S. position as unchallenged global superpower. This is not a war to free people from warlords of Islamic fundamentalism, a movement the U.S. funded and armed, and ironically, spread, when it was aligned with the US against the Soviet Union in the 1970’s.

The war in Afghanistan is and will be fought the same way the war in Iraq is being fought. Most of the people killed are civilians, with the U.S. justifying collateral damage and collective punishment, secret prisons, denial of due process and torture. It is wrong, unjust, illegitimate and immoral. And it won’t be otherwise, no matter who is president. There is no such thing as a “good” war on terror.

The U.S. occupiers consider any large gathering of Afghans inherently hostile, hence the repeated bombings of wedding parties. Even the U.S. puppet, Hamid Karzai, is warning the U.S. to stop killing civilians. And it is NOT a war to free women. According to, after 7 years of US occupation:

• Every 30 minutes, an Afghan woman dies during childbirth
• 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate
• 30 percent of girls have access to education in Afghanistan
• 1 in every 3 Afghan women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence
• 44 years is the average life expectancy for women in Afghanistan
• 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages in Afghanistan

The deadly and self-perpetuating cycle between the terror directed at civilians by the Islamic fundamentalists fighting against the U.S. and the terror of the U.S. wars of aggression directed at civilians can only be stopped by the people of those countries, combined with the actions of people in this country who refuse to strengthen either side.

We in this country, and those of us in this movement, have a choice. We can side with “our” government, with the “good war” fought in our names, and act like American lives are more important than anyone else’s lives.

Or we can show the people living in the Middle East, and the world, that in the U.S. there is a difference between the people and their government, and that the people are taking responsibility to end an unjust war and the war crimes that have been carried out in our name. We can act like we care about the whole planet.

The antiwar movement of the last several years which confined itself to lobbying and campaigning served to demobilize mass protest. Now this movement must shake off this passive complicity and act once again in a way that is so visible and powerful it can be seen all over the world, especially in the countries that have been targets of this aggression.

An antiwar movement that does not have the principle and the conviction to oppose the crimes carried out by our government; that dodges the immediate escalation of the war in Afghanistan, and the threat of war on other places; that chooses to focus on “domestic issues” when people of the Middle East are counting on us, will commit unconscionable betrayal.

An antiwar movement needs to show common cause with the people of the world and not common cause with war criminals. Too much is at stake for the progressive movement to consult with or sound like the generals or the Commander in Chief. Too much is at stake to “wait and see” whether this is all going in the direction Obama says it is.

Visible action is urgently needed:

The USA PATRIOT Act, the Military Commissions Act, and Obama’s FISA Act must be repealed; the U.S. torture state must be dismantled, and secret rendition ended.

*Visible – orange – protests on Sunday, January 11, the anniversary of Guantanamo.

Prosecute the war criminals and STOP the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan!

*The first anti-war protest of the Obama administration January 20, 2009, Washington DC,

Six Years of Illegitimate War – Resist the Recruiters!
*Wednesday, March 18 “We Are Not Your Soldiers” Day of resistance to recruiters;
*Thursday March 19: Local protests including school walk-outs.
*Saturday March 21: United mass protests.

We in World Can’t Wait pledge to work with everyone who wants to build an ANTI-war movement.

Real change happens when people take independent action – outside the confines of government and in their own interests.

If we want to stop the continued horror of the largest imperialist power on earth dropping bombs, sending death squads and torturers anywhere with impunity – in our names -- the only way is to face up to reality, tell the truth, and get out to the people with the message that we must stop the crimes of our government. 866 973 4463 

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this is really important stuff, Dennis, Obama's vote during the campaign for the FISA re-authorization that immunized the telecoms for warrantless wiretapping was an ominous sign, and the recent actions by the DOJ to perpetuate the use of "state secrets" claims to prevent the judiciary from even looking at possible executive branch crimes is even more troubling

I'm hoping that honest lawyers in the DOJ and congressmembers jealous of their constitutional privileges and responsibilities will push back and force a return to constitutional checks and balances, or God help us the next time a Republican sits in the White House
If you had mentioned Lebron James' position on this it might have made EP...

Ever feel like it's 2100 years ago and you're arguing against Caesar's rise to power? I bet many Roman senators had the same misgivings on the destruction of their republic. But Caesar was merely an instrument of a corrupt people's heart.

Good (if unpopular) work.
Good work. Please continue.

I think that you should get the secret wiretapping of Americans stopped quickly. Now people are afraid of doing there anything, which would possible harm the interests of the government to continue the criminal wars.

Technically it is very easy for the government officials to spy anyone's email and telephone calls, if the telephone operators and network administrators cooperate. (So the real criminals most probably are using other means to communicate or they have got their own people inside the communication companies to ascertain their privacy.)

For outsiders it looks like Obama's administration is going to continue, even to amplify, all the criminal practices and wars of the previous administrations, just to adjust them to look more acceptable in the eyes of the many citizens.
Roy: There are honest lawyers, but I don't think you'll find them in the DOJ (or at least, they haven't shown themselves yet). Honest and brave lawyers are more in evidence among the lawyers representing detainees. As for Congress jealously guarding their powers, this will not happen from their own accord but only if the public speaks up and demands that this happen. You are absolutely right to warn of what happens the next time a GOP president is in office since if Congress and Obama don't prosecute the Bush regime for their transgressions, then there is no barrier to the next Caesar (which is Harry's point).

Harry: I'll have to work on getting LBJ into it next time! : ) As for Caesar being an instrument of a corrupt people's heart: you and I have been debating that one about the relationship between the public and leaders. Certainly there is a significant mass of people in any society who are more interested in bread and circuses (or pizza and American Idol) than in politics. But that doesn't cover everyone. It just covers the most indifferent sectors. There's the question of what the others who aren't so indifferent are doing. All too many Americans are seduced by Obama and wishfully thinking. All too many are also, relatedly, misinformed. That's where our work comes in.

Hannu: You're exactly on point in your last sentence.