Washington faces divisions
over attacks on workers' rights
Resistance begins among
victims of jailings, firings
U.S. intensifies bombing, sets up bases in Afghanistan
BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
The Bush administration is running into divisions within the U.S. ruling class over the extent of its assault on workers' rights, the first such conflict since Washington began its war drive September 11. In response to an executive order by President George Bush establishing military tribunals, a range of capitalist politicians, major newspapers, and opinion columnists have called into question the constitutional basis and political wisdom of the far-reaching move.
As well, there are a growing number of examples of resistance to Washington's assault on workers' rights across the United States, as students, workers, and others who have been victimized by the government's drive begin to speak out, organize, and stand up against interrogations, jailings, and political firings.
Miami opponents of political firing|
open nationwide free speech fight
Supporters of the fight against the political firing of Michael Italie won support at Miami Book Fair. Argiris Malapanis, left, signs up new backing on petition of the Committee to Defend Free Speech and the Bill of Rights. (Go to article.)
Among those in ruling-class circles raising concern over how fast and how far to press their assault on civil liberties and the Bill of Rights are U.S. senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Washington Post and New York Times, conservative columnist William Safire, Barron's, and a column in the Wall Street Journal by Robert Levy of the Cato Institute.
"It is difficult to understand how the administration can justify the use of a tribunal when the United States has successfully tried in our courts noncitizens accused of terrorist acts," said Laura Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union National Office. "This latest move, combined with the Justice Department's announced intentions to eavesdrop on attorney conversations with inmates and to begin interviewing foreign visitors to the United States, demonstrates the government's increasing willingness to circumvent the requirements of the Bill of Rights."
Leahy, a Democrat, said the "implications of the president's order...sends a message to the world that it is acceptable to hold secret trials and summary executions, without the possibility of judicial review."
Barron's, a conservative business newspaper, in an editorial called, "Dangerous Justice," said: "Every article of the Bill of Rights reflects the Founding Fathers' experience with the evils springing from justice that was too swift, too arbitrary, too militaristic, too cloaked in necessity."
Outside of Constitutional protections
In announcing the military tribunals, Bush administration officials put on a full-court press. "It's important to understand that we are at war now," said U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft at a November 14 press conference. "Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes against the United States, in my judgment are not entitled to, do not deserve the protections of the American Constitution."
Those accused of terrorism "don't deserve the same guarantees and safeguards that would be used for an American citizen going through the normal judicial process," echoed U.S. vice president Richard Cheney.
Bush declared the executive order was needed because an "extraordinary emergency exists" due to "potential acts of terrorism against the United States." The Bush administration claims it has authority to set up the tribunals under the September 14 resolutions in the House and Senate authorizing action against those who "planned, authorized, committed or aided" the attacks on September 11. Administration officials also point to the use of tribunals by U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt during World War II.
Under Bush's executive order, anyone who is not a citizen can be hauled before a panel of military officers if the U.S. president says he has "reason to believe" the person is a member of Al Qaeda, or had planned a terrorist attack, or harbored such a person. The defendant would not have the right to choose a lawyer nor be tried by a jury. Instead of jurors, a panel of military officers would render judgment. Military tribunals are not military courts, in which U.S. citizens in the armed forces have the right to a jury trial. Unlike the military tribunal, a court-martial requires proof beyond reasonable doubt for conviction, and the death penalty cannot be imposed without a unanimous verdict. A two-thirds majority is sufficient for conviction in a military tribunal.
The military tribunal will accept evidence such as hearsay and illegally seized material, which would normally be thrown out of regular courts. The trials could be held in secret--even on ships at sea--with the defendant having limited access to "intelligence reports" that form the basis for convictions. There will be no judicial review. Once in the clutches of the tribunal based on "suspicion" of terrorism, the accused can be tried for any offense.
Deportations to extract information
Under the order, the secretary of defense can "transfer to a government authority control of any individual," a phrase that could easily be construed to allow deportation, without conviction or trial, "to a country that would be more willing than the U.S. to extract information by torture," one columnist pointed out.
U.S. government officials said November 14 that the Pentagon and Justice Department were preparing for the "possibility of moving some detainees to military custody," which included "looking at the administrative procedures that would have to be followed," the New York Times reported. The next day Justice Department officials backed off, saying they were unaware of plans to put the immigrants into military custody.
"I had no idea they were going to try to use [military tribunals] for domestically detained people. It scares the hell out of me, I'll tell you that," said Kevin Ernst, a Detroit lawyer representing Farouk Ali-Hamoud, who was held in jail for 25 days on immigration fraud charges before his case was dismissed.
In a column in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Levy makes the point that the U.S. Constitution "applies to all 'persons,' not just citizens." He says the "Bush tribunals could unleash an ugly and dangerous breed of justice," one lacking "due process guarantees." Levy points out that the "Bush executive order takes a perilous step toward eviscerating the time-honored doctrine of the separation of powers, a centerpiece of our Constitution. Too much unchecked power is vested in a single branch of government."
Protests by workers and students
Among those mounting protests against these government assaults are seven immigrants held at the Hudson County Correctional Center in New Jersey. They are among the at least 1,200 people rounded up by federal, state, and local police agencies, supposedly in connection with the September 11 events, although none have yet been charged with such an offense. The seven have been waging a hunger strike to protest their treatment by INS officials and to demand they be given information about their cases.
Nancy Oden, a leader of the Green Party USA, has initiated a Bill of Rights Defense Committee after being detained while checking in for a flight at the airport in Bangor, Maine. Oden, on her way to Chicago for a leadership meeting of her party, was singled out for a security check and escorted out of the airport by National Guard troops and security agents who claimed she was not cooperative. Oden says she was singled out for her opposition to the U.S. war in Afghanistan.
"It's clear to me that the American people support the Bill of Rights," Oden said in a phone interview. The new committee aims to "defend the Bill of Rights from being abrogated," the Green Party USA leader said.
And in Miami, Michael Italie and Mohammad Rahat, both fired from their jobs for political reasons, have launched fights to defend freedom of speech and to be reinstated with their employers.
Ghaith Aljazzar, president of the Muslim Student Union at the University of California at Irvine, spoke out after being approached by government snoops a few days after he had addressed a peace rally. The federal agents said he was among some 5,000 men they are questioning. Most are from the Middle East and are legally in the United States. Aljazzar said the agents interrogated him about the political views of his organization and the extent of opposition to government policies on the campus.
"There is a great deal of fear" of government interrogations, explained Mahmoud Abdel-Baset, religious director of the Islamic Center of Southern California. "Many of us came from police states, where people can be detained for no good reason. We are used to not trusting the government, and I don't think the attorney general's tone or his words are reassuring anybody."
The next day, FBI agents on the other side of the country with guns drawn raided the home of the Chester, Pennsylvania, health commissioner, Dr. Irshad Shaikh, a Pakistani immigrant. The cops that morning also broke down the door of Asif Kazi, a friend born in Pakistan, and held his wife at gunpoint. No one was charged with any crime and the FBI offered no information on why they raided the homes other than that they were "acting on credible information."
"I'm still in trauma. I cannot sleep properly. I cannot eat," said Kazi, a U.S. citizen who was hired as a city accountant last year. "You are worried about the fear of the unknown. What's going to happen next?"
One recent detainee, Mohammad Yaseen Haider, president of the Pakistan Student Association at the University of Oklahoma, faced immigration charges November 15. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials would not say what Haider is charged with. He attracted public attention when he complained to the cops and university officials in Norman, Oklahoma, about three men who assaulted him shouting racial slurs in the parking lot of a convenience store where he worked. Sometime later FBI agents came into the picture, asking the local cops for copies of his complaint.
A new initiative to integrate U.S. military commands abroad with domestic secret police agencies was announced in the press November 19. The U.S. military's four regional commanders, with backing from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, have requested that agents from the FBI and Treasury Department be assigned to each command. The New York Times said the agents "could help speed the interrogation of suspected terrorists detained by the military and coordinate the effort to freeze terrorists' bank accounts." The war will "require American intelligence, financial and law enforcement agencies to work more closely with the military," the paper reported of the proposal.
Washington maintains four military commands that cover every part of the world outside of North America and Russia. Under the Clinton administration a North American command was established for the first time, whose chief officer operates out of the Joint Forces Command. This has been codified under the Bush administration with the Office of Homeland Defense, directed by former Pennsylvania governor Thomas Ridge. (See update in caption on page 7).
The Times reported that the regional commanders in chief, known as "Cincs," have over the years "accumulated such broad military and diplomatic powers in their slices of the globe that some in Washington now call them modern proconsuls, after the ancient Roman military officials who exercised great autonomy from the central government." The chain of command in the military goes from the Cincs, to the defense secretary, to the U.S. president.
Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the press that since September 11 the Pentagon and other departments and police agencies "are sharing information, we're sharing people, and we're sharing resources like never before, and we need to push this new level of cooperation to the [regional command] theaters as well."
Federalization of airport screeners
Another attack on workers' rights is the November 15 agreement reached in the House and Senate, signed by Bush, to bring under federal control within one year the screeners at the country's airports. The law means many of the 28,000 people currently holding the jobs, many of them immigrants or members of oppressed nationalities, will be fired and replaced.
Provisions in the legislation include a requirement that workers who screen passengers and baggage would have to be U.S. citizens and they would not have the right to strike. The American Federation of Government Employees union, while "congratulating" the government on the move, opposed the denial of the workers' right to "organize collectively and be represented by unions."
The airport screening workers have been pilloried in the media and by government officials for everything from being untrained, not patriotic, and responsible for the September 11 events. Facing low wages and miserable working conditions at the hands of their employers, screening workers at a number of airports have fought to be unionized. For example, workers at Los Angeles Airport, some of them immigrants working as screeners, won the right last year to be represented by the Service Employees International Union after waging a more than two-year organizing drive.
Other moves aimed at militarizing the United States include deployment of 100 National Guard troops at the nation's capitol, the first soldiers assigned to patrol the capital since the rebellion by Blacks against cop violence and racist discrimination in 1968. According to the Washington Post, the soldiers will be assigned in a nine-square block perimeter, where they will inspect vehicles entering parking lots and halt large trucks. The troops have been deputized by the Washington police and given arrest powers for 10 days, pending review by the city officials.
As part of removing obstacles from its assault on civil liberties and terror campaign aimed at immigrants, the U.S. government has appealed a Miami court ruling that released Mazen Al Najjar, a Palestinian professor at the University of South Florida, who was incarcerated for more than three years based on evidence never shown to him or his lawyer. A federal judge in Miami ruled that his rights were violated. Al-Najjar, who was never charged with a crime, was released last December. His case was one of some two dozen in which immigrants were jailed for months or years under laws signed by the Clinton administration that authorize imprisonment of immigrants based on "secret evidence."
U.S. intensifies bombing, sets up bases in Afghanistan
BY BRIAN WILLIAMS
In its heaviest bombings of the war to date, Washington has been pounding the Afghan cities of Kunduz and Kandahar, both held by Taliban forces as of November 19. U.S. and British forces operating inside Afghanistan are directing the one-sided battle against the Taliban, and Washington is preparing to send in more troops as it begins to set up military bases in the country.
Washington has also secured agreement from the Northern Alliance to set aside claims to govern the capital of Kabul, leaving the decision of what form a postwar pro-imperialist regime will take to a conference to be held in Berlin, Germany.
In driving to set an example of what it will do to any government that does not accommodate itself to U.S. imperialism, Washington has rejected every request from Taliban forces in the two cities to negotiate surrender. U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the press with typical brutality that his "hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner." United Nations officials also rebuffed a Taliban appeal to discuss surrender in Kunduz, claiming they do not have the means to accommodate the request.
The U.S. command has been steadily increasing the number of its special forces operating in Afghanistan, with more than 300 troops now on the ground in the north and south of the country. Some have been involved in combat, securing roads, blowing up bridges, setting targets for the U.S. warplanes, and scouting out additional landing fields for military aircraft.
They complement a 150-member secret CIA paramilitary outfit, known as the Special Activities Division, which, according to a Washington Post report, has been operating inside Afghanistan since late September. There are also two Marine Expeditionary units--each involving 2,200 marines--now stationed on ships in the Arabian Sea ready to be deployed to Afghanistan as part of the military's special operations forces.
U.S., British forces seize airfields
With the fall of the capital city of Kabul to the Northern Alliance forces, 120 British soldiers and 40 U.S. troops immediately seized control of the Bagram airfield north of Kabul. They began repairing and upgrading the runway for use by much larger military aircraft that will bring additional troops and military supplies. Eight C-130 aircraft--six British and two from the United States--landed at the airfield to reinforce their position.
Other air bases in the north and west of the country are being prepared for U.S. military use, giving Washington a range of land bases in the region. The U.S. military is moving three AC-130 gunships for use in the assault on Kunduz to a base it has occupied in Uzbekistan.
British defense secretary Geoffrey Hoon described this operation as the beginning of a "stabilization mission," which will involve much larger numbers of troops. Britain had placed 6,000 soldiers on alert for active duty in Afghanistan but their immediate deployment was temporarily put on hold when several factions within the Northern Alliance expressed opposition to the stationing of British troops within the country, much to London's anger.
The French government, which did not offer forces to be placed at Washington's disposal in the war, announced that as part of a larger deployment of 2,000 it is planning to station some 300 troops by the northern Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The soldiers were sent to Uzbekistan November 16, from where they were to travel by land and take up positions around the airfield outside the city. By November 20, however, U.S. newspapers were quoting Pentagon sources stating that few French or British troops would be needed anytime soon.
In addition, the Italian government has voted to deploy 2,700 troops. Germany with 3,900, Canada with 1,000, and Australia with 1,550 are among a growing list of imperialist governments rushing to join the occupation force being put in place.
Facing some opposition from the Green Party, German chancellor Gerhard Schröder tested his proposal to deploy the troops in a parliamentary vote of confidence. The eight legislators from the Green Party, which together with Schröder's Social Democratic Party forms the ruling coalition, decided to split their vote on the issue to keep the government alive. Four who had previously stated their opposition to the war reversed course to keep their party in power. This will be the first deployment beyond Europe of German troops in a combat role since 1945.
Most intense U.S. bombardment
Hundreds have been killed in and around the cities of Kunduz in the north and Kandahar in the south as wave after wave of U.S. warplanes, including B-52s, carry out massive carpet bombing of large sections of the cities. Thousands of Taliban troops are entrenched in Kunduz, some wanting to surrender, others wanting to fight to the death.
According to the November 19 online edition of the London-based Independent, some 150 unarmed Afghan civilians in one densely populated frontline town were killed in this assault. The paper reports that refugees fleeing the town of Khanabad said that "American planes had bombed in the area a few miles from Kunduz daily since Thursday [November 15], seemingly oblivious to the fact that the buildings they were bombing were civilian homes."
Zumeray, one of the refugees, told the Independent, "I saw 20 dead children on the streets. Forty people were killed yesterday alone. I saw it with my own eyes. Some of them were burned by the bombs, others were crushed by the walls and roofs of their houses when they collapsed from the blast."
U.S. warplanes also continued to pummel Kandahar and hundreds of caves and tunnels in the area. "It's a process of elimination," a Pentagon official stated snidely. "You hit on a cave; see where they run to, and then hit that cave. We're working our way across the entire country that way."
The U.S. military has also been dropping bombs in areas near Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, where many refugees are attempting to flee to safety. The Afghan Islamic Press, a Pakistan-based news service, reports that 30 people were killed November 18 in one such raid in the east Afghan province of Nangarhar, just five miles from the border. Pakistani officials report that U.S. planes also attacked the village of Shabquadar in northwestern Pakistan, on the grounds that a truck was allegedly carrying Taliban soldiers.
According to Human Rights Watch, some 5,000 unexploded and highly volatile cluster bomblets--which scatter throughout any area anytime the antipersonnel cluster bombs are dropped--are littered throughout Afghanistan. Civilian casualties near the Afghan city of Jalalabad have already occurred as a result of coming into contact with these unexploded bombs. Many of these bombs are the same color as the food packs that were also dropped by Washington. Since October 7, Washington has dropped more than 8,000 bombs on the Afghan people.
Despite the rapid loss of control of two-thirds of the country by Taliban forces, Bush administration officials have emphasized that the war could go on for quite a while and involve a much larger component of ground forces. Condoleezza Rice, the White House National Security Adviser, declared on CNN's "Late Edition" November 19 that the administration was "not proceeding as if this war is nearing conclusion," nor was it "making any predictions about how long that will take."
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz called for "keep[ing] our focus right now on Afghanistan," and added, "There's a great danger that we're going to declare victory before we've achieved our objectives there."
Bush's dictates at the UN
In prosecuting its imperialist war, Washington is making it clear that their battle is with the Taliban government, not against Osama bin Laden or his al-Qaeda organization. Bush drove this point home in his November 10 speech to the United Nations.
As B-52s rained down bombs from 35,000 feet, Bush said that the "civilized world is now responding," choosing "dignity of life over a culture of death," and "lawful change and civil disagreement over coercion, subversion, and chaos." Notwithstanding the extent of the hypocrisy coming from the mouth of the commander-in-chief of the most powerfully armed government with military forces on every continent, Bush's main point was to tell "all nations" to "carefully consider their responsibilities and their future."
For every government that Washington decides is "sponsoring terror, there is a price to be paid. And it will be paid," Bush said. "The Taliban are now learning this lesson," he added. Bush ticked off what is expected of other governments: "a responsibility to crack down on terrorist financing [and] to share intelligence and coordinate the efforts of law enforcement. If you know something, tell us." The U.S. president told the assembled representatives of governments around the world that they must "deny any sanctuary, safe haven, or transit to terrorists. Every known terrorist camp must be shut down, its operators apprehended, and evidence of their arrest presented to the United Nations. We have a responsibility to deny weapons to terrorists and to actively prevent private citizens from providing them."
To make sure that no one missed the point, Bush added that these obligations "are binding on every nation with a place in this chamber" Those who do not heed, he said, "will know the consequences."
Meeting to impose U.S.-backed regime
With the collapse of the Taliban forces in Kabul, the Northern Alliance moved in to take control of the capital. Their troops patrol the streets and they have taken over key offices, moving staff into the defense, interior, and foreign ministries, as well as Radio Kabul.
"By seizing the levers of power, the Northern Alliance risks establishing a fait accompli," notes the Washington Post. "That would present problems" for those seeking to impose a more stable U.S.-backed regime.
Russia, which has supported the Northern Alliance with substantial military aid in their fight against the Taliban, promptly announced that they were sending officials to Kabul to make contact with the alliance, described by Russian defense minister Sergei Ivanov as the "lawful government" of Afghanistan.
Some 50,000 people were killed in Afghanistan in the early 1990s as a result of the land grabs, turf wars, and repression against the peoples of Afghanistan by the various factions that comprised the ruling Northern Alliance government until they were ousted in the mid-1990s by the Taliban.
With the Taliban no longer in control of most major cities in the country, many of the same corrupt, hated figures are reappearing and proclaiming themselves to be back in charge. Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostrum, notorious for his brutal behavior toward soldiers and civilians, is back in power in northern Mazar-i-Sharif. And Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who, according to a Times article, "turned much of Kabul into rubble in the early 1990s," has asked Pakistani authorities for permission to return to the border town of Peshawar "so he can cross into Afghanistan and proclaim himself a provincial governor."
Under pressure from Washington, the Northern Alliance factions agreed to attend an international conference in Germany where a new U.S.-sanctioned government will be assembled, together with an imperialist occupation force under United Nations cover. The capitalist media describes Washington's policy toward this conference as one of seeking to provide the Afghan people with a more "broad-based government" beyond the minority of the population represented by the Northern Alliance--code words for imposing a U.S. protectorate in Afghanistan.
Next target Iraq?
Some leading government officials are urging President Bush to unleash a massive bombing of Iraq as the next phase of the administration's "war against terrorism." According to the November 19 USA Today, "Proponents of attacking Iraq, spearheaded by Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, are now arguing privately that still-elusive evidence linking Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's regime to the terrorist attacks September 11 is not necessary to trigger a military strike." Without offering a shred of proof, John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control, recently asserted, "The existence of Iraq's [biological weapons] program is beyond dispute."
The administration's next move, argues New York Times columnist William Safire, is to embark on "Phase II." This would involve the bombardment of Iraq with the aim of once again attempting to topple the Hussein government. The justification for this attack, he indicated, would be the Iraqi government's stance in defense of national sovereignty against allowing UN inspectors to once again enter the country to supposedly search for weapons of mass destruction. "Baghdad is now the world center of state terrorism," asserts Safire. "Phase II in the war on terror is only a matter of time." As a boost to this position, Safire cites recent comments by Condoleezza Rice on the "Meet the Press" TV news show. "We do not need the events of September 11 to tell us that this is a very dangerous man who is a threat to his own people, a threat to the region and a threat to us," she stated.
Washington announced in mid-November that it is sending an extra 2,000 troops to Kuwait over the next two weeks as a "deterrent to Iraq," according to U.S. officials cited in the Financial Times. There are already 5,000 U.S. troops stationed in Kuwait. The newly deployed troops will arrive in time to participate in a training exercise code-named "Desert Spring."
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