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guest workers and reviewed legal cases for a report released in March 2007, in which authors Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds wrote, “Unlike U.S. citizens, guest workers do not enjoy the most fundamental protection of a competitive labor market — the ability to change jobs if they are mistreated. Instead, they are bound to the employers who ‘import’ them. If guest workers complain about abuses, they face deportation, blacklisting or other retaliation.”
When visas expire, workers must leave the country, hardly making this the path to permanent citizenship legislators are looking for. Still, Mexicans are literally lining up for H-2B status, the stark details of which were reported by Felicia Mello in The Nation. Furthermore, thousands of illegal immigrants are employed throughout the country, providing cheap, unprotected labor and further undermining the scant provisions of the laws. Labor contractors who connect immigrants with employers are stuffing their pockets with cash, while the workers return home with very little money.
The Southern Poverty Law Center outlined a list of comprehensive changes needed in the program, concluding, “For too long, our country has benefited from the labor provided by guest workers but has failed to provide a fair system that respects their human rights and upholds the most basic values of our democracy. The time has come for Congress to overhaul our shamefully abusive guest worker system.”
SOURCES: “Close to Slavery,” Mary Bauer and Sarah Reynolds, Southern Poverty Law Center, March 2007; “Coming to America,” Felicia Mello, The Nation, June 25, 2007; “Trafficking racket,” Chidanand Rajghatta, Times of India, March 10, 2008.8.Bush Changes the Rules
The Bush administration’s Office of Legal Counsel in the Department of Justice has been issuing classified legal opinions about surveillance for years. As a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) had access to the DOJ opinions on presidential power and had three declassified to show how the judicial branch has, in a bizarre and chilling way, assisted President Bush in circumventing its own power.
Bush’s approach in the three memos, as Whitehouse rephrased in a Dec. 7, 2007, Senate speech: “I don’t have to follow my own rules, and I don’t have to tell you when I’m breaking them.
I get to determine what my own powers are. The Department of Justice doesn’t tell me what the law is. I tell the Department of Justice what the law is.” The issue arose within the context of the Protect America Act, which expands government surveillance powers and gives telecom companies legal immunity for helping. Whitehouse called it “a second-rate piece of legislation passed in a stampede in August at the behest of the Bush administration.”
Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney, legal counsel to Rhode Island’s governor and Rhode Island Attorney General who took office in 2006, went on to point out that Marbury vs. Madison, written by Chief Justice John Marshall in 1803, established that it is “emphatically the province and duty of the judicial department to say what the law is.”
SOURCES: “In FISA Speech, Whitehouse sharply criticizes Bush Administration’s assertion of executive power,” Sheldon Whitehouse, Dec. 7, 2007; “Down the Rabbit Hole,” Marcy Wheeler, The Guardian (UK), Dec. 26, 2007.9.Soldiers Speak Out
Hearing soldiers recount their war experiences is the closest many people come to understanding the real horror, pain and confusion of combat. One would think that might make compelling copy or powerful footage for a news outlet. But in March, when more than 300 veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan convened for four days of public testimony on the war, they were largely ignored by the media.
“Winter Soldier” was designed to give soldiers a public forum to air some of the atrocities they witnessed. Originally convened by Vietnam Vets Against the War in January 1971, more than 100 Vietnam veterans and 16 civilians described their war experiences, including rapes, torture, brutalities and killing of non-combatants. The testimony was entered into the Congressional Record, filmed and shown at the Cannes Film Festival.
Iraq Veterans Against the War hosted the 2008 reprise of the 1971 hearings. Aaron Glantz, writing in One World, recalled testimony from former Marine Cpl. Jason Washburn, who said, “his commanders encouraged lawless behavior. ‘We were encouraged to bring “drop weapons,” or shovels. In case we accidentally shot a civilian, we could drop the weapon on the body and pretend they were an insurgent.’ ” An investigation by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian in The Nation that included interviews with 50 Iraq war veterans also revealed an overwhelming lack of training and resources and a general disregard for the traditional rules of war.
SOURCES: “Winter Soldier: Iraq & Afghanistan eyewitness accounts of the occupation,” Iraq Veterans Against the War, March 13-16, 2008; “War comes home,” Aaron Glantz, Aimee Allison and Esther Manilla, Pacifica Radio, March 14-16, 2008; “U.S. Soldiers testify about war crimes,” Aaron Glantz, One World, March 19, 2008; “The Other War,” Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian, The Nation, July 30, 2007.10.APA Helps CIA Torture
Psychologists have been assisting the CIA and U.S. military with interrogation and torture of Guantánamo detainees, which the American Psychological Association (APA) has said is fine despite objections from many of its 148,000 members. A 10-member APA task force convened on the divisive issue in July 2005 and found that assistance from psychologists was making the interrogations safe and the group deferred to U.S. standards on torture over international human-rights organizations’ definitions.
The task force was criticized by APA members for deliberating in secret, and later it was revealed that six of the 10 participants had ties to the armed services. Not only that, but as Katherine Eban reported in Vanity Fair, “Psychologists, working in secrecy, had actually designed the tactics and trained interrogators in them while on contract to the CIA.” In particular, psychologists James Mitchell and Bruce Jessen, neither of whom are APA members, honed a classified military training program known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) that teaches soldiers how to tough out torture if captured by enemies. “Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the tactics inflicted on SERE trainees for use on detainees in the global war on terror,” Eban wrote.
SOURCES: “The CIA’s torture teachers,” Mark Benjamin, Salon, June 21, 2007; “Rorschach and awe,” Katherine Eban, Vanity Fair, July 17, 2007.
AMANDA WITHERELL writes for the San Francisco Bay Guardian alt weekly, where a version of this story first appeared.