Mendocino County Today: June 30, 2013
by AVA News Service, June 29, 2013
TEN ACRES of dissipation or a political celebration? Dissipation seemed preponderant at San Francisco's civic center Saturday but, as a child of the 1950s, I'm still adjusting to new realities. I do remember, though, that the first gay parades occurred in an overall political context emphasizing all kinds of freedom, from economic to sexual. Anymore, especially this year, Gay Pride Day seems heavily corporate, heavily Democratic Party, heavily mainstream with Bradley Manning, a gay hero if there ever was one, purged as the parade's grand marshall. He, Assange and now Snowden, are well outside the great Frisco Consensus as defined by Willie Brown, Nancy Pelosi and Dianne Feinstein. Like a great, gray poison fog the grasping talons of the Democrats enfold us all in their lethal embrace. The Republicans aren't even good for a laugh anymore. I'd footed it up Market from Union Square with Castro Street as the goal. I wanted to see what the celebration was like only hours after the Defense of Marriage Act had fallen. I didn't know that the Civic Center had become a weekend set aside, admission $5, to a mob scene of people with theirs buns hanging out. There'd been lots of citizens in odd costumes all over downtown, but there always are. And even at the official celebration area stretched out in front of City Hall, the revelers weren't particularly gay — the whole sexual panoply seemed present — from the naked guys to nubile young women, and everything in between. I thought back to my deformative years when gays weren't part of the national consciousness. I remember feeling sorry for a classmate who'd been arrested with an adult barber for “unnatural acts,” or whatever the phrase was then. It got into the newspapers, and only now can I fully imagine what it must have been like for that kid to have everyone pointing him out like some kind of secret freak. Gays weren't gays yet, either, and the other prevalent pejorative, fag, was also unknown. Homo and homos was the term, as in, among high school wits, “How you homos doing today?” That kind of thing. I had a baseball coach who constantly grumbled that the frustrations presented by both the team and the game were “driving me fruit.” Or, “For Christ's sake, you bums are enough to drive a guy fruit.” But I don't remember anybody associating the phrases with homosexuality, although to those who constantly invoked it, the shrinks informed us, homosexuality must have been an omnipresent fear in these guys. In Marine Corps boot camp our DI routinely denounced Californians as “a bunch of damn queers sent to sabotage my Marine Corps.” We all laughed at that one, but not in front of him, though. He scared the shit out of all of us and often talked about how he'd like to choke us all to death. I remember wondering, If this nut is on my side, how bad can the Russians be? One day Sgt. Wells outdid himself, denouncing all of us as “syphilitic misfucks.” All this stuff seems ancient now, and very crazy. People nostalgic for the 50s weren't there. Like most heteros, it wasn't until those first gay marches in San Francisco that I realized how awful it had been for gay men and women. Now, if they can only free themselves from Pelosi, maybe all of us together can take on The Beast.
ON-LINE STATEMENT OF THE DAY: A story about gay puppets receives a prominent position on SFGate's website. This was to be expected now that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are over, Gitmo has been closed, the unemployed have become employed and Obama has locked up those responsible for the financial crisis.
THE LATEST book on the dope biz, Humboldt County branch, is a ho-hummer called Humboldt: Life on America's Marijuana Frontier. It's written by a young woman, a very young woman judging from her prose, called Emily Brady.
“HUMBOLDT COUNTY was a beautiful place, there was no mistaking it, but it had become like a Hollywood set for Bob. It was like a facade, and behind the facade was a different story, one of trash, and meth, and familial dysfunction. Of course it wasn't just Humboldt. Cops deal with the margins and extremes of society everywhere; the bowels, as Bob put it. His pessimism about the place was an occupational hazard, and he knew it…”
MS. BRADY describes the lives of four archetypal, drug-affected HumCo persons: a cop, a young woman raised in the pot counterculture; a career dope guy; and a pioneer back-to-the-lander the author calls 'Mare' but is clearly based on Mem Hill, a well-known eco-activist who lives in the Whitethorn area.
AS US RESIDENTS of the Emerald Triangle know, the pot business hasn't been the harmless enterprise of the original hippies who brought it here for many years. The money involved has attracted lots of thugs, and lots of people raised by peace and love people who have also become thugs. The fairly recent addition of Mexico-based gangs to the dope business has torqued upwards the habitual violence that comes with the business. The love drug causes its own universe of misery.
THERE'S NOTHING in Ms. Brady's book we don't know, and nothing that Jonah Raskin's Marijuanaland and Ray Raphael's Cash Crop don't do more comprehensively and a lot better. However, the portrait Ms. Brady draws of the young woman raised in the tumultuous circumstances romanticized by hippies as a "counter culture" certainly rings true as the author reveals the huge downside of the marijuana business as it plays out in the deceptive idyll of Humboldt County's natural beauty.
MANBEATER OF THE WEEK: Come on. No way!
The dramatic resupply took place in the light of day despite the presence of two officers, who were preoccupied with a CHP vehicle stuck in the wetlands mud and a string of walkers near the site. In a tense moment, an officer or contractor attempted to move the second driver away from the machine that Will occupies, threatening the hold of the climber. (Video at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aIxahiG1HIQ.)
Later that night, with floodlights on the wick drain drivers and CHP reinforcements on the ground, the resupply climber slipped away.
With new supplies, and able to contact supporters, Will is in good spirits.
Meanwhile, a medical team attempted to reach Will to check on his condition. They were turned back by CalTrans and referred to the CalTrans office, where they were told they could not enter the site.
Reportedly, the CHP decided Thursday that Will can receive one visit a day with food and water. Supporters are now organizing daily visits.
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Daring Aerial Resupply Reaches Parched Crane-Sitter on Caltrans Tower
In an action combining daring, danger and comedy, Earth First! activists succeeded in putting a climber atop the second wick drain driver, and stringing a traverse rope to the crane-sitter who had been without food and water for a week. The bold action was carried out in broad daylight Wednesday afternoon. To get to the tower, the climber had to cross a wide belt of bare earth, guarded by 2 CHP vehicles. In spite of floodlights and guards, the climber delivered his life-saving supplies, and vanished into the night.
One week ago Little Lake Valley Defender and writer Will Parrish set up residence on a 2-ft wide plank halfway up one of the two 100’ towers. About 40 people entered the worksite Saturday evening to bring supplies to Parrish, who had run out of food and water and was facing cold wet weather. In a dramatic confrontation, CHP officers cut his supply rope. After a standoff of several hours, six people were arrested, including a mother and daughter who were grabbed while attempting to comply with CHP orders to leave.
Concern for Parrish’s safety after four days without food or water has been mounting, and a medical team sought permission to bring water. Communication was cut when his cell phone fell from the tower the first day. During Saturday’s resupply attempt, Parrish called down from his perch: “I’ll starve before I’ll let this machine install another wick drain.”
According to Parrish, who now has a phone, “I’ve just been resupplied by a real-life superhero. The machine operator started to lower the crane with him on it, and the CHP just watched.” Bystanders and press recorded the life-threatening incident on camera and video. Carrying supplies and gear, the climber scaled the tower, and attached his safety harness about 60’ up.
CHP officers were preoccupied with the effort to extract one of their vehicles from the deep mud near the site’s entrance, about 100 yards away. The officers summoned several passing protesters to help them, apparently taking them for passersby walking their dogs. The protesters helped free the car, which then got stuck again. The patrol cars next to the machine were apparently unmanned at the time.
Surveying the sea of mud left by three days of rain, long-time Willits resident Freddie Long observed: “This is a perfect illustration of why the wick drains are such a bad idea. This should be wetland, not a freeway.”
Bypass opponents say they will stop protesting when Caltrans stops work on the current version of the bypass, which they maintain is environmentally destructive and fiscally irresponsible. Sticker price for the 6 miles of road is $210 million dollars, not counting bond interest and cost overruns, or the $300 million dollar phase 2 of the project, which Caltrans says will be necessary to bring the current project up to safety standards.
Local citizens and civic organizations have long advocated a set of cheaper, less destructive alternatives. A meeting between opponents of the current project and Caltrans head Malcom Dougherty is set for July 9th.
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Update on Will Parrish - Sitting in the Wick Drain Crane
Some small victories!
The latest news is that (as of Friday June 28th) Caltrans and the CHP have changed their policy. Will Parrish is now permitted to receive deliveries of food and water. The first delivery was made on Friday around 6:00 pm by Jessica Snow accompanied by Rachel Britten. My husband (Micheal Foley) made several large pesto hamburgers (at Will's request) and the extras were offered to the CHP officers. We are still concerned about Will because he is being subjected to lots of heat and sun this weekend as he sits in the wick drain crane. He is still recovering from his ordeal of going without much food or water for four days and being wet and cold during the unseasonable rain storm. But, his spirits are high! Here are some ways you can help.
1. We are looking for volunteers to provide him with an evening meal/food and water delivery each day.
2. His spirits are always higher when he has visitors. So, please make some time to show your support with a personal visit.
For more information or to arrange a food delivery call Sara 707 216-5549 or 707 376-5202
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PLEASE JOIN US … For a Roadside Demonstration on Monday, July 1st, 9:30 am – 11:30 am. Sign holding and leafleting as people return from the Kate Wolf Festival
Meet at the truck scales on Hwy 101 north of the High School at 9:30 am. Make signs if you can as we are running low. Be creative, Be positive!
FORGIVE US OUR TRESPASSES...
by Sara Grusky, Green Uprising Farm
I am writing this with a stubby pencil inside Mendocino County Jail where I am accompanied by five other brave “trespassers” including my daughter, Thea, Earth Firster Naomi Wagner and Matthew Caldwell. We spent the last two nights on a cold concrete floor under the bright florescent lights of the 6 ft by 6 ft holding cell. Now we are more comfortably housed as official inmates with cots to sleep on. Many people ask us why we continue doing this. Jail gives one lots of time for reflection and contemplation so here is my answer to the question.
Why I trespass. Civil disobedience is a fancy name for the idea, deeply rooted in American history and culture (beginning with the Boston Tea Party), that we have a right, even a responsibility and duty, to disobey laws that are unjust, destructive to people and other living things, and do not uphold our basic constitutional rights. Henry David Thoreau popularized the idea of civil disobedience but all of the major social movements in U.S. history including the movements for the abolition of slavery, the suffrage movement, civil rights, anti-war and environmental movements have used the tactic of civil disobedience. It is a time-honored tradition.
I believe it is a great honor and privilege to stand up for what you believe in. Most days, I cannot think of anything more important to do.....except maybe farming. (I do love to nurture plants and animals and make healthy food for my family and community!) Here is a short list of reasons why I trespass.
I trespass because I do not accept as legitimate Caltrans claim to “own” approximately 2,060 acres, one third of our precious Little Lake Valley (sixty acres are part of the Bypass footprint and 2,000 are part of the so-called Mitigation Plan). I believe this “land grab” is a great travesty. We need farmland, pastures, wetlands, forests, in part, because our future will require greater local economic self-sufficiency. Our children and grandchildren will face many challenges but I would like them to have a fighting chance to make a life and have a livelihood here in Little Lake Valley.
I trespass because I do not believe it was legitimate for Caltrans to dispossess local farmers, ranchers and homeowners in order to build an over-priced and unnecessary Bypass freeway.
I trespass because I cannot accept as legitimate Caltrans claim that they have the right to destroy and remove the forests, the soil, the creeks, the ancient oaks, the wetlands the pastureland and all the beautiful, delicate and intricate life forms that depend on these miracles of nature.
I trespass to protect the future for our small herd of goats. I know this sounds silly, but it is the honest truth. Watching our goat herd graze and browse teaches me many things about the plant life in our valley. I know the goats are concerned about the future of the creeks, the wetlands and the pasture lands because they understand how they are an interdependent part of the web of life in our valley.
I trespass because many people in this community have spent more than two decades trying to get their voices heard. Doors have been slammed again and again. Our political and judicial systems have failed to provide any viable recourse for those who seek a commonsense alternative route to Caltrans' Bypass boondoggle. Unfortunately, putting our bodies on the line seems to be necessary, but we all know it should not have come to this.
I put my body on the line as an offering of hope for the future. I know there has to be a better way than building another asphalt and concrete freeway. Climate change is real and it is caused by burning fossil fuels – including the fuel we put in our cars. So many people in Willits and in Mendocino County have a long and proud tradition of seeking and implementing alternative solutions to our energy and transportation needs. It is time all stand together to stop this bypass freeway.
Why we trespassed on June 22, 2013
More than 35 community supporters gathered to bring food and water to Will Parrish who has been sitting in the crane of the wick drain machine since June 20th. The machine had been drilling “wicks” eighty feet deep into the wetlands to remove water and compact the soil in preparation for the fill dirt, asphalt and concrete that will follow in order to build a freeway over the top of the wetlands. Will's brave presence on the crane of the machine has prevented it from working. The community supporters, myself and my daughter included, “trespassed” in an attempt to bring food and water to Will Parrish. The California Highway Patrol (CHP) blocked the delivery of supplies, cutting Will's rope, and later ordering us to leave. As we were moving to leave I was grabbed and arrested. My daughter was very upset by what she perceived as my wrongful arrest and when she spoke up in my defense she was also arrested. Naomi Wagner also sat down to protest the arrests and was later arrested along with Matthew Caldwell.
MIKE KALANTARIAN WRITES: Oh man, your Jared Huffman photo contest “winners” from last year were brilliant! You had us roaring with laughter this morning. That shot of corktop in the vines, Huffman's happy kite, and all the rest of the entires were inspired.
Here was my entry:
Name: Mike Kalantarian, Hometown: Navarro
Photo: A view of poisoned hardwood trees, taken a few miles east of Comptche, along a steep headwater canyon of the Albion River. Mendocino Redwood Company poisons around 5,500 acres of Mendocino County forestland every year. More info:
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HERE IS Assemblyman Wes Chesbro’s submission from last year: “The epic grandeur of the political face”
WITH MONDAY shaping up as the hottest day of the year, CalFire announces "A controlled burn at Lake Mendocino is now planned for Monday, the US Army Corps of Engineers announced. According to the USACE, it originally planned to conduct a live-fire training exercise with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection by burning the face of Coyote Valley Dam on June 24, but decided to postpone the event because of rain that day. The exercise is now scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. July 1, and "access to walking across the dam will not be permitted beginning at 4pm. Monday until the burning is completed." Cal Fire also announced it will be surveying users of the Jackson Demonstration State Forest, and the group hired to do the survey will provide a overview of the "survey design and methodology" at a meeting next week that members of the public are encouraged to attend. According to CalFire, the recreation user survey will be "conducted on random dates and locations within JDSF throughout the summer and early fall," and the results of the survey will "help guide the development of a recreation plan." The JDSF Recreation Task Force meeting will be held at the Camp One Day Use area on Wednesday, July 3, at 2 p.m. For more information, call the Cal Fire Fort Bragg office at 707-964-5674."
IT’S TIRESOME to hear Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo woof repeatedly about the environmental crimes of Sonoma County winemaker-outlaw Paul Hobbs who pops up periodically with yet another blatant violation of SoCo’s weak ag and river protection rules (which, weak as they are, are more than Mendocino County has: None). Carrillo “vowed” Friday that Hobbs’ latest violation — illegally cutting down acres of streamside vegetation — “would not be ignored.” “I will tell you that the full force of the law is going to be applied in this matter,” Carrillo huffed. Every time Hobbs is caught breaking a rule, Supervisor Carrillo comes out with a tough sounding quote. A couple of years ago after a prior flagrant violation Carrillo said, “One need not wait for a legal determination before expressing outrage at the insensitivity and environmental depravity of this conduct.” And after an earlier violation, “I don’t understand how someone can show such blatant disregard not only to the process but also to our resources and to their fellow grape growers,” none of whom are ever quoted with their own complaints — probably because they’re not quite as flagrant as Hobbs so Hobbs can be the convenient “bad apple.” In recent years Hobbs has been caught illegally clearcutting forests and orchards for vineyards and violating promises made to neighbors. But no enforcement action has ever been taken. His critics say he’s happy to pay the small fines which could be imposed if necessary. But so far the SoCo District Attorney’s office has done nothing more than say, “We’re looking into it.” (The local angle: Hobbs buys Mendo pinot grapes and makes them into a tasty brand of wine called “Crossbarn,” which is just one letter from “Crossburn.”)
METH FLOODS US BORDER CROSSING
By Elliot Spagat
SAN DIEGO—Children walk across the US-Mexico border with crystal methamphetamine strapped to their backs or concealed between notebook pages. Motorists disguise liquid meth in tequila bottles, windshield washer containers and gas tanks.
The smuggling of the drug at land border crossings has jumped in recent years but especially at San Diego's San Ysidro port of entry, which accounted for more than 40 percent of seizures in fiscal year 2012. That's more than three times the second-highest—five miles east—and more than five times the third-highest, in Nogales, Ariz.
The spike reflects a shift in production to Mexico after a US crackdown on domestic labs and the Sinaloa cartel's new hold on the prized Tijuana-San Diego smuggling corridor.
A turf war that gripped Tijuana a few years ago with beheadings and daytime shootouts ended with the cartel coming out on top. The drugs, meanwhile, continue flowing through San Ysidro, the Western hemisphere's busiest land border crossing with an average of 40,000 cars and 25,000 pedestrians entering daily.
“This is the gem for traffickers,” said Gary Hill, assistant special agent in charge of the US Drug Enforcement Administration in San Diego. “It's the greatest place for these guys to cross because there are so many opportunities.”
Customs and Border Protection officers seized 5,566 pounds of methamphetamine at San Ysidro in the 2012 fiscal year, more than double two years earlier, according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement's Homeland Security Investigations unit. On the entire border, inspectors seized 13,195 pounds, also more than double.
From October 2012 through March, seizures totaled 2,169 pounds at San Ysidro and 1,730 pounds at Otay Mesa, giving San Diego 61 percent of the 6,364 pounds seized at Mexican border crossings. Much of the rest was found in Laredo, Texas; Nogales; and Calexico, Calif.
San Ysidro—unlike other busy border crossings—blends into a sprawl of 18 million people that includes Los Angeles, one of the nation's top distribution hubs. By contrast, El Paso is more than 600 miles from Dallas on a lonely highway with Border Patrol checkpoints.
Rush-hour comes weekday mornings, with thousands of motorists clogging Tijuana streets to approach 24 US-bound inspection lanes on their way to school or work. Vendors weave between cars, hawking cappuccinos, burritos, newspapers and trinkets.
A $732 million expansion that has created even longer delays may offer an extra incentive for smugglers who bet that inspectors will move people quickly to avoid criticism for hampering commerce and travel, said Joe Garcia, assistant special agent in charge of ICE investigations in San Diego.
Children are caught with methamphetamine strapped to their bodies several times a week—an “alarming increase,” according to Garcia. They are typically paid $50 to $200 for each trip, carrying 3 pounds on average.
Drivers, who collect up to $2,000 per trip, conceal methamphetamine in bumpers, batteries, radiators and almost any other crevice imaginable. Packaging is smothered with mustard, baby powder and laundry detergent to fool drug-sniffing dogs.
Crystals are increasingly dissolved in water, especially during the last year, making the drug more difficult to detect in giant X-ray scanners that inspectors order some motorists to drive through. The water is later boiled and often mixed with acetone, a combustible fluid used in paints that yields clear shards of methamphetamine favored by users. The drug often remains in liquid form until reaching its final distribution hub.
The government has expanded X-ray inspections of cars at the border in recent years, but increased production in Mexico and the Sinaloa cartel's presence are driving the seizures, Garcia said. “This is a new corridor for them,” he said.
The US government shut large methamphetamine labs during the last decade as it introduced sharp limits on chemicals used to make the drug, causing production to shift to Mexico.
The US State Department said in March that the Mexican government seized 958 labs under former President Felipe Calderon from 2006 to 2012, compared with 145 under the previous administration. Mexico seized 267 labs last year, up from 227 in 2011.
As production moved to central Mexico, the Sinaloa cartel found opportunity in Tijuana in 2008 when it backed a breakaway faction of the Arellano Felix clan, named for a family that controlled the border smuggling route for two decades. Sinaloa, led by Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, had long dominated nearby in eastern California and Arizona.
Tijuana registered 844 murders in 2008 in a turf war that horrified residents with castrated bodies hanging from bridges. After the Sinaloa cartel prevailed, the Mexican border city of more than 2 million people returned to relative calm, with 332 murders last year and almost no public displays of brutality.
Alfonzo “Achilles” Arzate and his younger brother Rene, known as “The Frog,” have emerged as top Sinaloa operatives in Tijuana—the former known as the brains and the latter as the brawn. The elder Arzate has been mentioned on wire intercepts for drug deals as far as Chicago, Hill said.
He appears to have gained favor with the Sinaloa cartel brass after another cartel operative raided one of his warehouses in October 2010, leading to a shootout and the government seizing 134 tons of marijuana.
Methamphetamine has also turned into a scourge throughout Tijuana, becoming the most common drug offense for dealers and consumers in the last five years, said Miguel Angel Guerrero, coordinator of the Baja California state attorney general's organized crime unit.
"It has increased a lot in the city because it's cheaper than cocaine, even cheaper than marijuana,” he said.
Disputes among street dealers lead to spurts of violence in Tijuana, said Guerrero, including April's murder tally of 56 bodies. But the killings pale in numbers and brutality compared to the dark days of 2008 and 2009. While president, Calderon hailed Tijuana as a success story in his war on cartels.
"The Sinaloa cartel, their presence here has been strong enough to the point that no one is pushing back,” said the DEA's Hill. “They just simply want to focus on making money and moving the dope across."
(Courtesy, the Associated Press)
MARIJUANA'S MARCH TOWARD MAINSTREAM CONFOUNDS FEDS
Nancy Benac & Alicia A. Caldwell
It took 50 years for American attitudes about marijuana to zigzag from the paranoia of "Reefer Madness" to the excesses of Woodstock back to the hard line of "Just Say No."
The next 25 years took the nation from Bill Clinton, who famously "didn't inhale," to Barack Obama, who most emphatically did.
And now, in just a few short years, public opinion has moved so dramatically toward general acceptance that even those who champion legalization are surprised at how quickly attitudes are changing and states are moving to approve the drug — for medical use and just for fun.
It is a moment in America that is rife with contradictions:
• People are looking more kindly on marijuana even as science reveals more about the drug's potential dangers, particularly for young people.
• States are giving the green light to the drug in direct defiance of a federal prohibition on its use.
• Exploration of the potential medical benefit is limited by high federal hurdles to research.
Washington policymakers seem reluctant to deal with any of it.
Richard Bonnie, a University of Virginia law professor who worked for a national commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana in 1972, sees the public taking a big leap from prohibition to a more laissez-faire approach without full deliberation.
"It's a remarkable story historically," he says. "But as a matter of public policy, it's a little worrisome. It's intriguing, it's interesting, it's good that liberalization is occurring, but it is a little worrisome."
More than a little worrisome to those in the anti-drug movement.
"We're on this hundred-mile-an-hour freight train to legalizing a third addictive substance," says Kevin Sabet, a former drug policy adviser in the Obama administration, lumping marijuana with tobacco and alcohol.
Legalization strategist Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, likes the direction the marijuana smoke is wafting. But he knows his side has considerable work yet to do.
"I'm constantly reminding my allies that marijuana is not going to legalize itself," he says.
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By the numbers:
Eighteen states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medical purposes since California voters made the first move in 1996. Voters in Colorado and Washington state took the next step last year and approved pot for recreational use. Alaska is likely to vote on the same question in 2014, and a few other states are expected to put recreational use on the ballot in 2016.
Nearly half of adults have tried marijuana, 12 percent of them in the past year, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. More teenagers now say they smoke marijuana than ordinary cigarettes.
52% of adults favor legalizing marijuana, up 11 percentage points just since 2010, according to Pew. Sixty percent think Washington shouldn't enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have approved its use. Seventy-two percent think government efforts to enforce marijuana laws cost more than they're worth.
"By Election Day 2016, we expect to see at least seven states where marijuana is legal and being regulated like alcohol," says Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a national legalization group.
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Where California led the charge on medical marijuana, the next chapter in this story is being written in Colorado and Washington state.
Policymakers there are struggling with all sorts of sticky issues revolving around one central question: How do you legally regulate the production, distribution, sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes when federal law bans all of the above?
How do you tax it? What quality control standards do you set? How do you protect children while giving grown-ups the go-ahead to light up? What about driving under the influence? Can growers take business tax deductions? Who can grow pot, and how much? Where can you use it? Can cities opt out? Can workers be fired for smoking marijuana when they're off duty? What about taking pot out of state? The list goes on.
The overarching question has big national implications. How do you do all of this without inviting the wrath of the federal government, which has been largely silent so far on how it will respond to a gaping conflict between US and state law?
The Justice Department began reviewing the matter after last November's election and repeatedly has promised to respond soon. But seven months later, states still are on their own, left to parse every passing comment from the department and President Obama.
In December, Obama said in an interview that "it does not make sense, from a prioritization point of view, for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal."
In April, Attorney General Eric Holder said to Congress, "We are certainly going to enforce federal law. ... When it comes to these marijuana initiatives, I think among the kinds of things we will have to consider is the impact on children." He also mentioned violence related to drug trafficking and organized crime.
In May, Obama told reporters: "I honestly do not believe that legalizing drugs is the answer. But I do believe that a comprehensive approach — not just law enforcement, but prevention and education and treatment — that's what we have to do."
Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat who favors legalization, predicts Washington will take a hands-off approach, based on Obama's comments about setting law enforcement priorities.
"We would like to see that in writing," Polis says. "But we believe, given the verbal assurances of the president, that we are moving forward in Colorado and Washington in implementing the will of the voters."
The federal government has taken a similar approach toward users in states that have approved marijuana for medical use. It doesn't go after pot-smoking cancer patients or grandmas with glaucoma. But it also has warned that people who are in the business of growing, selling and distributing marijuana on a large scale are subject to potential prosecution for violations of the Controlled Substances Act — even in states that have legalized medical use.
Federal agents in recent years have raided storefront dispensaries in California and Washington, seizing cash and pot. In April, the Justice Department targeted 63 dispensaries in Santa Ana, Calif., and filed three asset forfeiture lawsuits against properties housing seven pot shops. Prosecutors also sent letters to property owners and operators of 56 other marijuana dispensaries warning that they could face similar lawsuits.
University of Denver law professor Sam Kamin says if the administration doesn't act soon to sort out the federal-state conflict, it may be too late to do much.
"At some point, it becomes so prevalent and so many citizens will be engaged in it that it's hard to recriminalize something that's become commonplace," he says.
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There's a political calculus for the president, or any other politician, in all of this.
Younger people, who tend to vote more Democratic, are more supportive of legalizing marijuana, as are people in the West, where the libertarian streak runs strong. In Colorado, for example, last November more people voted for legalized pot (55 percent) than voted for Obama (51 percent), which could help explain why the president was silent on marijuana before the election.
"We're going to get a cultural divide here pretty quickly," says Greg Strimple, a Republican pollster based in Boise, Idaho, who predicts Obama will duck the issue as long as possible.
Despite increasing public acceptance of marijuana, and growing interest in its potential therapeutic uses, politicians know there are complications that could come with commercializing an addictive substance, some of them already evident in medical marijuana states. Opponents of pot are particularly worried that legalization will result in increased adolescent use as young people's estimations of the drug's dangers decline.
"There's no real win on this from a political perspective," says Sabet. "Do you want to be the president that stops a popular cause, especially a cause that's popular within your own party? Or do you want to be the president that enables youth drug use that will have ramifications down the road?"
Marijuana legalization advocates offer politicians a rosier scenario, in which legitimate pot businesses eager to keep their operating licenses make sure not to sell to minors.
"Having a regulated system is the only way to ensure that we're not ceding control of this popular substance to the criminal market and to black marketeers," says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, a trade group for legal pot businesses in the US.
See Change Research, which analyzes the marijuana business, has estimated the national market for medical marijuana alone at $1.7 billion for 2011 and has projected it could reach $8.9 billion in five years. Overall, marijuana users spend tens of billions of dollars a year on pot, experts believe.
Ultimately, marijuana advocates say, it's Congress that needs to budge, aligning federal laws with those of states moving to legalization. But that doesn't appear likely anytime soon.
The administration appears uncertain how to proceed.
"The executive branch is in a pickle," Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Colo., said at a recent news conference outside the Capitol with pot growers visiting town to lobby for changes. "Twenty-one states have a different view of the use of marijuana than the laws on the books for the federal government."
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While the federal government hunkers down, Colorado and Washington state are moving forward on their own.
Colorado's governor in May signed a set of bills to regulate legal use of the drug, and the state's November ballot will ask voters to approve special sales and excise taxes on pot. In Washington state, the Liquor Control Board is drawing up rules covering everything from how plants will be grown to how many stores will be allowed. It expects to issue licenses for growers and processors in December, and impose 25 percent taxes three times over — when pot is grown, processed and sold to consumers.
"What we're beginning to see is the unraveling of the criminal approach to marijuana policy," says Tim Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice. But, Lynch adds, "the next few years are going to be messy. There are going to be policy battles" as states work to bring a black market industry into the sunshine, and Washington wrestles with how to respond.
Already, a federal judge has struck down a Colorado requirement that pot magazines such as High Times be kept behind store counters, like pornography.
Marijuana advocates in Washington state, where officials have projected the legal pot market could bring the state a half-billion a year in revenue, are complaining that state regulators are still banning sales of hash or hash oil, a marijuana extract.
Pot growers in medical marijuana states are chafing at federal laws that deny them access to the banking system, tax deductions and other opportunities that other businesses take for granted. Many dispensaries are forced to operate on a cash-only basis, which can be an invitation to organized crime.
It's already legal for adults in Colorado and Washington to light up at will, as long as they do so in private.
That creates all kinds of new challenges for law enforcement.
Pat Slack, a commander with the Snohomish County Regional Drug Taskforce in Washington state, said local police are receiving calls about smokers flouting regulations against lighting up in public. In at least one instance, Slack said, that included a complaint about a smoker whose haze was wafting over a backyard fence and into the middle of a child's birthday party. But with many other problems confronting local officers, scofflaws are largely being ignored.
"There's not much we can do to help," Slack says. "A lot of people have to get accustomed to what the change is."
In Colorado, Tom Gorman, director of the federal Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Taskforce, takes a tougher stance on his state's decision to legalize pot.
"This is against the law, I don't care what Colorado says," Gorman said. "It puts us in a position, where you book a guy or gal and they have marijuana, do you give it back? Do you destroy it? What in effect I am doing by giving it back is I am committing a felony. If the court orders me to return it, the court is giving me an illegal order."
More than 30 pot growers and distributors, going all-out to present a buttoned-down image in suits and sensible pumps rather than ponytails and weed T-shirts, spent two days on Capitol Hill in June lobbying for equal treatment under tax and banking laws and seeking an end to federal property seizures.
"It's truly unfortunate that the Justice Department can't find a way to respect the will of the people," says Sean Luse of the 13-year-old Berkeley Patients Group in California, a multimillion-dollar pot collective whose landlord is facing the threat of property forfeiture.
* * *
As Colorado and Washington state press on, California's experience with medical marijuana offers a window into potential pitfalls that can come with wider availability of pot.
Dispensaries for medical marijuana have proliferated in the state. Regulation has been lax, leading some overwhelmed communities to complain about too-easy access from illegal storefront pot shops and related problems such as loitering and unsavory characters. That prompted cities around the state to say enough already and ban dispensaries. Pot advocates sued.
In May, the California Supreme Court ruled unanimously that cities and counties can ban medical marijuana dispensaries. A few weeks later, Los Angeles voters approved a ballot measure that limits the number of pot shops in the city to 135, down from an estimated high of about 1,000. By contrast, whitepages.com lists 112 Starbucks in the city.
This isn't full-scale buyer's remorse, but more a course correction before the inevitable next push to full-on legalization in the state.
Baker Montgomery, a member of the Eagle Rock neighborhood council in Los Angeles, where pot shops were prevalent, said May's vote to limit the number of shops was all about ridding the city of illicit dispensaries.
"They're just not following what small amounts of rules there are on the books," Montgomery said.
In 2010, California voters opted against legalizing marijuana for recreational use, drawing the line at medical use.
But Jeffrey Dunn, a Southern California attorney who represented cities in the Supreme Court case, says that in reality the state's dispensaries have been operating so loosely that already "it's really all-access."
At the Venice Beach Care Center, one of the dispensaries that will be allowed to stay open in Los Angeles, founding director Brennan Thicke believes there still is widespread support for medical marijuana in California. But he says the state isn't ready for more just yet.
"We have to get (medical) right first," Thicke said.
Dunn doubts that's possible.
"What we've learned is, it is very difficult if not impossible to regulate these facilities," he said.
* * *
Other states, Colorado among them, have had their own bumps in the road with medical marijuana.
A Denver-area hospital, for example, saw children getting sick after eating treats and other foods made with marijuana in the two years after a 2009 federal policy change led to a surge in medical marijuana use, according to a study in JAMA Pediatrics in May. In the preceding four years, the hospital had no such cases.
The Colorado Education Department reported a sharp rise in drug-related suspensions and expulsions after medical marijuana took off. An audit of the state's medical marijuana system found the state had failed to adequately track the growth and distribution of pot or to fully check out the backgrounds of pot dealers.
"What we're doing is not working," says Dr. Christian Thurstone, a psychiatrist whose Denver youth substance abuse treatment center has seen referrals for marijuana double since September. In addition, he sees young people becoming increasingly reluctant to be treated, arguing that it can't be bad for them if it's legal.
Yet Daniel Rees, a researcher at the University of Colorado Denver, analyzed data from 16 states that have approved medical marijuana and found no evidence that legalization had increased pot use among high school students.
In looking at young people, Rees concludes: "Should we be worried that marijuana use nationally is going up? Yes. Is legalization of medical marijuana the culprit? No."
* * *
Growing support for legalization doesn't mean everybody wants to light up: Barely one in 10 Americans used pot in the past year.
Those who do want to see marijuana legalized range from libertarians who oppose much government intervention to people who want to see an activist government aggressively regulate marijuana production and sales.
Safer-than-alcohol was "the message that won the day" with voters in Colorado, says Tvert.
For others, money talks: Why let drug cartels rake in untaxed profits when a cut of that money could go into government coffers?
There are other threads in the growing acceptance of pot.
People think it's not as dangerous as once believed; some reflect back on what they see as their own harmless experience in their youth. They worry about high school kids getting an arrest record that will haunt them for life. They see racial inequity in the way marijuana laws are enforced. They're weary of the "war on drugs," and want law enforcement to focus on other areas.
"I don't plan to use marijuana, but it just seemed we waste a lot of time and energy trying to enforce something when there are other things we should be focused on," says Sherri Georges, who works at a Colorado Springs, Colo., saddle shop. "I think that alcohol is a way bigger problem than marijuana, especially for kids."
Opponents have retorts at the ready.
They point to a 2012 study finding that regular use of marijuana during teen years can lead to a long-term drop in IQ, and a different study indicating marijuana use can induce and exacerbate psychotic illness in susceptible people. They question the idea that regulating pot will bring in big money, saying revenue estimates are grossly exaggerated.
They counter the claim that prisons are bulging with people convicted of simple possession by citing federal statistics showing only a small percentage of federal and state inmates are behind bars for that alone. Slack said the vast majority of people jailed for marijuana possession were originally charged with dealing drugs and accepted plea bargains for possession. The average possession charge for those in jail is 115 pounds, Slack says, which he calls enough for "personal use for a small city."
Over and over, marijuana opponents warn that baby boomers who are drawing on their own innocuous experiences with pot are overlooking the much higher potency of the marijuana now in circulation.
In 2009, concentrations of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot, averaged close to 10 percent in marijuana, compared with about 4 percent in the 1980s, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse. An estimated 9 percent of people who try marijuana eventually become addicted, and the numbers are higher for those who start using pot when they are young. That's less than the addiction rates for nicotine or alcohol, but still significant.
"If marijuana legalization was about my old buddies at Berkeley smoking in People's Park once a week I don't think many of us would care that much," says Sabet, who helped to found Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a group that opposes legalization. "But it's not about that. It's really about creating a new industry that's going to target kids and target minorities and our vulnerable populations just like our legal industries do today."
* * *
So how bad, or good, is pot?
There are studies that set off medical alarm bells but also studies that support the safer-than-alcohol crowd and suggest promising therapeutic uses.
J. Michael Bostwick, a psychiatrist at the Mayo Clinic, set out to sort through more than 100 sometimes conflicting studies after his teenage son became addicted to pot. In a 22-page article for Mayo Clinic Proceedings in 2012, he laid out the contradictions in US policy and declared that "little about cannabis is straightforward."
"Anybody can find data to support almost any position," Bostwick says now.
For all of the talk that smoking pot is no big deal, Bostwick says, he determined that "it was a very big deal. There were addiction issues. There were psychosis issues. But there was also this very large body of literature suggesting that it could potentially have very valuable pharmaceutical applications but the research was stymied" by federal barriers.
Marijuana is a Schedule I drug under 1970 law, meaning the government deems it to have "no currently accepted medical use" and a "high potential for abuse." The only federally authorized source of marijuana for research is grown at the University of Mississippi, and the government tightly regulates its use. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says plenty of work with cannabis is ongoing, but Bostwick says federal restrictions have caused a "near-cessation of scientific research."
The American Medical Association opposes legalizing pot, calling it a "dangerous drug" and a public health concern. But it also is urging the government to review marijuana's status as a Schedule 1 drug in the interest of promoting more research.
"The evidence is pretty clear that in 1970 the decision to make the drug illegal, or put it on Schedule I, was a political decision," says Bostwick. "And it seems pretty obvious in 2013 that states, making their decisions the way they are, are making political decisions. Science is not present in either situation to the degree that it needs to be."
The National Institute on Drug Abuse's director, Dr. Nora Volkow, says that for all the potential dangers of marijuana, "cannabinoids are just amazing compounds, and understanding how to use them properly could be actually very beneficial therapeutically." But she worries that legalizing pot will result in increased use of marijuana by young people, and impair their brain development.
"You cannot mess around with the cognitive capacity of your young people because you are going to rely on them," she says. "Think about it: Do you want a nation where your young people are stoned?"
* * *
As state after state moves toward a more liberal approach to marijuana, the turnaround is drawing comparisons to shifting attitudes on gay marriage, for which polls find rapidly growing acceptance, especially among younger voters. That could point toward durable majority support as this population ages. Gay marriage is now legal in 12 states and Washington, D.C.
On marijuana, "we're having a hard time almost believing how fast public opinion is changing in our direction," says Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance.
But William Galston and E.J. Dionne, who co-wrote a paper on the new politics of marijuana for the Brookings Institution, believe marijuana legalization hasn't achieved a deep enough level of support to suggest a tipping point, with attitudes toward legalization marked by ambivalence and uncertainty.
"Compared with attitudes toward same-sex marriage, support for marijuana legalization is much less driven by moral conviction and much more by the belief that it is not a moral issue at all," they wrote.
No one expects Congress to change federal law anytime soon.
Partisans on both sides think people in other states will keep a close eye on the precedent-setting experiment underway in Colorado and Washington as they decide whether to give the green light to marijuana elsewhere.
"It will happen very suddenly," predicts the Cato Institute's Lynch. "In 10-15 years, it will be hard to find a politician who will say they were ever against legalization."
Sabet worries that things will move so fast that the negative effects of legalization won't yet be fully apparent when other states start giving the go-ahead to pot. He's hoping for a different outcome.
"I actually think that this is going to wake a lot of people up who might have looked the other way during the medical marijuana debate," he says. "In many ways, it actually might be the catalyst to turn things around."
Past predictions on pot have been wildly off-base, in both directions.
The 1972 commission that recommended decriminalizing marijuana speculated pot might be nothing more than a fad.
Then there's "Reefer Madness," the 1936 propaganda movie that pot fans rediscovered and turned into a cult classic in the 1970s. It labeled pot "The Real Public Enemy Number One!"
The movie spins a tale of dire consequences "leading finally to acts of shocking violence ... ending often in incurable insanity."
(Courtesy, the Associated Press.)
WORLD'S MOST EVIL AND LAWLESS INSTITUTION? THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH OF THE U.S. GOVERNMENT by Fred Branfman, June 26, 2013
Executive Branch leaders have killed, wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.
Introduction: America’s Secret Shame
America has a secret. It is not discussed in polite company or at the dinner tables of the powerful, rich and famous.
Parents do not teach it to their children. Best-selling authors do not write about it. Politicians and government officials ignore it. Intellectuals avoid it. High school and college textbooks do not refer to it. TV pundits do not comment on it. Teachers do not teach it. Journalists from the nation's most highly regarded TV news shows, newspapers and magazines, do not report it. Columnists do not opine about it. Editorial writers do not editorialize about it. Religious leaders do not sermonize about it. Think tanks and professors do not study it. Lawyers do not litigate it and judges do not rule on it.
The few who do not keep this secret, who try to break through to their fellow citizens about it, are marginalized and ignored by society at large.
To begin to understand the magnitude of this secret, imagine that you get into your car in New York City, and set out for a drive south, staying overnight in Washington DC, a four-hour drive. As you leave, you look out your window to the left and see a row of bodies, laid end to end, running alongside you all the way to DC.
You spend the night there, and set out early the next morning for Charleston, South Carolina, an 11-hour drive. Again, looking out your window, you see the line of bodies continues, hour after hour. You are struck that most are middle-aged or older men and women, younger women, or children. You arrive in Charleston, check into your hotel, have a good meal, and get up early the next morning to drive to Miami, another 12-hour drive. And once again, hour after hour, the line of bodies continues, all the way to your destination.
If you can imagine such a drive, or these bodies piled one on top of each other reaching 120 miles into the sky, you can begin to get a feeling for former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara's mid-range estimate of 1.2 million civilians killed by U.S. firepower in Vietnam. (The U.S. Senate Refugee Committee estimated 430,000 civilian dead at the end of the war. Later estimates as more information has become available, e.g. by Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, put the number as high as 2 million.)
And the secret that is never discussed is far larger. To the 430,000 to 2 million civilians killed in Vietnam must be added those killed in Laos, Cambodia, Afghanistan, Iraq and many other nations (see below), all those wounded and maimed for life, and the many millions more forced to leave villages in which their families had lived for centuries to become penniless refugees. All told, U.S. Executive Branch leaders – Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals - have killed wounded and made homeless well over 20 million human beings in the last 50 years, mostly civilians.
U.S. leaders have never acknowledged their responsibility for ruining so many lives, let alone apologized or made proper amends to the survivors. Those responsible have not been punished, but rewarded. The memory of it has been erased from national consciousness, as U.S. leaders endlessly declare their nation’s, and their own, goodness. Millions of civilian lives swept under the rug, forgotten, as if this mass murder and maiming, the destruction of countless homes and villages, this epic violation of basic human decency—and laws protecting civilians in time of war which U.S. leaders have promised to observe—never happened.
Over a million innocent human lives in Vietnam alone. Grandparents, parents and children. Decent, hard-working people, each with a name, a face, and loved ones; people with dreams and hopes, and as much of a right to life as you or I. Forgotten. Over one million civilians dead, over 10 million wounded and made homeless in Vietnam alone, forgotten. And particularly remarkable is how this has happened. Totalitarian regimes go to great lengths—strict censorship, prison for those violating it—to cover up their leaders' crimes. But in America, the information is available. All that is needed to keep America’s secret is to simply ignore it.
Americans keep this secret because facing it openly would upend our most basic understandings about our nation and its leaders. A serious public discussion of it would reveal, for example, that we cannot trust Executive Branch leaders’ human decency, words, or judgment no matter who is President. And more troubling, acknowledging it would mean admitting to ourselves that we have been misleading our own children, that our silence has robbed them of the truth of their history and made it more likely that future leaders will continue to commit acts that stain the very soul of America.
It is a matter of indisputable fact that the U.S. Executive Branch has over the past 50 years been responsible for bombing, shooting, burning alive with napalm, blowing up with cluster bombs, burying alive with 500 pound bombs, torturing, assassinating, and incarcerating without evidence, and destroying the homes and villages of, more innocent civilians in more nations over a longer period of time than any other government on earth today.
It is also undeniable that it has committed countless acts, as no less an authority than U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry noted in regard to Vietnam, which have been:
"contrary to the laws of the Geneva Convention, and... ordered as established policies from the top down," and that "the men who ordered this are war criminals."
And its crimes against humanity have continued since Vietnam. Thirty years later, a Nuremberg prosecutor speaking of the U.S. invasion of Iraq stated that a
"prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."
And as you read these words the U.S. Executive Branch is adding to its crimes, as it conducts secret drone and Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) ground assassinations of individuals without due process.
The rationalizations by which even decent human beings allow themselves to ignore their leaders’ mass murder, e.g. that “these things always happen in war,” or “it’s the other side’s fault,” are just that: rationalizations that allow us to avoid our secret shame. Human civilization, through its body of international law, has defined which acts are both immoral and illegal even in times of war. And a citizen’s first responsibility is to oppose his or her own government’s crimes, not those of others.
Although America's media, intellectual, political and economic elites ‘turn their heads pretending they just don't see’ U.S. leaders' responsibility for mass murder, dozens of dedicated and honorable scholars and activists led by Noam Chomsky have spent years of their lives meticulously documenting it.
Readers wishing to flesh out the overview below are directed to five important recent books: Kill Anything That Moves, by Nick Turse, about Vietnam; Dirty Wars (and a film), by Jeremy Scahill, about Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia; The Deaths of Others, by John Tirman, covering Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan; The Untold History of the U.S. by Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick (and a 10-part Showtime documentary) discussing U.S. policy from World War II to the present; and Drone Warfareby Medea Benjamin. FLYBOYS, by James Bradley, also offers invaluable information on U.S. aerial mass murder of civilians in World War II, as does The Korean War: A History by Bruce Cumings on U.S. Executive massacres of civilians in Korea. Such careful work has been supplemented by numerous reports from such organizations as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Until now, the issue of U.S. Executive Branch leaders' disregard for innocent human life has mainly concerned their treatment of "non-people" abroad. But as the sinews of a surveillance state and police-state infrastructure have been steadily strengthened at home since 9/11, an Executive Branch mentality that has been so indifferent to innocent human life abroad will threaten increasing numbers of Americans in coming years.
No honest human being can deny what the facts below reveal about the U.S. Executive's institutional evil and lawlessness. The only serious question is what we are willing to do about it.
Can Americans Trust the U.S. Executive Branch?
Columnist George Will recently summarized the fundamental issue underlying not only Edward Snowden's recent whistleblowing, but all controversies about U.S. Executive Branch behavior:
"The problem is we're using technologies of information-gathering that didn't exist 20 years ago... and they require reposing extraordinary trust in the Executive Branch of government."
Former Bush aide Matthew Dowd chimed in on the same talk show, saying "what they're saying is trust us, trust us." Trust is indeed the only basis for supporting a U.S. Executive which hides its activities from its own citizens.
But can we trust the Executive’s Branch’s commitment to truth, law and democracy, or even basic human decency? Judging its actions, not words, over the past 50 years is the key to deciding this issue. And we might begin with some basic questions:
How would you regard the leaders of a foreign power who sent machines of war that suddenly appeared over your home, dropped bombs which killed dozens of your neighbors and your infant daughter, wounded your teenage son, destroyed your home, and then forced you into a refugee camp where your older daughter had to prostitute herself to those foreigners in order to support you, your wife and legless son? (U.S. Executive Branch officials created over 10 million refugees in South Vietnam.)
What would you think of foreign leaders who occupied your country, disbanded the military and police, and you found yourself at the mercy of marauding gangs who one day kidnapped your uncle and cousin, tortured them with drills, and then left their mangled bodies in a garbage dump? (U.S. Executive Branch officials occupied Iraq, disbanded the police, and failed to provide law and order as legally required of Occupying Powers.)
How would you view a foreign power which bombed you for five and a half years, forced you and your family to live in caves and holes like animals, burned and buried alive countless of your neighbors, and then one day blinded you in a bombing raid that leveled your ancestral village, where you had honored your ancestors and had hoped after your death to be remembered by your offspring? (U.S. Executive Branch leaders massively bombed civilian targets in Laos for nine years, Cambodia for four years.)
What would you think of foreign assassins who, as Jeremy Scahill reports in Dirty Wars, broke into your house at 3:30am as a dance was coming to an end, shot your brother and his 15-year old son, then shot another of your brothers and three women relatives (the mothers of 16 children) denied medical help to your brother and 18-year-old daughter so that they slowly bled to death before your eyes, then dug the bullets out of the women's bodies to cover up their crimes, hauled you off to prison, and for months thereafter claimed they were acting in self-defense? And how would you feel toward the leaders of the nation that had fielded not only these JSOC assassins but thousands more, who were conducting similar secret and lawless assassinations of unarmed suspects while covering up their crimes in many other countries around the world?
How would you view the foreign leaders responsible right now for drone attacks against you if you lived in northwest Pakistan where, a Stanford/NYU study reported after a visit there:
"hovering drones have traumatized millions living in these areas. Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves."
These are not rhetorical questions. Every one of these acts, and countless more, have been committed by the U.S. Executive Branch over the past 50 years, and will continue indefinitely until it is transformed. If we judge them by their actions, not words, we must face the following facts:
-- The U.S. Executive Branch killed in Vietnam from a U.S. Senate Refugee Subcommittee-estimated 430,000 civilians to the 1.2 million civilians later estimated by Robert McNamara, to the two million civilians estimated by Nick Turse. And it wounded at least 1,050,000 civilians and refugeed at least 11,368,000, according to the Refugee subcommittee; assassinated through its Phoenix Program an officially estimated 26,000 civilians, and imprisoned and tortured 34,000 more, on unproven grounds that they were "Vietcong cadre"; created an estimated 800,000-1.3 million war orphans and 1 million war widows; and after the war ended left behind Agent Orange poisons, unexploded cluster bombs, and landmines, creating an estimated 150,000 deformed Vietnamese children; and killing and maiming 42,000 peacetime victims.
-- The U.S. Executive has, in Laos, conducted nine years of bombing which has been estimated by Laos' National Regulatory Authority to have killed and wounded a minimum of 30,000 civilians by bombing from 1964-'73, and another 20,000 since then from the unexploded cluster bombs it left behind. It also created over 50,000 refugees after it had leveled the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars.
-- The U.S. Executive has, in Cambodia, killed and wounded tens of thousands of civilians by carpet-bombing villages from 1969-'75. All told, after Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger secretly bombed and invaded Cambodia, waging a war that made the U.S. Executive responsible for casualties on all sides, the U.S. Senate Refugee Subcommittee estimated that 450,000 persons had been killed and wounded, and 3,990,000 made refugees. Historian Michael Clodfelter has estimated that, all told, 600,000 Cambodian civilians died.
-- The U.S. Executive under Bill Clinton in Iraq, John Tirman reports in The Deaths of Others, imposed an embargo so severe that "UNICEF estimated that 500,000 children under five years of age had died as a result of the war and sanctions from malnutrition, diseases for which cures were available but medicine in Iraq was not, and poor health at birth due to prenatal effects on mothers."
Dennis Halliday, Assistant UN Secretary General, declared that
"I had been instructed to implement a (sanctions) policy that has effectively killed over a million individuals."
-- And after invading Iraq in 2003, the Executive under George W. Bush, as the Occupying Power, was legally responsible for maintaining law and order. Its war was also an aggressive war as outlawed at Nuremberg. It thus bears both the moral and legal responsibility for the deaths of more than130,000 Iraqis (Iraq Body Count) to 654,965 (Lancet Scientific Journal) to 1,220,580 (Opinion Research Business), hundreds of thousands more wounded, and more than officially estimated 5 million refugees.
-- The Executive has, in Afghanistan, conducted thousands of night raids familiar to viewers of World War II Gestapo movies – killing over 1500 civilians in 6282 raids in 10 months from 2010 to early 2011 alone, as revealed by investigative reporter Gareth Porter. They have also conducted numerous bombing strikes and supported a corrupt regime which has stolen billions of dollars while their fellow citizens died for lack of healthcare and food.
--The Executive has, in Pakistan and Yemen, killed an estimated 2,800-4,000 persons from drone strikes, only 73 of whom it has named. Most were killed in “signature strikes” in which the victims’ names were unknown, and who in no way threatened the United States.
-- Also, over the past 50 years, the U.S. Executive Branch bears a major responsibility for massive death and torture throughout Central and Latin America, Africa and Asia. Church, human rights and others estimate that U.S.-installed, trained, equipped and advised death squads in El Salvador and Contras in Nicaragua killed well over 35,000 and 30,000 persons respectively. The U.S.-supported Rios Montt regime in Guatemala killed an estimated 200,000. The U.S.-supported coup in Chile brought to power a regime that killed an estimated 3,200-15,000 political opponents and tortured another 30,000. U.S. support for Indonesian government genocide in East Timor helped kill over 200,000 persons. U.S. support for terrorists led by Jonas Savimbi in Angola helped kill an estimated 1.2 million persons and displaced another 1.5 million.
And how much can you trust the decency of a US. Executive that treats these millions of human beings as mere nameless, faceless "collateral damage" at best, direct targets at worst, as human garbage barely worthy of mention, as "non-people" as Noam Chomsky has observed?
We almost never ask such questions in this country, never try to put ourselves in the shoes of the tens of millions of victims of our leaders' war-making, because doing so confronts us with a grave dilemma. On the one hand, if we would say these acts are evil if done to ourselves they are obviously also evil when done to others. But admitting that would require most of us to challenge our most basic beliefs about this nation and its leadership. And if we are members of our political, intellectual, media, government and private sector elites, it would threaten our jobs and livelihoods.
We are divided. The honest part of ourselves knows there is only one word that can adequately describe the U.S. Executive Branch’s indifference to non-American life. It is not a word to be used lightly, for overuse robs it of its power. But when appropriate, failing to use it is an act of moral cowardice that assures its continuation. That word is “evil”.
If we would regard such acts as evil if done to us, they are equally evil if done to others. This is what we teach our children when we teach them the Golden Rule or that America is a nation of laws not men. It means, simply, that if needlessly ruining the lives of the innocent is evil, the U.S. Executive Branch is the most evil and lawless institution on the face of the Earth today, cannot be trusted, and poses a clear and present danger to countless innocents abroad and democracy at home.
We speak of “institutional evil” here because the greatest evils of our time are conducted by often personally decent, even idealistic, men and women. It is not necessary to be hate-filled or personally violent for an American to commit evil today. One need only be part of, or support the police, intelligence and military activities of the U.S. Executive Branch.
But the practical part of ourselves, the part that needs to make a living and maintain emotional equilibrium, leads us to ignore the mass evil our leaders engage in. It is so much easier. For accepting this truth means accepting that our leaders are not good and decent people; that JSOC commandos are not "heroes" but rather lawless assassins whose very existence shames us all; that we are not being protected, but endangered by leaders who are turning hundreds of millions of Muslims against us; that we must assume that Executive officials are right now secretly engaging in a wide variety of illegal and immoral activities that would shock and disgust us if they were revealed; and that we cannot believe a word they say when these abuses are revealed as they so regularly engage in secrecy and stonewalling, lying when discovered, covering up when the lie is revealed, and claiming it was an aberration and/or blaming it on a subordinate when the coverup fails. (8)
The issue of trust is key since it is the only basis upon which U.S. citizens can support secret Executive actions about which they are not informed. And the issue of trust is ultimately a moral, not legal judgment. We acknowledge that the citizen actually has a moral obligation to resist an unjust law promulgated by an immoral government, whether in the Soviet Union, South Africa, or, as we acknowledge when we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday, in America.
Even when the law is used by the likes of David Ignatius, David Brooks, Tom Brokaw, and Nancy Pelosi to attack an Edward Snowden, their key unstated assumption is that they trust the U.S. Executive since they know little more about its secret activities than anyone else. The moral dividing line is clear. Those indifferent to innocent human life and democracy are less angry at Executive mass murder and threats to democracy than at those who reveal this wrongdoing.
Although the principal responsibility for the millions of lives U.S. leaders have ruined lies with the Executive, most of America's other organs of power have also participated in keeping the screams of America's victims from reaching the public. Republicans and conservatives have not only shown no concern for America's innocent victims, but cheered on its leaders' torment of the innocent.
Bush U.N. Ambassador John Bolton, when asked by a New York Times writer about U.S. responsibility to aid the millions of refugees its invasion of Iraq had created, responded that the refugees had:
“nothing to do with our overthrow of Saddam. Our obligation was to give them new institutions and provide security. We have fulfilled that obligation. I don’t think we have an obligation to compensate for the hardships of war. Helping the refugees flies in the face of received logic. You don’t want to encourage the refugees to stay.”
But particularly striking has been the behavior of centrists and liberals who know full well the horrors U.S. Executive Branch leaders have inflicted upon the innocent, espouse humanitarian values, but simply look the other way. TheTimes, for example, quite appropriately ran photos and small bios humanizing each of the nearly 3,000 Americans killed on 9/11. But its editors have made a conscious decision not to humanize virtually any of the millions of non-Americans for whose deaths U.S. leaders are responsible, as has the rest of the U.S. mass media.
David Petraeus became Afghanistan commander on July 4, 2010, and proceeded to loosen General McChrystal’s rules of engagement, triple bombing and night raids and invade southern Afghanistan, leading to a huge increase in U.S. and Taliban violence against civilians. Within months, the Red Cross said conditions for civilians were the worst they’d been for 30 years.
A Pakistan newspaper reported that things were so bad at the Kandahar Mirwais hospital that civilian casualties “overwhelm the limited bed space. On some days, the floor is red with blood” and that “the overflow at Kandahar’s Mirwais hospital has forced hundreds of sick and injured Afghans to cross the border into Pakistan every day to seek medical treatment.” It also noted that “many Afghans are unable to get to basic healthcare” because, despite hundreds of billions in U.S. spending on war, “thirty years of conflict have left the country’s health care system struggling to cope.”
The Special Representative to Afghanistan of close ally Great Britain said:
“David Petraeus should be ashamed of himself ... He has increased the violence, trebled the number of special forces raids and there has been a lot more rather regrettable boasting from the military about the body count … Petraeus has ignored his own principles of counter-insurgency which speaks of politics being the predominant factor in dealing with an insurgency."
But none of this reached the American public. No stories of visits to Kandahar Hospital, no interviews with Britain’s Special Representative appeared in the U.S. mass media. Instead, dozens of U.S. journalists visiting Afghanistan praised General Petraeus, and presented his sanitized version of a war in which only “militants” are killed. Petraeus’ greatest accomplishment, Time magazine columnist Joe Klein informed his readers after a Petraeus-managed trip to Afghanistan, was to turn the U. S. army into a “learning institution.”
And Democratic Party politicians, while at least voicing concern for those in need in this nation and acting honorably for a few brief moments at the end of the Indochina war, have funded the Executive's killing abroad and limited their own concerns to the wellbeing of America's soldiers. (9)
In 1967, Chomsky wrote a landmark essay entitled "The Responsibility of Intellectuals," arguing that public intellectuals - who had the time, opportunity and freedom to study the pain its leaders inflicted upon the innocent, and to convey it to the larger public - had a special responsibility to do so.
But his argument, by and large, has fallen upon deaf ears, particularly since Vietnam. Thousands of intellectuals, members of Congress, pundits, academics and journalists have turned a blind eye to U.S. mass murder. And many even turned into "liberal hawks", supporting war against Iraq. The likes of the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen, the N.Y. Times’ Thomas Friedman, Slate’s Christopher Hitchens, The New Republic’s Leon Wieseltier, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, and many others not only urged a war that brought a living hell to Iraq, but being liberals, justified it on the grounds that it would help the Iraqi people. (See “Bush’s Useful Idiots,” by Tony Judt.)
They even denigrated the millions of decent and honorable Americans who marched to try and head off the Iraq war. It is so easy when making a good living and having access to “official sources” to see oneself as smarter and better-informed than “naïve” students and grandmothers in tennis shoes. Hitchens, for example, called war opponents "moral imbeciles," "noisy morons," "overbred and gutless," "naive" and "foolish."
And after the war began most of these “liberal war hawks” then turned a blind eye to the civilian carnage resulting from the war they had supported in the name of the Iraqi people, as the body count steadily rose by tens of thousands until over 5 million Iraqis were killed, wounded or made homeless. Nor did they apologize to the millions of their fellow Americans opposing the war whom they had so arrogantly maligned, and who had turned out to be so much wiser and more moral than were they.
Executive Evil in Microcosm: A Personal Report
I first encountered U.S. Executive evil and lawlessness in September 1969, when I interviewed the first Lao rice farmers to come out of communist zones in northern Laos into American zones around the capital city of Vientiane. I was horrified as these gentle Lao, who did not even know where America was, described living under U.S. bombing for five and a half years. I interviewed people who had been blinded and lost limbs and yet were the lucky ones because they had survived. As I learned of grandmothers burned alive, pregnant mothers buried alive, children blown to bits by antipersonnel bombs, and realized that millions of Lao and Vietnamese farmers were still being bombed, I felt as if I had discovered Auschwitz while the killing was still continuing.
As I began to research the bombing, visiting U.S. airbases in Thailand and South Vietnam, talking with U.S. Embassy officials, interviewing a former U.S. Air Force captain over a period of months, I learned it was but a handful of top U.S. Executive Branch leaders, Republicans and Democrats alike, who were solely responsible for the bombing. Neither Congress nor the American people had even been informed, let alone offered their consent. The U.S. Executive, I learned, was a power unto its own that could not legitimately claim to represent the American people.
From May 1964 until March 1970, U.S. Executive officials constantly denied they were even bombing in Laos. When the evidence became so great that even Richard Nixon had to admit the bombing, Executive Branch officials continued to lie by denying they had bombed any civilian targets at all—even as I was interviewing over 1,000 refugees on dozens of occasions and hearing from each that their villages had been destroyed and that they had witnessed countless civilian casualties.
One day I was shocked to feel pellets still in the body of an old grandmother and see a 3-year old girl with napalm wounds on her breast, stomach and vagina. That night I read that U.S. Air Attaché Colonel William Tyrrell had testified to the U.S. Senate that:
"I recall talking to refugees from (the Plain of Jars) and they told me they knew of no civilian casualties during the operation. Villages, even in a freedrop zone, would be restricted from bombing." (10)
I couldn't believe it! How could a U.S. official look a U.S. senator directly in the eye and tell so big a lie?
I also read how the Senate had not been told of this mass bombing, how Executive officials had lied to senators even in a closed 1968 hearing. Senator William Fulbright stated at the fall of 1969 hearing that:
"I think the surprise that is evidenced by the chairman of the subcommittee and others, that they did not know the extent of this involvement until these hearings, is pretty clear evidence that we were not aware of these activities, although we had had some hearings on it." (11)
Realizing that a handful of U.S. Executive Branch leaders had the power, all by themselves, to level the Plain of Jars shook me to my core. Every belief I had about America was upended. If a handful of Executive leaders could unilaterally and secretly destroy the 700-year-old civilization on the Plain of Jars, it meant that America was not a democracy, that the U.S. was a government of men, not laws. And it meant that these men were not good and decent human beings, but rather cold-blooded killers who showed neither pity nor mercy to those whose lives they so carelessly destroyed.
On a deeper level, it meant that even core beliefs I took for granted were untrue. Might did make right. Crime did pay. Suffering is not redemptive. Life looks very different in a Lao refugee camp looking up than in Washington, D.C. looking down. In those camps I realized that U.S. Executive Branch leaders lacked even a shred of simple human decency toward the people of the Plain.
I remember once laying in my bed late at night after returning from an interview with Thao Vong, a 38-year old Lao farmer who had been blinded in a U.S. bombing raid. Vong was a gentle soul, displayed no anger to those who had turned him from a provider of four into a helpless dependent.
I contrasted him and the other Lao farmers who had been burned and buried alive by bombers dispatched by LBJ, McNamara, Nixon and Kissinger. The latter were ruthless, often angry and violent men, indifferent to non-American life—precisely the qualities threatening all life on earth. Thao Vong was gentle, kind and loving, and he and his fellow Lao wanted nothing more than to be left alone to raise their families, enjoy nature and practice Buddhism — precisely the qualities needed for humanity to survive.
I also thought of sweet-faced Sao Doumma, whose wedding photo had so struck me, and who was killed in a bombing raid executed by Henry Kissinger seven years later. (12)
And I found myself wondering: by what right does a Henry Kissinger live and a Sao Doumma die? Who gave Richard Nixon and he the right to murder her? Who gave Lyndon Johnson the right to blind Thao Vong? I found myself asking, what just law or morality can justify these "killers in high places" who burned and buried alive countless Lao rice farmers who posed no threat whatsoever to their nation, solely because they could?
I was also troubled by another thought: if even a Thao Vong and his fellow subsistence-level farmers were not safe from this kind of brutal savagery, who was? If I believed that a society is judged by how it treats the weakest among us, what did this say about my nation?
And I found myself particularly reflecting on the question I found most troubling of all: beyond the issue of lawless and heartless American leaders, what does it say about my species as a whole that the most powerful could so torment the weakest for so long with virtually no one else knowing or caring? I was anguished not only about this extreme form of mass murder, but what it implied about humanity.
I shuddered in 1969 as I reflected on what I was seeing with my own eyes. I shudder today as I write these words.
One particular fact puzzled me during my investigations of the air war. All the refugees said the worst bombing occurred from the end of 1968 until the summer of 1969. They were bombed daily, every village was leveled, thousands were murdered and maimed. But I knew from U.S. Embassy friends that there were no more than a few thousand North Vietnamese troops in Laos at the time, and that there was no military reason for the sudden and brutal increase in U.S. bombing. Why, then, had this aerial holocaust occurred?
And then, to my everlasting horror, I found out. At Senator Fulbright's hearing, he asked Deputy Chief of Mission Monteagle Stearns why the bombing of northern Laos had so intensified after Lyndon Johnson's bombing halt over North Vietnam. Stearns answered simply:
"Well, we had all those planes sitting around and couldn't just let them stay there with nothing to do." (13)
Yes, there it was, in black and white. U.S. officials had exterminated thousands of people of the Plain of Jars, destroying their entire civilization, because the U.S. Executive just couldn't let its planes sit around with nothing to do. The fact that innocent human beings were living there was irrelevant. No one hated the Lao. For Executive policy-makers in Washington, they just didn't exist, had no more importance than cockroaches or mosquitoes.
And that wasn’t all. Once the planes became available, they did in fact discover a purpose for them, as the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Refugees reported in September 1970:
“The United States has undertaken a large-scale air war over Laos to destroy the physical and social infrastructure in Pathet Lao held areas. Throughout all this there has been a policy of secrecy. The bombing has taken and is taking a heavy toll among civilians." (14)
Once the planes became available, the people of the Plain of Jars were not "collateral damage" to military targets. They were the target.
Chomsky, who interviewed the refugees in 1970 and is the world's expert on U.S. war crimes abroad, has called the bombing of northern Laos "one of the most malevolent acts of modern history," and N.Y. Times columnist Anthony Lewis termed it "the most appalling episode of lawless cruelty in American history." Chomsky has also stated that though U.S. leaders did not achieve their primary goal of winning militarily in Indochina, they did destroy a possible independent economic alternative to the U.S. model for developing countries.
"Malevolence." "Lawless." "Cruel." These are not words we normally apply to the Executive Branch as an institution, or the individuals who head its powerful agencies. But if we are to decide whether we can trust the Executive Branch with our own lives we must face the truth of its evil lawlessness.
Executive Lawlessness: Might Makes Right
In the movie The Fog of War, McNamara stated that after World War II, General Curtis Lemay, who had firebombed Tokyo killing 100,000 civilians and dropped the atomic bomb, said:
“`if we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.' And I think he's right. He, and I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side had lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?"
Good question. U.S. leaders dropped 6.7 million ton of bombs and fired an equal amount of ground artillery in Indochina, killed 1.2 million Vietnamese civilians, wounded over a million more, leveled towns and villages, created 10 million refugees, and poisoned Vietnam’s forests and soil. This was precisely “the indiscriminate destruction of cities, towns, and villages,” and “other inhumane acts committed against civilian populations", as so painstakingly documented in Kill Anything That Moves, for which the U.S. executed Nazi leaders at Nuremberg. Had the same judgment been rendered on Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, and other top officials in their administration like Henry Kissinger and Robert McNamara, they too would have been executed - as McNamara acknowledged.
But the truth is that we live in a world, and an America, in which the rule of law does not prevail and might makes right. Our leaders endlessly inform us that America is a "nation of laws not men," even though they only escape punishment for their massive violations of basic human decency and the law, as McNamara suggested, because they are too powerful to be punished.
Even if one believes the U.S. had a right to intervene in Indochina or Iraq, no decent human being can possibly excuse its disregard for civilian life after doing so. You do not need to be a lawyer to know this was wrong. You just need a conscience.
In addition to one's own sense of right and wrong, however, there is another basis for deciding whether Americans can "trust" the Executive Branch: its willingness to observe the rule of international law. Laboriously, over more than a century, humanity has slowly evolved a body of international law that spells out what "geopolitical evil" consists of.
This body of international law is what determines whether a given nation is or is not acting lawfully. Any nation - from North Korea to Russia to the United States - can pass its own domestic laws legalizing its war-making, e.g. North Korea giving itself the right to attack South Korea, or George Bush using the "Authorization for the Use of Military Force," authorizing him only to respond appropriately to 9/11, to justify his illegal invasion of Iraq, failure to meet the legal responsibilities of an Occupying Power, and subsequent mass murder.
But domestic laws cannot be said to truly constitute the "rule of law" unless they also conform to international standards. The second of the Nuremberg Principles specifically states that
"the fact that internal law does not impose a penalty for an act which constitutes a crime under international law does not relieve the person who committed the act from responsibility under international law."
And the third and fourth principles specifically state that the fact that one is a head of state, government official, or was acting under orders "does not relieve him from responsibility under international law."
No nation on earth has refused to ratify so many laws seeking to protect civilians in times of war, and so violated even those it has signed, than the U.S. The U.S. did ratify the “Fourth Geneva Convention Relative To The Protection Of Civilian Persons In Time Of War, 1949," but has massively violated it ever since.
Those laws seeking to protect civilians in times of war that the U.S. has refused to ratify include (1) Protocol II to the Geneva Convention, passed in 1977, "relating to the Protection of Victims of Non-International Armed Conflicts"; (2) the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC); (3) the Rome Statute Of The International Criminal Court; (4) the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, which prohibits the abduction and secret detention of the state; (5) the Optional Protocol To The Convention Against Torture; the Mine Ban Treaty; the Cluster Bomb Treaty. And though the U.S. ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, it has gutted it by demanding exceptions for itself.
The responsibility for the U.S. failure to ratify treaties protecting innocent people is shared between the Executive Branch and U.S. Senate conservatives. But there is little doubt that if a president and giant Executive Branch agencies, especially the Pentagon, lobbied for them they would probably be ratified. In almost every case, however, it is Pentagon lobbying and presidential indifference which has prevented ratification. Former Vietnam Veterans Foundation chief Bobby Muller personally lobbied then-President Bill Clinton to sign the land mine treaty, for example. Clinton responded that it was up to Muller to "get the military on board" but showed no interest himself in trying to do so.
The Fourth Geneva Convention explicitly defines "grave breaches" which are to be considered "war crimes." Those that U.S. leaders have committed on a massive scale include:
“launching an indiscriminate attack affecting the civilian population or civilian objects in the knowledge that such attack will cause excessive loss of life, injury to civilians or damage to civilian objects.” (Protocol 1, Article 85).
U.S. Executive Branch leaders have tried to escape their legal responsibilities in their current war-making by claiming they do not apply to today's "War on Terror" against "non-state" actors. But this is, of course, as valid as North Korea giving itself the right to attack South Korea. As U.N. Rapporteurs on Torture and Drone strikes have stated, there is no serious doubt that U.S. leaders have massively violated both the spirit and letter of international law seeking to protect civilians in wartime.
Among the most obvious and important violations of international law to which U.S. leaders are a signatory include:
(1) Failing to meet their responsibilities for "Protection Of Civilian Persons In Time Of War," including Article 25 of the 1907 Hague Convention which states that "attack or bombardment of towns, villages, habitations or buildings which are not defended, is prohibited."
In Vietnam alone U.S. leaders dropped 6.7 million tons of bombs and used an equal amount of ground artillery. As Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick report,
"Unexploded ordnance blanketed the countryside. Nineteen million gallons of herbicide poisoned the environment. In the South, the U.S. had destroyed 9,000 of 15,000 hamlets. In the north it rained destruction on all six industrial cities leveling 28 of 30 provincial towns and 96 of 116 district towns ... Nearly 4 million of their citizens had been killed. The landscape had been shattered. The beautiful triple-canopy forests are largely gone. In 2009 land mines and unexploded bombs still contaminated over a third of the land in six central Vietnamese provinces. Over 16 million acres remained to be cleared. Beyond the terrible toll of the war itself, 42,000 more Vietnamese were killed by leftover explosives."
(2) Failing to meet their responsibilities as an Occupying Power in Iraq as required by the Hague Convention Article 43 which states that
"the authority of the legitimate power having in fact passed into the hands of the occupant, the latter shall take all the measures in his power to ensure ... public order and safety."
As discussed, U.S. Executive leaders failed to provide public order and safety; the U.S. military was revealed in the Wikileaks cables to be turning over captives to be tortured by the Iraqi police; and, of course, the U.S. was itself murdering, maiming, torturing and incarcerating the innocent. (16)
(3) Engaging in the "Crimes Against Peace" defined at Nuremberg to include "planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements or assurances," and defined by U.S. Chief Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson as
"the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole."
There is no doubt that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was such a "crime against the peace." U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan unambiguously stated, as reported in a BBC article entitled "Iraq War Illegal, Says Annan":
"I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter from our point of view, from the charter point of view, it was illegal."
Benjamin Ferencz, a U.S. Nuremberg prosecutor who convicted 22 Nazis, has stated that a:
"prima facie case can be made that the United States is guilty of the supreme crime against humanity, that being an illegal war of aggression against a sovereign nation."
He also noted that the British deputy legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry had stated that:
"I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution ... [A]n unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances that are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law."
Only in America could leaders convince their citizens they are not launching an aggressive war when they unilaterally attack foreign nations thousands of miles away which pose no serious threat to them.