Daily Archive: 11/07/2013

Nov 07 2013

We were Correspondents, once

Look around you.

In the 7th cavalry, we’ve got a captain from the Ukraine; another from Puerto Rico. We’ve got Japanese, Chinese, Blacks, Hispanics, Cherokee Indians. Jews and Gentiles. All Americans. Now here in the states, some of you in this unit may have experienced discrimination because of race or creed. But for you and me now, all that is gone. We’re moving into the valley of the shadow of death, where you will watch the back of the man next to you, as he will watch yours. And you won’t care what color he is, or by what name he calls God. They say we’re leaving home.

We’re going to what home was always supposed to be. Now let us understand the situation. We are going into battle against a tough and determined enemy.

I can’t promise you that I will bring you all home alive. But this I swear, before you and before Almighty God, that when we go into battle, I will be the first to set foot on the field, and I will be the last to step off, and I will leave no one behind. Dead or alive, we will all come home together. So help me, God.

Nov 07 2013

US Military Doctors Aided Torture Of Detainees

Primum non nocere, Latin for “first do no harm,” is the fisrt principal precept of medical ethics that all medical students are taught in medical school and is a fundamental principle for emergency medical services around the world. It is part of the oath that physicians take on graduation. It appears that ethical standard was abandoned by military doctors after 9/11 and has continued with the inhumane treatment of detainees and Guantanamo and other black-ops sites around the world. In a report (pdf) from the Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism it was concluded that military doctors and psychologists worked with the CIA and the Pentagon to design, enable and participate in torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment

An independent panel of military, ethics, medical, public health, and legal experts today charged that U.S. military and intelligence agencies directed doctors and psychologists working in U.S. military detention centers to violate standard ethical principles and medical standards to avoid infliction of harm. The Task Force on Preserving Medical Professionalism in National Security Detention Centers (see attached) concludes that since September 11, 2001, the Department of Defense (DoD) and CIA improperly demanded that U.S. military and intelligence agency health professionals collaborate in intelligence gathering and security practices in a way that inflicted severe harm on detainees in U.S. custody.

These practices included “designing, participating in, and enabling torture and cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment” of detainees, according to the report. Although the DoD has taken steps to address some of these practices in recent years, including instituting a committee to review medical ethics concerns at Guantanamo Bay Prison, the Task Force says the changed roles for health professionals and anemic ethical standards adopted within the military remain in place.

“The American public has a right to know that the covenant with its physicians to follow professional ethical expectations is firm regardless of where they serve,” said Task Force member Dr. Gerald Thomson, Professor of Medicine Emeritus at Columbia University. “It’s clear that in the name of national security the military trumped that covenant, and physicians were transformed into agents of the military and performed acts that were contrary to medical ethics and practice. We have a responsibility to make sure this never happens again.” [..]

“Abuse of detainees, and health professional participation in this practice, is not behind us as a country,” said Task Force member Leonard Rubenstein, a legal scholar at the Center for Human Rights and Public Health at The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Berman Institute of Bioethics. “Force-feeding by physicians in violation of ethical standards is illustrative of a much broader legacy in which medical professionalism has been undermined.”

Joining Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez on Democracy Now! for a discussion of the report are retired brigadier general Dr. Stephen Xenakis, a military psychiatrist who advised the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on military mental health issues, and Leonard Rubenstein, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-author of the report, “Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the ‘War on Terror.’

The two-year study cites doctors for breaching patient confidentiality and advising interrogators on how to exploit prisoners’ fears and crush their will to resist. The task force is calling for a full investigation of the medical profession’s role in U.S. torture and an overhaul to ensure doctors involved in interrogations follow ethical standards. Both the CIA and the Pentagon have rejected the report’s findings.



Transcript can be read here

CIA made doctors torture suspected terrorists after 9/11, taskforce finds

by Sarah Boseley, The Guardian

Doctors were asked to torture detainees for intelligence gathering, and unethical practices continue, review concludes

Medical professionals were in effect told that their ethical mantra “first do no harm” did not apply, because they were not treating people who were ill.

The report lays blame primarily on the defence department (DoD) and the CIA, which required their healthcare staff to put aside any scruples in the interests of intelligence gathering and security practices that caused severe harm to detainees, from waterboarding to sleep deprivation and force-feeding.

The two-year review by the 19-member taskforce, Ethics Abandoned: Medical Professionalism and Detainee Abuse in the War on Terror, supported by the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations, says that the DoD termed those involved in interrogation “safety officers” rather than doctors. Doctors and nurses were required to participate in the force-feeding of prisoners on hunger strike, against the rules of the World Medical Association and the American Medical Association. Doctors and psychologists working for the DoD were required to breach patient confidentiality and share what they knew of the prisoner’s physical and psychological condition with interrogators and were used as interrogators themselves. They also failed to comply with recommendations from the army surgeon general on reporting abuse of detainees.

The CIA’s office of medical services played a critical role in advising the justice department that “enhanced interrogation” methods, such as extended sleep deprivation and waterboarding, which are recognised as forms of torture, were medically acceptable. CIA medical personnel were present when waterboarding was taking place, the taskforce says.

US Medical Professionals Were Involved in the Design & Administration of Torture

by Kevin Gosztola, The Dissenter at FDL

At Guantanamo Bay, a policy was implemented to allow interrogators to use “medical and psychological information” on detainees in order to “exploit” weaknesses during interrogations. The International Committee of the Red Cross reported in 2004 that military interrogators were able to freely access detainee medical records. Detainee medical information can be used for “intelligence gathering,” and BSCTs are allowed to perform psychological assessments, which are passed on to interrogators, so long as that information is not used to treat a prisoner inhumanely. The Task Force urges this practice be brought to an end.

The Task Force report addresses the role of medical personnel in force-feedings. It does not accept the Defense Department’s claim that force-feedings are undertaken to save lives. They have been “used commonly, not just in rare instances where a detainee’s life was threatened.” They have been explicitly used to break political protests. And, therefore, all force-feedings should be “prohibited.”

Finally, the report proposes that medical personnel be held accountable for their role in torture or inhumane treatment by further informing the public of the role of medical personnel in what has happened. There should be more “fact-finding and investigations” along with “stronger disciplinary action through state health professional licensing boards.”

It suggests that military and intelligence health professionals be subject to the same civilian disciplinary system as other health professionals because, no matter where they are working, all military and intelligence medical personnel are US physicians and psychologists. [..]

In conclusion, while it is not stated by the Task Force, this failure to hold medical professionals accountable should be understood in the context of the larger issue of impunity for those involved in authorizing and carrying out torture in the “war on terrorism” under President George W. Bush. It has been policy under President Barack Obama to decriminalize torture and not prosecute former Bush administration officials responsible for cruel and inhuman treatment. The administration is also presiding over military commissions at Guantanamo that will not permit evidence of torture to be mentioned in court by the very few defendants that have been granted some modicum of due process after actually being charged with committing crimes.

A 6,300-page report by the Senate intelligence committee details the CIA’s role in torture and likely contains critical details on medical personnel’s role in torture yet it remains secret. The CIA has effectively managed to resist or prevent the release thus far and the Obama administration has not taken the step of ordering that it be released in some form, which has enabled the CIA to continue to escape full responsibility for its role in the torture of prisoners.

Blue Ribbon Task Force Says Army Field Manual on Interrogation Allows Torture, Abuse

by Jeff Kaye, The Dissenter at FDL

A report by a multidisciplinary task force, made up largely of medical professionals, ethicists and legal experts, has called on President Obama to issue an executive order outlawing torture and other abusive techniques currently in use in the military’s Army Field Manual on interrogations. The Task Force, which wrote the report for The Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP) and the Open Society Foundations (OSF), has also called on the Department of Defense to rewrite the Army Field Manual in accordance with such an executive order. [..]

Besides recommending that the Department of Defense (DoD) revise the AFM itself, the Task Force report calls for the United States to “accede to the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which requires the creation of an independent domestic monitoring body for the purpose of preventing torture against individuals in custody.”

The recommendation to issue a new executive order on current forms of torture and abuse, and to rewrite the Army Field Manual is one of eight findings and numerous recommendations in the report. The first recommendation was for President Obama to “order a comprehensive investigation of U.S. practices in connection with the detention of suspected terrorists following 9/11 and report the results to Congress and the American people.”

The report continued, “The investigation should include inquiry into the circumstances, roles, and conduct of health professionals in designing, participating in, and enabling torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of detainees in interrogation and confinement settings and why there were few if any known reports by health professionals.” In the body of the report, the Task Force indicated the investigation should include an examination of the “highly questionable” and “unexplained” use of the drug mefloquine on all the Guantanamo detainees, something I will examine in more depth in a future article.

Doctors: Force-Feedings at Guantanamo Have Been Used to Break Political Protests, Not Save Lives

by Kevin Gosztola, The Dissenter at FDL

This year at Guantanamo one of the biggest hunger strikes in the history of the facility took place. Lawyers for detainees reported more than 100 prisoners in the prison were at one point participating in the hunger strike, which aimed to call attention to the inhumanity and hopelessness of their indefinite detention. But the hunger strike, an act of protest, was eventually broken through force-feedings that involved medical personnel.  [..]

A prisoner used to be able to control the rate that food was entering his body to limit discomfort. But, “in a major policy change from the past that adds to the coerciveness of force-feeding, the detainee is no longer permitted to control drip rates or order of ingredients during enteral feeding.” The new standard operating procedure states that giving prisoners this kind of control “has had the effect of prolonging the total time spent in the feeding chair and has given the detainee a measure of control over an involuntary process.” Therefore, the Task Force indicates “all elements

of detainee control over flow rate, content of feeding, or location of feeding is now prohibited.”

Furthermore, the Task Force maintains its conclusions are “consistent with decisions of courts reviewing similar practices. The European Court of Human Rights, while stating that force-feeding to save a life may not amount to a violation of laws against torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment, held that ‘repeated force-feeding, not prompted by valid medical reasons but rather with the aim of forcing the applicant to stop his protest, and performed in a manner which unnecessarily exposed him to great physical pain and humiliation, can only be considered as torture.'”

These medical professional should not just be barred from practicing medicine anywhere, they should be prosecuted for torture along with all those responsible for the implementation of these programs and policies from both the Bush and Obama administrations.  

Nov 07 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting thea Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Robert Reich: What Tuesday’s Election Results Really Mean

Pundits who are already describing the victories of Terry McAuliffe in Virginia and Chris Christie in New Jersey as a “return to the center” of American politics are confusing the “center” with big business and Wall Street.

Both look moderate only by contrast with the Tea Partiers to their extreme right.

The biggest game-changer, though, is Bill de Blasio, the mayor-elect of New York City, who campaigned against the corporatist legacy of Michael Bloomberg — promising to raise taxes on the wealthy and use the revenues for pre-school and after-school programs for the children of New York’s burdened middle class and poor.

Jill Richardson: Big Food Crushes Consumer Rights in Washington State

Corporate foes of a genetic labeling measure outspent grassroots supporters by a 3-1 margin.

When you look at the numbers, how could Washington State’s ballot initiative to require the labeling of foods made with genetically engineered ingredients ever stand a chance?

I’m not talking about poll numbers. I’m talking about money.

Just six weeks ago, voters supported the measure by a 3-to-1 margin. But that was before Big Ag bankrolled a barrage of negative and misleading ads.

Shortly before voters got to weigh in on Initiative 522, polls pointed to a tight race but the consumer-friendly measure still looked like it might pass. Shortly before Election Day, the opposition ponied up nearly $5 million for last-minute ad buys to guarantee a decisive win for Big Food. Corporate America outspent its grassroots foes by a 3-to-1 margin, rapidly skewing public opinion.

Robert Naiman: Keep America at Peace: Keep the Pentagon Sequester

Folks who think that (at the very least) we should be allowed to experience a few years of peace before launching the next military adventure are on the cusp of a major victory in Washington. All we have to do to win this historic victory is maintain the “sequester” cuts to the Pentagon budget that are already planned in existing law. And if we win the next round — if we avoid any kind of “grand bargain” one more time — we will likely win forever, because the Pentagon cuts will be an accomplished fact, and when everyone sees that the Earth is still spinning on its axis, we’ll all realize that cutting the Pentagon budget is no big deal. The Pentagon will be smaller, the sun will come up in the morning, and life will go on.

Norman Solomon: Big Brother’s Loyal Sister: How Dianne Feinstein Is Betraying Civil Liberties

Ever since the first big revelations about the National Security Agency five months ago, Dianne Feinstein has been in overdrive to defend the surveillance state. As chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, she generates an abundance of fog, weasel words, anti-whistleblower slander and bogus notions of reform — while methodically stabbing civil liberties in the back.

Feinstein’s powerful service to Big Brother, reaching new heights in recent months, is just getting started. She’s hard at work to muddy all the waters of public discourse she can — striving to protect the NSA from real legislative remedies while serving as a key political enabler for President Obama’s shameless abuse of the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.

Amy Goodman: Election 2013: A Grass-Roots Resurgence

The cable news channels wasted no time before crowing over the landslide re-election victory of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. According to exit polls, Christie won a majority of both women and Latino voters, traditional Democratic voting blocs. The political chattering class is abuzz with Christie as the GOP’s great hope to retake the White House in 2016. But they miss a vital and growing undercurrent in U.S. politics: grass-roots movements at the local and state level that are challenging the establishment, and winning.

Robert Sheer: Pay No Attention to That Imperialist Behind the Curtain

What John Kerry did this week in Egypt and Saudi Arabia is nothing short of despicable. He, and the president who appointed him, managed to honor both a vicious military dictatorship and a totalitarian medieval monarchy as examples of progress toward a more democratic Middle East, as if neither stood in contradiction to professed U.S. objectives for the region.

“Egyptians Following Right Path, Kerry Says,” read the New York Times headline Sunday trumpeting the secretary of state’s homage to ruthless military dictators who the very next day were scheduled to stage a show trial of Egypt’s first democratically elected president.

This was all part of a “road map” to democracy “being carried out to the best of our perception,” Kerry intoned, apparently embracing the calumny that the destruction of representative government in Egypt was always the American plan.

Nov 07 2013

On This Day In History November 7

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

November 7 is the 311th day of the year (312th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 54 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this dayin 1940, Only four months after its completion, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge in Washington State suffers a spectacular collapse.

When it opened in 1940, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. Built to replace the ferry system that took commuters from Tacoma across the Tacoma Narrows to the Gig Harbor Peninsula, the bridge spanned 2,800 feet and took three years to build. To save cost, the principle engineer, Leon Moisseiff, designed the bridge with an unusually slender frame that measured 39 feet and accommodated just two vehicular lanes.

The Tacoma Narrows Bridge opened with great fanfare on July 1, 1940. Human traffic across the waters of the Tacoma Narrows increased dramatically, but many drivers were drawn to the toll bridge not by convenience but by an unusual characteristic of the structure. When moderate to high winds blew, as they invariably do in the Tacoma Narrows, the bridge roadway would sway from side to side and sometimes suffer excessive vertical undulations. Some drivers reported that vehicles ahead of them would disappear and reappear several times as they crossed the bridge. On a windy day, tourists treated the bridge toll as the fee paid to ride a roller-coaster ride, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge earned the nickname “Galloping Gertie.

Nov 07 2013

The First Policy

Ray McGovern is a retired CIA officer. McGovern was employed under seven US presidents for over 27 years, presenting the morning intelligence briefings at the White House under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. McGovern was born and raised in the Bronx, graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University, received an M.A. in Russian Studies from Fordham, a certificate in Theological Studies from Georgetown University, and graduated from Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program. McGovern now works for “Tell the Word,” a ministry of the inner-city/Washington Church of the Saviour.

Transcript

Transcript

Nov 07 2013

Rantings of a Frustrated Blogger: Expanding Social Security

As recounted by relapsed blogger David Dayen, intrepid blogger, economist and former college professor Duncan Black, aka Atrios, became frustrated with stagnating wages over the last ten years that have been putting working class families at risk of being unable to sustain their standard of living past retirement.

(I)n late 2012 he embarked on a sustained crusade, on his blog and in a series of columns for USA Today, to inject a single idea into America’s policy discourse: “We need an across-the-board increase in Social Security retirement benefits of 20 percent or more,” he declared in the opening of a column for USA Today. “We need it to happen right now.”

The proposal was not exactly attuned to the political winds in Washington. Indeed, for anyone inclined to think in terms of counting potential votes in Congress-especially this Congress-the idea of expanding Social Security is the epitome of a political non-starter. Black’s proposal was attuned, however, to a mounting pile of research and demographic data that describes a gathering disaster. The famously large baby boom generation is heading into retirement. Thanks to decades of stagnant wages and the asset collapse of the Great Recession, more than half of American working-class households are at risk of being unable to sustain their standard of living past retirement. To put it even more starkly, according to research by the economists Joelle Saad-Lessler and Teresa Ghilarducci, 49 percent of middle-class workers are on track to be “poor or near poor” after they retire.

There is very little safety net left to break this fall. The labor market for older workers is bleak. Private pensions are largely a thing of the past. Private savings are so far gone that some 25 percent of households with 401(k) and other retirement plans have raided them early to cover expenses, and a growing number of Americans over age 50 find themselves accumulating, not settling, debt. On the whole, 401(k)s have proved a “disaster,” as Black puts it, one that has enriched the financial sector but lashed the country’s retirement security to a volatile stock market-and left 75 percent of Americans nearing retirement age in 2010 with less than $30,000 in their accounts.

What’s left? Social Security. Though it was never meant to be a national retirement system all by itself, that’s increasingly what it has become. For Americans over age 65 in the bottom half of the income distribution, Social Security makes up at least 80 percent of retirement income.

In one of those columns in March of this year, Black used the “three legged stool” metaphor to bolster his argument to expand Social Security:

According to the Pew Research Center, the median household wealth for those aged 65+ is about $170,000. While that sounds like a significant amount of money, as Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research pointed out, this is actually a trivial amount of wealth for people with little or no income other than Social Security benefits. Remember that this figure includes housing wealth. Even if it was a bunch of cash in a bank account, it wouldn’t actually provide for a significant supplement to other retirement income, but the reality is that many people have a house and not much else. [..]

Social Security was envisioned as one leg of a three-legged stool of retirement, along with employer pensions and private savings or insurance (though the metaphor itself was devised after its creation). The problem is that two of those legs have shrunk significantly. This is not a stool one can comfortably sit on. This is not a stool most people will be able to sit on at all. The system, as envisioned, is failing.

We can goad and cajole people into saving. We can provide incentives for people to save for their retirement, and penalize them for raiding those funds before they retire. We can subsidize employer contributions to retirement funds.

But we have been doing all of these things for decades, and they haven’t worked. The majority of people nearing retirement will not have sufficient funds to retire with anything resembling economic security and comfort.

Well our frustrated blogging buddy’s idea is at long last taking root. Two Democratic Senators, Tom Harkin of Iowa and Mark Begich of Alaska, have introduced legislation that not only would expand Social Security but strengthen it.

The Strengthening Social Security Act of 2013 would:

Strengthen Benefits by Reforming the Social Security Benefit Formula: To improve benefits for current and future Social Security beneficiaries, the Act changes the method by which the Social Security Administration calculates Social Security benefits.  This change will boost benefits for all Social Security beneficiaries by approximately $70 per month, but is targeted to help those in the low and middle of the income distribution, for whom Social Security has become an ever greater share of their retirement income.

Ensure that Cost of Living Adjustments Adequately Reflect the Living Expenses of Retirees: The Act changes the way the Social Security Administration calculates the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLA).  To ensure that benefits better reflect cost increases facing seniors, future COLAs will be based on the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E).  Making this change to Social Security is expected to result in higher COLAs, ensuring that seniors are able to better keep up with the rising costs of essential items, like health care.

Improve the Long Term Financial Condition of the Trust Fund: Social Security is not in crisis, but does face a long-term deficit.  To help extend the life of the trust fund the Act phases out the current taxable cap of $113,700 so that payroll taxes apply fairly to every dollar of wages.

The legislation has the support of AFL-CIO, AFSCME, the Alliance for Retired Americans, the National Organization for Women (NOW), the National Education Association, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Strengthen Social Security Coalition, Social Security Works, the United Automobile Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW), United Steelworkers, MoveOn.org and others.

The Harkin/Begich bill has now been endorsed by Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown (D) who has also introduced legislation that would change the cost Of living formula for Social Security to better reflect seniors’ true expenses:

With the introduction of several proposals that would reduce Social Security benefits for seniors by changing the formula used to calculate annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLA), U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) today joined the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) to announce the Consumer Price Index for Elderly Consumers Act.  The new legislation would change the COLA formula for Social Security to more accurately reflect the expenses of senior citizens. Because of the method by which inflation is calculated, seniors and other Social Security recipients did not receive a COLA in 2010 and 2011, even though the price of prescription drugs, food, energy, and other necessities continued to rise. [..]

Social Security COLAs are calculated using the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W).  The CPI-W was chosen as the measure of inflation because it was the only measure available at the time the automatic COLA was established in 1972.  The CPI-W measures changes in the prices of goods and services purchased by those who earn more than half their income from clerical or wage occupations.  However, the CPI-W formula only represents about 32 percent of the U.S. population and does not accurately represent the inflation experience of older Americans. According to the Congressional Research Service, between 1982 and 2009, the cost of living under the CPI-W rose at an average rate of 2.9 percent, while the cost of living for seniors-as measured by an experimental CPI-E-rose at a rate of 3.2 percent.

Brown’s legislation would formalize a Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E). The CPI-E would take into account seniors’ specific consumption habits, including increased prescription drug and energy costs, and would be used to determine the COLA for Social Security benefits.

It is time for President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats start acting like progressives and back both the Harkin/Begich and Brown bill. The president and the Democratic leadership should remove Social Security as a bargaining chip from the faux debt/deficit austerity negotiations and start protecting some of our most vulnerable citizens.

You can support the Strengthen Social Security Act (S.567) by signing this petition

Thanks, Atrios.