The Cuban Five and Justice Delayed

Ostensibly as part of its efforts to begin normalizing relations with the Cuban government, the American government recently exchanged three imprisoned Cuban intelligence officers for Cuban held CIA asset Rolando Sarraff Trujillo and USAID contractor Alan Gross (who each had been been jailed in Cuba for several years on charges of espionage and of establishing illegal communication networks that circumvented Cuban internet restrictions respectively). Though the Cuban government in Havana insists that Gross’s release was purely humanitarian in nature and totally unrelated to the U.S.’s government’s parallel release of the three Cuban intelligence officers, the decision by Washington to free Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino likely prompted Gross’s liberation to some degree.

Hernández, Guerrero and Labañino are, along with Fernando and René González (both of whom were released earlier by the U.S. government), members of the internationally renowned Cuban Five. Held by the U.S. government in various degrees of imprisonment (including solitary confinement initially) since September of 1998, the Cuban Five had, prior to their arrest, been conducting counterterrorism surveillance of several Miami-based right-wing Cuban exile groups (including Alpha 66, the F4 Commandos, the Cuban American National Foundation and Brothers to the Rescue) with the initial consent of the American government, specifically the FBI. In 1996 however, the shooting down of a Brothers to the Rescue (an organization which helped to ferry Cuban refugees to America and that regularly dropped anti-Castro leaflets in Cuba) plane that had violated Cuban airspace by the Cuban Air Force prompted the FBI to launch an investigation of the Cuban Five. By 1998, the Cuban Five were arrested on a variety of espionage related charges. In 2001, after a highly publicized and criticized subsequent show trial (which coincided with the heated the Elián González controversy), Gerardo Hernández was charged with conspiracy to commit murder for providing information to the Cuban government that seemingly lead to the aforementioned plane downing and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. The other members of the Five were sentenced to similarly long prison sentences and a new painful chapter in U.S.-Cuban relations was opened.

The anti-Cuban terrorism that the Cuban Five, as part of the Cuban Intelligence Service’s “Wasp Network”, were combating in Miami was nothing to scoff at. Since before Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs invasion the U.S. government had (in addition to conducting economic warfare) been sponsoring and orchestrating attacks by exiled Miami Cubans into Cuba in an attempt topple the Castro government. Aerial and amphibious bombings and machine-gun attacks on civilian and government targets (including industrial facilities, hotels and fishing operations) by CIA trained veterans of the Bay of Pigs invasion killed numerous Cubans in the decades after Castro’s revolution. In a 1999 lawsuit against the American government, several Cuban social organizations attributed 3,478 Cuban deaths over the course of 40 years to U.S.-sponsored anti-Cuban terrorism. Additionally, the CIA attempted to assassinate Castro himself more than six hundred times during those same years. Throughout the period, the Castro regime refrained from violent counterattacks; instead, they repeatedly pleaded with the United Nations to intervene and take punitive action against the U.S. After a spike in American directed attacks on Cuba in the 1970s that paralleled U.S. President Nixon’s and the CIA’s Operation Condor (which sought to repress and destroy leftist/nationalist movements throughout South America), Anti-Castro terrorism directly managed by the U.S. government seemingly died down. Still, independent attacks by right-wing groups among Miami’s Cuban exile population (often by individuals trained and paid by the CIA) persisted well into the 1990s and the American government did little to curtail them. On the contrary, the U.S. government often harbored (and continues to harbor) the perpetrators of such crimes.

Two particularly notorious terrorists (both of whom successfully sought protection from the U.S. government during and after their operations) are Luis Posada Carriles and Orlando Bosch. Posada is a former high-level member of the pre-Chavez Venezuelan intelligence services and a veteran of the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Reagan administration’s war against the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. Throughout his long career, he carried out countless attacks on Cuba with funding from the CIA, the Miami-based tax-exempt Cuban-American National Foundation (CANF) and various drug-trafficking operations. Totally unabashed with regard to his activities, his last operation was a 1997 bombing of a Havana hotel that killed one Italian tourist, an attack which he readily admitted to having directed. Currently, the 86 year old lives as a minor celebrity in Miami, free from prosecution in a Cuban or international court. Another CIA operative, Bosch was the mastermind of the 1976 bombing of Cubana de Aviación Flight 455 from Barbados to Jamaica that killed 73 innocent people, including women and children (an attack which Posada also participated in). After an impressive record of no less than 30 terrorist attacks against Cuba, Bosch received a pardon from U.S. President George H.W. Bush in 1989 (after intense lobbying from prospective 2016 U.S. presidential candidate Jeb Bush and South Florida Cuban-American leaders) and retired to Miami where he died 2011.

Though the clandestine activities of the Cuban Five in Miami throughout the 1990s were purportedly focused on putting an end to such terrorist attacks rather than spying, the anti-Cuban climate in America during the late 1990s made the Five a perfect political scapegoat for officials in the U.S. government. The 1998 arrest and subsequent trial of the Five (which took place during the pivotal 2000 presidential election that Florida and the Cuban exile vote were so pivotal to) was widely criticized outside of America and Israel by groups like Amnesty International and the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Citing national security concerns, the U.S. Justice Department withheld evidence during the trial, kept the Five in pretrial solitary confinement for 17 months and strictly limited the their access to legal counsel. The 2001 guilty verdict was almost a forgone conclusion. A subsequent appeal by the Five’s late lawyer Lenny Weinglass in 2005 won a complete reversal of the earlier guilty verdict by a unanimous three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals (which found that the intense and biased pretrial publicity surrounding the Five’s earlier Miami trial had deprived them of a fair judicial process). Alas, the 11th Circuit Court reversed their decision a year later thanks to the efforts of one Judge William Pryor (a Federalist Society member and Tea Party adherent) and the Cuban Five’s sentences were reinstated. At that time, it looked as though the Cuban Five would be serving out their full prison sentences, which meant permanent detention for at least one of them.

Though René González was granted parole in 2011 and Fernando González was released in February 2014 and allowed to return to Cuba, the sudden and recent released of the remaining three political prisoners came a welcome surprise to human rights groups everywhere. Embarrassed by repeated chastisement by foreign governments like the U.K.’s (traditionally one of the U.S.’s strongest allies) and by domestic demands from groups like Free the Five, the American government finally heeded popular opinion and made what should have been an easy decision to release the remaining captives. Gerardo Hernández, Antonio Guerrero and Ramón Labañino (long regarded as political martyrs and counterterrorism heroes in Cuba) have since returned home and reunited with with their families. It would have been difficult for the process of diplomatic normalization between the American and Cuban governments to begin had the U.S. government refused to release the Cuban Five. Their liberation (more than any televised pronouncement by American President Obama) is indicative of a serious change in U.S.-Cuba relations; one that bodes well for the forward-thinking populations of both countries.

Source(s): 1) Bill Blum “The Sad, Outrageous Case of the Cuban Five” TruthDig (January 1, 2014): accessed December 30, 2014 http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_sad_outrageous_case_of_the_cuban_five_20140109
2) Noam Chomsky “Cuba in the Cross-Hairs: A Near Half-Century of Terror” Chomsky.Info: accessed December 30, 2014 http://www.chomsky.info/books/hegemony02.htm
3) Duncan Campbell “638 ways to kill Castro” the Guardian (August 2, 2006): accessed December 30, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/world/20
4) Patricia Grogg “RIGHTS-CUBA: Lawsuit Seeks Damages for 40 Years of US Hostility” Inter Press Service (June 2, 1999): accessed December 30, 2014 http://www.ipsnews.net/1999/06/rights-cuba-lawsuit-seeks-damages-for-40-years-of-us-hostility/

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The Cuban Question

Last week, President Obama announced a reorientation of the U.S. government’s policy with respect to Cuba. In a subsequent press release from the White House Press Office, the administration laid out several specific deviations from the U.S.’s more than half-century long failed attempt to diplomatically and economically isolate and destroy Cuba. Couched in language stressing the need to empower the Cuban people and expand democracy in the Caribbean nation, the Press Office’s statements promised to normalize heretofore nonexistent diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba, ease American restrictions on travel to and trade with Cuba, and facilitate the expansion of telecommunications and internet access on the island (among several other things). The Cuban government has responded to the U.S.’s government’s policy shift with guarded optimism, promising to embrace the American government’s change in attitude (and the economic opportunities that come with it) while maintaining the basic character of their state capitalist (what they call “communist”) regime. The degree to which both governments will ultimately follow through on their respective promises remains to be seen, but already several imprisoned spies have been exchanged between the two countries, a good sign.

For a serious examination of the events currently transpiring between the U.S. and Cuba to take place, those events must first be fully contextualized. Since the Spanish-American War (in which the Cubans, with the help of the American military, gained their independence from Spain), the American government has sought to transform Cuba into a quasi-colony. For a long time, they were highly successful: by the 1950s, Cuba, under the rule of U.S. backed dictator Fulgencio Batista, had been transformed into a virtual plantation/casino client nation. 85 percent of Cuba’s arable land had been bought up by American companies and investors and Cuban tenant farmers languished under a brutal situation of semi-serfdom. In Havana, American celebrities partied in gaudy hotels and casinos and gangsters ran drug, gambling, and other vice operations there with impunity. Batista imprisoned and/or killed any Cubans who sought to organize and resist his rule. By early 1959 though, a nationalist guerrilla movement lead by the revolutionary Fidel Castro had (after a bloody and protracted civil war) driven Batista from power. After purging Cuba of Batista’s henchmen (with many fleeing or exiled to Miami in the U.S.), Castro installed himself as the nation’s de-facto leader and set about cleaning up the now fully independent island nation.

Initially, the U.S. government cautiously recognized the new regime, but that amicability turned to bitter contempt after Castro unveiled an ambitious land reform program in May of 1959. Similar to other nationalist land reform initiatives in post colonial nations in that period, the new plan finally broke up Cuba’s large and mostly foreign-owned agricultural estates and distributed them among native Cuban small-farmers. Though the plan promised compensation to the displaced American companies and investors that had lost their ill-gotten Cuban property, the U.S. government was livid over Castro’s audacity and the CIA immediately began plotting to topple the new regime in Havana. In the summer of 1960, President Eisenhower unprecedentedly declined to purchase 700,000 tons of Cuban sugar (which was, along with tobacco, the Caribbean nation’s staple crop) and the Cuban economy was crippled. Rather than bending to the American’s will and rolling-back his reforms, Castro turned to the Soviet Union, which promptly began buying Cuban sugar. Castro then nationalized all American owned property in Cuba, and the U.S. quickly declared a Cuban embargo which was to last for more than half a century.

The ensuing decades were tense to say the least. In 1961, the CIA staged an unsuccessful invasion of Cuba at the Bay of Pigs, utilizing U.S. trained pro-Batista Cuban exiles as amphibious solders. Rather than rising up in support of the attacking exiles (as the CIA illogically assumed they would), the Cuban population rallied around Castro’s regime and the humiliated Americans were beaten back. By this point, Castro felt compelled to enter into a strategic military alliance with the Soviet Union to protect against further American incursions. The Soviets seized on the opportunity and began (in a move designed to counteract an earlier nuclear buildup by the U.S. in Eastern Europe) transporting nuclear missiles to Cuba. The Americans soon uncovered evidence of the Soviets’ Cuban missile deployment and immediately blockaded the Caribbean nation. Subsequent backroom diplomatic wrangling between the Soviets and the Americans only narrowly averted a nuclear disaster. Ultimately, the Soviets (in an action that cost Nikita Khrushchev his political career) agreed to remove their missiles from Cuba in exchange for a promise from the Americans to secretly remove their own (outdated) missiles from Turkey. The U.S.’s blockade of Cuba was lifted, but their embargo on the nation remained.

The subsequent history of U.S.-Cuba relations takes on a David and Goliath-like appearance, with the Castro regime surviving an almost comically relentless CIA campaign to dislodge or kill him. The agency sponsored repeated terrorist attacks by anti-Castro Miami Cuban exiles into Cuba (most notably the activities of Luis Posada Carriles) and attempted to assassinate Castro more than six hundred times. All the while, the U.S. government labeled Castro’s regime an implacable Cold War enemy, failing to mention that they themselves had unnecessarily and vindictively forced him into the embrace of the Soviets. Still, the Cubans preserved. Until the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 that is, when Cuba lost its primary trade partner and the Cuban economy stagnated. At this time, Castro was forced to implement several economically liberalizing reforms in Cuba, but, shutout from a major portion of American dominated global trade as a result of the U.S.’s embargo, the country continued to struggle. It wasn’t until the new millennium, when the so-called “pink tide” began sweeping anti-American leftist governments into power throughout Central and South America (most notably Hugo Chavez in Venezuela) that were sympathetic and open to trade with Cuba, that conditions began to seriously improve in Cuba. Today, partially in an effort to oust Chavez’s successor in Venezuela, Nicolas Maduro, by driving a wedge between Cuba and Venezuela, the U.S. government is finally rethinking their Cold War era strategy of Cuban suffocation; hence the current move toward re-engagement.

Moving forward, the Cuban government (now headed by the ailing Fidel’s brother Raul Castro) will need to strike a delicate balance in dealing with the U.S. Undoubtedly, they are mindful of the fates of so many developing nations who, during their own integration into the U.S. dominated global marketplace, were compelled by various trade and aid agreements/institutions to sell off their socialist programs for privatization and raiding by foreign speculators. In Cuba’s case, the maintenance of the Castro government’s hugely successful public healthcare and education programs will need to be a priority. With regard to Cuban healthcare, government run hospitals and other facilities administer free universal care to all Cubans. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the quality of the county’s healthcare is responsible for Cuban citizens’ high life-expectancy, higher than the U.S.’s and one of the highest in the world in fact. Earlier this year, Margaret Chan, Director-General of the WHO, lauded the Cuban healthcare model for spurring impressive innovations in medical research and for its quality of care. A significant segment of Cuba’s considerable tourism industry is composed of foreigners seeking either medical care or training at Cuba’s largely unrivaled facilities; Cuban doctors have also played a pivotal role in combating the recent spread of Ebola in Africa, which is in-keeping with Cuba’s history of providing free medical aid throughout the developing world.

Education is a major priority for the Cuban government as well, with 13 percent of the island nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) funding various education programs. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization or UNESCO rates the Cuban education system (which provides free schooling through the university level) as the best in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2009, the number of incarcerated Cuban juveniles was zero and the literacy rate was 99.4 percent, an astonishing testament to the Castro government’s education policies. Additionally, 85 percent of the population in Cuba own their own mortgage-free homes thanks to several government programs and everyone is legally guaranteed a basic, though low, income and job (if they are able to work).

All that said, Cuba is no paradise. Basic civil liberties and human rights, as the West understands them, are often disregarded by the Castro government, which routinely represses any and all political opposition. Though the population’s basic needs are largely provided for, wages, while guaranteed, are relatively low and any labor organizing not associated with the government is strictly prohibited. Private business, such as it is, is highly regulated and taxed. Many goods and services (most notably certain food products and the internet) are difficult to come by. One need only take a stroll through the streets of Havana to see the degree to which the country remains, visually at least, the same as it did when Fidel Castro first assumed power in 1959. Ancient, jerry-rigged cars line the streets and the facades of beautiful colonial-era Spanish buildings crumble daily. It is hoped that the easing of the U.S. embargo on the Caribbean nation, along with a continuation of the reforms initiated by President Raul Castro, will help to allieviate these, and other, problems. Nearly everyone, except maybe the Castro brothers, is eager to see greater democratization in Cuba.

With American business (especially the hotel, tourism, aviation, agriculture and telecommunications industries) chomping at the bits to invest and expand into Cuba, the momentum favoring economic integration seems inevitable. It’s left to a new generation of Cubans, mindful of the past but optimistic for the what is to come, to chart Cuba’s future course. The Castro brothers won’t live forever, but the popular and successful aspects of their complicated legacy should be seriously evaluated both within Cuba and abroad. Whatever the eventual outcome, last week’s development was a positive one.

Source(s): 1) White House: Office of the Press Secretary “FACT SHEET: Charting a New Course on Cuba” (December 17, 2014): accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/12/17/fact-sheet-charting-new-course-cuba
2) Chris Lewis “America’s Cuba” Counter Punch (December 23, 2014): accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.counterpunch.org/2014/12/22/americas-cuba/
3) Micheline Maynard “Five Industries Set To Benefit From The U.S.-Cuba Thaw” Forbes (December 17, 2014): accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.forbes.com/sites/michelinemaynard/2014/12/17/5-industries-set-to-benefit-from-the-u-s-cuba-thaw/
4) Alberto Mendez and Cynthia Fleming “Healthcare and Education in Cuba” Internations: accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.internations.org/cuba-expats/guide/life-in-cuba-15677/healthcare-and-education-in-cuba-2
5) Duncan Campbell “638 ways to kill Castro” the Guardian (August 2, 2006): accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/03/cuba.duncancampbell2
6) Philip Fornaci “Cuba and Change We Can Believe In” Global Research (June 7, 2009): accessed December 23, 2014 http://www.globalresearch.ca/cuba-and-change-we-can-believe-in/13886

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Cromnibus: a Case Study in American Oligarchy

When the political establishment in Washington D.C. reaches a consensus on an issue, it’s usually a bad sign for the general population. The last-minute passage of an omnibus budget deal (the so-called “cromnibus” bill) by the House of Representatives and, subsequently, the Senate last week is a prime example. Cromnibus allocates $1.1 trillion of federal spending for the next fiscal year; it’s also riddled with under-the-radar corporate giveaways, painful cuts to social programs and dangerous regulatory changes. It was opposed by both the left wing of the Democratic Party (represented by figures like Senator Elizabeth Warren and Congresswoman Maxine Waters) and the right wing of the GOP (with Senator Ted Cruz vocally angry that the bill didn’t contain measures punishing undocumented immigrants). President Obama, seemingly desperate to avoid another politically toxic government shutdown and to get a budget deal through the Capitol before the Democrats lose negotiating leverage when Republicans take both houses of congress next year, bucked the left-wing of his party and aggressively whipped votes for the bill. In reality, Obama’s excuse that he’s simply playing three dimensional chess and thinking in the long-term by supporting cromnibus is laughable. His nearly six-year long presidency has been characterized by one giveaway to the right-wing after the next (from his extremist deficit reduction initiatives to his theft of a healthcare reform program crafted by the Heritage Foundation) and he’s now poised to sign-off on one of the worst pieces of legislation in recent memory.

The contents of the intentionally dense nearly 1600 page budget deal are too byzantine to describe fully, but there are several especially glaring measures that warrant attention. For one thing, cromnibus appropriates $479 million for four new F-35 joint strike fighter planes, something that the Pentagon didn’t ask for. Despite their constant wailing over the state of the country’s finances, most right-wing legislators are conspicuously silent about the notoriously expensive ($400 billion thus far to be exact) and problem ridden F-35 program. Then again, that may have something to do with the $28 million that the manufacturer of the F-35, Lockheed Martin, spent on political contributions during the last election cycle. Consider cromnibus’s generous military expenditures alongside its devastating reductions to spending on various social programs and one’s stomach really begins to churn. Funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (a.k.a. WIC), which provides vouchers for nutritional food to low-income mothers and their children, was cut by $93 million in cromnibus. It’s too bad all those mothers and their children didn’t think to hire lobbyists like Lockheed. To make it even easier for special interests to purchase politicians and dictate public policy, cromnibus allows for individuals to now donate up to $300,000 annually to political parties (in case super-pacs, which are almost totally unregulated, aren’t your thing), that’s ten times what was previously permitted. There are a litany of other harmful provisions in the cromnibus bill (including the nullification of D.C.’s recent legalization of marijuana and attacks on pension agreements, EPA regulations, and nutritional standards), enough to make one’s head spin.

The most idiotic and dangerous component of the cromnibus legislation is undoubtedly the measure rolling back a vital aspect of 2010’s Dodd-Frank financial reform bill, legislation crafted in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis that wrecked the global economy and left millions of Americans homeless, jobless and hopeless. Though Dodd-Frank was far from perfect, most notably failing to both break apart the gargantuan Too-Big-To-Fail Wall Street banking conglomerates and untether commercial and investment banking by reimplementing some form of the Glass-Steagall act (which had come into existence after the Great Depression but was repealed on the eve of the new millennium), it at least addressed what was arguably the most glaring cause of 2008 meltdown: reckless and predatory derivative trading by Wall Street traders with government insured money. Specifically, Dodd-Frank’s Lincoln Amendment required large banks to separate derivatives (which are, often high risk, financial assets that were infected with toxic mortgages and knowingly, and highly profitably, sold by Wall Street traders to unwitting foreign and domestic investors, public pensions, etc. during the period leading up to the 2008 housing market crash) from regular government backed consumer assets. Taxpayers from across the political spectrum were disgusted at having had to fork over nearly $30 trillion to bailout Wall Street firms whose derivative dealings brought about the crash, and almost everyone agreed that the regulations laid out in the Lincoln Amendment were necessary and good measures. Everyone, that is, except Wall Street banks and their paid cronies in D.C.

Citi-Group, the firm which received the most bailout money during and after the crisis, shamelessly snuck a last-minute provision into the cromnibus bill that strikes down the Lincoln Amendment. In language that is apparently blatantly copied and pasted from a Citi-Group document (see here: http://www.motherjones.com/files/citigroup-side-by-side_0.png) cromnibus again puts taxpayers on the hook for risky Wall Street derivate trading. The top three Wall Street firms currently hold $182 trillion in derivative contracts, much of which is infected with toxic student loan debts. Make no mistake, the stage is set for repeat of 2008 and its aftermath. The inherent “moral hazard” of socializing the risk involved with predatory and volatile Wall Street behavior doesn’t seem to bother the CEO of banking conglomerate JPMorgan Chase, Jaime Dimon, however, who (along with President Obama) spent an entire day last week lobbying congressional Democrats over the phone to support the cromnibus bill. He need not have worried though, money, as always, did the heavy lifting. The 57 House Democrats that broke with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and joined with 162 House Republicans to make the GOP/White House’s cromnibus bill a reality cumulatively received twice as much in donations from Wall Street as those Democrats that rejected the bill. It seems as though the $1.5 million that Wall Street firms spend daily on D.C. lobbying efforts is, unlike so many of their now taxpayer insured derivative assets, a sound investment.

The state of U.S. politics is sorry to say the least. According to a recent Princeton study, Americans no longer live in a representative democracy. The authors contend that the disproportionate political resources of concentrated private power (the super wealthy 1%) have, in effect, turned the U.S. into a de-facto oligarchy. After examining the disturbing contents of the cromnibus bill, it’s difficult to take issue with that conclusion.

Source(s): 1) Josh Silver “5 Awful Things that Congress Snuck into the Omnibus Budget Deal” HuffingtonPost (December 11, 2014): accessed December 17, 2014 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/josh-silver/omnibus-budget-deal-2014-5-worst-things_b_6307852.html
2) Gregg Levine “Cramming the CRomnibus: Rushed spending bill creates systemic moral hazard” Aljazeera America (December 15, 2014): accessed December 17, 2014 http://america.aljazeera.com/blogs/scrutineer/2014/12/15/cramming-the-cromnibusrushedspendingbillcreatessystemicmoralhaza.html
3) Barry Ritholtz “Bailout Total: $29.616 Trillion Dollars” The Big Picture (December 9, 2011): accessed December 17, 2014 http://www.ritholtz.com/blog/2011/12/bailout-total-29-616-trillion-dollars/
4) Cheryl K. Chumley “America is an oligarchy, not a democracy or republic, university study finds” the Washington Times (April 21, 2014): accessed December 17, 2014 http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/apr/21/americas-oligarchy-not-democracy-or-republic-unive/

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A Tortured Report

Since its formation in 1947, as the successor organization to the WWII-era Office of Strategic Services, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been crafting and implementing those aspects of the United States’, and in particular the White House’s, foreign policy too unsavory and/or illegal to be publicly discussed or even acknowledged. Although the CIA is subject to certain executive and legislative oversight, especially after a damning 1975 investigation by the Church Committee uncovered significant illegal activity on the part of the CIA, FBI and NSA, the agency essentially remains the unaccountable enforcer of the U.S.’s imperial agenda that it was initially designed to be. Importantly, American presidents throughout the Cold War and into the contemporary post-9/11 period have been able to shirk responsibility for assassinations, regime changes and other nefarious international acts that they themselves green-lighted, but that were carried out by the CIA, by feigning ignorance and citing such instances as rogue agency initiatives. The Bush II administration, specifically former Vice President Dick Cheney, is more brazen however. In the aftermath of the recent release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on the CIA’s post-9/11 use of torture (the CIA has always utilized and trained others in the the use of this widely discredited means of interrogation but that isn’t covered in the report), most Bush II officials remain utterly unapologetic and, indeed proud of, their administration’s involvement in the CIA’s most recent torture program. Even so, due to the report’s focus on the largely unaccountable CIA instead of the highly implicated Bush II White House, or (for that matter) the congressional and media figures who were complicit in the program’s use and subsequent coverup, it is unlikely that any D.C. elites will face prosecution for their involvement in the CIA’s post-9/11 torture program. That said, the report itself warrants further examination.

Probably the most damaging aspect of the Senate Committee’s report on the CIA’s torture program is its total demolishing of the agency’s repeated claims that torture is an effective and necessary means of intelligence gathering. Specifically, the committee reviewed 20 cases of CIA counterterrorism “successes,” each specifically cited by the agency has having been (to varying degrees) predicated upon information garnered from torture, and ultimately found no relationship between the torture program and those instances of “success.” The committee found that any counterterrorism intelligence gleaned from torture in these cases merely corroborated information which had already been established by various reports, communications intercepts, and information from law-enforcement agencies. The idea, made famous by the Hollywood film Zero Dark Thirty, that information acquired through torture lead to the locating of Osama Bin Laden was completely debunked. Furthermore, the agency continually refused pleas by the CIA inspector general, congressional leadership, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to review historical evidence and research from the Cold War period that definitively disproved the notion of torture as an effective intelligence gathering technique. After researching the material themselves, senate staff reiterated the commonly known fact that victims of torture usually simply say whatever they can, true or not, in order to end the torture that they are being subjected to.

Undoubtedly the most disturbing part of the report was its detailing of the program’s torture techniques themselves. The CIA and their contractors utilized countless illegal methods in their interrogations at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, Cobalt or the “Salt Pit” in Afghanistan, Abu Gharib in Iraq and numerous other prisons and CIA “black sites” across the globe. Torturers, several of which had previously faced sexual assault charges in the U.S., threatened to harm the children of detainees and to rape and murder detainees’ wives and mothers. They told detainees that they would never see the light of day again and tortured detainees nonstop for days and weeks at a time. Detainees, some with broken legs and feet, were forced to stand or remain in stress positions for extended periods. Sensory and sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation, threats with dogs and rectal rehydration/feeding (wherein various substances, including humus and pasta, were force-fed into detainees’ anuses) were employed to breakdown detainees. Water-boarding was found to have been utilized much more than the CIA had earlier admitted and resulted in convulsions and vomiting that seriously threatened to drown detainees on repeated occasions. The torture bonanza became so intense and widespread, that the CIA lost count of the number of detainees that they had in custody and were actively torturing. 26 detainees were eventually found to have been wrongfully held in the first place. Several detainees died of exposure and infection related complications while in captivity

The CIA employed two private psychologists as contractors to formulate, manage and assess their torture program. Neither of these individuals had any previous experience in interrogation, terrorism, or Middle Eastern affairs and culture. Eventually the contractors formed a company and were paid $80 million by the CIA in an effort to privatize the increasingly controversial torture program. When the CIA’s interrogation methods came under public scrutiny, the agency was found to have repeatedly misrepresented, exaggerated and outright lied to presidential and congressional oversight about the nature and effectiveness of the program’s torture techniques. The agency went so far as to spy on the Senate Committee during its investigation of the torture program.

Clearly, the CIA’s post-9/11 torture regime exceeded the bounds of legality, violating numerous international conventions that the U.S. is party to. The immoral and disturbing practices that characterized the program, as well as subsequent efforts by the agency to coverup their activities, necessitate serious domestic legal action and reform in reaction to the atrocities. To that end, the American Civil Liberties Union has advanced a sensible and seemingly viable framework for just such responses:

-A special prosecutor should be appointed to conduct a full investigation into CIA personnel/contractors and White House officials involved with the formation, implementation and cover up of the agency’s torture program.
-The CIA should be reformed, if not eliminated, by revoking their right to operate prisons or hold individuals in custody and by holding them to the same interrogation standards that the military is. Vitally, problematic public oversight over and insufficient checks on CIA activities must be repaired.
-The President needs to publicly acknowledge and apologize to the victims of the CIA’s torture program; in keeping with international law, the government should also materially compensate these victims and their families.
-The President needs to honor government whistleblowers, like the CIA’s John Kiriakou (currently in jail), who sought to publicize and end government criminality related to the CIA’s torture program.
-The government should fully disclose several partially or fully classified materials related to the CIA’s torture program: Tuesday’s Senate Committee report, the 2001 White House memo authorizing the CIA to establish overseas “black sites,” CIA cables related to torture techniques and activities, and the photographic evidence of prisoner abuse at CIA detention facilities.

Hopefully, taking these actions will make it more difficult for individuals, however high-ranking, to dodge responsibility for their roles in these crimes. Certainly, by undertaking these initiatives, the U.S. government will send a clear message that it condemns torture and affirms the binding international conventions that it is party to. Whether or not the government will heed the ACLU’s advice remains in question however. If past is pretext, D.C. elites will publicly lament and decry the CIA’s illegality and privately thank them for shouldering sole responsibility for actions that many of they themselves signed off on.

Source(s): 1) Senate Select Committee on Intelligence “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program: Findings and Conclusions, Executive Summary” (made public on December 8, 2014): accessed December 10, 2014 https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/SSCIStudyCIAsDetentionInterrogationProgramES.pdf
2) Shane Harris and Tim Mak “The Most Gruesome Moments in the CIA’Torture Report'” the Daily Beast (December 9, 2014): accessed December 10, 2014 http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/12/09/the-most-gruesome-moments-in-the-cia-torture-report.html
3) American Civil Liberties Union “The U.S. Torture Program: A Blueprint for Accountability”: accessed December 10, 2014 https://www.aclu.org/sites/default/files/assets/torture_accountability_blueprint.pdf

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Italian Solidarity

Worker cooperatives, worker owned and managed businesses, are especially prevalent in northern Italy. There are several reasons for this: Firstly, since the late 19th century, the labor movement in that region, which has historically been quite strong (though faced brutal repression during Mussolini’s rule), has consistently promoted small-scale worker cooperatives; Secondly, the Italian government, recognizing the undeniable socio-economic benefits of such enterprises, has been facilitating the expansion of worker cooperatives for decades. By 2011, 1.1 million, or 6% of the Italian population, were employee-owners in the country’s 43,000 cooperatives. Collectively, these businesses generate about 127 billion euros annually, that’s 7% of Italy’s GDP. In the Emilia-Romagna region in particular, which includes the city of Bologna, more than half the population are members of worker and/or consumer cooperatives and about 30% of the region’s GDP is derived from such enterprises. Unlike in other places, worker cooperatives in Italy, far from being rare but thought-provoking oddities, constitute a formidable segment of that country’s overall economy.

Worker cooperatives in Italy employ certain smart business strategies that allow them to persist and flourish in the contemporary transnational marketplace. Specifically, many Italian worker cooperatives have formed networks of small-to-mid scale worker cooperatives that are able to pool capital and risk and maintain a certain standard of employee-owner training and skill, practices which often counteract the detrimental impacts of international economic dislocations by promoting localized economies and flexible workforces. Additionally, Italian worker cooperatives, true to their history, remain highly politically mobilized. They’ve secured non-profit status from the Italian government and, in exchange for an obligation to reinvest a portion of their annual profits into growth and the creation of further worker cooperatives, enjoy certain tax exemptions. By maintaining a reasonable scale and investing, first and foremost, in their own employee-owners, Italian worker cooperatives are able to maintain sustainability and ensure firm and job survival even under volatile conditions (Italian cooperatives, like Spanish ones, weathered the 2008 financial crisis particularly well). While conventional hierarchical firms the world over continually fall victim to outsourcing, downsizing, bankruptcies, etc. as a result of globalization, most Italian cooperatives continue to prosper.

Legacoop, with 14,500 businesses and 450,000 worker-owners, is one of Italy’s largest cooperative networks. Like Mondragon, it encompasses cooperatives in a variety of industries: manufacturing, retail, insurance, travel, construction, agriculture and banking – just to name a few. Most importantly, Legacoop acts as a vehicle through which Italians promote and protect the interests of there country’s larger worker cooperative movement. Their “Generazioni” program provides vital vocational training and retraining for worker-owners in up-and-coming industries, a practice that adds to the workforce’s value and flexibility. Another program, “Bellacoopia,” allows young students in Emilia-Romagna to submit business plans focused on promoting economically sustainable start-ups in annual competitions; this helps to educate younger generations about the benefits of the worker cooperative business model and inculcates entrepreneurship among prospective worker-owners. The “Innovacoop” and “Rete Regional Dei Servizi” programs both provide consulting and other forms of support to cooperatives within Italy and facilitate cooperation among individual cooperatives within Italy and between Italian and other international cooperatives. Legacoop both ensures sustainable and relatively just economic activity in northern Italy and, like Mondragon, acts, to some degree, as a revolutionary catalyst for worker cooperative enterprises internationally.

Several policies of the Italian government have been vital to the continued growth of worker cooperatives in that country. Foremost among them are those derived from Italy’s Marcora Law, which was passed in 1985. This law provides recently laid-off Italian workers with the option of immediately collecting their accumulated unemployment payment from the Italian government in a lump sum, as opposed to in increments over the course of several years like in most countries. The said lump sum recipient is subsequently required to capitalize the greater part of their payment in a local cooperative startup (often in the same industry that they were laid off from); their investment in the enterprise is then matched threefold by several Italian government funds. The first of these funds, FONCOOPER promotes and facilitates cooperative expansion generally, while the CFI provides fair loans to cooperative startups. Capitalization funding for cooperative startups have further been supplemented by the recent allowance by the Italian government of outside investing in such enterprises (vitally, the cooperative startups must remain 75% owned by their worker-owners, with outside investing generally coming from public bodies and other cooperatives). With a 90% success-rate over the course of several decades, Italian cooperatives which have been incubated through the Marcora Law provide an incredibly useful example to policy makers across the globe.

Here in Italy is a government successfully seizing on the opportunity provided by the problems of deindustrialization, outsourcing and globalization to both alleviate the pains of dislocated workers and give them the tools to become successful small-scale entrepreneurs themselves. Most impressively, the Italian government and, importantly, the popular labor movements that they’re responding to, exemplified by Legacoop, are crafting a more sustainable and just economy defined by solidarity, cooperation and mutual aid – one free from the domination of the capitalist and managerial classes. Governments and labor movements across the globe should take note. There are few concrete reasons why some variant of Italy’s Marcora Law could not find success in postindustrial American communities.

For more information on worker cooperatives, check out: https://newgracchi.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/alternative-economics-the-worker-cooperative-2/

For more on the Mondragon example, check out: https://newgracchi.wordpress.com/2014/06/16/alternative-economics-the-mondargon-story/

Sources: 1) John Logue “Economics, Cooperation, and Employee Ownership: The Emilia Romagna model – in more detail” Ohio Employee Ownership Center (2006): accessed December 3, 2014 http://dept.kent.edu/oeoc/oeoclibrary/emiliaromagnalong.htm
2) Jeffery Hollender “Legacoop Cooperative in Bologna, Italy Empowers Worker-Owners” TriplePundit (August 26, 2011): accessed December 3, 2014 http://www.triplepundit.com/2011/08/legacoop-cooperative-bologna-italy-empowers-worker-owners/
3) “Marcora Law” Wikipreneurship: accessed December 3, 2014 http://wikipreneurship.eu/index.php/Marcora_Law

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