Sunday, November 19, 2006

U.S. v. BUSH, et al

By William Fisher

The scene is a Federal Grand Jury room. There, impaneled ordinary citizens listen intently as a veteran Federal prosecutor asks them to return an indictment unique in American history.

The charge is Conspiracy to Defraud the United States. And the defendants are President George W. Bush, Vice President Richard Cheney, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and former Secretary of State Colin Powell.

On the first day of Grand Jury proceedings, the Prosecutor addresses the jurors.
“Please remember that you must decide the case based solely on the evidence that’s presented and applicable law, without regard to prejudice or sympathy. In other words, your politics, and any personal feelings you may have toward the defendants – positive or negative – should have no bearing on your deliberations.”

The prosecutor then passes out the indictment, reminding jurors, “don’t forget your reading glasses…”

The indictment charges that the defendants “did knowingly and intentionally conspire to defraud the United States by using deceit, craft, trickery, dishonest means, false and fraudulent representations, including ones made without a reasonable basis and with reckless indifference to their truth or falsity, and omitting material facts necessary to make their representations truthful, fair and accurate, while knowing and intending that their false and fraudulent representations would influence the public and the deliberations of Congress with authorization of a preventive war against Iraq, thereby defeating, obstructing, impairing, and interfering with Congress’ lawful functions of overseeing foreign affairs and making appropriations.”

Over the next seven days, the grand jurors evaluate a 64-point case presented by the Federal Prosecutor. They hear compelling supporting testimony from three FBI agents. They battle their way through thousands of pages of documentation supporting the alleged crime.

Of course, none of this actually happened – nor is it likely to happen. Rather, it is the scenario of a new book about a hypothetical case, presented to a hypothetical Grand Jury, with hypothetical witnesses.

Only the prosecutor is real. She is Elizabeth de la Vega, a retired government lawyer with more than 20 years of experience. She served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in Minneapolis, and a member of the Organized Crime Strike Force and Branch Chief in San Jose, California.

Her book is titled, simply, U.S. v. George W. Bush et al. It will be published in December by Seven Stories Press. is currently taking orders for the book.

Why did Ms. de la Vega write this book? She says, “The President will not be held accountable for misrepresenting the prewar intelligence unless and until Congress conducts hearings similar to the Watergate hearings. As yet, however, we seem painfully incapable of reaching that point.”

She adds, “Although the evidence of wrongdoing is overwhelming, the facts are so complicated that it’s impossible to have a productive debate about them in the political sphere. One forum where that’s not true is the courtroom.”

Does she believe that her book will lead to making her hypothetical case real? She writes, “Consider this my 911 call. I’m calling on Democrats and Republicans to do the right thing…and convince Congress to do the right thing. I am not talking about bringing people to justice in the vengeful sense that President Bush employs. I am talking about effecting justice…holding out highest government officials accountable for…a criminal betrayal of trust that is strikingly similar to, yet far worse, than the fraud committed by Enron’s top officials.”

She told us, "Many of the victims of the President’s fraud – millions of Iraqis – have no voice in the United States, but the millions of Americans who were deceived by the President’s fraud do have a voice. We should use it, loudly and repeatedly, to pressure Congress into holding the President, the Vice President and their top-level aides accountable for tricking the nation into war."

The indictment takes jurors from the prewar period and the “regime change” influence of the neoconservative group, Project for the New American Century, to the attacks of 9/11, to the formation of the shadowy Iraq Group inside the White House, to the preparation of war plans beginning in September 2001, to the distortion of intelligence information regarding Iraq’s WMD capabilities and programs, to President Bush’s strategy sessions with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, to actions designed to end the United Nations inspections, to the abandonment of multilateral diplomacy, to Colin Powell’s deeply flawed presentation to the UN Security Council, to Congressional authorization of the use of force.

It sets out 19 “Overt Acts” allegedly committed by the defendants to “market” the need for preemptive invasion – based largely on their public statements via the media in which, among other things, Administration officials professed absolute certainty about Saddam Hussein’s WMDs, ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, use of aluminum tubes to process uranium, to the warnings from then-National Security Advisor Rice and Vice President Cheney that the smoking gun could be “in the form of a mushroom cloud.”

Some of Ms. de la Vega’s readers may be disappointed that we never learn about the decision of the Grand Jury. But that’s one of the points of the book – it’s the reader who is sitting on the jury.

This slender book is a fascinating, suspenseful, fact-based read. It is a volume that should be read by all those who seek truth and clarity – especially those who returned to Congress after November 7.


By William Fisher

With everyone’s attention riveted on Iraq, Iran, and North Korea these days, it’s difficult to find anyone interested in thinking about the bankruptcy of U.S. policies right here in our own hemisphere.

Grabbing the headlines recently have been Castro’s illness and endless speculation about a post-Fidel Cuba, Hugo Chavez at the UN, calling George W. Bush “the devil,” the election of Evo Morales, a left-leaning president in Bolivia, and the self-reinvention of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

But, absent such sensational developments, the U.S. mainstream media is largely silent on hemispheric affairs.

The U.S. response to the more sensational events conjures up memories of the Cold War, when two superpowers split the world into rival camps. Or, more recently, President Bush’s Global War on Terror, where “You’re either with us or against us.”

Underpinning these responses is, in my view, a profound misunderstanding of Latin America and the aspirations of its people.

This is not rocket science. For over a century, the countries of Central and South America and the Caribbean have been plundered and repressed by governmental and corporate colonialism. The tiny elites in most of these countries have grown vastly richer while most of their populations continue to live in poverty. Through successive administrations, our own government has compiled a shameful record of meddling to maintain an unsustainable status quo, of overthrowing governments that don’t agree with our view of the world, of supporting despots who practice torture and “disappearance,” and, to be charitable, turning a blind eye to death squads.

Yet today, we seem surprised that this sordid history sometimes persuades Latin America’s people to accept – even champion -- demagogues. But Latin America has had demagogues for more than a century. Most were brutal dictators on the right. A few on the left expressed the people’s pushback against these repressive tyrannies.

The over-the-top rhetoric of this pushback has, for decades, has made the U.S. the sole villain in the piece. And the U.S. response has been to demonize and attempt to isolate the purveyors of this rhetoric. This approach is acceptable only if one shares George W. Bush’s view of the world as neatly divided into “good” and “evil.”

The inevitable result of this “My daddy is stronger than your daddy” approach is a bunch of children talking past one another, and accomplishing exactly nothing.

A perfect example of accomplishing exactly nothing can be found in a report issued last week by our Government Accountability Office, the
Congressionally-mandated organization that helps our legislators fulfill their oversight responsibilities.

The GAO report found that U.S. funds targeted to promote democracy in Cuba have been used to buy items like crabmeat, computer games, chocolate, and cashmere sweaters.

Reuters reported that the GAO found little oversight and accountability in the program, which spent "$76 million between 1996 and 2005 to support Cuban dissidents, independent journalists, academics and others." It also found that 95 percent of the grants were issued without competitive bids.

The auditors questioned checks written out to some staff members, questionable travel expenses, and payments to a manager's family. One group acknowledged selling books it was supposed to distribute under the democracy-promoting program.

One grantee "could not justify some purchases made with USAID funds, including a gas chain saw, computer gaming equipment and software (including Nintendo Game Boys and Sony PlayStations), a mountain bike, leather coats, cashmere sweaters, crab meat and Godiva chocolates," the report said.

Out of 10 recipients of public money reviewed by the auditors, three failed to keep adequate financial records, the GAO said. A lot of the money was used to pay smugglers, or "mules, to avoid U.S. restrictions on taking goods to Cuba.
Critics have long charged that such grants are aimed more at winning votes in Miami than triggering political change on the communist island, where Castro has ruled since his 1959 revolution. Imagine that!

To protect recipients from prosecution, none of the money from the USAID or the State Department is paid in cash to people in Cuba. A Cuban law can impose jail sentences on citizens who receive money.

Instead, the funds are distributed to Cuban-American groups in Miami, the heartland of opposition to Cuban President Fidel Castro, and in Washington, and are supposed to be used to buy medicines, books, short-wave radios, and other goods that are smuggled into Cuba.

President Bush has proposed increasing spending on Cuba-related programs, including propaganda transmissions by Radio and TV Marti, by $80 million over the next two years.

Which will accomplish what? Exactly nothing. Except more “My daddy is stronger than your daddy” rhetoric.

It has been 45 years since the U.S. severed diplomatic relations with Cuba in 1961, and 44 years since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. During that time, our trade embargo has provided foreign companies – many of which are longstanding U.S. allies -- an empty playing field for increasing exports and investments, particularly in agricultural produce and tourism. Having no ambassador in Cuba hinders our efforts to know what’s going on there. It obliterates our ability to exert any influence whatever on the Cuban government or people. It totally forecloses any possibility of rapprochement with this island, 90 miles from Florida. And it negatively impacts many of our relationships with other Latin American nations.
For American presidents, however, Cuba is the third rail of U.S. politics. A few have tried to jump over the rail, but Cuban-American voters have always blocked the tracks.

Meanwhile, the U.S. maintains embassies, ambassadors – and even aid programs -- in countries whose behaviors are arguably far more egregious than Cuba’s. Among them are such models of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, Burma, and Uzbekistan.
For centuries the criterion for one nation to have diplomatic relations with another has been whether the host country is a sovereign power. These days, the test seems to be whether “you’re with us or against us” in the Global War on Terror. This is America shooting itself in the foot. The time for a serious review of our relationships with Cuba – and many other countries in Latin America – is comically overdue.

Maybe, after the Baker-Hamilton Commission solves all our Iraq problems, we could ask it to take a look at the Western Hemisphere.