Thursday, December 17, 2009

Michael Ruppert, a Torture Case, and Green Economies

Two weeks ago I went to see Michael Ruppert, author of a popular 9-11 conspiracy theory/peak oil book called “Crossing the Rubicon”, at a showing of a recently released documentary about him called Collapse. And then on Tuesday morning, I sat in on an extraordinary rendition/torture case being heard in a federal courtroom in San Francisco.

These two items are, of course, related. As a nation, we have never really probed the reasons for those attacks on September 11, 2001 (“They hate our freedom” is far too simplistic). However, it’s pretty clear to me that the ideologues who attacked us on September 11 were out to destroy the sisterhood between our military and the financial engine that keeps that military humming on an imperial scale. That doesn’t mean they were good guys or that they were working for good guys – they weren’t, and Al Qaeda and their Taliban allies are, at the very least, no fun, and at worst, extremely dangerous.

On the surface, the attacks did not succeed, as in response the United States has ramped up its militarism and its presence in the oil- and natural gas-rich parts of the world that the 19 ideologues who commandeered the planes intended for us to leave. But the point of Ruppert’s recent documentary is to inform people about peak oil and the downsizing of western civilization that is sure to result. That downsizing will surely include the end of the American military empire …

A Protection Racket?

And yet our government continues to operate like protection in defense of the rackets that keep propping up that empire.

On the morning of Tuesday, December 15, 2009, I went to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to sit in on the most recent round of Mohamed v. Jeppesen. In this case, five terror suspects who were kidnapped and subjected to illegal extraordinary rendition and torture, starting in 2001, are suing Jeppesen DataPlan, Inc. – a subsidiary of Boeing – for “[participating knowingly] in the forcible disappearance and torture of the men by providing critical flight planning and logistical support services to the aircraft and crews used by the [Central Intelligence Agency] to carry out their extraordinary rendition.”

This case was first brought in May 2007 when it was heard in the federal courtroom of Judge James Ware who ruled that the case could not be litigated on the basis of a statement issued by then CIA Director Michael Hayden. Hayden had announced that state secrets vital to national security would be put in jeopardy if the case were litigated. Plaintiffs in the civil suit appealed to the Ninth Circuit where a three-judge panel heard their case on February 9. Their lawyers hoped that under the new administration of President Barack Obama Justice Department lawyers would relent and allow their case to go forward. To the great disappointment of many, Justice Department lawyers continued to assert state secrets, though the three-judge panel did rule in favor of the plaintiffs on April 28, punting the case back to court of Judge Ware. But then the government appealed to have the case heard en banc, and that’s what happened on Tuesday – the case was again heard in the Ninth Circuit, but this time in front of 11 judges, including Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

Again the government, represented by attorney Douglas Letter, is continuing to argue that the case cannot be heard due to state secrets, but lead ACLU attorney Ben Wizner argued that the court itself could decide whether or not the information deemed necessary to prosecute the case was a state secret, and if it found that it was, it could hear the case in camera – meaning in closed session.

One of Wizner’s plaintiffs, Ahmed Agiza was first abducted in December 2001. “In the ensuing eight years,” said Wizner, “There has been an extraordinary public debate. But one voice has been entirely absent – the voice of the judiciary.” For the courts in this case to side with the government, he said, “Would mean that the role of the court is entirely ministerial.”

“We have asserted a case of reckless disregard,” said Wizner. Noting that a former Jeppesen employee has come forward to confirm the plaintiffs’ allegations, he added, “Jeppesen engaged in these activities.”

Letter countered that much of Jeppesen’s role was a state secret that he could explain in closed session.

Gray Mailing?

On Wednesday, December 16, 2009 I was listening to Fresh Air host Terry Gross interview Jeremy Scahill, the investigative journalist who has written an expose of Erik Prince’s mercenary company, Blackwater. Few people had ever heard of Blackwater before Scahill began writing about the company, though the number of mercenary soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is about equal to the number of US military personnel. Prince, according to Scahill, recently agreed to participate in a January 2010 Vanity Fair story. In that story, Scahill says that Prince is practicing ‘gray mailing’ – leaking a certain amount of information that reflects poorly on the US government so as to fend off any future war crimes indictments of him or his company due to incidents in Iraq.

And I have to wonder if Jeppesen is also engaging in gray mailing.

(January 1, 2009 update: A federal judge has dismissed charges against five Blackwater guards who had been accused of the manslaughter of 17 Iraqi civilians on September 16, 2007. But the judge dismissed the charges on a technicality, and prosecutors may appeal.)

New White Trash

So many people have hopes that cases such as Mohamed v. Jeppesen and any cases that might be brought against Blackwater would lead to the holy grail of Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, but Michael Ruppert advises that we not hold our breaths.

“It’s too late to do anything about 9-11,” he said after the screening of his film. “No court in the world will do anything.” Instead, he predicts that another huge oil shock (presumably much more massive than the one in 2008) is coming and that there will be a “monstrous collapse” of the global economy within the next six months.

“Another round of bailouts will threaten democracy around the world,” he warned, and getting ready for “the collapse of industrial civilization … is more important than hanging Dick Cheney.”

And in any case, Michael Ruppert himself is moving on, focusing on his band – New White Trash, named for all the people hit hard first by the recession and now by the jobless recovery – and encouraging people to invest time and energy locally in such a way that their own communities are prepared as oil becomes more scarce and prices rise.

Going Green?

I want to do that, and today I even participated in a ‘Green Jobs Webinar’, led by the co-founder of Global Exchange, Kevin Danaher. It was an upbeat event, and yet this is the piece of information that is resonating with me most profoundly: in recent years, growth in the ‘green business’ sector of the American economy has surpassed growth in all other sectors of the economy. Well, all other sectors except for two, and you get to guess which two:

1) toothpaste
2) polenta
3) weapons
4) oil


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Lee M said...

I enjoy your high quality report style writing. I find myself intrigued and puzzled about the connection back to the title of your blog "Car Free Talk".

In your "About Me" sentence you say "...for reasons that need no explanation." and that is in tension with the preceding statement "I committed myself to...".

I would say, maybe reconsider your about me statement as a personal and public statement -- and separate the two. Your act of commitment and your writing are meaningful acts.

On the other hand, I do not request reasons or violation of privacy regarding your commitment. Getting out of the obligation to tell reasons is your opportunity to do writerly craft.

The last time I made a commitment to a car-free life my car had bald tires and I was broke. Those are not earthshaking reasons.

In my blog, I do a lot of study about the economic grip the car keeping lifestyle has on people. Resolving that grip is the basis of interesting personal stories.

Sue said...

Hi Lee,

The obvious reasons for people to commit themselves to the car-free lifestyle are linked to environmental destruction and spiritual misery. Car-based city planning is also unsafe and unfriendly.