(TMU Op-Ed) — If you need more proof that lawmakers in the U.S. couldn’t care less about America’s woeful commitment to human rights abroad—or even care about the public who vote them into office—look no further than the recent Afghanistan papers and the reaction to the publications from Congress.
According to the Washington Post, the outlet had obtained 2,000 pages of notes from interviews with more than 400 generals, diplomats, and other officials directly involved in the war. The documents showed that U.S. officials were lying about the progress being made in Afghanistan, lacked a basic understanding of Afghanistan, were hiding unmistakable evidence that the war had become unwinnable, and wasted close to $1 trillion in the process.
Barely a few hours following the Post’s publication, Congress rewarded the Pentagon for its stellar efforts with a $22 billion budget increase. How can we as a society justify this?
One stand-out statistic—among the many concerning ones—is the fact that before the U.S. invasion the Taliban had almost completely put to bed Afghanistan’s illicit opium trade. Since the U.S. invasion, combined with $9 billion in U.S. funding for anti-opium programs, the Taliban is not only stronger than it ever was but sits cemented in a country that now supplies 80 percent of the world’s opium.
I can’t help but think this was done on purpose.
Still, it would be worth re-thinking our outrage over the Afghanistan papers and determining what exactly it is we are outraged about. Are we simply angry because top U.S. officials lied to us about the fact they weren’t winning the war, making it a less worthwhile venture? If the U.S. were winning the war, spending $1 trillion in the process, killing record numbers of civilians, ramping up night raids to terrorize local populations, committing war crimes left right and center, would that suddenly make it all okay? As long as the war is being won, right?
The truth is, like most wars the U.S. finds itself prosecuting; this was yet another war based entirely on lies and misconceptions—right from the outset. As Marjorie Cohn, professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law and president of the National Lawyers Guild famously said:
“The UN Charter is a treaty ratified by the United States and thus part of U.S. law. Under the charter, a country can use armed force against another country only in self-defense or when the Security Council approves. Neither of those conditions was met before the United States invaded Afghanistan. The Taliban did not attack us on 9/11. Nineteen men—15 from Saudi Arabia—did, and there was no imminent threat that Afghanistan would attack the U.S. or another UN member country. The council did not authorize the United States or any other country to use military force against Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan is illegal.”
If that was the case in 2001, how this war has continued for close to another two decades begins to beggar belief. In that time, the consequences for the Afghan civilian population has been catastrophic.
In February of 2010, a NATO night raid conducted in a village in the Paktia province of Afghanistan left seven civilians dead, including two pregnant women. NATO tried to spin the raid as an attack on a compound festering with “militant activity,” but this quickly fell apart thanks to a British reporter, Jerome Starkey, who had already reported that this was a false narrative.
The compound actually belonged to an anti-Taliban policeman trained by the United States. At the time, the family had gathered to celebrate the naming of a newborn son. In order to cover the tracks of their reckless decision to execute unarmed civilians, the American troops used knives to dig out the bullets from the bodies of the pregnant women killed.
This is the kind of activity that trillions of dollars of U.S. taxpayer money has been paying for on a regular basis. More than 775,000 troops have served in Afghanistan, with 2,300 U.S. personnel deaths. Not to mention that the U.S. has not been fighting there alone, and has had assistance not just from NATO, but from so-called peaceful states like New Zealand as well (who have been accused of committing war crimes, too).
Yes, we should be outraged that officials lied about the prospects of success. But we should primarily be disturbed that they first and foremost lie in order to push our countries into these wars in the first place, killing countless innocent civilians over and over again.
We can’t let this recent publication obscure itself into nothingness. The recent reaction from Congress is a giant middle finger designed to tell you that (a) there will never be anything you can do about it and (b) they simply don’t care how you feel. Democracy at its finest from the world’s leading propagator of democratic values.
Ex-Trump Official Who Gave Epstein Sweetheart Deal for Child Sex Crimes Is Excused by DOJ
A former member of Donald Trump’s presidential cabinet who notoriously cut Jeffrey Epstein a sweetheart deal in 2008 has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the Justice Department.
The investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (DOJ-OPR) found that former Labor Secretary of Labor Alex Acosta – who served in Trump’s cabinet from 2017 until his 2019 resignation – had exercised “poor judgement” when arranging a 2008 plea deal for the disgraced financier and convicted sexual predator.
According to the Justice Department investigation whose findings were released Thursday, Acosta mishandled the case but didn’t break the law, reports NBC News.
The investigation found that Epstein’s victims “were not treated with the forthrightness and sensitivity expected by the department” under the deal arranged by Acosta, who was the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida at the time.
In 2019, Acosta resigned his position as head of the U.S. Department of Labor amid fallout from the Epstein case.
While serving as the top Miami prosecutor, Acosta infamously cut Epstein a non-prosecution plea deal in 2007 for charges relating to the sexual exploitation of underage girls.
Epstein had faced allegations that he sexually abused dozens of underage teen girls at his Palm Beach mansion throughout the early 2000s.
Under the agreement agreed to by Acosta – which involved him pleading guilty to state charges involving only one teenaged victim – Epstein did not face federal criminal charges and a separate federal investigation was immediately ground to a halt. The deal also sealed the indictment records.
Thanks to the plea deal, the well-connected pedophile – whose friends and associates included Donald Trump, Bill Clinton, Prince Andrew, and Bill Gates, among others – was spared a prison sentence that could have lasted several years.
While serving 13 months of his Florida jail sentence, Epstein was also granted the freedom to attend to his business affairs in his luxurious offices.
The secret deal also granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes, effectively ensuring that other wealthy members of Epstein’s child rapist ring got off scot-free.
The Justice Department’s summary of the investigation noted that Acosta personally “made the pivotal decision to resolve the federal investigation of Epstein through a state-based plea and either developed or approved the terms of the initial offer to the defense that set the beginning point for the subsequent negotiations that led to the” non-prosecution agreement (NPA).
“The NPA was a flawed mechanism for satisfying the federal interest that caused the government to open its investigation of Epstein,” the report added.
During the review, the office noted that members of Acosta’s office were concerned about “legal issues, witness credibility, and the impact of a trial on the victims” which ultimately led them to opt for the plea bargain and avoid trial.
Due to these considerations, “OPR does not find that Acosta engaged in professional misconduct by resolving the federal investigation of Epstein in the way he did or that the other subjects committed professional misconduct through their implementation of Acosta’s decisions.”
The report also noted that the former U.S. attorney’s judgment lacked transparency and left Epstein’s victims “feeling confused and ill-treated by the government.”
Victims involved in the 2008 case were briefed on the DOJ-OPR report on Thursday morning, but haven’t yet made any comment on the findings.
“Letting a well-connected billionaire get away with child rape and international sex trafficking isn’t ‘poor judgment’ – it is a disgusting failure,” said Nebraska Republican Sen. Ben Sasse in a statement. “Americans ought to be enraged.”
“Jeffrey Epstein should be rotting behind bars today, but the Justice Department failed Epstein’s victims at every turn,” Sasse added. “The DOJ’s crooked deal with Epstein effectively shut down investigations into his child sex trafficking ring and protected his co-conspirators in other states. Justice has not been served.”
Epstein, 66, was found hanged in a lone cell in the special housing unit (SHU) of a federal prison in Manhattan while facing a potential prison sentence of up to 45 years on charges of pedophilia and sex trafficking. A city medical examiner ruled the death a suicide.
His ex-girlfriend Ghislaine Maxwell is currently being held in a New York City jail over a range of allegations related to child sex trafficking, the sexual exploitation of minors, and perjury – including that she groomed girls as young as 14 for Epstein to abuse, while also participating in the abuse. She will stand trial in July 2021.
As Millions Face Eviction, Senate Proposes Nearly $700 Billion for Pentagon
As millions face eviction and line up at food banks throughout the country, waiting for another stimulus payment that will seemingly never come, the Senate Appropriations Committee is proposing a $696 billion Pentagon spending bill for the upcoming fiscal year.
According to The Hill, The Senate’s version of the fiscal 2021 Pentagon spending bill was released Tuesday along with 11 other annual appropriations bills.
Both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have said they want to pass an omnibus spending bill, and they will likely agree on the military budget, as Democrats overwhelmingly vote in favor of military spending when they have the opportunity, just as Republicans do.
In July, the House passed a $694.6 billion bill for Pentagon spending in July. The Senate version released this week includes $627.2 billion for the base defense budget and $68.7 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations account, and also includes a 3% pay raise for troops.
However, the final Senate version of the bill left out a few causes that were championed by progressive Democrats, including the renaming of military bases that are named after Confederate leaders, and measures that were intended to block defense funds from being used on the border wall.
The Senate’s bill would also fund 96 F-35 fighter jets, which is an increase over the original bill and over the administration’s initial request. In addition to the fighter jets, the bill also gives the Pentagon $21.35 billion to build nine new battle force ships.
Meanwhile, millions of Americans are unemployed and many are now starting to get evicted. According to the most recent numbers there are 6.8 million, and this only accounts for the people officially collecting unemployment, this does not include the number of people who are not qualified for unemployment, or people who have been out of the work force for an extended length of time. The unemployment rate dropped slightly over the past two months, but is still at record highs.
According to estimates by the Princeton University Eviction Lab, 3.6 million people face eviction cases in a typical year. This year, up to 8 million people could be facing eviction, according to a tracking tool developed by the global advisory firm Stout Risius and Ross, which works with the nonprofit National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel.
It is also estimated that up to $32 billion in back rent will be due for tenants across the US once bans on evictions are lifted. Despite bans on evictions, many landlords in the US are still kicking people out of their homes, and in some cases, they have even challenged the eviction bans in court.
The people who are struggling financially in the US can’t count on much help from the government. Even the prospects of a new stimulus check are uncertain, and a payment will not be coming until next year at the very earliest, if it comes at all. Yet, the Pentagon is still able to claim nearly $700 billion in taxpayer money.
Lawyers Unable to Locate Parents of 666 Migrant Children — Some Held Since They Were Under 5
Lawyers trying to reunite migrant families have been unable to locate the parents of 666 children separated by the Trump administration, over 100 more than they had previously believed.
The children were torn from their parents before and during President Donald Trump’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy at the southern border, where migrants were prosecuted and imprisoned under all migration-related offenses.
While attorneys had reported to a federal judge in October that the parents of 545 children could not be located, the number has turned out to be even greater, according to an email obtained by NBC News.
In the email, Steven Herzog, the lawyer leading the effort to locate relatives of the children and reunite the families, says that the 666 children – roughly 20 percent of whom were under 5 years of age when they were taken from their parents – remain separated.
The new number is due to the fact that the government initially failed to provide phone number contacts for 129 of the children.
“We would appreciate the government providing any available updated contact information, or other information that may be helpful in establishing contact for all 666 of these parents,” Herzog wrote in the email to attorneys from the U.S. Justice Department who are representing the Trump administration.
The Trump administration imposed its “zero tolerance” policy at the U.S. southern border with Mexico between April and June 2018. However, the Trump administration also separated families during a prior pilot program in the El Paso Sector. Most of the children referred to in the email were ripped from their parents during the pilot program, but the total also includes some who were separated under the zero tolerance program.
The new number “includes individuals in addition to 545 for whom we got no information from government that would allow meaningful searches but are hopeful the government will now provide with that information,” according to Lee Gelernt, the deputy director of the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project.
Last month it was revealed in a House Judiciary Committee report that the administration had full knowledge that it wouldn’t be able to reunite migrant families under the separation policies, but decided to implement it anyway.
The administration’s policy resulted in the seizure of nearly 3,000 migrant children—including many with physical and mental disabilities—from their parents, most of whom are believed to have been deported from the U.S.
In August it was also revealed that in 2018, Trump administration senior adviser Stephen Miller – a highly influential figure in the White House with extremist views on immigration matters – had proposed extending the family separation policies so that 25,000 additional children would be taken from their parents, including those who legally presented at ports of entry seeking asylum.
The policy has led to enormous emotional and psychological trauma for both parents and children – who were frequently told by U.S. officials that they would never see each other again – and has been described as “torture” and “state-sanctioned child abuse” by Physicians for Human Rights.
Additionally, some of the children were handed over to U.S. families, who have been able to petition for permanent custody for them – meaning that some children are never able to see their parents again and turning the policy into one that amounts to kidnapping.
The administration reluctantly rolled back the policy after it faced a storm of public outrage amid the emergence of stories such as that of a breastfeeding baby being torn from her mother and a father who was driven to suicide after he was separated from his wife and child.
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to form a task force that would work to reunite all the separated children with their families. Biden has called the family separation policy “criminal,” but hasn’t commented about whether he has any plans to criminally prosecute officials who planned and implemented the policy.
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