Uncategorized Archive

The Battle for Justice Heats Up

Friday, May 7th, 2010

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

The growing accountability movement got a major shot in the arm recently when it learned that on April 19, an Argentinian judge sentenced the last of Argentina's dictators, Reynaldo Bignone, age 83, to 25 years in prison. Bignone's crime: kidnapping and torturing 56 victims in a concentration camp during the reign of terror known as the "dirty war" that gripped Argentina from 1976-1983. This is huge, surpassing the arrest of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in his hospital bed back in 1998. (Pinochet died before justice could be done). The conviction of a former head of state for crimes he committed while in office sends a powerful message to all those suspected war criminals still on the loose, including some of the top leaders of the Bush administration.

George W. Bush, who lied our country into war resulting in the deaths of over 4,000 American troops, heads the list. He, former Vice President Dick Cheney and former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld also authorized waterboarding of prisoners seized in Afghanistan, violating U.S. and international law against torture in the process. Worse yet, they authorized torture, at least initially, not to get actionable intelligence, but to get forced confessions from detainees about nonexistent links to Al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, and 9/11 in a horrific attempt to strengthen their nonexistent case for sending troops to Iraq. Evidence abounds that all three are guilty of murder and war crimes.

Don't get me wrong. Barack Obama's famous mantra, "I prefer to look forward instead of backward" was a palliative signal to war criminals in the previous administration (including Bush and Cheney's architects of tyranny and torture in the Department of Justice, John Yoo and Jay Bybee), that the new president would not push for their prosecution. Obama's oft-quoted words succeeded, at least during his first year in office, in tamping down his supporters' well-documented desire for criminal prosecutions. But former vice president Dick Cheney, Bush "torture lawyer" John Yoo and Bush's close advisor Karl Rove must have felt a chill when they saw that the number-one wish citizens posted on the website that President-elect Obama created before he entered office was a full-fledged criminal investigation into their misdeeds and those of their boss. Ever since, all three have adopted the classic posture of "the best defense is an offense," with Cheney and his daughter Liz hitting the TV talk shows with a vengeance while Yoo and Rove have used their recently published books to burnish the Bush administration's image with their lies — no doubt hoping that if repeated enough, the American people will accept their version of events during the years 2000-2008.

Will they succeed? The jury is still out. For the most part, the Tea Party movement of angry middle-class Americans does not appear to be aligned to either Republicans or Democrats, despite Republican fear-mongering efforts to blame the Obama administration for their ills. The Cheneys' efforts to weaken the Obama administration's Department of Justice by attacking DOJ lawyers who defended detainees during the Bush administration actually backfired. John Yoo, now back at Berkeley where he teaches law, has reportedly had to revert to holding his classes in secret because of the unrelenting efforts of protestors who want him prosecuted for war crimes. Equally unnerving for his fellow co-conspirators, a federal judge recently allowed a lawsuit brought by an American torture victim to go forward against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. And over 150 lawyers and human rights campaigners meeting in Beirut, Lebanon chose former US attorney General Ramsey Clark to head an international campaign to investigate Bush-era war crimes, with a commitment to prosecuting and indicting the defendants in the U.S.

As for Karl Rove, he has experienced some severely embarrassing moments as Code Pink activist Jodie Evans, with her wonderfully symbolic pink handcuffs, has twice attempted a much-publicized citizen's arrest during his book tour, once in Beverly Hills on March 30, again in Las Vegas on April 9. The first attempt, at a theater frequently used for celebrity events, was notable not just for the attempted arrest, but for the small crowd that came to hear Rove speak. When Al Gore came to speak there, the theater was filled to capacity. But when Rove appeared there, remarked Beverly Hills publicist Ilene Proctor, "not only couldn't he fill the theater, he couldn't even fill the lobby. There were only about 100 people there. At $25,000 a speaking gig, someone was losing money big-time."

And what, you may wonder, is going on with George W. Bush? He is apparently laying low, perhaps putting the final touches on his own memoir. The last time I know of his venturing out on a "pre-book" tour was in late October, before a safe, invitation-only audience of well-heeled Canadians at Montreal's posh Queen Elizabeth Hotel. Though throngs of Canadian protestors never got to see him, they succeeded in sending their own message by hurling shoes at the hotel. The fervor of that crowd was unmistakable: They shouted "Bush: Assassin! Terroriste! Criminel!" and even ended the event by burning him in effigy.

Having followed the ups and downs of the accountability movement over the last few years, and while writing The People v Bush, I can safely report that the battle to bring Bush and his top advisors to justice — for murder, war crimes, warrantless wiretapping, bank fraud, and shredding the Constitution — is far from over. In fact, it is becoming re-invigorated. We have Cheney, Yoo, and Rove to thank for keeping the battle for justice lively. And at some point, George W. Bush will have to enter the fray to promote his book. I look forward to reminding him of something he said when he let Cheney's top aid, Scooter Libby, go down in flames and into a federal prison for lying to federal investigators about Cheney's role in outing CIA agent Valerie Plame: "Our entire system of justice," Bush said, "relies on people telling the truth. If a person does not tell the truth, particularly if he serves in government and holds the public trust, he must be held accountable."

President Bush, I couldn't agree more. See you in court.

Charlotte Dennett is an attorney and the author of The People v. Bush: One Lawyer’s Campaign to Bring the President to Justice and the National Grassroots Movement She Encounters Along the Way (Chelsea Green).

The True Cost of Vermont Yankee

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

With Town Meeting only days away, at least 38 towns will be discussing whether the Legislature should approve the continued operation of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which is trying to get re-licensed in 2012. Three issues will predominate: the cost of people's utility bills, finding alternative energy sources, and the impact of its continued operation on Vermonters' health and safety. The last issue rarely gets discussed, ostensibly because it falls under the sole jurisdiction of a federal agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. But there's another reason, one that involves The Vermont Department of Health (VDPH).

This past year, Vermonters learned that the Health Department had failed to contact (as required by law) the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules about a change in the way it evaluated low level radiation emissions at the plant. By avoiding the Rules Committee, VDPH also avoided public hearings. Had the hearings occurred, an important issue of public health would have emerged: Once the plant increased its power output (beginning in 2006) by 20 percent, radiation levels at the plant's fence line also increased, surpassing acceptable legal limits. This could be serious. The department's own 2007 Surveillance Report on Yankee acknowledged that "ionizing radiation is a known human carcinogen…With radiation exposure, it is assumed that no dose is without risk."

When public hearings finally occurred last fall, the Rules Committee asked Dr. William Irwin of VDPH: "Who advised you not to contact us?" His response was barely audible: "Counsel." Afterwards, I asked Dr. Irwin if "counsel" meant the Vermont Attorney General's office. Answer: "Yes." Later that afternoon, I handed his counsel a request for information under Vermont's Public Records Law about this matter. I also asked how much money the Health Department received from Entergy, Yankee's corporate owner. Turns out VDPH received $93,784.64 in 2006 and $61,615.36 in 2007 to "reimburse costs related to the Oak Ridge Associates Universities study." Oak Ridge is the very research facility - funded by the nuclear industry - that came up with the new formula, or "conversion factor," for measuring radiation. It made Yankee's radiation levels appear to be in compliance with acceptable legal limits, when, in fact, they exceeded them.

Was there any independent oversight of how the Department of Health applied Oak Ridge's supposedly independent assessment? Legislators will be looking into this, as well as information provided by Kathleen Krevetski, a Rutland nurse, that Oak Ridge's "new" formula for measuring radiation is actually based on an outdated standard which was withdrawn in 2001 because no formal review of its accuracy had been performed.

Meanwhile, the aging plant, renowned for its collapsed water tower and numerous incidents of radiation leaks (including thousands of gallons of radioactive water from a leaking valve, which has still not been fixed) hums along, keeping Entergy's reported revenues of $5 million a month rolling in.

When I asked Governor Douglas last fall during an election debate to describe the health risks from low level radiation, he dodged the question, as if cancer was a dirty word.

In fact, data obtained from the VDPH by nurse Krevetski shows the incident rate of thyroid cancer among Vermont women alone has increased from 4.8 in 1996 to 19.5 in 2005 - an increase the Department acknowledged was "statistically significant." One can only imagine what that amount might be from 2006 on, when radiation levels started increasing. As VDPH states, "Thyroid cancers … are of particular interest because increased risk may be associated with excess radiation exposure." Remarkably, the VDPH 2008 report states, "There is no evidence of excessive radiation exposure" in the geographic areas around Vermont Yankee.

Perhaps not "excessive." But what about "excess" radiation exposure?

What makes low-level radiation so insidious is the fact that it is a) invisible and b) travels by wind currents. None of us is immune, despite what the VDPH or Entergy would have you believe. As the debate over Vermont Yankee heats up, it's time we put the health risks to Vermonters front and center.