An Addendum to the Trayvon Martin Case

In a previous blog I expressed my mystification over why we had heard so little about George Zimmerman’s physical condition when he was taken into the police station house after being taken into custody following the killing of Trayvon Martin. Was the Sanford Police Department withholding information? Was the media being derelict in pressing for the information? I also asked if George Zimmerman now has a broken nose as alleged in his fight story and is there visible facial bruising from his head being repeatedly pounded into the pavement. Now it seems I have an answer that indicates that George Zimmerman’s account of a vicious attack by Trayvon Martin doesn’t hold water.

Yesterday, the 5 a.m. (Mountain time) CNN newscast said that police videos taken when George Zimmerman was brought into the station house don’t show any visible injuries, nor do they show any discoloration of his clothing, which would have occurred if blood had flowed from head wounds. The New York Police Department assigned a member of its force — for credibility reasons he almost certainly had a medical background — to examine the pictures taken of Zimmerman. The examiner was unable to find any abrasions or contusions on Zimmerman’s face, nor any indication that his nose was broken, as alleged.

The 6 a.m. CNN newscast stated that ABC News had released photos of George Zimmerman arriving at the police station. The photos, although a little grainy, do not show any visible signs of any head injuries, nor clothing discoloration. The question of whether Zimmerman received medical attention before arriving at the police station is murky. Even his lawyer, when interviewed on camera, would not answer yes or no when asked about immediate medical care.

The Zimmerman account of the assault by Trayvon Martin is hard to believe. The story is that Trayvon Martin attacked and toppled him, then had such complete control of him that he was able to repeatedly pound his head into the pavement — one news account says “cement,” not “pavement.” — meaning, I assume, that it could be the street surface or the sidewalk. If Zimmerman’s account is true, then he must have been able to get out of his predicament and get the upper hand on Martin. Why then would he find it necessary to shoot Martin? George Zimmerman had the gun in hand and Trayvon Martin was unarmed. With that enormous advantage, what threat did Trayvon Martin pose to him?

The newest development in the Trayvon Martin case, more recent than yesterday’s CNN newscasts, is an audio of a witness who claimed to have dimly seen a scuffle between two figures and two popping sounds. These were apparently two gun shots, although the witness said the second sound may have been an echo. After the shot or shots, the man started walking toward the witness’es position. From what the witness could see, the man was walking normally and didn’t have any visible signs of having been in a life-or-death fight.

The witness whose audio account was played yesterday on at least CBS and ABC newscasts, doesn’t entirely square with that of the two women who were apparently the closest witnesses to what may have taken place. After hearing a shot, they rushed outside and saw a man with his hand on a prone figure on the ground. One of the witnesses said that the man then began pacing back and forth. After being queried two or three times about what to do, the man told them to call the police. Although the two women were not able to see any visible injuries, one of the women acknowledged that their vision was impaired by the approaching darkness and the poor lighting.

The difference in the two accounts is that the two women, whose attention was drawn to the kitchen of one of them, by sounds coming from outside, did not report seeing a scuffle taking place and their account of George Zimmerman pacing back and forth doesn’t entirely comport with the newest witness’es account of a man advancing toward him, nor did this new witness mention seeing two women near the body on the ground. The audio of the newest witness doesn’t make any mention of the relative positions of the two figures when the first popping sound was heard.

Yesterday was also notable in the Trayvon Martin case, as it found both the father and the brother of George Zimmerman “speaking out,” as the media would phrase it. Both argued that George ZImmerman acted in self-defense; however, the father added a stunning new detail: he alleged that Trayvon Martin told his son that he, Trayvon, would kill him right then or at least by that night. The father’s only source for that alleged threat would have been his son.

The other item in the bonanza of information appearing yesterday was the statement on camera by the funeral director preparing Trayvon Martin’s body for burial. He did not see any injuries on Trayvon and the most crucial indicator of an unarmed man’s involvement in a physical fight: his knuckles, were, in the funeral director’s one-word description: “pristine.”






Trayvon Martin: The Blaming the Victim Stage

Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old black teenager who was shot to death by a reputed Neighborhood Watch captain, named George Zimmerman. The fatal shooting, which happened a little over a month ago, has now reached the blame the victim stage. Trayvon’s mother has said that his life was destroyed and now the attempt is being made to destroy his reputation. About the only thing of any substance that has been brought up about Trayvon’s life is the finding of traces of marijuana in his backpack in school; however, that holds no relevance to the claim that he may have attacked Zimmerman. Very recently, a charge has been made that Trayvon swung at a bus driver. That charge seems to rest entirely on an email from a cousin, who made a reference to Trayvon swinging at a bus driver. There  apparently is no report of such an incident being made by a bus driver, nor is there any police report. Trayvon and his cousin may have been playing out a psychodrama without any real substance.

The other attempt to try to discredit Trayvon Martin and perversely try to justify the shooting by Zimmerman, is the circulation of a picture of him in baggy pants, “showing the finger”. The picture is apparently of another black teenager. The only aspect of Trayvon Martin’s history that could be relevant to the claim that he attacked George Zimmerman would have been a record of physically attacking others and such a record does not exist.

The story surfacing very recently is that Martin jumped Zimmerman from the back, toppled him and then drove his face into the pavement repeatedly, breaking his nose and bloodying his face. Allegedly, Trayvon tried to get Zimmerman’s gun from him. This story raises some questions. I don’t recall an initial report of a bloody-faced Zimmerman with a broken nose. Does Zimmerman now have a broken nose? Does his face show signs of bruising?  Two eyewitnesses who saw and heard the shooting from a kitchen window, went outside and saw George Zimmerman with his hands on Trayvon Martin’s back. One of the eyewitnesses said the two were within about ten feet of the prone Martin. Neither noticed anything unusual about Zimmerman, although one eyewitness said it was getting dark and the lighting was not good.

It is hard to believe that George Zimmerman would have allowed Trayvon Martin to get the jump on him. Zimmerman said in his call to the police that the guy he was observing was “up to no good.” Why would he have let someone who was “up to no good” overpower him from the back? Wouldn’t he have kept a wary eye on Trayvon Martin if he was walking away from him? I think I would have kept turning my head in that type of situation.

Supposing that George Zimmerman was somehow able to escape a situation in which he was totally overpowered and even get the upper hand, was it still necessary to shoot to kill his attacker? He had his gun out and Trayvon Martin was unarmed. With the huge advantage he had on Trayvon at that point, did the teenager pose such a threat to him that it was necessary to shoot to kill?

Racial stereotyping was brought into the case when Geraldo Rivera raised the issue of Trayvon Martin wearing a hoodie and that made him appear to be more dangerous: to many people a hoodie conveys an image of black teenagers filled with menacing violence. A number of years ago, reports of a new generation of super-predator young people bent on violence traumatized many Americans.

So, besides the racial element, why might there be such a major effort to blame Trayvon Martin for initiating his death and exonerating his killer? A motivation that comes to mind is the fear that “Stand Your Ground” laws might be overturned because of this case. The National Rifle Association was the driving force behind the “Stand Your Ground” laws and the more it can promote the idea that using a firearm is a legitimate way to end what is perceived to be a potentially dangerous situation, the better it will be for gun sales. Fear is a great generator of gun sales and if people feel safer carrying a gun, but also know that they can claim self-defense if they mistakenly perceive a threat to them, they will be more inclined to arm themselves.

I have heard claims that the number of claimed self-defense shootings have tripled in Florida since “Stand Your Ground” was enacted but have not seen any law enforcement statistics. It would seem that making it easier to claim self-defense in a fatal shooting would impose a big burden on a prosecutor when someone is able to make an intended killing look like self-defense.

Finally, in regard to the local police force, standard police procedure is to interview everyone who has seen or heard anything in the course of an apparent murder. The local police force did not conduct such an investigation in the  killing of Trayvon Martin and did not do a toxicology test on George Zimmerman, only on Trayvon Martin.

It is a part of the deteriorated state of U.S. society that when firearms are such a major component of the high level of violence that we should be promoting the greater availability of firearms.

Modernizing Nuclear Weapons Contradicts Pledge of Nuclear Weapons-Free World

President Barack Obama is at an Asian summit where one of the main topics is the securing of loose nuclear materials. One of the news accounts referred to the meeting as a step toward a nuclear weapons-free world. Securing loose nuclear weapons and the materials to build them is a laudable goal but it won’t free the world of nuclear weapons, when the United States, in particular, in increasing its capacity to build more of them. I am indebted to the Peace Action New York States fact sheets for the material that appears below.

CMRR Project

The Chemistry and Metallurgy Replacement (CMRR) Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory is designed to replace the existing CMR building, which is designed to perform technical analyses on materials, in particular, the plutonium used in U.S. nuclear weapons. President Obama zeroed it out of the FY 2013 budget.

CMRR will not help with warhead maintenance: seven of the eight warhead types in the stockpile are in, or will soon undergo major  Life Extension Programs (LEPs).

Not building the CMRR Nuclear Facility could save $3-5 billion short-term. Not expanding pit production could save tens of billions more long-term. Pits are the triggers for nuclear weapons. The Project will not create any new permanent jobs, because employees will be shifted over from the old facility.

MOX Fuel

The Mixed Oxide Fuel Fabrication Facility (MOX plant) was originally designed to reduce quantities of excess U.S. and Russian weapons-grade plutonium. The centerpiece is at the Savannah River site near Aiken, South Carolina. The Department of Energy has stated that the current projected life-cycle costs of the program have increased to $7.1 billion.

There is currently no U.S. customers for disposing of MOX fuel. MOX increases proliferation dangers and is a more expensive option for disposing of plutonium than dry cask storage. The Global Threat Reduction Initiative is a more effective non-proliferation program.

Nuclear-Capable Strategic Bombers

The U.S. currently has an air wing of nuclear-capable strategic bombers that will last well into the 2030s. Delaying the Long-Range Penetrating Bomber (LRPB) for 10 years would save at least $3.7 billion in research and development costs. Canceling it would save $50 billion in procurement costs alone. The five-year cost is $6.3 billion. The LRPB was not in the 2012 Aircraft Procurement Plan projecting ten years ahead.  Its mission would be dropping nuclear gravity bombs.

There are now 76 B-52 Hs and 18 B-2s. Through 2016 the plan is to spend an additional $1.1 billion for the B-52s and $2.9 billion for the B-2s. The plan is to eventually purchase 80-100 LRPBs. $39 billion in procurement costs could be saved if the 30-year LRPB program was canceled.

Nuclear-Capable Ballistic Missile Submarines

The Navy’s nuclear-capable ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) fleet is currently comprised of 14 Ohio class submarines, of which 12 are operational and two are in refueling overhaul at any given time. The Ohio class submarines will be retired between 2027 and 2040. The Navy has plans to build 12 new nuclear-capable submarines (SSBNCX) over the next 30 years as replacements. They will be operational through 2070.

There is $565 million for the SSBNCX in the FY 2013 budget.

According to the Ploughshares Fund, cutting procurement to eight subs would save $27 billion over 10 years, or $123 billion over its lifetime.

Eight of the Ohio class subs can carry 192 Trident II D-5 missiles, with 1,536 warheads; eight of the SSBNCX subs, with 16 tubes, could carry 128 missiles, with 1,024 warheads.

The SSBNCX and the other nuclear modernization programs contradict President Obama’s pledge to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons, and they violate the provisions of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty calling for signatory nations to chart a path to get to zero in the near future.

“Murder Is Legal,” Says the Attorney General

The title of this blog is the one used by David Swanson, who wrote the book War Is a Lie and who writes frequently on peace and justice issues. I generally read Swanson in the Oregon Peaceworks newsletter. Swanson takes Attorney General Eric Holder to task for his many questionable and even hard-to-believe assertions made in his March 5 speech to the Northwestern University Law School at its Chicago branch.

David Swanson begins his piece by belittling Holder’s conception of war: he is not talking about a war that looks like a war; he is talking about a war “that is everywhere all the time.”

Swanson contrasts Holder’s view that military commissions have been successfully reformed with the view of the former chief prosecutor for military commissions at the Guantanamo Bay prison, who has said that the “decision to use both legal settings is a mistake. It will establish a legal double standard that gives some detainees superior rights and protections, and relegates others to the inferior rights and protections of military commissions. This will only perpetuate the perception that Guantanamo and justice are mutually exclusive.”

Attorney General Eric Holder said that the National Defense Authorization Act “mandated that a narrow category of al Qaeda terrorist suspects be placed in temporary military custody.” David Swanson counters that President Obama altered the NDAA by use of an unconstitutional signing statement, expanding the NDAA provision to apply to the largely non-Al Qaeda prisoners held in Afghanistan.

Holder argues that because the United States is in armed conflict, the nation is authorized to use force against any enemy belligerents under international law. Swanson’s counter-argument is that the 2001 authorization to use force resolution violates the Kellogg-Briand Act, the UN Charter and the U.S.Constitution. Swanson says, “No international law recognizes secret global war without limitations in time or space.”

Another claim made by Eric Holder in his March 5 speech is that the United States is at war “with a stateless enemy prone to shifting operations from country to country.” I would say that if this is true, there is no way to identify the enemy and our identification of the enemy would shift over time.

Attorney General Holder assured his listeners that the president will only kill someone in a foreign land if that country won’t do it for him and that constitutes “respect for another country’s sovereignty,” which is about as ridiculous a way of showing respect as can be imagined. Also, Holder contends that a kill order from Obama does not violate the executive order banning assassinations, because Obama would only kill those who constitute an imminent threat and U.S. citizens are not immune from being targeted. In reply, David Swanson wonders who knew that “the president alone can give due process without explaining it to anyone else.” Swanson is also very skeptical of Holder’s claim of “robust oversight,” because “informing a handful of Congress members, and no doubt forbidding them to repeat what they are told, does not create Congressional oversight.”

Looking at the specious claims made by Eric Holder in his March 5 speech to justify the war that the Obama administration is waging against Al Qaeda and “associated forces,” there are ample grounds to relieve him of his position as soon as possible; however, there is no reason to believe that Holder was not representing Obama administration positions.

Guantanamo: With Us for the Indefinite Future

When President Barack Obama signed the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), he virtually guaranteed that the Guantanamo Bay prison will be with us for the indefinite future. So the Obama campaign pledge to close Guantanamo within one year of becoming president, which looked so easy to fulfill because it had become such a despised chamber of horrors internationally and an acute embarrassment to the U.S. public, is now a blown opportunity.

Provisions of the NDAA include a ban on any transfer of Guantanamo detainees to a U.S. prison, even for criminal trial, and the NDAA radically restricts the president’s authority to transfer detainees to foreign countries. What this means is that more than half of the remaining detainees — 89 of 171 — who have been fully cleared in a joint review, will remain in limbo, forming a continuing witness to the mockery the U.S. has made of the rule of law.

A conspiracy theorist could make a good case that the Congress, the courts and the general public — with an assist from a blundering president — have joined in a conspiracy to keep Guantanamo as an ongoing black mark on American jurisprudence. The DC Circuit Court allows indefinite detention based on unreliable intelligence reports, while denying the detainees the opportunity to rebut the reports. The U.S. Supreme Court has squandered the good press it got for reintroducing the rule of law to Guantanamo by declining to intervene to give real force to its prior rulings. We now know how badly the Hamdi decision was written, when both sides in the Senate debate over whether U.S. citizens should be specifically excluded from the reach of the NDAA, cited Hamdi as buttressing  their respective arguments.

President Obama was earlier depicted in this blog piece as “blundering;” however, his actions in blocking all efforts at accountability for the abuses committed at Guantanamo, border or even reach the level of obstruction of justice.

The final actor in this tabloid of de facto, though not actual, conspiracy, is the general public, which 60 percent favored keeping Guantanamo open in a recent CNN poll. The shift in public sentiment over three years must be attributed in part to the failure of President Obama to make a compelling case to Congress and the general public why it is important to close Guantanamo and what it symbolizes.

Constitution-Thrashing, Don’t Bank on the Bomb and Update on Bundling

Thrashing the Constitution

President Barack Obama issued an executive order on February 28, 2012, establishing the Interagency Trade Enforcement Center. The power to regulate commerce is exclusive to Congress. The president’s power to see the “Laws be faithfully executed” does not give him the power to regulate commerce. Creating a bureau to do so is a legislative function.

Frustration with getting any desired legislation through a Republican-controlled House of Representatives and a grid-locked Senate, has induced Obama to try to get things done with executive orders in a “We Can’t Wait” campaign; however, a president can’t play fast and loose with executive orders. He has already tried to restrict the scope of legislation with signing statements, in emulation of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and the danger is that he will try to usurp the legislative function with executive orders.

Don’t Bank on Bombs

On March 5, 2012, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) identified 300 banks, pension funds, insurance companies and asset managers in 30 countries with substantial investments in nuclear arms producers. The 180-page study, Don’t Bank on the Bomb: The Global Financing of Nuclear Weapons Producers, provides details of financial transactions with 20 companies that are heavily involved in the manufacture, maintenance and modernization of U.S., British, French and Indian nuclear forces.

Desmond Tutu has called for financial institutions to “do the right thing and assist, rather than impede efforts to eliminate the threat of radioactive incineration.”

Nuclear-armed nations spend in excess of US $100 billion each year maintaining and modernizing their nuclear forces, according to the report. Of the 322 institutions identified in the report, roughly half are based in the United States.

Obama Bundlers Get High Positions

Barack Obama campaigned on “the most sweeping ethics reform in history,” yet more than half of Obama’s biggest fundraisers have been given Obama administration jobs. At least 24 of Obama’s bundlers* have been given posts as foreign ambassadors, including postings to Finland, Australia and Portugal. A prior blog identified fundraiser postings to Japan, France and the United Kingdom.

The Foreign Service Act of 1980 states that “contributions to political campaigns should not be a factor in the appointment of an individual as a chief of mission.” Fifty-nine of Obama’s ambassadors are not Foreign Service officers and 40 percent of the ambassadorial appointees are bundlers. (The source for this information is an article titled “The Influence Industry” in the March 7, 2012 Washington Post.)

* Bundlers are fundraisers who gather up large contributions from very wealthy contributors.





Obama Administration Turns Due Process on its Head

A common understanding among citizens of the United States is that before their liberty or even their life can be legally taken from them there must be due process, which basically consists of a trial, the right to know the charges against you and the right to face an accuser. When it comes to those designated as terrorists, however, Attorney General Eric Holder has unveiled a curious interpretation of due process. Speaking at Northwestern Law School on March 5, Holder said: “‘Due process’ and ‘judicial process’ are not one and the same, particularly when it comes to national security. The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” What Holder seems to be saying is that those elements which we thought were essential protections are not really in the Constitution, at least not for anyone who gets designated as a terrorist. We know from bitter experience of the past decade that U.S. citizens can and do get designated as terrorists.

What makes Holder’s interpretation of the Constitution a particularly serious matter is that President Obama has assumed the power to order the assassination of U.S. citizens. Reuters has said that the decision to assassinate would be based on information in a “kill or capture list” drawn up by a “secretive panel of senior government officials.” The U.S. Justice Department has responded to an ACLU request for information about the assassination program by neither confirming nor denying the existence of any records.

The operative definition of who is a terrorist is someone “who is a senior operational leader of Al Qaeda or associated forces.” The Obama administration has adopted this definition originated in the preceding Bush administration. The president can secretly deem someone to be a terrorist without proving it with any evidence. The president and senior underlings thus become judge, jury and even executioner wrapped up in one.

Barack Obama had a much more stringent conception of due process protections when he was a U.S. senator from Illinois. On the Senate floor, Obama lamented of the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay, that “a perfectly innocent individual could be held and could not rebut the Government’s case and has no way of proving his innocence.”; also, he mocked the right-wing claim “that judicial inquiry is an antique, trivial and dispensable luxury.”