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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 09:25 PM
Original message
Author, Gitmo Watcher Andy Worthington gives DU an interview.
You all may remember that since President Obama took office, the Pentagon torture dead enders spammed the media with fake numbers for Gitmo detainees returned to "the battlefield". Keith made short work of that report. Then, there was more general push back against Obama's decision to close Gitmo down, notably the argument about what rights these detainees are entitled to. Most recently, Binyam Mohamed, a British resident, was released from Gitmo sometime after it was reported that the British government collaborated on his torture.

It's against this backdrop that I asked Andy if he'd be kind enough to check in with us so that we don't lose the thread of this story in the spin cycle.

________________________________________________________________________

An interview with Andy Worthington



Andy Worthington, a London-based journalist, is the author of The Guantnamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in Americas Illegal Prison and has written over 300 articles about Guantnamo in the last two years, for publications including the New York Times, the Guardian, and the Huffington Post.

This week he published the first definitive list (http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2009/03/03/guantanamo-... ) of all the prisoners who have been held at Guantnamo, with links and references to their stories. In a statement, he explained, "It is my hope that this project will provide an invaluable research tool for those seeking to understand how it came to pass that the government of the United States turned its back on domestic and international law, establishing torture as official US policy, and holding men without charge or trial neither as prisoners of war, protected by the Geneva Conventions, nor as criminal suspects to be put forward for trial in a federal court, but as 'illegal enemy combatants.'"


Elizabeth Ferrari: I have described the transfer of prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantnamo as a "rendition flight" -- one that anyone who knew what to look for could recognize. Is that right, in your opinion? My memory is that the conditions of the prisoners was broadcast all over the American media and that we were shown these people, shackled and hooded, led into the prison.

Andy Worthington: Youre correct to describe the transfer of prisoners from Afghanistan to Guantnamo as a "rendition flight" -- or, to be more accurate, many dozens of rendition flights. I generally describe it as rendition on an industrial scale. Whats interesting is that the US military was entitled to establish a prisoner of war camp outside Afghanistan, but, of course, Guantnamo was no such thing, and instead was -- and is -- an experiment in holding prisoners beyond the law, neither as prisoners of war nor as criminal suspects, who would be expected to face a trial in a federal court, but as "enemy combatants" without rights; essentially, subjects in an illegal and unconstitutional experiment in detention and interrogation.

Elizabeth Ferrari: Can you describe who these people are -- these prisoners that Donald Rumsfeld said were "the worst of the worst"? Who are they and how did they get to Gitmo?

Andy Worthington: They are, for the most part, one or other of the following. The first group -- roughly half of the total population -- were or are completely innocent men. They were seized either through poor intelligence on the part of US forces (who had few reliable contacts in Afghanistan or Pakistan, and were often "played" by people pretending to be their allies) or through being sold as a result of substantial bounty payments offered for "al-Qaeda and Taliban suspects." These averaged $5000 a head, which, in USterms, is the equivalent of being asked to shop your neighbor -- or a business rival, an enemy, a stranger -- for around $125,000.

The second group -- again, roughly half of the prisons population -- were Taliban foot soldiers, recruited, often by unscrupulous sheikhs in their homeland, to help the Taliban establish a "pure Islamic state" by defeating their rivals, the Northern Alliance, in an inter-Muslim civil war that began long before the attacks of September 11, 2001, and that had, for the most part, nothing to do with al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden or international terrorism.

The Bush administrations great mistake was to equate al-Qaeda with the Taliban, which potentially implicated the entire population of Afghanistan in a terrorist plot, and the administrations first great acts of dangerous arrogance were, firstly, to declare that anyone who came into US custody -- whatever the circumstances -- was automatically an "enemy combatant" without rights, and, secondly, to refuse, against the wishes of the military, to hold "competent tribunals" -- also known as battlefield tribunals -- under the Geneva Conventions relating to prisoners of war.

Held close to the time and place of capture, and allowing battlefield prisoners the opportunity to call witnesses, these had, previously, been championed by the US military, and the government, as a just and effective way of separating soldiers from civilians caught up in the fog of war, and in the first Gulf War, for example, the military held around 1200 battlefield tribunals, and decided, in three-quarters of the cases, that it had detained the wrong men.

Without these safeguards, and with the administrations frankly mind-boggling assertion that every single person who ended up in US custody was an "enemy combatant," it becomes horribly easy to understand how farmers, taxi drivers, hospital administrators, missionaries, humanitarian aid workers, tourists, entrepreneurs, migrants and refugees all ended up at Guantnamo with the Taliban foot soldiers, and, somewhere amongst them, between 35 and 50 prisoners in total, according to a variety of intelligence estimates, who had any meaningful connection to al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups

Elizabeth Ferrari: Andy, how did you get involved with these people?

Andy Worthington: I have previously been criticized for stating that I believe that the Bush administrations response to 9/11 was both cruel and misguided, but I stand by that statement. I was doubtful from the beginning that either Dick Cheney or Donald Rumsfeld -- veterans of the Nixon administration, and, in Cheneys case at least, a notorious believer in unfettered executive power -- could be trusted with Americas response, and as the first stories emerged from Guantnamo -- really, in 2004, with the release of the first European prisoners -- my worst fears were confirmed.

However, it was not until the summer of 2005 that I first became seriously involved in trying to understand what was going on at Guantnamo, when I came across the lists of prisoners compiled by the Washington Post and the British human rights group Cageprisoners. These were, at the time, largely speculative, because the administration had not even released the names of the prisoners, and accurate information was hard to come by, but I began Googling the stories of other released prisoners -- many of them random Afghans -- and became more and more convinced that a colossal miscarriage of justice had taken place.

My project really took off in the spring of 2006, when the prisoners names and nationalities were finally released, after a lawsuit brought by the Associated Press, along with 8,000 pages of the tribunals convened -- as an insulting and toothless parody of the battlefield tribunals -- to ascertain whether the prisoners had been correctly designated as "enemy combatants." This was the administrations shameless response to the Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 that Guantnamo was not beyond the law, and that the prisoners had habeas corpus rights (the right to ask a judge why they were being held).

The tribunals were, essentially, a device to rubber-stamp the governments position (as has been admirably explained by Lt. Col. Stephen Abraham, who served as part of the process), but the prisoner lists, the allegations against the prisoners, and the transcripts of the hearings allowed me to establish an instructive chronology, explaining who was captured where and when: whether in Afghanistan, crossing into Pakistan from Afghanistan, or in Pakistan, for example, many hundreds of miles from the "battlefields." This then allowed me, through what I can only characterize as judicious detective work, to present the prisoners stories in their own words, and to give some context for establishing which side was telling the truth: either the prisoners themselves, or the administration, which often mustered an array of transparently coerced or superficial evidence to justify its activities.

Its not an exact science, of course, but to this day I remain proud of the fact that I not only attempted to give a voice to the voiceless, but also to make sense of the bigger picture, which involved challenging the governments assertions. I know that it was a difficult task to undertake, but I remain disturbed by the fact that I was able to undertake this as a solitary independent journalist, and that no major media outlet devoted the required resources to investigating thoroughly the material that was made publicly available. By abdicating responsibility, they effectively allowed the administrations claims to go unchallenged.

Elizabeth Ferrari: Mohamed, the British resident who was subjected to "extraordinary rendition" and torture, is home now. Here in the US, his case has been covered much more extensively than others -- not all that well, but it was something. In your opinion, what consequences is your government (and mine) looking at, now that he is free?

Andy Worthington: Keeping a lid on the torture stories, in a nutshell. It appears that the British government has been shockingly complicit in feeding questions to proxy torturers in Pakistan, during the interrogations of captured British nationals, and the example of Binyam, when they fed questions to US intelligence, while he was being tortured in Morocco, was clearly related to this. In Europe, a big issue that is still being dealt with is the complicity of various governments with the Bush administration from turning a blind eye to rendition flights to actively assisting in rendition cases -- which will be a long struggle, as complicity in rendition and torture involves war crimes and no one wants to admit liability.

In the States, Im delighted to see that we now have a government that is, I believe, committed to ending the brutal and counter-productive lawlessness of the Bush administration. There have already been disappointments, of course -- one being the Justice Departments refusal to consider the Jeppesen case, in which a Boeing subsidiary is accused of being the CIAs travel agent for torture -- but I can understand why Obama would not want to open the floodgates to claims that all US personnel involved in the "War on Terror" are potentially guilty of war crimes.

However, I believe that its not enough just to end the crimes without calling the criminals to account. Id like to see those who made the decisions -- in the White House, in the Pentagon, and in the Justice Departments Office of Legal Counsel -- be pursued in the courts, and I believe that not doing so is untenable in the long-term, not only because the US is obliged to seek the prosecution of those who break the terms of the anti-torture treaties, but also because, otherwise, it sends out a message that the president and his associates are, as they essentially asserted all along, above the law, and that whatever they do can be overlooked so long as theyre voted out of office at the end of it.

"Animal House on the Night Shift," was how former defense secretary James R. Schlesinger mistakenly described the Abu Ghraib abuses in his report on the scandal in 2004 (as the abusers were only following the rules -- or the specific lack of rules -- laid down by the administration), but if Bush, Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld, Haynes and others are allowed to get away with their crimes, the truth will be established that you can have "Animal House in the White House" for eight years -- with torture dungeons thrown in for good measure -- and no one can do anything about it.

Elizabeth Ferrari: There have been reports here in the US that the abuse of the remaining prisoners at Gitmo is ramping up, in the twilight of that operation. Is that true as far as you know?

Andy Worthington: I would say that its possible, and that I have no reason to doubt the statements made to Reuters by Ahmed Ghappour, a lawyer with the legal charity Reprieve. I was pleased to see that the Pentagons report on conditions at the prison (PDF) recommended that prisoners should be allowed more opportunities to socialize, to address the horrendous isolation to which the majority of the men are subjected, but I was disappointed that the report concluded that force-feeding hunger strikers is humane, when it is patently not, and that the casual brutality of the guard teams who quell even the most minor infractions of the rules with extreme violence was not even addressed. The only way the prison can really conform to the Geneva Conventions is when its been closed down.

Elizabeth Ferrari: In the US, we have a new president. What would you like to say to him? His new head of CIA defended rendition at his confirmation hearing. What are your thoughts for Mr. Panetta and for President Obama?

Andy Worthington: Id like to just remind him of his words in August 2007, and to ask him to fulfill all his promises. He said, "In the dark halls of Abu Ghraib and the detention cells of Guantnamo, we have compromised our most precious values. What could have been a call to a generation has become an excuse for unchecked presidential power When I am President, America will reject torture without exception As President, I will close Guantnamo, reject the Military Commissions Act, and adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution and our Uniform Code of Military Justice provide a framework for dealing with the terrorists The separation of powers works. Our Constitution works. We will again set an example to the world that the law is not subject to the whims of stubborn rulers, and that justice is not arbitrary."

There really are no half-measures. With Obamas promise, America has emerged from an extraordinarily bleak period in which the fear of terror -- however legitimate -- combined with the leadership of men devoted to something that closely resembled dictatorial power, sullied Americas reputation, and laid waste to the principles on which the country was founded. There is a better way, and it involves dialog, and not the "dark side" -- dialog with ones enemies, and dialog with those who have been captured. Only a stupid man believes that you can beat the truth out of a prisoner.

_____________________________________________________________

Andy Worthington is the author of The Guantnamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America's Illegal Prison



http://www.amazon.com/Guantanamo-Files-Stories-Detainee...

He has worked with defense attorney Clive Stafford Smith at Reprieve in the UK:
http://www.reprieve.org.uk/index.html

and also with the site Cage Prisoners, also in the UK:

http://www.cageprisoners.com /



To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andys RSS feed via his website:
http://www.andyworthington.co.uk

Thank you, Andy!
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seemslikeadream Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 09:35 PM
Response to Original message
1. Thank you so much E
:hi:
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 09:36 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. So much my pleasure. Andy gave me a bunch of links that I'll put
Edited on Thu Mar-05-09 09:36 PM by EFerrari
into the thread because even with help, it wasn't go into the OP. :silly:
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leftchick Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 09:40 PM
Response to Original message
3. I have been reading Andy's articles on CP for years
Thank you so much!

:)

K&R!
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chill_wind Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 10:43 PM
Response to Original message
4. Thank you EF. He's done such incredibly important work. K & R!
eom
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 04:13 PM
Response to Reply #4
23. There's so much to keep track of right now. I hope we can continue
to follow up on this story and Andy is a great source for every phase of it.

:kick:
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Idealism Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 05:08 PM
Response to Reply #23
28. Thanks for taking the time! K&R
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Richard Steele Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 10:52 PM
Response to Original message
5. Heartily recommended! nm
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Mnemosyne Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 11:23 PM
Response to Original message
6. Very well done interview, Beth! It must have been so
heart-breaking for you to hear, once again, how heinous this has been for those incarcerated there and in other torture chambers. :hug:

The suicides there a couple years ago (the few we've heard about anyway) still haunt me. 3 suicides in 10 minutes or so is beyond disturbing, to say the least.

Thank Andy for his courage for me please. :patriot:
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 12:53 AM
Response to Reply #6
9. I was very worried that Binyam wouldn't make it out --
the reports on his health, his status were very concerning. It was like Sami al Haj all over again. It's such a relief that he's out. I hope he doesn't decompensate now that he is out of immediate danger.
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Mnemosyne Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 12:15 AM
Response to Reply #9
31. We can only hope he doesn't, but BFEE still rules too much.
We will know the truth. It will be worse than we've imagined or have had from those fleeting glimpses.

And I'm an optimist! :rofl:

Thank the Universe for Karma! :)
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 07:04 PM
Response to Reply #31
35. Yes, karma.
:)
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BuyingThyme Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Mar-05-09 11:58 PM
Response to Original message
7. kcik
:hi:
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 12:47 AM
Response to Reply #7
8. Thanks!
:hi:
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leftstreet Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 01:24 AM
Response to Original message
10. "Only a stupid man believes that you can beat the truth out of a prisoner."
K&R

:thumbsup:
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merh Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 01:37 AM
Response to Original message
11. k&r
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Solly Mack Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 04:49 AM
Response to Original message
12. K&R
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H2O Man Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 05:11 AM
Response to Original message
13. Outstanding!
This ranks with the Best of DU. Thank you.

Nominated.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 02:43 PM
Response to Reply #13
22. I first ran into Andy Worthington when trying to contact Clive Stafford Smith
about someone filing at the ICC. It became apparent that there would be no impeachment sometime last year, and I was trying to understand who had standing at the Court, who could request an investigation and so on.

Andy got right back to me. That's how I found his work.
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malaise Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 05:18 AM
Response to Original message
14. An excellent interview
Thanks. :hi:
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Lochloosa Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 06:03 AM
Response to Original message
15. Morning Kick
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pleah Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 07:10 AM
Response to Original message
16. K&R
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 09:51 AM
Response to Original message
17. kick
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BuyingThyme Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 01:47 PM
Response to Original message
18. .
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 02:05 PM
Response to Reply #18
19. Thanks, again.
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hootinholler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 02:28 PM
Response to Original message
20. Thank you Beth!
Edited on Fri Mar-06-09 02:28 PM by hootinholler
I'll have to come back to pour over it, but I really appreciate this thread, and happy to K&R.

-Hoot
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 02:39 PM
Response to Reply #20
21. Thanks, Hoot! I have a lot of admiration for Andy.
He has done so much work that no one else was doing or would do. :hi:
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Tierra_y_Libertad Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 04:20 PM
Response to Original message
24. Brava! To you for pursuing this. K&R
:applause: :hi:
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 04:38 PM
Response to Reply #24
26. Good people are doing good work, my friend!
:hi:
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omega minimo Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 04:22 PM
Response to Original message
25. Thanks EF and AW!! R#29
:kick:
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 05:00 PM
Response to Reply #25
27. Thank you!
:hi:
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Moosepoop Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 06:37 PM
Response to Original message
29. Thank you for this. K&R!!
Proud to give it Rec #35! :)
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Fri Mar-06-09 07:38 PM
Response to Reply #29
30. I'm sorry it has nothing to do with Rush.
Not.

:hi:
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Time for change Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 01:28 AM
Response to Original message
32. What a great interview!
Thank God for journalists like that. What a terrible. shame that this kind of information didn't get publicized a lot more than it did in our country.
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acmavm Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 02:44 PM
Response to Original message
33. Excellent interview! Shows the criminality and the feelings of untouchabiltiy
displayed by the bush** admin for what it was/is, empty, evil (for lack of a better word right now), and ignorant actions by chickenhawks who thought they themselves were above the laws of the US and the basic rules of humanity as described by the Geneva Convention.

What I have never understood and never will is what the hell was it that they thought they were proving? They got no 'high value' prisoners. I mean, bin Laden's driver? WTF? They got no useful information obviously, or we would have heard it. Truth is, they got NOTHING from all this. Not one damn thing that could be used to convince anyone (except maybe the most ignorant amongst us) that what they were doing could or would provide any useful 'intelligence' against our 'enemy'.

(I have to admit the 'enemy' thing is still fuzzy in my mind to this day. I can't quite figure out who it was or is. Is it people who fought back against an invasion of their country? If so, watch out! Because by that token anyone who fights back against an invading military force can be snapped up and taken away to be tortured and isolated by their invaders without any legal or moral protections whatsoever. But were they not patriots? That is not just a word that applies to Americans you know. Are not patriots supposed to fight back against invaders? Would not you and I be expected to do the same in the event this country was invaded? Do you see my confusion?)

What did result is that they proved that this country has quite a few corrupt lying criminals (both male and female) in high places who didn't have one shred of the basic decency that determines what kind of person they are, what kind of citizen of the world community they are. They didn't show one shred of respect for our laws or the laws of other countries. These people are morally bankrupt. And they left our country with a stain on it that will never go away. We may close down GITMO, we may quit snatching people off the streets in foreign countries, whatever, but we will never be able to erase this disgraceful episode from our history. It will always be there, and it will show that America can and has shown that it is capable acts and actions that deservedly earn us scorn and condemnation of decent people the world over. (Don't think I don't recognize the actions of our 'allies' in all this. But they did what they did under our 'leadership'. They followed our policies, and in many cases followed our orders sometimes just for financial motives.)

All this is why investigations, trials, and convictions of these bastards is so important. To take us back to the rule of law, to show that we are not a nation of moral bankrupts, to set the record straight.
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EFerrari Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sat Mar-07-09 07:02 PM
Response to Reply #33
34. The complicity all over the world is astonishing, really.
I can't wait to read Andy's book so my own data base will be more coherent but, iirc, England, Ireland, Italy, Germany, France, The Netherlands, Canada, Poland, the Ukraine, Syria, Morocco, Pakistan. And those are only the ones that come to mind immediately.
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proud2BlibKansan Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-08-09 08:56 AM
Response to Original message
36. Wow - great interview
Well done, my friend.

Sorry I missed this the day you posted it.
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Karenina Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-08-09 10:31 AM
Response to Original message
37. bttt!
:kick:
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BuyingThyme Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Sun Mar-08-09 03:45 PM
Response to Original message
38. kcik
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