Saturday, October 29, 2005


This merger brought in $10 billion in profits last quarter- a world record built on three months of price gouging!

"All of the major oil companies, foreign and domestic, have now announced their earnings: ExxonMobil third-quarter earnings up 75 percent. ConocoPhilips up 89 percent. British Petroleum up 34 percent. Shell up 68 percent.

"All together, the 29 major oil and gas firms in the Standard and Poors 500 stock index are expected to earn 96 billion dollars this year -- up from 68 billion dollars last year and 43 billion dollars in 2003.”

“Suppose you were an idiot. And suppose you were a member of Congress. But I repeat myself.”

Mark Twain, a Biography.

Gasoline pump prices double, then triple in less than 12 months. Meanwhile, earlier this year Congress passed an energy bill that will provide billions in tax breaks to oil companies. Georgians might wonder why their elected representatives and senators voted to provide tax breaks to the likes of Exxon Mobil, which just recorded a record breaking quarterly profit of ten billion dollars. A glance at the Political Action Committee (PAC) contributions (courtesy of to Georgia’s Congressmen and Senators provides the answer.

Oil Companies’ bribes to Georgia’s Senators and Congressmen

Senator Johnny Isakson’s (R) vote on the energy bill was purchased with $5,000 from Chevron Texaco’s PAC. Kerr-McGee, an Oklahoma based oil and gas exploration company, bagged Senator Saxby Chambliss (R) with $3,000 in 2003 (when Chambliss was still 5 years away from a re-election bid, but received over $365,000 in PAC bribes to influence his future votes). Georgia’s 8th District Congressman Lynn Westmoreland (R) received a paltry $1,000 from Chevron Texaco, but it was enough to buy his vote, also. Exxon Mobil purchased Congressmen Nathan Deal’s (R) and Phil Gingrey’s (R) votes for $1,000 each. However, Gingrey previously was paid $3,000 for his vote in the 2004 election, proving once again that the old adage holds true- an honest Congressman is one who, once bribed, stays bribed.

Max Burns (R), who hopes to win back his 13th Congressional District seat from Democrat John Barrow, was worth $10,000 to Exxon Mobil in the 2004 election cycle, while Clay Calder (R) received $7,000. It’s no accident that the letter “R” follows most of the donations. Federal Election Commission records show that Exxon Mobil spent $585,674 bribing House Republicans during the 2004 election, but only $27,250 (less than 5% of their total) bribing House Democrats to do their bidding. The same pattern held true with Senators, as Exxon Mobil spent $105,770 to purchase Republicans’ votes, but only $9,550 to corrupt Democrats.

HMO’s won’t let Georgians have a single payer plan

If you’re a Georgia State employee and you’re upset that your health insurance is about to become virtually worthless because the new insurance company has failed to negotiate deals with local hospitals and medical practices, don’t fret. Congress will come to your aid with a single payer plan that will eliminate all of the problems with non-participating medical providers- just as soon as you pony up the necessary bribes. Here’s your competition: Aetna’s HMO and Humana HMO separately wrapped up Nathan Deal’s vote for $1,500 each. If Max Burns gets re-elected, Aetna still has him on the hook for $1,000 from his 2004 race. In 2004, Humana spent $88,000 securing Republicans' votes in the House (compared to only $17,500 spent bribing Democrats, who can’t even get a bill to the House floor for a vote- but hey, one day in the future, they may be instrumental in blocking unwanted regulations). But to get your single payer plan, you’d better exceed $2.5 million greasing Washington palms, as that was the total HMO’s spent buying Congress in 2004.

Why your prescription drug bills won’t go down anytime soon

And that 2003 prescription drug bill that rewarded pharmaceutical companies at the expense of seniors and local governments strapped with Medicaid costs? Chalk that one up to drug giants like Johnson and Johnson ($1,000 bought Sanford Bishop (D)) and Pfizer ($10,000 to bribe Max Burns, $2,000 to Nathan Deal, $1,000 to Phil Gingrey, $5,000 for civil rights pioneer John Lewis (D), $1,000 for Charles Norwood (R), $10,000 to Tom Price (R), $10,500 to David Scott (D), $2,000 to Saxby Chambliss. and $5,000 to Johnny Isakson). Pfizer alone spent $800,000 in the 2004 election cycle to buy votes, and drug companies as a whole spent almost $8.5 million- $6 million on Republicans. Of course, when the benefits of their largesse are returned a thousand fold- they are reaping billions from a bill that will cost American taxpayers over $500 billion over the next 10 years- the investment seems paltry indeed.

It’s hard to decide which is more embarrassing: that our Congressmen and Senators can be bribed by special interests bent on bankrupting Americans, or that they come so cheap.

Saturday, October 22, 2005


Unlike the wall to wall coverage of the Simpson trial, Albany's reporters cover trials without bothering to watch

(this column will appear in the 10-27-05 edition of THE ALBANY (GA.) JOURNAL)

“Counsel, you refer to that document one more time and I’ll hold you in contempt.”

This is the stuff of which trials are made, and veteran television watchers (Court TV and Law & Order) probably know all about testy exchanges between judges and lawyers. What they don’t see are the behind the scenes vignettes which make up the nitty gritty of trial work. Unfortunately, local news coverage is not much help in understanding what is going on in the trials of which I have been a part.

For instance, just last Wednesday, News Center 10 watchers were treated to the following headline on WALB-TV’s website (it’s still there on Saturday!) and in the nightly newscast:

“Judge threatens lawyer with contempt

October 19, 2005

Albany -- Superior Court Judge ... threatened defense attorney James Finkelstein with contempt of court charges this morning, in the fifth day of the **** trial.

Finkelstein, the attorney for ****, attempted to introduce evidence that had been ruled out of bounds by [the judge], in ****’s RICO trial."

I have followed a firm rule that I’m not about to break when it comes to writing about my cases. But in this case, I will bend it a little (I asterisked out my client’s name), by writing about the problematic trial coverage fed to newspaper readers and TV news watchers. Here’s the dirty little secret the Albany Herald, Fox-31, and WALB won’t tell you: the reporters don’t actually attend the trials they cover in their stories. Oh yes, they will show up occasionally for a minute- during a trial which, in the above case, lasted almost two full weeks. But when they do attend, they usually don’t bother trying to find out what’s going on.

One reporter from Channel 10 filmed opening statements the first day of trial, then I never saw her again. A week later, another Channel 10 reporter (a long time acquaintance of mine and a really nice guy) came for one morning of trial testimony, resulting in the above news story with the provocative headline. Had he stuck around for the afternoon festivities, he would have been treated to a far juicier story about the “evidence that had been ruled out of bounds” that would have been highly embarrassing to some of the participants (not me, thankfully). More to the point of responsible journalism, he would also have been able to report that the same evidence which was ruled “out of bounds” in the morning session was admitted that afternoon, passed around to each juror to review, and was a prominent part of the defense’s closing argument. But neither he nor any Channel 10 reporter ever came back again.

In fact, after the trial ended before 5:00 on Friday, when the Herald and Fox 31 were reporting that the trial had ended in a hung jury (10-2 for acquittal on both felony counts), WALB reported that the jury was still deliberating- because they hadn’t bothered to send a reporter to cover the rest of the trial.

The Herald did have a reporter show up for a few days- for opening statements, then again after the trial had been in session a full week. He did a decent job on two front page stories, but it’s difficult if not impossible to write a story about a prominent criminal trial without being on hand for the State’s presentation of its case.

Fox 31 had a reporter there after all of trial testimony had ended, just in time for closing arguments and jury deliberations. But like the Channel 10 reporter, Fox's reporter only wanted on the air quotes, not information about the trial itself. So TV news junkies, beware: you are getting video of the “he said” genre rather than information and context.

No reporter covered any of the pre-trial motion hearings, which were lengthy, hotly contested, and had some highly newsworthy moments.

No reporter sought me out for off the record background information on what the trial was about or what had happened prior to his or her arrival. Ordinarily I won’t allow myself to be quoted on the record until after a trial has concluded. Since this one ended in a mistrial, I haven’t said anything substantive about it, and I won’t until it has been resolved. But I will gladly help out a reporter by providing off the record information that will allow the reporter to be informed and understand the context of what he or she is watching.

Consumers of news deserve more than just a brief “the prosecutor said... the defense attorney said” coverage of a trial. For instance, as far as I know, this was the first criminal RICO trial in the history of Dougherty County, which no news story mentioned. Several witnesses testified about whom I know local readers would have been fascinated: their background, their stories, the deals they struck before they testified.

One of the State’s witnesses who was granted complete immunity for testifying is a federal prisoner who several years ago was the Kingpin responsible for bringing into Dougherty County hundreds if not thousands of pounds of marijuana. The witness literally handed it out to local drug dealers- including one offspring of a prominent local elected public official- in quantities of 10 to 50 pounds each. But you never saw any mention of that in local news coverage, because they weren’t in the courtroom. It was the kind of shocking story which would have been a banner front page headline in the local papers (including this one) had a reporter bothered to be in the courtroom during the testimony.

Oh yeah. The judge- who threatened me with contempt the day before- and I had a good laugh about the WALB story. What viewers and readers don’t know is that the lawyers (and occasionally judges) who go at each other so fiercely in the courtroom are typically very courteous, professional, and occasionally even friendly when the jury is out of the room. After closing arguments, I will usually- if I can do so sincerely- compliment the opposing counsel on his or her presentation of the case. In this instance, in my brief post trial interview with FOX-31 I complimented the lead prosecutor for his excellent closing argument. In my opinion, it would have been 12-0 for not guilty instead of 10-2 if he hadn’t done such a good job in his final argument- an argument to which Georgia law did not permit me to respond.

Monday, October 17, 2005


The question asked was: is there anything you HAVEN'T screwed up since you became President?

(this column will appear in the 10-20-05 THE ALBANY JOURNAL)

None of us non-medical people would ever dream of walking into an operating room, pushing the surgeon aside, and telling him we could do that heart transplant better than he could. We non-pilots wouldn’t jump into the captain’s seat on a jumbo jet and try to fly it. And it’s doubtful more than a few of us could step into the quarterback’s spot in the middle of a pro football game and run a pro offense without getting killed by the first blitzing linebacker. But when it comes to running the most powerful country in the history of the world, every American considers it his or her God-given right to tell our government where and how it is screwing up and how we could do it better. So in that grand tradition, forthwith, here is my immodest contribution: If I were President instead of Bush, the things I’d do differently:

I’d push for every dollar of stem cell research possible.

I’d take money away from big ticket weapons systems- nuclear powered submarines and carriers- and invest in more manpower for port and border security and and more benefits and pay for the “grunts.”

I’d appoint only judges and justices who have careers which demonstrate the highest regard for the Bill of Rights and that they care about human beings- and who are courteous and even tempered.

I’d act immediately to stop America’s contributions to global warming and pollution.

I’d push for investment in energy efficient and environmentally safe energy sources (solar, wind and geothermal power) and for investments in energy saving vehicles.

I’d get our troops out of Iraq in six months and replace them with peacekeepers who are Muslim Arabic speakers.

I’d push for bi-partisan agreements in Congress to reduce the deficit, including new rules that prohibit attaching unrelated funding bills to Homeland Security and Defense spending.

I’d pardon people in prison for non-violent drug offenses and instruct the Attorney General to cease all prosecutions of doctors and patients who use medical marijuana in States which have legalized their activities, such as Oregon and California.

I’d stop trying to wreck Social Security by privatizing it and instead raise the caps on earnings, put capital gains and interest income into the mix, and lower overall rates (this would also stimulate the economy)

Instead of gay bashing, I’d order the Defense Department to rehire every gay Arabic translator fired and order them to stop enforcing “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Instead, my policy would be: as long as you can keep your hands to yourself (i.e. don’t sexually harass other people whether you are gay or straight) then you are welcome.

I’d speak in places where ordinary people- not just military audiences or hand picked supporters- could attend.

I’d give press conferences and answer questions honestly- including admitting mistakes when made.

I’d fire Karl Rove and keep out of the White House any person who thinks his or her job is mudslinging or partisan attacks on my opponents.

I’d support the United Nations peacekeeping missions and work to create an international force that could and would react to global terrorist attacks from places like Afghanistan and genocide in places like Darfur, Sudan.

Until that happened, I’d immediately tell the leaders of Sudan that they have 24 hours to stop the genocide and stand down the government sponsored killers. If they didn’t, I’d mobilize an international force, including troops from other African nations, to come in, take over the government, and put in a U.N. protectorate that would stop the genocide.

I’d make the U.S. part of the International Criminal Court and send Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and George W. Bush to stand trial for war crimes.

I’d stop classifying documents that didn’t need to be secret, and issue executive orders to comply fully with Freedom of Information Act Requests.

I’d dismantle the Department of Homeland Security and simply tell the heads of the CIA, DIA, FBI, NSA and other intelligence agencies that if they can’t make their employees share information with other American agencies trying to stop terrorist attacks, then they’re fired.

I’d tell Iraq that they can forget about putting in a Constitution that doesn’t include a First Amendment which guarantees Freedom of Religion and Freedom from an establishment of religion. Although I wish we’d never invaded and taken over their country, it would be a disgrace if American soldiers died so that they could institute an intolerant, Taliban like religious dictatorship.

I’d tell North Korea that they can waste all the time and resources that they want building nukes- but if they continue to create a viable nuclear weapons program which has produced bombs, then if any nuke explodes anywhere in the world whose home address we can’t determine, we’ll assume it was theirs and act accordingly. The only way they can be sure to avoid a nuclear retaliation will be to disarm their nuclear bombs, dismantle their nuclear weapons facilities and allow free inspections. And I’d tell Iran, Pakistan, and India, the same thing.

I’d permit federally funded family planning clinics to resume giving out all information ways to prevent pregnancy.

I’d come up with a single payer plan for all medical expenses paid by insurance or HMO’s. I’d push for a Federal plan for catastrophic health insurance for every American.

I’d promote campaign finance reform that would eliminate all non-public money from federal campaigns. In the meantime, I’d instruct every U.S. Attorney to prosecute every campaign donor and every recipient who had a reasonable expectation of a quid pro quo for the money contributed- i.e. defense contractors, pharmaceutical companies, telecommunications companies, and so forth.

I’d read books. And newspapers.

And lastly, I’d spend a good bit of my time going out to different parts of America and having conversations with regular people about what they want their government to do for them.

Saturday, October 08, 2005


The Republican Platform ensures that Paris Hilton will get 100% of her ancestors' estate; A Democrat proposes dedicating the estate tax to prescription drug relief for the needy elderly

Worst. President. In. History. I was at the Outback bar with my buddy Glenn Saturday night- he called me to come keep him company while his twin daughters were at the Westover-Dougherty game. And, as is our wont, even with compelling football and a baseball games on twin televisions over the bar, the subject turned to politics. After a couple of friends stopped by to say hello, I uttered the words at the beginning of the paragraph and asked their opinion of our President. Both emphatically agreed, at which point Glenn chimed in with his usual riposte: “Keep on saying that and you will see another Republican elected President in 2008, because the Democrats won’t win just by pointing out how bad Bush is unless they can point to what they would do differently.”

And I agreed with Glenn 100%. As low as Bush’s polls have dropped, Democrats won’t win elections just by pointing out what a horrible mess he’s created. (Miraculously, 38 percent of Americans still approve of Bush’s job; apparently they live in a parallel universe where the Iraq debacle never happened, the budget is balanced, gas costs $1.15 a gallon, the prescription drug bill actually reduced drug costs, and FEMA promptly responded to hurricane Katrina, which was only a Category 2 hurricane after Bush's efforts to reduce global warming.) So here’s the first of my suggestions for Democrats to use as alternatives to the failed policies of the Bush Administration. We’ll start with....


Republicans and their insurance company buddies screamed “socialism” back in 1994 when Bill and Hillary tried to reform our ridiculously complex health care payment system. The Clinton experiment never got off the ground- remember the 1994 State of the Union address when Bill held up the plastic card that would be used in a single payer plan? Problem is, we already have socialized medicine- Medicaid for poor children and the disabled, Medicare for the elderly, and for the rest of the uninsured, public hospitals which are required to treat everyone in need at great expense to the rest of us. Rather than cowering in fear of the word “socialism,” we should be screaming to the rafters that Republicans are in favor of keeping socialized medicine that costs all of us an arm and a leg (them’s our tax dollars paying for the 45 million uninsured when they get sick or injured).

My suggestion: government issued catastrophic health insurance for every American, including every employee of big business, for every dollar over $3,000.00, paid for by a national sales tax of one percent. The advantage of this plan is that it would benefit both America’s workers and their traditional adversaries, big business.

Many if not most American workers fear losing their health insurance almost as much, if not more, than losing the income from their jobs, because if a serious illness hits them or their family members, they can be wiped out financially. But alleviating this anxiety for workers would also provide a means for American businesses to be on a more even footing with foreign competition. Foreign companies in countries with national health presently enjoy a huge competitive advantage against American companies- they don’t have medical costs and health insurance as part of their overhead, so they can sell the same products at lower prices than American companies.

Why organized labor and large American corporations which presently provide health benefits for employees haven’t yet figured out that they are on the same side of this issue is beyond me. But if they ever do, then Republicans in power will have to explain to big business- their core constituency- why they shouldn’t be allowed to compete on an even playing field with foreign companies selling the same products to Americans.


Republicans whine that because of evil trial lawyers, runaway juries (I think I’ve seen their pictures on some milk cartons) and frivolous lawsuits, malpractice premiums have soared, driving obstetricians out of their specialty and taking doctors away from small communities. Their main solution: cap non-economic damages that can be awarded at $250,000. Of course, the fact that this has already been done in some states without reducing malpractice insurance premiums doesn’t faze them- after all, Bush’s handlers arrogantly asserted that they “create their own reality.” Unfortunately, the rest of us have to live in the real world, where their “tort reform” benefits only insurance companies, not doctors or patients. Rather than fighting them on this, which is what Democrats have been reduced to, making us look like the bad guys, we should leapfrog them on the issue and put doctors, hospitals, and pharmaceutical companies completely in the Democratic camp.

How? We replace the current tort system with a no fault system that will end all malpractice insurance premiums for doctors, hospitals, and drug companies. Zero- that’s right- they will pay zero dollars in insurance premiums. Instead, the no-fault system will be funded by a one percent tax on all medical goods and all medical services (these services are currently completely untaxed). The money will go into a fund, and claims will be paid similarly to workers’ compensation programs without regard to fault. Defense lawyers will be unnecessary, as the money will be paid out of the fund, so no medical provider would have a stake in opposing a particular claim. Plaintiffs' lawyers would be permitted but not necessary, because fault would not have to be proved and payment would be based on the severity of the injury. I liken this to the old flight insurance- buy $100,000 flight life insurance for a buck. If the plane goes down, your family collects without having to prove negligence of the pilot, the carrier, or the plane manufacturer.

To deal with incompetent doctors, all claims paid for medical related injuries (with patient confidentiality assured) will be reported and posted on internet websites. Before going to a doctor or purchasing a medicine, the consumer can check out the site.

Republicans will be left to explain to doctors why the Democrats’ proposal- which eliminates all of their malpractice insurance costs- is somehow worse than the Republicans’ proposal, which rewards only insurance companies and which provides continued employment and retainers for insurance defense law firms.


Most people understand and agree with the concept of “you get what you pay for,” and taxpayers are more understanding when taxes are dedicated to a particular program- like gasoline taxes for highway construction and repair- especially if the tax isn’t onerous or is imposed on a group eminently capable of paying. For the past few years, Republicans have been beating the Democrats over the head with proposals to phase out the estate tax (which they tried to rename the "death tax" to avoid the elitist connotations of the word "estate").

Instead of eliminating a tax on rich dead people (estates under a million aren’t taxed), I propose an estate tax which is "dedicated." In this case, "dedicate" estate taxes to reducing prescription drug costs for the needy elderly. I would love to see any Senator or Congressman try to explain to senior citizens why it would be better to save money for rich dead people to pass on to their unproductive drones (Paris Hilton, anyone?) than to provide low cost or no cost prescription drugs for living old people who don’t own retirement homes in Palm Springs.

We should include an exemption that leaves small businesses and family farms untouched by estate taxes. By dedicating the proceeds of the estate tax to a prescription drug benefit for the elderly, the Democrats get a two for one: (1) the elderly who might otherwise oppose estate taxes are the beneficiaries of the tax while they are still living; and (2) the Republicans are even more closely aligned as the party of the rich- in this case the dead rich (!) versus the people who are in need right now.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Private Lynndie England got three years in prison for abusing Abu Ghraib detainees; higher ups remain unprosecuted

“This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.” Capt. Ian Fishback, 82nd Airborne Division.

Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s Chief of Staff, inexplicably let New York Times reporter Judith Miller spend 85 days in jail before releasing her from her promise of confidentiality last week, allowing her to secure her release by testifying before the grand jury investigating CIA agent Valerie Plame’s outing by high White House officials. What kind of honor does a man have who would break the law, leak the name of a covert CIA agent to a reporter, then let her spend almost three months in jail rather than release her from her promise? Unfortunately, in the rarified atmosphere of the upper echelons of the Bush Administration, that kind of pathetic behavior is par for the course.

With the conviction and prison sentence handed down to Private Lynndie England for her part in abusing Abu Ghraib detainees, many Americans might be tempted to think that the prisoner abuse scandals were isolated incidents involving low level soldiers- and that they are now behind us. Not so. Greg Mitchell from Editor and Publisher reports that on September 29th, a New York Federal judge ruled on a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union that more Abu Ghraib photos must be released “over government claims that they could damage America's image. Last year a Republican senator conceded that the photos and videos contained scenes of "rape and murder" and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted that they included acts that were "blatantly sadistic."”

Pornographic website posts grisly photos from American soldiers in Iraq

But just when we think we have reached the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the desecration of America’s soul, it gets worse: recent reports have revealed a pornographic website, nowthatsf***, posted numerous grisly photos of burned and dismembered Iraqis sent by American soldiers stationed in Iraq. The BBC News, World Edition, reported on 9/29/05:

“The website on which the controversial images appear was originally set up for users to trade pornographic pictures of their wives and girlfriends. ..., the owner of the site said he had offered soldiers free access if they could prove they were members of the military.

Chris Wilson said some sent in pictures of Baghdad traffic signs or of aspects of their life abroad, others sent in pictures of corpses and dismembered bodies.... "This is directly from them [the soldiers]. They can take the digital cameras and take a picture and send it to me, and that's the most raw you can get it.”

George Zornick reported in The Nation that: “The website has become a stomach-churning showcase for the pornography of war--close-up shots of Iraqi insurgents and civilians with heads blown off, or with intestines spilling from open wounds. Sometimes photographs of mangled body parts are displayed: Part of the game is for users to guess what appendage or organ is on display.”

Frustrated Army Captain writes Senators about detainee abuse

Thankfully, not every American exposed to the war has lost all pretense of adhering to the laws of war or respect for basic human dignity. Captain Ian Fishback of the 82nd Airborne sent the following letter to Senator John McCain on September 16, 2005:

Dear Senator McCain:

I am a graduate of West Point currently serving as a Captain in the U.S. Army Infantry. I have served two combat tours with the 82nd Airborne Division, one each in Afghanistan and Iraq. While I served in the Global War on Terror, the actions and statements of my leadership led me to believe that United States policy did not require application of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On 7 May 2004, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld's testimony that the United States followed the Geneva Conventions in Iraq and the "spirit" of the Geneva Conventions in Afghanistan prompted me to begin an approach for clarification. For 17 months, I tried to determine what specific standards governed the treatment of detainees by consulting my chain of command through battalion commander, multiple JAG lawyers, multiple Democrat and Republican Congressmen and their aides, the Ft. Bragg Inspector General's office, multiple government reports, the Secretary of the Army and multiple general officers, a professional interrogator at Guantanamo Bay, the deputy head of the department at West Point responsible for teaching Just War Theory and Law of Land Warfare, and numerous peers who I regard as honorable and intelligent men.

Instead of resolving my concerns, the approach for clarification process leaves me deeply troubled. Despite my efforts, I have been unable to get clear, consistent answers from my leadership about what constitutes lawful and humane treatment of detainees. I am certain that this confusion contributed to a wide range of abuses including death threats, beatings, broken bones, murder, exposure to elements, extreme forced physical exertion, hostage-taking, stripping, sleep deprivation and degrading treatment. I and troops under my command witnessed some of these abuses in both Afghanistan and Iraq.

This is a tragedy. I can remember, as a cadet at West Point, resolving to ensure that my men would never commit a dishonorable act; that I would protect them from that type of burden. It absolutely breaks my heart that I have failed some of them in this regard.

That is in the past and there is nothing we can do about it now. But, we can learn from our mistakes and ensure that this does not happen again. Take a major step in that direction; eliminate the confusion. My approach for clarification provides clear evidence that confusion over standards was a major contributor to the prisoner abuse. We owe our soldiers better than this. Give them a clear standard that is in accordance with the bedrock principles of our nation.

Some do not see the need for this work. Some argue that since our actions are not as horrifying as Al Qaeda's, we should not be concerned. When did Al Qaeda become any type of standard by which we measure the morality of the United States? We are America, and our actions should be held to a higher standard, the ideals expressed in documents such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

Others argue that clear standards will limit the President's ability to wage the War on Terror. Since clear standards only limit interrogation techniques, it is reasonable for me to assume that supporters of this argument desire to use coercion to acquire information from detainees. This is morally inconsistent with the Constitution and justice in war. It is unacceptable.

Both of these arguments stem from the larger question, the most important question that this generation will answer. Do we sacrifice our ideals in order to preserve security? Terrorism inspires fear and suppresses ideals like freedom and individual rights. Overcoming the fear posed by terrorist threats is a tremendous test of our courage. Will we confront danger and adversity in order to preserve our ideals, or will our courage and commitment to individual rights wither at the prospect of sacrifice? My response is simple. If we abandon our ideals in the face of adversity and aggression, then those ideals were never really in our possession. I would rather die fighting than give up even the smallest part of the idea that is "America."

Once again, I strongly urge you to do justice to your men and women in uniform. Give them clear standards of conduct that reflect the ideals they risk their lives for.

With the Utmost Respect,
-- Capt. Ian Fishback
1st Battalion,
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment,
82nd Airborne Division,
Fort Bragg, North Carolina