by Charley James
Florida’s 22nd Congressional District is a narrow stretch of heavily gerrymandered coastal land stretching from Ft. Lauderdale north to Jupiter, mostly hugging beach communities but occasionally meandering inland to grab bits of West Palm Beach –Palm Beach’s down-market cousin, home to the black and Hispanic domestics, gardeners and roustabouts who work in the Palm’s posh hotels, luxury condos and gated estates – as well as Coral Springs and Cooper City.
To really see the district, stay off the interstate and crawl through the small towns that blur together along US 1 from Lauderdale to Jupiter. They’re towns where the humidity hangs like a panting dog, school test scores are further south than the state itself, gun shops dot an unending parade of strip malls, and waitresses in small diners wearing big hair and nylon uniforms serve coffee to Lou and Mario and Eudora.
You won’t find many yachts in the harbours; they’re up in Palm Beach or down in Lauderdale. The marinas here mostly berth sea-battered fishing boats, second or third-hand 22’ runabouts with goofy names like “Phil’s Pholly” or “Mary’s Movin,” and little sloops so far past their use-by date that only a fool would dare take them outside the breakwater.
It’s like stumbling into a John D. MacDonald novel; stop for lunch and you half-expect Travis McGee will saunter in right behind you.
The district is also where Allen West, a former lieutenant colonel who was drummed out of the Army for torturing an Iraqi prisoner by holding a mock execution after allowing men under his command to repeatedly beat the detainee, has the GOP endorsement to run for Congress in 2010.
The military boasts that its personnel are among America ’s best. And, for the majority of officers and enlisted people serving bravely, with distinction and without incident, it’s true. But people like West give lie to the boast.
So why did Sid Dinerstein, chair of the Palm Beach County Republican Party and author of a self-published right wing political manifesto, Adults Only, hand the GOP endorsement for Congress in FL22 to a man who effectively admitted to committing two war crimes?
The case against West stems from an Aug. 20, 2003 incident at a military base in Taji, just north of Baghdad , when West was interrogating an Iraqi policeman who was thought to have information about a plot to ambush a US convoy.
In testimony at his Article 32 hearing – a military grand jury – West said the policeman was not cooperating so he allowed four soldiers he commanded to beat the detainee’s head and body. Then joining in the festivities, West admits threatening to kill the prisoner. Military prosecutors said West followed up by taking the blindfolded suspect outside, putting his head in a weapons clearing barrel and firing his 9mm pistol into the barrel one foot from the prisoner’s ear.
According to an August 2009 article in The Washington Post, West told the beaten Iraqi that “this is where it will end,” meaning that West would kill him if he did not talk. When faced with another refusal, West said, he took the Iraqi’s head under his arm, pushed it into the barrel and shot twice with his pistol a foot from the Iraqi’s ear. He said he pointed the gun away.
How thoughtful; West is a real officer and a gentleman.
When West testified that he had “no malice toward (the detainee)” and that he “just wanted information,” prosecutors presented West’s typed statement prepared after the incident, ordering him to read aloud his report to the court: “In my anger, I couldn’t remember how many shots were fired.”
In Dec. 2003, the Army took action. West was fined $5,000, relieved of all command responsibilities and allowed to retire in what amounts to a plea bargain. The Army could have held a court martial where, if found guilty, he could have faced 11 years in prison, according to military prosecutors.
West’s GOP and tea party supporters in Florida ’s 22nd call him a hero. But military prosecutors say he committed torture, violating articles 128 and 134 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
“By all rights, he (West) should have been put on trial, convicted for war crimes and sent to prison,” says a former Army judge advocate who is familiar with the case. “But (then-Maj. Gen. Raymond) Odierno, the top commander in the area, just wanted the case to go away. All hell was breaking out in Iraq at the time. Although it wasn’t yet public, Abu Ghraib was happening and neither top brass nor the (Bush) administration wanted to risk bad news leaking out about bad officers.”
Trying to short circuit the humiliation of his military record being publicly exposed, West responded to the Washington Post by criticizing coverage of his Army misdeeds, stammering in a news release, “If we continue to have our Country led by … ‘perfumed princes’ the security of our Republic is threatened. I would challenge President Obama and Attorney General Holder to find the intestinal fortitude to make hard decisions, and not be cowards prosecuting those far more honourable.
“I shall not allow the future and legacy of my Country to be left to petulant, intellectual elites who would sacrifice our Liberty and Freedom,” West fumed. Yet for a man who expresses disdain for “intellectual elites” and “perfumed princes” – whatever that means – his election website boasts of the three degrees West earned, including two Masters. Uhm, doesn’t that put him in among the perfumed intellectual elite?
And yet he sidesteps the key issue of the charges against him: Torturing prisoners. The closest he comes is saying, “I made a simple statement at my Article 32 hearing when asked if I would take the same action again, ‘If it is about the safety and lives of my men, I would go through hell with a gasoline can’.”
West doesn’t bother explaining how an unarmed and bound prisoner being held at a secure Army base posed a risk to “the safety and lives of my men” that justified a beating and mock execution.
Yet despite West’s shameful military record and triangulating on his plea deal, neither the Palm Beach County Republican Party nor Dinerstein, its chair, are stepping back from their endorsement.
Cut Taxes, Monger Fear
Florida’s 22nd is represented by Ron Klein, a member of the House’s New Democrat Coalition, a self-described group of “moderate, pro-business Democrats” – read “ConservaDem” business shills – who often vote against much of the party’s platform. First elected in 2006, Klein is seeking his third term in 2010. Yet as marginal a Democrat as Klein might be, West makes him seem like Markos Moulitsas by comparison.
For example, in a campaign appearance that was taped and made its way around the right wing blogosphere, West says repeatedly that the US is fighting “Islamic jihad” – fundamentalist code words calling for a Christian war on Islam. He ignores the reality that even the Pentagon and CIA have concluded the insurgency in both countries is between rival religious factions, tribes, warlords and criminal gangs. Both government and independent investigations have stated unequivocally that many Afghan fighters are farmers with no particular political views who either simply want foreign armies out of their country or are being paid $5-to-$10 a day to plant roadside bombs and lob RGPs out of the hills at US and other forces.
But West’s debunked claim is typical of how the GOP operates, relying on unsubstantiated fear mongering and distorting facts to try scoring points.
Worse, his prescription for fixing America ’s broken health care system is more of the same: “Our health care system needs reforms … These reforms can be instituted within the classic conservative principles of limited government, liberty, individual responsibility and accountability, and free market solutions.”
I guess “individual responsibility” means the 47-million people without health care coverage better stay healthy.
He is equally off-kilter on energy, stating on his website that “In the late 70s we were importing some 18-20% of our energy resources from foreign sources. Today we are importing close to 65% of our energy resources from foreign sources, making the failures of the Department of Energy evident to everyone.”
That both the US and its economy grew over the last 30-some years, more than quadrupling the demand for energy, isn’t mentioned nor does West explain the tautology of somehow equating rising consumption with the Dept. of Energy – which has nothing to do with determining how or where oil comes from. Forget about alternative sources. To West, it’s all drill, baby, drill.
Finally, in a district thick with immigrants, he concludes that “furthering the illegal immigrant agenda over that of America, I consider them seditious and treasonous … Talk radio host Michael Savage sums this issue up nicely: Borders, culture, and language.”
Since America is a land of immigrants, I’m not sure what he means by “furthering the illegal immigrant agenda over America .” What is the illegal immigrant agenda, anyway? And why is a black candidate quoting the words of Michael Savage, an avowed racist?
Enter Sid Dinerstein, godfather of the Palm Beach GOP apparatus, who handed the endorsement to West.
According to Pete Corson, a Florida political observer and partially disabled Vietnam veteran, “Palm Beach has the clout on this one, so Sid gets his way. Most of us have had a hard time figuring this one out. Sid is not a racist per se but he is damn close. There has to be a deal in here somewhere.”
In his self-published book, Dinerstein lashes out at immigrants, blaming them for so-called “multiculturalism” by writing “As long as there were many cultures, English was essential. Now that there is one other extraordinarily large culture…the Hispanic culture…English is even more essential. In Canada , they have friends and ‘amis’ – and Separation referenda. If we have friends and “amigos,” our “e pluribus” will stop becoming ‘Unum.’”
Excuse me, Sid, but Canada has had two separation votes, both defeated, and Québec nationalism all but died off after the last vote in the early 1990s. And how does someone speaking Spanish destroy the concept of e pluribus Unum?
And when Democrats are in control, Dinerstein is a fiscal hawk, writing “Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans . Congress and the President are going to chip in $100-billion to help them rebuild that town, and we say “OK.” Where’s it coming from? The answer is, nowhere. It’s Off Budget. That means that it doesn’t change the 200 billion dollars one bit. But it adds $100-billion to next year’s debt. It’s Off the budget and On the debt. Nice!”
Sid conveniently forgets that it was George Bush and a Republican-controlled Congress that did this off-budget sleight-of-hand year after year – including costs for the illegal Iraq misadventure and the botched Afghan war.
According to Corson, “(West’s) appeal has been minimal in the more moneyed ‘white’ areas of the district, so most observers regard his candidacy as a wash. The conventional wisdom is he loses in a close race to Ron Klein because he isn’t Jewish and he won’t get enough “black” votes to offset the low turnout in the country club areas.
“Otherwise, insiders are sticking tightly to the existing script, believing that they represent truth, justice, and the American Way ,” Corson concludes.
So Allen West campaigns in FL22 by crying out for taking back the country – but from whom?
I seem to recall rather large elections in 2006 and again in 2008 in which the now-sitting president and Democrats running for House and Senate seats were elected by an overwhelming majority of voters who were dissatisfied by, and fed up with, the other party’s ideas, demagoguery, lack of respect for the Constitution, and a total and complete disregard for American laws, traditions and values..
Candidate West is a living example of why Republicans – those like him as well as those who actually put country ahead of party – were tossed from office in the last two elections. And why he should be kept as far from Congress as possible.
h/t to Steve Kufus