Friday, May 21, 2004

And from the mouth of Rummy...

Rumsfeld says prison abuse probe diverting attention from war, Afghanistan

The story:

Capitol Hill-AP -- Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the probe into Iraqi prisoner abuse is diverting attention from affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rumsfeld says "it's too bad, but that's life." He says an awful lot of military leaders are spending a lot of time on the topic -- which he says is something that needed to be addressed.

Rumsfeld spoke after he and some top generals gave an update on Iraq and other topics to top Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says Rumsfeld was forthcoming on a range of issues, and that he thanked Rumsfeld for keeping Congress in the loop. The defense chief had been criticized recently by some lawmakers for not informing them more about the prison abuse scandal.

People are tortured and all Rummy can say is "it's too bad, but that's life"?! Give me a freakin' break! The investigations of torture in America's gulags is taking focus away from affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan? On the contrary. The scandal that is growing puts US efforts in those countries in sharp relief, in the process letting us know that affairs there are anything but hunky dory. Rummy's only issue is that this same scandal is putting his feet and the feet of his bosses in the fire. He no likey. To take a Rummy quote and apply it properly: it's too bad, but that's life. If Rummy and the rest of the White House thugs choose to carry out all manner of human rights violations in the name of the American people, they deserve to have their noses rubbed into the mess they make. As far as I'm concerned, lock the whole lot of them up in the same cellblock as Saddam.

And it just keeps getting worse

New Details of Prison Abuse Emerge: Abu Ghraib Detainees' Statements Describe Sexual Humiliation And Savage Beatings

If you want a reason why I've grown to so strongly resent Bu$hCo's regime, I could probably catalog dozens by this point in time. That the torture that we are slowly but steadily learning about was given a wink and a nod by the White House brass is one reason. Sy Hersh has the lowdown on that, and has published several stories this month detailing the growing scandal. This WaPo article fleshes out further the story that Hersh broke earlier. Some clips:

Previously secret sworn statements by detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq describe in raw detail abuse that goes well beyond what has been made public, adding allegations of prisoners being ridden like animals, sexually fondled by female soldiers and forced to retrieve their food from toilets.

...The statements provide the most detailed picture yet of what took place on the cellblock. Some of the detainees described being abused as punishment or discipline after they were caught fighting or with a prohibited item. Some said they were pressed to denounce Islam or were force-fed pork and liquor. Many provided graphic details of how they were sexually humiliated and assaulted, threatened with rape, and forced to masturbate in front of female soldiers.

"They forced us to walk like dogs on our hands and knees," said Hiadar Sabar Abed Miktub al-Aboodi, detainee No. 13077. "And we had to bark like a dog, and if we didn't do that they started hitting us hard on our face and chest with no mercy. After that, they took us to our cells, took the mattresses out and dropped water on the floor and they made us sleep on our stomachs on the floor with the bags on our head and they took pictures of everything."

..."They said we will make you wish to die and it will not happen," said Ameen Saeed Al-Sheik, detainee No. 151362. "They stripped me naked. One of them told me he would rape me. He drew a picture of a woman to my back and makes me stand in shameful position holding my buttocks."

...While military investigators interviewed the detainees separately, many of them recalled the same event or pattern of events and procedures in Tier 1A -- a block reserved for prisoners who were thought to possess intelligence that could help thwart the insurgency in Iraq, find Saddam Hussein or locate weapons of mass destruction. Military intelligence officers took over the cellblock last October and were using MPs to help "set the conditions" for interrogations, according to an investigative report complied by Maj. Gen. Antonio M. Taguba. Several MPs have since said in statements and through their attorneys that they were roughing up detainees at the direction of U.S. military intelligence officers.

...Kasim Mehaddi Hilas, detainee No. 151108, told investigators that when he first arrived at Abu Ghraib last year, he was forced to strip, put on a hood and wear rose-colored panties with flowers on them. "Most of the days I was wearing nothing else," he said in his statement.

Hilas also said he witnessed an Army translator having sex with a boy at the prison. He said the boy was between 15 and 18 years old. Someone hung sheets to block the view, but Hilas said he heard the boy's screams and climbed a door to get a better look. Hilas said he watched the assault and told investigators that it was documented by a female soldier taking pictures.

"The kid was hurting very bad," Hilas said.

It keeps getting worse.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Tinfoil Hats are not AWOL in the White House

The Jesus Landing Pad: Bush White House checked with rapture Christians before latest Israel move.

Freaky deaky (and again, not a good freaky deaky). A few clips:

It was an e-mail we weren't meant to see. Not for our eyes were the notes that showed White House staffers taking two-hour meetings with Christian fundamentalists, where they passed off bogus social science on gay marriage as if it were holy writ and issued fiery warnings that "the Presidents [sic] Administration and current Government is engaged in cultural, economical, and social struggle on every level"—this to a group whose representative in Israel believed herself to have been attacked by witchcraft unleashed by proximity to a volume of Harry Potter. Most of all, apparently, we're not supposed to know the National Security Council's top Middle East aide consults with apocalyptic Christians eager to ensure American policy on Israel conforms with their sectarian doomsday scenarios.

But now we know.

"Everything that you're discussing is information you're not supposed to have," barked Pentecostal minister Robert G. Upton when asked about the off-the-record briefing his delegation received on March 25. Details of that meeting appear in a confidential memo signed by Upton and obtained by the Voice.

The e-mailed meeting summary reveals NSC Near East and North African Affairs director Elliott Abrams sitting down with the Apostolic Congress and massaging their theological concerns. Claiming to be "the Christian Voice in the Nation's Capital," the members vociferously oppose the idea of a Palestinian state. They fear an Israeli withdrawal from Gaza might enable just that, and they object on the grounds that all of Old Testament Israel belongs to the Jews. Until Israel is intact and David's temple rebuilt, they believe, Christ won't come back to earth.

This sort of apocalyptic mindset that has captured the White House has been described aptly by Robert Jay Lifton in his recent book Superpower Syndrome, and by yours truly at The Left End of the Dial here, here, and here. David Neiwert also has relevant commentary as does Katherine Yurica. Knowledge is power.

By the way, props to Musing's Musings for the heads up on this one.

And now for something completely different, it's...

time for a light-bulb joke, via Musing's Musings:

Q. How many members of the Bush Administration are needed to replace a lightbulb?

A. Seven:

1. One to deny that a lightbulb needs to be replaced;

2. One to attack the patriotism of anyone who has questions about the lightbulb;

3. One to blame Clinton for the need of a new lightbulb;

4. One to arrange the invasion of a country rumored to have a secret stockpile of lightbulbs;

5. One to get together with Vice President Cheney and figure out how to pay Halliburton Industries one million dollars for a lightbulb;

6. One to arrange a photo-op session showing Bush changing the lightbulb while dressed in a flight suit, standing in front of a 'Mission Accomplished' banner;

7. And, finally, one to explain to Bush the difference between screwing a lightbulb and screwing the country.

It's Just Harmless Fun

We can count on wingnuts to compare the torture at Abu Ghraib to harmless college pranks or having a shower in gym class. Hmmmmm. Makes me realize that after all these years of hanging out with what I thought was a rather colorful group of people that my life has been nothing but boring. I pretty much avoided the whole frat/sorority scene like the plague, but from the cats I knew who were in frats/sororities nothing even remotely resembling the goings on at Abu Ghraib ever occurred. Maybe someone needs to tell them that they're doing their initiation rituals all wrong. Gym class in junior high and high school was equally boring for me. Yeah, I saw a couple fights break out - usually between a couple of my more hot-headed and soon-to-be-drop-out bound peers. And one of my gym teachers seemed to love blasting Village People tunes in the locker room (I never did get around to asking his opinion on gladiator films). But again, I'm left realizing that people like Zell Miller must have had a much different set of junior high and high school experiences than did I. In fact, if someone told me that Abu Ghraib-style torture was a common part of their high school gym class experience, my instincts as a psychologist would be to advise the person to seek professional help immediately (it would be hard to survive something like that without ptsd) and to immediately contact that proper legal authorities.

Maybe I've got it all wrong. Perhaps if I were a better Christian and more of a solid pillar of society like Zell Miller, Rush, and their ilk I'd realize that what I see as gross violations of human rights are really okay and are all part of God's plan. Or something like that. Maybe the problem is that I simply need to get hooked on Oxycontin so that my brain will be sufficiently addled to make such a world view seem perfectly sane.

The Hamster Has Data

Death Penalty and Innocence.

Here's the skinny:

Since 1973, number of people who have been released from death row with evidence of their innocence: 103

Number of persons executed in Florida since 1977: 51

Number of persons released from Florida death row with evidence of innocence, since 1973: 22

Number of persons on death row in Illinois on December 31, 2001: 158

Number of persons executed in Illinois since 1977: 12

Number of persons released from Illinois death row with evidence of innocence, since 1973: 13

Number of death row prisoners freed by Illinois Governor Ryan on January 10, 2003: 4

Percent of Illinois death row prisoners whose death sentences were commuted to life or shorter sentences on January 11, 2003 by Governor Ryan after he reviewed each case and found "questions about the fairness of the death penalty system as a whole" : 100%

And from the "Small Minds" Department:

The State Comptroller of Texas denied tax exempt status to a Unitarian Universalist church.

The rationale? The Unitarian Church is not a religious organization - "it does not have one system of belief". WTF? Here's a newsflash: the Unitarians are basically the heirs apparent to the Deists of the 18th Century. That's right - the sorts of people who crafted documents like The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution.

From the "Winning the Hearts and Minds" Department:

U.S. attack said to kill scores at Iraq wedding

I can think of plenty of reasons why brides and grooms might get cold feet before a wedding. The possibility that they might become "collateral damage" by occupying soldiers should not be one of those reasons.

A clip:

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A U.S. helicopter fired on a wedding party Wednesday in western Iraq, killing more than 40 people, Iraqi officials said. The U.S. military said it could not confirm the report and was investigating.

Lt. Col Ziyad al-Jbouri, deputy police chief of Ramadi, said between 42 and 45 people were killed in the attack, which took place about 2:45 a.m. in a remote desert area near the border with Syria and Jordan. He said the dead included 15 children and 10 women.

In other words, when Sir Lancelot kills a bunch of guests at a wedding party in a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail it's funny. When it happens in real life, it's anything but funny - it's tragedy, and preventable tragedy at that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

The Passion of Michael Moore

Or...The Bushes and the Bin Ladens: passionate anti-war film is a tale of two families.

Looks like Moore's new film Fahrenheit 9/11 is a hit at Cannes. Reviewer Peter Bradshaw seems generally favorable, although he wishes Moore had more thoroughly addressed Tony Blair's role in the Iraq war. While I won't go out on a limb and expect Passion-like box office numbers once the new documentary makes its way to US cinemas, I suspect it will do well. Why? Timing. The Zeitgeist is increasingly favorable for criticism of Junior Caligula's miserable failures (domestic and foreign) and Moore's documentary is an ideal vehicle for those most concerned about this president's lies and hypocrisy.

Monday, May 17, 2004

A Kurt Vonnegut Quote That Caught My Eye

Cold Turkey.

The clip:

About my own history of foreign substance abuse. I’ve been a coward about heroin and cocaine and LSD and so on, afraid they might put me over the edge. I did smoke a joint of marijuana one time with Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, just to be sociable. It didn’t seem to do anything to me, one way or the other, so I never did it again. And by the grace of God, or whatever, I am not an alcoholic, largely a matter of genes. I take a couple of drinks now and then, and will do it again tonight. But two is my limit. No problem.

I am of course notoriously hooked on cigarettes. I keep hoping the things will kill me. A fire at one end and a fool at the other.

But I’ll tell you one thing: I once had a high that not even crack cocaine could match. That was when I got my first driver’s license! Look out, world, here comes Kurt Vonnegut.

And my car back then, a Studebaker, as I recall, was powered, as are almost all means of transportation and other machinery today, and electric power plants and furnaces, by the most abused and addictive and destructive drugs of all: fossil fuels.

When you got here, even when I got here, the industrialized world was already hopelessly hooked on fossil fuels, and very soon now there won’t be any more of those. Cold turkey.

Can I tell you the truth? I mean this isn’t like TV news, is it?

Here’s what I think the truth is: We are all addicts of fossil fuels in a state of denial, about to face cold turkey.

And like so many addicts about to face cold turkey, our leaders are now committing violent crimes to get what little is left of what we’re hooked on.

At age 81, Vonnegut is still going strong. He does hit on something interesting about addictions. Listen to the lyrics from an old Last Poets rap where the vocalist wails "I've got the Jones comin' down" and you'll have an idea of what feels like to be in withdrawal or facing the early signs of withdrawal. Whether you're jonesing for a spike, a drink, a toke, or in my case that next cup of coffee it doesn't much matter. Going cold turkey and dealing with even the most minor withdrawals is just unpleasant.

In a couple of my courses here at OPSU I get to discuss the effects of substances (both illegal and legal) as instigators to aggressive and violent behavior. A couple of explanations for why there's often violence associated with various drugs:

1). economic violence - addicts will harm others in order to acquire more of their drug of choice. They may mug or murder someone to get enough money for a fix.

2). systemic violence - violence between rival gangs over turf.

Of course those explanations are only part of the story, but perhaps the most relevant for our purposes right now. Vonnegut's fossil fuels as addictive substance metaphor seems quite apt. We've become so dependent upon petroleum products that our civilization would cease to function if petroleum products ceased to exist. That's the nature of an addiction: the addict's ability to function without the drug is impaired. Same goes for this civilization and its "drug" of choice, petroleum. And like an addict who will potentially harm others to acquire enough coin for the next fix, we see that petroleum addicted nations will do likewise. If the supply is threatened, the knives come out with a fight to the death for every last drop.

Food for thought.

Sy Hersh Has the Skinny on the Scandal

THE GRAY ZONE: How a secret Pentagon program came to Abu Ghraib.

A clip:

The roots of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal lie not in the criminal inclinations of a few Army reservists but in a decision, approved last year by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, to expand a highly secret operation, which had been focussed on the hunt for Al Qaeda, to the interrogation of prisoners in Iraq. Rumsfeld’s decision embittered the American intelligence community, damaged the effectiveness of élite combat units, and hurt America’s prospects in the war on terror.

According to interviews with several past and present American intelligence officials, the Pentagon’s operation, known inside the intelligence community by several code words, including Copper Green, encouraged physical coercion and sexual humiliation of Iraqi prisoners in an effort to generate more intelligence about the growing insurgency in Iraq. A senior C.I.A. official, in confirming the details of this account last week, said that the operation stemmed from Rumsfeld’s long-standing desire to wrest control of America’s clandestine and paramilitary operations from the C.I.A.

Given time, Philip Zimbardo comments on Abu Grhaib

Pathological Power of Prisons: Parallel Paths at Stanford and Abu Ghraib

Nothing in there that I haven't commented on before. All the same, it's nice to see one of the true masters of social psychology discuss the current issue of human rights abuses at US prison camps (e.g., Abu Ghraib) within the context of his own research.

Brown vs Board of Education: 50th Anniversary

A landmark decision that led to school desegregation. We've come a long way as a society, but still have a long way to go.