Saturday, May 28, 2005

Common sense?

In blogtopia you see all kinds, and thanks to Blogexplosion I've had the distinct pleasure and displeasure to see what else is out there. Take this rant, for example at a blog by the title Common Sense? My initial question was one of "what in the hell is this gal raving about?" Once I managed to wade through the incoherent diatribe, I figured that it was something on my blog that had apparently got her knickers in a bunch. So, let's have a little fun.

First, if one is going to make reference to the bombing of the WTC and Pentagon, that date is September 11, 2001 - NOT 2000. September 11, 2000 was a quite pleasant and uneventful day as I seem to recall - beyond the madness of prepping and teaching a variety of courses at my then-new job. Second, the contention that we in the US "weren't talking about war then" is also sadly mistaken. The call for war to overthrow Saddam had been made for some time throughout the 1990s by members of a thinktank called PNAC - many of whose members are currently staffing the White House. It is also the case that the US and UK had been cooperating since the end of the 1991 Gulf War to continue periodic bombing raids within Iraq's borders. None of this is a secret. The US (abetted by UK) campaign of genocide [1] in Iraq was already on-going by the time Bu$hCo usurped the throne - the economic embargo imposed by the US had led to the death by starvation and disease of some 500,000 children in Iraq, for example - something that Clinton's ambassador to the UN, Madeleine Albright considered an acceptable price to pay. The US had also just two years prior to 9-11 been involved in a war in the Balkans region. There was plenty of war going on.

Third, I have consistently taken the position that human rights abuses were not invented by Bu$hCo - although this President has arguably been the most egregious practitioner of such abuses in my lifetime. Rather, if one looks at the historical record, it becomes quite clear that there is a pattern of war crimes that stretches back to the beginnings of the republic (not the least of which includes a pattern of genocide against North America's indigenous peoples). If my focus seems to be on this particular White House occupant, that's because that's where the immediate problem is. I would no doubt take any President to task regardless of party affiliation for allowing the sorts of human rights abuses that we've witnessed these last few years.

Finally, it's a bit jarring to read what amounts to an incoherent rant of extreme right-wing talking points followed up by the lyrics of John Lennon's "Imagine". It's a shame that such a beautiful song with such noble lyrics has to be defiled as it was in that post.

Footnote [1] Genocide is defined as follows - "Genocide has two phases: destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor. This imposition, in turn, may be made upon the oppressed population which is allowed to remain, or upon the territory alone, after removal of the population and colonization of the area by the oppressor's own nationals" (Raphael Lemkin in his 1944 book Axis Rule in Occupied Europe). Lemkin goes on to say, "Generally speaking, genocide does not necessarily mean the immediate destruction of a nation, except when accomplished by mass killings of all members of a nation. It is intended rather to signify a coordinated plan of different actions aiming at the destruction of essential foundations of the life of national groups, with the aim of annihilating the groups themselves [even if all individuals within the dissolved group physically survive]. The objectives of such a plan would be a disintegration of political and social institutions, of culture, language, national feelings, religion, and the economic existence of national groups, and the destruction of personal security, liberty, health, dignity, and even the lives of the individuals belonging to such groups. Genocide is directed at the national group as an entity, and the actions involved are directed at individuals, not in their individual capacity, but as members of the national group." The term's origin comes from the Greek root genos (meaning "type" - think along the lines of tribe or race) and the Latin word cide (meaning "killing").

Friday, May 27, 2005

Something you can do to help get at the truth:

Add your signature to this letter that John Conyers intends to forward to the US President:
The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20005

Dear Mr. President:

We the undersigned write to you because of our concern regarding recent disclosures of a “Downing Street Memo” in the London Times, comprising the minutes of a meeting of Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top advisers. These minutes indicate that the United States and Great Britain agreed to by the summer of 2002 to attack Iraq, well before the invasion and before you even sought Congressional authority to engage in military action, and that U.S. officials were deliberately manipulating intelligence to justify the war.

Among other things, the British government document quotes a high-ranking British official as stating that by July, 2002, “Bush had made up his mind to take military action.” Yet, a month later, the you stated you were still willing to “look at all options” and that there was “no timetable” for war. Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, flatly stated that “[t]he president has made no such determination that we should go to war with Iraq.”

In addition, the origins of the false contention that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction remains a serious and lingering question about the lead up to the war. There is an ongoing debate about whether this was the result of a “massive intelligence failure,” in other words a mistake, or the result of intentional and deliberate manipulation of intelligence to justify the case for war. The memo appears to resolve that debate as well, quoting the head of British intelligence as indicating that in the United States “the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”

As a result of these concerns, we would ask that you respond to the following questions:
1) Do you or anyone in your administration dispute the accuracy of the leaked document?
2) Were arrangements being made, including the recruitment of allies, before you sought Congressional authorization to go to war? Did you or anyone in your Administration obtain Britain’’s commitment to invade prior to this time?
3) Was there an effort to create an ultimatum about weapons inspectors in order to help with the justification for the war as the minutes indicate?
4) At what point in time did you and Prime Minister Blair first agree it was necessary to invade Iraq?
5) Was there a coordinated effort with the U.S. intelligence community and/or British officials to “fix” the intelligence and facts around the policy as the leaked document states?

These are the same questions 89 Members of Congress, led by Rep. John Conyers, Jr., submitted to you on May 5, 2005. As citizens and taxpayers, we believe it is imperative that our people be able to trust our government and our commander in chief when you make representations and statements regarding our nation engaging in war. As a result, we would ask that you publicly respond to these questions as promptly as possible.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Adding your name to this letter will only take a couple seconds of your time. With enough folks doing this, it at least sends a message to the White House that the people of America are indeed tired of the constant stonewalling and secretiveness that characterizes those currently in power.

John Conyers on Torturegate:

May 26, 2006

The Hon. F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr.
Chairman
House Judiciary Committee
2138 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

I write with an urgent and imperative request that our Committee investigate and hold hearings concerning a series of alleged human rights abuses by our government in Afghanistan, Guantanamo Bay, Iraq, and elsewhere.

I appreciate that conducting hearings of this nature may not serve the Majority's political interests, however, I would like to believe that if our roles were reversed, that I would have the courage and fortitude to challenge an Administration run by my own political party on such an important human rights issue. None of us wants to see our legacy in Congress as the countenance of a secret, all powerful, and all knowing Administration that holds itself to be unaccountable and above the law.

I am calling on hearings now for a number of reasons. As you know, just yesterday, the international human rights group Amnesty International issued a devastating report decrying our human rights record. Among other things, the report labeled our prison at Guantanamo Bay the "gulag of our times," and described our nation as "a leading purveyor and practitioner" of torture and mistreatment of prisoners. Amnesty International warned that "when the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a license to others to commit abuse with impunity and audacity."

Also yesterday, new FBI documents were released summarizing FBI interviews during which nearly a dozen detainees at Guantanamo Bay asserted that guards has mistreated copies of the Koran, including one who said in 2002 that guards "flushed a Koran in the toilet." This new disclosure comes only after last week's revelation by the International Committee of the Red Cross that it had given the Pentagon "multiple" reports from prisoners in Guantanamo that U.S. personnel had mistreated the Koran. In this regard, I would note that, at a minimum, permitting our Committee to review the logs maintained by our military regarding these allegations would immeasurably add to the credibility of the Pentagon's ongoing internal review of this matter.

The latest disclosures come on top of a growing mountain of evidence regarding abuse and mistreatment in Afghanistan. For example, just last week the New York Times detailed a major breakdown in the Army's investigation into the death of two prisoners at the hands of American guards at the military detention center in Bagram, Afghanistan. The report also included a finding that "in sworn statements to Army investigators, soldiers described one female investigator with a taste for humiliation stepping on the neck of one prostate detainee and kicking another in the genitals. They tell of a shackled prisoner being forced to roll back and forth on the floor of a cell, kissing the boots of his two interrogators as he went. Yet an other prisoner is made to pick plastic bottle caps out of a drum mixed with excrement and water as part of a strategy to soften him up for questioning." Significantly, these are reports of U.S. soldiers, not prisoners. See "In U.S. Report, Brutal Details of Two Afghan Inmates' Deaths," NYT, May 20, 2005, Tim Golden; "The Rumsfeld Stain," NYT, May 23, 2005, Bob Herbert.

Of course, these disclosures come in addition to the by now widely know abuses at Abu Ghraib, where photos revealed an out of control military that frequently engaged in torture and condoned sexual and religious humiliation. Much of this misconduct, in turn, has taken place in the context of overt legal support and justification from the Justice Department and the White House Legal Counsel's office. As the world now knows, there has been little to no accountability at the senior level for that sad chapter in our nation's history.

I have previously sought the appointment of an independent commission to examine the myriad charges of human rights abuses by our government, but this request has been ignored by the Republican Leadership. Similarly, my repeated requests for the appointment of a special legal counsel to review these charges have also been rejected or ignored. Moreover, my requests to the Committee for investigations, for example into the rendition and subsequent of Maher Arar, have also been ignored.

As a result, I now feel I have no other choice but to personally appeal to you to conduct hearings and an investigation into these widespread and credible allegations of abuse. While the issue of human rights and prisoner and detainee mistreatment cuts across committee jurisdiction - including Armed Services, Intelligence, and Government Reform - there is ultimately only one Committee charged with protecting the integrity of our nation's commitment to constitutional safeguards and promise to respect human decency, fairness and due process - the House Judiciary Committee.

I fear that our government has taken the position that the war on terror which began in such tragedy has given the Bush Administration a carte blanche to operate as prosecutor, judge and jury of its own misconduct. This in essence means that we have been left in the untenable position of having no independent and credible authority who is able to rebut or respond to the charges being made against our military. To be blunt, simply having the White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan label charges of abuse as "ridiculous" as he did yesterday, is not an adequate response to charges of this nature and magnitude.

Under such circumstances, it becomes infinitely more difficult for our nation to credibly advocate for democracy and human rights abroad. I therefore believe it is incumbent upon us to conduct an investigation which can either rebut the growing cascade of allegations, or root out the wrongdoing and hold the ultimate parties responsible, no matter where the investigation takes us.

I look forward to receiving the courtesy of a response from you on this important matter.

Sincerely,

John Conyers, Jr.
Ranking Member

Like Galloway in the UK House of Commons, Conyers is doing precisely what needs to be done - provide truth upon truth. As we all know (and as undoubtedly Conyers knows as well), there is no realistic hope that a GOP-controlled House will actually consider the blatant lapse of ethics that has occurred here. That would would actually take the sort of moral strength and courage that is sadly lacking in Congress. What Conyers does, however, is to lay the groundwork for exposing the American people to what has been done in their own name and to let it be known which of the two political parties is more inclined to address the issue of war crimes in a professional and honorable manner. The GOP has failed miserably and cannot be trusted to police its own party members. Someone else is going to have to pick up the slack.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

If nothing else

at least the UN won't have to put up with John Bolton. That nomination will be filibustered out of existence. Mark my words: Bu$hCo will find someone just as evil as Bolton, and we'll likely see yet another filibuster needed.

Stupid White House Tricks: McClelland Edition

From the gaggle:
HELEN THOMAS: The other day -- in fact, this week, you said that we, the United States, is in Afghanistan and Iraq by invitation. Would you like to correct that incredible distortion of American history --

MR. McCLELLAN: No, we are -- that's where we currently --

HELEN THOMAS: -- in view of your credibility is already mired? How can you say that?

MR. McCLELLAN: Helen, I think everyone in this room knows that you're taking that comment out of context. There are two democratically-elected governments in Iraq and --

HELEN THOMAS: We're we invited into Iraq?

MR. McCLELLAN: There are two democratically-elected governments now in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we are there at their invitation. They are sovereign governments, and we are there today --

HELEN THOMAS: You mean if they had asked us out, that we would have left?

MR. McCLELLAN: No, Helen, I'm talking about today. We are there at their invitation. They are sovereign governments --

HELEN THOMAS: I'm talking about today, too.

MR. McCLELLAN: -- and we are doing all we can to train and equip their security forces so that they can provide for their own security as they move forward on a free and democratic future.

HELEN THOMAS: Did we invade those countries?

MR. McCLELLAN: Go ahead, Steve.

More commentary on the Amnesty International condemnation of US human rights record

here and here. The sort of information that makes John Conyers' call for an investigation of the torture and prison abuse scandals all the more important.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

In the "we all knew this all along" department:

According to a new Washington Post article, it looks like FBI documents are confirming what Newsweek was saying recently:
Numerous detainees at the Guantanamo Bay military prison in Cuba told FBI interrogators that guards had mistreated copies of the Koran, including one who said in 2002 that guards "flushed a Koran in the toilet," according to new FBI documents released today.

[...]

But the records, many of which were heavily edited by the government, further underscore the widespread nature of allegations related to the Koran and Islam among detainees at Guantanamo. Red Cross investigators in 2002 and 2003 documented what they considered reliable allegations of Koran mistreatment at the facility, and some detainees have made similar allegations through their attorneys.

[...]

Amrit Singh, an ACLU attorney, said in a press release that "the United States' own documents show that it has known of numerous allegations of Koran desecration for a significant period of time."

"The failure to address these allegations in a timely manner raises grave questions regarding the extent to which such desecration was authorized by high-ranking U.S. officials in the first place," Singh said.

The new documents include other allegations of questionable treatment at Guantanamo, including two reports of beatings by guards and a report that a female guard told a prisoner she was menstruating and then "wiped blood from her body on his face and head."

The latter incident, which would be considered highly offensive to a Muslim man, is similar to a claim made by Erik Saar, a former Army translator at Guantanamo who has written a book about mistreatment of detainees there. The government has said two female interrogators have been reprimanded, including one for smearing fake menstrual blood on a captive.

The White House has some 'splainin' to do. Do our Congressional representatives in the House and Senate have the moral fiber necessary to hold this administration's feet to the fire on this issue? That's one of the big questions remaining to be addressed.

Speaking of our sorry human rights record...

US Leads Global Attack on Human Rights - Amnesty International
London - Four years after the Sept. 11 attacks on New York and Washington, human rights are in retreat worldwide and the United States bears most responsibility, rights watchdog Amnesty International said on Wednesday.

From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe the picture is bleak. Governments are increasingly rolling back the rule of law, taking their cue from the U.S.-led war on terror, it said.

"The USA as the unrivalled political, military and economic hyper-power sets the tone for governmental behaviour worldwide," Secretary General Irene Khan said in the foreword to Amnesty International's 2005 annual report.

"When the most powerful country in the world thumbs its nose at the rule of law and human rights, it grants a licence to others to commit abuse with impunity," she said.

London-based Amnesty cited the pictures last year of abuse of detainees at Iraq's U.S.-run Abu Ghraib prison, which it said were never adequately investigated, and the detention without trial of "enemy combatants" at the U.S. naval base in Cuba.

"The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay has become the gulag of our times, entrenching the practice of arbitrary and indefinite detention in violation of international law," Khan said.

She also noted Washington's attempts to circumvent its own ban on the use of torture.

"The U.S. government has gone to great lengths to restrict the application of the Geneva Convention and to 're-define' torture," she said, citing the secret detention of suspects and the practice of handing some over to countries where torture was not outlawed.

U.S. President George W. Bush often said his country was founded on and dedicated to the cause of human dignity -- but there was a gulf between rhetoric and reality, Amnesty found.

"During his first term in office, the USA proved to be far from the global human rights champion it proclaimed itself to be," the report said, citing Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay.

I recall saying on another forum some three and a half years ago that the Bu$hCo approach to dealing with terrorism would merely make things worse, at least in part by encouraging other despots to harshly crack down on their own dissidents. Sure enough, we've seen Israel become ever more punitive in its dealings with Palestinians (not to mention Russia and Chechnya, China & Tibet, etc.). The root causes of terrorism have yet to be seriously addressed. One of those root causes is not surprisingly human rights abuses. If nothing else, Bu$hCo has simply put a few more logs on that fire.

Speaking of root causes, let's look at hunger. What do you think the biggest cause of hunger is? If you answered war, you answered correctly:
ROME, May 23 (Reuters) - War has replaced weather and natural disasters as the world's leading cause of hunger, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said on Monday.

More than 35 percent of food emergencies between 1992 and 2003 were due to conflict and economic problems, compared with around 15 percent from 1986 to 1991, the FAO said in a report presented at a food security meeting.

[...]

It added war "contributes to the spread of HIV/AIDS through displacement, rape or commercial sex."

[...]

"The impact ... is not limited to the conflict area. It diverts resources from national development programmes and weakens government capacity, indirectly affecting the provision of services to the whole population," the FAO said.

The continuing story of the sorry US human rights record:

KARACHI, Pakistan -- Two U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent charged Tuesday that Pakistani security forces tortured them during eight months of secret detention and that FBI interrogators were aware of the mistreatment but did not intervene. Link

Surprise Surprise

You scored as Modernist. Modernism represents the thought that science and reason are all we need to carry on. Religion is unnecessary and any sort of spirituality halts progress. You believe everything has a rational explanation. 50% of Americans share your world-view.


What is Your World View? (updated)
created with QuizFarm.com
Modernist. That's pretty much me in a nutshell (with the caveat that I disagree with the statement that religion is unnecessary). Fun quiz.

Do something truly subversive

Explore the Quran. Through this link you can order your own free copy. A little something to expand your mind.

This message brought to you in response to this sign at the Danieltown Baptist Church in Forest City, NC:

Click the pic for the rest of the story.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

The Gun From Downing Street Keeps On Smokin'

The Latest:

Iraq War: The Smoking Gun? Foreign Office Official's Resignation Letter Reveals that Attorney General Did Change His Mind on Legality of Iraq War

War resignation letter censored: Suppressed passage suggests that attorney general still believed invasion was illegal less than two weeks before the troops went in

The text of resignation letter in question:

A minute dated 18 March 2003 from Elizabeth Wilmshurst (Deputy Legal Adviser) to Michael Wood (The Legal Adviser), copied to the Private Secretary, the Private Secretary to the Permanent Under-Secretary, Alan Charlton (Director Personnel) and Andrew Patrick (Press Office):

  1. I regret that I cannot agree that it is lawful to use force against Iraq without a second Security Council resolution to revive the authorisation given in SCR 678. I do not need to set out my reasoning; you are aware of it. My views accord with the advice that has been given consistently in this office before and after the adoption of UN security council resolution 1441 and with what the attorney general gave us to understand was his view prior to his letter of 7 March. (The view expressed in that letter has of course changed again into what is now the official line.) I cannot in conscience go along with advice - within the Office or to the public or Parliament - which asserts the legitimacy of military action without such a resolution, particularly since an unlawful use of force on such a scale amounts to the crime of aggression; nor can I agree with such action in circumstances which are so detrimental to the international order and the rule of law.
  2. I therefore need to leave the Office: my views on the legitimacy of the action in Iraq would not make it possible for me to continue my role as a Deputy Legal Adviser or my work more generally. For example in the context of the International Criminal Court, negotiations on the crime of aggression begin again this year. I am therefore discussing with Alan Charlton whether I may take approved early retirement. In case that is not possible this letter should be taken as constituting notice of my resignation.
  3. I joined the Office in 1974. It has been a privilege to work here. I leave with very great sadness.

Elizabeth Wilmshurst
Deputy Legal Advisor to the Foreign Office
March 18, 2003

Link

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Final Solution: The Sequel

A court and execution chamber could be built at the US detention camp in Cuba under plans being drawn up by military officials.

Military tribunals for some of the hundreds of men detained at the US base on Guantanamo Bay moved a step closer last month with the appointment of a chief prosecutor and chief defence counsel.

Pentagon rules for the tribunals permit death sentences to be passed and the construction of a death chamber at the camp is among options being considered.

But defence officials stress that everything remains on the drawing board until orders are issued by the president.

"We have a number of plans that we work for short-term and long-term strategies but that's all they are - plans," camp commander Major-General Geoffrey Miller told the Associated Press news agency.

'Getting ready'

Renovation work such as rewiring has begun on a number of buildings which could later be designated as courts for the tribunals.

General Miller told AP there are also plans to build a permanent prison block for those convicted and sentenced and an execution chamber should any be sentenced to death.

"We're getting ready so we won't be starting from scratch," he said.

The detainees held at Camp Delta on the isolated US base include about 680 people captured during the war against the Taleban in Afghanistan, launched by the US after the 11 September 2001 attacks.

No charges

All have been classified as "enemy combatants" and as such are not entitled to legal representation or a civil trial.

None have yet been charged though cases are being prepared against 10 or more detainees.

The hospital at Guantanamo Bay, file photo from February 2002
Makeshift camp conditions attracted criticism
After the detention centre opened in January 2002, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called its inmates "among the most dangerous, best trained, vicious killers on the face of the Earth".

But many are now thought to be low-level fighters.

Human rights groups have criticised both the makeshift conditions at the prison camp and the lack of rights afforded to the detainees. Link

The continued erosion of American morality has been painful to witness. That this government increasingly resembles those of Hitler or Stalin is especially alarming. At least it should be alarming. As discussed here and elsewhere, the vast majority of the people being held in Guantánamo Bay are not terrorists or even enemy fighters, but rather are people who simply were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Their only "crime" was to be Muslim at a time when our White House has effectively declared a Holy War on Muslims. I suppose the question is how many innocent civilians will be gassed in the name of "freedom" and "democracy"? What will future generations have to say when the time comes to pass judgment on this particular chapter of American history? With so much blood on our hands, will we ever be able to redeem ourselves as a people?

Here's another big surprise: or, Republicans Gone Wild

Republican values cause child molestation. If nothing else, it does seem that there are quite a number of GOP "pillars of the community" who seem to get off on child molestation (including cases of raping their own kids) and pedophilia. This is your "family values" crowd for you.

Unclear on the concept:

via Avedon Carol's always worthwhile blog The Sideshow, we have this little gem:
* Perhaps 15 percent of Americans participate in Bible studies.
* The number of people who read the Bible, at least occasionally is 59 percent.
* Less than 50 percent of Americans can name the first book of the Bible (Genesis).
* Only 1/3 of Americans know who delivered the Sermon on the Mount (more people identified Billy Graham rather than Jesus).
* Twenty-five percent of Americans don't know what is celebrated on Easter (the Resurrection of Christ, the foundational event of Christianity).
* Twelve percent of Christians think that Noah's wife is Joan of Arc.
* Eighty percent of born-again Christians (including George W. Bush) think it is the Bible that says "God helps them that help themselves." (Actually it was said by Benjamin Franklin.)

This info is part of larger posts by Science and Politics and Lance Mannion. Makes me wonder how many of my fundie bretheren could be fooled into believing such things as "In-a-gadda-da-vida" is an actual hymn, and how many of them would even know why Christmas is celebrated (hey, if they can't seem to get Easter right, one has to wonder). This really shouldn't be rocket science, folks. Whatever your faith is, it seems to me advisable to actually READ what is in your faith's scriptures rather than relying on the utterances of televangelists, peers, etc. Seems more than a little daft to me to call some faith the center of one's existence and then fail to bother to read the damned scriptures. In the meantime, ponder the significance of the parable of Homer and Job getting it on with the Pharoah's wife Marge - hey, if you haven't read it, you can't prove it isn't in there. Ha!