Friday, November 17, 2006

Footnote to "Are you glad to be in America?": Or, "Through with the goosestep."

Food for thought via IOZ:
The story of the student who was tortured by UCLA police is making the rounds. Much commentary focuses on the general issue of official brutality, or on the increasing militarization of police (even, apparently, university police), or on the genuine awfulness of Tasers, whose presumptive non-lethality (although they are, or can be in too many cases, lethal) engenders misuse by trigger-happy cops.

All of this is good and valid, and I have nothing substantive to add on any of these notes.

I popped over to UCLA's website to read the official statement, though:
Statement from UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams About Incident at Powell Library

University police are investigating an incident late last night in which police took a student into custody at Powell Library. Investigators are reviewing the incident and the officers' actions. The investigation and review will be thorough, vigorous and fair.

The safety of our campus community is of paramount importance to me. Routinely checking student identification after 11 p.m. at the campus library, which is open 24 hours, is a policy posted in the library that was enacted for the protection of our students. Compliance is critical for the safety and well-being of everyone.
The National ID issue has been much in the news lately, between the various Terror!™ boondoggles and Republican projects to decrease voter turnout among undesirables, by which they mean those demographically disinclined to vote for the Republican half of the War Party. The UCLA incident shows in microcosm why universal identification is such a dangerous idea for a free society.

The necessary, logical end of any universal identification scheme is that failure to produce identification becomes, in and of itself, a criminal act. The Acting Chancellor summarizes nicely: "Compliance is cricital." Every repressive modern society has empowered its police to make arbitrary arrests under the rubric of "your papers aren't in order."

Note also when you watch the video of "the incident" that while officers repeatedly attack the student for failing to identify himself properly, they repeatedly ignore calls for their own names and badge numbers.

"None of your goddamn business" is a human right.
My emphasis added. The libertarian part of my ideological makeup kicks into high gear when issues of our modern police state are concerned. The video I linked to previously is quite startling to say the least, not only for the raw brutality but also for the asymmetry of the relation between the police and the bystanders (and victim): the police or security guards don't have to "have their papers in order" whereas the rest of us apparently do. In an authoritarian state, in which any busybody with a badge or a title can delude themselves into thinking that they can simply stick their noses in anyone's business with impunity, we regrettably get to bear witness to incidents like the recent UCLA abuse - mainly due to the tendency for a subset of the rest of us to insist upon that fundamental right to simply be left alone. I would consider a satisfactory public policy one which I find works reasonably well interpersonally: I'll do my thing, and you'll do yours; I won't bug you and expect you to give me the same courtesy.

I suspect that what was so jarring to a number of UCLA students and alums - as well as their middle-class peers across the nation - was that such police behavior seemed at odds with the view of the US as the "land of the free" that they have been spoon-fed since birth. Not all of us have been sufficiently privileged to have been spoon-fed that particular ill-conceived notion. For the rest of us, it's only the "land of the free" for those not deemed "undesirables", and even then those privileged few must live in the veritable prisons of gated communities and their own prejudices & fears.

In the meantime, be wary of those who say "I'm with security (police, etc.) and I'm here to protect you." The costs to freedom for such "protection" are prohibitive.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

"Are you glad to be in America?"

Somehow I saw this and that's the first tune that came to mind - James Blood Ulmer's classic "Are You Glad to Be in America?", from an album of the same title. I suppose different folks will hear different things when listening to a song - I hear a hint of sarcasm every time I play that tune. Perhaps that's what fits best tonight, as we continue to reap the tainted, bitter fruit of what has truly become a police state. Here's the story so far:
At around 11:30 p.m., CSOs asked a male student using a computer in the back of the room to leave when he was unable to produce a BruinCard during a random check. The student did not exit the building immediately.

The CSOs left, returning minutes later, and police officers arrived to escort the student out. By this time the student had begun to walk toward the door with his backpack when an officer approached him and grabbed his arm, at which point the student told the officer to let him go. A second officer then approached the student as well.

The student began to yell "get off me," repeating himself several times.

It was at this point that the officers shot the student with a Taser for the first time, causing him to fall to the floor and cry out in pain. The student also told the officers he had a medical condition.

UCPD officers confirmed that the man involved in the incident was a student, but did not give a name or any additional information about his identity.

Video shot from a student's camera phone captured the student yelling, "Here's your Patriot Act, here's your fucking abuse of power," while he struggled with the officers.

As the student was screaming, UCPD officers repeatedly told him to stand up and said "stop fighting us." The student did not stand up as the officers requested and they shot him with the Taser at least once more.

"It was the most disgusting and vile act I had ever seen in my life," said David Remesnitsky, a 2006 UCLA alumnus who witnessed the incident.

As the student and the officers were struggling, bystanders repeatedly asked the police officers to stop, and at one point officers told the gathered crowd to stand back and threatened to use a Taser on anyone who got too close.

Laila Gordy, a fourth-year economics student who was present in the library during the incident, said police officers threatened to shoot her with a Taser when she asked an officer for his name and his badge number.

Gordy was visibly upset by the incident and said other students were also disturbed.

"It's a shock that something like this can happen at UCLA," she said. "It was unnecessary what they did."

Immediately after the incident, several students began to contact local news outlets, informing them of the incident, and Remesnitsky wrote an e-mail to Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams.
Via the LA Times:
"It was beyond grotesque," said UCLA graduate David Remesnitsky of Los Angeles, who witnessed the incident. "By the end they took him over the stairs, lifted him up and Tasered him on his rear end. It seemed like it was inappropriately placed. The Tasering was so unnecessary and they just kept doing it."

Campus police confirmed that Tabatabainejad was stunned "multiple" times.

By then, Remesnitsky said, a crowd of 50 or 60 had gathered and were shouting at the officers to stop and demanding their names and badge numbers.

Remesnitsky said officers told him to leave or he would be Tasered.
Apparently such police behavior has been quite the norm in the Los Angeles area recently:
The incident was the third videotape of an arrest to surface in the last week in Los Angeles.

One video showed a Los Angeles Police Department officer dousing a handcuffed suspect in the face with pepper spray as the suspect sat in a patrol car.

That video came to light Monday, just days after the LAPD and the FBI launched investigations into another videotape showing a police officer hitting a suspect in the face several times after a foot chase in Hollywood.
As John from Americablog notes:
The story gets a whole lot more interesting if the student is Muslim, and he was tased for simply refusing to stand up (while brown). In America, even being an asshole isn't sufficient justification for the authorities to use violence against you. At least it wasn't until just lately. This incident isn't just about a student at UCLA, it's about what's happened to our country over the past six years and what it means, anymore, to be American.
By the way, toward the end of the video (above) you'll hear clearly one of the cops threatening to use a taser on one of the bystanders who was asking for his name and badge number. Of course, as the ACLU makes clear, such threats amount to illegal assault.

Let's put this into some context:
Afraid of drunk drivers? Please submit to random checkpoints happily ... after all, it will keep you safe.

Think you have the right to travel freely within the borders of this free nation? Better be ready to identify yourself when near the US/Canadian border, or if you are within certain areas of the desert Southwest. It's not an intrusion, NO, we NEED to allow our law enforcement officers to keep us safe from terrorists and drugs! After all, what do you have to hide?

Planning on traveling overseas? You may need permission first, even to take your love on a cruise ship.

As we come closer and closer to requiring national ID cards, as our corrupt political establishment seeks to limit the right to vote, demanding ID cards to carry out the most basic freedom in a democracy, how can we as a people so blithely submit to this growing, insidious encroachment?

We surrender to these demands, empowering people with weapons and badges to enforce greater and greater restrictions on our movements, our civil liberties, our ability to act as free citizens. We surrender to people who often have disturbing histories of abusing their authority, resulting in injury and death when some hapless citizen rouses their ire. We surrender to the watchmen, and then act surprised when they abuse their power.
As an ex-punk, I'm hardly surprised at all by abuse of power from police, campus "security" and the like - got to witness enough of it firsthand back in the day. I just happened to "look" a little different. God help you if you're Black, Hispanic, or of Middle-Eastern descent.

Tasers, by the way, are far from harmless.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Bu$hCo personally approved torture

First, this item from the International Herald Tribune:
WASHINGTON: The Central Intelligence Agency has acknowledged for the first time the existence of two classified documents, including one signed by President George W. Bush, that have guided the agency's interrogation and detention of terror suspects.
The CIA disclosed the existence of the documents in a letter Friday sent from the agency's associate general counsel, John McPherson, to lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union.
The contents of the documents were not revealed, but one document, as described by the ACLU, is "a directive signed by President Bush granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees."
The second document, according to the group is a Justice Department legal analysis "specifying interrogation methods that the CIA may use against top Al Qaeda members."
A similar article can be found at the Washington Post.

Here's the ACLU press release:
NEW YORK - In response to an ongoing lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the CIA has acknowledged the existence of two documents authorizing it to detain and interrogate terrorism suspects overseas. For more than two years, the CIA had refused to either deny or confirm the existence of the documents and had argued in court that doing so could jeopardize national security.
"The CIA’s sudden reversal on these secret directives is yet more evidence that the Bush administration is misusing claims of national security to avoid public scrutiny," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero. "Confusion about whether such a presidential order existed certainly led to the torture and abuse scandal that embarrassed America. With a new Congress and renewed subpoena power, we now need to look up the chain of command."
The two documents in question are a directive signed by President Bush granting the CIA the authority to set up detention facilities outside the United States and outlining interrogation methods that may be used against detainees, and a Justice Department legal analysis specifying interrogation methods that the CIA may use against top Al-Qaeda members.
In legal papers previously filed before the court, the CIA claimed that national security would be gravely injured if the CIA were compelled to admit or deny even an "interest" in interrogating detainees. But in a letter to the ACLU dated November 10, the CIA reversed course and acknowledged that the Justice Department memorandum and presidential directive exist. The CIA continues to withhold the documents.
"We intend to press for the release of both of these documents," said Jameel Jaffer, an ACLU attorney involved in the case. "If President Bush and the Justice Department authorized the CIA to torture its prisoners, the public has a right to know."
A federal district court upheld the CIA’s refusal to confirm or deny the existence of the two documents, but the ACLU appealed that decision to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. The appeal was argued by Megan Lewis, an attorney with Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione. After President Bush confirmed in September that the United States does indeed maintain secret detention facilities abroad, the government withdrew its opposition to the ACLU’s appeal. However, the CIA said it will withhold the documents in their entirety and file a new declaration explaining its legal basis for doing so. That declaration is expected before November 30.
The ACLU will return to court in this case on November 20 to challenge the government’s withholding of 21 images depicting abuse of detainees by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The ACLU argues that the release of these images is crucial to understanding the command failures that led to the abuse.
To date, more than 100,000 pages of government documents have been released in response to the ACLU's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. The ACLU has been posting these documents online at:
Attorneys in the FOIA case are Lawrence Lustberg and Melanca Clark of the New Jersey-based law firm Gibbons, Del Deo, Dolan, Griffinger & Vecchione, P.C.; Jameel Jaffer, Amrit Singh and Judy Rabinovitz of the ACLU; Arthur Eisenberg and Beth Haroules of the NYCLU; and Bill Goodman and Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
In a related matter, the ACLU will appear at a federal hearing in Richmond, VA on November 28 in the case of Khaled El-Masri, an innocent German man who was kidnapped by the CIA and transported to a secret site in Afghanistan where he was detained and abused. A district court upheld the CIA’s claim that the case could not proceed without disclosing state secrets. The ACLU appealed the decision, noting that accounts of El-Masri’s abduction have already appeared in news reports around the world and foreign governments have launched their own investigations into the matter.
More information on the El-Masri case is online at:
The November 10 CIA letter is online at:
(Note: the CIA letter refers to the documents by numbers. For a list of corresponding documents go to
Finally, a few words from Gen. Janis Karpinski:
[A]ll of the information was confiscated in the course of this investigation. But he pointed to a memorandum, one page, regular standard-size piece of paper, on a column just outside of this administrative office that they were using.
[.]...It listed a few interrogation techniques to be used for effective interrogations, whatever the wording was. And it -- I mean, there was about a half a dozen of them: prolonged standing, disruption of sleep patterns..[.] was signed by the Secretary of Defense. And there was a handwritten annotation in the margin of that memorandum. And it was written -- four words: "Make sure this happens." And I remember my mind, my eye going to it directly, because it was written in such a manner that it was squared off. It seemed to be very military-oriented...[]
and that was the Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. It was his signature on the memorandum, and it seemed to be the same ink and handwriting in the margin, saying, "Make sure this happens," referring to those techniques for interrogation. [..]
Two words come directly to mind: "war crimes." We've been arguing here that the torture as depicted in the Abu Ghraib photos that first surfaced in the spring of 2004 along with stories that have surfaced from torture survivors from Guantánamo Bay etc. point not to a few "bad apples" but to a general organizational Zeitgeist that characterized the military and intelligence leadership (in other words, those actually responsible for giving the orders). My hope is that those responsible for the pain and suffering that has been inflicted upon more people than any of us should have to count will be held responsible and prosecuted accordingly - if not within the US (unlikely) then imposed via an international tribunal. The sooner the better.

Things to read:

Mickey Z on the Myth of the Brave Soldier.

Jason Miller who sez, To the Victors Belongs Impunity.

As'ad AbuKhalil on Time's book of Insults and Falsehoods about the Middle East.

Justin Raimondo on the coming sellout, or why the Democrats won't deliver on the war.

Eli on John McCain's Vietnam Syndrome, and our complicity in the on-going slaughter of Palestinians.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Postscript on Malachi Ritscher

Arguably a reasonably fair and balanced treatment of Malachi, his life, and his method of death can be found at Pitchfork Media. Kudos to author Nitsuh Abebe for giving readers some food for thought - neither making Malachi into a martyr (as some naively idealistic types might do) nor condemning his method of death as the work of a deranged and hypocritical soul (as some sneering cynics have done), but rather respectfully treats the man as a troubled person reacting to troubled times. This graf in particular sums it up aptly:

Interpretation of the act might be up in the air, but the one thing just about everyone agrees on is the wish that he hadn't done it. His siblings and parents, proud as they can be of how much he meant to the Chicago music world, or even his final actions, are obviously grieving; his son Malachi, faced with this final estrangement, is obviously hurt. And the musicians around him will certainly feel the loss of someone who'd been a constant presence in their world. The most they can do us try to find something positive in it. "There's nothing I can argue with, apart from the final action he took," says Zerang. "Roeper's last line was something like, 'It's going to be a futile act,' but the jury's out on that, right? Something can come of it, it can resonate with people. And if that happens, it's not a futile act. And the people in the community here in Chicago are talking and looking at things differently-- so right there, it's not a futile act. For better or worse, he changed something."

Just as important, there's everything else he left behind. A few days after his death, a package arrived for Bruno Johnson, owner of the free-jazz label Okka Disk: It contained, as reported by the Reader, "[Ritscher's] will, keys to his home, and instructions about what should be done with his belongings." Among his possessions is one legacy: An archive of the Chicago experimental scene stretching back for two decades. And for the musicians, there's another: The memory and invaluable support of at least one enthusiast who, no matter when they were playing, and no matter how few people showed up, was always there to cheer them on.

Apparently a grad student at University of Illinois-Chicago has been motivated to start a website, I Heard You, Malachi. Hopefully she'll flesh it out into something worthwhile.

In the meantime, we in the US live under a government run by people who are committing genuine acts of insanity on a mass-scale (from the wars that are inflicting fiery deaths and injuries in the hundreds every day as of this writing, to the continued decimation of our environment, to the massive spending spree that threatens to burden our kids and grandkids with mountains of debt for decades to come). However ill-advised I consider self-immolation, I have to wonder which is crazier - that particular act or the nearly catatonic state of the American Zeitgeist. My money is on the latter.

This is what eliminationist rhetoric gets you

Folks who actually put the words of the hatemongers into action. Here's the latest example for your consideration:
Yes, it appears that Chad Conrad Castagana, the man "suspected of mailing more than a dozen threatening letters containing white powder to Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Jon Stewart and other high-profile figures," was a conservative and a commenter on conservative blogs. Unless there are two Chad Castaganas:

He also appears to have been a frequenter of Right Wing sewer, The Free Republic.
The folks at AlterNet are perhaps a bit kinder in their analysis than am I. In fact, I've been periodically commenting on the eliminationist rhetoric that characterizes the right-wingers for some time, riffing off of David Neiwert who's done yeoman's work in terms of documenting the words of various right-wing political and media figures (including bloggers), and how those words (having become increasingly mainstream) translate into actions in the form of death threats, bombings, murder, etc.

See Neiwert's summary here, for more details.