Sunday, July 29, 2007

Notes from behind the Orange Curtain pt. 3

The last couple days have centered around family, friends, and the coast. Friday got spent with my wife and kids over at Huntington Beach, catching some more of the US Open of Surfing events. Walking was the order of the day, and I can guarantee that the daughters were sufficiently worn out by the evening. Not a great day for surfing, as it turned out. The waves best suited for surfing were few and far between. We did catch some of the women's surfing, and like their male counterparts whom we watched Wednesday, they all were quite adept at making the best of less-than-ideal conditions. I love getting a chance to show my daughters female athletes in the hope that it might inspire them. Also checked out some of the cyclists at some point during the day. That mostly interested my son (as would skateboarding) but I was entertained nonetheless: as an Army recruiter was making his way to the exit, the emcee said quite snarkily, "Colin Powell, this is your conscience speaking."

Today, we split up. My son and I accompanied a close friend of mine (his mom and a niece too) to Crystal Cove Beach and then to Laguna. My wife took our daughters to her sister's place & later took them to a nearby park. As far as I know, their day was a reasonably good one. Madame was asleep by the time we got back tonight, so all I know comes from a brief cell phone conversation. As for my son and I, we had a blast. He and my friend's niece enjoyed the water & tidepooling, and my friend and I took one of our "death marches" across the length of the beach and the coastal trails. The Crystal Cove area has changed so drastically from when I first visited it two decades ago. Back then one mostly utilized unmarked trails of somewhat dodgy quality in order to make it to the sand and ocean. The old cottages on the beach itself were still occupied by tenants who at the time were years away from being evicted. The surrounding hills were a mix of pastures and chaparal. The beach area of course has seen numerous improvements (e.g., actual marked trails, cottages refurbished and now rented out to tourists, a high-brow restaurant on the sand) - it's easier to traverse, but it has lost a bit of its out-of-the-way charm. Of course the pastures and chaparal have been replaced with high-priced McMansions and shopping centers, making the area look eerily like that depicted on that awful Fox drama The O.C. As someone who prefers open spaces where the coyotes could roam freely, that particular turn of events has been disconcerting.

Today was also a day of mourning as my friend and I payed our respects to another who recently passed away - the person responsible for bringing us together in the first place many moons ago. Those human connections, no matter how tenuous, often have far more impact than we can ever imagine.

Not all connections are positive, of course. Those responsible for bringing Baby Doc Bush and Dick Cheney together have impacted us all to our collective detriment. The latest Bu$hCo executive order is merely one example among many.
And despite the best efforts of human rights groups, the courts and a growing number of congressional critics from both parties, Cheney’s still getting his way. On July 20, President Bush issued an executive order “interpreting” Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, as applied to secret CIA detention facilities. On its face, the order bans torture — but as an editorial in this paper noted Thursday, it does so using language so vague it appears designed to create loopholes for the CIA.

Just as bad, though barely noted by the media, last week’s executive order breaks new ground by outlining the category of people who can be detained secretly and indefinitely by the CIA — in a way that’s broad enough to include a hefty chunk of the global population. Under its terms, a non-U.S. citizen may be secretly detained and interrogated by the CIA — with no access to counsel and no independent monitoring — as long as the CIA director believes the person “to be a member or part of or supporting Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated organizations; and likely to be in possession of information that could assist in detecting, mitigating or preventing terrorist attacks [or] in locating the senior leadership of Al Qaeda, the Taliban or associated forces.”

Got that? The president of the United States just issued a public pronouncement declaring, as a matter of U.S. policy, that a single man has the authority to detain any person anyplace in the world and subject him or her to secret interrogation techniques that aren’t torture but that nonetheless can’t be revealed, as long as that person is thought to be a “supporter” of an organization “associated” in some unspecified way with the Taliban or Al Qaeda, and as long he thinks that person might know something that could “assist” us.

But “supporter” isn’t defined, nor is “associated organization.” That leaves the definition broad enough to permit the secret detention of, say, a man who sympathizes ideologically with the Taliban and might have overheard something useful in a neighborhood cafe, or of a 10-year-old girl whose older brother once trained with Al Qaeda.

This isn’t just hypothetical. The U.S. has already detained people based on little more. According to media reports, the CIA has even held children, including the 7- and 9-year-old sons of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. In 2006, Mohammed was transferred from a secret CIA facility to Guantanamo, but the whereabouts of his children are unknown.

It’s dark out there, all right.
Dark indeed. One wonders how long it will be before any individual or group even mildly critical of the US Empire will be deemed Al Qaida. These are strange times, to say the least.

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