Saturday, March 17, 2007

Fragments of writing from March 2003

As we're coming up on the fourth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War - largely an escalation of what had already begun under Poppy Bush and Bill Clinton - I'm taking a trip down memory lane. In March 2003 I did not as of yet have a blog, but did post to message boards and usenet groups of one sort or another. I didn't really go out of my way to archive much of what I might have written at the time, as it was largely in the form of off-the-cuff remarks. That said, here are a few fragments that capture where I was at in late March of that year. I'll try to provide some context for these fragmentary comments wherever possible.

March 18, 2003

Note - In response to a conversation regarding the alleged accuracy of the so-called smart bombs to be used in the opening bombing raids:
Well, one way to interpret the "shock and awe" strategy is that the massive bombings will end up creating massive collateral damage. The "smart bombs" aren't that smart.
Note - I expected that the Iraq War would escalate conflict, especially in the Middle East and Central Asia:
If I were the leader of one of the so-called "axis of evil" nations, I'd be pushing to get armed to the teeth with whatever weaponry possible, including biological, chemical, and even nuclear weapons, if for no other reason than because of the realization that the U.S. won't stop with Iraq & that if one's country is on the list of nations to be invaded, at least those invasions would be more costly to the U.S.
March 20, 2003

Note - Regarding a conversation on the continuing world-wide protests as the war started:
Many of us did not ask for this waste of a war. We have a voice too. Bring on the noise. Word.
March 21, 2003

Note - The last part of the following sentence captures my thoughts about the actual motivation for the US invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq:
Makes me wonder if Bush et al ever bothered to listen to Iraqi citizens, or if (as I suspect is way more likely) they simply made the decision to impose their vision of manifest destiny in which Iraqis are viewed strictly as sharecroppers on those Oil plantations.
Note - A bit of sarcasm aimed at some of the happy talk that permeated the opening days of the war:
The U$ has made the world safe for SUV owners everywhere. The companies will be pleased.
March 23, 2003

Note - In response to the well-worn canard that the US was "fighting terrorists in Iraq to make Americans safer at home" I wanted to point out our own home-grown right-wing Christian fundamentalist terrorists:
I'd be willing to wager all 5 cents of my life savings that the vast majority of the people being "shocked and awed" are underpaid working stiffs like me, who simply could not afford to leave.

Sometimes I find it a good idea to look close to home. How many terrorists are our major cities harboring? (i.e., people who bomb family planning clinics & target staff of these clinics for assassination; people who burn crosses in front of the homes of African-Americans, who set fire to mosques & churches, and so forth).
March 26, 2003

Note - Another response illustrating my skepticism about the US government's motives for embarking on the war:
I suppose the best way to put this is that I don't buy the premise that the war has anything to do with the human rights situation in Iraq. The Reagan/Bush crowd in the 1980s didn't give a damn back then, and the current Bush crowd doesn't give a damn now. If it suited the purposes of our government, they'd gladly place another brutal dictator in power there and politely ignore the plight of Iraqi civilians (provided of course that the dictator in question cooperates with our government).
I thought that the war was an awful idea from the get-go, having at various points prior expressed skepticism about the initial rationale for the war (i.e., the alleged WMDs that turned out to be non-existent) as well as all the b.s. about democratizing Iraq, ad nauseum. I was convinced that the people who would be hurt the most were going to be low-income Iraq civilian families, and that 21st century equivalents of Guernica and Dresden were likely to transpire before all was said and done. Indeed, if anything, the events that have transpired in the four years since the war started have been in a number of respects worse than I could have imagined.

There is no comfort to be found in being correct; only a really bad feeling at the pit of one's stomach that the various efforts to raise awareness of the lies leading up to the war as well as the likely consequences of going to war simply failed to prevent the massive loss of lives since it all began on March 20, 2003. That day will indeed live in infamy. The potential control that a handful of Big Oil conglomerates will gain over Iraqi oil fields will not justify the war crimes that have been committed in the process.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Today was also

the anniversary of the Mai Lai massacre.

Four Years Ago, Today

An eyewitness account of what happened:
"[Between 13:00 and 13:30, activists] noticed that two Israeli Army bulldozers and one tank [had] entered onto Palestinian civilian property near the border and [were] demolishing farmland and other already damaged structures. The military machine was severely threatening near-by homes, so the 3 activists went up onto the roof of one home, and then called for others to come.

"[Between 13:30 and 14:00], I arrived, and one of the three activists in [sic] the house joined me on the ground ... [W]e began to disrupt the work of the bulldozers ... At this point, Rachel and the two other activists joined us ... Rachel and a British activist were wearing jackets that were fluorescent orange and had reflective stripping [sic] ... [Between 14:00 and 15:00], Rachel and two other activists began interfering with the other bulldozer, which was attempting to destroy grass and other plants on what used to be farmland. They stood and sat in its path, and though it would drive very close to them, and even move the earth on which they were sitting, it always stopped in time to avoid injuring them ... [Between 15:00 and 16:00], one bulldozer pushed Will, an American activist, up against a pile of barbed wire. Fortunately, the bulldozer stopped and withdrew just in time to avoid injuring him seriously, but we had to dig him out of the rubble, and unhook his clothing from the wire. The tank approached to see if he was ok. One soldier stuck his head out of the tank to see, and he looked quite shocked and dumbfounded, but said nothing ...

"[Between 16:45 and 17:00], [o]ne bulldozer, serial number 949623, began to work near the house of a physician who is a friend of ours ... Rachel sat down in the pathway of the bulldozer ... [It] continued driving forward headed straight for Rachel. When it got so close that it was moving the earth beneath her, she climbed onto the pile of rubble being pushed by the bulldozer. She got so high onto it that she was at eye-level with the cab of the bulldozer ... Despite this, he continued forward, which pulled her legs into the pile of rubble, and pulled her down out of view of the driver ... We ran towards him, and waved our arms and shouted, one activist with the megaphone. But [he] continued forward, until Rachel was underneath the central section of the bulldozer ... Despite the obviousness of her position, the bulldozer began to reverse, without lifting its blade, and drug [sic] the blade over her body again. He continued to reverse until he was on the boarder [sic] strip, about 100 meters away, and left her crushed body in the sand. Three activists ran to her and began administering first-responder medical treatment ... She said, "My back is broken!" but nothing else ..."

-- Joseph Smith, ISM activist
Learn more at Rachel's Words and A reminder of just how dark the days were just as the war on the Iraqis was about to begin, and how dark they've been since. While right-wingers in the US and Israel would no doubt find her death to be a source for endless amusement, for those of us who still give a damn about human rights there was (and still is) a sense of mourning and anger.

For a better understanding of the context in which Rachel was murdered, see Sonja Karkar's article in CounterPunch, What Rachel Saw: Rachel Corrie and Palestine.

Finally, an interview from two days before Rachel was killed:

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Being a right-wing plagiarist means

never facing any consequences. Just ask professors Krauss and Pham. Abusing one's position in the service of the privileged doesn't even merit a slap on the wrist.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Human Face of Torture: Hector Aristizabal

A bit of his story:
Aristizabal, 46, a Colombian who moved to the U.S. in 1989, was taken from his home with his brother in 1982, he says, and tortured over a three-day period.

He says he was subjected to electrical shocks on various parts of his body, including his testicles, beaten, kept awake for three days, held under water to simulate drowning and stood up against a wall as soldiers fired toward him in a mock execution. He and his brother were turned in by a priest, he says, who told the Army they might be subversives.

And so you wonder, what does being tortured do to a person?

For Aristizabal, it made him want to kill the people who did it to him. It made him want to torture them. That darkness of mind then led him on a personal odyssey to fight off those feelings. Along the way, it has made him a fervent opponent of torture.

We talked by phone Sunday night from his Pasadena home. Aristizabal said he refuses to let memories of torture define his existence, even as it has shaped his professional life — both as a psychotherapist and dramatist and sometime actor.

"The feelings can pass for a while," he says, "but my brother [not the same one captured with him in 1982] was kidnapped, tortured and killed by the Colombian paramilitary death squads in 1999, and that reawakened in me the desire for revenge and the anger and the blindness of that anger. One of the things that helped me was to have my own children and see how much they need me, but for at least a year, I was blinded crazy, with nightmares and fantasies of revenge."

The 30-minute play he presented at Cal State is meant both to simulate his own torture and to provoke audience response. He asks them to create their own images of how they might respond.

He plays several characters, including his mother, his brother, his children and the torturer. "I use plasticity and the magic of theater to take people into the process," he said.


In a sense, he says, only someone who has been tortured can torture another. What he means, he says, is that he realizes that he could have, if given an opportunity under certain conditions, "inflicted great pain on people who killed my brother and hurt me."

That fight against torture has been broadened to working for what he considers social justice. As such, he has counseled many people — including juveniles — caught up in the criminal justice system.

But torture is the subject for this day.

He discounts the "ticking bomb" scenario that often is used as a rationale to defend torture. That rationale says that, for example, if a suspect is the only one who knows details of an imminent terrorist attack, torture may be the only tool available.

Aristizabal says that scenario "has never occurred in history." Even if he's right that it has never occurred, I suggest, it won't stop people from intuitively using it as an argument.

"A society that allows torture creates, both for the torturer and the survivor, a society that is torturing itself, its own human values," he says. "It affects the psyche not only of the two people involved, but those of us who know we live in a world where torture exists. The main idea of it is to create fear, not gather intelligence."

He says he has come almost all the way back from the person who, in the torture chamber, was made to feel like nothing and bereft of a person's normal bolstering sources — like family, friends and institutions.

That sense of hopelessness and abandonment is the special wickedness of torture, he says.

And so his one-man plays will continue, if only to convince people that the U.S. lowers itself when it embraces torture anywhere in the world, Aristizabal says.

"Doing this show in universities, symposia, conferences, and hearing the response of people, which is as visceral as my own experience, it's like a ritual in which I remember what happened to me, but I'm also asking people to remember what we're doing."
My emphasis added. Hat tip to OneCrankyDom at Never In Our Names.

We're waiting...

Last year's Military Commissions Act, the passage of which will forever haunt this country (if for no other reason than by laying bare the nature of the American Zeitgeist) does the following:
- purports to strip an "unlawful enemy combatant" of the protection of the Geneva Conventions (albeit proclaiming that the accused is accorded treatment consonant with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions);

- denies unlawful enemy combatants imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to appeal to federal district courts for a writ of habeas corpus;

- ratifies by fiat the President's position as prosecutor-in-chief, judge, jury, and court-of-last-appeal in determining whether a detainee is an unlawful enemy combatant through the mechanism of the "Combatant Status Review Commission";

- circumscribes the right of appeal to a Military Commissions Review Court and thence to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, perhaps the most powerful of all the circuit courts since appeals against administrative rulings by government bureaucracies fall within its jurisdiction; and

- creates a dual set of minimum standards for allowable interrogation techniques and general treatment of detainees--the Army Field Manual for the military and a separate set of rules and prohibitions for the CIA and other non-military personnel.
Presumably, the Democrats gained majorities in the House and Senate in order to curb the excesses of the last several years. So, what has this Congress done with that mandate thus far? Nothing substantial:
Although their majorities in both Houses of Congress empowered Democrats to set the legislative agenda in the 110th Congress, they seemed less than decisive in demanding an accounting for alleged illegal acts. For example, on February 16, Representative David Wu (OR) introduced H.R. 1189, the Habeas Corpus Preservation Act. This bill, consisting of one operative paragraph of 52 words, reads:
Nothing in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 or any amendment made by that Act shall affect the right of any resident of the United States of America to habeas corpus. The preceding sentence shall be construed in accordance with the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Legally, this proposed legislation only reaffirms that nothing in the 2006 Military Commissions Act (Public Law 109-366), whose provisions are directed toward detainees being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shall be construed to restrict, deny, or in any manner diminish the rights of legal U.S. residents (as distinct from U.S. citizens) to the protections of the two constitutional amendments cited.
So, yeah, maybe the issue has received a bit more attention than it would have otherwise, but while Congress fiddles there are human beings suffering under cruel and degrading conditions without much if any hope of getting out.

In His Own Words: Khaled El-Masri

On New Year's Eve in 2003, I was seized at the border of Serbia and Macedonia by Macedonian police who mistakenly believed that I was traveling on a false German passport.

I was detained incommunicado for more than three weeks. Then I was handed over to the American Central Intelligence Agency and was stripped, severely beaten, shackled, dressed in a diaper, injected with drugs, chained to the floor of a plane and flown to Afghanistan, where I was imprisoned in a foul dungeon for more than four months.

Long after the American government realized that I was an entirely innocent man, I was blindfolded, put back on a plane, flown to Europe and left on a hilltop in Albania - without any explanation or apology for the nightmare that I had endured.

My story is well known. It has been described in hundreds of newspaper articles and television news programs - many relying on sources within the U.S. government. It has been the subject of numerous investigations and reports by intergovernmental bodies, including the European Parliament.

Most recently, prosecutors in my own country of Germany are pursuing indictments against 13 CIA agents and contractors for their role in my kidnapping, abuse and detention. Although I never could have imagined it, and certainly never wished it, I have become the public face of the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program.

Why, then, does the American government insist that my ordeal is a state secret? This is something beyond my comprehension. In December 2005, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, I sued former CIA Director George Tenet along with other CIA agents and contractors for their roles in my kidnapping, mistreatment and arbitrary detention. Above all, what I want from the lawsuit is a public acknowledgment from the U.S. government that I was innocent, a mistaken victim of its rendition program, and an apology for what I was forced to endure. Without this vindication, it has been impossible for me to return to a normal life.

The U.S. government does not deny that I was wrongfully kidnapped. Instead, it has argued in court that my case must be dismissed because any litigation of my claims will expose state secrets and jeopardize American security, even though President Bush has told the world about the CIA's detention program, and even though my allegations have been corroborated by eyewitnesses and other evidence.

To my amazement and dismay, a federal district court judge agreed with the government in May and threw out my case. And then the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision. It seems that the only place where my case cannot be discussed is in a U.S. courtroom.

I did not bring this lawsuit to harm America. I brought the lawsuit because I want to know why America harmed me.

I don't understand why the strongest nation on Earth believes that acknowledging a mistake will threaten its security. Isn't it more likely that showing the world that America cannot give justice to an innocent victim of its anti-terror policies will cause harm to America's image and security around the world?

In November, I traveled to America for the first time to hear my lawyers argue my case before the appeals court in Richmond, Va., and to meet with members of Congress and their staff on Capitol Hill. (It's obvious that the U.S. government does not consider me a security threat, or I would not have been allowed to enter the country, much less be in the same room with federal judges and members of Congress.)

Although I did not understand all of the arguments made by the lawyers, I was impressed by the dignity of the proceedings and by the respect for the rule of law that I always have associated with America. I'm deeply disappointed to find that this same legal system denies me the chance to fully present my case.

If I were being treated fairly by the American legal system, perhaps we would not have reached the point where German prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against American citizens.

During my visit in November, many Americans offered me their apologies for the brutality that had been perpetrated against me in their name. I saw in their faces the true America, an America that is not held captive by fear of unknown enemies and that understands the strength and power of justice.

That is the America that, I hope, one day will see me as a human being - not a state secret.

Khaled El-Masri, a German citizen born in Lebanon, was a car salesman before he was detained in December 2003.
Article title: I am not a state secret.

Stop Funding for Attack on Iran!

Last night, Rep. Pelosi and the democratic leadership decided to pull language from the Supplemental Appropriations bill which stated that no funds may be authorized for military operations in or related to Iran unless specifically authorized by the Congress.

We DO have a chance to reverse this in committee, but we urgently need you to send action alerts to your constituents and make phone calls TODAY.

(800) 828-0498
(202) 224-3121

The Supplemental Appropriations bill is scheduled to be marked up in full committee Thursday (MARCH 15) at 9 am.

Please send action alerts to your constituents, encouraging them to write and, more importantly, call their members of Congress. Click here for a list of Members of the full Appropriations committee. If your Congressional representative is not on the committee, urge your Representative to tell Committee members to reinsert language back in the Supplemental Appropriations bill.

Nerdified link.

A compendium of eliminationist rhetoric

Check out Eliminationism in America: Appendix over at Orcinus. It's what David calls "a selection of eliminationist rhetoric documented at [Orcinus] since 2003." As comprehensive as that selection appears, I'd hate to see what the unabridged version would look like. Certainly gives one a taste of what the fascist element of the US is like.

One quick observation: reading through the various right-wing missives reminds me that one almost never see such eliminationist among liberals or leftists, which tells me something about the major differences in worldview between those of us on the left and those who comprise the authoritarian right (sometimes referred to as "movement conservatism" as a means of distinguishing it from the conservatism that my dad's generation grew up with).

Amnesty International Sez

There's one standard for human rights for the US and another one for all the other nations.

We've talked about this before.This month, we can bear witness to the fruits of the Military Commissions Act - you know, the law that made the Preznit the "final arbiter on torture":
Five hours later, on the afternoon of 6 March 2007, the Department of Defence held a briefing in Washington, DC, to announce the start of Combatant Status Review Tribunals (CSRTs) for the 14 detainees transferred in September 2006 from years of secret CIA custody in undisclosed locations to the US Naval Base in Guantánamo Bay in Cuba.

The CSRT is the administrative procedure set up by the US government in mid-2004 to review the "enemy combatant" status of detainees held in Guantánamo, many of whom had already been held for more than two years without charge or trial. The CSRTs consist of panels of three military officers who can rely on secret evidence and evidence extracted under torture or other ill-treatment in making their determinations. The detainee is denied access to a lawyer and generally to witnesses and is presumed to be an "enemy combatant" unless he can prove otherwise.

These 14 men had been held for up to four and half years in secret facilities outside the USA before being taken to Guantánamo. They had been held incommunicado for all that time, including being kept from the ICRC. They were subjected to "alternative" interrogation techniques, widely reported to include methods that violate the international legal prohibition on torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Such techniques would feature in State Department reports if used by countries other than the USA.

The CSRTs for the 14 men are due to begin, in secret, on 9 March. The USA’s treatment of the 14 over the years has transformed them from individuals with allegedly high intelligence value to detainees with information about possible government crimes, including enforced disappearance. The authorities have classified as "top secret" details of the CIA secret detention program, including interrogation techniques, location of detention facilities, and detention conditions, the disclosure of which could cause "exceptionally grave damage" to national security. The effect, if not the purpose, of this classification is to conceal human rights violations.

The detainees were transferred to Guantánamo for the stated purpose of bringing them to trial by military commission. A CSRT determination of "enemy combatant" status renders a detainee eligible for trial by military commission under the Military Commission Act (MCA), signed into law by President Bush on 17 October 2006.

In trials under the MCA, the prosecution may introduce information extracted under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment; or under treatment that violated the state’s obligation to treat all detainees with humanity and with respect for the inherent dignity of the human person; or under treatment that amounted to "outrages upon personal dignity, in particular degrading and humiliating treatment" under Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. At the same time, the MCA prohibits the defendant from invoking the Geneva Conventions as a source of rights. In addition, the USA considers that international human rights law does not apply in the "war on terror".

In military commission trials, the prosecution may also introduce evidence while protecting from disclosure "the sources, methods, or activities" by which the USA acquired it, if the military judge finds that the evidence is "reliable" and the sources, methods or activities classified. Amnesty International fears that the military commissions will lack the independence and impartiality to conduct the necessary searching inquiries into government conduct. If they do not, the commissions will become a forum in which government abuses are whitewashed.

Meanwhile, six months after these 14 detainees were brought out of years of secret custody, they are still being denied access to lawyers even as the government builds its criminal case against them. Now it intends to put them through a secret and clearly flawed administrative review process, in violation of their right to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in a court of law.
The question still on my mind: where in the Hell are the Democrats now that they have their coveted majorities in the House and Senate? Will this Congress continue to meekly endorse gross human rights violations in the name of the "War on Terra"?

Now here's a useful reference guide

Geneva Conventions: A Reference Guide

Monday, March 12, 2007

Please do this now:

Check out a new internet petition urging Congress critters to filibuster in order to end the Iraq War. Won't even take a moment. Here's the text of the petition:
Petition calling on the U.S. Senate to filibuster and end the war in Iraq

We the undersigned call on each and every United States Senator to participate in a filibuster to end the war in Iraq. It only takes 41 votes to sustain a filibuster and prevent funding requests from the Bush administration from coming to debate or a vote. The Bush administration would then have to return with a funding request that is satisfactory to the 41. That bill should include funds to bring all U.S. forces home quickly and safely but no money to prosecute the war in Iraq. Pro-war Senators used this tactic twice in February to stop non-binding resolutions condemning the so-called "surge." If pro-war Senators can use this tactic, then anti-war Senators should use it also. Right now the filibuster is the only way to end the war in a veto-proof fashion. We call upon each and every Senator to join a filibuster effort to end the loss of life and save our country.
Props to Scott Horton for the tip. This might be a small action, and of course I won't delude myself into thinking that a simple petition would be sufficient to convince any of our Senators into doing the right thing (for once). Still, any kind of collective action is better than doing nothing.

I've signed the petition. Have you?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

The Dark Side of the Donkle on Video

David Swanson summarizes the exchange as follows:
House Appropriations Chair David Obey (Dem., Wisc.) ran into woman in the hallway in Washington recently and ended up yelling at her and her friends, accusing them of "smoking something that's not legal" if they disagreed with him, and denouncing "idiot liberals."

The woman, Tina Richards, introduced herself to Obey as the mother of a Marine about to depart for his third tour of Iraq, and as someone who has tried to communicate with Obey but received no response. Then she

Well, watch the video yourself. It may be depressing, but it's certainly entertaining (just like network television).

Obey claims in this video that the only way to end the war is to fund it, because

1.-They don't have the votes to stop funding it. (Of course, they would if they voted like "idiot liberals".)

2.-Funding a withdrawal would somehow mysteriously harm "our troops." (Will Obey say that to Richards' son?)

3.-Requiring an end to the war (which Obey's bill does NOT do) is as good as defunding it. (But if that were true, why would you have the votes for it and not the other?)

I think it's important to watch idiot Congress Members in off-the-cuff videos like this in order to understand something: they're neither idiots nor completely cynical. They actually believe some of their own sound bytes. This understanding has to shape our task of educating and pressuring them to change.
Rep. Obey needs to get out more often. That, or he's forgotten that it's probably in large part due to those "idiot liberals" that he even enjoys a cushy Congressional gig in the first place. Tell us how you really feel, Congressman. S'okay. We got your number. Just keep in mind that as long as you let the soundbites get to your head, a lot of people who would really rather go about their lives are getting hurt and killed. Truth hurts.

Bloggers Against Torture Blogroll Update Pt. 2

Here's the code for the Bloggers Against Torture Blogroll:

Just for kicks

You Are 56% Politically Radical

You've got some radical viewpoints, but you aren't completely nuts. You're more of a visionary than a radical.

Hmmm. I thought I'd have scored a bit higher than that.

Bloggers Against Torture Blogroll Update

Elindil was kind enough to give me the keys to the Bloggers Against Torture blogroll, and I am currently going through the existing links and updating blogs that have since moved; as well as deleting duplicate links, dead links, splogs, etc. I'm about halfway through that process as of this writing.

Next up will be adding new bloggers to the list.

Although the original Bloggers Against Torture site appears finished, there are a variety of bloggers who continue to make their voices heard and who deserve to be recognized. In the meantime, check out the links and see what you can learn.

Stay tuned...