Thursday, May 22, 2008

Sign of the times (truth in advertising department)

Not very PC, I know. Screw PC. Found over at The Try-Works.


I just stumbled on a blog I hadn't seen before, and I gotta say, these cats are great: Guys From Area 51. Just one example:
Roosevelt didn't talk with (Adolf) Hitler, Reagan didn't talk with (Soviet leader Leonid) Brezhnev or his two successors until (Mikhail) Gorbachev was ready to change his position. Reagan didn't do what Jimmy Carter did. Carter went over and kissed Brezhnev, remember?"
--John McCain, Miami Town Hall meeting, May 20, 2008.
Check out some other stuff over there. You won't be disappointed.

The latest torture news: War crimes file kept by FBI

I really don't think any of this should come as a surprise, but on the off chance that it is, check one of those rare useful articles in New Pravda:

WASHINGTON — In 2002, as evidence of prisoner mistreatment at Guantánamo Bay began to mount, Federal Bureau of Investigation agents at the base created a "war crimes file" to document accusations against American military personnel, but were eventually ordered to close down the file, a Justice Department report revealed Tuesday.

The report, an exhaustive, 437-page review prepared by the Justice Department inspector general, provides the fullest account to date of internal dissent and confusion within the Bush administration over the use of harsh interrogation tactics by the military and the Central Intelligence Agency.

In one of several previously undisclosed episodes, the report found that American military interrogators appeared to have collaborated with visiting Chinese officials at Guantánamo Bay to disrupt the sleep of Chinese Muslims held there, waking them every 15 minutes the night before their interviews by the Chinese. In another incident, it said, a female interrogator reportedly bent back an inmate's thumbs and squeezed his genitals as he grimaced in pain.


The report says that the F.B.I. agents took their concerns to higher-ups, but that their concerns often fell on deaf ears: officials at senior levels at the F.B.I., the Justice Department, the Defense Department and the National Security Council were all made aware of the F.B.I. agents' complaints, but little appears to have been done as a result.

The report quotes passionate objections from F.B.I. officials who grew increasingly concerned about the reports of practices like intimidating inmates with snarling dogs, parading them in the nude before female soldiers, or "short-shackling" them to the floor for many hours in extreme heat or cold.

Such tactics, said one F.B.I. agent in an e-mail message to supervisors in November 2002, might violate American law banning torture.

More senior officials, including Spike Bowman, who was then the head of the national security law unit at the F.B.I., tried to sound the alarm as well.

"Beyond any doubt, what they are doing (and I don't know the extent of it) would be unlawful were these enemy prisoners of war," Mr. Bowman wrote in an e-mail message to top F.B.I. officials in July 2003.

Many of the abuses the report describes have previously been disclosed, but it was not known that F.B.I. agents had gone so far as to document accusations of abuse in a "war crimes file" at Guantánamo. The report does not say how many incidents were included in the file after it was started in 2002, but the "war crimes" label showed just how seriously F.B.I. agents took the accusations. Sometime in 2003, however, an F.B.I. official ordered the file closed because "investigating detainee allegations of abuse was not the F.B.I.'s mission," the report said.

The inspector general, Glenn A. Fine, found that in a few instances, F.B.I. agents participated in interrogations using pressure tactics that would not have been permitted inside the United States. But the "vast majority" of agents followed F.B.I. legal guidelines and "separated themselves" from harsh treatment, the report says.

The report says that the F.B.I. "had not provided sufficient guidance to its agents on how to respond when confronted with military interrogators" who used interrogation techniques that were not permitted by the F.B.I., and that fueled confusion and dissension. But it also says that "the F.B.I. should be credited for its conduct and professionalism in detainee interrogations in the military zones."

Jameel Jaffer, who tracks detainee issues for the American Civil Liberties Union, took a more critical stance, saying the report shows "the F.B.I.'s leadership failed to act aggressively to end the abuse." Mr. Jaffer said the report "only underscores the pressing need for an independent and comprehensive investigation of prisoner abuse."

The report documents in greater detail than ever before the conflict between the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. over interrogation methods, which began with the capture of Abu Zubaydah, a senior Qaeda figure, in Pakistan in March 2002. F.B.I. agents began the interrogation using traditional rapport-building methods, and one agent even provided personal care for Mr. Zubaydah, who had been shot three times and grievously wounded, "even to the point of cleaning him up after bowel movements."

But C.I.A. personnel who took over the case within a few days began to use harsher methods that one F.B.I. agent described as "borderline torture," and which the C.I.A. has acknowledged included waterboarding, in which water is poured over the prisoner's mouth and nose to create a feeling of suffocation.

The report describes extensive debate inside the F.B.I. over the next six months over whether it should continue to observe or assist the C.I.A. with interrogations using harsh methods it believed were counterproductive.

F.B.I. officials, including Pasquale D'Amuro, then the bureau's top counterterrorism officer, believed the physical pressure being used by the C.I.A. was less effective than traditional noncoercive methods, that it would "taint" any future effort at prosecution, and that it "was wrong and helped Al Qaeda in spreading negative views of the United States," the report says.

After the capture of another Qaeda figure, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in September 2002, F.B.I. agents again traveled to a secret C.I.A. site where Mr. bin al-Shibh was being questioned. But only in 2003, the report concludes, did the F.B.I. make a "clean break" and choose to have no involvement in the C.I.A.'s harsh interrogations.
I'm in the process of reading through the actual report – let's just say that a 437 page report in any format is not going to make for quick overnight reading, and the presence of "redacted" passages gets tedious. Some of this reads like a turf war between rival factions within the belly of the Empire. That one of the factions was keeping a war crimes file on the other faction could come in handy as pressure mounts in ensuing years to hold the perpetrators of torture accountable. It's not the first time that news has surfaced of internal dissent with regard to torture – last summer, it was within the CIA itself concerning the involvement of behavioral scientists (i.e., psychologists) in torture proceedings.

In the past I've voiced my skepticism that those who were responsible for formulating the torture policies will ever be held accountable, and will continue to argue that merely throwing a few low-level CIA personnel to the wolves is insufficient given the scope of the harm inflicted. Nor should this current sorry regime's policies be viewed as somehow anomalous – the US has a long tortured history of inflicting torture going back at least to the US colonization of the Philippines, and includes the CIA's funding of psychological and psychiatric research (MKULTRA) in developing its contemporary approach to torture (see the KUBARK manual), and Clinton's policy of extraordinary renditions in the 1990s. Of course, it goes without saying that torture is not a GOP invention, but has in fact been enabled by the "leaders" of both the Dems and the GOP in Congress, even in the aftermath of the 2006 elections in which the GOP was stripped of its Congressional majorities. Rather, we need to consider the American Zeitgeist, and the surrounding decades of historical context. First and foremost, we need to do away with the myth of American Exceptionalism that has poisoned discourse for far too long. As for the rest, war crimes trials for those involved in the present White House regime and their collaborators in Congress. That won't bring back the dead, or undo the damage inflicted upon those stuck in US gulags, but it would be a start.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

No Child Left Behind Explained

So simple, even those who support NCLB can understand it:

1. All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship, their footballs and equipment will be taken away until they do win the championship.

2. All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time, even if they do not have the same conditions and opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a [lack of] desire to perform athletically, or genetic abilities or disabilities of themselves or their parents. ALL KIDS WILL PLAY FOOTBALL AT A PROFICIENT LEVEL!

3. Talented players will be asked to work out on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren't interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don't like football.

4. Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th games.

This will create a New Age of Sports where every school is expected to have the same level of talent and all teams will reach the same minimum goals. If no child gets ahead, then no child gets left behind. If parents do not like this new law, they are encouraged to vote for vouchers and support private schools that can screen out the non-athletes and prevent their children from having to go to school with bad football players.

by an anonymous teacher.

Let's hope that the vicious rumors that NCLB will make its way to the college level do not pan out. Even better, let's abolish NCLB at any level (ideally while abolishing the aptly misnamed Department of Education).

Even in the birthplace of neoliberalism

There is not much love for its consequences:

But 78 per cent of respondents in the US, traditionally seen as more tolerant of income inequality, also think the gap is too wide.

Police State v 2.0, Coming Soon to Your Community

Naomi Klein has the lowdown, and sees through the usual "It could never happen here in the land of the free" drivel.

See also: What is the "war on terra" really?

Good Riddance

The Iraq War Debacle Was Truly a Debacle For Some

Follow-up To: "The Iraq War Debacle Was Truly a Debacle For Some"

"Jericho" as a dramatization of disaster capitalism

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Murdered by capitalism: Past and present

First the past:
Thousands killed by US's Korean ally

DAEJEON, South Korea (AP) — Grave by mass grave, South Korea is unearthing the skeletons and buried truths of a cold-blooded slaughter from early in the Korean War, when this nation's U.S.-backed regime killed untold thousands of leftists and hapless peasants in a summer of terror in 1950.

With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were "the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War," said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.


The roots of the summer 1950 bloodbath lie in the U.S.-Soviet division of Japan's former Korea colony in 1945, which precipitated north-south turmoil and eventual war.

In the late 1940s, President Syngman Rhee's U.S.-installed rightist regime crushed leftist political activity in South Korea, including a guerrilla uprising inspired by the communists ruling the north. By 1950, southern jails were packed with up to 30,000 political prisoners.

The southern government, meanwhile, also created the National Guidance League, a "re-education" organization for recanting leftists and others suspected of communist leanings. Historians say officials met membership quotas by pressuring peasants into signing up with promises of rice rations or other benefits. By 1950, more than 300,000 people were on the league's rolls, organizers said.

North Korean invaders seized Seoul, the southern capital, in late June 1950 and freed thousands of prisoners, who rallied to the northern cause. Southern authorities, in full retreat with their U.S. military advisers, ordered National Guidance League members in areas they controlled to report to the police, who detained them. Soon after, commission researchers say, the organized mass executions of people regarded as potential collaborators began — "bad security risks," as a police official described the detainees at the time.

The declassified record of U.S. documents shows an ambivalent American attitude toward the killings. American diplomats that summer urged restraint on southern officials — to no obvious effect — but a State Department cable that fall said overall commander Gen. Douglas MacArthur viewed the executions as a Korean "internal matter," even though he controlled South Korea's military.

Ninety miles south of Seoul, here in the narrow, peaceful valley of Sannae, truckloads of prisoners were brought in from Daejeon Prison and elsewhere day after day in July 1950, as the North Koreans bore down on the city.

The American photos, taken by an Army major and kept classified for a half-century, show the macabre sequence of events.

White-clad detainees — bent, submissive, with hands bound — were thrown down prone, jammed side by side, on the edge of a long trench. South Korean military and national policemen then stepped up behind, pointed their rifles at the backs of their heads and fired. The bodies were tipped into the trench.

Trembling policemen — "they hadn't shot anyone before" — were sometimes off-target, leaving men wounded but alive, Lee said. He and others were ordered to check for wounded and finish them off.

Evidence indicates South Korean executioners killed between 3,000 and 7,000 here, said commissioner Kim. A half-dozen trenches, each up to 150 yards long and full of bodies, extended over an area almost a mile long, said Kim Chong-hyun, 70, chairman of a group of bereaved families campaigning for disclosure and compensation for the Daejeon killings. His father, accused but never convicted of militant leftist activity, was one victim.

Another was Yeo Tae-ku's father, whose wife and mother searched for him afterward.

"Bodies were just piled upon each other," said Yeo, 59, remembering his mother's description. "Arms would come off when they turned them over." The desperate women never found him, and the mass graves were quickly covered over, as were others in isolated spots up and down this mountainous peninsula, to be officially "forgotten."

When British communist journalist Alan Winnington entered Daejeon that summer with North Korean troops and visited the site, writing of "waxy dead hands and feet (that) stick through the soil," his reports in the Daily Worker were denounced as "fabrication" by the U.S. Embassy in London. American military accounts focused instead on North Korean reprisal killings that followed in Daejeon.

But CIA and U.S. military intelligence documents circulating even before the Winnington report, classified "secret" and since declassified, told of the executions by the South Koreans. Lt. Col. Bob Edwards, U.S. Embassy military attache in South Korea, wrote in conveying the Daejeon photos to Army intelligence in Washington that he believed nationwide "thousands of political prisoners were executed within (a) few weeks" by the South Koreans.

Another glimpse of the carnage appeared in an unofficial U.S. source, an obscure memoir self-published in 1981 by the late Donald Nichols, a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, who told of witnessing "the unforgettable massacre of approximately 1,800 at Suwon," 20 miles south of Seoul.

Such reports lend credibility to a captured North Korean document from Aug. 2, 1950, eventually declassified by Washington, which spoke of mass executions in 12 South Korean cities, including 1,000 killed in Suwon and 4,000 in Daejeon.

That early, incomplete North Korean report couldn't include those executed in territory still held by the southerners. Up to 10,000 were killed in the city of Busan alone, a South Korean lawmaker, Park Chan-hyun, estimated in 1960.

His investigation came during a 12-month democratic interlude between the overthrow of Rhee and a government takeover by Maj. Gen. Park Chung-hee's authoritarian military, which quickly arrested many then probing for the hidden story of 1950.

Kim said his projection of at least 100,000 dead is based in part on extrapolating from a survey by non-governmental organizations in one province, Busan's South Gyeongsang, which estimated 25,000 killed there. And initial evidence suggests most of the National Guidance League's 300,000 members were killed, he said.

Commission investigators agree with the late Lt. Col. Edwards' note to Washington in 1950, that "orders for execution undoubtedly came from the top," that is, President Rhee, who died in 1965.

But any documentary proof of that may have been destroyed, just as the facts of the mass killings themselves were buried. In 1953, after the war ended in stalemate, after the deaths of at least 2 million people, half or more of them civilians, a U.S. Army war crimes report attributed all summary executions here in Daejeon to the "murderous barbarism" of North Koreans.

Such myths survived a half-century, in part because those who knew the truth were cowed into silence.

"My mother destroyed all pictures of my father, for fear the family would get an image as leftists," said Koh Chung-ryol, 57, who is convinced her 29-year-old father was innocent of wrongdoing when picked up in a broad police sweep here, to die in Sannae valley.

"My mother tried hard to get rid of anything about her husband," she said. "She suffered unspeakable pain."

Even educated South Koreans remained ignorant of their country's past. As a young researcher in the late 1980s, Yonsei University's Park Myung-lim, today a leading Korean War historian, was deeply shaken as he sought out confidential accounts of those days from ordinary Koreans.

"I cried," he said. "I felt, 'Oh, my goodness. Oh, Jesus. This was my country? It was true?'"

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission can recommend but not award compensation for lost and ruined lives, nor can it bring surviving perpetrators to justice. "Our investigative power is so meager," commission President Ahn Byung-ook told the AP.

His immediate concern is resources. "The current government isn't friendly toward us, and so we're concerned that the budget may be cut next year," he said.

South Korean conservatives complain the "truth" campaign will only reopen old wounds from a time when, even at the village level, leftists and rightists carried out bloody reprisals against each other.

The life of the commission — with a staff of 240 and annual budget of $19 million — is guaranteed by law until at least 2010, when it will issue a final, comprehensive report.

Later this spring and summer its teams will resume digging at mass grave sites. Thus far, it has verified 16 incidents of 1950-51 — not just large-scale detainee killings, but also such events as a South Korean battalion's cold-blooded killing of 187 men, women and children at Kochang village, supposed sympathizers with leftist guerrillas.

By exposing the truth of such episodes, "we hope to heal the trauma and pain of the bereaved families," the commission says. It also wants to educate people, "not just in Korea, but throughout the international community," to the reality of that long-ago conflict, to "prevent such a tragic war from reoccurring in the future."
The images are all via Associated Press.

Now on to the present. Donald Rumsfeld apparently finds the brutal South Korea dictatorship as his model for the ideal Iraq puppet regime:

Now, here's why we're talking about Rhee today. About two weeks ago, a tape recording emerged of Donald Rumsfeld sitting around jabbering over lunch with some friends. These were not just any friends, though. Remember the devastating New York Times story by David Barstow from April 20 about the "military analysts" who appeared regularly on US television who were supposedly objective but in fact were a) trained by the Pentagon in the arts of positive spin and b) often had a financial stake in military contractors doing business in Iraq? These were the friends in question.

The lunch took place on December 12, 2006, as Rumsfeld was preparing his long-overdue departure from the government. The chit-chat was of course never intended for public consumption, but the audio tape of the lunch (you can listen to it by going here) was delivered to the NY Times in a pile of materials the paper had requested under the Freedom of Information Act, so the Pentagon released the tape of its own volition.

One analyst, so far unidentified, asks Rummy whether the democratic Iraqi government can survive, or "Do we need an authoritarian government like South Korea after the war?" Rumsfeld lurches his way through an analysis of the pluses and minuses of Iraq's three post-Saddam prime ministers - Iyad Allawi, Ibrahim al-Jafaari and incumbent Nouri al-Maliki. Allawi "had steel up his backside" but "was not as attentive as he needed to be." Al-Jafaari was a weak type who always agreed with "the last guy he talked to." And Maliki? "This fella's better than the one before, but he's not Syngman Rhee."

Not much ambiguity there. In the minds of both the questioner and Rumsfeld, Rhee is a symbol of sturdy authoritarian leadership. You know, the kind some countries need from time to time, strictly for their own good.

Because after all, none of the mess that we see in Iraq today is Rumsfeld's fault, right? Good God. I'm not much of a believer, but when I contemplate men like this, I hope there is a hell.

And finally, what might the above exchange intimate to us with regard to Iraq's future? We never hear the war's proponents discuss the need for a good old-fashioned strongman in public, because they know that wouldn't do. But should we be naive enough to think that the Rumsfeld-analyst exchange was the only private one to take place in Washington in the last two years along these lines?

It's enough to make me wonder what John McCain really thinks. Yes, he has condemned Rumsfeld. But he did not condemn him because he was a war maker; like William Kristol, he condemned Rumsfeld merely because he was an incompetent war maker. Lately, McCain, who's rewriting his own history furiously these days, has lately been trying to say that he called for Rumsfeld's resignation, even though he did not.

Does McCain's vision of a pacific Iraq as "a functioning democracy" circa 2013, etched out in his fatuous speech of May 15, have wiggle room for a little dash of authoritarianism if need be? After all "functioning democracy" can mean a lot of different things. Ask the survivors of hundreds of thousands of dead South Koreans. Or ask Rumsfeld and his analyst friends.

Not exactly pleasant reading, eh?

Neuroscience Tuesday

Figure Caption: Three-dimensional surface projection of activations and deactivations associated with improvisation during the Jazz paradigm. Medial prefrontal cortex activation, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex deactivation, and sensorimotor activation can be seen. The scale bar shows the range of t-scores; the axes demonstrate anatomic orientation. Abbreviations: a, anterior; p, posterior; d, dorsal; v, ventral; R, right; L, left.
That image comes from Study: Prefrontal Cortex In Jazz Music Winds Down When Improvising. Just a clip:

Scientists funded by the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) have found that, when jazz musicians are engaged in the highly creative and spontaneous activity known as improvisation, a large region of the brain involved in monitoring one’s performance is shut down, while a small region involved in organizing self-initiated thoughts and behaviors is highly activated.

The researchers propose that this and several related patterns are likely to be key indicators of a brain that is engaged in highly creative thought.

The blue spots indicate reduced brain activity. The yellowish-reddish spots indicate increased brain activity. I'm always looking for new or newish material to share with my physio psych students. This will fit the bill.

See also: Where Science and Free Jazz Intersect

Monday, May 19, 2008

Say hello to

The Sanctuary. You'd probably already noticed the Sanctuary graphic on the top left sidebar, since late last week. Let's just say I have some high hopes for this one. Both the concept and the editorial crew are solid (several have been part of the Eegeehood - scroll down the left sidebar just a bit - for ages). Check it out.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Good bombs, bad bombs?

John Ross sez1:
Seventy-one thousand three-hundred seventy-nine were incinerated by the Atomic Bomb on August 5th, 1945 at Hiroshima to "save lives"; 49,205 at Nagasaki three days later to "save lives"; 83,783 on my seventh birthday, March 11th, when the U.S. bombed Tokyo with 16,000 tons of Napalm, yup, "to save lives." The year before, the allies saturation-bombed Dresden, taking another 135,000 lives "to save lives." The four bombings together total up to around 340,000 deaths, 99.99% of them civilians who just got in the way. Given the 3,000 vaporized up in the Twin Towers, there is an important karmic deficit outstanding.

1. Ross, J., (2004), Murdered by Capitalism, pp. 305-306.