Thursday, April 23, 2009

More Truths On Torture

The barbarism and savagery keeps on being exposed ...

Five Terrible Truths About the CIA Torture Memos
by Andy Worthington

The OLC, as the New York Times explained in September 2007, holds a uniquely influential position, as it “interprets all laws that bear on the powers of the executive branch. The opinions of the head of the office are binding, except on the rare occasions when they are reversed by the attorney general or the president.” The legal opinions were, therefore, regarded as a “golden shield” by the administration, although, as lawyer Peter Weiss noted after I last wrote about the Bush administration’s war crimes, “it cannot be binding if it violates the constitution, or a jus cogens prohibition of international law, e.g. torture, or, perhaps, if it was made to order for the executive, as you demonstrate it was.”

1: The “torture memos” (August 2002)

The first of the four memos (PDF), dated August 1, 2002, is a companion piece to the notorious “Torture Memo” of the same day (PDF), leaked in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal, which, notoriously, attempted to redefine torture as the infliction of physical pain “equivalent in intensity to the pain accompanying serious physical injury, such as organ failure, impairment of bodily function, or even death,” or the infliction of mental pain which “result[s] in significant psychological harm of significant duration e.g. lasting for months or even years.”

These definitions were justified as legitimate attempts to interpret what the memo’s authors — OLC lawyer John Yoo and Assistant Attorney General Jay S. Bybee — regarded as imprecision in the wording of the prohibition against torture in the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment, as implemented by Sections 2340-2340A of title 18 of the United States Code, which defines torture as any act committed by an individual that is “specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering … upon another person within his custody of physical control.”

In their attempts to justify the use of torture by US forces, Yoo and Bybee not only sought to redefine “severe pain or suffering” and “severe mental pain or suffering”; they also sought to nullify the concept of “specific intent” by providing a defense for anyone whose actions were undertaken “in good faith,” and, in addition, noted, “Even if an interrogation method arguably were to violate Section 2340A, the statute would be unconstitutional if it impermissibly encroached on the President’s constitutional power to conduct a military campaign.”

The “torture memo” was disturbing enough in and of itself, of course, and in particular because it provided so much of the justification for the horrendous mistreatment of prisoners that followed, in Guantánamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, but until last week the contents of the second memo — authorizing the use of specific torture techniques for the CIA to use on the supposed “high-value detainee” Abu Zubaydah — had never even been glimpsed, although we knew much of what it contained from the reports of Red Cross interviews with the 14 “high-value detainees” transferred to Guantánamo in September 2006 — including, of course, Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM) — which were first reported by Jane Mayer, and featured prominently in her book The Dark Side, and were then analyzed in detail by Mark Danner for the New York Review of Books, in an article published last month, and a follow-up article, accompanied by the Red Cross report itself (PDF), that was published two weeks ago.

In the 18-page memo, John Yoo and Jay Bybee approved the use of ten techniques prohibited in the Army Field Manual, which eschews physical violence, and, instead, lays out a series of psychological maneuvers to secure cooperation. When applied with patience by skilled interrogators, these techniques (which are, essentially, also followed by several intelligence agencies including the FBI) are demonstrably effective, and have, for years, served to demonstrate that the US is capable of operating without resorting to the use of torture, but the Bush administration ignored their effectiveness, introducing torture into the military and the CIA, and sidelining those, like the FBI, who had actually begun to achieve results with both Abu Zubaydah and some of the Guantánamo prisoners without resorting to the use of torture.

The ten techniques — whose use is minutely micro-managed with a chillingly cold attention to detail — include a handful of physical tactics which, to my mind, seem mild compared to the widespread physical violence that accompanied detention in the “War on Terror” (“attention grasp,” “facial hold,” and “facial slap (insult slap)”), and a more insidious form of violence (“walling”), which involves repeatedly hurling prisoners against a false wall. Much more disturbing are the use of stress positions, sleep deprivation, confinement in small boxes, waterboarding, and — straight out of George Orwell’s 1984 — a proposal to prey on Zubaydah’s fear of insects by placing an insect into his “confinement box.”

This latter technique was, apparently, never used, but the others all were, and the memo blithely attempted to dismiss long-standing proof that all can be regarded as torture by being satisfied with time limits imposed on imprisonment in the “confinement boxes,” by declaring that the use of painful stress positions (on which no time limit seems to have been imposed) was only undertaken “to induce muscle fatigue,” and by claiming that the well-chronicled mental collapse that can result from sleep deprivation would, instead, only involve mild discomfort that “will generally remit after one or two nights of uninterrupted sleep,” even though, as Yoo and Bybee also noted, “You have orally informed us that you would not deprive Zubaydah of sleep for more than eleven days at a time.”

Justifying the use of waterboarding — a form of controlled drowning that was known to the honest torturers of the Spanish Inquisition as “tortura del agua,” and that, in a previous incarnation of the United States (Vietnam), involved prosecuting US soldiers for its use — Yoo and Bybee calmly approved of 20-minute sessions in which, presumably, the 20- to 40-second procedure was repeatedly as frequently as required, and shrugged off waterboarding’s demonstrably well-documented use as a form of torture by noting that, in the US military schools, where it is taught in the counter-interrogation program known as SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), from which it was reverse-engineered for the “War on Terror,” it has never, according to “experts” consulted by the administration, produced “any adverse mental health effects.”

2: The Bradbury memos (May 2005)

This assertion is, of course, monstrously untrue, as psychologist Jeffrey Kaye demonstrated in an article last week, but the underlying premise of the August 2002 memo — that, although torture was needed to “break” the CIA’s prisoners, it was not actually torture because it did not inflict “severe physical or mental pain or suffering” — was spelled out much more clearly in May 2005, when the OLC’s Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Steven G. Bradbury, produced another three memos, also released last week (and available as PDFs here, here and here), which picked up where Yoo and Bybee had left off.

Over the course of 106 pages, as he attempted to interpret torture so that it did not contravene the Convention Against Torture and Sections 2340-2340A of title 18 of the United States Code, Bradbury revisited much of the ground covered by Yoo and Bybee, but inadvertently made it even clearer than his predecessors had that there was a ludicrous gulf between, on the one hand, endorsing torture, and, on the other, attempting to claim that it would not cause either severe physical or mental harm.

As with the earlier memos, from my point of view the arguments about the techniques not causing severe physical pain were more plausible than those in which Bradbury attempted to argue that techniques derived from the SERE program — which are based on teaching soldiers to resist techniques designed to cause a complete mental collapse — do not cause severe mental pain or suffering. The very fact that SERE psychologists were so prominent in the CIA’s torture program makes it clear that “learned helplessness” — involving the brutal training of prisoners to become dependent on their interrogators for every crumb of comfort in their wretched, tortured lives — was designed not just to cause them severe mental pain or suffering, but to completely destroy them mentally. As Bradbury himself noted, when discussing the “conditioning techniques” that underpin the CIA prisoners’ conditions of confinement, “they are used to ‘demonstrate to the [detainee] that he has no control over basic human needs.’”

And yet, for page after page, Bradbury concluded that “nudity, dietary manipulation and sleep deprivation” — now revealed explicitly as not just keeping a prisoner awake, but hanging him, naked except for a diaper, by a chain attached to shackles around his wrists — are, essentially, techniques that produce insignificant and transient discomfort. We are, for example, breezily told that caloric intake “will always be set at or above 1,000 kcal/day,” and are encouraged to compare this enforced starvation with “several commercial weight-loss programs in the United States which involve similar or even greater reductions in calorific intake.”

In “water dousing,” a new technique introduced since 2002, in which naked prisoners are repeatedly doused with cold water, we are informed that “maximum exposure directions have been ‘set at two-thirds the time at which, based on extensive medical literature and experience, hypothermia could be expected to develop in healthy individuals who are submerged in water of the same temperature,’” and when it comes to waterboarding, Bradbury clinically confirms that it can be used 12 times a day over five days in a period of a month — a total of 60 times for a technique that is so horrible that one application is supposed to have even the most hardened terrorist literally gagging to tell all.

3: The ticking time-bomb scenario

The Bradbury memos are littered with fascinating snippets of information — “Careful records are kept of each interrogation,” for example — but one of the most revealing is the establishment that, although the array of techniques ”are not used unless the CIA reasonably believes that the detainee is a ‘senior member of al-Qaeda or [its affiliates], and the detainee has knowledge of imminent terrorist threats against the USA or has been directly involved in the planning of attacks,” use of the waterboard is “limited still further, requiring credible intelligence that a terrorist attack is imminent … substantial and credible indicators that the subject has actionable intelligence that can prevent, disrupt or delay this attack; and [a determination that o]ther interrogation methods have failed to elicit the information [and that] other … methods are unlikely to elicit this information within the perceived time limit for preventing the attack”; in other words, the ticking time-bomb scenario, which, outside the world of Jack Bauer, has never actually occurred.

4: The relentless waterboarding of Abu Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

I find this distortion of reality disturbing enough, but, having decided that this was indeed the case with Abu Zubaydah, KSM and one other prisoner, Abdul Rahim al-Nashiri, the CIA and its masters then decided that, in the case of Zubaydah, it was, as Bradbury reveals in an extraordinarily telling passage, “necessary to use the waterboard ‘at least 83 times during August 2002,’” and “183 times during March 2003” in the interrogation of KSM.

These are mind-boggling figures, and, in addition, they seem to reveal not that each horrific round of near-drowning and panic, repeated over and over again, defused a single ticking time-bomb, but, instead, that it became a macabre compulsion on the part of the torturers, which led only to the countless false alarms reported by CIA and FBI officials who spoke to David Rose for Vanity Fair last December, or, as the author Ron Suskind reported in 2006, after Zubaydah “confessed” to all manner of supposed plots — against shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, water systems, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, the Brooklyn Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty — “thousands of uniformed men and women raced in a panic to each target … The United States would torture a mentally disturbed man and then leap, screaming, at every word he uttered.”

One sign that this is indeed the case comes in a disturbing footnote, in which Bradbury noted, “This is not to say that the interrogation program has worked perfectly. According to the IG Report [a massive and unpublished internal report that was clearly critical of much of the program], the CIA, at least initially, could not always distinguish detainees who had information but were successfully resisting interrogation from those who did not actually have the information … on at least one occasion, this may have resulted in what might be deemed in retrospect to have been the unnecessary use of enhanced techniques. On that occasion, although the on-scene interrogation team judged Zubaydah to be compliant, elements within CIA Headquarters still believed he was withholding information [passage redacted]. At the direction of CIA headquarters, interrogators therefore used the waterboard one more time on Zubaydah [passage redacted].”

5: The crucial differences between SERE and CIA waterboarding

Furthermore, as another revealing footnote makes clear, the IG Report also noted that, “in some cases the waterboard was used with far greater frequency than initially indicated,” and also that it was “used in a different manner” than the technique described in the DoJ opinion and used in SERE training. As the report explained, “The difference was in the manner in which the detainees’ breathing was obstructed. At the SERE school and in the DoJ opinion, the subject’s airflow is disrupted by the firm application of a damp cloth over the air passages; the interrogator applies a small amount of water to the cloth in a controlled manner. By contrast, the Agency interrogator … applied large volumes of water to a cloth that covered the detainee’s mouth and nose. One of the psychiatrist/interrogators acknowledged that the Agency’s use of the technique is different from that used in SERE training because it is ‘for real’ and is more poignant and convincing.”

(Keep reading ...)

The Next Forgotten War

By Ryan McCarl

Human beings have strong emotional immune systems, and human societies have a remarkable capacity for collective forgetfulness. Milan Kundera, writing of the effect of the news cycle on historical memory, once said: "The bloody massacre in Bangladesh quickly covered the memory of the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the war in the Sinai desert made people forget Allende, the Cambodian massacre made people forget Sinai, and so on and so forth until ultimately everyone lets everything be forgotten."

Likewise, the histories of our time might say: there was an American invasion and occupation of Iraq, a war that amounts to a crime, but it was quickly followed by other wars, a financial crisis, and an economic depression – and we found that we had enough problems on our plate without worrying too much about the past.

Americans are leaving the Iraq War behind; it is seen as an embarrassing episode, best unmentioned in polite company. The Obama administration is stacked with liberal hawks who supported the Iraq War, and figures from the former Bush administration are signing book deals and making the rounds of press conferences and interviews, propagating meae culpae of the "mistakes were made" sort. A war of choice is being quietly transformed into an unfortunate but ultimately unavoidable mistake, one caused not by politicians and public intellectuals cocooned in their hubris and their reckless ideologies, but by an "intelligence failure."

Keep Reading ...

punditman says ...
Punditman realizes that there are those out there who have bought the media nonsense that the "surge" in Iraq has been a "success," and because that same media now conveniently turns its gaze elsewhere, then the war itself must be a "success." But it isn't. The tragedy that is Iraq will continue to play out one way or another whether or not the world pays attention. And if all its victims on all sides are forgotten, then repeating unjust wars will happen over and over. This article challenges peaceniks everywhere to show that the Iraq war would have been a mistake even if it were a "success."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

U.S. Torture: Even *Children* Were Victimized

That's right ... and the U.S.A. being a "shining city on the hill" is no more relevant to reality than my self-proclamation as most advanced genius in all of Humanity's history.

Children were victimized, folks. Children.

Bush Memos Parallel Claim 9/11 "Mastermind’s" Children Were Tortured With Insects
By John Byrne

Bush Administration memos released by the White House on Thursday provide new insight into claims that American agents used insects to torture the young children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed

In the memos, released Thursday, the Bush Administration White House Office of Legal Counsel offered its endorsement of CIA torture methods that involved placing an insect in a cramped, confined box with detainees. Jay S. Bybee, then-director of the OLC, wrote that insects could be used to capitalize on detainees’ fears.

The memo was dated Aug. 1, 2002. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s children were captured and held in Pakistan the following month, according to a report by Human Rights Watch.

While an additional memo released Thursday claims that the torture with insects technique was never utilized by the CIA, the allegations regarding the children would have transpired when the method was authorized by the Bush Administration.

At a military tribunal in 2007, the father of a Guantanamo detainee alleged that Pakistani guards had confessed that American interrogators used ants to coerce the children of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed into revealing their father’s whereabouts.

The statement was made by Ali Khan, the father of detainee Majid Khan, who gave a detailed account of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American guards in Pakistan. In his statement, Khan asserted that one of his sons was held at the same place as the young children of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“The Pakistani guards told my son that the boys were kept in a separate area upstairs and were denied food and water by other guards,” the statement read. “They were also mentally tortured by having ants or other creatures put on their legs to scare them and get them to say where their father was hiding.” (A pdf transcript is available here)

Khan’s statement is second-hand. But the picture he paints of his son’s interrogation at the hands of American interrogators is strikingly similar to the accounts given by numerous other detainees to the International Red Cross. The timing of the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s son — then aged seven and nine — also meshes with a report by Human Rights Watch, which says that the children were captured in September 2002 and held for four months at the hands of American guards.

“According to eyewitnesses, the two were held in an adult detention center for at least four months while U.S. agents questioned the children about their father’s whereabouts,” the report said.

The use of insects isn’t mentioned in a recently leaked International Red Cross report, in which Red Cross officials questioned detainees about their treatment at the hands of US forces and ultimately judged them to have been tortured. A second memo released Thursday, dated May 10, 2005, says the CIA told the White House insects were never actually used in interrogations.

“We understand that — for reasons unrelated to any concerns that it might violate the [criminal] statute — the CIA never used the technique and has removed it from the list of authorized interrogation techniques,” Steven Bradbury, a principal deputy assistant attorney general, wrote in a footnote.

It’s worth noting, however, that the Red Cross was denied access to individuals held at CIA black sites. Khan’s son, Majid, was among those President Bush moved from the CIA’s secret prison network to Guantanamo Bay.

The techniques Khan says were employed against his son also match those approved in the Bybee memo.

“What I can tell you is that Majid was kidnapped from my son Mohammed’s [not related Khalid Sheikh Mohammed] house in Karachi, along with Mohammed, his wife, and my infant granddaughter,” Khan said in his military tribunal statement. “They were captured by Pakistani police and soldiers and taken to a detention center fifteen minutes from Mohammed’s house. The center had walls that seemed to be eighty feet high. My sons were hooded, handcuffed, and interrogated. After eight days of interrogation by US and Pakistani agents, including FBI agents, Mohammed was allowed to see Majid.

“Majhid looked terrible and very, very tired,” Khan continued. “According to Mohammed, Majid said that the Americans tortured him for eight hours at a time, tying him tightly in stressful positions in a small chair until his hands, feet and mind went numb. They re-tied him in the chair every hour, tightening the bonds on his hands and feet each time so that it was more painful. He was often hooded and had difficulty breathing. They also beat him repeatedly, slapping him in the face, and deprived him of sleep. When he was not being interrogated, the Americans put Majid in a small cell that was totally dark and too small for him to lie down in or sit in with his legs stretched out. He had to crouch. The room was also infested with mosquitoes. The torture only stopped when Majid agreed to sign a statement that he was not even allowed to read.”

Later in his statement, Khan alleges that the Pakistani guards revealed other abuses by American agents.

“The Americans also once stripped and beat two Arab boys, ages fourteen and sixteen, who were turned over by the Pakistani guards at the detention center,” he said. “These guards told my son that they were very upset at this and said the boys were thrown like garbage onto a plane to Guantanamo. Women prisoners were also held there, apart from their husbands, and some were pregnant and forced to give birth in their cells. According to Mohammed, one woman also died in her cell because the guards could not get her to a hospital quickly enough. This was most upsetting to the Pakistani guards.”

One blogger notes, “The first indications the children may have been tortured were reported in Ron Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine.”

(Keep reading ...)

Another Ignorant American Speaketh ...

... so meet U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Teh stupid - it burns.

Really - the Obama administration is increasingly shrinking in intellectual and performance competence.

Oh well ...

Yes Indeed, Torture Does Not Work. Period.

A genuine truism that nevertheless bears repeating over and over again in this insane world we are living in:

Does Torture Work?
By Robert Creamer

Former CIA Director Hayden and Bush's Attorney General Mukasey published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week that argued, in essence, that using torture works.

The fact that they, and former Vice President Cheney, are still making the argument is more than enough reason why President Obama needed to lay bare the "torture memos" that provided both the details and justification for the use of torture during the Bush regime.

As a country, we need to emerge from this debate having placed the argument that "torture works" outside of the boundaries of acceptable political discourse once and for all.

In considering whether "torture works" the first question is: what do we mean by "works"? Torture has been used for centuries to achieve a variety of goals. It has been used to force subjects to tell what they know, to confess to crimes, to renounce their faith.

There is little question that torture gets a response from its victims. That's why its practitioners find it "useful." But that is also what makes its results completely unreliable. It isn't hard for anyone to imagine that they would say pretty much anything to make the pain stop if they believed they were drowning, or if their joints felt they would break after they had hung by their arms for hours, or if they were repeatedly slammed against the wall, or if they had been left naked and shivering for hours in the cold and periodically showered with cold water, or if they had been confined in a small box for hours with insects. All of these were methods approved by the Bush Justice Department.

These are but the latest innovations in the tradition of ingenious, sadistic methods of inflicting pain and psychological torment. Over the centuries, torturers have invented machines like the rack to gradually tear apart people's limbs. They have used rubber hoses to beat the bottom of people's feet to a pulp. They have become adept at removing fingernails, and drilling on teeth without an anesthetic. They have learned to connect the exact amount of electric current a victim's testicles or nipples in order to inflict maximum pain without ultimately killing the subject. And of course there has always been the ever-popular old-fashioned beating. While these were not on the list of approved methods, they differ only modestly from those on the "approved list." All inflict excruciating physical or psychological pain.

It is precisely the fact that torture inflicts pain that makes it hard to believe the results of the intelligence that is gathered, or the truthfulness of a confession, or the sincerity of a renunciation of faith. That's why most professionals who specialize in interrogation reject the reliability of the information gained by torture, and why courts throw out confessions obtained by torture.

That in fact is why we have the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution - to prevent the coerced confessions that were commonplace in 18th Century Europe. Remember, the Fifth Amendment is not just about protecting the rights of the accused. It is also about protecting society from the coerced, false confession that leaves the real criminal on the street.

In fact in Chicago, just a few years ago, a particular police Lieutenant specialized in illegally obtaining false confessions by torture. The emergence of DNA evidence has since proved that many of the convictions resulting from those confessions were wrong - and the real criminals escaped justice.

Hayden and Mukasey would have us believe that only the "bad guys" were subject to torture. But of course we know that wasn't true - that hundreds of innocent people who were rounded up off the streets of Iraq were subject to "enhanced interrogation techniques" by the contractors at Abu Ghraib. We know that many of the detainees shipped to Guantanamo were turned over to our forces by bounty hunters and were innocent of anything except being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that didn't stop some of them from being subjected to various forms of "enhanced interrogation."

The fact is that once you go down the slippery slope of tossing aside the law and allowing some people to be tortured, there is nothing to stop each and every one of us from being the subject in the chair with the light glaring down that someone in authority has decided - mistakenly or not - is a "security risk."

There is only one thing that we know about torture that works for certain: torture debases us. It doesn't just debase its victims or those who perpetrate it. It debases all of us in whose name it is conducted. It debases us to others in the world - who lose respect for our values and grow to hate our society. But just as importantly, it debases us to ourselves. It debases our self-respect and our respect for the institutions that make us civilized human beings.

(Keep reading ...)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

BusyBusyBusyBusy ...

When it doesn't rain, it pours.

Sorry folks - I am even more swamped in science-related stuff (writing, grant evaluations, etc.) than last week and things are not looking to simmer down anytime soon. Looks like I'll be doing very little blogging (if any at all) over the next 3-4 weeks to come.

Again - sorry folks ...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Obamafanland: Hopebroken And Hopesick

Because it has been so far a matter of Meet the New Boss - Same as the Old Boss ... furthermore still playing into the continuing blackmail con game.

Hopebroken and Hopesick: A Lexicon of Disappointment
by Naomi Klein

All is not well in Obamafanland. It's not clear exactly what accounts for the change of mood. Maybe it was the rancid smell emanating from Treasury's latest bank bailout. Or the news that the president's chief economic adviser, Larry Summers, earned millions from the very Wall Street banks and hedge funds he is protecting from reregulation now. Or perhaps it began earlier, with Obama's silence during Israel's Gaza attack.

Whatever the last straw, a growing number of Obama enthusiasts are starting to entertain the possibility that their man is not, in fact, going to save the world if we all just hope really hard.

This is a good thing. If the superfan culture that brought Obama to power is going to transform itself into an independent political movement, one fierce enough to produce programs capable of meeting the current crises, we are all going to have to stop hoping and start demanding.

The first stage, however, is to understand fully the awkward in-between space in which many US progressive movements find themselves. To do that, we need a new language, one specific to the Obama moment. Here is a start.

Hopeover. Like a hangover, a hopeover comes from having overindulged in something that felt good at the time but wasn't really all that healthy, leading to feelings of remorse, even shame. It's the political equivalent of the crash after a sugar high. Sample sentence: "When I listened to Obama's economic speech my heart soared. But then, when I tried to tell a friend about his plans for the millions of layoffs and foreclosures, I found myself saying nothing at all. I've got a serious hopeover."

Hoper coaster. Like a roller coaster, the hoper coaster describes the intense emotional peaks and valleys of the Obama era, the veering between joy at having a president who supports safe-sex education and despondency that single-payer healthcare is off the table at the very moment when it could actually become a reality. Sample sentence: "I was so psyched when Obama said he is closing Guantánamo. But now they are fighting like mad to make sure the prisoners in Bagram have no legal rights at all. Stop this hoper coaster-I want to get off!"

Hopesick. Like the homesick, hopesick individuals are intensely nostalgic. They miss the rush of optimism from the campaign trail and are forever trying to recapture that warm, hopey feeling-usually by exaggerating the significance of relatively minor acts of Obama decency. Sample sentences: "I was feeling really hopesick about the escalation in Afghanistan, but then I watched a YouTube video of Michelle in her organic garden and it felt like inauguration day all over again. A few hours later, when I heard that the Obama administration was boycotting a major UN racism conference, the hopesickness came back hard. So I watched slideshows of Michelle wearing clothes made by ethnically diverse independent fashion designers, and that sort of helped."

Hope fiend. With hope receding, the hope fiend, like the dope fiend, goes into serious withdrawal, willing to do anything to chase the buzz. (Closely related to hopesickness but more severe, usually affecting middle-aged males.) Sample sentence: "Joe told me he actually believes Obama deliberately brought in Summers so that he would blow the bailout, and then Obama would have the excuse he needs to do what he really wants: nationalize the banks and turn them into credit unions. What a hope fiend!"

Hopebreak. Like the heartbroken lover, the hopebroken Obama-ite is not mad but terribly sad. She projected messianic powers on to Obama and is now inconsolable in her disappointment. Sample sentence: "I really believed Obama would finally force us to confront the legacy of slavery in this country and start a serious national conversation about race. But now whenever he seems to mention race, he's using twisted legal arguments to keep us from even confronting the crimes of the Bush years. Every time I hear him say ‘move forward,' I'm hopebroken all over again."

Hopelash. Like a backlash, hopelash is a 180-degree reversal of everything Obama-related. Sufferers were once Obama's most passionate evangelists. Now they are his angriest critics. Sample sentence: "At least with Bush everyone knew he was an asshole. Now we've got the same wars, the same lawless prisons, the same Washington corruption, but everyone is cheering like Stepford wives. It's time for a full-on hopelash."

In trying to name these various hope-related ailments, I found myself wondering what the late Studs Terkel would have said about our collective hopeover. He surely would have urged us not to give in to despair. I reached for one of his last books, Hope Dies Last. I didn't have to read long. The book opens with the words: "Hope has never trickled down. It has always sprung up."

And that pretty much says it all. Hope was a fine slogan when rooting for a long-shot presidential candidate. But as a posture toward the president of the most powerful nation on earth, it is dangerously deferential. The task as we move forward (as Obama likes to say) is not to abandon hope but to find more appropriate homes for it-in the factories, neighborhoods and schools where tactics like sit-ins, squats and occupations are seeing a resurgence.

Political scientist Sam Gindin wrote recently that the labor movement can do more than protect the status quo. It can demand, for instance, that shuttered auto plants be converted into green-future factories, capable of producing mass-transit vehicles and technology for a renewable energy system. "Being realistic means taking hope out of speeches," he wrote, "and putting it in the hands of workers."

Which brings me to the final entry in the lexicon.

Hoperoots. Sample sentence: "It's time to stop waiting for hope to be handed down, and start pushing it up, from the hoperoots."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Reloaded Again: Food Crisis? What Food Crisis?

Here's additional (ahem) food for thought on the matter (especially in light of this recent, disturbing, news item, as well as this other one):

Food Rebellions: 7 Steps to Solving the Food Crisis
Resistance to the trade and “aid” policies that displace farmers and increase hunger.

by Eric Holt-Gimenez

The World Food Program describes the current global food crisis as a silent tsunami, with billions of people going hungry. Hunger is, indeed, coming in waves, but not everyone will drown in famine. The recurrent food crises are making a handful of corporations very rich-even as they put the rest of the planet at risk.

Built over half a century, largely with public grain subsidies and foreign aid, the global food-industrial complex is made up of large corporations that sell grain, seed, chemicals, and fertilizer, along with global supermarket chains and food processors.

When these players first came on the scene, world agriculture was different. Forty years ago, the global South had yearly agricultural trade surpluses of $1 billion. After three "Development Decades," they were importing $11 billion a year in food. Immediately following de-colonization in the 1960s, Africa exported $1.3 billion in food a year. Today it imports 25 percent of its food.

International trade agreements and pressure from the global North opened up entire continents to cheap, subsidized grain from the North. This put local farmers out of business, devastated local crop diversity, and consolidated control of the world's food system in the hands of multinational corporations. Today three companies, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), Cargill, and Bunge control 90 percent of the world's grain trade.

The official prescriptions for solving the world food crisis call for more subsidies for industrialized nations, more food aid, and more so-called Green (or Gene) Revolutions. Expecting the institutions that built the current flawed food system to solve the food crisis is like asking an arsonist to put out a forest fire. When the world food crisis exploded in early 2008, ADM's profits increased by 38 percent, Cargill's by 128 percent, and Mosaic Fertilizer (a Cargill subsidiary) by a whopping 1,615 percent!

For decades, family farmers the world over have resisted this corporate control. They have worked to diversify crops, protect soil and native seeds, and conserve nature. They have established local gardens, businesses, and community-based food systems. These strategies are effective. They need to be given a chance to work.

The solutions to the food crisis are those that make the lives of family farmers easier: re-regulate the market, reduce the power of the agri-foods industrial complex, and build ecologically resilient family agriculture. Here are some of the needed steps:

  1. Support domestic food production.
  2. Stabilize and guarantee fair prices to farmers and consumers by re-establishing floor prices and publicly owned national grain reserves. Establish living wages for workers on farms, in processing facilities, and in supermarkets.
  3. Halt agrofuels expansion.
  4. Curb speculation in food.
  5. Promote a return to smallholder farming. On a pound-per-acre basis, family farms are more productive than large-scale industrial farms. And they use less oil. Because 75 percent of the world's poor are farmers, this will address poverty, too.
  6. Support agro-ecological production.
  7. Food sovereignty: Recognize the right of all people to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound methods and their own food systems.
The political will to take these steps must come from informed social movements.

(Keep reading ...)

Reloaded: The Strains And Costs Of Empire

Once again - because empire oblige ...

... that is, empire soon-to-be-foreclosed oblige.

Home of the Barricaded, Land of the ‘Fraid
by David Michael Green

There are few statistics as stunning as the following simple, single number: The United States spends two times more on its military than all the other countries of the world, combined.

Yes, that's right. All 200 or so of them. Combined.

According to, last year, the US dropped about $625 billion in taxpayer dollars on its military, while all the rest of the world together spent $500 billion. (The aggregate global figures come from 2004, but have been steady over the prior decade.) However, if you also add in nuclear weapons costs handled separately by the Energy Department, Veterans Affairs, interest on money borrowed to fund previous wars, and the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the total rises to a jaw-dropping one trillion dollars per year.

Think of how astonishing that is.

Imagine if you lived down the street from a guy who insisted that his house had to be two times bigger than all the other houses in the neighborhood, combined. You and your neighbors live in 2,000 square foot houses, but he has to have an 800,000 square foot house. That's one that would be the length of three football fields long, and three football fields wide.

Imagine you and all your fishing buddies tied up next to a guy who had to have a boat that was twice as big as all of yours combined. You guys have 15 footers. His would be 6,000 feet long, or six Queen Marys, length-to-length.

Imagine that you knew someone who had to spend double on dinner what everyone else dining in a decent restaurant was spending. The average meal for the rest of you costs 25 dollars. This guy insists on spending $10,000 on one meal, of the same food, prepared by the same chef.

This is an astonishing ratio in so many ways.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about it is that nobody particularly talks about it. It's one thing to say that military spending has now joined Social Security as the third rail of American politics - you touch it, you die. And, of course, now we are treated to the visage of the "liberal" - even "socialist" and "defeatist" "pal of terrorists" - guy in the White House actually increasing military spending, and doing so at a time when the federal budget is hemorrhaging red ink as if it were the Exxon Valdez, drunken captain at the helm and all. But it's actually even worse than that.

Not only can you not seriously discuss cutting military spending in America, you can't even know about this spending ratio relative to the rest of the world, or contemplate what it means. Do you know of any single politician who ever mentions this?

It's also astonishing because the Cold War is over, the once Nazi-controlled Germany has turned into one of the most pacifist countries in the world, Japan is all about making cars and TVs, and there isn't a serious enemy of the United States anywhere on either the geographical or temporal horizon. Right now, we are spending vast sums of money to fight gaggles of angry young men armed with box-cutters, and scraggly mullahs hiding in remote mountainous caves. And they're winning.

It is conceivable that China might, maybe, someday, spend something like what the US does on its military. But for what? Right now China spends a tenth of what the US does on its military, and considerably less than that if you count the other items that bring the US total up to a trillion per year. If it reached parity, what would that permit it that is now impossible, apart from perhaps taking back Taiwan and creating a twentieth century Latin America-style neighborhood it could dominate even more than it does already? Would it allow China to invade the United States, or bend it to Chinese will for fear of a military confrontation? Of course not.

Which is another reason this ratio is so astonishing. Say whatever you want about nuclear weapons from a moral perspective. They have nevertheless changed the dynamic of international politics radically. No state will ever again invade another one which possesses a nuclear arsenal and the means to project it in quantity. The doctrine of mutually-assured destruction may indeed be mad from a psychological perspective, but it works - at least apart from situations in which the attacking country's leadership is either so bonkers or so determined on an issue that national suicide isn't a deterrent. Of course, non-state actors like al Qaeda are a problem, because they provide little target for retaliation, but would spending another $100 billion on more destroyers or fighter jets solve that problem? Of course not.

This grossly disproportionate ratio of military spending to other countries is also astonishing, and astonishingly obscene, for what it costs this country in missed opportunities. We are by far the richest country in the world - no one is even close. And we have no real enemies. And, as noted, we spend double the entire world combined in order to defend against those non-enemies.

Such thoughtful priorities also entitle our lucky population to have a national healthcare system that is ranked 37th from the top, worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Isn't that special? Morocco does better than we do. So do Colombia, Chile and Costa Rica. And Dominica. Does anyone really even know where Dominica is? All those weapons systems don't just purchase for us a lack of security, they also buy a country where 50 million Americans lack health insurance of any kind, and countless others are grossly under-insured (including those who don't know it yet, but will find out fast if they ever get sick).

In part because of this fine health care system, the United States also ranks 29th globally on infant mortality. And the longitudinal trend isn't pretty. We were 12th in the world in 1960, and 23rd in 1990. Now we are tied with Poland and Slovakia. The good news, though, is that we are still by far and away first worldwide on obesity, with 31 percent of the population qualifying for that distinction, over six percent higher than our nearest competitor! The rest of the world can kick us around all day long, but nobody can ever take that distinction away from us. Oh, and we had almost twice as many plastic surgery procedures as any other country in the world. I guess these figures also partially explain why the richest country in the world, by far, is ranked 47th in the world in terms of life expectancy, below Boznia-Herzegovina, Jordan and Guam. Cool. Go USA!

Dollars paying for a bloated military are not only not spent on healthcare, they also aren't spent on social development either. The United States had more teen pregnancies per capita than anyone in the world by far - about half-again as many as our nearest competitor. We have the highest number of prisoners per capita, right up there (but still well ahead of) Russia and Belarus. The US has two million prisoners, about half a million more than China, despite having about one-fifth the Chinese population. We also have more crimes committed than any other country in the world, about twice the number as the number two country on the list. Oh, and by far the highest divorce rate in the world. I'm pretty sure you won't see this stuff mentioned in the tourist literature.

Expenditures on the military also mean dollars not spent on teaching our kids (especially about comparative national statistics!). The richest country in the world is ranked 39th on education spending as a percent of GDP, below Tunisia, Bolivia, Jamaica and Malawi. As a result, the US shows up as 18th in mathematical literacy, and 15th in reading literacy. Woo-hoo!

Spending on rockets and guns does not bode well for economic development, either. Despite being in hock for more national debt than any other country in the world - even before recent events - we rank only 16th in broadband access per capita. And, we are a dismal 92nd in the world in terms of the equitable distribution of family income within our society. Cameroon does better. So does Russia, Uzbekistan, Laos and Burkina Faso. Along with most of the rest of the world.

In short, in exchange for the privilege of dwarfing the entire rest of the solar system in military spending, in order to defend ourselves against an enemy we don't have, the United States has purchased a second rate healthcare system, a second rate educational system, and social and economic characteristics within spitting distance of Sub-Saharan Africa.

For all of these reasons, our devotion to military spending is really quite amazing, and really begs the question of what could explain so patently foolish a national policy. Undoubtedly, there are many explanations.

To begin with, this would hardly be the first essay ever to note the American propensity toward paranoia. A country twisted enough that it can spend six years fighting a brutal and costly war in Iraq on the basis of 9/11 attacks that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with is certainly a country capable of outspending the entire rest of the planet on its military, two times over.

What does it say, moreover, about our near-complete failing at the practice of diplomacy, that we feel compelled to sit atop a military arsenal of such outrageous proportions, and to send bombs and military bases, rather than diplomats, as our calling card around the world?

Without question, furthermore, such an obscene military budget is grossly inflated because of sheer greed. It wasn't some long-haired, Birkenstocks-wearing, pipe-smoking, Berkeley professor of French literature, after all, who warned us of the dangers of the metastasizing military industrial complex. It was Dwight Eisenhower - conservative Republican president, lifetime military man, commander of NATO and hero of World War II.

Eisenhower was right, of course, although it would have been nice had he acted on his wisdom during his two terms, rather than sounding hypocritical warnings about this danger only as he walked out the door. In any case, as in so many other domains - but with an intensity unmatched elsewhere - when it comes to providing military hardware, corporate America has come to see the federal government as little more than a handy centralized collection system, to which it then avails itself. But, of course, everybody is in the act now, with members of Congress from every district in the land fighting to protect their defense dollars, and selfish Americans screaming about deficit spending on Sundays, and then going to work at the local defense boondoggle plant on Mondays.

And there is another explanation, as well. You don't need to spend a trillion bucks per year in order to protect the United States from attack by another country. The existing stockpile of nuclear warheads more or less guarantees that that will never happen. You also don't need to spend that money in order to fight some sort of conventional war on land or sea, as occurred during World War II. No country comes remotely near the United States in terms of battlefield and naval hardware, and even those who possess significant quantities of such materiel almost entirely lack the capability of projecting such military power beyond their borders. Finally, you don't need all that money to fight ragtag bands of terrorists either. On that front, smarts go a lot farther than dollars (not that we would know, of course).

The only thing that such a seemingly bloated military is good for is power projection.

(Keep reading ...)

Obama's Decision Not To Prosecute Torture Violates The Law

What I've been saying all along (and Obama's decision likewise violates U.S. law regarding torture, by the way) ...

Torture And The Banality Of Evil In The 21st Century

(However much busy I may be, I am slowly writing once again something somewhat substantial regarding - you guessed it - torture, the shameful ignorance of anti-torture laws and the underlying acknowledgement of such barbarism by failing to investigate and prosecute not only those who have committed acts of torture, but also those who approved/ordered such acts. So in the meantime, I refer you folks to these two previous posts here and here as I offer the following as food for thought, in order to "set the table" ...)

The Torture Memos, Obama and the Banality of Evil
by Richard Kim

Even as President Obama acted in the name of transparency and accountabilty in releasing the Bush administration's OLC's torture memos, he made assurances that the CIA agents who used the "enhanced interrogation techniques" meticulously detailed within would not be subject to criminal prosecution. Glenn Greenwald at Salon, Jeremy Scahill on his blog, David Bromwich at Huffington Post and Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic all have good takes on why Obama's decision is wrong. I concur. However politically expedient, Obama's nearly carte blanche absolution of torture was morally wrong, and his justification of it, from a professor of constitutional law, is intellectually dishonest.

Obama's rationalizations were artfully made to the point of being obfuscatory, but they can be boiled down to three points:

1) The strategic issue of national security. "The men and women of our intelligence community serve courageously on the front lines of a dangerous world...We must protect their identities as vigilantly as they protect our security, and we must provide them with the confidence that they can do their jobs."

2) The legal-ethical issue of obedience. The CIA agents were only carrying out "their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice."

3) The political issue of national unity and progress. "This is a time for reflection, not a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

The easiest to dismiss of these is the issue of national security. As Bromwich points out, the matter of protecting individual CIA agent's identities is "a calculated distortion." Any agent publicly named and prosecuted for torture would, of course, be removed from duty. Their identities no longer need to be protected as a matter of national security because they would no longer be in the business of national security.

As for the question of whether or not prosecutions would undermine intelligence agents' "confidence that they can do their jobs," I agree with Obama here. Prosecutions absolutely would undermine the CIA's confidence, and that is a good thing. No public official, least of all intelligence agents who already operate under cover of secrecy, should be wholly confident of the legality and morality of their actions. To guarantee such confidence would be to guarantee absolute impunity. Indeed, this necessary lack of confidence is precisely why the OLC memos exist in the first place, because interrogators were seeking advice about the legality of certain interrogation techniques. So the question is not whether or not prosecution would undermine the CIA's confidence, but rather a) how much so? and b) from what source is their confidence derived?

This brings us to the question of obedience. Obama's argument here is gravely disturbing. He asserts, in essence, that because the OLC says it is right, it is--that CIA agents should have absolute confidence in anything and everything approved by the OLC and/or ordered by the executive branch. Besides the shades of Nixon and Bush II, there are two things wrong with this assertion. First is the sweeping authority given to the OLC to determine wholly, by interpretation and in secrecy, the legality of actions that were known then to have been violations of multiple international and national laws. If the OLC determined tomorrow that rape was an appropriate interrogation technique, should CIA agents behave with confidence that they are acting within legal and moral bounds? I have a hard time believing that Obama, or anyone in his administration, thinks so.

Then there is the matter of culpability and deference to authority. Even if every single national and international law approved of the interrogation techniques used by the CIA, would they be just? Hannah Arendt wrestles famously with a similar question in Eichmann in Jerusalem. Eichmann claimed, as a CIA agent on trial might, that he was merely doing his duty, that he "not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law." Arendt, of course, found Eichmann both banal in his evil and culpable. Perhaps more to the point, she argued that the culpability of countless others (what others did or might have done) did not in any way mitigate Eichmann's guilt.

The same is true in the case of torture (although needless to say on a vastly different scale and context). Of course, higher-ups who ordered and sanctioned torture should be prosecuted as well, including the authors of the OLC memos. But that does not mean that the actual interrogators should be let off the hook en masse. Whether or not CIA interrogators should have refused orders or should have known that such orders were legally or morally wrong is a matter to be determined in trial, a matter of justice. It is not a question that can be swept away by the claim that they were just doing their jobs, that they were just being obedient subjects.

Because in the final analysis, it is highly likely that the CIA agents were just doing their jobs. And that those jobs were, in fact, criminal in nature.

(Keep reading ...)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Late Friday Night Ode To ... Our Cold World

'Nuff said.

Mudvayne - World So Cold:

What else need be said, really?


So keep on rockin' anyway, folks ... I know I will, however much I remain overloaded with science-related work over the next couple of weeks.

(/waves at Impolitic)

Torture: Really Over Or Not?

Damn good question ... and damn good point.

But we do know already that torture doesn't work.

So - and round and round we go in circles ...

Is torture really over?
Without a hard look at the Bush administration's torture program, the United States could be condemned to repeat it, no matter what President Obama says.

By Mark Benjamin

In his statement announcing the release of the Bush administration's torture memos Thursday, President Barack Obama ruled out prosecuting whoever was in the room during the CIA’s "enhanced interrogation" sessions. "In releasing these memos, it is our intention to assure those who carried out their duties relying in good faith upon legal advice from the Department of Justice that they will not be subject to prosecution," he said.

Obama made it clear he is generally ready to move on from the whole issue. So don’t expect David Addington, former counsel to Vice President Dick Cheney and self-appointed interrogation expert, to be hauled into court anytime soon. "We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history," Obama said. "But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past."

In other words, the president turned the page. No prosecutions at any level, apparently. Based on Obama’s move-on tone, there may not even be an independent commission to dig into this issue (though the administration won't formally rule that out for now -- an internal Justice Department review of the lawyers who authorized the torture is still ongoing). "We have taken steps to ensure that the actions described within them never take place again," Obama said. See -- he stopped the torture program. It's all fixed. End of story.

Another major issue is lingering, however. Did the torture “work”?

Former Bush administration officials, of course, continue to insist that they got a lot of good intelligence from forcing water into people’s noses. Politico quoted one unnamed ex-Bush aide Thursday who blasted the decision. "It's damaging because these are techniques that work, and by Obama's action today, we are telling the terrorists what they are," the official said. "We have laid it all out for our enemies. This is totally unnecessary. … Publicizing the techniques does grave damage to our national security by ensuring they can never be used again -- even in a ticking-time-bomb scenario where thousands or even millions of American lives are at stake."

Cheney went on CNN last month to specifically defend the United States’ organized torture program -- which Cheney says was not torture: “I think those programs were absolutely essential to the success we enjoy, of being able to collect the intelligence that let us defeat all further attempts to launch attacks against the United States since 9/11,” he said. “I think it's a great success story. It was done legally. It was done in accordance with our constitutional practices and principles."

There were no professional interrogators involved in the creation of the CIA’s torture program. The pros would likely have balked, because they unanimously think torture is stupid and ineffective: People will tell you whatever they think will make you stop the treatment, never mind what the truth is. Those pros also chuckle at the thought of torture as an effective intelligence-gathering tool. News reports have seriously questioned the value of intelligence gathered through torture of suspected al-Qaida operatives like Abu Zubaydah.

So who is right? Is Dick Cheney Jack Bauer, or something more akin to an evil Col. Klink?

Without a rigorous investigation into the alleged efficacy of U.S. torture, we’ll never know. A torture commission would have looked into this very issue. With Obama's blessing, Congress could try to appoint a nonpartisan group of experts to carefully evaluate whether the torture program was an effective way to gather valuable intelligence or, as interrogators suspect, simply made desperate prisoners say whatever they had to say to make the pain stop, yielding a few gems among a flow of muck. But Obama hasn’t advocated a commission or any other vehicle to look into that, and today seems disinclined to do anything other than move on.

There are some indications that other Democrats are falling into line on ditching the commission idea, too.

(Keep reading ...)

Cold War Déjà-Vu

In his speech in Prague, President Obama's rhetoric was essentially no different than that of George Bush. He promised, because of our "moral responsibility," to rid the world of nuclear weapons. He then averred that the US would not lower its defenses while others are pursuing a nuclear threat.

He's right about his last promise. Under his budget the US will continue to spend on defense (and a nuclear capability) more than all the rest of the world put together, "While others are pursuing a nuclear threat" an obvious reference to Iran, which our intelligence community reports is not pursuing a nuclear weapon. Obama who knows this intelligence information said to a cheering crowd: "As long as the threat from Iran persists, we will go forward with a missile defense system that is cost-effective and proven." So much for his recent peaceful overtures to the people of Iran whose defense budget is less than 1% of ours.

"Cost-effective!!!" The missile shield is the biggest boondoggle in military history with constant cost overruns. "Proven!!!" All tests have failed save one where the target's location was programmed into the interceptor guidance system. The President's false exaggerations are statements right out of a lobbyist's briefing paper. The missile shield in Alaska was deployed before the system was ever proven to work at a cost of $100 billion. The shield for Poland and Czech will cost more than $100 billion. The great majority of knowledgeable scientists, not on the payroll of the benefiting defense contractors, state that the system will not work and that a threat does not exist.

Keep Reading ...

punditman says ...
Ah yes, missile defence. Punditman is having an early 80s flashback.

The idea of a missile "shield" has always been misleading, dating back to Reagan's SDI. According to assistant professor Tom Sauer at the University of Antwerp in Belgium and professor Dave Webb of Leeds Metropolitan University in the United Kingdom, "it is a solution that technically does not work being applied to a problem that does not actually exist...The systems cannot effectively target incoming missiles without assistance from homing devices."

As the above piece by Mike Gavel points out, missile "defence" is not so much a defense against incoming enemy missiles as it is an "offense" in that it seeks to knock out enemy communications leaving them blind and vulnerable to a first strike. Moreover, missile defence is not a stabilizing influence; it is destabilizing, because when one country develops any weapons systems, whether deemed "offensive" or "defensive," it inevitably spawns more weapons systems from other countries. Nor is missile defence cheap; it will only lead to a new expensive arms race in space that the world can ill afford, while lining the pockets of Raytheon, Boeing, Lockheed Martin and the rest of the military industrial complex.

So once again, most of what you hear is propaganda, meant to benefit the few while endangering and impoverishing the many.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Report: US Air Strikes In Iraq Kill Mostly Women, Children

39 Percent of Those Killed Were Children

In a report to be published in tomorrow’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have concluded that air strikes by US-led coalition forces have killed mostly women and children. 39 percent were children, while 46 percent were women.

Interestingly enough, though the high-tech weaponry used by the invading forces killed a disproportionately large number of (presumably mostly non-combatant) women and children, it showed that among victims of suicide bombings only 12 percent were children.

The researchers used a database of 60,481 civilians violently killed during the first five years of the war, which was compiled by Iraq Body Count. They say that the shocking number of women and children killed are a function of using air strikes in urban combat settings, and the report may have policy implications elsewhere, where US air strikes seem to be killing large numbers of innocent civilians as well.

punditman says ...

A reminder of what modern warfare is all about. How can it not be considered a crime when a powerful state undertakes military aggression with full knowledge that the death, maiming and terrorizing of innocent people will result? Hey, punditman is no international law scholar, but it stands to reason that it no longer becomes an accident when such foreknowledge is involved. Instead, we get doublespeak about "collateral damage" and wingnuts throughout media and government defending the perpetrators. It's an unjust world ...

Obama Administration, Torture And Incompetence

This just in (emphasis added)

CIA officials who participated in enhanced interrogations during the Bush administration will not face charges, unnamed administration officials told the Associated Press on Thursday.

"Even before President Barack Obama took office in January, aides signaled his administration was not likely to bring criminal charges against CIA employees for their roles in the secret, coercive terrorist interrogation program. It had been deemed legal at the time through opinions issued by the Justice Department under the Bush administration," the wire service reported.

"But the statement being issued Thursday by Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's chief law enforcement officer, is the first definitive assurance that those CIA officials are in the clear, as long as their actions were in line with the legal advice at the time.

"The officials spoke about the Holder statement ahead of its release on condition of anonymity, so as not to pre-empt the attorney general."

"This is a victory for the CIA, which had been seeking a formal, public statement for its case officers, and which had been worried that the document's disclosures could subject many of them to future prosecution," wrote Marc Ambinder with the Atlantic. " Now, even if Congress launches investigations, the CIA will be, more or less, safe."
I previously lectured (Obama administration) CIA director Leon Panetta on the matter of the law regarding torture.

I could understand (to some extent) that the CIA director would be unaware, or ignorant, of what the law says regarding the promulgation, encouragement, ordering, or even actually making legal, torture.

But an attorney general being likewise so ignorant of the law à la Alberto Gonzales?

I never expected something like this - then again, considering the equal ignorance of the law on matter of torture of Holder's boss, I should not be surprised.

Hence, allow me herein to educate AG Holder in turn thusly:
(...) the Convention Against Torture, which was signed by President Reagan in 1988 and ratified by the U.S. Senate in 1994, explicitly states the following among others (emphasis added):

Article 2

  1. Each State Party shall take effective legislative, administrative, judicial or other measures to prevent acts of torture in any territory under its jurisdiction.
  2. No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.
  3. An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture.

Article 4

  1. Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture.
  2. Each State Party shall make these offences punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature.

Article 5

  1. Each State Party shall take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over the offences referred to in article 4 in the following cases:
    1. When the offences are committed in any territory under its jurisdiction or on board a ship or aircraft registered in that State;
    2. When the alleged offender is a national of that State;
    3. When the victim was a national of that State if that State considers it appropriate.
  2. Each State Party shall likewise take such measures as may be necessary to establish its jurisdiction over such offences in cases where the alleged offender is present in any territory under its jurisdiction and it does not extradite him pursuant to article 8 to any of the States mentioned in Paragraph 1 of this article.
  3. This Convention does not exclude any criminal jurisdiction exercised in accordance with internal law.

Article 7

  1. The State Party in territory under whose jurisdiction a person alleged to have committed any offence referred to in article 4 is found, shall in the cases contemplated in article 5, if it does not extradite him, submit the case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution.
  2. These authorities shall take their decision in the same manner as in the case of any ordinary offence of a serious nature under the law of that State. In the cases referred to in article 5, paragraph 2, the standards of evidence required for prosecution and conviction shall in no way be less stringent than those which apply in the cases referred to in article 5, paragraph 1.
  3. Any person regarding whom proceedings are brought in connection with any of the offences referred to in article 4 shall be guaranteed fair treatment at all stages of the proceedings.

Article 12

Each State Party shall ensure that its competent authorities proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committee in any territory under its jurisdiction.

Article 15

Each State Party shall ensure that any statement which is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made.
Now, Mr. Holder - pay extreme attention to articles 2.1 (No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat or war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture), 2.2 (An order from a superior officer or a public authority may not be invoked as a justification of torture), and 4.1 (Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture).

And let us not forget other articles not mentioned herein, such as 6.2 (Such State shall immediately make a preliminary inquiry into the facts), 10.1 (Each State Party shall ensure that education and information regarding the prohibition against torture are fully included in the training of law enforcement personnel, civil or military, medical personnel, public officials and other persons who may be involved in the custody, interrogation or treatment of any individual subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment), 10.2 (Each State Party shall include this prohibition in the rules or instructions issued in regard to the duties and functions of any such persons), and 11 (Each State Party shall keep under systematic review interrogation rules, instructions, methods and practices as well as arrangements for the custody and treatment of persons subjected to any form of arrest, detention or imprisonment in any territory under its jurisdiction, with a view to preventing any cases of torture).

Consequently, AG Holder:

When your colleague CIA director Panetta announces that "agency employees who took part in harsh interrogations of terrorism suspects are not in danger of being punished", then such is in direct contravention of the law of your country.

When your Justice department Justice Department lawyers extend many of the same arguments made by Bush attorneys – that top government officials have qualified immunity from prosecution, then your Department is in direct contravention of the law of your country.

When each day that passes whereby you (and/or your boss) fail/refuse to investigate and/or prosecute officials of the Bush administration for encouraging acts of torture, despite even public confessions to this effect, as well as those who actually committed said acts of torture, then you are in direct contravention of the law of your country.

When your boss intones that "this is a time for reflection, not retribution. I respect the strong views and emotions that these issues evoke. We have been through a dark and painful chapter in our history. But at a time of great challenges and disturbing disunity, nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past", despite his earlier lip service exercise to the contrary, then his position is nonetheless in direct contravention of the law of your country.

And when you announce that "It would be unfair to prosecute dedicated men and women working to protect America for conduct that was sanctioned in advance by the Justice Department", then once again you stand in direct contravention of the law of your country.

Hence, Mr. Holder, I reiterate what I have previously conveyed to Mr. Panetta and to your boss, President Obama:
It should be obvious to you now, sir, that your demonstrated legal strategies so far not only constitute implied condoning of torture, but furthermore constitute a disavowal of the law of your country regarding torture - and consequently A) this makes you directly complicit after the fact of any and all acts of torture performed under the Bush administration; and B) this makes you directly complicit after the fact of the policies of torture sanctioned/approved/encouraged/allowed by the Bush administration.

All of which, under the same laws outlined above, render you and your administration equally guilty of criminal offences as outlined by said laws against torture.
In other words, Mr. Holder: the Obama administration, of which your are an integral part, has consistently revealed itself to be complicit after the fact of such crimes through its systematic and relentless (quiet) defense of these, as well as acquiescence of the wrong-headed, echo chamber, mendacious, yoolegal justifications which created the environment whereby such barbaric atrocities were (could, can still be, are still) committed - and now evidently excused/accepted/embraced, despite whatever occasional lip service and/or showcase gestures to the contrary being served by President Obama and/or members of his administration - such as you.

In conclusion: the whole of the Obama administration is as equally incompetent as the previous Bush administration regarding the willfull ignorance of the law.

As well as equally criminal and barbaric, regarding torture.

Any questions?

... Mr. Holder?

... Mr. Panetta?

... President Obama?

... Bueller? Bueller?

Is it just me, or is there something fundamentally wrong with the world when a Canadian scientist ends up giving a refresher course on American law to American lawyers, attorney generals, law enforcement officers and Presidents?