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Saturday, August 21, 2004

Strange Behaviour, I'd Say

According to various major media reports quoting high level US government officials as well as US government official documents, on the same day when US Attorney General John Ashcroft received a briefing that stated that Al Quaeda was preparing for an imminent attack on the United States Mr Ashcroft apparently refused to discuss the issue of terrorism with the then-acting FBI Director Tom Pickard. The date: July 12, 2001, just under two months before the attacks of 9/11. And if all of that is true, the fact that Mr Ashcroft still has his job belongs towards the top of the list of major mysteries of our times.

Revoke Their Medical Licenses!

I have already talked about the US government lawyers who had written memos that authorized human rights abuses including the now notorious use of torture at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. But what about the medical professionals who were part of such abuses? I believe they should be treated similarly,- take they licenses away for the rest of their lives. The message should be stark and clear: you've got to choose whether you want to be a doctor or a nurse, or you want to be a torturer; you just can't be both.

Why Are They In Strange Lands A Long Way From Home?

The warriors of the US Armed Forces, people who have volunteered to defend the US, often find themselves a long way from home, in places such as South Korea, Germany, Kosovo and many others where they are neither fighting in a war, nor directly contributing to the security of the US. As Charles V. Peña says in his Reason article,

The Cold War is over and Europe no longer faces the threat of Soviet tanks rolling across the Fulda Gap. And the combined economies of the European countries are healthy and strong enough for Europeans to pay for their own security requirements. In 2003, the EU's GDP was $11.6 trillion and U.S. GDP was $10.9 trillion, but America spent 3.5 percent of its GDP on defense compared to only 1.5 percent for the Europeans.

The North Korean threat to South Korea remains real but, like the Europeans, the South Koreans can afford to pay for their own defense. According to the CIA, "North Korea, one of the world's most centrally planned and isolated economies, faces desperate economic conditions." North Korea's GDP in 2003 was $22.9 billion with defense spending of $5.2 billion (22.7 percent of GDP). By comparison, South Korea's GDP was $855.3 billion (more that 37 times that of the North) with $14.5 billion for defense (almost three times the North and only 1.7 percent of GDP). So South Korea has both the economic advantage and capacity to to defend itself.

From this it appears that the US is effectively lending their soldiers to serve as other nations' surrogate armies, even though the said nations are well capable of furnishing first-rate armies of their own. That may be magnanimous, but certainly is outside of the scope of what the Department of Defense is tasked with doing, namely, providing military defense for the US.

Some view US troops' presence is some places where they have been deployed for a long time a tradition that for diplomatic reasons can not be rejected. Pena very ably counters this argument stating,

The U.S. ambassador to the U.N. in the Clinton administration, Richard Holbrooke, said: "I know the Germans are very unhappy about these withdrawals. The Koreans are going to be equally unhappy." But U.S. military forces do not exist to make friends and allies happy. They exist to defend the United States against external military threats. If those threats no longer exist, then the requirement to deploy those forces is also non-existent.

The leading figures of the current administration are also major participants in The Project for the New American Century, an organization advocating for the unchallenged global American domination of the world in the 21st century. I believe their desire is none other than to turn America into a global empire. They are certainly entitled to their ideas; however, they may not, as US government officials, put those ideas into practice when the said ideas are constitutionally illegal. Says Pena,
President Bush's announcement about reducing U.S. troop deployments in Europe and South Korea by as many as 70,000 soldiers is a long overdue decision. As Bush said: "The world has changed a great deal, and our posture must change with it." But the Pentagon has emphasized that "this is not a troop cut or a force structure reduction in the armed forces. It is a realignment globally of U.S. forces and capabilities." In other words, it's simply rearranging pieces on the chessboard.
And there are many indications that this realignment is set in motion only the better to realize ideas of The Project. But instead we need to go back to basics and make sure that what our government is doing is what it is obligated to be doing,- nothing more, nothing less. And empire building is not part of what the US government is tasked with,- thus it should not be allowed to proceed down that path.

Major US Media Acknowledge Their Lapses

Self-criticism is always healthy, and I am happy the The Washington Post and The New York Times have found it in themselves to acknowledge that during the run-up to the war in Iraq they did not publish enough information challenging the US officialdom's assertions about that country. The question now is, why did that happen? I think part of the problem is the immense pressure from, and dependence upon the government and corporate powers of the major media sources. They need advertisement, they need access, they need to be the ones to whom government leaks are made. All of the above is all the more reason to have more confidence in the alternative news sources. A lot of those sources are web-based, need little cash to operate and are really far more independent, even if they are severely lacking as far as their information collecting capabilities.

"Friendly Fire",- By Design

"Friendly fire" is an unfortunate part of pretty much any war. The fog of battle sometimes leads to soldiers firing on fellow soldiers wearing the same uniform. All of the world's militaries work towards developing procedures to avoid such tragic and wasteful mistakes but none have thus far completely succeeded in this quest.

However, according to Body of Secrets, a book authored by the investigative journalist James Bamford, in the 1960's the US military considered attacks on Americans disguised to appear perpetrated by the Cuban forces. The objective: convincing the American public of a necessity of going to war with Cuba. As David Ruppe writes in his ABC News article,
Code named Operation Northwoods, the plans reportedly included the possible assassination of Cuban émigrés, sinking boats of Cuban refugees on the high seas, hijacking planes, blowing up a U.S. ship, and even orchestrating violent terrorism in U.S. cities.
That was not merely a thought that popped up in some general's head early in the morning after having a few too many drinks at an Officers' Club the night before. That appears to have been a detailed set of military plans.
America's top military brass even contemplated causing U.S. military casualties, writing: "We could blow up a U.S. ship in Guantanamo Bay and blame Cuba," and, "casualty lists in U.S. newspapers would cause a helpful wave of national indignation."

The Joint Chiefs even proposed using the potential death of astronaut John Glenn during the first attempt to put an American into orbit as a false pretext for war with Cuba, the documents show.

Should the rocket explode and kill Glenn, they wrote, "the objective is to provide irrevocable proof … that the fault lies with the Communists et all Cuba [sic]."

Fortunately, none of those fiendish ideas were to become reality as they were rejected by the Kennedy administration.

Many Americans think that no one in a position of power in the US would ever even contemplate intentionally harming his fellow Americans in order to create a pretext for promoting their agenda. That assertion appears to have little foundation. Some pretty powerful people within the defense apparatus are clearly documented to have been thinking along the same lines as those at many other times and in many other places throughout history who had intentionally attacked their own populace in order to convince the public of the perceived enemy's aggressive intents.

Senatorial Elections And State Rights

Alan Keyes is apparently in favor of repealing the 17th Amendment and reverting to the schema used until 1913 when Senators where not directly elected by the populace but rather appointed by state legislatures. In these times of the non-stop attempts by the federal government to centralize its power and decrease the rights and powers of the states concern about states' rights is fully justified. And while I don't have an opinion one way or the other about the senatorial elections, the fact that a figure of the stature of Alan Keyes is concerned about the matter is certainly welcome news.

No Big Deal, Just 40 Years

In this slightly confusing article, the CNN reports that a man who was convicted of a crime he did not commit using testimony extracted under torture has been released from prison after serving 40 years of his life sentence. I call it confusing because I am not sure how a Texas inmate could have kept escaping from other states' prisons.
Many times he escaped from facilities in other states -- including South Carolina, Louisiana and Mississippi -- only to be recaptured each time. He was returned to the Texas prison system last year.
Be that as it may, I am happy Robert Carroll Coney is finally a free man. However, the questions linger. Questions such as, how many people like him are still behind bars? What percentage of cases does our system of criminal justice mishandle? How many true criminals walk free as a result of somebody else taking the heat for what they did?

Friday, August 20, 2004

"The Ringworm Children"

The kids were told they were being treated from ringworms. In reality, they were being given a dose of X-rays 35,000 times the allowed maximum. That happened in Israel in 1951 and was funded by the US government. The objective: to conduct an experiment in order to see the effects of X-ray radiation. Sensational? Definitely. But the film about this, as reported here by Israelinsider, has been shown on the Israeli TV and has already earned significant acclaim in that country.
"The Ringworm Children" (translated in Hebrew as "100,000 Rays"), directed by David Belhassen and Asher Hemias, recently won the prize for "best documentary" at the Haifa International film festival, and in the past year has made the rounds of Jewish and Israeli film festivals around the world.
The film shows the baselessness of any potential claims that highest-ranking Israeli officials at the time did not know about this experiment.
Every Sephardi child was to be given 35,000 times the maximum dose of x-rays through his head. For doing so, the American government paid the Israeli government 300 million Israeli liras a year. The entire Health budget was 60 million liras. The money paid by the Americans is equivalent to billions of dollars today.
David Deri, on film and then as a panel member, relates the frustration he encountered when trying to find his childhood medical records. "All I wanted to know was what they did to me. I wanted to know who authorized it. I wanted to trace the chain of command. But the Health Ministry told me my records were missing." Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry's spokesman chimes in: "Almost all the records were burned in a fire."

We are told that a US law in the late '40s put a stop to the human radiation experiments conducted on prisoners, the mentally feeble and the like. The American atomic program needed a new source of human lab rats and the Israeli government supplied it. Here was the government cabinet at the time of the ringworm atrocities:

Prime Minister - David Ben Gurion; Finance Minister - Eliezer Kaplan; Settlement Minister - Levi Eshkol; Foreign Minister - Moshe Sharrett; Health Minister - Yosef Burg;
Labor Minister - Golda Meir; Police Minister - Amos Ben Gurion.

The highest ranking non-cabinet post belonged to the Director General of the Defence Ministry, Shimon Peres.

That a program involving the equivalent of billions of dollars of American government funds should be unknown to the Prime Minister of cash-strapped Israel is ridiculous. Ben Gurion had to have been in on the horrors and undoubtedly chose his son to be Police Minister in case anyone interfered with them.
Sometimes Jews are viewed as a monolithic group. Many non-Jews believe that they always support each other, and that it is only against non-Jews that they ever discriminate. Clearly, such perception is not always correct. It appears clear from this documentary that only Sephardi Jewish children were selected for the experiment.
David Deri makes the point that only Sephardi children received the x-rays: "I was in class and the men came to take us on a tour. They asked our names. The Ashkenazi children were told to return to their seats. The dark children were put on the bus."
This atrocity is something Israel as a society must get to the bottom of. This is a difficult page in its history, but sweeping it under the rug is not the way to go.

And I am definitely adding this film to my "to see" list.

Al Gore Has Got Some Words Of Wisdom

Our ingrained American distrust of concentrated power has very little to do with the character or persona of the individual who wields that power. It is the power itself that must be constrained, checked, dispersed and carefully balanced, in order to ensure the survival of freedom.

So says Al Gore in his well-worded June 24th, 2004 speech. I am glad he gets the point. I am also pretty sure that this is precisely the point our current administration doesn't get.

I am far from idealizing the USA that the Founding Fathers created,- at the time they created it. For one thing, the country were ideals of equality were proclaimed had a large population of slaves deprived of most rights. But it is precisely the point that implementation of principles recorded in the Constitution, idealistic as they may be, is precisely what we should work towards, not abandon.

Gore was for a long time timid in his criticism of the administration. He did it in a controlled, round-about way. That time seems to be over,- which in my opinion is all for the better.
...President Bush and Vice President Cheney have decided to fight to the rhetorical death over whether or not there's a meaningful connection between Iraq and al-Qaida. They think that if they lose that argument and people see the truth, then they'll not only lose support for the controversial decision to go to war, but also lose some of the new power they've picked up from the Congress and the courts, and face harsh political consequences at the hands of the American people. As a result, President Bush is now intentionally misleading the American people by continuing to aggressively and brazenly assert a linkage between al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein.

If he is not lying, if they genuinely believe that, that makes them unfit in battle with al-Qaida. If they believe these flimsy scraps, then who would want them in charge? Are they too dishonest or too gullible? Take your pick.
There is one thing that Bush and his people are good at,- not allowing reality to get in their way. As Gore put it,
So when the bipartisan 9/11 commission issued its report finding "no credible evidence" of an Iraq-al-Qaida connection, it should not have caught the White House off guard. Yet instead of the candor Americans need and deserve from their leaders, there have been more denials and more insistence without evidence. Vice President Cheney insisted even this week that "there clearly was a relationship" and that there is "overwhelming evidence." Even more shocking, Cheney offered this disgraceful question: "Was Iraq involved with al-Qaida in the attack on 9/11? We don't know." He then claimed that he "probably" had more information than the commission, but has so far refused to provide anything to the commission other than more insults.

The President was even more brazen. He dismissed all questions about his statements by saying "The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaida, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaida." He provided no evidence.
And I guess they are certainly entitled to their opinions, and opinions are subjective, and I welcome their right to express their opinions. Personally, I would prefer if they did so as private citizens, and hopefully come January 2005 they will become exactly that.

Gore may have given a bit of a short shrift to the issue of media censorship in the post-9/11 America,- or self-censorship, which in the final run amounts to pretty much the same thing. However it is welcome news that he raised the issue.
Dan Rather says that post-9/11 patriotism has stifled journalists from asking government officials "the toughest of the tough questions." Rather went so far as to compare administration efforts to intimidate the press to "necklacing" in apartheid South Africa, while acknowledging it as "an obscene comparison." "The fear is that you will be necklaced here (in the U.S.), you will have a flaming tire of lack of patriotism put around your neck," Rather explained. It was CBS, remember, that withheld the Abu Ghraib photographs from the American people for two weeks at the request of the Bush administration.
Overall, this was a good speech

Thursday, August 19, 2004

What Should Be Done With The "Enemy Combatants"?

In his article, Jacob G. Hornberger considers the legality of the newly-minted status of "enemy combatant" which the US government has been using to define terror suspects whom it claims it can detain indefinitely without any oversight by the court system. The recent Supreme Court decisions have to some extent undermined the government's contention. Mr Horberger presents a review of various legal aspects associated with these decisions as well as of the "war on terror" in general.

These cases are a critical test of the American system of checks and balances. It is worth noting that two of the cases, namely those of Padilla and Hamdi, involve US citizens. The government's claim to bypass the court system in those cases,- the claim largely annulled by a recent Supreme Court ruling,- amounted to nothing less than a claim to hold any American in custody, potentially incommunicado, when the government saw fit.

Really, What Is Fascism?

The definitions vary. The emotional uses of the f-word (here, for once, I meant "fascism") vary even more.

In this article of his Laurence W. Britt offers what I think is a very accurate list of common characteristic traits of the past regimes whose fascistic nature few would dispute. These traits provide an excellent description of how fascism manifests itself in real life.

Alan Dershowitz's New Idea

Alan Dershowitz has in the past come up with many ideas, some of them highly controversial. One of them was advocating the use of torture as an interrogation technique to be used on terrorism suspects.

He has now come up with a new idea,- a modification to the international law that would allow US or Israel to preemptively strike Iran's nuclear facilities in order to stop that country from obtaining nuclear weapons. Says Dershowitz,
Israel, with the help of the United States, should try everything short of military action first: diplomacy, threats, bribery, sabotage, targeted killings of individuals essential to the Iranian nuclear program and other covert actions. But if all else fails, Israel, or the United States, must be allowed under international law to take out the Iranian nuclear threat before it is capable of the genocide for which it is being built.

And I am a little troubled by what he is saying. Firstly, it sounds like only Israel or the US are even part of the discussion. What about Turkey, for instance, which faces massive radioactive fallout lest a nuclear exchange between Iran and Israel take place? I think Turkey would have every right to consider the possibility of such an event a security threat to itself in its own right.

But that is a side point. While I am not against the idea of preemption in general, I think if such preemption were to be legal under the international law, it must be approved by the international community. And no, I don't necessarily mean the UN,- that organization likely has to be replaced by a more representative body. The UN as it is happens to be a largely disfunctional body, and most of its members do not have representative governments. However, I don't believe that any one party can decide when preemption is appropriate as that would open the door to highly biased interpretations of threats.

On top of that, it sounds like the international law as it exists may in fact be sufficient, contrary to what Dershowitz is saying, as a country is allowed preempt an imminent threat an imminent threat,- which was Israel's justification for starting the 1967 Six Day War. So, what Dershowitz appears to be saying is that preemption must be allowed when just the party about to conduct the preemptive strike in question feels that is necessary. I think that is not a way to go as that party can not possibly be unbiased.

I am also troubled by the fact that Dershowitz is only concerned with two countries when it comes to the threat of a nuclear strike,- Israel and the US. Like I said before, the radioactive fallout knows no geographical boundaries. The fate of a whole area around the site of a potential nuclear strike is bound to be severely affected. And it is hardly in anybody's interest to allow a regional nuclear war,- not to mention the fact that such a war is very likely to escalate into a global nuclear conflict and the end of the civilization.

"Mohamed Atta loved pork chops, and 49 other things you may not know"

This is the title of an article that is making rounds through on the web. It pretty much consists of a collection of curious facts concerning the alleged leader of the 9/11 hijackers. If he truly played that role, whatever else can be said about him, I personally hope that hell exists,- if not for everybody, then for him personally, and that he is securely situated there for millions of years to come.

However, the point I was trying to make was not theological, but rather practical. The facts listed in the article may or may not check out, but the fact that some sources, such as this one, report harassment of witnesses by the federal agents in an attempt to silence them... well, that's intriguing, to say the least. If there is truth to what Daniel Hopsicker is saying, it may well turn out that both Mohamed Atta and the operation of which he was a leader were not exactly what the official 9/11 reports would have us believe.

I am not convinced there is truth to the reports by Mr Hopsicker. However, as I have said before, there are reasons to be very skeptical about the official 9/11 Commission report. Thus examining alternative theories is not a sign of madness, but that of healthy curiosity.

An Alleged Desecration of The Holy Quran

I could not find the source for this story. Nor does it seem to be duplicated anywhere. But if it is true, it is an outrage that should not be swept under the rug. Instead, Israeli authorities must find and prosecute those responsible.

Could This Be Part of What Sibel Edmonds Can Not Talk About?

Sibel Edmonds is a former FBI translator who has a lot to say. She would say more if she weren't gagged by the US Department of Justice. Even what she managed to say should arouse your curiosity if truth about 9/11 and our counter-terrorism efforts is of interest to you.

Daniel Hopsicker is a journalist whom I tend to view with some skepticism. Maybe, it is just me, but he seems to have too much of a knack for finding lots and lots of sensational connections,- some of which I tend to think don't amount to much. You can find various publications of his here. However, in this article of his, he may be on to something. In the article Sibel Edmonds is quoted extensively and the content seems to match things Edmonds either does not know, or is not allowed to properly describe.

I have read a number of publications both describing Edmonds and authored by her. I have written about her before (follow these links:1, 2). I believe her to be credible. She may be given to exaggerating facts, she may be bitter, but I do not believe that she is given to either lying or hallucinating. While a lot of facts are still missing, I believe that the story of Sibel Edmonds is an important one, the one to stay on and follow. And, like I said before, what Daniel Hopsicker is describing may indeed be factually correct,- and directly related to Edmonds' disclosures.

Is Mr Cheney Into Creative Accounting?

Well, Jason Leopold for one seems to think so. He has authored this article on the subject where he compares what Richard Cheney did while at Haliburton to what Ken Lay did at Enron. I think Mr Leopold is certainly making some valid points. Part of Mr Leopold's article is based on a Newsweek article that can be found here.

"Follow The Money"

Since we as a species came up with the idea to form a society (not such a hot idea, I tend to sometimes think) some of us have done better than others in terms of wealth and privilege. The society has continually progressed (or regressed, some might opine) but it has certainly kept changing. Things are now quite complex, and it times it's hard to say exactly how many goodies we've actually got.

Here is a very educational site on the wealth distribution in today's America. You may agree or disagree with what you find there, but I hope it makes you ponder upon what's going on.

Just Sign The Form,- And You Are Welcome!

Before attending a rally to hear vice president Dick Cheney, citizens in New Mexico were required to sign a political loyalty oath approved by the Republican national committee. "I, [full name] ... do herby [sic] endorse George W Bush for reelection of the United States." The form noted: "In signing the above endorsement you are consenting to use and release of your name by Bush-Cheney as an endorser of President Bush."
This, according to an article by Sidney Blumenthal, is the standard protocol at the Bush/Cheney '04 Campaign events. And there is some logic to it,- after all, if you are not a supporter, why are you wasting your time and taking up somebody else's space in the audience anyhow?
Bush is campaigning at events billed as Ask President Bush. Only supporters are allowed in. Talking points are distributed to questioners. In Traverse City, Michigan, a 55-year-old social studies teacher who wore a Kerry sticker had her ticket torn up at the door. "How can anyone in the US deny someone entry?" she asked. "Isn't this a democracy?"
I had lots of fun reading Sydney Blumenthal's piece,- I liked both the style or writing and the content. However, the engineer in me is always looking for ways to optimize things. So, it just occurred to me that the process can be considerably streamlined. Why just distribute the questions and "talking points", why stop at that? I think the detailed list of responses to those "talking points" should also be prepared in advance. It can then be distributed to those who signed the "support form" (see above). Maybe, it can even be posted on the web for the reading pleasure of those who would prefer not to sign that form (myself included). Though, come to think of it, maybe it is a better idea to keep those responses unavailable to non-supporters,- no need for us the uninitiated to see. Plus, there is some attractiveness to the mystique, isn't there?

I like this idea of mine. If nothing else, it will enable the President and Vice President to save themselves lots of travel time. It will also save their supporters some time and maybe some money, too (I don't know if one has to pay for admission to those events).

Being a Doctor Has Always Been A Hard Job...

...But now it is becoming an increasingly dangerous one. Well, in a way it always has been. Doctors go to front lines of wars, they have to sometimes treat patients who are dangerous due to their psychological problems, they may be robbed at gun point by drug addicts or attacked by aggrieved relatives who rightly or wrongly believes that a medical malpractice has taken place. However here in the US a new danger is now becoming part of their reality,- federal agents arresting and charging them with drug offenses for prescribing narcotic substances to alleviate their patients' pain.

I believe the "War on Drugs" is wrong. In her Reason article, Maia Szalavitz brings up many important points showing how doctors are hamstrung by drug regulations, how lives and careers are wasted through this infamous "War", how little positive effect can be expected from the policies behind it. This is an outrage, and it is long overdue to be stopped.

Joseph Darby, The Quiet Hero

GQ has recently published an excellent article on Joseph Darby, the US soldier who informed the army investigators of the abuse taking place at the Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. As I have said before, his lot now is not an easy one. I believe as a nation we are all indebted to this man.

The Son of Ronald Reagan on the Son of George H W Bush

This is what Ron Reagan has to say about his father's Vice President's son, our current President George W Bush. Clearly, Reagan Jr is not an unbiased party as his close relationship with his father could not have possibly allowed him not to form certain political and personal perceptions. Come to think of it, no one is completely unbiased when it comes to things about which they have strong feelings.

However, I think Ron Reagan offers an impressively clear-headed review of what this administration is about. Certain observations of his certainly ring true. I could quote almost the entire article here, so relevant and reasonable it sounds. It lists various lies the administration told us; of course, they are not unique in that regard as lies are an integral part of politics. But Reagan believes there is a difference here between the administration of George W Bush and other administrations:
ALL ADMINISTRATIONS WILL DISSEMBLE, distort, or outright lie when their backs are against the wall, when honesty begins to look like political suicide. But this administration seems to lie reflexively, as if it were simply the easiest option for busy folks with a lot on their minds. While the big lies are more damning and of immeasurably greater import to the nation, it is the small, unnecessary prevarications that may be diagnostic. Who lies when they don't have to? When the simple truth, though perhaps embarrassing in the short run, is nevertheless in one's long-term self-interest? Why would a president whose calling card is his alleged rock-solid integrity waste his chief asset for penny-ante stakes? Habit, perhaps. Or an inability to admit even small mistakes.
Reagan makes a compelling case for his arguments. Towards the end, he summarizes,
GEORGE W. BUSH PROMISED to "change the tone in Washington" and ran for office as a moderate, a "compassionate conservative," in the focus-group-tested sloganeering of his campaign. Yet he has governed from the right wing of his already conservative party, assiduously tending a "base" that includes, along with the expected Fortune 500 fat cats, fiscal evangelicals who talk openly of doing away with Social Security and Medicare, of shrinking government to the size where they can, in tax radical Grover Norquist's phrase, "drown it in the bathtub." That base also encompasses a healthy share of anti-choice zealots, homophobic bigots, and assorted purveyors of junk science. Bush has tossed bones to all of them—"partial birth" abortion legislation, the promise of a constitutional amendment banning marriage between homosexuals, federal roadblocks to embryonic-stem-cell research, even comments suggesting presidential doubts about Darwinian evolution. It's not that Mr. Bush necessarily shares their worldview; indeed, it's unclear whether he embraces any coherent philosophy. But this president, who vowed to eschew politics in favor of sound policy, panders nonetheless in the interest of political gain. As John DiIulio, Bush's former head of the Office of Community and Faith-Based Initiatives, once told this magazine, "What you've got is everything—and I mean everything—being run by the political arm."
I especially agree with the notion that all the activities of this White House have become highly politicized,- in fact, so much so as to make professionalism next to impossible in many key areas of the governmental activities, such as intelligence, financial planning, environmental management and others.

I am thoroughly impressed by this Ron Reagan's piece. Kudos to Esquire for publishing it. I have just done a Google search to see if anybody else has published this article and found some reprints in the alternative media but none in the mainstream. Which, in my humble opinion, is a shame.

Israel: What It Takes To Provide Medical Assistance

This is a good article on what ambulance crews in Israel have to face working in the middle of a war with no rules.

Sydney Schanberg on Wars and Politics

Sydney Schanberg certainly is talking from experience when it comes to war. He was in Vietnam and Cambodia. The award-wining movie, The Killing Fields, is based on the true story of Sydney Schanberg, a New York Times reporter at the time, and Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who worked as an interpreter for Shanberg, in Cambodia during the time directly preceding the rise of Pol Pot to power in Cambodia. Dith Pran was trapped in the nightmare of Cambodian genocide, while Shanberg spent years trying to save his friend's life.

Here is what Mr Schanberg has to say about how Vietnam relates to the current events,- both in Iraq and in the US. I think it is definitely worth a read.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

“Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death”

This is a documentary about the alleged massacre of the Taliban POWs who had surrendered to the Northern Alliance troops in 2001 at Kunduz. According to this documentary, US troops participated in the massacre. Democracy Now! claims to be the only TV channel to air this controversial film even though it was viewed by a significant audience worldwide.

The film was directed by Jamie Doran who claims to have been directly told him that the film will never see the light of day in the US.
Jamie Doran says of State Department official Larry Schwartz, “Larry said and I quote directly, ‘You have to understand, we’re involved, we’re in touch with the national [newspapers] on a daily basis – this story won’t run, even if it’s true.’” And television industry insiders told Doran, “not now Jamie.”
Well, they were wrong,- thanks to the efforts of Democracy Now! and Information Clearing House. Unfortunately, they were right about the mainstream media who to the best of my knowledge never even mentioned the film's existence. However, you can watch it now, and I highly recommend it as we must know the truth no matter how difficult it may be.

War on Terror and Gun Control

Benedict LaRosa, a historian, writer and policy advisor to The Future of Freedom Foundation, offers an interesting view on the effects of gun control on our ability to defend ourselves against the terrorist attacks. I am not as much of a gun rights supporter as Mr LaRosa,- I believe, for instance, that weapons must be registered and only issued to those who are qualified to use them,- however, I support many ideas of his. For instance, the notion of point defense versus area defense, the former being far more effective against an elusive enemy such as a team of terrorists certainly appeals to me.

It is certainly a good idea to have armed militias. That allows citizens to be able to actively participate in defending their communities, from all those who threaten it,- be they local criminal gangs or terror groups. As LaRosa puts it,
Instead of hamstringing people with a myriad of gun-control measures, governments at all levels should encourage them to arm and train themselves. Funds for homeland security would thus be better spent, American military and security forces relieved of an impossible task, and homeland security enhanced.
He also makes good sense when he says:
If citizens were free to procure whatever firearms they desired without interference from government, as they should be, then the owners and occupiers of homes and businesses could provide their own high level of security using whatever weapons they considered appropriate, such as submachine guns. Government forces could then concentrate their limited resources in manpower, funds, and equipment to seek out and destroy the terrorists without having to worry about guarding every possible static structure a terrorist might attack.
I certainly have some reservations about combat weapons such as submachine guns or machine guns being readily available,- I think people need to first be trained to use them. However, those trained and organized in a militia should be able to have them,- after all, they do have a vested interest in protecting their property and lives of their family, friends and co-workers, and there is no way police forces can be everywhere at all times.

I both enjoy weapons and fear them. But the fact of life is that there are situations when one needs a weapon for defense, and that is especially true when the threat comes not from a mugger who is likely to merely use his weapon to intimidate you, but from a terrorist who is trying to kill as many people as possible. The potential victims of terror have a stark choice,- to die or to fight back. Personally, I favor the latter.

As the saying goes, "When guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns". That seems true,- and that is not how things ought to be. The good guys should have guns too,- let's keep the outlaws guessing which one of their victims is about to be a nasty surprise for them.

Hell, I'd Be Pissed Too!

I already mentioned William Krar here. He is reported to be mighty frustrated that his efforts notwithstanding, the media denied him due attention. You know, for once I agree with him. This is certainly a case of clear-cut discrimination if there ever was one. Jose Padilla did not even have to have a half-usable plan for an attack, never mind a whole arsenal of equipment to be honored with an announcement in a press conference by John Ashcroft himself,- from Moscow, at that. And poor Mr Krar, through his misfortune of being White and not even remotely associated with Al Qaida, has to while away his days in a clink without so much as a newspaper with his mug shot. What can I say,- ain't no justice in this here world. Maybe good ol' Billy Krar ought to sue the Fox News?

Who Is Yaser Esam Hamdi?

Well, you probably heard the name. The man is an Arab born in the US to Saudi parents, and thus an American citizen. He was captured is Afghanistan, became a POW (or an "enemy combatant", in the modern parlance), but since technically he was a US Citizen he ended up not in Guantanamo but in a naval brig prison in South Carolina. An August 16 Los Angeles Times report states,
The government ... told a federal appeals panel in June 2002 that "Hamdi's background and experience, particularly in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, suggest considerable knowledge of Taliban and Al Qaeda training and operations."
In short, at some point in the not so distant past Mr Hamdi was considered a dangerous person, an Al Qaida operative with the extensive knowledge of his organization, someone who was too dangerous to be tried in the US Court system,- clearly, someone with a potential to do great damage should he ever be released.

However, times change. And sometimes the changes are nothing short of radical.
Now, it seems, the government is negotiating with Hamdi's attorneys for his release from confinement. According to reports, Hamdi would renounce his U.S. citizenship, move to Saudi Arabia and accept some travel restrictions, as well as some monitoring by Saudi officials, in exchange for his freedom. In addition, he may have to agree not to file a civil rights lawsuit against the federal government.

If all Hamdi has to worry about is going forward into his new life of freedom, it would be a remarkable turnaround for a man who for years now the government has sworn is a terrorist. It would be a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi. And it would cause a stunning and long-lasting loss of credibility for the representations that government lawyers and military officials make in these sorts of terror law cases.
Wow, he seems like not such a bad guy after all. Maybe, we should even apologize to him for holding him in prison for over two years. Oh, I guess I forgot that apologies are not part of the "War on Terror".
The Justice Department is spinning the talks between Hamdi's attorneys and federal lawyers as a routine exercise in the release of prisoners in wartime. But it is fairly clear that such talks did not take place before the Supreme Court rode to Hamdi's rescue a couple of months ago by requiring his captors to give him some rights.
So, did the government properly investigate the matter and finally realize that there was no case here? Possibly, but somewhat unlikely if what Andrew Cohen reports in The LA Times is true.

Cohen also compares the treatment of Hamdi to that of John Walker Lindh, another American captured in Afghanistan and currently serving a twenty year term in a federal penitentiary. Note that "unlike Hamdi, Lindh was never deemed an enemy combatant". A very apt comparison, I must note.

Says Cohen of the Hamdi affair,
This isn't supposed to happen in a nation ruled by law.

I certainly could not agree more.

Reconstruction of Iraq

Christian Parenti wrote what, in my humble opinion, amounts a good review of how we proceed with rebuilding that war-ravaged country (or fail at it, as many would likely say). We hear of large budgets allocated for the purpose, but we should not fall into complacency thinking that the sort of money available will get the job done one way or the other. That money is bound to eventually go somewhere,- but its destination may be very different from what you may think.

Who Is William Krar?

If you don't know, it is OK. You likely got lots and lots of company. Even though Krar was arrested during what appeared to be preparation for major terrorist activity, his arrest attracted minimal attention from the media and caused no press release by the Department of Justice, which under John Ashcroft, as of the press time for this UPI report, had "found at least 2,295 occasions to toot its own horn that are apparently more newsworthy than the Krar arrest".

According to this report,
Krar, who is affiliated with several anti-government, white supremacist militia organizations, was apprehended after mailing a package containing false U.N. credentials, Defense Intelligence Agency IDs, phony birth certificates and a forged federal concealed weapons permit to a co-conspirator in New Jersey.

The package came with a note that read, "We would hate to have this fall into the wrong hands." It did. It was delivered to the incorrect address.

An alert citizen contacted the FBI, which led to the arrest of Krar and the discovery of a mind-numbing weapons cache: fully automatic machine guns, remote-controlled explosive devices disguised as briefcases, 60 pipe bombs, nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition and enough pure sodium cyanide "to kill everyone inside a 30,000 square foot building," according to federal authorities.

Krar consequently pleaded guilty to possessing a dangerous chemical weapon and was sentenced to 11 years in prison. Sounds fair enough to me, and I am satisfied that Mr Krar will be away for awhile and will get a chance to cool his heels and maybe revise his attitude.

What I do find astounding is the near silence surrounding this case,- which is most likely why you are first reading about this gentleman here, if that is the case. One would think that, quoting the same UPI report, both the administration and the media would pay more attention to a man whose "arrest by federal law enforcement in the small town of Noonday, Texas, last April may have stopped the most devastating terror attack on U.S. soil since Sept. 11".

So, what is the reason for that near silence? I don't know, but I think part of it may be that the story would not sell, that it lacks the sensationalist value, that maybe after 9/11 the non-Muslim Americans were supposed to be "good guys only" and writing about this sort of individual would be disturbing news that would in turn drive down ratings. Once again, these are just some thoughts of mine, I do not have any serious research to back it up with.

However, be that as it may, the following seem to be some of the lessons from this story. Firstly, not all terrorists are Arab or Muslim. Secondly, not all Arab or Muslim people are terrorists. Thirdly, the evil of all kinds can be found anywhere, and when it is found among us, the worst thing for us to do would be to pretend it is not there,- which is pretty much what the media is covertly trying to get us to do through their biased and incomplete (and, in most cases, outright missing) coverage of the Krar case.

"Fahrenheit 9/11": An Excellent Critique

While I can't fully agree with what Nat Hentoff says in this Washington Times article of his I think he offers some very valid and much needed critique of the recent Michael Moore's blockbuster. He mentions some of the same omissions in the film which I found unconsciable:
Michael Moore — whose movie somehow omits mention of the mass graves, rape and torture chambers — doesn't seem to think Saddam should have been forcibly removed, or that most Americans would care about stopping his atrocious horrors. Mr. Moore has said of his fellow Americans: "They are possibly the dumbest people on the planet ... We don't know anything that's happening outside our country."
While Moore unquestionably raises many important issues in his movie, this omission certainly makes any claim to the film's objectivity invalid. I do believe that the administration's deception and starting the war using fabricated data was also inexcusable,- just as much as Moore's omissions and distortions.

Hentoff asks a critically important question:
Would many Americans — if fully informed by George W. Bush — have supported, entirely on humanitarian grounds, sending troops to remove Saddam, remembering how the United Nations and Mr. Clinton could have stopped the slaughter in Rwanda, but failed to act?
Alas, due to our administration's political machinations, we do not know the answer to this question. But it is clear that questions like that need to be asked,- and that the truth must be known by all of whom those questions are asked. Deception helps no one, it only exacerbates the crisis, regardless whether the source of that deception is the White House or Michael Moore.

Human Trafficking: The Great Shame of Our Times

Human trafficking is a problem that affects most of the countries today. It supports sex slavery, sweatshop slavery, official corruption, gang violence and terrorism. It is a major problem in Israel, but it is likely more of a problem in many other places, such as Finland.

I believe this problem it is not being properly addressed by the developed country. I also think that there is no way to be serious about fighting terrorism without being serious about fighting that menace. After all, wherever channels are in place to traffic slaves or prostitutes, those same channels can be used to traffic terror operatives.

In the US, following the 9/11 attacks various controversial measures, such as the much talked about USA Patriot Act were adopted. The act curtails many civil liberties, and such limitations are often of questionable value when it comes to combating terror groups. However, the US borders remain largely unprotected, and human trafficking groups operate a large-scale enterprise along the Mexican border. And hence the question begs asking, why is the administration pushing through laws limiting its citizens' rights while at the same time not protecting the borders properly,- which is not only its right, but also one of its few original constitutional responsibilities from the very beginning, for if protection of borders is not part of "common defense", I wouldn't know what is.

For Those Who Are into Quotes

Here is an excellent collection of quotes on financial inequality, courtesy

NY Democrats Are Finally Shunning "Political Correctness"

Somebody had to say it loud and clear, and I am happy to know that the New York Democrats finally did. I can't see how the fact that the choice of both the time and the place to hold the Republican National Convention was highly political can be denied. The main objective, in words of one of them,-
"The Republicans chose to hold their convention here, I think most of us believe, to continue the political exploitation of 9/11, which this administration started almost immediately after 9/11," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, whose congressional district in Manhattan includes the site where the World Trade Center once stood.
The Republicans are not unique in that regard. I think it is certainly true that the Democratic National Convention took place in Boston was of course a matter of politics too. However, there are several major differences. Democrats are much more popular in Boston than Republicans are in New York City, especially the Bush-style Republicans. And that is putting it mildly. Many other things can be said about why New York City is not the best choice of venue for the RNC, but suffice it to say,- it ain't very nice to have your little get-together in a house were you are generally not welcome.

How Is Our Representative Democracy Doing?

Well, according to the American Political Science Association, not so well. Basically, as described in this summary, the poor in America and their plight is simply not a political issue as those active politically are not of them and do not speak for them.

For This I Deserve No Credit

Don't thank me for this,- all credit is due to Minstrel Boy (a pseudonym, I take it), who wrote this excellent blog post. The post lists a string of strange coincidences surrounding the 9/11 attacks, and does so in a very straightforward and easy to follow way. I think anyone who has decided to think about those events for themselves and not just blindly accept the official version of the events would do good to review those coincidences.

A Good Quote

"Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we," George Bush told an audience of military brass and Pentagon chiefs. "They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we."
I heard the last part of this quote elsewhere. This text comes from this blog post. Don't know where Bush said it, if at all, but sounds in line with other weird things he is known to have said. Also check out the picture in the post,- humorous, but too close to reality to be truly funny.

Every Vote Counts,- If You Are The Right Sort Of Voter

Voter disenfranchisement is nothing new. If it weren't for it we would likely have a different man for President now. However, according to Katrina vanden Heuvel, we as a society are far from having the issue addressed, or even making an honest attempt to do so.

In her article on the subject, vanden Heuvel describes many attempts by various parties to make it so that those from whom they have little reason to expect any favors do not get to cast their vote. St. Louis, Missouri, election officials told voter registration workers that of 30,000 applications submitted, two-thirds had been rejected. No reasons were given...
While we are on the subject, I would like to say that personally I think in this day and age the very idea of voter registration sounds archaic. Given the technology available, any citizen must be allowed to vote anywhere. Once the data is entered for the citizen, a verification process should be run to ensure the validity of the data. Once that process completes, he or she must be presented with the proper voting form conforming with the local election requirements. All of that can be done electronically, with the proper electronic replication as well as a paper printout. Sounds incredible? Not so, if you compare it with the systems we use everyday, for instance, the ones that allow us to receive instant credit at a bank or to make purchases with a credit card. However, for now we do have the voter registration procedure in place, so lets get back to the issues as they are.

I believe the first major step towards insuring the fairness in the vote count would be creation of a public election oversight commission empowered to oversee everything related to elections,- from the registration procedures to the software code for the systems involved in the election process. The local and federal election oversight bodies are part of their respective governments, and that makes them suspect. Personally, I think all the technology involved must be open source, wherever possible, to avoid tampering by commercial interests.

Those are just a few thoughts that come to mind. Clearly, someone with more election management experience than yours truly can come up with many more good ideas. They need to be discussed and implemented as when found applicable. For, as vanden Heuvel correctly states,
At stake, isn't simply our choice for America's next president, but also our faith in our nation's democracy.

Stopping The "Stop-Loss"

"John Doe", a decorated US Marines veteran has filed a lawsuit claiming the illegality of the government's attempt to extend the reservists' stay in the military past their official discharge date. The practice, known as the "stop-loss", amounts to effectively compelling an individual to stay in the military beyond what he or she has voluntarily subscribed to, effectively keeping them in uniform against their will.

There is a name for this practice. It is called "military draft". If you prefer a different term, you can call that "conscription". And I certainly believe that if conscription were to become part of our life, it needs to be properly legislated, not run through the back door the way the Bush administration is attempting to do it.

But for now,- all power to "John Doe"!

Is This The Way To Fight "The War on Terror"?

Here is a good summary of the case of Mounir el Motassadeq, a 30-year-old Moroccan charged in Germany with aiding the three Hamburg-based suicide hijackers who are alleged to have been part of the 9/11 team. The case against him could be strong,- if it was not for the US failure to cooperate and provide the necessary evidence due to security considerations. He was once acquitted and is now being retried. This time around the US is being a bit more helpful, but likely not to the extent sufficient to secure a conviction.

Remember: This Is About The US, Not Osama

As it has already been stated many times, external factors can be a powerful influence in national elections. One of the powerful recent examples is the election in Spain in March of 2004 whose outcome was influenced by the terrorist attacks in Madrid several days prior. To an extent, it is true that terrorists managed to install a coalition that otherwise had little chance of coming to power.

As Dick Morris, a former Bill Clinton advisor, writes in his comment,
...the key issue is whether America is at war or at peace. And Osama bin Laden has more to say about that than any other person. If he ratchets up the terror threat to the United States and has us looking over our shoulders and thinking twice before we fly, we will feel at war and will back Bush. But if he lets up and backs off for the election, we will revert back to our peacetime posture and likely elect the Democrat.
Personally, I am unsure why Democrats in general and John Kerry in particular ought to be expected to be any less competent to prosecute a war than the current administration. However, Morris likely describes the common sentiment correctly when he states,
If Americans feel they are at war, they will rally to Bush. By a strong majority, they feel he is the best candidate to keep America safe, prosecute the War on Terror, and – even on his worst days – stabilize Iraq. But if they feel the war is over or winding down, they are likely to vote for Kerry. By similar majorities, most surveys indicate voters trust him more to create jobs, help the economy, lower health-care costs, stabilize Medicare and Social Security, reduce prescription drug prices, help improve education and protect the environment.
But let us not forget that Osama's anti-Americanism is not known to have grown any weaker over the last several years. Likely, the same can be said of most of his followers. I have no doubt that if they can hit somewhere in the US, they will. And as we know from numerous reports the security at home remains close to what some would call a joke in many ways. Suffice it to say that, to my knowledge, over 90% of the sea-borne containers still enter the country unexpected. Given all that, the fact that since 9/11 Al Quaida has not yet perpetrated another sizeable attack in the US probably is an indication that they are not quite as big a power as some would think. Also, short of another terror attack actually, taking place, as I have said before there is a good reason to be skeptical about the US government's terror warnings.

Writes Morris,
...I think bin Laden will remind us frequently and graphically that we are at war. And I think that may re-elect George W. Bush.
Well, I hope Bin Laden does not get very far in his attempts. But even if he does, I believe that is even more of a reason to vote. And to vote as if Osama was long gone from the scene, for it is difficult to imagine a President who would not fight a menace like Al Quaida, and it is difficult to imagine a President who would wage that fight less competently than George W Bush. And, after all, this is a US election,- and last I heard Bin Laden was not a US citizen, so he should not be allowed to participate in the process.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Censorship of Foreign Media Through Intimidation

I think this is a subject that has yet to be properly addressed. While various sources report,- and credibly at that,- that terror groups and despotic regimes such as that of Saddam Hussein or Yasser Arafat use intimidation of locally accredited reporters and their staff, there does not appear to be a comprehensive study of that phenomena.

In his article Jeff Jacoby gives a good account of how intimidation is facilitated by the Palestinian Authority. I think this is a good case in point. I also think that to an extent the kidnapping and consequent murder of Daniel Pearl was another manifestation of the same phenomena. And while a comprehensive report on the practice is yet to arrive, we must bear in mind that the practice does exist and that even the best journalists working for an independent news media organization are at times unable to report the whole truth from many a place on the globe,- and for a good reason as oftentimes not only are their lives on the line, but also those of their local employees who in effect become hostages of sorts.

Protect Joseph Darby!

In a world where morals are warped one has a problem at times distinguishing between a foe and a friend, a traitor and a patriot. Army Spc. Joseph Darby was the soldier who first reported the abuse perpetrated at the Abu Ghraib prison by his fellow soldiers. In a way, he broke the code of conduct that exists in every tight-knit group such as a military unit, 'What happens among us stays with us'. It would be understandable if people in his unit were angry at him.

However, it appears that the same sort of perception goes way beyond the confines of the unit. According to this ABC News report, the members of the community where Darby and his family live have been shunning and sometimes intimidating the family.
"We did not receive the response I thought we would. People were, they were mean, saying he was a walking dead man, he was walking around with a bull's-eye on his head. It was scary," Bernadette Darby, Joseph Darby's wife, said today on ABC News' Good Morning America.
Mostly, this is just talk,- even though one can not rule out the presence of a nut case willing to turn to physical violence against the family. However, even barring that possibility, it is a certainty that that family is going through an immensely difficult time. It is not clear from the report where they are from, but it sounds like a small-town community, and in a community like that people count on their social network. Hence alienation of this sort is all the more difficult to endure.

I think we as a society must find ways to show our support for people like Spc. Darby. Contrary to what some of his detractors may think, I believe he is in fact a true patriot, a man with a conscience and a hope for us all. I don't know what the best way to support him is, but support him we must. His family must know that America is not just their town, and that many in it stand behind him and applaud what he had done.

Monday, August 16, 2004

The Standard of Command Responsibility

Well, justice should be blind and judge everybody equally. Thus, what would happen if we apply the standard used against Slobodan Milosevic in all relevant cases?

This is the issue Siddharth Varadarajan is attempting to address in his The Hindu article. The article quotes from various memos authored by various US government lawyers,- the infamous "torture memos" that have been making rounds through various media. Says Varadarajan,
It is astonishing that despite the existence of such documents — and only censored versions of these memos have been released — there is no clamour within the U.S. to bring charges against Mr. Bush and Mr. Rumsfeld for the commission of war crimes by their subordinates.
According to Varadarajan no memos of comparable content have been issued by Mr Milosevic's administration.
Louise Arbour, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), had no such documentary evidence when she indicted Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 1999 on four counts of crimes against humanity and violations of the laws of war. The crimes concerned the death of 340 Kosovar Albanians at the hands of the Yugoslav security forces. Paragraph 84 of the indictment states that "in as much as he has authority or control over the VJ (Yugoslav army) ... Slobodan Milosevic, as president of the FR of Yugoslavia ... is also criminally responsible for the acts of his subordinates." Para 88 states, "A superior is responsible for the acts of his subordinate(s) if he knew or had reason to know that his subordinate(s) was/were about to commit such acts or had done so and the superior failed to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent such acts..."
Another historical parallel that is worth examining is the massacre at Sabra and Shatilla and the report issued by Israel's Kahan Commission tasked with investigating that massacre. The report considers the issue of indirect responsibility thusly:
The argument is that no responsibility should be laid on Israel for deeds perpetrated outside of its borders by members of the Christian community against Palestinians in that same country, or against Muslims located within the area of the camps.

A certain echo of this approach may be found in statements made in the cabinet meeting of 19.9.82, and in statements released to the public by various sources. We cannot accept this position. If it indeed becomes clear that those who decided on the entry of the Phalangists into the camps should have foreseen - from the information at their disposal and from things which were common knowledge - that there was danger of a massacre, and no steps were taken which might have prevented this danger or at least greatly reduced the possibility that deeds of this type might be done, then those who made the decisions and those who implemented them are indirectly responsible for what ultimately occurred, even if they did not intend this to happen and merely disregarded the anticipated danger.
This sounds like a proper standard to apply. It was applied, at least to some extent, in Israel, where the scandal that followed Sabra and Shatilla cost Defense Minister Ariel Sharon his ministerial seat.

In 2001 in Kunduz, the Afghan Northern Alliance soldiers transported several thousand Taliban POWs to a remote prison in unventialted trucks. Many died enroute in a horrendous agony, some where later shot to death by the Afghans supervised by the US soldiers. Personally, I don't know how true those allegations are, but the documentary 'Convoy of Death' shot about the subject sounds convincing. It is also worth noting that the said documentary broadcast around the world did not make it into any of the US major networks' programming.

If at Sabra and Shatilla Israeli troops were accused of watching the events from afar and possibly shooting flares to make the Phalangist muderers' job easier, here the allegations state US soldiers' direct and immediate participation in a massacre. And I think the standard of responsibility used in the Kahan commission report is just as applicable in this case.

War crimes have existed for so long as the war itself. However, this is not a reason to be complacent about those crimes. We need to use a uniform standard to define them, and apply this standard to all suspects in a fair and non-prejudicial manner,- regardless of the suspect's rank or position.

For Your Reading Pleasure

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. is always a delight, in my humble opinion. Few authors have such an incredible ability to infuse their sense of humor into describing or debating various things grave and morbid. His recent article on our times and the essence of being is, in my opinion, a must read.

Innocent? Who Cares...

In my recent rant on the subject of death penalty, I have mentioned that death penalty cases are not investigated in the US if the sentence has already been carried out. By that time, it is "case closed".

Well, one may say, even if the person was innocent, once they are dead, they are dead. That certainly is about as close to truth as any statement can get,- however, that argument omits one important part of the picture,- by learning whether or not the person who received the sentence was truly the culprit, we stand to gain knowledge as to what went wrong and we can try and prevent occurrences of the same type in the future. Also, if we do indeed discover that a wrong person was convicted and sentenced, then we will also know that a real culprit may still be at large,- and for that reason alone all true law-and-order aficionados should do their utmost to make sure any and every case that merits reinvestigation is investigated,- many times, if necessary. It is bad enough if an innocent person spends years of his life in jail or is executed for something he never did,- the fact that the real criminal is out there somewhere may also be a major threat, as the famous case of the 1989 Central Park jogger rape illustrates. Note that in that case, as is often the case with pathologically violent types, the culprit did not stop at the crime for which others took the heat.
The man, Matias Reyes, is currently serving a 33-year sentence for a string of violent rapes — and one murder — that he committed in the four months after the April 1989 assault on the jogger, which left her near death and in a coma for 12 days.
(Reported here by the ABC News.)
So, we can be relatively confident that one person would be alive and several others would be spared the experience of rape if the authorities did not follow a false trail.

Now, I do not call myself a law-and-order type, but I do like to see violent criminals locked up. So I find it even most surprising that the law-and-order state of Florida headed by a law-and-order Governor Jeb Bush who is a firm supporter of vigorous law enforcement,- including death penalty,- is so reluctant to try and figure out why a man spent 22 years in jail for a rape he had nothing to do with. Personally, I would expect Florida officials to be falling all over themselves if their talk about being committed to law enforcement is anything other than election PR. No matter what they think about the ex-inmate,- an apology to whom would be nice, IMHO,- there likely is a sexual predator out there who needs to be apprehended. And no, this ain't no jaywalking case, this is serious crime, folks!

However, I wouldn't hold my breath waiting for the State of Florida to act on this.

Expats To Decide The Election

This is an interesting point,- in this Election which is so critically important many Americans who for years have not voted or even set foot in the US may become the Election's deciding factor.

New Iraqi Government Is Certainly Fond of Old Traditions

In his excellent article Paul McGeough provides a great description and analysis of how the new sovereign government of Iraq carries on with the time-honored custom of torture and brutality,- a custom to which Mr Hussein was an ardent adherent. He also describes what can only be characterized as an outrageous inaction of the American authorities who installed the current Iraqi government.

In all fairness, this is not what Americans are all about. As I have noted earlier, regular Americans in uniform were as outraged by atrocities committed by the new Iraqi regime as any normal human being would be. However, their attempts to put a stop to the atrocities came to naught on the orders of their superiors.

So, are we just back to the good old "good thug, bad thug" game?

What Karen Kwiatkowski Has To Say

Karen Kwiatkowski is a USAF Lt Colonel (Ret.) who spent the last several years working in the Pentagon. Following her retirement, she came out with a blistering expose of how politicized the intelligence process has become within the Defense Department and how the Bush administration effectively manufactured the intelligence to its own order by way of the Office of Special Plans.

The following is her article on 'Hijacking Catastrophe', a new documentary released by the Media Education Foundation. She mentions facts that I think are critical to understanding the way this administration's thought process:
There are some critical darts thrown in the film, but the few that can be discerned relate to the facts. For example, the general lack of military experience among neo-conservatives is discussed in the context of their most interesting fascination with the use of military force, and their unbelievable disregard for the horrific cost of war both physically and psychologically, on our soldiers, on the purported battlefield enemy, and upon the countries in which they reside.
Based on what she is saying I am likely to expect 'Hijacking Catastrophe' to be more to the point than Michael Moore's 'Fahrenheit 9/11'.
Unlike the Michael Moore treatment in Fahrenheit 9-11, where images of the Deputy Secretary of Defense combing his hair with fresh spittle cheapen our horror while turning our stomachs, Hijacking Catastrophe is a working man’s treatment of 21st century American foreign policy – what it is, where it comes from, what it wants, what it costs, and how Americans might deal with it. In this regard, the final segments of the film focus on the need to fight fear domestically by engaging in a public debate on the war in Iraq, post 9-11 policies in general, and engendering a real national discussion about what America stands for and how she might more wisely relate to the world, and solve problems instead of creating them.
And I think Karen Kwiatkowski's archive is also worth a read.

Death Penalty: Pro And Con

At some point, I supported the death penalty. I thought that there were people amongst us who do not deserve to live, people whose very existence is an affront to us, to our morality, to our civilization. Maybe, at the time I was more vengeful, too. I probably was as I wanted murderers dead so that the blood and suffering of their victims may be avenged.

Later, my views changed. I became absolutely opposed to the death penalty as a state-ordered sanction. I still believe there are people who do not deserve to be alive. In fact, I believe there are quite a few of them. However, I do not believe in a methodical, premeditated killing of a person who is already behind bars and has effectively been neutralized as a threat to the society at large.

There are many reasons why my views on the subject are what they are. And what is interesting is that I happen to sometimes find data backing me up in somewhat unlikely places. For instance, Steven D. Stewart, the Prosecuting Attorney for Clark County, Indiana, hardly comes across as an abolishionist. In his program letter on death penalty, he states his support for the measure and states some facts about it which I would agree constitute benefits,- for instance, the impossibility of repeat crimes by someone who has been executed, as well as the impossibility of escape by the said individual. Other arguments of his are not so strong, in my opinion. For instance, when Mr Stewart states that no one to his knowledge has been executed who was in fact innocent, he is conveniently bypassing the uncomfortable fact that in the US neither have any investigations ever been conducted, nor any court hearings held in order to review the guilt or innocence of anyone who had already been executed. Not so in other countries. In the UK, on the other hand, such investigations are occasionally conducted, and one,- a description of which I am unfortunately unable to obtain at the moment,- had recently found that a man hanged in 1954 for murder was in fact innocent.

But it is not through his "message" that Mr Stewart is supporting my line of reasoning most. Of his whole death penalty web collection the page most helpful to me is his excellent compilation of data on the US executions since the time the death penalty was reinstated in 1976. For the years 2000 to present, the data contains both the sentencing date, and the execution date. Note that the span between the two is quite long,- I think pretty much all of the inmates had to spend at least five years on the Death Row, some ten, some twenty, some,- such as James Barney Hubbard,-close to thirty. So, where is the deterrence? How many people save for those directly affected even remember what the crime was about by the time the culprit walks the last mile? Is ten or twenty years not time enough to commit another murder in prison lest an individual be so inclined? Is that not time enough to plot and execute an escape lest there be a chance?

I believe that there are arguments both in favor and against death penalty. However, I believe that anyone willing to address the issues analytically would have to acknowledge that the system of capital punishment in the US is hopelessly dysfunctional. And as such, it needs to be shut down,- if not forever, then until we as a society decide on what we want it to be and manage to ensure its morality and practicality. Personally, I don't believe a system which would satisfy those requirements can ever be designed.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

Good Dictator, Bad Dictator...

In his masterful analysis of the Iraqi key figures that have recently made news reports, Jacob Hornberger shines light on what is quite an open secret,- the US government has been opposing some dictators and terrorists and supporting others,- as long as the latter happened to serve the US interests of the moment. Writes Hornberger,
Ever since the U.S. government abandoned its role as a limited-government republic to become an imperial world interloper, the quest has been to support those dictators in the world who would do the bidding of U.S. officials, no matter how unsavory, corrupt, and brutal those dictators were. That’s in fact why the U.S. government, even while still clinging to its claim that it invaded Iraq to establish “democracy and freedom,” continues to proudly align itself with the brutal military dictator in Pakistan, who took power in a military coup.
'Well, so what?', some may ask. The fundamental problem,- aside from obvious moral issues associated with supporting unsavory characters involved in oppression and mass murder,- is that supporting them is tantamount to running a world-wide monster plantation. We breed monsters,- and then, lo and behold, those monsters for some reasons turn against us or those we view as general friends.

Well, I think this is an issue that needs to become subject of serious discussion. The surprise and indignation we hear every time from politicians and pundits when a friendly dictator becomes a mortal enemy simply should not cut it. Such emotions are to be expected of pre-school children, not of those who analyze and shape policy on the daily basis.

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