Wednesday, May 31, 2006
More Guantanamo Bay detainees protesting their indefinite confinement joined a hunger strike, raising the number of those refusing food to 89 from 75, the U.S. military said Thursday. Six of the hunger strikers at the isolated U.S. naval base in southeast Cuba were being force-fed, said Navy Cmdr. Robert Durand.
"All are being closely monitored by the ... medical staff and being counseled on the health effects of long-term hunger striking," Durand said in a statement from Guantanamo Bay. The hunger strike is now the biggest of the year at the base, where about 460 men are being held on suspicion of links to al-Qaida or the Taliban. It comes amid increasing displays of defiance from the prisoners, who have been held for up to 4 1/2 years with many claiming their innocence.
ORIGINAL POST: Through use of the restraint chair, otherwise known as "the Devil's Chair", it appeared that the US military had broken the hunger strikes that have plagued Guantanamo. Apparently, it was a false dawn.
First, there were violent disturbances about two weeks ago, with the factual circumstances still disputed:
Needless to say, the detainees were not available to give their side of the story during the news cycle, and it will probably only become known with the passage of time as they meet with their attorneys challenging their confinement.
Reports from within the controversial detention centre in Cuba claim the base's military commanders believe there were links between a series of suicide attempts, medical emergencies and the violent clashes between 20 inmates and guards on Thursday.
It was "probably the most violent outbreak" in the camp's four-year history, claimed Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the detention and interrogation centre's commander. "These are dangerous men and determined jihadists," he said.
The base's authorities suspect the incidents were co-ordinated and fed off each other, but one former inmate and two lawyers raised substantial doubts about the US military's account of the disturbances.
Moazzam Begg, the Birmingham bookshop owner released from the camp last year, said the detention cells were too closely monitored and controlled for inmates to organise a revolt so well. Clive Stafford Smith and Brent Mickum, defence lawyers who regularly visit clients in the base, said they suspected the official accounts were "rubbish".
Camp officers said the incidents began early on Thursday morning in Camp 1, when an unconscious inmate was discovered in his cell. Nearly seven hours later, another detainee was found unconscious, both from taking anti-depressants which they had not been prescribed.
During the same period, another two men became ill - one from an adverse reaction to his medication and a second who over-dosed, allegedly in solidarity with the two unconscious men.
Five hours later, 10 inmates in another facility, a normally peaceful communal compound for "compliant" prisoners called Camp 4, allegedly provoked a confrontation with the prison's notorious "quick reaction force". When the 10-man force arrived, the authorities claim they were confronted by detainees wielding improvised weapons made from a broken lighting tube, large fan blades, CCTV cameras which had been ripped down from walls, and metal sheeting from buildings.
The floor of their shared bunkhouse had allegedly been slickened with urine, excrement and soapy water, leading to two guards slipping. The guards then used pepper-spray and rubber pellet shotgun blasts to subdue the detainees - five of whom were treated for minor injuries.
About midnight, an elderly detainee was hit with pepper spray and treated for minor injuries after inmates in another nearby camp staged a further demonstration. Several guards suffered "cuts, scrapes and bruises, just like a good football game," said Colonel Mike Burngarner, the base's chief of detention operations.
The authorities claim the disruption was designed to create further controversy about the camp, because inmates know Guantanamo Bay is the subject of intense legal and political controversy. Next month, the US Supreme Court is due to deliver a critical ruling on whether President Bush's administration can legally refuse to block legal hearings for the 460 inmates now there.
Col Burngarner told the Miami Herald that inmates believed three detainees would need to die in order to provoke a worldwide backlash intense enough to close the camp. Yesterday, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, repeated his demand for closure.
Mr Begg, who was seized by the CIA in Pakistan in 2002, said he was sceptical that inmates would be able to avoid the round-the-clock surveillance by CCTV cameras, foot patrols and watchtowers to make and hide weapons. Medical staff were also scrupulous about ensuring detainees swallowed their medication.
He added that electrical equipment such as fans and cameras were normally out of reach. "It's not like a Second World War prisoner of war camp where you can dig tunnels. There's so much security, day in, day out. Everything is logged, everything is watched, everything is scheduled," he said.
Second, the incident has also reinvigorated the hunger strike, which, as we discover in this Reuters article, was never completely suppressed:
One wonders, has the military turned to its old friend, the restraint chair, in yet another misguided attempt to restore order? Meanwhile, the European Union joined the calls of others, such as Lord Goldsmith, the British Attorney General, for the the closure of Guantanamo, because it is, as previously described in the antiseptic vocabulary of Tony Blair, an "anomaly":
Seventy-five prisoners at the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo were on a hunger strike on Monday, joining a few who have refused food and been force-fed since August, a military official said.
Cmdr. Robert Durand, a spokesman for the Guantanamo detention operation, called the hunger strike an attempt by the prisoners to gain media attention and pressure the United States to release about 460 men held there as enemy combatants.
Detainees are counted as hunger strikers if they miss nine consecutive meals, and most of the 75 hit that mark on Sunday, Durand said. Most are refusing food but continuing to drink liquids, he said.
One of the recent group is being force-fed through a tube inserted through the nose and into the stomach, as are three others who have been on a hunger strike since Aug. 8, Durand said.
Some day, this grotesque chamber of horrors, where detainees must be administered psychotropic medications to be kept alive in cages in the hot tropical Cuban sun, prevented from committing suicide through the intervention of guards and force fed through tubes agonizingly inserted through their noses while strapped into restraint chairs as they urinate and defecate upon themselves, awaiting sham military adjudications that never occur, will be closed. And, some day, the people who perpetrated these atrocities will return from Guantanamo to walk among us.
Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik urged the United States on Wednesday to close a prison for terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay as soon as possible, saying the detention of suspects there creates a legal vacuum.
Plassnik, speaking on behalf of the European Union, said the US naval base is seen as a "cause for concern" by EU member states, and called the prison an "anomaly."
"The US government must take the measures to close the camp as soon as possible," said Plassnik, whose country holds the six-month rotating EU presidency.
Monday, May 29, 2006
The latest accounts given to The Times paint a gruesome picture of events on November 19. About a quarter of an hour after the attack on Iman’s house, Mohammed Basit, 23, an engineering student, said that he watched as Marines entered the home of his neighbour, Salim Rasif, He peered from a window as the family, including Salim’s wife, sister-in-law and their five children, rushed into a bedroom.Even the editors of the New York Times have been compelled to get the story:
I saw them all gathering in their parents’ room, then we heard a bang which was most likely a hand grenade, then we heard shooting,” he said. Fearing for his life, he moved away from the window.
Throughout the next day the Americans cordoned off Salim and Iman’s homes, which are located about 20 metres apart. The next night Basit and his father slipped inside Salim’s house. “The blood was everywhere in Salim’s bedroom,” Basit said. “I saw organs and flesh on the ground and a liver on the bed. Blood splattered the ceiling. The bullet holes were in the walls and in different parts of the house.
Typically, upon the discovery of corroborating evidence developed by the US military, the Iraqi victims are no longer liars and collaborators with Islamic fundamentalists:
Hiba Abdullah said that after the killings in her father-in-law's home the American troops moved to the house of a neighbor, Younis Salim Nisaif. She said he was killed along with is wife, Aida, and Aida's sister, Huda. She said five children were also killed at that home, all between ages of 10 and 3.
There was one survivor, Safa Younis Salim, 13, who in an interview said she lived by faking her death. "I pretended that I was dead when my brother's body fell on me and he was bleeding like a faucet," she said. She said she saw American troops kick her family members and that one American shouted in the face of one relative before he was killed.
So, again, there is that unanswerable question: why are American troops still in Iraq?
One Haditha victim was an elderly man, close to 80 years old, killed in his wheelchair as he appeared to be holding a Koran, according to the United States defense official, who described information collected during the investigation. An elderly woman was also killed, as were a mother and a child who were "in what appeared to be a prayer position," the official said. Some victims had single gunshot wounds to the head, and at least one home where people were shot to death had no bullet marks on the walls, inconsistent with a clearing operation that would typically leave bullet holes, the official added.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
Such conduct necessarily leads to some rather disquieting speculation:
Photographs taken by American military intelligence have provided crucial evidence that up to 24 Iraqis were massacred by marines in Haditha, an insurgent stronghold on the banks of the Euphrates.
One portrays an Iraqi mother and young child, kneeling on the floor, as if in prayer. They have been shot dead at close range.
The pictures show other victims, shot execution-style in the head and chest in their homes. An American government official said they revealed that the marines involved had “suffered a total breakdown in morality and leadership”.
The killings are emerging as the worst known American atrocity of the Iraq war. At least seven women and three children were among those killed. Witness accounts obtained by The Sunday Times suggest the toll of children may be as high as six. “This one is ugly,” a US military official said.
Naturally, this raises the question yet again, in the most horrible terms imaginable, why are American troops still in Iraq? As I noted here in March, the explanations of liberal apologists for the occupation, whether agonizingly sincere or politically expedient, have already been embarassingly exposed as disconnected from reality, as both political parties have scurried away from any commitment to deploy troops to defend Iraqis from a civil war that threatens to engulf the country. In Haditha, our troops merely killed Iraqis directly on the ground as we have been doing in a more distanced, more depersonalized way from the air.
The incident is now being described as potentially the worst war crime since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, comparable to the Abu Ghraib scandal and reminiscent of the massacre of several hundred Vietnamese villagers at My Lai in 1968. But peace campaigners say the findings raise the prospect that other incidents reported to have involved the killing of "insurgents" actually involved the death of civilians. Andrew Murray, chair of the Stop the War Coalition, said: "It's clear that what happened in Haditha is a war crime. It would be idle to think this is the first war crime that has been committed in the last three years. It must be assumed that more of this is going on."
Haditha is just the most stark example of the primary accomplishment of the American invasion and occupation: the perpetual, indiscriminate infliction of death and destruction upon the people of Iraq. After 9/11, our appetite for the killing and dehumanization of Arabs has been insatiable, rationalized by the most transparently absurd justifications. Will the Marine gangsterism of Haditha finally exhaust this bloodlust?
Friday, May 26, 2006
With the approach of the Memorial Day weekend, I think it best to slip back into blogging gently with some holiday reading suggestions. First, consider this excellent article by James Petras, entitled, Latin America, the EU and the US: The New Polarities. Petras, as a radical supporter of the left transformation of the Americas, has consistently subjected the social movements attempting to achieve it to rigorous analysis and accountability instead of romanticizing them.
Here's an excerpt from the article that highlights his method:
There are many other geopolitical provocations in Petras' article. Again, if you are interested in reading it in its entirely, go here.
There are great many misunderstandings and confusion both on the Right and Left regarding the nature of the conflicts between Latin American nationalists and US/EU states and multinational corporations. The first point of clarification is over the nature of the nationalist measures adopted by President Chavez of Venezuela and President Morales of Bolivia. Both regimes have not abolished most of the essential elements of capitalist production, namely private profits, foreign ownership, profit repatriation, market access or supply of gas, energy or other primary goods, nor have they outlawed future foreign investments.
In fact Venezuela’s huge Orinoco heavy oil fields, the richest reserves of oil in the world, are still owned by foreign capital. The controversy over President Chavez’ radical economic measures revolves around a tax and royalty increase from less than 15% to 33% -- a rate which is still below what is paid by oil companies in Canada, the Middle East and Africa. What produced the stream of vitriolic froth from the US and British media (Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, etc) was not a comparative analysis of contemporary tax and royalty rates, but a retrospective comparison to the virtually tax-free past. In fact Chavez and Morales are merely modernizing and updating petrol-nation state relations to present world standards; in a sense they are normalizing regulatory relations in the face of exceptional or windfall profits, resulting from corrupt agreements with complicit state executive officials. The harsh reaction of the US and EU governments and their energy MNCs is a result of having become habituated to thinking that exceptional privileges were the norm of “capitalist development” rather than the result of venal officials. As a result, they resisted the normalization of capitalist relations in Venezuela and Bolivia in which state-private joint ventures and profit sharing are common practices in most capitalist countries.
It is not surprising that the president of Royal Dutch Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, advised his oil colleagues that the nationalist position of oil rich countries and their redrawing of contracts is a “new reality” that international energy companies have to accept. Van der Veer, the realist, puts the nationalist reforms in perspective: “In Venezuela we were one of the first to renegotiate. Under the circumstances we are quite satisfied we can work our future there. We have harmony with the government, which is very important. In Bolivia, I assume we will come to a solution.” (Financial Times, May 13, 2006 page 9) Likewise Pan Andean Resources (PAR), an Irish gas and energy company, stated it could successfully operate in Bolivia following Morales’ “nationalization” declaration. David Horgan, President of PAR, in justifying a joint venture in gas with the Bolivians, stated, “We don’t really care what precedents it [PAR’s gas agreement with the Bolivian state] sets. What the majors [big oil companies] see as a problem, we see as an opportunity.” (Financial Times, May 13, 2006, p9)
In fact, in Bolivia on May 29, 2006, the Morales government will announce the winning bid to the world’s biggest private mining companies competing to exploit state-owned Mutun with 40 billion tons of iron ore. The new terms of the Bolivian government as outlined by its principle ideologue, Vice President Linera, provides judicial and stable guarantees for all investments, in exchange for profit sharing and joint management schemes. Clearly the big mining corporations are part of the “realist” school of reaping big profits from strategic high-priced raw materials in exchange for paying higher taxes and including Bolivian technocrats in their management team.
The major points of conflict are not capitalism’s aversion to socialism, nor even private ownership versus nationalization of property, let alone social revolution leading to an egalitarian society. The major conflicts are over: 1) Increases in taxation, prices and royalty payments, 2) the conversion of firms to joint ventures, 3) representation on corporate boards of directors, 4) distribution of shareholdings between foreign appointed and state-appointed executives, 5) the legal right to revise contracts, 6) compensation payments for presumed assets, and 7) management of distribution and export sales.
These proposed regulations and reforms may increase state reserves and influence but none of these points of conflict involve a revolutionary transformation of property or social relations of production. The proposed changes are reforms, which resonate with the policies undertaken by European social democratic parties between the late 1940s-1960s and by most of the world’s oil producing countries in the 1970s, including Arab monarchies and Islamic and secular republics. In fact earlier political regimes in both Venezuela (1976) and Bolivia (1952 and 1968) took far more radical measures in nationalizing petroleum and other mining sectors.
Next, there is this fascinating piece by Iason Athanasiadis about Iranian measures to respond to an attack by the United States, Iran Oils Its War Machine, posted, of course, on the indispensable Asia Times Online site. It is wise to read such articles cynically, just as we would ones about US plans and preparations, but I must concede, they are irresistable. Is it real or is it Le Carre? Here's a passage to compel you to read further and decide:
Finally, there is the much maligned Pat Buchanan, who yet again proves, in a column entitled, Steering into a Third Intifida, that his personal bigotries do not impair his ability to recognize the perilous consequences of US foreign policy, in this instance, the abandonment of the Palestinians to the imperial aspirations of Israel in Jerusalem and the West Bank:
Accordingly, Iran has been quietly restructuring its military, while carrying out a series of military exercises testing its new military dogma. In December, more than 15,000 members of the regular armed forces participated in war games in northwestern Iran's strategically sensitive East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan border provinces that focused on irregular warfare carried out by highly mobile and speedy army units.
In another telling development, a second exercise was launched in the majority-Arab province of Khuzestan, reportedly aimed at quelling insurgencies in areas subject to ethnic unrest and prone to foreign influence. Involving 100,000 troops, the exercise provided a taste of how the Islamic Republic would respond to further disturbances in the strategic, oil-rich province.
The exercise came on the heels of news that the irregular Basij forces that led Iran's offensives against Iraq were being bolstered by so-called Ashura battalions with riot-control training.
It is all part of a fundamental transition that Iran's Revolutionary Guard (RG) is undergoing as it moves away from focusing on waging its defense of the country on the borders - unrealistic in view of the vast territory that requires securing and the gulf separating Iranian and US military capabilities - and toward drawing the enemy into the heartland and defeating it with asymmetrical tactics.
For more, especially Buchanan's concluding prediction as to the outcome, written in his inimitable style, go here. Don't hesitate to post your own holiday reading recommendations.
The West Bank wall will soon encompass all of the suburbs of Jerusalem for miles around. Palestine will be divided into three parts: Gaza and two enclaves on the West Bank. There will be no Palestinian official presence in Jerusalem. No viable nation.
Meanwhile, America will be called upon for new sums of money to subsidize the Sharon-Olmert Plan, even as we are prodded to do our duty and emasculate Iran.
As Olmert is the pilot setting the course, and Bush has signed on as crew to his "bold ideas," our destination is easy to foresee.
The United States alone will recognize Israel's new borders, and her annexations of the West Bank and Arab East Jerusalem as Israel's exclusive capital. Israel will ask for and the United States will accede to Israel's request that we commit ourselves militarily to defend Israel's new frontiers. No Arab government will recognize the new borders. America's Arab friends will be further estranged.
Also, sorry for the lack of posting lately...
Monday, May 15, 2006
Apparently Perle was doing an interview with PBS coincidentally shot right on top of the speakers rostrum of yesterdays Eyes Wide Open demonstration and was forced to answer questions from Iraq Veterans Against the War members and Gold Star Family members.
Here' the link ... Swanson took pictures.
Friday, May 12, 2006
Despite receiving no coverage in the US, a bloody drama is unfolding south of the border. In the current Latin American climate of a radicalized mainstream and against a local backdrop of a hotly contested election and the Zapatistas' "other campaign" a small Mexican town has exploded in violence.
On May 3rd state police attacked unlicensed street vendors in the town of Atenco. The vendors had ignored police warnings and counted on support from local land rights activists to resist the police. What began as a pretty standard state-vs.-squatters type struggle escalated into a mini-revolution as the activists defeated the initial police assault. Mainstream press accounts state some fifty cops were injured, one gravely, and six were taken hostage. The hostages were later released to the Red Cross, but the police ratcheted up the violence in "retaking" Atenco -- they turned the situation into a bloodbath by basically attacking the general population of the town.
Three-thousand police reportedly executed a house to house sweep, smashing windows and breaking down doors. Foreign journalists were beaten and later deported, and two dozen detained women report rapes and sexual abuse. The BBC reported "television images of police beating bound demonstrators." Quetzal Belmont writes in NarcoNews of "200 people arrested; others beaten, injured, and disappeared; and the death of 14-year-old Javier Cortés", of a 20-year-old economics student now in a coma, and compares the situation to a witch hunt.
Spanish human rights activist María Sastres described the assault as follows:
We came to Mexico to work with indigenous communities in Chiapas, and later joined the Other Campaign, to work as human rights observers and photographers. When we found out what was happening in Atenco, we went there. We arrived at night and saw that the town was already surrounded by barricades. The police entered at about 6:00 AM. [...]
There were 3,000 police, and there were 300 of us. They came after us with everything: tear gas, bullets, everything. We ran all over town, trying to get away from the police, but there wasn’t a single street without police. But finally, a woman opened her door and let us hide in her house with eight other people.
[After hiding in the woman's house for two hours] We could hear that the police were starting to bang on doors, supposedly looking for the police who had been taking hostage. That’s how they finally found us and grabbed us. They pushed our faces into the dirt. They covered our faces with hoods, and they bound our hands right there in the yard. They were asking for our names, they recorded us on video, and that’s when the first insults and beatings began.
While the mainstream press blames the violence on the Zapatistas; for example, a Houston Chronicle editorial informs us,
Since last week, when Spanish-language television aired extensive, horrifying footage of the violence, Mexicans have been trying to work out where this event fits in a country in which political violence has faded. The short answer may lie in nearby Mexico City, where 1990s rebel leader Subcomandante Marcos arrived for a May 1 march that may have inspired the vendors and their friends to riot.
Simon Fitzgerald of La Luchita places Atenco in context in a less biased and cartoonish manner:
Why in San Salvador Atenco?
The populace of the area had already been radicalized and organized in 2002 when the local, state and federal governments wanted to confiscate the farmlands of Atenco in order to build a new airport for Mexico City. During that fight, the people waged a popular campaign of struggle when it became clear that all three levels of government were colluding against them. Their marches, yielding machetes as symbols of their rural labor, were met with police violence. After police detained, beat and arrested marchers, one slipped into a coma and died from lack of treatment in police custody.
Narco News has a two part series on the 2002 confrontations here and here. There is also a video at Salon Chingon.
Furthermore, activists from Atenco had been participating in the Zapatista's "Other Campaign," the attack on the vendors (who are becoming an important yet marginalized part of the new "post-Fordist" economy and have been important in other political organizing such as the Bolivian uprising that swept Evo Morales into power) came as Marcos was arriving in Mexico City.
While the Zapatistas' spokesperson Marcos (or Delegate Zero) is promising to remain in Mexico, D.F. until the detained people of Atenco are freed (even if it keeps him there through the elections). Meanwhile mass media like the BBC areforecastingg more election violence based on the Atenco experience.
While perhaps attempting to marginalize the "Other Campaign," the Mexicangovernmentt may be giving it legitimacy. As the Zapatistas call for all of its supporters to open a campaign of non violent resistance on behalf of the people of Atenco, there actions may be winning them alliances and earning them relevance beyond theindigenouss enclaves of rural Chiapas.
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
I never attended UC Berkeley, but I visited Cody's frequently, and bought many books there, often before or after I watched a film over at the nearby Pacific Film Archive. For example, just last week, I found a rarity, a recently released English translation of Fumiko Hayashi's 1951 novel, Floating Clouds, subsequently made into one of the great Japanese films by Mikio Naruse, just before going over to the Archive to watch the next to last screening of the San Francisco International Film Festival, Bashing.
Cody's Books, the venerable independent bookstore that has served generations of UC Berkeley students, has announced that it will close its flagship store on the south side of campus because of declining sales and competition from chain stores and the Internet.
The store, on Telegraph Avenue, will close its doors on July 10 after 43 years. "We have lost over $1 million attempting to keep the store open,'' said owner Andy Ross. "As a family business, we cannot continue to afford these ruinous losses.''
Ross said the store had been losing money for 15 years and that pressure from chain stores and the Internet had contributed to an "economic concentration in bookselling'' that was forcing out independent stores like Cody's.
"We leave Telegraph with great sadness but with a sense of honor that we have served our customers and community with distinction,'' Ross said.
Of course, it is easy to find and purchase these books over the Internet as Ross observes. But, for me, there just isn't the same delight of discovery. I still recall the excitement of finding Ronald Fraser's riveting oral history of the Spanish Civil War, Blood of Spain, there in the late 1980s. Likewise, as a fan of the prodigal son of the New German Cinema, Thomas Elsaesser's essential Fassbinder's Germany. I could go through my library, and probably identify at least a third of my books as having been purchased at Cody's on Telegraph. A magical collection of novels, histories, biographies and social works that one almost never encounters at Borders and Barnes and Noble. July 10th is the last day of business.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
Another sign that an invasion is on the way ... Richard Perle has cast the part of Iranian Chalabi. He's been chatting up Amir Abbas Fakhravar, an Iranian dissident, who is apparently pretty taken with Perle:
Mr.Fakhravar yesterday was effusive in his praise of Mr. Perle, who has been a target of anti-war critics who have dubbed him the "prince of darkness" for his part in conceiving the intellectual foundations of the Iraq war.
The Iranian author does not share this view. "In my eyes I saw the prince of light, not the prince of darkness," Mr. Fakhravar said. "I could see in his eyes he is worried for our people as well as the American people and this is very important and this is very special. Of course, Mr. Perle has the interest of the American people at heart. And I have the interest of the Iranian people at heart. But there is a common goal and interest."
Someone please gag me...
In true "sweets and flowers" Chalabi-mode Fakhravar recently assured readers of National Review Online that it is a "100% false" that Iranians will "resent" an attack:
Please don't ever say that the people of Iran are going to have resentment or anger in their hearts toward America or Western countries for doing this. That is 100 percent false. To see this, all you need to do is contact some Iranians inside the major cities. Just send your journalists to interview the people in the streets and ask them. It was Saturday [February 4] that the people here found out that Iran was going before the [U.N.] Security Council, and there was celebration all over Tehran
So if the US nukes Iran ... will the nukes be greeted as liberators or just viewed as "heroes in error"?
Chait calls the Kos/Atrios wing "left-wing activists." Marshall Wittman more colorfully calls them "McGovernites with modems." But this is a serious misreading. In fact, if I have a problem with the Kossite wing of the blogosphere, it's the fact that they aren't especially left wing. Markos in particular specifically prides himself on caring mostly about winning elections, not fighting ideological battles.
Drum is, of course, right -- Markos is only interested in electing Democrats, but maybe Kevin "I supported the invasion of Iraq because Ken Pollack is real smart" Drum should, you know, take a look in the mirror.
Monday, May 08, 2006
Could you explain your position on "speciesism," and what this has to do with your call to "expand the circle"?
The argument, in essence, is that we have, over centuries of history, expanded the circle of beings whom we regard as morally significant. If you go back in time you'll find tribes that were essentially only concerned with their own tribal members. If you were a member of another tribe, you could be killed with impunity. When we got beyond that there were still boundaries to our moral sphere, but these were based on nationality, or race, or religious belief. Anyone outside those boundaries didn't count. Slavery is the best example here. If you were not a member of the European race, if you were African, specifically, you could be enslaved. So we got beyond that. We have expanded the circle beyond our own race and we reject as wrongful the idea that something like race or religion or gender can be a basis for claiming another being's interests count less than our own.
So the argument is that this is also an arbitrary stopping place; it's also a form of discrimination, which I call "speciesism," that has parallels with racism. I am not saying it's identical, but in both cases you have this group that has power over the outsiders, and develops an ideology that says, Those outside our circle don't matter, and therefore we can make use of them for our own convenience.
That is what we have done, and still do, with other species. They're effectively things; they're property that we can own, buy and sell. We use them as is convenient and we keep them in ways that suit us best, producing products we want at the cheapest prices. So my argument is simply that this is wrong, this is not justifiable if we want to defend the idea of human equality against those who have a narrower definition. I don't think we can say that somehow we, as humans, are the sole repository of all moral value, and that all beings beyond our species don't matter. I think they do matter, and we need to expand our moral consideration to take that into account.
But I'm a hypocrite in good company ... here's Chomsky making the exact same point as Singer above while admitting that he's not a vegetarian: (from an old interview with Z's Michael Albert)
MA: You're an animal rights activist?
NC: I think it's a serious question. To what extent do we have a right to torture animals? I think it's a very good thing that that question ...
NC: Experiments are torturing animals, let's say. That's what they are. So to what extent do we have a right to torture animals for our own good? I think that's not a trivial question.
MA: What about eating?
NC: Same question.
MA: Are you a vegetarian?
NC: I'm not, but I think it's a serious question. If you want my guess, my guess would be that ...
MA: A hundred years from now everyone will be.
NC: I don't know if it's a hundred years, but it seems to me if history continues--that's not at all obvious, that it will--but if society continues to develop without catastrophe on something like the course that you can sort of see over time, I wouldn't be in the least surprised if it moves toward vegetarianism and protection of animal rights. In fact, what we've seen over the years--and it's hard to be optimistic in the twentieth century, which is one of the worst centuries in human history in terms of atrocities and terror and so on--but still, over the years, including the twentieth century, there is a widening of the moral realm, bringing in broader and broader domains of individuals who are regarded as moral agents.
MA: Nothing could be happening to that underlying, wired-in, inate, intrinsic character... That can't be changing.
NC: No, but it can get more and more realized. You can get a better and better understanding of it. We're self-conscious beings. We're not rocks. And we can get more and more understanding of our own nature, not because we read a book about it. The book doesn't have anything to tell you, because nobody knows anything. But just through experience, including historical experience, which is part of our own personal experience because it's embedded in our culture, which we enter into.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
A doctor working at one of the larger hospitals in Baghdad recently called it a "camp" because the courtyard of the hospital is constantly filled with members of the Shia Badr militia, who continue to carry out their death squad activities of killing Sunnis and rival Shia. "The Badr are all over the hospital, looking for people," said the doctor. "The injured brought here sometimes die before even reaching the ward, because the Badr are being obstacles for us. One of the men running our morgue was killed by the Badr. My friends are warning me to be careful, to keep my mouth shut."
The numbers are being hidden … and the Badr, operating out of the Ministry of Interior, which is funded by the US, are making sure the numbers remain shrouded.
Yet on Tuesday of this week, a spokesman at that same hospital, speaking on condition of anonymity of course, announced that in the last 48 hours alone Yarmouk Hospital had received 65 bodies, most of them slaughtered by death squads in execution-style murders. That day they had received 40 bodies, and Monday, 25. [ ... ]
This past Saturday I received information from the main morgue in Baghdad from a doctor there, name withheld for security reasons. "Yesterday we received 36 bodies from the police pickups. All of them are unknown, without IDs, and we don't have refrigerators to put them in since all of ours are completely full already. So we had to keep them on the ground. 12 of them were handcuffed, most of them received between 2 and 10 bullets, some many more than 10. We are not going to put them into biopsy. Reason for their death is known. Most of them are between 20 to 30 years … This is the number that was brought directly to us in one day, plus there are the dead who are sent to the hospitals. They will be put in the hospitals' morgues. We don't receive bodies from hospitals nowadays, because we don't have a place to keep them. I can't tell the exact number of killed people now, but it depends on the situation. But what I can assure you of is that since the shrine explosion, deaths have almost doubled. Daily, we receive between 70 to 80 bodies … you can see within these 40 minutes that I've talked with you, we received 9 bodies. Nearly every morning the count will be doubled twice this number, for the police find them at night. Most are either found in the streets or killed without sending them to hospitals. Four days ago we received 24 bodies in just 2 hours."
Monday, May 01, 2006
Some people say the compromise bill in the Senate is the best that we can expect and at least a positive step, as opposed to the Sensenbrenner bill. Do you agree?
The Senate version has Sensenbrenner-type measures embodied in it, and therefore, we find this completely unacceptable and tantamount to compromising the social interests of all immigrants and all workers. I’m not convinced that this is the best that we can get or hope for.
You get from life what you are ready to fight for. This is the message we have constantly conveyed to our base, and they have internalized this. They are ready and willing to fight for the whole enchilada. Why not? They have nothing to lose.
What would be the effect of the three tiers in the Hegel-Martinez proposal?
The three-tier legalization program offered by Hegel-Martinez in the Senate is a codified caste system--a sort of bantu apartheid system that is tacitly un-American and unacceptable. It would result in the complete division of families, and that’s why our families find it so repugnant and unacceptable.
However, our greatest fear is that the Democratic Party will be unwilling to make a complete fight to oppose this version--in its haste to make a deal and impede the growth of this new civil rights movement.
Second, there are already national “Hispanic” and other advocacy organizations moving in the direction of softening their position on the question. This is a danger that we must prevent.