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'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Friday, June 30, 2006

The Debasement of the Medical Profession 

Yesterday, Democracy Now! presented a riveting interview with Dr. Steven Miles, a medical ethicist, about the involvement of medical professionals in the purported "war on terror". I encourage people to click on the link and read the transcript of the interview in its entirety, but here are some disturbing excerpts which bring to mind Hannah Arendt's famous insight about the banality of evil, the tendency of ordinary people to obey orders and conform to mass opinion without critically thinking about the results of their action or inaction:

DR. STEVEN MILES: Well, one of the most famous pictures from Abu Ghraib, of course, is the body of Monadel Jamadi wrapped in ice. He was arrested at his home and put up a fight. He was then bound. He was flipped into a Humvee. He was kicked and beaten and hit with a rifle butt while he was transported to Camp Jenny Pozzi, just outside of Baghdad. There, a medic was in the room, as he was saying, “I can't breathe. I feel like I'm going to die.” He was interrogated briefly at Camp Jenny Pozzi. At that point, he was taken to Abu Ghraib.

He was admitted to Abu Ghraib in the early hours of the morning. He was admitted as a CIA ghost prisoner. Now, what this meant was that he was not given the customary medical enrollment. In fact, he wasn’t registered in the prison at all.

He was naked. He was cold. He was complaining of shortness of breath. His head was in a sandbag, and then he was tied to -- his wrists were tied together behind his back and then lifted up and tied to a window bar behind him, so that if he sank down, that his shoulders would be wrenched. And, in fact, about an hour later, he did sink down. Now, keep in mind the man was in a sandbag over his head, and he was found to have died.

Now, at that point the army did an autopsy, but the autopsy was concealed, as was the death certificate. It did find that he died of torture. And, in fact, the first time we learned of this case was about six months after it happened. By concealing this, what the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology and the Defense Department did was, they delayed public knowledge of a profound problem inside the prisons and essentially disabled an early warning system about torture.

Apparently psychiatrists and psychologists have, in some instances, been willing participants in the application of brutal torture techniques:

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Gerald Koocher, President of the American Psychological Association a few weeks ago on Democracy Now! The New York Times wrote a piece a few weeks ago saying that the military is turning away from psychiatrists, because of their policy that they should not be involved with interrogations, and is now relying on psychologists. You heard what Dr. Gerald Koocher had to say. There’s a growing movement within the American Psychological Association for psychologists to withhold dues from the American Psychological Association, to withdraw from the APA, and the question of whether there will be a resolution put forward that says “no involvement in interrogation.” What is your response to Koocher and that?

DR. STEVEN MILES: Well, I think that it’s interesting that Koocher talks about the psychologists who did resist the abuses and then says that the ones who participated have to be APA members, or something like that. But there actually is a well-known name, a psychologist by the name of Leso. And Leso participated in the interrogation of a guy called Qahtani. Qahtani was subjected to an incredibly brutal and extended interrogation, which included such stupid things as running three liters of saline into his body, and then when he needed to urinate, keeping him strapped to a table so he had to pee on himself. And then also he was chilled with an air conditioner to the point where his heart actually slowed down. He was hospitalized, and then he was brought out to be interrogated some more after he was re-warmed, and then he was chilled again, and his heart again slowed down.

In addition to that there was a whole set of degrading psychological techniques applied to him, and it appears that this Leso was directly involved in the oversight of that. The complete interrogation log is available on the Time website.

So, the problem -- overall problem, though, is that American medicine was entirely caught off guard by the American military involvement in brutal treatment. This does represent a break in terms of our treatment of POWs compared to World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War I. And the AMA and the American Psychiatric Association have come out with very good standards, but the problem is they waited four years to do so.

Meanwhile, in other news, the Washington Post reports that the US military is investigating a case involving soldiers who may have raped an Iraqi woman, and then killed her and three other family members. As you might have guessed: The four soldiers involved, from the 502nd Infantry Regiment, attempted to burn the family's home to the ground and blamed insurgents for the carnage, according to a military official familiar with the investigation, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was providing details not released publicly.

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Thursday, June 29, 2006

UPDATE: The Human Dimension of the Supreme Court's Guantanamo Decision 

Some background context as to why the Supreme Court decision, discussed here earlier today, is important:

A Bahraini detainee at Guantanamo Bay can barely stand or exercise after being subjected to painful force-feeding in an effort to make him abandon his hunger strike, his lawyers claimed yesterday. Isa Al Murbati revealed the problems during a meeting with his lawyers at the maximum-security facility in January, but notes taken by his representatives have only just been declassified.

They say other than being offered the drug Motrin, which was tried and did not work, the 42-year-old prisoner has not received any treatment for his injuries.

"During our earlier visit in January, Isa had described being subjected to painful forced feeding in a successful effort to make him abandon his hunger strike," said legal team head Joshua Colangelo-Bryan.

"Isa has been held in Camp One since the time that he was forced from the hunger strike.

"Isa has experienced pain in his knees and shoulders as a result of the rough treatment he received from an Immediate Response Force during the forced feeding.

"Also, his legs are swollen, making it difficult to bend, stand or exercise. Isa is allowed to exercise two times per week. The lawyer said his client became emotional when given information about his family.

"Isa was very interested in hearing news about our trip to Bahrain and our visit with his family," he said.

"I told Isa that we had met with his three sons and that one of his sons had promised him a cake when he returns home.

"I told Isa that one of his sons had asked him to call home, which of course is not possible.

"Isa began to cry when I shared this news with him.

"I told him that many people in Bahrain are working to bring him home, but I do wish that I could have had told him something more concrete in order to comfort him."

Mr Al Murbati is one of three Bahrainis currently being held in Guantanamo Bay along with Salah Abdulrasool Al Blooshi, 24, and Juma Al Dossary, 32, who has attempted suicide 13 times since his incarceration. They are approaching their fifth year of detention at the facility without a trial.

Presumably, the application of the Geneva Convention to Isa Al Murbati, Salah Abdulrasool Al Blooshi and Juma Al Dossary, if enforced, would require that they receive more humane housing and medical treatment, as well as being allowed to communicate with their families.

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A Constitutional Crisis? 

The Supreme Court has ruled that the use of military tribunals to try terror suspects at Guantanamo is unconstitutional, potentially taking the US political system into uncharted territory:

The Supreme Court today delivered a sweeping rebuke to the Bush administration, ruling that the military tribunals it created to try terror suspects violate both American military law and the Geneva Convention.

In a 5-to-3 ruling, the justices also rejected an effort by Congress to strip the court of jurisdiction over habeas corpus appeals by detainees at the prison camp in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

And the court found that the plaintiff in the case, Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a former driver for Osama bin Laden, could not be tried on the conspiracy charge lodged against him because international military law requires that prosecutions focus on specific acts, not broad conspiracy charges.

Clearly, the Supreme Court is expressing its exasperation with the indefinite detention of people outside the jurisdiction of American and international law, most strongly in its refusal to accept congressional action stripping it of the authority to hear habeas corpus petitions filed by Guantanamo detainees. The Court is sending an unequivocal message to the federal court system to stop evading the issuance of decisions on the merits through procedural subterfuges.

Much of the media coverage today suggests that the Bush Administration will seize upon the decision as an opportunity to extricate itself from the criticism associated with Guantanamo and move towards closing it. Perhaps. If so, it would constitute a radical departure from the administration's effort to concentrate all power in the executive, and thus, I remain dubious. Furthermore, the right has a history of running against the Supreme Court, with the so-called "pro-life" movement being the most obvious, but not the only, instance.

No doubt Karl Rove is familiar with this history. The temptation to step into the shoes of Andrew Jackson and George Wallace must be great. If Bush obstructs compliance with the ruling of the Court, what happens next? Will the federal judiciary issue orders requiring it? If Bush stalls, will the judiciary demand immediate action on behalf of the rights of the detainees, now much more comprehensive in light of the application of the Geneva Convention? And, if the judiciary does so, how will such orders be enforced against a President who declares that he remains free to disregard bills that he signs into law? What is to prevent him from treating the judiciary in a similar fashion?

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Monday, June 26, 2006

101st Airborne, Neoliberal Division 

From the Financial Times:

Future supplies of oil from Latin America are at risk because of the spread of resource nationalism, a study by the US military that reflects growing concerns in the US administration over energy security has found.

An internal report prepared by the US military’s Southern Command and obtained by the Financial Times follows a recent US congressional investigation that warned of the US’s vulnerability to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s repeated threats to “cut off” oil shipments to the US. The Southern Command analysis cautions that the extension of state control over energy production in several countries is deterring investment essential to increase and sustain oil output in the long term.

“A re-emergence of state control in the energy sector will likely increase inefficiencies and, beyond an increase in short-term profits, will hamper efforts to increase long-term supplies and production,” the report said. So far this year, Venezuela has moved to double the level of taxes levied on oil production units operated by multinationals, Bolivia has nationalised its oil and gas fields, and Ecuador has seized several oilfields from Occidental Petroleum, the largest foreign oil company in the country.

The report also noted that oil production in Mexico, which faces elections next weekend, is stagnating because of constitutional restrictions on foreign investment.

This is a fascinating story, because it suggests that the US military is adopting the doctrine that a rejection of neoliberal economic policies, as in Venezuela and Bolivia, constitutes a threat to the US justifying military action, especially when it involves oil and natural gas production.

Otherwise, why would the Southern Command be undertaking studies of Venezuelan tax policy, Bolivian nationalization and Ecuadorian oil field seizures? In 1942, the Wehrmacht felt compelled to seize the oil fields of the Caucasus. Does the US military perceive a similar urgency when it comes to the oil and natural gas of Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and, the great unmentionable . . Iran? And, if so, to what extent has the loss of the war in Iraq, and the inability to open Iraqi oil fields to US investment and exploitation, accelerated this sense of urgency?

Finally, as an aside, observe that the article references the military's concern that Chavez has threatened to stop oil exports to the US, without clarifying that Chavez has consistently conditioned such threats upon a US military attack. If Chavez was inclined to stop exports because of policy differences with the US, he has certainly passed on several opportunities to do so. It is tiresome to have to repeat the obvious, but it becomes necessary when both the media and the military persist in creating the false impression that Chavez has threatened to stop oil exports for any reason other than self-defense.

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Saturday, June 24, 2006

Return to Jim Crow? 

Greg Palast nailed it in the Guardian:

Don't kid yourself: the Republican party's decision yesterday to "delay" the renewal of the Voting Rights Act has not a darn thing to do with objections of the Republican's white sheets caucus. Complaints by a couple of good ol' boys to legislation have never stopped the GOP leadership from rolling over dissenters.

This is a strategic stall that is meant to decriminalise the Republican party's new game of challenging voters of colour by the hundreds of thousands.

In the 2004 presidential race, the GOP ran a massive, multi-state, multimillion-dollar operation to challenge the legitimacy of black, Hispanic and Native American voters. The methods used breached the Voting Rights Act, and while the Bush administration's civil rights division grinned and looked the other way, civil rights lawyers began circling, preparing to sue to stop the violations of the act before the 2008 race. . . .

In the 2004 election, more than 3 million voters were challenged at the polls. No one had seen anything like it since the era of Jim Crow and burning crosses. In 2004, voters were told their registrations had been purged or that their addresses were "suspect".

Denied the right to the regular voting booths, these challenged voters were given "provisional" ballots. More than 1m of these provisional ballots (1,090,729 of them) were tossed in the electoral dumpster uncounted.

A funny thing about those ballots: about 88% were cast by minority voters.

This is an issue of life or death for the Democratic Party, and, indeed, for the preseverance of any opposition to the efforts of the Republicans to create a one party state, yet, one wonders whether it will do anything beyond obligatory votes in Congress. This is much bigger than Diebold, but doesn't generate anywhere near the level of grassroots activity that the use of electronic voting machines has done.

Middle and upper middle class liberals have tended to focus exclusively upon Diebold, despite Palast's past revelations about how the Republicans prevailed in Ohio (and possibly elsewhere) through reliance upon tried and true methods to disenfranchise poor people and people of color:

Step 1: "Spoiling" ballots -- 1,389,231 of them. In the vote-count game, these are called "undervotes" and "overvotes." You can recognize these lost ballots by their hanging chads, punch cards without punches (an Ohio specialty), paper ballots eaten by scanners, and touch screens that didn't know you touched them.

Step 2: Rejecting "provisional ballots"-- 1,090,729 in this pile. Voters finding themselves at the "wrong" precinct, or wrongly "scrubbed" from voter rolls get these back-of-the-bus ballots first inaugurated in 2002. In '04, provisional ballots were passed out like candy to voters in the poorest precincts. They handed them out -- then threw them away -- one million dumped in all. In Ohio, Republican Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell changed state rules, allowing him to toss out the ballots of legal voters who cast ballots in the wrong precinct although these citizens were told their vote would count after confirming their registration.

Step 3: Not counting absentee ballots -- 526,420 of them. At least, that's what we figure from official stats. But it's anyone's guess how many mailed-in votes were dumped. (However, in one case, in Palm Beach, Florida, Jeb Bush's candidate for Elections Supervisor, Theresa LaPore, counted more absentee votes than absentee ballots mailed in. Not the brightest bulb in the vote-fix biz, that Theresa.)

Step 4: Scrub'm, Purge'm, Block'm. These are the voters who never got to vote at all. This group includes those who found their registrations were never entered on the voter rolls. In Ohio, about one-fourth of those registered by Jesse Jackson's 2004 voter drive, found their registrations delayed beyond the election date or lost.

Add to this un-voter group, those who were wrongly "scrubbed" from registries as "felons." For example, there was Bernice Kines, purged in Florida in 2004 because she was convicted of a felony on July 31, 2009. I repeat: 2009. There was something especially odd about the Ohio felon purge: ex-cons are ALLOWED to vote in that state, Mr. Blackwell.

How many lost their chance to vote by scrubbing, purging and blocking? That's anyone's guess, but one million would not be an unfair estimate -- and that's not included in the 3.6 million tally of ballots uncounted.

Furthermore, there is more mischief concealed within new voter identification laws:

And there's some new tricks for these old dogs. For the 2006 and 2008, the GOP is pushing new Voter ID requirements. Your signature won't be good enough anymore.

What's wrong with the new ID laws? This: in the 2004 election, 300,000 voters were turned away from the polls for "wrong" ID. For example, in the "Little Texas" counties in New Mexico, if your voter registration included a middle initial but your driver's license had none, you were kicked out of the polling station. Funny, but they only seemed to ask Hispanic voters. We should see the number of voters rejected for ID to quintuple by 2008 based on the new "voting reform" laws recently passed in several states.

By the time the Diebold machines are tossed onto the scrap heap, the Republicans will have created an electorate that has been permamently shaped to its advantage. Or, to be more precise, and hence, less hyperbolic, we can be fairly sure that the Republicans have accomplished their goal when they agree to paper ballot receipts and sharing of source software.

Palast, along with the Congressional Black Caucus, have been voices in the wilderness in their efforts to highlight the consequences of such mass disenfranchisement. Perhaps, it is time to put Sherlock Holmes on the case. After all, he solved a similar mystery about a dog that didn't bark.

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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Newspapers Are Dying: Reason #26 

The terminally ill newspaper business continues to display any lack of insight into its condition. According to peacefire.org, an anti-Internet censorship website:
Reporters working in the L.A. Times have informed me that Internet access in their newsrooms is filtered, although we haven't determined what program they're using. In the L.A. bureau, reporters can't access sites like Playboy.com and are also blocked from accessing Peacefire.org, and I had to give a reporter the address of a Circumventor site so that he could get to our home page. In the San Francisco bureau, the filtering is apparently less restrictive, since Peacefire.org and Playboy.com are accessible, but the more hard-core Penthouse.com is not.

It's the first time I've heard of blocking software being used in the newsroom of a major newspaper, so I wanted to tell the reporters on this list -- except that, you know what would be, like, really funny, is that we should keep it secret from the idealistic young high school newspaper reporter who is dreaming of the day she'll escape from the censorious clutches of her school, and get a job as a real reporter for the L.A. Times.

You can't make stuff up like this. I especially enjoyed the humorous wrinkle about how the San Francisco bureau is subject to less restrictive filtering than Los Angeles. I guess they were fearful that the natives of the Barbary Coast would get restless if they clamped down too hard.

HAT TIP to LA Observed and Boing Boing, which have more information about this episode.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Libertarians Show the Way Forward 

Frustrated with the inability of the Democratic Party within the two party to express a principled alternative to the expansionist policies of the Bush presidency?

Dismayed with the passivity of progressives in the face of bipartisan congressional support for the occupation of Iraq and a possible war with Iran?

Shackled by the crackpot realism that dominates the discourse of American foreign policy within the liberal blogosphere?

Nature abhors a vacuum, as they say, so the libertarians are filling it, with the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy. Consider this event in DC tomorrow which, if one encountered it on the agenda of an organization aligned with the Democratic Party, like say, MoveON.org, would surely cause one to faint:

June 14, 2006

The Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy Presents:

Right Against War with Iran

The speakers include:

Ivan Eland (Independent Institute)
"The United States Might Have to Accept a Nuclear Iran."

Philip Giraldi (former CIA officer, partner in Cannistraro Associates):
"Iran: Same Bad Intelligence, Same Catastrophic Results"

Doug Bandow (Liberty Coalition):
"Another War: Another Attack on Civil Liberties"

Chuck Pena (Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy):
"Refocusing the War on Terrorism"

When: Wednesday, June 21st 2006
Where: 122 Cannon House Office Building
Time: 2 p.m.-3 p.m.

If you have any questions please call Michael D. Ostrolenk, Policy Fellow, Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy at 301-717-0599, or michaeldostrolenk@gmail.com.

No doubt a lot of people in DC have many questions for them, starting with, why are the speakers allowed out in public? Aren't they subject to home detention, with monitoring of all of their electronic communications by the Department of Homeland Security, with weekly reports issued to the Dick Cheney, Bill Frist and Harry Reid? I mean, really, how are such affronts to good taste through the discussion of such shocking topics tolerated?

It gets worse, much worse:

The Perils of Empire
Statement of Principles
by the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy:

Against the backdrop of an ever-bloodier conflict in Iraq, American foreign policy is moving in a dangerous direction toward empire.

Worrisome imperial trends are apparent in the Bush administration's National Security Strategy. That document pledges to maintain America's military dominance in the world, and it does so in a way that encourages other nations to form countervailing coalitions and alliances. We can expect, and are seeing now, multiple balances of power forming against us. People resent and resist domination, no matter how benign.

We are a diverse group of scholars and analysts from across the political spectrum who believe that the move toward empire must be halted immediately. We are united by our desire to turn American national security policy toward realistic and sustainable measures for protecting U.S. vital interests in a manner that is consistent with American values.

The need for a change in direction is particularly urgent because imperial policies can quickly gain momentum, with new interventions begetting new dangers and, thus, the demand for further actions. If current trends are allowed to continue, we may well end up with an empire that most Americans-especially those whose sons and daughters are, or will be, sent into harm's way-don't really favor. The issue must be the subject of a broad public debate. The time for debate is now.

The time for debate is now?? Don't these people understand that the national political leadership of both parties have decided that there is never to be any public discussion of these kind of issues? No, past history shows that these people are incorrigible:

The Perils of Occupation
October 28, 2004

In this election season, we still need a realistic debate over the most costly and dangerous American foreign policy action in recent history: the military occupation of Iraq. We are a diverse group of scholars, analysts and former government officials from across the political spectrum who believe that the use of military force to direct the internal affairs of other nations is detrimental to American national security.

We question the new conventional wisdom, which proclaims the need for the United States to "stay the course" in Iraq by maintaining a substantial army on the ground. It is reminiscent of last year's conventional wisdom, which uncritically accepted the need for an invasion to eliminate Saddam Hussein's "weapons of mass destruction." The experience of the past year and a half has demonstrated that instead of producing stability, the presence of American troops inside Iraq is a continuing incitement to nationalist insurgency and regional upheaval.

Note that this statement against the occupation of Iraq was issued on October 28, 2004. How many lives, both American and Iraqi, might have been saved if such sane advice were followed?

Speaking as someone on the left, the program of the Coalition for a Realistic Foreign Policy could be significantly improved. But the renunciation of our continued efforts to assert imperial control over much of the rest of the world is essential, and the efforts of the Coalition to provide a political and ideological framework for it is worthy of praise, and will, ultimately, be more historically significant than the efforts of American liberals to analyze the Iraq war as merely a tactical failure in order to preserve the fundamental necessity for an ongoing US global military presence.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

World Cup: US 0, Iran 0 

Has the approach of summer dissipated the war fever of the spring? Or, are we going through the same twists and turns that marked the inevitable movement towards the war in Iraq? Consider this article from today's Washington Post. By publishing it, the Post implicitly concedes that US policy towards Iran has been regime change, as well as raising a number of other interesting questions:

Just after the lightning takeover of Baghdad by U.S. forces three years ago, an unusual two-page document spewed out of a fax machine at the Near East bureau of the State Department. It was a proposal from Iran for a broad dialogue with the United States, and the fax suggested everything was on the table -- including full cooperation on nuclear programs, acceptance of Israel and the termination of Iranian support for Palestinian militant groups.

But top Bush administration officials, convinced the Iranian government was on the verge of collapse, belittled the initiative. Instead, they formally complained to the Swiss ambassador who had sent the fax with a cover letter certifying it as a genuine proposal supported by key power centers in Iran, former administration officials said.

Last month, the Bush administration abruptly shifted policy and agreed to join talks previously led by European countries over Iran's nuclear program. But several former administration officials say the United States missed an opportunity in 2003 at a time when American strength seemed at its height -- and Iran did not have a functioning nuclear program or a gusher of oil revenue from soaring energy demand.

The Iranian proposal was detailed and substantive:

The document lists a series of Iranian aims for the talks, such as ending sanctions, full access to peaceful nuclear technology and a recognition of its "legitimate security interests." Iran agreed to put a series of U.S. aims on the agenda, including full cooperation on nuclear safeguards, "decisive action" against terrorists, coordination in Iraq, ending "material support" for Palestinian militias and accepting the Saudi initiative for a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The document also laid out an agenda for negotiations, with possible steps to be achieved at a first meeting and the development of negotiating road maps on disarmament, terrorism and economic cooperation.

Of course, many of you have probably already seen this story elsewhere, Gareth Prather broke it, I believe, but the essential aspect of this story is the Post confirms it and considers it newsworthy. Perhaps, this is grounds for optimism, reason to expect less credulous coverage of the administration's war plans, but I doubt it. More importantly, the Post article also suggests that there has been a fundamental change in administration policy, a rejection of the military option in favor of negotiations, and this could be true, if only because of the inability to obtain support from the Russians and the Chinese.

M. K. Bhadrakumar, a retired Indian diplomat, highlights the Catch-22 facing the administration:

The US officials claimed that having now made the offer to talk to Iran, Washington had a right to expect reciprocal Russian and Chinese support if the talks did not proceed with Iran, and the nuclear issue was thrown back to the court of the United Nations Security Council.

According to the New York Times, "Three senior officials said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were describing internal debates in the White House, he [Bush] made the final decision only after telephone calls with President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany led him to conclude that if Tehran refused to suspend its enrichment of uranium, or later dragged its feet, they would support an escalating series of sanctions against Iran at the United Nations that could lead to a confrontation."

But that wasn't how the Russian Foreign Ministry seemed to view the events. According to a Russian statement on Thursday, while Moscow welcomed the US side's announcement on its readiness to hold direct talks with Iran, such talks were "long overdue" and "there is no reasonable alternative" to talks and negotiations.

Furthermore, Moscow saw the US decision to normalize relations with Iran in terms of a cessation of the "crisis state" in US-Iran relations, which was not serving the interests of the two peoples. Moscow felt that the normalization of US-Iranian ties would "benefit regional and international stability" and help resolve "other crisis situations in the region" (read Iraq).

Putin, too, welcomed the US decision and called it "an important step". So where is the question of Moscow reciprocating Bush's decision? This brings us to a crucial point. Indeed, what happens if Iran refuses to give up its uranium-enrichment activity?

Indeed, what should happen? The non-aligned movement expressed its opinion this week at the International Atomic Energy Agency:

[Iranian] Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki here Sunday in a meeting with Moroccan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation Mohamed Benaissa said that developing and Islamic states should access high technology and declared support for their relevant right.

According to a report released by the Foreign Ministry's Media Department, at the meeting the two ministers discussed the latest developments in bilateral ties as well as regional and international issue.

Turning to the recent statement issued by the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) member states in support of Iran's right to access nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, Mottaki said that it reflects the actual reaction of the world community to Iran's nuclear right.

He said, "As a member of NPT for the past 36 years, Iran has complied with its commitments. Now it attempts to gain its right and privilege of such membership.

With much of the world in addition to the Chinese and the Russians refusing to support the imposition of sanctions against Iran as a pathway to war, it would appear that the neoconservatives have failed, especially when one considers increasing global hostility towards the US and the economic consequences of it It remains, too early to tell, however, as Jorge Hirsch warns:

. . the sole purpose of the current US "soft" diplomatic activity is to induce Iran to "suspend their enrichment in a verifiable way." What for?

There is no security risk to the United States nor anybody else if Iran runs 164 P1 centrifuges. It would take 28 years for that equipment to make sufficient enriched uranium for a single bomb. Why then the precondition that Iran needs to stop this activity for the US to even start talking? Why isn't this one of the many issues that could be addressed during the actual talks?

"The suspension of all enrichment-related activity is at the core of what the international community is asking Iran to do." Why?

Because this is in all likelyhood the beginning and the end of the US diplomatic involvement with Iran. Once Iran stops enriching and the IAEA places its seals, the tripwire is in place. The split-second Iran breaks those seals again, the US cruise missiles will be launched. It will be almost hard wired, certainly at least in the minds of the decisionmakers.

Israel refuses to be the trigger. The US needs a trigger to start the bombing. This will be the line in the sand.

Unfortunately, Hirsch's analysis is all too persuasive when considered in light of how Bush proceeded to move towards war against Iraq. Unlike the war in Iraq, however, or, more accurately, because of it, Russian and Chinese opposition is intransigent, as addressed by Michael Klare in this excellent article:

Given what is at stake, it is easy to see why the United States, Russia and China all have such an abiding interest in the outcome of the Iranian crisis. For Washington, the replacement of the clerical government in Tehran with a US-friendly regime would represent a colossal, threefold accomplishment: it would eliminate a major threat to America's continued dominance of the Persian Gulf, open up the world's No 2 oil-and-gas supplier to US energy firms, and greatly diminish Chinese and Russian influence in the greater Gulf region.

From a geopolitical perspective, there could be no greater win on the global chessboard today. Even if Washington failed to achieve regime change but, using its military might, crippled Iran's nuclear establishment without sustaining major damage itself in Iraq or elsewhere, this would still be a significant geopolitical win, exposing the inability of either Russia or China to counter US moves of this sort. (This would only work, of course, if the Bush administration were able to contain the inevitable fallout from such action, whether increased ethnic strife in Iraq or a sharp spike in oil prices.

Not surprisingly, Moscow and Beijing are doing everything in their power to prevent any US geopolitical triumph in Iran or Central Asia from occurring, though without provoking an outright breach in relations with Washington - and so endangering complex economic ties with the United States.

Irresistable forces directed towards immovable objects. If the US unleashes the Pentagon against Iran, there is the prospect that the world could be rapidly transformed, with striking, unanticipated results, much as it was during major confrontations in the 19th and 20th centuries. Only the neoconservatives are insular enough and arrogant enough to confidently believe that such changes will be favorable to the US.

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Saturday, June 17, 2006

HELP WANTED: Enlistees to Occupy Iraq, Prior Experience with the Infliction of Pain Preferred 

Yet another instance of how the occupation of Iraq inevitably degenerates into the insitutionalized gratification of sadism:

Iraqi detainees were held with their eyes taped shut in tiny box-like cells for up to seven days at a time while loud music blared at a special operations holding facility in 2004, a US military investigation found.

The investigation conducted by Brigadier General Richard Formica following the Abu Ghraib prison scandal in 2004 also found that detainees were fed only bread and water for up to 17 days at another special operations location.

Formica's report, released in heavily redacted form Friday in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, dismissed other allegations that prisoners were physically abused or humiliated at the so-called tactical holding facilities.

He also accepted the argument of US special operators that the small cells, which he said measured 20 inches wide by four feet high and four feet deep, were "necessary for force protection and to prevent detainees from escape."

Associated Press has more:

U.S. special operations forces fed some Iraqi detainees only bread and water for up to 17 days, used unapproved interrogation practices such as sleep deprivation and loud music and stripped at least one prisoner, according to a Pentagon report on incidents dating to 2003 and 2004.

The report, with many portions blacked out, concludes that the detainees' treatment was wrong but not illegal and reflected inadequate resources and lack of oversight and proper guidance more than deliberate abuse. No military personnel were punished as a result of the investigation.

Released to the American Civil Liberties Union on Friday, the details of the report were was part of more than 1,000 pages of documents, including two major reports, one by Army Brig. Gen. Richard Formica on specials operations forces in Iraq and one by Brig. Gen. Charles Jacoby, on Afghanistan detainees.

And, naturally, it appears that the Pentagon is quite selective about what it chooses to investigate:

"Both the Formica and the Jacoby report demonstrate that the government is really not taking the investigation of detainee abuse seriously," said Amrit Sing, an ACLU attorney. Sing questioned why the two reports only focused on a limited number of incidents. In particular, she said there have been numerous documents showing that special operations forces abused detainees, and yet Formica only reviewed a few cases.

Not to worry, though, the need for such brutality should end soon, as the purported Zarqawi documents reveal an insurgency in disarray, refuting the Pentagon's recent own intelligence to the contrary, which determined that US troops are being subjected to the highest number of attacks in 2 years. Apparently, the right hand isn't talking to the left hand before creating new forgeries.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Recreating the Antiwar Movement 

There is currently an ongoing dispute in Sacramento concerning protests against the war in Iraq at the downtown intersection of 16th Street and Broadway. While not especially large, it is a symbolic location because the Tower Theatre, a beloved old movie theatre that predates World War II, sits astride the intersection. Protests have been periodically taking place at this location for about the last year or so.

For those of you interested in the circumstances of this controversy, with the typical personality conflicts, go here and here, but my emphasis in this blog entry is upon the extent to which this dispute reveals more serious political inadequacies in what remains of the antiwar movement nationally.

As I posted on the indybay.org website, shorn of minor, ancillary issues:

Personally, as someone who resides in Sacramento, I have only attended this protest a couple of times, primarily because it became evident to me that it is more an anti-Bush protest in the guise of an antiwar one.

The protests, at least the times that I attended, focused exclusively upon Bush and the Republicans, with an understandably strong emphasis upon their "lies", implicitly supporting the intellectually dishonest position that the Democratic Party leadership in the House and Senate only voted for the Iraq war because they had been mislead. It is a "lie" that is as equally brazen, and as equally offensive, as the lies that Bush told to frighten much of the public into supporting the war.

In fact, 21 Democratic senators bravely went against the President, Senate Minority Leader Daschle and House Minority Leader Gephardt and voted against the resolution authorizing military force against Iraq, making much the same case, as did many prominent outside critics, like Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, that we make today, almost 4 years later. At least Bush stands by his war, however ineptly, while the Democrats cravenly manufacture excuses for their complicity.

I don't recall ever seeing any signs condemning people like Hillary Clinton, Joseph Biden, Joseph Lieberman and Dianne Feinstein for their votes for the war and their continued support for the occupation. Nor I have I recently heard that this event has begun to emphasize the prospect of a war against Iran, a war that, if launched, will have the same strong bipartisan support (Clinton is especially hawkish in this regard) that the war and occupation in Iraq does.

I have no doubt that the organizers and participants are sincere in their efforts, but, the reality is that the occupation is now over 3 years old, with no signs of being terminated, and with no real prospect that the Democratic Party will push for it, as we move forward towards a war in Iran. Sadly, the rallies at 16th and J have nothing to say about this, because they are centered solely around the historical and political fiction that the war and occupation are solely the preserve of the Republicans.

If there are people and organizations willing to organize protests, speaking events and presentations that honestly address the war and the real challenges in bringing it to an end in the face of bipartisan support for the indefinite occupation of Iraq, I'm interested.

Of course, that may mean there will initially be a lot less people there, because it will involve confronting Democrats as well as Republicans. But there are people elsewhere arond the country already doing so, and it must be possible to learn from them. It will also involve speaking out against a war against Iran NOW, instead of doing so from a position of moral righteousness after it is happens.

Again, this will be difficult, but my personal view is that our ability to mobilize opposition to the militarism of the US is enhanced by addressing it truthfully, even if it will initially encounter significant opposition, than by promoting a mythology that it is primarily associated with George Bush and the Republican Party.

It has always been my strong belief that any protest movement, or any political activity, for that matter, must have a strong substantive foundation and engage people with sincerity. Unfortunately, and it is unpleasant to have to say this, the antiwar movement in America today, because of its attempt to square the circle, and provide forums for opposing the war within the context of support for the Democratic Party, fails miserably on both counts.

It is this constraint that requires organizers to promote rallies around the mendacious principle that the Democratic Party leadership in the House and Senate voted for the war because they were mislead. People see through such nonsense very quickly, and disassociate themselves from it.

Finally, it is enlightening to observe how Democratic Party operatives respond to the more rigorous approach of CODEPINK:

The Take Back America conference, an annual event held in Washington DC this year from June 12-14, is supposed to be a venue for prominent progressives to gather and debate the major issues of our day. Their aim is to "provide the nation with new vision, new ideas and new energy." But choosing New York Senator and probable presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as a keynote speaker and then stifling dissent against her pro-war position hardly seems the stuff of a new vision for America.

The peace group CODEPINK is widely known for bringing its anti-war message to the halls of power, including inside the Republican National Convention and at President Bush's Inauguration. But it has also targeted Democrats such as Hillary Clinton who support the war. "We have a campaign called Birddog Hillary," says CODEPINK's New York coordinator Nancy Kricorian. "We follow her around the entire state asking her to listen to the voices of her constituents and stop her support of Bush's 'stay the course' policy in Iraq. So far, she hasn't been listening."

Fearing that CODEPINK would openly confront Clinton on her pro-war policy, the organizers of Take Back America entered into negotiations with CODEPINK a few days before the conference. "We had lengthy discussions where they pleaded with us not to protest during her keynote breakfast address," explained Gael Murphy, one of the cofounders of CODEPINK. "Instead, we were told that we could distribute flyers explaining Hillary's pro-war position to the crowd inside and outside the hotel, and we would be called on to ask her the first question after the speech. We agreed."

However, when CODEPINK showed up on Tuesday morning in advance of Clinton's speech, the security guards refused to allow them to pass out flyers, even outside the hotel. "Take Back America violated the agreement from the moment we arrived," said Ms. Murphy. "Even though we had a table inside the conference, burly security guards blocked us and informed us that it was a private event, that we were not welcome, and they escorted us out of the building. We telephoned the conference staff who then told us that we couldn't enter the hotel, couldn't leaflet the event, the hallways-anywhere. They went back on their word and tried to quash even peaceful, respectful dissent."

A few CODEPINK women did manage to get inside the breakfast, however, as they were legitimate ticket holders. Once inside, the CODEPINK women soon realized that they had been deceived about the second part of the agreement: They would not be allowed to ask the first question, or any question, because Hillary Clinton would not be fielding questions from the audience. "We were really upset that we had been lied to by Take Back America, and that there would be no space at this 'progressive conference' to have a dialogue with Hillary Clinton about the most critical issue of our time-the war in Iraq," said Katie Heald, DC coordinator for CODEPINK. "We got up on our chairs holding up our hands with the peace sign, and were pulled down from the chairs. We tried to take out our banner that said "Listen Hillary: Stop Supporting the War" and it was grabbed from us. And when Hillary started talking about her Iraq strategy, criticizing Bush but not posing a solution, we shouted 'What are YOU going to do to get us out of Iraq,' but she ignored us."

Yes, it must have been a shock for the organizers of the event to encounter such confrontational tactics given their past experiences with the acquiescence of antiwar activists to the electoral urgency of Democratic candidates. I'm sure that they thought, do whatever you need to do to keep these people away, because they have no choice but to vote for us. A common instance of the contempt by which the Democrats hold anyone who participates in politics for reasons other than personal expediency.

Personally, I remain ambivalent about CODEPINK because I sometimes see these kinds of actions as a kind of fashion statement activism ("I yelled at Hillary! and she blinked for a moment!"). I wonder if they constitute a faux form of direct action, combining the excitement and fear associated with civil disobedience with a low risk of actual arrest and prosecution. I have, however, talked to some of the participants of CODEPINK in the past, such as Gael Murphy herself, one of the women quoted in the article, and their commitment to these issues cannot be questioned.

Regardless, I acknowledge that CODEPINK seeks, in its own inimitable way, to reinforce the integrity of the movement by requiring accountability from everyone associated with the war and occupation of Iraq. It is a concept that the organizers of the antiwar protests at 16th and Broadway, and the rest of the country, might seriously consider as a way out of their current predicament.

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Monday, June 12, 2006

UPDATE: One of the Guantanamo Suicides Was Not Told About Impending Release 

Remember how the US military confidently informed us after the three suicides that it believed that all three suicides were associated with terrorist organizations or the Taliban>? It was a carefully crafted statement designed to create the impression that the detainees were involved in violent activities, or the support of them, without actually really saying so, an attempt to persuade the American public that their indefinite detention was justified.

Apparently, we can state with certainly that such a characterization is untrue, at least in respect to one of the victims:

One of the three men who committed suicide at the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay was due to be released - but did not know it, says a US lawyer. Mark Denbeaux, who represents some of the foreign detainees said the man was among 141 prisoners due to be released. He said the prisoner was not told because US officials had not decided which country he would be sent to. . . . The Pentagon named the prisoner who had been recommended for transfer as 30-year-old Saudi Arabian Mani Shaman Turki al-Habardi Al-Utaybi.

Denbeaux elaborated further:

Professor Denbeaux told the BBC World Service that the feeling among detainees at the Cuba camp was one of hopelessness. "These people are told they'll be 50 by the time they get out, that they have no hope of getting out. They've been denied a hearing, they have no chance to be released," he said. He said US policy was to refuse to tell prisoners they were due to be released until a location had been found.

Utaybi had been declared a "safe person, free to be released" but the US needed a country to send him to, Professor Denbeaux said. His despair was great enough and in his ignorance he went and killed himself," he said.

In death, the other two detainees

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Sunday, June 11, 2006

Guantanamo: 3 Dead 

Last Tuesday, the Pentagon Memorial Fund announced groundbreaking for a monument to the victims of 9/11:

The president of the Pentagon Memorial Fund announced yesterday that a groundbreaking ceremony will occur June 15, a huge milestone in the nearly five-year fundraising effort for the 9/11 monument.

About 150 family members and other guests, including Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, are expected to attend the invitation-only ceremony, which will be held at the memorial site on the west lawn of the Pentagon, James J. Laychak said.

"It is one step toward completion of the memorial," said Laychak, who lost a brother in the attack on the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. "It gets us closer to the vision that I have of all of us family members sitting in a quiet corner at the completed memorial watching everyone enjoying what we helped create."

In advance of the event, the Pentagon provided a more grisly offering of the Old Testament variety:

Three Middle Eastern detainees being held without charges at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay hanged themselves, military officials said Saturday, becoming the first captives to take their own lives at the prison and prompting new calls for an immediate shutdown.

The Defense Department said Saturday that the men — two from Saudi Arabia and one from Yemen — were found in their cells and had left suicide notes. By taking their own lives, the prisoners confounded strenuous measures by military officials to prevent suicides. And the deaths come as the Bush administration battles growing international criticism of its detention procedures and faces a potentially fateful Supreme Court decision this month.

The military did not name the prisoners and released few details about the men, but said at least two were believed to have been members of international terrorist organizations and the third part of a Taliban uprising.

All three had been on hunger strikes and all had been force-fed, a process that frequently involves the use of nasal tubes and restraints.

Naturally, the military released few details about the men, but then paradoxically proceeded to reassure everyone that two of the detainees were believed to have been members of international terrorist organizations, with the third part of a Taliban uprising. Of course, the military declined to provide any reasons for its beliefs regarding the three detainees:

Lawyers for the detainees, human rights groups and legal associations have increasingly questioned whether many of the prisoners can even rightfully be called terrorists. They note that only 10 of the roughly 465 men held at Guantánamo have been charged before military tribunals, and that recently released documents indicate that many have never been accused even in administrative proceedings of belonging to Al Qaeda or attacking the United States.

Understandably, people become quite desperate in such circumstances:

Ken Roth, head of Human Rights Watch in New York, told the BBC the men had probably been driven by despair.

"These people are despairing because they are being held lawlessly," he said.

"There's no end in sight. They're not being brought before any independent judges. They're not being charged and convicted for any crime."

That view was supported by British Muslim Moazzam Begg who spent three years in Guantanamo. He said of the camp's inmates: "They're in a worse situation than convicted criminals and it's an act of desperation."

Among the sadists that run Guantanamo, there was a quite different perspective:

Rear Adm Harris said he did not believe the men had killed themselves out of despair.

"They are smart. They are creative, they are committed," he said.

"They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us."

Incredible, absolutely incredible. Suicide is not something to be considered tragic, to inspire reflection among the living, but, rather, an act of assymetrical warfare. If ever there was a statement that exposed the depravity of the purported "war on terror" as an excuse to intimidate and abuse Muslims, it is this comment by Harris.

As I have posted here previously, Guantanamo, both in terms of the reality of the day to day experience of detainees, as well as its notorious reputation around the world, exists to frighten Muslims around the world with the recognition that any kind of opposition to the United States can result in seizure, indefinite incarceration and the transformation of medical treatment into an instrument of torture. Indeed, it is even more perverse, an attempt to demonstrate American omnipotence, the power to seize and detain people released from the constraints of the Anglo-American legal tradition that enshrines the rights of the individual as a defense against tyranny, immune to common norms of human compassion that we display in our daily lives, even if the exercise of this power is frequently utterly irrational.

Guantanamo in its rawest form, much like the war and occupation in Iraq, fulfills a craving for vengence against people it is easy to hate because they are so culturally different from us. And, so, the suicides are, in their own way, an offering by the Pentagon to the victims of 9/11, proof that the military understands its true mission well and carries out its directives with a ruthless efficiency. Several 9/11 families have already condemned the exploitation of the deaths of their loved ones to justify the war in Iraq. It would be inspiring if some would now step forward, during the June 15th groundbreaking ceremony, or, if necessary, at a separate event held that same day, and demanded the immediate closure of Guantanamo.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Guantanamo: The Militarization of the Medical Profession 

One of the most prominent features of the purported "war on terror" has been its debasement of professional standards, an evisceration by perceived exigency. It is a serious subject that requires thoughtful treatment. For now, however, here is the most recent example:

The U.S. military issued medical guidelines Tuesday for the treatment of prisoners, formally directing doctors at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere to force-feed hunger strikers whose lives are in danger and granting doctors a limited role in interrogations.

The guidelines, which the military said formalize existing rules and policies, drew criticism from a human rights group that said the military should not interfere with detainees who use hunger strikes as a protest and should bar experts in psychology from having any role during interrogations.

Furthermore, note the memorialization of this astounding practice, couching in carefully framed bureaucratic language:

Under the guidelines, psychiatrists and psychologists trained as "behavioral science consultants" may observe interrogations and advise interrogators but are barred from direct participation. The consultants also are prohibited from using any health information about a detainee in a way that would "result in inhumane treatment."

So, psychiatrists may observe, advise, but not directly participate. Translation: psychiatrists and psychologists, as trained behavioral science consultants, may remain and watch after advising interrogators that urinating on a Koran in front of the detainee might be a good way to procure cooperation. After all, such advice doesn't involve the sharing of health information about the detainee that would result in inhumane treatment. The interrogator, not the consultant, performs the actual act of urination so as to shield the consultant from direct participation.

Such conduct would be consistent with other new detainee policies in the process of being adopted by the Pentagon:

The Pentagon has decided to omit from new detainee policies a key tenet of the Geneva Convention that explicitly bans "humiliating and degrading treatment," according to knowledgeable military officials, a step that would mark a further, potentially permanent, shift away from strict adherence to international human rights standards.

Thus, detainee policies continue to empower the Pentagon to psychologically torture detainees, exploiting the public's failure to understand that, according to Alfred McCoy, psychological torture is frequently much more injurious than the physical variety:

For over 2,000 years, from ancient Athens through the Inquisition, interrogators found that the infliction of physical pain often produced heightened resistance or unreliable information -- the strong defied pain while the weak blurted out whatever was necessary to stop it. By contrast, the CIA's psychological torture paradigm used two new methods, sensory disorientation and "self-inflicted pain," both of which were aimed at causing victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and so to capitulate more readily to their torturers. A week after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, General Geoffrey Miller, U.S. prison commander in Iraq (and formerly in Guantanamo), offered an unwitting summary of this two-phase torture. "We will no longer, in any circumstances, hood any of the detainees," the general said. "We will no longer use stress positions in any of our interrogations. And we will no longer use sleep deprivation in any of our interrogations."

Under field conditions since the start of the Afghan War, Agency and allied interrogators have often added to their no-touch repertoire physical methods reminiscent of the Inquisition's trademark tortures -- strappado, question de l'eau, "crippling stork," and "masks of mockery." At the CIA's center near Kabul in 2002, for instance, American interrogators forced prisoners "to stand with their hands chained to the ceiling and their feet shackled," an effect similar to the strappado. Instead of the Inquisition's iron-framed "crippling stork" to contort the victim's body, CIA interrogators made their victims assume similar "stress positions" without any external mechanism, aiming again for the psychological effect of self-induced pain.

Although seemingly less brutal than physical methods, the CIA's "no touch" torture actually leaves deep, searing psychological scars on both victims and -- something seldom noted -- their interrogators. Victims often need long treatment to recover from a trauma many experts consider more crippling than physical pain. Perpetrators can suffer a dangerous expansion of ego, leading to escalating acts of cruelty and lasting emotional disorders. When applied in actual operations, the CIA's psychological procedures have frequently led to unimaginable cruelties, physical and sexual, by individual perpetrators whose improvisations are often horrific and only occasionally effective.

Of course, the doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and psychologists who force feed detainees and assist during interrogations will some day, one presumes, return home here. Consider this question: would you want them providing medical care to yourself and your family? Finally, the number of hunger strikers at Guantanamo has been reduced from 89 to 17, with 4 of them being force fed. One can only imagine how the military did it.

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Some of My Windows on the World 

While millions around the world circulate today with trepidation in fear of the Beast, I prefer to instead take a break from the usually ideologically charged subjects that predominate on this blog, and ponder a more subjective subject. Given the numerous sources of information and opinion, in a variety of forms, what sources do we personally rely upon and what does it say about ourselves?

As for me, I have cable television at home, but it is a basic package, so, rather fortuitously, I do not have CNN or Fox News. I am always shocked when I have the opportunity, such as during a vacation, to observe what they broadcast. Most recently, while in Canada, I encountered the new CNN strategy for fighting Fox: demonize undocumented people by running a seemingly endless sequence of programs of white male, purported journalists villifying them for everything except the loss of the war in Iraq (after all, the military is relying upon undocumented enlistees to enforce the occupation). Rather strange, given the number of them, as well as the millions of others who respond negatively to such demagoguery, like myself, but I guess that CNN management has decided that white supremacy generates higher ratings than multiculturalism. For the rest of you who are exposed to CNN and Fox daily, I suspect that one cannot avoid being desensitized to the frequently absurd and offensive material that is pawned off as news by carny barkers like Lou Dobbs, Wolf Blitzer and Anderson Cooper.

So, where do I go for information? Of course, as with millions of others, the short answer is the Internet. But what sites? Naturally, this changes over time, but some sites are enduring in terms of their quality and importance. For news, there are three critical sites. Antiwar.com, despite being run by libertarians with whom I frequently have disagreements, is the essential portal for global news. Decades from now, people will recall that checking out Antiwar.com was one of the first things they did in the morning, just as, in previous times, people used to read the New York Times or the Washington Post. Started back in 1996, it first captured, and then shaped, emerging opposition to the expansion of the American Empire in the shadow of the fall of Soviet Communism, an expansion that, contrary to American liberals, predates the presidency of Bush the II. It also provides some of the most insightful, eclectic political opinion and analysis around. With the failed invasion and occupation of Iraq, it now documents the rotting away of this empire daily in real time, and, for this, it will be remembered. It recognized and continues to relentlessly spotlight the most important issue of our times: the pernicious consequences of American imperialism for both Americans and everyone else around the world.

Next, there is Asia Times Online. ATol, as it describes itself, is an invaluable source of news and opinion, because it focus upon the intersection of the purported "war on terror", the Middle East and US policy to control the resources of Central Asia and the means by which they are delivered to the rest of the world. It publishes extensive news and analysis from non-American, non-European sources, such as reporters and commentators from Pakistan, India, China and Iran. Hence, ATol conveys an indigenous vision of the world in marked contrast to the neoliberal, colonial perspective of American media.

Lastly, there is the Manchester Guardian, that entertaining, delightful online version of a newspaper that the United States is incapable of producing. Of course, there is something inevitably anglophilic about reading the Guardian, and in the great scheme of things, it isn't especially radical. It does, however, unlike American newspapers, create a mainstream space for a a broad range of news, opinion and culture, free of the need to self censor to satisfy neoconservative bosses and avoid the provincial, intolerant attacks of fundamentalists. Strangely enough, I actually do frequently read the columnists of the Guardian, and that is very telling, because I rarely read them in American newspapers, as they have been rendered irrelvant by bloggers. The Guardian confronts the challenge of the Internet with its own diversity, while American newspapers persist in whiny, puerile attacks upon the "fever swamps" of blogs, as they continue to market increasingly discredited neoconservative policies.

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Saturday, June 03, 2006

Charley Reese Is Also Perplexed 

Recently, I began to inquire as to why US troops remain in Iraq. Beyond indiscriminately killing Iraqis, as they have been doing since March 2003, answers are elusive. Charley Reese is likewise confused:

President Bush teared up on Memorial Day and said we must complete the mission in Iraq to honor the 18,000 wounded and 2,400-plus dead.

Well, I have a question. What is the mission?

Is it to overthrow Saddam Hussein? He's been overthrown and is awaiting execution by a kangaroo court we selected to do the hit.

Is it to allow the Iraqi people to hold elections? They've held three elections – one for an interim government, one for a Constitution, and one for a permanent government, which is now in place except for two Cabinet positions.

Oh, I forgot that when the president was selling this war, he said the mission was to disarm Saddam because he had all those awful weapons of mass destruction. Well, of course, they didn't exist, and now the president doesn't talk about them.

Go here for Reese's attempt to overcome the confusion. Meanwhile, with investigations ungoing into three additional incidents, the new Iraqi Prime Minister is outraged at the conduct of US troops:

Iraq's new prime minister yesterday accused American forces of killing civilians "just on suspicion".

Nouri al-Maliki said violence against civilians had become a "daily phenomenon".

"They crush them with their vehicles and kill them just on suspicion," he said. "This is completely unacceptable."

Of course, given that he's Iraqi, his comments just can't be credible, as they haven't yet been confirmed by US military statements to embedded journalists.

Meanwhile, accounts of other, potentially equally disturbing incidents are coming to light:

The BBC broadcast footage Thursday that it said came from an incident in March in which U.S. Soldiers were accused of executing 11 Iraqis, including four children, near the town of Ishaqi north of the capital.

The Americans say they were hunting an al-Qaeda suspect, but an Iraqi police report says American soldiers rounded up and executed an entire family in a house which they then demolished.

Chris Floyd is skeptical of the US account of the incident, and the Iraqi government has rejected it. One gets the impression that this can't continue much longer, that the Iraqis have had enough. But, for now, those unanswerable questions remain, what is the mission? Why are US troops still in Iraq?

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Haditha: Questions of Moral Responsibility 

ORIGINAL POST: As if pouring through floodgates, more accounts of the Marine atrocity at Haditha:

After the roadside bombing, the Marines arrived first at the door of Abdul Hamid Hassan Ali, 89, an amputee who used a wheelchair. They shot him, then turned their guns on his three sons and their families, survivors said.

Waleed Abdul Hameed, a 48-year-old worker in Al Anbar's religious affairs office, was among the first of the family members to be gunned down. His 9-year-old daughter, Eman, said she was still wearing her pajamas when the Marines arrived. Her 7-year-old brother, Abdul Rahman, said he hid his face with a blanket when his father was shot.

A few minutes later, the boy saw his mother fall to the ground, dying. I saw her while she was crying," he said. "She fell down on the floor bleeding." Speaking days ago in Haditha, months after the attacks, the boy broke into tears, covered his eyes with his hands, and began to mutter to himself.

At his side, his elder sister began to speak again. Eman described how the two had waited for help, the bodies of their family members sprawled on the floor. We were scared," she said. "I tried to hide under the bed." With shrapnel injuries to her legs, she lay still for two hours.

When the shooting began, Eman's aunt, Hibba Abdullah snatched her 5-month-old niece off the floor. The baby's mother had dropped her in shock after seeing her husband gunned down. Clutching the child, Abdullah ran out of the house. She and the baby, Aasiya, survived. The baby's mother "completely collapsed when they killed her husband in front of her," Abdullah said. "I ran away carrying Aasiya outside the house, but when the Americans returned they killed Asma, the mother of the child."

For much more, read this article in today's Los Angeles Times.

No doubt, many find these stories unpleasant and disturbing, even repellant, but there is a moral imperative associated with the publication of these Iraqi accounts of the slaughter at Haditha. One of the most troubling aspects of the media coverage of the war, and the response of many Americans to it, has been the refusal to acknowledge individual Iraqis when they describe what they have experienced. Usually, as with checkpoint shootings, Abu Ghraib, air strikes and, now, Haditha, Iraqi acccounts are only accepted once corroborated by the US military. Otherwise, they are ignored, or, if published, followed with a disclaimer rarely, if ever, attached to the statements of the US military: it could not be independently verified.

Am I the only person who recognizes the richness of the irony here? The US military launches an invasion of Iraq based upon false information about Saddam, al-Qaeda, and the presence of WMDs, and frequently attempts to justify the occupation by exaggerating the presence of "foreign fighters" (other Arabs, not US, UK and other military participants in the coalition), while paying to plant stories about the purported positive aspects of the occupation in the Iraqi media, but it is the accounts of Iraqis themselves that must be subject to independent confirmation.

Even Americans opposed to the war find it difficult to emphathize with Iraqis as victims of this conflict. On this site, and others, such as Eli Stephens' Left I on the News, I have frequently encountered the troubling tendency of evading the enormity of the violence inflicted upon Iraqis by making it general, and detached from any American responsibility by rendering it as some kind of objective, elemental condition, while the numerically much lesser brutalities inflicted upon American troops receives a heartfelt, specific response.

It commonly goes something like this (after a comment or post describing a detailed episode of brutality inflicted upon Iraqis by US troops): yes, war is a terrible thing, and innocents are invaribly killed and maimed, and it is horrible that our troops are over there, and find themselves inevitably caught up in such situations.

Get it? The Iraqis aren't being killed by Americans, they are being killed by that awful, perpetual condition known as war, analoguous to being killed in an earthquake or a hurricane, while war is simultanously victimizing our troops by involuntarily compelling them to commit such appalling acts. In other words, "they were just following orders" has been dressed in the clothes of metaphysics, the loss of free will when confronted with the day to day reality of combat. War is apparently the violent, deranged mythic brother of Adam Smith's invisible hand that controls the economic universe, too powerful for humans to resist.

Perhaps, the massacre at Haditha (and the other ones that we will soon discover) will shatter this moral myopia. The media now has the opportunity to relate to Iraqis as fully engaged participants in their own lives, with a valid perspective that must be told, free of the filters of cultural bias.

Meanwhile, we, as individuals, likewise have an opportunity to escape the comfortable allure of the "Good German" defense, as translated into the "Support the Troops" mantra which releases our troops from responsibility for their actions. No longer will the deaths and injuries of the relative few substitute for the death and destruction inflicted upon the many. Both stories can be told with a more appropriate context that recognizes the incomprehensible consequences of the war for Iraqis. If we seize these opportunities, it creates the prospect of a psychological transformation that will more rapidly facilitate the end of the occupation.

UPDATE: Eli Stephens over at Left I on the News provides a chilling example of how the media celebrates the callousness of the US military towards Iraqis as "restraint". He concludes:

The "rules of engagement" of the U.S. military, as illustrated by this episode, last week's massacre in Kandahar, or countless other examples, couldn't be clearer. If the U.S. military even thinks that a suspected enemy fighter is inside a building, they consider that they have the right to simply destroy that building, without even asking the question of who might be inside, much less actually attempting to find out. This is because the slightest risk to the life of one American soldier is evidently considered to outweigh a much more concrete risk to almost any number of innocent civilians.

Yes, this has been an essential feature of the conflict since its inception. And, with the intensification of resistance, it may well get worse before it gets better:

The Pentagon reported yesterday that the frequency of insurgent attacks against troops and civilians is at its highest level since American commanders began tracking such figures two years ago, an ominous sign that, despite three years of combat, the US-led coalition forces haven't significantly weakened the Iraq insurgency.In its quarterly update to Congress, the Pentagon reported that from Feb. 11 to May 12, as the new Iraqi unity government was being established, insurgents staged an average of more than 600 attacks per week nationwide. From August 2005 to early February, when Iraqis elected a parliament, insurgent attacks averaged about 550 per week; at its lowest point, before the United States handed over sovereignty in the spring of 2004, the attacks averaged about 400 per week.

The vast majority of the attacks -- from crude bombing attempts and shootings to more sophisticated, military-style assaults and suicide attacks -- were targeted at US-led coalition military forces, but the majority of deaths have been of civilians, who are far more vulnerable to insurgent tactics.

``Overall, average weekly attacks during this `Government Transition' period were higher than any of the previous periods," the report states. ``Reasons for the high level of attacks may include terrorist and insurgent attempts to exploit a perceived inability of the Iraqi government to constitute itself effectively, the rise of ethno sectarian attacks . . . and enemy efforts to derail the political process leading to a new government."

Note the major concession by the US military here, artfully presented by the Boston Globe as a mundane sort of throwaway line: The vast majority of the attacks -- from crude bombing attempts and shootings to more sophisticated, military-style assaults and suicide attacks -- were targeted at US-led coalition military forces, but the majority of deaths have been of civilians, who are far more vulnerable to insurgent tactics. Read that again carefully. The vast majority of the attacks are being directed, not towards Iraqi civilians, but towards the occupying army, predominately resulting in Iraqi civilian deaths. So, that recurrent, seemingly unanswerable, question remains: why are US troops still in Iraq?

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