Monthly Archives: June 2009

Neither the Free(d) Nor the Brave

As Glenn Greenwald continues to remind us, there is something inherently comical in the right wing’s insistent irrational fears about putting criminals in American jails. Nevertheless, other nations are not so afraid of justice. Bermuda and Palau apparently are taking in the Uighurs who have been in the Guantanamo for seven years. The U.S. government has known for years of their innocence, but has kept them in cells because it didn’t want to offend the Chinese (who finance our government and wars).

In another example of hypocritical journalism by the New York Times, Timothy Egan questions whether, due to local politics, the American student charged with murder in Italy will receive a fair trial. At least she gets a trial. Italy, like other nations, is even trying terrorist suspects, instead of locking them up in offshore torture shelters. Why? Because that’s what civilized nations do.

Numerous countries that aren’t the U.S. — including those targeted by Terrorist threats at least as serious as those faced by the U.S. — have routinely and repeatedly given what are called “trials” and “due process” to those it accuses not merely of harboring terrorist wishes, but also actually having carried out atrocious terrorist attacks.  During the Bush era, even the U.S. — when we were moved to do so — successfully did the same.

Giving real trials to people whom the state wants to imprison — even accused Terrorists — is what civilized, law-respecting countries do, by definition.  By contrast, lawless and tyrannical states — also by definition — invent theories and warped justifications for indefinite detention with no trials.  Before the U.S. starts talking again about “re-claiming” its so-called leadership role in the world, it probably should work first on catching up to the multiple countries far ahead of it when it comes to the most basic precepts of Western justice — beginning with what ought to be the most uncontroversial proposition that it will first give due process and trials to those it wants to imprison.  Shouldn’t the claim that the U.S. cannot and need not try Terrorist suspects be rather unconvincing when numerous other countries from various parts of the world — including those previously devastated by and currently targeted with terrorist attacks — have been doing exactly that quite successfully?

But best of all is the Obama Administration’s justification for covering up photos of torture under the umbrella of state secrecy, completely undermining the Freedom of Information Act. Once again, Mr. Greenwald:

Whether there is value in disclosing these specific torture photographs is a secondary issue here, at most [though in light of the ongoing debate in this country over torture and accountability, as well as the irreplaceable value of photographic evidence in documenting government abuses (see Abu Ghraib), the value of these sorts of photographs seems self-evident].  A much more critical issue here is whether the President should have the power to conceal evidence about the Government’s actions on the ground that what the Government did was so bad, so wrong, so inflammatory, so lawless, that to allow disclosure and transparency would reflect poorly on our country, thereby increase anti-American sentiment, and thus jeopardize The Troops.  Once you accept that rationale — the more extreme the Government’s abuses are, the more compelling is the need for suppression — then open government, one of the central planks of the Obama campaign and the linchpin of a healthy democracy, becomes an illusion.

Where does all of this leave us? In a land that is not of the free, not of the freed, and certainly not the brave.

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Cognitive Dissonance

While imprisoning and torturing hundreds of detainees in Guantanamo and elsewhere for years on end, the Bush Administration claimed that those detainees had absolutely no habeus corpus rights. In other words, they could be detained without ever having the right to contest their detention, being presented with the evidence against them or getting their day in court. The Supreme Court disagreed and finally some of the detainees were released because there was absolutely no credible evidence against them, including this man after seven years in Guantanamo.

Of course, many Americans, especially conservatives, believe that the government should be given complete deference, even with shady evidence, to detain people without any oversight whatsoever. It is ironic to think that these same conservatives who are so offended by any form of domestic government intervention have blind faith in the government’s actions abroad. They are bothered by the government acting within the law at home, but convinced that the government should not be subject to any laws when outside its borders. It’s like saying that you only trust someone when they are not subject to any rules.

Even more ironic is that our press and society can find fault with the imprisonment of American journalists in Iran or North Korea, but remains unphased when the American government detains a foreign journalist for five years without offering him any legal protections whatsoever. Even the North Koreans and Iranians feigned trials.

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The Despicable State of Our Leading News Sources

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Yesterday’s New York Times ran a story entitled “U.S. Lawyer Agreed on Legalities of Brutal Tactics“, giving the completely misleading impression that the the Bush/Cheney enhanced interrogation policies were legitimized by government attorneys. The story was based on three emails penned by former Deputy Attorney General, James Comey, that were leaked, as described by Glen Greenwald,

clearly from someone eager to defend Bush officials by suggesting that Comey’s emails prove that all DOJ lawyers — even those opposed to torture on policy grounds — agreed these techniques were legal, and the NYT reporters, Scott Shane and David Johnston, dutifully do the leakers’ bidding by misleadingly depicting the Comey emails as vindication for Bush/Cheney.

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After having read the three emails myself, it is truly astonishing that a journalist can honestly print such misleading garbage. The emails indicate the immense pressure the government lawyers were under to approve the Bush Cheney techniques and the lawyers’ discomfort in doing so, not their validation.

This story by a reputable newspaper like the New York Times just goes to show the despicable state of our leading new sources. As Greenwald writes in his previous piece, also in reference to shady journalism at the Times,

The steadfast, ongoing refusal of our leading media institutions to refer to what the Bush administration did as “torture” — even in the face of more than 100 detainee deaths; the use of that term by a leading Bush official to describe what was done at Guantanamo; and the fact that media outlets frequently use the word “torture” to describe the exact same methods when used by other countries — reveals much about how the modern journalist thinks.

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On Obama and the Military Machine

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I just finished watching Jeremy Scahill’s devastating indictment of the Obama Administration and the American war machine on the Bill Moyers Journal. In particular, Scahill describes the increase in troop deployment, defense contractors and misuse of defense contracts, extrajudicial detentions at Bagram Airforce base, and the continuous killings of innocent civilians along the way by the desanitized drones.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Absolutely no idea whatsoever. We’ve spent 190 million dollars. Excuse me, $190 billion on the war in Afghanistan. And some estimates say that, within a few short years, it could it could end up at a half a trillion dollars. The fact is that I think most Americans are not aware that their dollars being spent in Afghanistan are, in fact, going to for-profit corporations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. These are companies that are simultaneously working for profit and for the U.S. government. That is the intricate linking of corporate profits to an escalation of war that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address. We live in amidst the most radical privatization agenda in the history of our country. And it cuts across every aspect of our society.

BILL MOYERS: You recently wrote about how the Department of Defense paid the former Halliburton subsidiary KBR more than $80 million in bonuses for contracts to install what proved to be very defective electrical wiring in Iraq. Senator Byron Dorgan himself, called that wiring in hearings, shoddy and unprofessional. So my question is why did the Pentagon pay for it when it was so inferior?

JEREMY SCAHILL:This is perhaps one of the greatest corporate scandals of the past decade. The fact that this Halliburton corporation, which was once headed by former Vice President Dick Cheney, was essentially given keys to the city of U.S. foreign policy. And allowed to do things that were dangerous for U.S. troops. Provide then with unclean drinking water. They were the premier company responsible for servicing the US military occupation of Iraq. In fact, they were deployed alongside the U.S. military in the build up to the war. This was a politically connected company that won its contracts because of its political connections. And the fact is that it was a behemoth that was there. It was it was the girl at the dance, and they danced with her.

. . . Because we’re killing innocent civilians regularly. When the United States goes in and bombs Farah province in Afghanistan, on May 4th, and kills civilians, according to the Red Cross and other sources, 13 members of one family, that has a ricochet impact. The relatives of those people are going to say maybe they did trust the United States. Maybe they viewed the United States as a beacon of freedom in the world. But you just took you just took that guy’s daughter. You just killed that guy’s wife. That’s one more person that’s going to line up and say, “We’re going to fight the United States.” We are indiscriminately killing civilians, according to the UN Human Rights Council. A report that was just released this week by the UN says that the United States is indiscriminately killing civilians in Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world. That should be a collective shame that we feel in this society. And yet we have people calling it the good war.

. . .  Well, I think that what we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war. Where you no longer have to depend exclusively on your own citizens to sign up for the military and say, “I believe in this war, so I’m willing to sign up and risk my life for it.” You turn the entire world into your recruiting ground. You intricately link corporate profits to an escalation of warfare and make it profitable for companies to participate in your wars. In the process of doing that you undermine U.S. democratic processes. And you also violate the sovereignty of other nations, ’cause you’re making their citizens in combatants in a war to which their country is not a party. I feel that the end game of all of this could well be the disintegration of the nation state apparatus in the world. And it could be replaced by a scenario where you have corporations with their own private armies. To me, that would be a devastating development. But it’s on. It’s happening on a micro level. And I fear it will start to happen on a much bigger scale.

Definitely not good for the home team.

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Euro Sham Elections or Stealth Democracy

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Today people across Europe are voting for those politicians who will theoretically represent them before the European Parliament. Unfortunately, just like with Spain’s unrepresentative electoral system, many EU states’ Parliament members are elected through closed lists — where only the candidate at the top of each list has actually been publicly debated — is a total sham, completely void of accountability, and a mind-boggling offense to the taxpayers and their wallets.

For example, I was just looking at the present list of Spanish members of the European Parliament. I don’t think I recognized a single one. There were 54 of them from a handful of parties, including 22 from PP and 24 from PSOE. So imagine that of these 22 PP and 24 PSOE elected officials only two of them were ever publicly debated or vetted prior to the election, and the remainder’s qualifications were never discussed. They are like stealth politicians, flying below the radar, and as a result, their performance is never publicly evaluated to determine whether they deserve to continue receiving the salary that we, the tax-payers, finance.

It is no wonder then that EU elections have such incredibly low voter turn-out. As long as the voter is so far removed from their so-called elected officials and is therefore not treated as a constituent, the EU will continue to lack real, voter-earned political legitimacy.

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Traduttore Traitore

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Today I was reading an article (that I cannot find at this time) about the large number of Internet searches for the meaning of the Arabic phrase “as-salam alikum” after it was used by Obama in his recent Cairo speech.  The article correctly explained that the phrase meant “peace be upon you” but then went on to translate another sentence in Arabic but leaving the word “Allah” untranslated.

Why is “Allah” not translated? Allah means “God” in Arabic. Not the Muslim God, just God plain and simple. Christian and Jewish Arabs say “Allah” when they refer to God, so why does the press always insist on giving the impression that Muslims pray to a different Allah? And the name Abdallah (literally, “servant of God”) historically was both a Christian and Muslim name, just as the name Jihad is very common amongst Arab Christians. Did the genius writing the aforementioned article bother to explain that the Arabic word “salam” actually comes from the same root as the Hebrew “shalom” or that all Arabs, regardless of religion, address each other with the exact same greeting?

Another good example would be the word “madrasa”. We are led to believe that a madrasa is a religious school where some odious form of extremism is taught to Muslim jihadists. Actually, madrasa is the generic word in Arabic for school. Evangelical Christians from America established missionary schools in Syria and Lebanon in the 19th Century, all called madrasas. And today, A Christian school in Bethlehem, for example, would be a madrasa. A public school, a private school, or a religious school — like the ones that Republicans would love to give tax-payer funded vouchers for — would all, in Arabic, be madrasas. And guess what? The great majority of suicide bombers, jihadists and Al Qaeda members, like Osama himself, have no formal religious training from madrasas or elsewhere.

So why the insistence on creating differences where they simply do not exist?

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Don’t Close Guantanamo Just Yet

We’ve got Christian terrorists, killing in the name of the Lord (on Sunday at Church no less), to round up, detain, waterboard, and deny due process to before Obama puts our national security at risk. There’s a fatwah against abortion, with scores of Pro-Life jihadists, not in caves but in the heartland calling for the deaths of the unholy doctors, and we need all the illegal interrogation tools Dick can fathom to prevent, God forbid, Christian assassins from getting their hands on nuclear weapons.

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