Friday, November 30, 2007

John Coltrane & Stan Getz: Hackensack (Rifftide)

Tenor giants John Coltrane and Stan Getz lead an incredible group through a tune claimed by both Thelonius Monk (Hackensack) and Coleman Hawkins (Rifftide). Oscar Peterson sits in on piano with the incomparable rhythm section of Paul Chambers (bass) and Jimmy Cobb (drums).

Gender apartheid in Saudi Arabia

A woman gang-raped by a group of men was sentenced to receive 90 lashes by a Saudi court for violating the law regarding the segregation of the sexes. When she appealed, the appellant court increased the number of lashes to 200, added a jail sentence and forbid her lawyer from representing her for the crime of adultery. The woman was even attacked by her brother for shaming the family and has tried to commit suicide twice.

This awful situation represents the lowly status of women in Saudi Arabia where they have no rights. Mona Eltahawy explains:
Once upon a time, in a country called South Africa the color of your skin determined where you lived, what jobs you were allowed, and whether you could vote or not.

Decent countries around the world fought the evil of racial apartheid by turning South Africa into a pariah state. They barred it from global events such as the Olympics. Businesses and universities boycotted South Africa, decimating its economy and adding to the isolation of the white-minority government, which finally repealed apartheid laws in 1991.

Today, in a country called Saudi Arabia it is gender rather than racial apartheid that is the evil but the international community watches quietly and does nothing.

Saudi women cannot vote, cannot drive, cannot be treated in a hospital or travel without the written permission of a male guardian. They cannot study the same things men do, and are barred from certain professions. Saudi women are denied many of the same rights that "Blacks" and "Coloreds" were denied in apartheid South Africa and yet the kingdom still belongs to the very same international community that kicked Pretoria out of its club.

To understand the heinous double standards at play, look no further than the case of a 19-year-old Saudi woman who was gang-raped last year.

Despite being abducted and raped by seven men, a court in Saudi Arabia sentenced her to 90 lashes because she was in a car with an unrelated man before she was abducted. Saudi Arabia's ultra-orthodox interpretation of Islamic law preaches a strict segregation of the sexes.

The young woman had the temerity to appeal - and publicize her story in the media. And so, earlier this month, the court increased her punishment to 200 lashes and six months in jail. Her lawyer, a prominent human rights defender, was suspended and faces a disciplinary hearing.

And the actual abductors and rapists? They got between two and nine years in jail. A rape conviction in the kingdom usually carries the death penalty, but the court said it did not impose it due to the "lack of witnesses" and the "absence of confessions."

Farida Deif, a researcher at Human Rights Watch women's rights division, who interviewed the young woman and her lawyer extensively, told me that one of the rapists had filmed the assault with his mobile phone but the judges refused to allow the clip as evidence.

Compare that to the use of such mobile phone footage to convict two police officers in Egypt on November 5, on charges of torturing and sodomizing a bus driver.

A few governments here and there have condemned the Saudi court's behavior but you can be sure that Saudi Arabia will be there at the next Olympics - even though it bars women from the national team - and the world will continue to fete the kingdom's representatives without a word of chastisement.

Just by agreeing to attend the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks in Annapolis Saudi Arabia merited headline news.

The easy explanation of the world's apathy to the plight of Saudi women is that the kingdom sits on the world's largest oil reserves. True.

The more difficult explanation - and the one that too many avoid - is that the Saudis have succeeded in pulling a fast one on the world by claiming their religion is the reason they treat women so badly.

I am a Muslim who is constantly wondering how it is that I worship the same God as the Saudis. Islam may have been born in Mecca - in what is today Saudi Arabia - but the warped interpretation of my religion prevalent in that country is like a perverse attempt to undo any good that Muslims believe was revealed in Prophet Muhammad's message in 7th century Arabia.

What kind of God would punish a woman for rape? That is a question that Muslims must ask of Saudi Arabia because unless we challenge the determinedly anti-women teachings of Islam in Saudi Arabia, that kingdom will always get a free pass.

It is easy to dismantle the Saudi clerical claim that it is Islam that justifies their outrageous treatment of girls and women. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim country, a place where women enjoy rights a Saudi woman could only dream of, where they recite the verses of the Koran on television for all to see and hear. In Saudi Arabia, a woman's voice is considered sinful.

Saudi Arabia's neighbors - Egypt, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates - are all Muslim-majority countries: Women drive, vote and hold ministerial portfolios as well as judgeships.

The international community must not forget the many brave Saudis such as the gang-rape victim, her lawyer and the activists who continue to question this oppression by their government and clerics. Their courage deserves the same kind of support the world offered anti-apartheid activists in South Africa.

Nor should the victims of Saudi atrocities be forgotten: In 2002, 15 schoolgirls died when officers of the morality police would not let them out of their burning school building - and barred firefighters from saving them - because the girls weren't wearing the headscarf and black cloak that all women must wear in public.

How many more girls must die and women suffer rape before the international community names this gender apartheid and condemns it appropriately?
The laws and customs of Saudi Arabia regarding women are simply barbaric and unacceptable to the civilized international community. Yet, what does the civilized international community do? Nothing. It’s time for that to change.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dancin' The Boogie - Silvan Zingg, Will & Maéva

I love this film clip.

Swiss piano prodigy Silvan Zingg plays for two dancers - Maéva and William - on stage at (I think) the annual Boogie Woogie Festival in Lugano, Switzerland.

Lower Army recruitment standards are simply “buying problems in the future”

Another victim of the Bush administration’s inadequate planning for the invasion of Iraq is the quality of our standing army. This from the International Herald Tribune:
Two weeks ago, the Pentagon announced the "good news" that the army had met its recruiting goal for October, the first month in a five-year plan to add 65,000 new soldiers to the ranks by 2012.

But Pentagon statistics show the army met that goal by accepting a higher percentage of enlistees with criminal records, drug or alcohol problems, or health conditions that would have ordinarily disqualified them from service.

In each fiscal year since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, statistics show, the army has accepted a growing percentage of recruits who do not meet its own minimum fitness standards. The October statistics show that at least 1 of every 5 recruits required a waiver to join the service, leading military analysts to conclude that the army is lowering standards more than it has in decades.

"The across-the-board lowering of the standards is buying problems in the future," said John Hutson, a retired rear admiral, dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire, and a former judge advocate general of the navy. "You are going to have more people getting in trouble, more people washing out" before finishing their tour of duty.
You can read the entire article here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Jerry Lee Lewis - Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On (1957)

As a pianist, "The Killer" Jerry Lee Lewis always complained because he had to sit down during his shows. Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash suggested him to stand up. Jerry Lee accepted their advice. So he started to kick the chairs, to go up on the keyboards and even to burn pianos.

Creation Museum evolving in size

The Creation Museum is about to evolve into a larger facility. A $500,000 upgrade is planned because the facility has surpassed initial expectations for attendance. Six months following its opening, over 250,000 walked through its doors – the number expected by the end of the first year.

This facility in Northern Kentucky is the first museum in the world dedicated to the creationist interpretation -- i.e., a literal biblical explanation -- of how the earth began. This includes those pesky dinosaurs whose bones keep showing up all over the world. They are shown here along humans in the world’s 6000-year existence. And, of course, Adam and Eve are positioned in such ways as to maintain their modesty – just the way God intended. They also have computer animation of how all those animals actually fitted in Noah’s Arc.

This is how Ken Ham, the director of the museum, explains the beliefs guiding the museum’s founders:

We believe that the intelligent designer who created the world and all the living things is not just any god, but the Creator God of the Bible. The view of molecules-to-man evolution can't be fit into the Bible if one takes Genesis as literal history-just as the New Testament writers do, and Jesus Christ does. Those who believe in evolution accept that millions of years of death, disease, and suffering led up to man's existence. The Bible makes it plain (e.g., the apostle Paul in Romans 5) that death is an intrusion because of man's sin. Evolutionists believe the fossil record is a record of the history of life over millions of years. But such death and disease (like cancer in dinosaur bones) could not be described by God as "very good" as He did when He finished the creation. Most of the fossil record is the graveyard of Noah's Flood.

Here is how the L.A. Times described the opening of the museum last spring:
The Creation Museum, a $27-million tourist attraction promoting earth science theories that were popular when Columbus set sail, opens near Cincinnati on Memorial Day. So before the first visitor risks succumbing to the museum's animatronic balderdash — dinosaurs and humans actually coexisted! the Grand Canyon was carved by the great flood described in Genesis! — we'd like to clear up a few things: "The Flintstones" is a cartoon, not a documentary. Fred and Wilma? Those woolly mammoth vacuum cleaners? All make-believe.

Science is under assault, and that calls for bold truths. Here's another: The Earth is round.
Sadly, the expansion of the museum probably reflects an appeal of pseudo-scientific explanations for life on earth. According to a poll cited by the Detroit Free Press, “51% of Americans think God created humans in their present form. Just 15% said that humans evolved and God was not involved.” There are those all to willing to take advantage of and profit from the ignorance of others. As P.T. Barnum put it, “A sucker is born every minute.”

Monday, November 26, 2007

Raped Saudi woman accused of adultery

Saudi justice officials now say the woman sentenced to prison and flogging after being gang-raped is guilty of having an extramarital affair.

Following the rape, the woman was arrested and sentenced to 90 lashes. She appealed and the court increased the number of lashes to 200, added a six-month jail imprisonment and barred her lawyer from representing her.

They now say she confessed to adultery.

This from the BBC:
The case of the unidentified women, 19, drew international criticism after an appeal increased her 90-lash sentence to 200 lashes and six months' jail.

The justice ministry statement rejected "foreign interference" in the case.

It insisted the ruling was legal and that the women had "confessed to doing what God has forbidden".

The statement carried by the official press agency late on Saturday said the sentence would be carried out in accordance with Saudi law.

The woman was initially to be punished for violating strict gender segregation laws in Saudi Arabia, for riding in the car of a man who was not related to her when they were attacked.

"The Saudi justice minister expressed his regret about the media reports over the role of the women in this case which put out false information and wrongly defend her," the statement said.

"The charged girl is a married woman who confessed to having an affair with the man she was caught with." Adultery is a punishable offence in Saudi Arabia's strict system of Islamic law, and correspondents say judges are given wide powers to impose custodial sentences or corporal punishment.

The justice ministry statement is at odds with previous published testimony of the woman, who is a Shia Muslim from the Qatif area.

She has reportedly said she met the car-owner in order to retrieve a photo of them together, having herself recently got married.

She says two men entered the car and drove them to a secluded area where others were waiting, and both she and her companion were raped.

Her sentence was increased on appeal after judges wanted to punish her for attempting to use the media to influence the case. Her attackers' sentences - originally up to five years - were also doubled.

Several governments and human rights groups have condemned her sentence and urged it to be lifted. Canada described it as "barbaric".

The US, a major Saudi ally, declined to condemn the sentence, but did call it "astonishing".
The US declined to condemn the sentence?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

James Madison – still relevant

James Madison was the fourth President of the United States, a co-author of the Federalist Papers and the principle author of the U.S. Constitution as well as the subsequent Bill of Rights. He was strongly committed to republicanism (lower case, mind you) in the United States and felt the new nation should fight aristocracy and the corruption of power.

Here are a few quotes from James Madison via Andrew Sullivan:
“If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

“It is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to the provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad.”

“No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”

“The executive has no right, in any case, to decide the question, whether there is or is not cause for declaring war.”

“War should only be declared by the authority of the people, whose toils and treasures are to support its burdens, instead of the government which is to reap its fruits.”

“Each generation should be made to bear the burden of its own wars, instead of carrying them on, at the expense of other generations.”
Is anyone listening?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Half of Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban

According to a report by the Senlis Council, the Taliban has made a remarkable comeback in Afghanistan following their expulsion by NATO forces in 2001. According to the report 54% of the country now has a permanent Taliban presence and they are unchallenged in their control of vast swaths of territory. According to the report:
The current insurgency, divided into a large poverty-driven ´grassroots´ component and a concentrated group of hardcore militant Islamists, is gaining momentum, further complicating the reconstruction and development process and effectively sabotaging NATO-ISAF’s stabilisation mission in the country.

Of particular concern is the apparent import of tactics perfected in Iraq. The emboldened Taliban insurgency is employing such asymmetric warfare tactics as suicide bombings and roadside bombs, causing numerous casualties both among the civilian population and the international and national security forces.
Given the neglect of this conflict by NATO allies, particularly the United States which is pre-occupied in Iraq, the Kabul government may have no choice but to try and work out a deal with these reactionary theocrats in sharing power. As Eric Martin points out, NATO has 40,000 troops fighting in Afghanistan as an international force compared to 160,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. This news is particularly disturbing along with reports that a Pakistani version of the Taliban is growing in strength and in control of parts of that country.

This from Der Spiegel:
The Senlis Council claims over half of Afghanistan is controlled by the Taliban

In war-torn Afghanistan, the Taliban is gaining ground again as it continues its insurgency. A report released Wednesday by the Senlis Council, an international security and development policy think tank, concludes that more than half the entire country is now under Taliban control.

"The Taliban's ability to establish a presence throughout the country is now proven beyond doubt," the report says, adding that "54 percent of Afghanistan's landmass hosts a permanent Taliban presence, primarily in southern Afghanistan, and is subject to frequent hostile activity by the insurgency."

The report, entitled "Stumbling into Chaos: Afghanistan on the Brink," is not merely a litany of depressing statistics. It also offers ideas to halt the spread of Taliban influence including a troop "surge." NATO forces, for example, should be doubled from 40,000 to 80,000 "as soon as logistically possible." It also recommends that all present caveats constraining troop deployment be removed and that Muslim countries should supply an additional 9,000 troops to supplement Western forces. And military efforts against the Taliban should extend their reach into Pakistan, with that country's permission.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007 as NATO forces continue to battle against the Taliban, particularly in the volatile south. On Thursday Secretary General Japp de Hoop Scheffer, in Kabul for talks with the Afghan government, admitted that the alliance needed to provide more troops for Afghanistan and more trainers for Afghan forces.

Some members of NATO's coalition forces disagree with the assessment set forth by the Senlis Council. Canada's Defense Minister Peter Mackay told reporters on Wednesday that the report was simply "not credible."

The report was released on the same day as an Oxfam assessment critical of the spending efforts inside Afghanistan by Western powers. "As in Iraq," the report claims, "too much aid is absorbed by profits of companies and subcontractors, on non-Afghan resources and on high expatriate salaries and living costs."

Both reports are grim. Oxfam notes that "the absence of community participation, or association with the military, has led to projects which are unsuitable, unused or targeted by militants." And the Senlis report concludes that "it is a sad indictment of the current state of Afghanistan that the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when this will happen and in what form."

Meanwhile on Thursday Afghan President Hamid Karzai said that Taliban leaders were increasingly contacting him to try to find ways of making peace. "We are willing to talk," he told reporters in Kabul. "Those of the Taliban who are not part of al-Qaida or the terrorist networks, who do not want to be violent against the Afghan people ... are welcome."
Liberal democracy was always an iffy proposition for central Asia. It may be drifting out of reach unless Western nations with resources start paying attention.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Conservapedia’s homosexual obsession

Surprise! Surprise! It seems conservative Internet research focuses not only on sex but specifically on issues of homosexuality. Via Andrew Sullivan, this is a list of the top ten viewed pages on Conservapedia:
1. Main Page‎ [1,902,193]

2. Homosexuality‎ [1,537,287]

3. Homosexuality and Hepatitis‎ [516,607]

4. Homosexuality and Promiscuity‎ [420,001]

5. Homosexuality and Parasites‎ [387,851]

6. Homosexuality and Domestic Violence‎ [348,815]

7. Gay Bowel Syndrome‎ [340,343]

8. Homosexuality and Gonorrhea‎ [330,961]

9. Homosexuality and Mental Health‎ [274,431]

10. Homosexuality and Syphilis‎ [264,907]

As previously posted, Conservapedia (and its first cousin, Creationpedia) were created as alternatives to Wikipedia and designed with the notion that raw information is dangerous and needs to be presented in such a way as to promote certain ideas and disourage others. It would be funny if it wasn’t’ sad because education becomes indistingushable from indoctrination.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Bush is a dog that barks but can no longer bite

Helmut Schmidt, who as German Chancellor in the late 1970’s to early 1980’s initiated the U.S. missile buildup to counter the threat from the Soviet Union, recently stated that he believed that Russia now posed far less a threat to world peace than the United States. He made clear he did not see Russian President Vladimir Putin as a flawless democrat, but did consider him an "enlightened potentate."

Der Spiegel’s Washington correspondent, Gabor Steingart, challenges Schmidt’s conclusions. In an article, “How Dangerous is America?,” he sees Russia as adrift with some very serious problems that can spill over its borders. On the other hand he believes the recklessness of the Bush presidency is being increasingly held in check by democratic institutions not present in Russia.

Here is what he has to say about the United States:
… the loud and sometimes insufferable America of President George W. Bush is already significantly less dangerous than it was when he came into office. Today Bush is a dog that barks but can no longer bite. He is limited by four factors, which, in their absoluteness, are foreign to Putin: his own people, the US Constitution, the independent judiciary and the free press. All four factors lend legitimacy to the United States -- and withdraw it again. This is precisely the beauty of a democracy: the people have the first and last word.

…The superpower is experiencing a difficult phase not unlike the period in the early 1970s, when the Vietnam War was approaching its inglorious end. The country senses that no one is impressed by its tough talk on the so-called "clash of civilizations" and the "war on terror," as long as success remains elusive on the real war fronts. The Taliban in Afghanistan are confident again, thriving within the population like fish in water. Iraq remains a constant challenge, refusing to be pacified. The United States has isolated itself internationally. No one on the planet, not even in its remotest corners, is currently sending Bush the message that the world wants more of America.

The domestic mood is by no means gung-ho when it comes to the war in Iraq. The Americans are defiant. They don't want to lose the war, and yet their support for it is waning. The strategy of aggression, of launching attacks based on suspicion alone and the doctrine of the preemptive strike are now seen as military and political failures.

Bush would be truly dangerous if he could do as he wished. But he can't. This is precisely the difference. In a democracy, the will of the individual is answerable to the people, and not the other way around. I, in any case, prefer narrow-minded democrats over enlightened potentates any day. Of course, enlightened democrats -- the kind of person Helmut Schmidt once was and will hopefully remain for a long time -- are the best thing for the country.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vote right on abortion or go to Hell

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops are now telling voters they will be judged by God on how they vote for candidates with positions on abortion contrary to official church doctrine. Many Catholic theologians have been associated with the position of “abortion-as-murder” at any time, under any circumstances. The Bishops’ instructions included a warning to voters that “their eternal salvation could be at stake” on how they vote.

In the meantime, Trailer Park Feminist has discovered a little gem of a video here by The bottom line is the uterus and UPS have the same purpose: to deliver.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Saudi justice – 200 lashes for the rape victim

A woman is gang-raped by a group of men. She is convicted of violating the law regarding segregation of the sexes and sentenced to 90 lashes. She appeals and the court more than doubles lashes, adds a six month prison sentence and suspends her lawyer from representing her. This is what justice looks like in Saudi Arabia.

From the BBC:
The woman was initially punished for violating laws on segregation of the sexes - she was in an unrelated man's car at the time of the attack.

When she appealed, judges doubled her sentence, saying she had been trying to use the media to influence them.

Her lawyer has been suspended from the case and faces a disciplinary session.

Abdel Rahman al-Lahem told the BBC Arabic Service that the sentence was in violation of Islamic law:

"My client is the victim of this abhorrent crime. I believe her sentence contravenes the Islamic Sharia law and violates the pertinent international conventions," he said.

"The judicial bodies should have dealt with this girl as the victim rather than the culprit."

The lawyer also said that his client would appeal against the decision to increase her punishment.

According to the Arab News newspaper, the 19-year-old woman, who is from Saudi Arabia's Shia minority, was gang-raped 14 times in an attack in Qatif in the eastern province a year-and-a-half ago.

Seven men were found guilty of the rape and sentenced to prison terms ranging from just under a year to five years.

The rapists' sentences were also doubled by the court. Correspondents say the sentences were still low considering the rapists could have faced the death penalty.

The rape victim was punished for violating Saudi Arabia's laws on segregation that forbid unrelated men and women from associating with each other. She was initially sentenced to 90 lashes for being in the car of a strange man.

On appeal, the Arab News reported that the punishment was not reduced but increased to 200 lashes and a six-month prison sentence.

Mr Lahem accused the court of letting personal views influence its decision.

"It seems that the sentence was influenced by the fact that the woman escalated the issue with her lawyer and also with the supreme judicial authorities," he said.

"This is astonishing because justice is supposed to be independent from all pressures as well as personal considerations, be it a feeling towards the lawyer or defendant herself," he added.

The Arab News quoted an official as saying the judges had decided to punish the girl for trying to aggravate and influence the judiciary through the media.

Mr Lahem said that the judges' decision to confiscate his licence to work and stop him from representing his client is illegal.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The price to pay for torture

It is dispiriting to hear the wishy-washy debate about torture in this country. Apologists deny torture takes place and then, just to be on the safe side, deny torture is torture. For example, they commonly engage in the Orwellian wordplay that the water torture commonly known as water-boarding is a mere simulation of drowning as if it were only make-believe. Joseph L. Galloway, a former reporter for the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain and now a columnist with the McClatchy Newspapers, writes about the water torture:
When you hog-tie a human being, tilt him head down, stuff a rag in his mouth and over his nostrils and pour water onto the rag slowly and steadily to the point where his lungs start to fill with water and he's suffocating and drowning, that is torture.

Four decades ago in the field in Vietnam, I saw a suspected Viet Cong waterboarded by South Vietnamese Army troops. The American Army advisers who were attached to the Vietnamese unit turned their backs and walked away before the torture began. It was then a Vietnamese affair and something they couldn't be associated with.

The victim was taken to the edge of death. His body was wracked with spasms as he fought for air. The soldier holding the five-gallon kerosene tin filled with muddy water from a nearby stream kept pouring it slowly onto the rag, and the victim desperately sucking for even a little air kept inhaling that water instead.

It seemed to go on forever. Did the suspect talk? I'm sure he did. I'm sure he told his torturers whatever he thought they wanted to hear, whether it was true or not. But I didn't see the end of it because one of the American advisers came to me and told me I had to leave; that I couldn't watch this interrogation, if that's what it was, any longer.

That adviser knew that water torture was torture; he knew that it was outlawed by the Geneva Convention; he knew that he couldn't be a party to it; and he knew that he didn't want me to witness such brutality.

Every member of the Senate Judiciary Committee knows that waterboarding is torture, even the majority who voted to send Judge Mukasey's nomination to be attorney general, America's chief law enforcement official, to the floor for a vote.

Waterboarding was torture when it was used during the Spanish Inquisition; it was torture when it was used on Filipino rebels during the 1890s; it was torture when the Japanese Army used it on prisoners in World War II; it was torture when it was used by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia; and it's torture when CIA officers or others use it on terrorists.

When George W. Bush was the governor of Texas, the state investigated, indicted, convicted and sentenced to prison for 10 years a county sheriff who, with his deputies, had waterboarded a criminal suspect. That sheriff got no pardon from Gov. Bush.

Waterboarding is torture in the eyes of all civilized peoples, no matter how desperately President George W. Bush tries to rewrite the English language, with which he has only a passing familiarity, anyway. No matter how desperately his entire administration tries to redefine the word "torture" to cover the fact that not only have they acquiesced in its use, but they also have ordered its use.

The president, Vice President Dick Cheney, and their cronies and legal mouthpieces such as David Addington, John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales are doing all they can to avoid one day facing the bar of justice, at home or in The Hague, and being called to account for crimes against humanity.

They want a blank check pardon, and they'll continue searching for attorneys general and judges and justices and senators and members of Congress who'll hand them their stay-out-of-jail-free cards.

As they squirm and wriggle and lie and quibble and cut deals with senators, they claim that "harsh interrogation methods" are necessary to prevent another 9/11. But as terrified as they are by terrorists, they also fear that one day they may be treated no better than some fallen South American dictator or Cambodian despot or hapless Texas sheriff; that they might not be able to leave a guarded, gated compounds in Dallas or Crawford, a ranch in New Mexico or the shores of Chesapeake Bay for fear of arrest and extradition.

Waterboarding is torture. Decent people have acknowledged that for centuries. We sent Japanese war criminals to the gallows for using it. We sent a Texas sheriff to prison for using it. One day, an ex-president and those who helped him and those he ordered to torture fellow human beings may have to plea bargain for their lives and their freedom.

There is a price to pay for torture. When the Bush administration took this country down the slippery slope of cutting corners on the treatment of prisoners-of-war deemed enemy combatants and by engaging in torture or the threat of torture they did more than carry us out over moral thin ice. The net effect has been to weaken the United States by destroying American credibility both at home and abroad. It has become a common assumption U.S. authorities torture, whether they do or not, to the point that our closest allies distance themselves from us. The virtues of credibility and moral leadership are not abstract; they are as empowering as the number of tanks on the battlefield or aircraft carriers on the sea. The fact these virtues are in doubt makes us a weaker nation than we have been since the beginning of World War II. Others will not follow because we think we are the good guys, others will follow because they think we are the good guys. That’s power.

For the United States to regain its moral authority and credibility it will be necessary to hold those responsible accountable for their actions. No one within this administration will take action within the next year and the Democratic opposition in Congress is too weak to act at this time. Therefore, when this administration leaves town on January 20, 2009, it will be time for the new administration and new congress to start the investigations and prosecutions of those responsible for these crimes against humanity. There is a price to pay for torture.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Guantánamo by the numbers

It has been six years since the creation of the detention center in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba to hold prisoners alleged to have ties with Al Qaeda and the establishment of military commissions to try them. While there is little question that there has been at least some very dangerous characters held there, the Guantánamo detention facility has become a symbol of American over-reaction that has caused allies to distance themselves from the U.S.

According to David Bowker and David Kaye, two attorneys who were staff attorneys for the U.S. State Department under both the Clinton and Bush administrations, the number of detainees currently held at the Cuban base is approximately 300 -- down from a peak of 700 – of which no more than 80 are likely to face any kind of American prosecution. No defendants have gone to trial and only one has pled guilty.

Here is their snapshot of Guantánamo to date:
Number of "high-value detainees" now at Guantánamo - 15

Approximate percentage of detainees found to have committed "hostile acts" against the United States or coalition forces before detention - 53

Approximate number of countries of which detainees are citizens - 40

Most represented countries - Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Yemen

Cost of building Guantánamo high-security detention facilities - about $54 million

Estimated annual cost of operating Guantánamo - $90 million to $118 million

Cost of "expeditionary legal complex" for the military commission (under construction) - $10 million to $12 million

Number of books in the Guantánamo detention library - 5,143

Number of Korans issued to detainees from January 2002 to June 2005 - more than 1,600

Number of daily calories per detainee - Up to 4,200

Average weight gain per detainee - 20 pounds

Number of pills dispensed per day - 1,000, to 200-300 detainees

Number of apparent suicides - 4

Number of apparent suicide attempts: 41, by 25 detainees (as of May 2006)

Number of detainee assaults on guards using "bodily fluids" - more than 400

Date of first visit to Guantánamo by the International Committee of the Red Cross - Jan. 18, 2002

Approximate number of visits by lawyers to Guantánamo detainees this year - 1,100

Month of first habeas corpus petition filed to challenge detention at Guantánamo - January 2002

Number of habeas corpus petitions filed in federal courts on behalf of detainees - roughly 300

Number of detainees designated by the president as "eligible" for trial by military commission - 14

Number actually charged with crimes (for example, murder and material support for terrorism) - 10

Number of pending cases - 3

Number of convictions: - 1 (an Australian who pleaded guilty to material support of terrorism and was sentenced to nine months of confinement in his home country)

Estimated number of detainees who may be charged in the future - 80

Date of first release of a detainee - May 2002 (one detainee repatriated to Afghanistan because of an "emotional breakdown")

Approximate number of detainees released - 445

Approximate number of current detainees found eligible for transfer or release - 70

Countries to which Guantánamo detainees have been transferred - Albania, Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Maldives, Mauritania, Morocco, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Spain, Sweden, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Uganda, Yemen

Most recent announced transfer of detainees from Guantánamo - Nov. 4 (eight to Afghanistan, three to Jordan)

Personal items provided to detainees upon departure - a Koran, a denim jacket, a white T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, high-top sneakers, a gym bag of toiletries and a pillow and blanket for the flight home

Number of detainees said by Pentagon to have resumed hostile activities against the United States after release - at least 30

Number of U.S. senators who voted in favor of a nonbinding resolution that Guantánamo detainees "should not be released into American society, nor should they be transferred stateside into facilities in American communities and neighborhoods" - 94

Number of bills in Congress calling for the closing of Guantánamo - 3

Number of members of the House of Representatives who signed a letter to Bush in June 2007 urging him to close Guantánamo and move the detainees to military prisons in the United States - 145

Number of Republicans who signed the letter - 1

Democratic presidential candidates who are on record supporting closing Guantánamo - 8

Republican presidential candidates who are - 2 (John McCain and Ron Paul)

Closest American allies that have called for Guantánamo's closing - Britain, France, Germany

Next scheduled legal test of the Guantánamo system - Boumediene v. Bush, a challenge to the denial of habeas corpus, set for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 5

Linda Hopkins - St. Louis Blues

Linda Hopkins sings W.C. Handy's classic.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

U.S./Pakistan policy is symbol of failure

The imposition of martial law by General (a.k.a. “President”) Pervez Musharraf clearly highlights a failure of U.S. policy. The United States has poured millions of dollars into Pakistan since September 11th for purposes of combating the Taliban and Al Qaeda forces who have took refuge in Pakistan following the Battle of Tora Bora in December 2001.

However, Pakistan under the Musharraf dictatorship has not proved to be a reliable ally. It has cut deals with terrorist groups promising to leave them alone and has seemingly been willing to cede territory to home-grown Taliban-like groups as it focuses the resources of the armed services on cracking down on pro-democracy activists. Musharraf has learned that he is not held accountable for what he does as long as says what the administration wants to hear. He has learned how to recite certain buzzwords, catch phrases and American myths, popular with certain elements of the American political scene, to justify his actions. In return, President Bush congratulates him for taking “positive steps.”

Sidney Blumenthal has this take on the U.S./Pakistan relationship in the larger context of the Bush administration’s policy:
…Pakistan, whose intelligence service and military contain elements that sponsor the Taliban and al-Qaida, remains an epicenter of terrorism. General Pervez Musharraf's imposition of martial law in Pakistan on November 3 was his second coup, reinforcing his 1999 military takeover. Facing elections in January 2008 that seemed likely to repudiate him and an independent judiciary that refused to grant him extraordinary powers, he suspended constitutional rule. Toothless US admonitions were easily ignored.

Musharraf's coup spectacularly illustrates the "Bush effect". His speech of November 3, explaining his seizure of power, is among the most significant and revealing documents of this new era in its cynical exploitation of the American example. In his speech, Musharraf mocks and echoes Bush's rhetoric. Tyranny, not freedom, is on the march. Musharraf appropriates the phrase "judicial activism" - the epithet hurled by American conservatives at liberal decisions of the courts since the Warren-led Supreme Court issued
Brown versus Board of Education, which outlawed segregation in schools - and makes it his own. This term "judicial activism" has no other source. It is certainly not a phrase that originated in Pakistan. "The judiciary has interfered, that's the basic issue," Musharraf said.

Indeed, under Bush, the administration has equated international law, the system of justice, and lawyers with terrorism. In the March 2005 national defense strategy, this conflation of enemies became official doctrine: "Our strength as a nation state will continue to be challenged by those who employ a strategy of the weak using international fora, judicial processes, and terrorism."

Neoconservative lawyers, in and out of the administration, have strenuously argued that the efforts to restore the Geneva conventions, place detainees within the judicial process and provide them with legal representation amount to what they denigrate as "lawfare" - a sneering reference to "welfare" and the idea that detainees are akin to the unworthy poor. Lawyers for detainees, meanwhile, are routinely insulted as "habeas lawyers," as though they were agents of terrorists and that arguing for the restoration of habeas corpus proves complicity "objectively" with terrorists.

Rather than cite these neoconservative talking points directly or invoke the authority of Bush, whose feeble protestations he brushed aside, Musharraf slyly quoted Abraham Lincoln, who suspended habeas corpus in Maryland and southern Indiana during the American civil war. (The US circuit court of Maryland overturned his act. In 1866, the Supreme Court ruled in Ex parte Milligan that civilians could not be tried before military tribunals when civil courts were functioning.)

In Musharraf's version, Lincoln is his model, taking executive action in order to save the nation: "He broke laws, he violated the Constitution, he usurped arbitrary powers, he trampled individual liberties, his justification was necessity." Musharraf, of course, as he suspends an election, leaves out the rest of Lincoln, not least the difficult election of 1864, which took place in the middle of the civil war.

But where did Musharraf get his warped idea of Lincoln as dictator and America as an example of tyranny? Not quite from diligent study of American history. According to a 2002 interview with Ikram Sehgal, managing editor of the Defense Journal of Pakistan, Musharraf received this notion from his reading of Richard Nixon's book Leaders, published in 1994, in which Nixon discusses Lincoln's measures taken under extreme duress with ill-disguised admiration. Thus, for Musharraf, as for Cheney and Bush, Nixon's vision of an imperial president lies at the root of their actions in creating an executive unbound by checks and balances, unaccountable to "judicial activism".

Since declaring a state of emergency, Musharraf has rounded up thousands of lawyers and shut down the courts, while halting offensive military action against terrorists. In the name of combating terrorism, even as parts of his government are in league with them, he launches an attack on those who profess democracy.

The Bush administration finds itself devoid of options. Neoconservatives are left, happily at least for some of them, to defend torture. They have no explanations for the implosion of Bush's policies or suggestions for remedy. Self-examination is too painful and in any case unfamiliar. Bush regrets Musharraf's martial law, yet tacitly accepts that the US has no alternative but to support him in the war on terror that he is not fighting - and is using for his own political purposes.

On the rubble of neoconservatism, the Bush administration has adopted "realism" by default, though not even as a gloss on its emptiness. Bush still clings to his high-flown rhetoric as if he's warming up for his second inaugural address. But this is not rock-bottom. There is further to fall.
You can read the entire article here.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Bypassing the Iraqi government and buying off warlords to fight the war

Ghaith Abdul-Ahad reports in Saturday’s Guardian why there has been a recent drop in violence in Iraq:
Abu Abed, a member of the insurgent Islamic Army, has recently become the commander of the US-sponsored "Ameriya Knights". He is one of the new breed of Sunni warlords who are being paid by the US to fight al-Qaida in Iraq. The Americans call their new allies Concerned Citizens.

It is a strategy that has worked well for the Americans, on paper at least. This week, the US military claimed it had forced the extremist group al-Qaida in Mesopotamia out of Baghdad altogether, and cut the number of murders in the city by 80%. Major General Joseph Fil, commander of US forces in Baghdad, said: "The Iraqi people have decided that they've had it up to here with violence."

Critics of the plan say they are simply creating powerful new strongmen who run their own prisons and armies, and who eventually will turn on each other.

A senior Sunni sheikh, whose tribe is joining the new alliance with the Americans against al-Qaida, told me in Beirut that it was a simple equation for him. "It's just a way to get arms, and to be a legalised security force to be able to stand against Shia militias and to prevent the Iraqi army and police from entering their areas," he said.

"The Americans lost hope with an Iraqi government that is both sectarian and dominated by militias, so they are paying for locals to fight al-Qaida. It will create a series of warlords.

"It's like someone who brought cats to fight rats, found himself with too many cats and brought dogs to fight the cats. Now they need elephants."
You can read the entire article here.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guy Davis - Chocolate Man


All you people better gather around
The chocolate man done come to town

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

Make you pretty girls jump and shout
Run tell your mama what it's all about

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

If you like my chocolate, I don't mind
You can eat my bonbons two at a time

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

I got chocolate stockings, chocolate shoes
I open up the paper, read the chocolate news

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

I put chocolate kisses in your mouth
You chew 'em up north and let 'em slide down south

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

Once you start, you can't stop
Till you eat all the chocolate in my chocolate shop

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

I play chocolate music when I sing the blues
I got chocolate buttons on my dancing shoes

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

You can lick it off your fingers, you can roll it on your tongue
Everybody's glad when they see me come

I'm the chocolate man, I'm the chocolate man
I've got chocolate kisses, get 'em from me while you can

Guy Davis at Hugh's Room, Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Why is the U.S. continuing to drag its feet resettling Iraqi refugees?

The United States resettled 900,000 refugees from Vietnam following the war in Southeast Asia and 12,000 refugees from Iraq following the first Gulf War. It is estimated that more than 2 million Iraqis have had to flee the violence and ethnic cleansing in their country during the current conflict. Yet the U.S. has accepted only a few hundred. This is particularly disgraceful when it comes to the Iraqis who have assisted American forces in that country and have been abandoned. Those particular Iraqis risked their lives for the Americans and are targets of every group and militia that has a grievance with the Americans.

George Packer reminds us of how refugees were handled following the first Gulf War:
In the fall of 1996, the U.S. military evacuated more than six thousand Iraqis—Kurds and others who had worked with American agencies in the north, and whose lives were directly threatened by Saddam’s army—halfway across the world to Guam. There they were screened, processed for asylum, and assigned sponsors in an effort that involved more than a thousand American soldiers and civilians. Almost all of the evacuees ended up Stateside within seven months. Major General John Dallager, the Joint Task Force commander of Operation Pacific Haven, said, “Our success will undoubtedly be a role model for future humanitarian efforts.”

Undoubtedly. Major General Dallager didn’t count on the moral abdication of the Bush Administration in the face of a similar but much larger and more compelling humanitarian crisis. Recently, some conscience-stricken American officials have privately begun to ask why the model of Operation Pacific Haven can’t be emulated today. Flying Iraqis to Guam would solve every problem, real and invented, that the Administration claims is holding up resettlement: the inability of Homeland Security interviewers to meet with refugees in Syria; the near-impossibility of Iraqis getting into neighboring countries; the supposed security concerns that prevent the U.S. from screening Iraqis inside Iraq. With the Guam option, none of this would matter.
The Iraqi refugee crisis needs to be addressed because it can destabilize the region. (And this isn’t even considering the problem of internal displacement in Iraq of another 2 million people.) But of equal or even greater importance it needs to be addressed as a moral issue. It is simply the right thing to do.

However, the administration keeps dragging its feet because addressing the problem and accepting greater numbers of refugees as part of that solution would look bad. As far as they are concerned it is better to let Iraqis suffer in refugee camps and abandon Iraqis who assisted American troops than admit mistakes were made that resulted in this conflict spiraling out of control.

We are long overdue for a change in attitude and policy in Washington about this issue.

Friday, November 09, 2007

BB King - The Thrill Is Gone

B.B. King performing "The Thrill is Gone" at Roy Thomson Hall, May/11/2007, Toronto, Ontario.

“Talibanization” of Pakistan continues as Buddhist statue is destroyed in Swat Valley

While President Musharraf is busy focusing Pakistan’s military resources on battling pro-democracy activists to preserve his personal rule, the “Talibanization” of the countryside continues. Reminiscient of the destruction of Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, militant Islamists recently destroyed a 131 foot tall staute of Buddha in northern Pakistan. The 1300 year-old statute was located in the Swat Valley, considered the probable birthplace of Vajrayana Buddism. The militants have set up a "parallel government" with Islamic courts imposing sharia law.

This from Der Spiegel:
When the Taliban destroyed two Buddhist statues in
Afghanistan in the spring of 2001, there was an international outcry. But similar incidents are now occurring in northwest Pakistan, where radical Islamists recently blew up a sculpture of Buddha in broad daylight.

The phenomenon is new and disconcerting. Even the Pakistani government describes it as "Talibanization:" Parts of the country are now in almost exactly the same situation as neighboring Afghanistan was when the Taliban were still in power there.

This is especially the case in the formerly peaceful Swat region, where a militant Islamist leader has even proclaimed an "emirate." And just as in Afghanistan, the Islamists' hatred is directed, in part, against the traces left by the ancient Buddhist civilization in the region.

Islamists inspired by the Taliban recently destroyed an important Buddhist sculpture 40 meters (131 feet) tall and about 1,300 years old in the north-western part of the Swat Valley, reports Vishaka N. Desai, the director of the US-based Asia Society.

In her article, which appeared in the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper on Tuesday, Buddhism expert Desai reports that the Islamists were able to act without any interference from the local administration -- in broad daylight. Their first destruction attempt left the sculpture undamaged; the second damaged the Buddha's face, shoulders and feet. The culprits had used large machines to drill shafts into the historic monument. They then filled the shafts with explosives and detonated them.

Desai, who is Indian, also reports that while Pakistani newspapers criticized the desecration extensively, the international press hardly took notice of the incident. And yet it was not the first of its kind. As recently as September of this year, gunshots were fired at a rock effigy of Buddha in the same region.

In March of 2001, when the Afghan Taliban laboriously blew up two enormous Buddha statues in Bamiyan, a district in central Afghanistan, there was an international outcry. The Taliban justified the destruction by saying the sculptures were idols and "un-Islamic." Taliban leader Mullah Omar said at the time that "Muslims should be proud to destroy idols. Our destroying them was an act of praise for God."

Now Desai is warning that other Buddhist cultural legacies in Pakistan could also be destroyed: "There are vast numbers of important Buddhist sites in Swat and other areas of northwest Pakistan," she writes. "At this point, all of them are under threat of destruction, thanks to the influential voice of the Islamist leader Mullah Fazlullah."

Mullah Maulana Fazlullah is currently the strong man in the Swat region, notwithstanding his youth: He is only 28 years old. He thinks of himself as part of the Taliban movement and accepts only one authority: Mullah Omar. He has even proclaimed an "Islamic emirate" in his area of influence, and he commands a militia estimated to comprise some 4,500 men.

But Buddhist artefacts are not the only thorn in the Islamist's side. He also emulates the Taliban's religious and moral terror in other respects. For example, he threatened members of the Christian minority in the region -- about 1,000 people -- with death if they do not convert to Islam, Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung reported recently. And a Christian girls' school was forced to close and only allowed to open again on condition that all the girls wear a burka.

British daily The Guardian reports that the religious warriors operating under Fazlullah's control also set fire to several stores selling Indian and Western films and destroyed barber's shops that were known to shave men. Fazlullah even prevented the implementation of a polio vaccination program supported by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), the New York Times reports. Fazlullah claimed the vaccinations would make men impotent.

In July, the Pakistani military felt compelled to dispatch 2,000 soldiers to the Swat region for the first time. The soldiers were sent to prevent the Pakistani Taliban from further extending their area of influence. But the soldiers behaved passively in most cases, according to the Times. Last week, reinforcements were sent, and 17 of the newly deployed soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber. The former tourist region has been considered a crisis spot ever since. When Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf suspended the constitution and imposed a state of emergency over the weekend, one of the reasons he cited was the growing threat Pakistan faces from terrorists and militant Islamists.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Monday, November 05, 2007

Abortion is not murder

When does human life begin?

The answers usually revolve around whether or not life begins at conception or later as a starting point for on whether one favors or opposes therapeutic abortion to end a pregnancy. The problem with the answers most people give on either side of that debate is they all miss the point. Life began millions of years ago and evolved in various forms. We are mere vessels carrying human life forward in our sperm and ovum. When we reproduce we move human life forward one more generation but we didn’t create life.

Human life takes many forms from sperm and ovum at one extreme to human beings at the other. The so-called “pro-life” proponents argue that all forms of human life must be protected but is that what they really believe? If an embryo or fetus is aborted should the woman be criminally prosecuted for murder? Is an embryo or fetus the equal to a person under law or common sense? No.

In recent years there has been no shortage of demagoguery around the issue by certain politicians and religious leaders. The politicians have to answer to the voters so we can let the democratic process deal with them. However, religious leaders usually claim to be answerable only to supernatural beings. How can they be held accountable? Well, to begin with, we can point out, as Garry Wills argues, that there is no theological basis for defending or opposing abortion.

Garry Wills in the L.A. Times:
What makes opposition to abortion the issue it is for each of the GOP presidential candidates is the fact that it is the ultimate "wedge issue" -- it is nonnegotiable. The right-to-life people hold that it is as strong a point of religion as any can be. It is religious because the Sixth Commandment (or the Fifth by Catholic count) says, "Thou shalt not kill." For evangelical Christians, in general, abortion is murder. That is why what others think, what polls say, what looks practical does not matter for them. One must oppose murder, however much rancor or controversy may ensue.

But is abortion murder? Most people think not. Evangelicals may argue that most people in Germany thought it was all right to kill Jews. But the parallel is not valid. Killing Jews was killing persons. It is not demonstrable that killing fetuses is killing persons. Not even evangelicals act as if it were. If so, a woman seeking an abortion would be the most culpable person. She is killing her own child. But the evangelicalcommunity does not call for her execution.

About 10% of evangelicals, according to polls, allow for abortion in the case of rape or incest. But the circumstances of conception should not change the nature of the thing conceived. If it is a human person, killing it is punishing it for something it had nothing to do with. We do not kill people because they had a criminal parent.

Nor did the Catholic Church treat abortion as murder in the past. If it had, late-term abortions and miscarriages would have called for treatment of the well-formed fetus as a person, which would require baptism and a Christian burial. That was never the practice. And no wonder. The subject of abortion is not scriptural. For those who make it so central to religion, this seems an odd omission. Abortion is not treated in the Ten Commandments -- or anywhere in Jewish Scripture. It is not treated in the Sermon on the Mount -- or anywhere in the New Testament. It is not treated in the early creeds. It is not treated in the early ecumenical councils.

Much of the debate over abortion is based on a misconception -- that it is a religious issue, that the pro-life advocates are acting out of religious conviction. It is not a theological matter at all. There is no theological basis for defending or condemning abortion. Even popes have said that the question of abortion is a matter of natural law, to be decided by natural reason. Well, the pope is not the arbiter of natural law. Natural reason is.

John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican priest who converted to Catholicism, once wrote that "the pope, who comes of revelation, has no jurisdiction over nature." The matter must be decided by individual conscience, not by religious fiat. As Newman said: "I shall drink to the pope, if you please -- still, to conscience first, and to the pope afterward."

If we are to decide the matter of abortion by natural law, that means we must turn to reason and science, the realm of Enlightened religion. But that is just what evangelicals want to avoid. Who are the relevant experts here? They are philosophers, neurobiologists, embryologists. Evangelicals want to exclude them because most give answers they do not want to hear. The experts have only secular expertise, not religious conviction. They, admittedly, do not give one answer -- they differ among themselves, they are tentative, they qualify. They do not have the certitude that the religious right accepts as the sign of truth.

So evangelicals take shortcuts. They pin everything on being pro-life. But one cannot be indiscriminately pro-life.

If one claimed, in the manner of Albert Schweitzer, that all life deserved moral respect, then plants have rights, and it might turn out that we would have little if anything to eat. And if one were consistently pro-life, one would have to show moral respect for paramecia, insects, tissue excised during a medical operation, cancer cells, asparagus and so on. Harvesting carrots, on a consistent pro-life hypothesis, would constitute something of a massacre.

Opponents of abortion will say that they are defending only human life. It is certainly true that the fetus is human life. But so is the semen before it fertilizes; so is the ovum before it is fertilized. They are both human products, and both are living things. But not even evangelicals say that the destruction of one or the other would be murder.

Defenders of the fetus say that life begins only after the semen fertilizes the egg, producing an embryo. But, in fact, two-thirds of the embryos produced this way fail to live on because they do not embed in the womb wall. Nature is like fertilization clinics -- it produces more embryos than are actually used. Are all the millions of embryos that fail to be embedded human persons?

The universal mandate to preserve "human life" makes no sense. My hair is human life -- it is not canine hair, and it is living. It grows. When it grows too long, I have it cut. Is that aborting human life? The same with my growing human fingernails. An evangelical might respond that my hair does not have the potential to become a person. True. But semen has the potential to become a person, and we do not preserve every bit of semen that is ejaculated but never fertilizes an egg.

The question is not whether the fetus is human life but whether it is a human person, and when it becomes one. Is it when it is capable of thought, of speech, of recognizing itself as a person, or of assuming the responsibilities of a person? Is it when it has a functioning brain? Aquinas said that the fetus did not become a person until God infused the intellectual soul. A functioning brain is not present in the fetus until the end of the sixth month at the earliest.

Not surprisingly, that is the earliest point of viability, the time when a fetus can successfully survive outside the womb.

Whether through serendipity or through some sort of causal connection, it now seems that the onset of a functioning central nervous system with a functioning cerebral cortex and the onset of viability occur around the same time -- the end of the second trimester, a time by which 99% of all abortions have already occurred.

Opponents of abortion like to show sonograms of the fetus reacting to stimuli. But all living cells have electric and automatic reactions. These are like the reactions of Terri Schiavo when she was in a permanent vegetative state. Aquinas, following Aristotle, called the early stage of fetal development vegetative life. The fetus has a face long before it has a brain. It has animation before it has a command center to be aware of its movements or to experience any reaction as pain.

These are difficult matters, on which qualified people differ. It is not enough to say that whatever the woman wants should go. She has a responsibility to consider whether and when she may have a child inside her, not just a fetus. Certainly by the late stages of her pregnancy, a child is ready to respond with miraculous celerity to all the personal interchanges with the mother that show a brain in great working order.

Given these uncertainties, who is to make the individual decision to have an abortion? Religious leaders? They have no special authority in the matter, which is not subject to theological norms or guidance. The state? Its authority is given by the people it represents, and the people are divided on this. Doctors? They too differ. The woman is the one closest to the decision. Under Roe vs. Wade, no woman is forced to have an abortion. But those who have decided to have one are able to.

Some objected to Karl Rove's use of abortion to cement his ecumenical coalition, on the grounds that this was injecting religion into politics. The supreme irony is that, properly understood, abortion is not even a religious issue. But that did not matter to Rove. All he cared about was that it worked. For a while.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Slam Allen - Let the Good Times Roll

It's Friday night so here is Slam Allen of the James Cotton Blues Band -- Let the Good Times Roll.

Torture is torture – there is no such thing as “simulated” drowning

There is no such thing as “simulated” drowning. Drowning is drowning. Some people die and some people survive but in either case the lungs fill with water and the body is denied oxygen. The process is extremely painful. Waterboarding is a torture technique that uses drowning to inflict pain on a victim strapped down and unable to protect himself. There is no debate this is a torture technique except by torture apologists.

It is also fair to say that the excuse of intelligence gathering to conduct this and other types of torture is a façade. The intelligence gained is usually of questionable value. The real purpose of torture is to inflict pain on people the torturer despises for whatever reason. This isn’t to say victims are necessarily innocent people -- they may be despicable characters – but the act of torture dehumanizes those who do it or tolerate it.

Malcolm W. Nance is a counter-terrorism and terrorism intelligence consultant for the U.S. government’s Special Operations, Homeland Security and Intelligence agencies. He is an experienced intelligence interrogator and has undergone waterboarding himself during a military training. He speaks with some authority on the use of technique and was a guest yesterday on NPR’s Day to Day program talking about torture. He is a contributor to Small Wars Journal and published a piece on waterboarding on that publication’s blog. The following are excerpts:
1. Waterboarding is a torture technique. Period. There is no way to gloss over it or sugarcoat it. It has no justification outside of its limited role as a training demonstrator. Our service members have to learn that the will to survive requires them accept and understand that they may be subjected to torture, but that America is better than its enemies and it is one’s duty to trust in your nation and God, endure the hardships and return home with honor.

2. Waterboarding is not a simulation. Unless you have been strapped down to the board, have endured the agonizing feeling of the water overpowering your gag reflex, and then feel your throat open and allow pint after pint of water to involuntarily fill your lungs, you will not know the meaning of the word.

Waterboarding is a controlled drowning that, in the American model, occurs under the watch of a doctor, a psychologist, an interrogator and a trained strap-in/strap-out team. It does not simulate drowning, as the lungs are actually filling with water. There is no way to simulate that. The victim is drowning. How much the victim is to drown depends on the desired result (in the form of answers to questions shouted into the victim’s face) and the obstinacy of the subject. A team doctor watches the quantity of water that is ingested and for the physiological signs which show when the drowning effect goes from painful psychological experience, to horrific suffocating punishment to the final death spiral.

Waterboarding is slow motion suffocation with enough time to contemplate the inevitability of black out and expiration –usually the person goes into hysterics on the board. For the uninitiated, it is horrifying to watch and if it goes wrong, it can lead straight to terminal hypoxia. When done right it is controlled death. Its lack of physical scarring allows the victim to recover and be threaten with its use again and again.

Call it “Chinese Water Torture,” “the Barrel,” or “the Waterfall,” it is all the same. Whether the victim is allowed to comply or not is usually left up to the interrogator. Many waterboard team members, even in training, enjoy the sadistic power of making the victim suffer and often ask questions as an after thought. These people are dangerous and predictable and when left unshackled, unsupervised or undetected they bring us the murderous abuses seen at Abu Ghraieb, Baghram and Guantanamo. No doubt, to avoid human factors like fear and guilt someone has created a one-button version that probably looks like an MRI machine with high intensity waterjets.

3. If you support the use of waterboarding on enemy captives, you support the use of that torture on any future American captives. The Small Wars Council had a spirited discussion about this earlier in the year, especially when former Marine Generals Krulak and Hoar rejected all arguments for torture.

Evan Wallach wrote a
brilliant history of the use of waterboarding as a war crime and the open acceptance of it by the administration in an article for Columbia Journal for Transnational Law. In it he describes how the ideological Justice Department lawyer, John Yoo validated the current dilemma we find ourselves in by asserting that the President had powers above and beyond the Constitution and the Congress:

“Congress doesn’t have the power to tie the President’s hands in regard to torture as an interrogation technique....It’s the core of the Commander-in-Chief function. They can’t prevent the President from ordering torture.”

That is an astounding assertion. It reflects a basic disregard for the law of the United States, the Constitution and basic moral decency.

Another MSNBC commentator defended the administration and stated that waterboarding is "not a new phenomenon" and that it had "been pinned on President Bush … but this has been part of interrogation for years and years and years." He is correct, but only partially. The Washington Post reported in 2006 that it was mainly America’s enemies that used it as a principal interrogation method. After World War 2, Japanese waterboard team members were tried for war crimes. In Vietnam, service members were placed under investigation when a photo of a field-expedient waterboarding became publicly known.

Torture in captivity simulation training reveals there are ways an enemy can inflict punishment which will render the subject wholly helpless and which will generally overcome his willpower. The torturer will trigger within the subject a survival instinct, in this case the ability to breathe, which makes the victim instantly pliable and ready to comply. It is purely and simply a tool by which to deprive a human being of his ability to resist through physical humiliation. The very concept of an American Torturer is an anathema to our values.

I concur strongly with the opinions of professional interrogators like Colonel Stewart Herrington, and victims of torture like Senator John McCain. If you want consistent, accurate and reliable intelligence, be inquisitive, analytical, patient but most of all professional, amiable and compassionate.

Who will complain about the new world-wide embrace of torture? America has justified it legally at the highest levels of government. Even worse, the administration has selectively leaked supposed successes of the water board such as the alleged Khalid Sheik Mohammed confessions. However, in the same breath the CIA sources for the Washington Post noted that in Mohammed’s case they got information but "not all of it reliable." Of course, when you waterboard you get all the magic answers you want -because remember, the subject will talk. They all talk! Anyone strapped down will say anything, absolutely anything to get the torture to stop. Torture. Does. Not. Work.

According to the President, this is not a torture, so future torturers in other countries now have an American legal basis to perform the acts. Every hostile intelligence agency and terrorist in the world will consider it a viable tool, which can be used with impunity. It has been turned into perfectly acceptable behavior for information finding.

A torture victim can be made to say anything by an evil nation that does not abide by humanity, morality, treaties or rule of law. Today we are on the verge of becoming that nation. Is it possible that September 11 hurt us so much that we have decided to gladly adopt the tools of KGB, the Khmer Rouge, the Nazi Gestapo, the North Vietnamese, the North Koreans and the Burmese Junta?

What next if the waterboarding on a critical the captive doesn’t work and you have a timetable to stop the “ticking bomb” scenario? Electric shock to the genitals? Taking a pregnant woman and electrocuting the fetus inside her? Executing a captive’s children in front of him? Dropping live people from an airplane over the ocean? It has all been done by governments seeking information. All claimed the same need to stop the ticking bomb. It is not a far leap from torture to murder, especially if the subject is defiant. Are we willing to trade our nation’s soul for tactical intelligence?
You can read the entire article here.