Saturday, January 29, 2005


Waterboarding Isn't Torture?

According to Michael Chertoff, the latest Bush Administration nominee for Homeland Security Secretary, waterboarding isn't torture.

The New York Times reported this under the bland headline "Security Nominee Gave Advice to the C.I.A. on Torture Laws." Had Mr. Chertoff given good advice, this might actually been a strong qualification for the post. Unfortunately, that was not always the case:
Mr. Chertoff's previously undisclosed involvement in evaluating how far interrogators could go took place in 2002-3 when he headed the Justice Department's criminal division. The advice came in the form of responses to agency inquiries asking whether C.I.A. employees risked being charged with crimes if particular interrogation techniques were used on specific detainees.
One technique that C.I.A. officers could use under certain circumstances without fear of prosecution was strapping a subject down and making him experience a feeling of drowning.
Source: New York Times(Emphasis added)
Mr. Chertoff did determine some proposed torture methods were probably illegal:
...Mr. Chertoff opposed some aggressive procedures outright, the officials said. At one point, they said, he raised serious objections to methods that he concluded would clearly violate the torture law. While the details remain classified, one method that he opposed appeared to violate a ban in the law against using a "threat of imminent death."

Mr. Chertoff and other senior officials at the Justice Department also disapproved of practices that seemed to be clearly prohibited, like death threats against family members, administration of mind-altering drugs or psychological procedures designed to profoundly disrupt a detainee's personality. It is not clear whether the C.I.A. or any other agency proposed these techniques.
Source: New York Times (Emphasis added)

At the end, however, Mr. Chertoff joined Alberto Gonzales in advising that inflicting pain during interrogation wasn't torture if the CIA got a doctor's note first:
Mr. Chertoff left the door open to the use of a different set of far harsher techniques proposed by the C.I.A., saying they might be used under certain circumstances. He advised that they could be used depending on factors like the detainee's physical condition and medical advice as to how the person would react to some practices, the officials said.

In responding, Mr. Chertoff's division said that whether the techniques were not allowed depended on the standards outlined in an August 2002 memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel that has since been disclosed and which defined torture narrowly. That memorandum,...said inflicted pain, for example, qualified as torture only if it was of a level equivalent to organ failure or imminent death.
Source: New York Times (Emphasis added)
Is offering incompetent legal advice regarding the scope of anti-torture treaties a prerequisite for members of the Bush Cabinet?

Friday, January 28, 2005


SourceWatch - Great Research Tool

I found this site in one of Juan Cole's posts on his blog Informed Comment. Check out these articles:

Just like baseball - you won't know the players without a program...


Stalin-Style Democracy

Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon is still advocating the blandly-named "Salvador" option. While Mr. Negroponte was serving as US Ambassador to El Salvador, US-sponsored death squads murdered tens of thousands of rebel sympathizers. After enough of the government's opponents were tortured and brutally killed, a "democratic" election was held in which the surviving voters supported the incumbent government.

Killing off your opponents, leaving only your supporters alive? Joe Stalin and Adolf Hitler practiced this "one less person, one less vote" style of "democracy."

The strongest reason for believing the current Bush Administration supports this option is that it caused the deaths of many innocent people and was ultimately counterproductive. The BBC's Tom Gibbs explains:
The shield which stopped a guerrilla victory in El Salvador was in reality a reign of terror.

Tens of thousands of those killed in the war were rebel sympathisers, tortured and murdered by the security forces.

It was a well-organised, dirty war in which the CIA was heavily involved.

Horrendously mutilated corpses - sometimes decapitated - were left in full public view.

Using fear, the policy succeeded in denying the rebels open civilian support.

Some in the Pentagon have now been mooting the idea of training Iraqi hit squads to target insurgents and their sympathisers to quash open civilian support for them.

But for this to work would mean out-terrorising the Iraqi rebels, a difficult task indeed.

Nor is success for a Salvador-style death squad democracy guaranteed.

Horrific memories

Constituent assembly elections, like those taking place in Iraq, were held in 1982.

But the war continued for another decade with the rebels rebuilding their strength.

In November 1989, they launched an all-out offensive to win, taking over suburbs of the capital for 10 days.

Fearing defeat, the US-backed army set out to kill not only guerrillas but also those they viewed as sympathisers.

Of the memories of death and mutilation I witnessed in El Salvador, the sight of six Jesuit priests, their cook and her 16-year-old daughter with their brains blown across the neatly cropped lawn of their house, is the one that still haunts the most.


They were murdered by an elite US-trained unit, part of an extermination list approved by the high command, a dirty war taken to the limit.


In the end, years more bloodshed and a potentially humiliating US defeat were only prevented by the Soviet collapse, which pulled the rug from under the guerrillas' feet.
Source: BBC

Both the terrorists and the "Salvador Option" proponents believe they can achieve their respective goals by torturing and killing any civilians daring to criticize them. If both sides initiate freedom via terror killings, I doubt the result will help spread democracy as a better form of government.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


Freedom On The March

Mr. Bush's "reality-impaired" Administration is making satirical comedy a growth industry. Two examples:
Of course, the satire industry does face competition - Mr. Bush keeps trying to outdo them. Consider Mr. Bush's recent "fence-mending" trip to Canada
When President Bush flew to Canada in his first international trip following his reelection, the White House portrayed it as the beginning of a fence-mending tour to bring allies back into the fold after a tense first term. But after Bush left, the Canadians were more furious than before.

They were stunned when Bush leaned across a table in a private meeting and lectured Prime Minister Paul Martin about opposing the U.S. missile defense system. And they were later taken aback by a speech filled with what they considered the same "old Bush" foreign policy pronouncements that opened the divide with the allies in the first place.
Source: Washington Post


The US Will Decide Whether Israel Attacks Iran

Well, so much for "plausible deniability" The BBC reports:
Mr Peres, widely regarded as the father of Israel's secretive nuclear deterrent, dampened suggestions that Israel was planning pre-emptive strikes against Iran, as hinted by Mr Cheney.

"The party that will decide is the United States," Mr Peres said.

"If we go it alone, we (Israel) will remain alone. Everyone knows our potential but we also have to know our limits.

What in heaven's name is Cheney playing at by announcing Israel might do things unilaterally that Israel turns around and says only the US could decide? The Bush Administration just successfully helped Al Qaeda AND the Iranian mullahs again by making Israel appear to be a US puppet. Al Qaeda and Iran can now blame the US for everything Israel does in the future - from stealing more Palestinian land to any future Israeli attacks on Lebanon, Syria - or Iraq.

If Mr. Bush's team spent half the time scripting their foreign policy as they do the president's public appearances, these problems would not occur.


Free To Say Only What Bush Wants?

I'm not quite sure how censoring opposing views fits into fanning the "untamed fires of freedom." The BBC reports:
Iran has accused the US government of ordering an American internet service provider to stop hosting the website of an official Iranian news agency.

The Iranian Student News Agency said no explanation had been given by the server, called The Planet, for its abrupt move to terminate the contract.
The agency said it had sent repeated e-mails to the server, and then telephoned, but no satisfactory reason was given for the breach of contract.
Other official Iranian websites which also use American servers are braced for similar action against them, our correspondent adds.
Source: BBC

At this point it's just accusations. However, it will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

Monday, January 24, 2005


Bush's Untamed Fire of Freedom

Tom Meyer explains


Israel Steals Arab-Owned Lands

Well, now we know why Israel's "anti-terror barrier" cut so many Arabs off from their land: Israel plans on stealing that land:
Israel has reportedly begun seizing tracts of east Jerusalem land owned by Palestinians in the West Bank under a law not used for decades.

The government is enforcing a law on absentee landowners passed in 1950, the Israeli daily Haaretz says.

Israeli lawyers acting for owners described the policy as a "land grab".

Under the law, an absentee is anyone who in 1948 "was in any part of the land of Israel that is outside the area of Israel" - such as the West Bank.

The "absentee" owners - who in some cases live only 100 metres from their land on the other side of the separation barrier - may have no right to compensation for their lost land.

Daniel Seidemann and Mohammed Dahla, lawyers acting for several of the landowners, said hundreds of other Palestinians could be at risk of having land seized.

"We're talking about land that those Palestinians in Beit Jalla have owned for hundreds of years," Mr Dahla told Haaretz. "They are not absentees... In fact, they continued to cultivate the land up until now."

The only rational explanation for this policy is that Ariel Sharon wants Hesbollah to continue terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians so that he can continue treating Palestinians the way the Nazis treated the Jews during the 1930's.


Honor System For The Rich, Audits For The Poor

The IRS spends a significant amount of time enforcing the "earned income tax credit" (EIC) a tax break for the working poor. Arcane rules and vigorous enforcement are mandated. What level of enforcement does the IRS use for verifying taxable capital gains, where at least four times the amount of taxes are at stake? Little to none:
Investors, entrepreneurs and landlords annually avoid paying at least $29 billion in taxes by overstating the price of stocks, businesses and real estate, two professors say in an article being published today in Tax Notes, an influential tax policy journal.

The potential for abusive reporting in this area, particularly for stocks, "is virtually unlimited," according to the authors, who outline five ways that the law encourages cheating. They added that opportunities to cheat also abound in investment real estate, "where tax-free, like-kind exchanges are increasingly common."

Congress could easily reduce this cheating to a minor problem through changes in tax laws that, the professors wrote, would apply the same rules to those harvesting capital gains that now apply to workers, home owners and parents.
Congress has cut overall financing for audits except for the Earned Income Tax credit for the working poor, which critics have said is rife with fraud. But the estimated $29 billion that is lost because of cheating on capital gains is more than four times the highest estimate cited by Congressional lawmakers for losses in the Earned Income Tax credit, most of which the National Taxpayer Advocate has shown is not related to cheating. Math errors and disputes between estranged parents over who may claim a child for the credit account for most of the disputes, and most of those who challenge denials eventually receive the credit.
(Source: New York Times (Emphasis added.))

In other words, the IRS puts folks like Enron's management team on the honor system and spends its time auditing the janitorial staff's tax returns.


McCain Plans Investigation of Rumsfeld's Secret Spy Outfit

According to the Washington Post, John McCain plans to investigate Donald Rumsfeld's alleged plans to set up a secret "black ops" organization under the Depart of Defense's control:
"I'm always sorry to read about things in The Washington Post when they affect a committee that I am a member of," McCain said.
The Defense Department apparently also offered up a "non-denial denial." According to The Washington Post:

"There is no unit that is directly reportable to the secretary of defense for clandestine operations as is described in the Washington Post," (Pentagon spokesman Lawrence T. DiRita) said. In addition, DiRita said, "the Department is not attempting to 'bend' statutes to fit desired activities, as is suggested in this article."

At the same time, DiRita said: "It is accurate and should not be surprising that the Department of Defense is attempting to improve its long-standing human intelligence capability."

In other words, the commander of the new Strategic Support Branch doesn't report DIRECTLY to Rumsfeld, he reports to one of Rumsfeld's assistants.

What plans does Rumsfeld have for this outfit?
Assistant Secretary of Defense Thomas O'Connell, who oversees special operations policy, said Rumsfeld has discarded the "hide-bound way of thinking" and "risk-averse mentalities" of previous Pentagon officials under every president since Gerald R. Ford.
One scenario in which Pentagon operatives might play a role, O'Connell said, is this: "A hostile country close to our borders suddenly changes leadership. . . . We would want to make sure the successor is not hostile."
Re-enacting the infamous "Bay of Pigs" operation in Cuba seems to fit this definition nicely, as would covert US military backing for the next coup against Venezuela's democratically-elected president. Add this to the proposed "Salvadoran option" for promoting democracy in Iraq via death squads and we arrive at North Korean-style democracy: 100% of surviving voters support our glorious leader!!!

I can't even imagine the blowback from the types of escapades Rummy's band of James Bond wanna-bes are going to get themselves caught doing... but my crystal ball says we get another Arab Oil boycott within 2 years.

Sunday, January 23, 2005


Prejudice Masked as "Science"

The New York Times editorial section hosts two opinion pieces on gender discrimination between Charles Murray of the American Enterprise Institute and Olivia Judson, an evolutionary biologist.

Short Charles Murray: There are genetic differences between men and women, "scientific" studies show men and women develop differently, therefore it is wrong-headed to object when people claim evidence shows these differences are caused in whole or in part by genetic factors. Typical quote:
Some people will find the results threatening - because some people find any group differences threatening - but such fears will be misplaced. We may find that innate differences give men, as a group, an edge over women, as a group, in producing, say, terrific mathematicians. But knowing that fact about the group difference will not change another fact: that some women are terrific mathematicians. The proportions of men and women mathematicians may never be equal, but who cares? What's important is that all women with the potential to become terrific mathematicians have full opportunity to do so.
Short Olivia Judson: Everyone knows we fear finding out whether women really are genetically inferior to men in scientific ability - but you can't completely ignore the effect of prejudice. Typical quote:
The science of sex differences, even in fruit flies and toads, is a ferociously complex subject. It's also famously fraught, given its malignant history. In fact, there was a time not so long ago when I would have balked at the whole enterprise: the idea there might be intrinsic cognitive differences between men and women was one I found insulting. But science is a great persuader. The jackdaws and spoon worms have forced me to change my mind. Now I'm keen to know what sets men and women apart - and no longer afraid of what we may find.
Buried in Olivia Judson's article is the real reason many people find these comments objectionable - that pseudo-scientific "evidence" so often masks baseless prejudice:
...Women were thought not to be world-class musicians. But when American symphony orchestras introduced blind auditions in the 1970's - the musician plays behind a screen so that his or her gender is invisible to those listening - the number of women offered jobs in professional orchestras increased.

Similarly, in science, studies of the ways that grant applications are evaluated have shown that women are more likely to get financing when those reading the applications do not know the sex of the applicant. In other words, there's still plenty of work to do to level the playing field; there's no reason to suppose there's something inevitable about the status quo.
(Emphasis added.)

What Frank Summers, Charles Murray and Olivia Johnson all ignore is that there have been no meaningful studies measuring the precise effect of one's genetic makeup on one's environment, rendering valid conclusions in the area impossible. We KNOW prejudice affects the environment each of us face. We KNOW that people's genetic makeup affects one's appeearance, and thus the types of prejudices we each face. Because one's genetic background affects one's environment, and one cannot ethically run studies on humans by, say, performing sex-change operations in infants to measure the affect of appearance (phenotype) versus genetic makeup (genotype) on those infants' abilities, it is not ethically possible to generate scientific evidence as to whether perceived differences in abilities are caused by one's genotype or one's phenotype. (Note that this works both ways: studies showing women score higher in certain areas when the evaluators don't know the competitor's phenotype proves environment plays a significant role in such decisions, it does NOT prove genetics plays NO role.)

Until someone runs rigorously designed studies varying the phenotype of a uniform human genotype, it simply is not possible to validly determine the extent one's abilities are based on one's genome versus one's phenome. All the "Bell-Curve" type studies claiming to prove genetic explanations for such differences are thus inherently flawed and meaningless. Harvard's President Summers' assertion of scientific evidence "indicating" women's genetics may affect their underrepresentation in science faculties shows a basic lack of statistical knowlege - for which he should be condemned.


Without Pictures, It Didn't Happen

Frank Rich's column in today's New York Times documents how TV news devoted more time to Prince Harry's wearing a Nazi uniform to a costume party than the Abu Ghraib torture trials:
On the day that the defense rested in the military trial of Specialist Charles A. Graner Jr. for the abuses at Abu Ghraib, American television news had a much better story to tell: "The Trouble With Harry," as Brian Williams called it on NBC. The British prince had attended a fancy dress costume party in Wiltshire (theme: "native and colonial") wearing a uniform from Rommel's Afrika Korps complete with swastika armband. Even by the standards of this particular royal family, here was idiocy above and beyond the call of duty.

The latest chapter unfolding in Texas during that pre-inaugural week in January was broadcast on the evening news almost exclusively in brief, mechanical summary, when it was broadcast at all. But it's not as if it lacked drama; it was "Judgment at Nuremberg" turned upside down. Specialist Graner's defense lawyer, Guy Womack, explained it this way in his closing courtroom statement: "In Nuremberg, it was the generals being prosecuted. We were going after the order-givers. Here the government is going after the order-takers." As T. R. Reid reported in The Washington Post, the trial's judge, Col. James L. Pohl of the Army, "refused to allow witnesses to discuss which officers were aware of events in cellblock One-Alpha, or what orders they had given." While Mr. Womack's client, the ringleader of the abuses seen in the Abu Ghraib photographs, deserved everything that was coming to him and then some, there have yet to be any criminal charges leveled against any of the prison's officers, let alone anyone higher up in the chain of command.

But not all explanations for the torture story's downsizing have to do with ideological positioning and craven branding at the networks. The role of pictures in TV news remains paramount, and there has been no fresh visual meat from the scene of the crime (or the others like it) in eight months. The advances in the story since then, many of which involve revelations of indisputably genuine Washington memos, are not telegenic. Meanwhile, the recycling of the original Abu Ghraib snapshots, complemented by the perp walks at Fort Hood, only hammers in the erroneous notion that the story ended there, with the uncovering of a few bad apples at the bottom of the Army's barrel.
Source: NY Times (Emphasis added) {Full story HERE.}
There is a third explanation Mr. Rich does not discuss: the "Dan Rather Effect." New organizations today are so frightened of having their integrity called into question by the dreaded "Liberal Media Conspiracy" accusation that they self-censor any story criticizing the Bush administration based on purely documentary evidence. Only when they can cast the story in the "point/counterpoint" format combined with supporting visuals will the TV news go with the story. And as Frank Rich observes, "If a story isn't on TV in America, it doesn't exist in our culture."

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