Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Padilla and the 4th Circuit

Something interesting has developed in the Jose Padilla case. As I noted in a blog last month, Padilla was indicted by the government. The indictment means he would need to be transferred from military detention to civilian jail to stand trial. But there was a snag. To the prosecution’s surprise, when they sought permission from the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals to transfer Padilla, the Court was perplexed by the move. Indeed, the Bush administration back in September had vigorously fought for the right to continue to hold Padilla indefinitely without trial as an enemy combatant. But when the indictment came about in November, none of the allegations the Bush administration made against Padilla were included. The Court ruled in September that the government had the right to hold Padilla indefinitely without trial (explaining in no less the 17 pages why it was OK for them to do so). Its ruling was based on what the government had told them. The Court has delayed his transfer because it wants to determine how the new indictment would affect there earlier ruling.

One wonders if the judges are slowly coming to the realization they were used by the Bush administration.

Update 12/22/05: The 4th Circuit officially rejected the request to transfer Padilla to civilian custody. In the decision, the court questioned why the Bush administration relied on one set of facts for 3 ½ years to justify holding Padilla without charges and another set to convince a grand jury to indict Padilla last month. One of the judges said that the administration risked losing “creditability before the courts” by appearing to use the indictment to thwart an appeal of the ruling that gave Bush wide discretion to hold enemy combatants.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Monday, December 19, 2005

Am I paranoid?

I was not too surprised by the revelation that President Bush has authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on Americans. According to the NY Times piece that reported the program, the NSA has been monitoring international phone calls and emails without obtaining warrants. Bush has vehemently defended the practice, claiming it is a vital tool in hunting down terrorists and protecting Americans.

However, the news hit particularly close to home for me. For it made me wonder, am I on a list? Is my name cataloged in some government database somewhere? Let me explain why I wonder this.

I have a friend living in Britain. We met when she was doing an internship here in the states. She was forced to leave and go back home after her internship was voided (fired over personal reasons). We chose to correspond through email, of which I have sent and replied to perhaps half a dozen in the last few months.

I would also like to mention that my friend is East Indian and like most people, her name is reflected in her email address. I mention this because it makes me wonder that if my emails have been monitored. Has her nationality meant our conversations have been given more scrutiny? Is there asterisk next to my name because the NSA thinks I may have emailed a potential terrorist?

And if I have been flagged for additional surveillance, has that meant that other aspects of my life have been collected and cataloged as well. Has the Patriot Act allowed the government to monitor my cellphone, my purchases, or even what websites I frequent? Have they been able to access personal stuff like my blogs? Have they viewed my Anti-Bush administration rants of late as a threat? Will I soon be visited by government agents asking me questions to which they may not like the answers to?

But when one thinks about it, that is the point of allowing the revelation of this program (and others) to come out. Paranoia is the name of the game. Fearful that one's actions may be monitored typically results in the individual changing their behavior, be it a terrorist plotting an attack or a peace activist planning to attend an anti-war rally.

I may be paranoid. But then again, it may be for a good reason.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

One reason Bush endorsed McCain Amendment

Bush the other day finally chose to endorse the ban on torture sponsored by Sen. McCain. He said it was to show that the administration does not endorse torture. But there was another reason for his endorsing the measure: The Graham/Levin provision.

Originally the Graham/Levin provision sought to limit the legal rights of detainees to challenge their detentions (back when it was sponsored only by Sen. Graham). Many saw it as a sign of the prohibition of the centuries old writ of habeas corpus and so the language was changed. But while the current language does allow them to challenge their status as enemy combatants and to appeal convictions and sentences handed down by the military tribunals, it prevents the detainees from having civilian courts intervene in matters such as harsh treatment or prison conditions. A lawyer for a group of detainees at the Cuba facility said that the new language would make the McCain amendment unenforceable there. Indeed, the few instances where reports of mistreatment have come to light have been through contact with lawyers.

No wonder the administration has fought to keep detainees from seeking counsel. It's been working under the "Tree in the Woods" theory (If a detainee is abused and can't tell anyone, was he really abused?).

I once heralded the McCain amendment. But the Graham/Levin provision waters it down to the point that even if it does pass; it won't amount to much of a human rights victory.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Torture...but it's not us this time

Looks as though the Shiites have acquired a nasty habit. I wonder if they got it from their former “leader” or the current “liberators” in their country.

Last month, a bunker underneath Interior Ministry building in Baghdad was raided by US forces. Almost 170 Sunni Arab men were found in the bunker. Many of the men were malnourished and some appeared to have been tortured.

A deputy Interior Minister told CNN: "I've never seen such a situation like this during the past two years in Baghdad. This is the worst. I saw signs of physical abuse by brutal beating, one or two detainees were paralyzed and some had their skin peeled off."

And just last week, 13 Sunni men were found among 600 detainees crowded into an Interior Ministry commando unit’s detention facility. All of the men required immediate medical attention. Twelve of the men had been subjected to torture, including broken bones, pulled fingernails, cigarettes burns, and electric shocks.

This is what we “liberated” in Iraq. The ability of the once tortured Shiites to seek their revenge.

You’re doing a heckuva job, Georgie.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Thursday, December 15, 2005

But who's counting?

In a rare Q&A session before the World Affairs Council yesterday, President Bush was asked about Iraqi deaths in the US led war. Here is the exchange:
Q. Since the inception of the Iraqi war, I'd like to know the approximate total of Iraqis who have been killed. And by Iraqis I include civilians, military, police, insurgents, translators.

Bush: How many Iraqi citizens have died in this war? I would say 30,000, more or less, have died as a result of the initial incursion and the ongoing violence against Iraqis. We've lost about 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq.

Now besides the fact that Bush actually took questions from an audience who wasn’t pre-screened for the event, the most notable thing about this exchange is the fact that it is the first time that Bush has acknowledged that more then just US troops have died in Iraq. But that 30,000 estimate (or should I say guess) is just that, a guess. The Bush administration has no idea how many civilians have died. We have spent almost $275 billion thus far on the war and yet not a dime has been spent on determining the human cost of this war (in terms of Iraqi civilian lives anyway, reporting the number of insurgents killed or captured always seems to work for them as a means of gauging “progress”).

By not closely examining the total human cost of this war (American and Iraqi), Bush can continue to keep the public in the dark about just what it has really cost to continue to “bring democracy to Iraq.”

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Mr. Show

I just watched a skit from an episode of that old HBO program, “Mr. Show”. The premise of the skit was that NASA, in their infinite wisdom, had decided to blow up the moon. They had the technology and by god they were going to do it. Blow up the moon fever spread across America. The effort was seen as a show of national pride. The scenes were the obligatory pro-blow up the moon montage: a suburban couple talking about having a “Blow up the Moon” party, a school girl holding up a drawing of the moon exploding, an old man talking about how he dreamed as a young boy of blowing up the moon and now it was “science fact”. There was also a scene from a country music video titled “Blew Moon” in which the singer praised American righteousness in blowing up the moon (can we say Toby Keith?).

NASA laid out their plan. Launch a rocket at the moon loaded with enough dynamite and nuclear explosives to blow up the moon 50 times over (obviously a jab at America’s tendency for overkill). A chimp named Galileo, the grandson of the first chimp to travel in space would push the launch button. Throughout the skit, no one questioned the absurdity of the idea. Except Galileo. This chimp, through sign language, dared to ask the question of why. Suddenly everyone was asking the question. There was a scene of protesters picketing the effort, claiming there are enough places on earth to blow up like Mount Everest or Antarctica. That same couple talked about how that monkey had ruined their party plans. Another music video, this one called “Dumb Ape” in which the singer bellows about how no one, not even a monkey, should question American pride.

Finally NASA had a solution. Replace Galileo with a circus chimp (and one that didn’t know sign language). The moon was seen blowing up at the end of the skit.

Now I bring up this skit for a couple reasons. First because this skit seems to illustrate the irrationality with which some people are willing to pursue a course of action without really discussing it in detail. It was definitely an ideological satire. It was a lesson of how you can get everyone to go along with something, no matter how absurd, so long as you give it the appearance of being an act of civic pride or patriotism. And it seems like something the Bush administration would do. That is to say I don’t think they would actually proclaim it was our solemn duty to blow up the moon (although I wouldn’t put anything past the Bush administration). But what I am saying is that you could replace “blowing up the moon” with whatever cause you wish. With a bit of tweaking (and better directing) this could easily have been a pro-“insert cause here” ad for the Bush administration. And it seems a little too ironic that the Bushies would probably do the same thing that NASA did in the sketch.

When asked the tough questions, replace the monkey that asked them.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Condi's European Roadtrip

Bush administration philosophy: When you don't like the rules of the game...change the rules.

Secretary of (Police) State Condi Rice has been trying to calm our neighbors in Europe over their objections to some of the practices the US has been doing lately. Namely the alleged “rendering” of terrorism suspects to countries known to use torture and the alleged “secret prison system” run by the CIA.

Rice had this to say: "The captured terrorists of the 21st century do not fit easily into traditional systems of criminal or military justice, which were designed for different needs. We have to adapt."

The Bush administration has claimed that everything they do in the war on terror is done within the law. But at the same time they say the laws don't apply to this conflict or those fighting it. This has always been their out. They proclaim they are abiding by non-applicable laws.

What they are really trying to do is sell the Europeans on their "new system". One that includes “rendition” and “secret interrogation facilities”. And one were innocent people may be swept up, as may have been the case of Khaled el-Masri, a German citizen of Lebanese decent who was sent to Afghanistan, held for five months (during which time he alleges he was beaten and drugged) and finally released (actually dumped in the woods in Albania). Apparently it was a case of mistaken identity. The German government is taking el-Masri’s claims very seriously.

Throughout her travels in Europe, Rice contends that the US does not condone torture. But at the same time she proclaims that “gathering intelligence” is the “key” to winning “the war on terror”. She specifically says that some detainees may possess information that may save lives, perhaps thousands of lives. This is another example of the Bush administration trying to have both ways, condemning torture while at the same time implying that it may be necessary in order to protect us from terrorism.

What Rice, and many in the Bush administration, fail to ever point out is that torture can lead to faulty intelligence. It’s been reported that the detainee that the Bush administration relied upon for its pre-war assertions of a link between Al-Qaeda and Iraq did in fact lie about those connections in order to avoid harsh treatment at the hands of the Egyptians (he was turned over to them in Jan. 2002). It would seem the practice of “rendition” didn’t work out so well in this case.

Another way in which the administration continues to obfuscate the issue of torture is that they have never clearly defined what is and is not torture. And of course when they do define it (see Gonzales memo) they define it in such narrow terms as to leave open a wide range of things that are just-short-of-torture. Why else would Bush threaten to veto a bill that would ban the cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment of prisoners held by the US? Or why Cheney would lobby the Congress for exempting the CIA from the ban?

Because they know that some of their sanctioned “enhanced interrogation techniques” would probably fall within the categories of cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment. So when the Bush administration says they do not condone torture, realize they are going by a different definition then the rest of us.

Rice goes on to say this: "Some governments choose to cooperate with the United States in intelligence, law enforcement, or military matters. That cooperation is a two-way street. We share intelligence that has helped protect European countries from attack, helping save European lives. It is up to those governments and their citizens to decide if they wish to work with us to prevent terrorist attacks against their own country or other countries, and decide how much sensitive information they can make public. They have a sovereign right to make that choice."

This amounts to a thinly veiled threat. The Bush administration hopes to bully those governments into accepting this new system, and keeping the details of it quite, else the US turn a blind eye when terrorism strikes their respective countries.

Luckily the Europeans aren't buying it. That is the price you pay when trying to speak of taking the moral high ground when your credibility doesn’t have the luster it once had.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Al-Arian and the "real" court

The justice system in this country is slowly becoming a joke. People are no longer judged before a jury of their peers but in the court of public opinion. Evidence as been replaced by opinion. We are guilty until proven innocent.

Or in the case of terrorism, guilty until proven guilty.

Take the case of Sami al-Arian. Only this time the justice system actually worked.

Al-Arian was a professor at South Florida University. He is also a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights. His often fiery vocal support for Palestinian causes made him a lighting rod of criticism and scrutiny. And apparently it was this passion that led the FBI to secretly keep tabs on Al-Arian for the last ten years.

And thanks to an easing of the laws through the Patriot Act, the government could conduct the witch-hunt it wanted. In February 2003, Al-Arian was arrested. He was charged with financing and promoting terrorism in the Middle East. And as if to drive home the importance of the case, then Attorney General Ashcroft even referred to Al-Arian as the North American leader of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

The prosecution relied heavily on the almost 20,000 hours of taped conversations culled from wiretaps on Al-Arian and his associates. It took nearly five months for prosecutors to present their case, including the testimony of 80 witnesses. Al-Arian’s defense, when finally given a chance to respond had only this to say:

"On behalf of Dr. Al-Arian, the defense rests."

Al-Arian attorney’s realized that prosecutors had done such a piss poor job of laying out its case, presenting little more then mountains of jumbled transcripts and circumstantial evidence. The defense didn’t even call a single witness. Nowhere in the 20,000 hours of wiretaps was there a single call in which violent terrorist attacks were plotted as the prosecution alleged.

So on Dec. 6 2005, Al-Arian was acquitted of most of the charges against him. But rather then herald this as a victory for free speech, civil rights and due process, the media seemed to want to accentuate the negative. The first paragraph of Wednesday’s New York Times article is one example: “In a major defeat for law enforcement officials, a jury in Florida failed to return guilty verdicts Tuesday on any of 51 criminal counts against a former Florida professor and three co-defendants accused of operating a North American front for Palestinian terrorists.”

Why is it a “major defeat for law-enforcement officials”? Why is the jury seen as having “failed” because they refused to render a guilty verdict in what was an obviously politically motivated prosecution? Because the media is the conduit through which the court of public opinion receives its input. Physical evidence no longer matters, only opinion of guilt or innocence. Why else would the government label Al-Arian a “leader” of the PIJ in North America? To give the case more import then it deserves, thus swaying public opinion and influencing potential jurors (realize that the idea of empaneling an impartial jury today, what with our 24/7 news and access to the internet, is absurd to say the least.).

One can also look at the case of Scott Peterson to witness the court of public opinion. Even before he was found guilty of killing his wife and unborn baby in criminal court, Peterson was demonized and vilified in the media. So of course when he was found criminally liable, it was deemed that the jury had handed down the “right” verdict in the case because he was already seen as guilty in the eyes of the public.

Fair trials use to be a hallmark of this society. But if allow our opinions to dictate guilt and innocence, we may find we are all guilty of a far more heinous crime.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Bush Report Card

And it ain't pretty.

In a report released by the former 9/11 Commission, they gave the government a failing grade with it comes to protecting America. They cited many areas in which the administration is failing to adequately respond. They found it unacceptable that four years after the attacks, first responders in major cities cannot reliably communicate and coordinate with one another (see Hurricane Katrina). Scarce domestic security funds are doled out based on what Commission Chairman Rep. Thomas Kean called “pork barrel spending, not risk."

Most tellingly the report gave the administration (which launched the Iraq war on the basis of reducing the threat weapons of mass destruction) a “D” in its efforts to secure WMD’s worldwide.

This report comes on the coattails of an announcement last week that the Transportation Security Administration would begin to allow certain items to be carried on airplanes that were banned shortly after 9/11. Some of these items include small scissors, wrenches, and screwdrivers of less then 7”. The TSA reports it is shifting its focus to better detecting explosives, which it considers a greater threat. Not surprisingly, Flight attendants and families of the victims of 9/11 are protesting the move.

Now while stopping the proliferation of WMD’s and protecting airlines is a worthwhile cause, something I have noticed that hasn’t garnered much attention (but could have devastating affects) is an attack on the chemical industry. There are hundreds of sites around the country where one well placed grenade or other explosive could lead to the release of potentially deadly gases. Just look at the events earlier this year near Graniteville SC and you will know what I’m talking about. Nine people died and hundreds were hospitalized when chlorine gas began to leak from a derailed tanker. And yet in some areas of the country, these facilities lack even basic security measures (i.e. fences)

All of this leads me to one conclusion: Bush and his handlers are probably hoping for (and perhaps inviting) another attack. They probably see it as the only way to boost Bush’s sagging poll numbers and get the public back behind them on their misguided (and poorly executed) war on terror.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Secretary of Offense

In a press conference last week, Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld illustrated why he should be fired for the bumbling manner in which he has handled the war in Iraq.

Speaking before reporters, Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman General Peter Pace were asked about whether US troops are responsible for preventing human rights abuses by Iraqi forces. General Pace answered: "It is absolutely the responsibility of every U.S. service member, if they see inhumane treatment being conducted, to intervene to stop it." Before Pace could elaborate, Rumsfeld interrupted saying: "But I don't think you mean they have an obligation to physically stop it; it's to report it." Pace then replied: "If they are physically present when inhumane treatment is taking place, sir, they have an obligation to try to stop it".

This is why the incidents at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere in Iraq were allowed to happen. Because guys like Rumsfeld didn’t clearly define what was and was not allowed, it lead to an atmosphere of anything goes mentality. I commend General Pace for standing up to his boss. He is a credit to the armed services. Sadly, I believe this incident will signal the end of his career in the DoD. We all know that not touting the administration line, or heaven forbid not agreeing with policy, is a big no-no in the Bush White House.

Later on in the press conference, Rumsfeld said he had an epiphany. Sadly it was not as to how best to conduct counterinsurgency operations. No, he thinks we shouldn’t call them “insurgents” anymore. He was referring to Zarqawi and his group. And indeed one wouldn’t really want to call these guys insurgents but then Ole Rummy goes on to make this statement.
SEC. RUMSFELD: Yeah. I think that you can have a legitimate insurgency in a country that has popular support and has a cohesiveness and has a legitimate gripe. These people don't have a legitimate gripe. They've got a peaceful way to change that government through the constitution, through the elections.

Now the first part of his statement is rather vague. Is he refer to the terrorists or the insurgency as a whole? But then he makes it clear he is talking about those Iraqi’s that make of the bulk of the insurgency. I have news for the Secretary; the Iraqi’s do have a legitimate gripe. It’s called an occupation force of 160,000+ troops in their country. How would we feel if (in whatever alternate reality) the US were to be invaded and occupied? Would we lay down our arms and submit? Would we stop fighting simply because they say we aren’t a legitimate insurgency?

Many wonder how this man is still Secretary of Defense. Simple: Bush doesn't like admitting mistakes and to fire Rumsfeld right now would be a colossal embarrassment to the administration. Chances are they will wait for an opportune time (most likely during a period of relative calm) to announce Ole Rummy's retirement.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

What about those WMDs?

President Bush spoke to a captive audience at the Naval Academy in Annapolis on Wednesday. The speech coincided with the release a document entitled “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” (makes you wonder whatever happened to “Mission Accomplished” huh). The administration claims that this is the “declassified” version of their post-war plan and has been in effect since early 2003.

Now a lot of people have been blogging about how this document (and accompanying speech) aren’t really a strategy but a PR campaign to win back support for the war and stifle those critics who think Bush doesn’t have a plan. I’ll give them that, it is mostly a compilation of talking points and seems more like an administrational pat on the back for the good job they have done so far.

But something I’d like to know is this: if, as the administration claims, this is the plan they have been working off of since 2003, why is there no mention anywhere of securing and destroying WMD’s inside Iraq? Being that they were the reason we had to go in, you would think that would be part of the post-war plan. I guess when Karl Rove hastily compile this nice piece of political fluff (hence the Nov 2005 dating) he forgot to add that part.

(Originally posted on Yahoo360)