When people like John Bolton and Dick Cheney talk about Iran, it tends to be in a threatening, bellicose manner, as in, "we ought to bomb Iran." As part of their drum-beat to war, they usually cite the animosity of Arabs towards Iranians as somehow proof that the Iranians are the "bad guys."
But we know that there is a dislike on the part of Arabs towards Iranians, not only because of ethnic differences, language differences, but also because Iranians tend to consider themselves to be better educated and advanced, speaking in cultural generalities.
Today in The New York Times, Sam Dagher writes about Iraqi attitudes towards Iranian pilgrims to the Shiite holy shrines.
"KARBALA, Iraq — Over just two days, about 80 Iranian pilgrims were killed in April in suicide bombings in Iraq. But even though the pilgrims are clearly a favored target for Sunni extremists in Iraq, and though the threat continues, it seems nothing will keep the Iranians from coming here.
"On a recent afternoon, a group of pilgrims from the Iranian city of Isfahan — many in tears and in a trancelike state — inched toward the shimmering golden-domed shrine ahead chanting “Hussein beloved” in Persian. Inside, Iranians jostled other pilgrims to grip the ornate gold and silver cagelike structure bearing the tomb of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Imam Hussein, shrouded in green fabric embroidered with precious stones."
But it seems that many Iraqis resent the Iranians and their presence. Especially the Sunni Iraqis who consider Shiites to be heretics. So there is at least a three-fold basis for Iraqi discrimination against the Iranian pilgrims: they speak Farsi, not Arabic; they are Shiites, not Sunni; and they are Persian, not Arabs. But the Iranian pilgrims keep coming.
"While the United States and surrounding Arab nations worry about direct Iranian influence and support for armed groups, the pilgrimages present a small but important example of Iran’s rising soft power in Iraq. And it is something that makes Iraqis increasingly resentful."
Yet the relationship between Iraqis and Iranians is complex.
"Recently, the Interior Ministry banned Persian signs inside Karbala despite the fact most Iranian pilgrims speak no Arabic.
"In April, Karbala’s residents demonstrated against the awarding of a contract to an Iranian company, Al Kawthar, to renovate the historic city center, including the area around the shrines of Imam Hussein and his brother Abu Fadhil al-Abbas, part of a $100-million project. Officials say they have been inundated with petitions against the Iranian proposal.
"“We are Arabs, we will not accept to be colonized by anyone,” said Ali al-Hayawi, a hotel owner in Karbala catering to pilgrims, who is opposed to Iran’s involvement in the project. “We do not take orders from the Iranians.”
"The dynamic in Karbala suggests that Iran may have a hard time exerting any deep sway among Iraqis, even among fellow Shiites, with suspicion playing out on several fronts. But at the national level, the relationship is more of a tug of war. The Iraqi government may want to keep Iran at arm’s length, but it also needs Iran economically and as a strategic ally."
Imagine what would happen if the war mongers like Cheney and Bolton, and for that matter, Israel's Netanyahu and Lieberman, got their way, and the U.S. attacked Iran. The whole of the Middle East, especially Iraq, would get caught up in a world war that would ignite conflagration and destruction lasting for years, if not for centuries. Iraq would then have to choose between its neighbor Iran and the U.S.
Sunday, May 31, 2009
When people like John Bolton and Dick Cheney talk about Iran, it tends to be in a threatening, bellicose manner, as in, "we ought to bomb Iran." As part of their drum-beat to war, they usually cite the animosity of Arabs towards Iranians as somehow proof that the Iranians are the "bad guys."
Saturday, May 30, 2009
Last night on PBS, Bill Moyers Journal featured excerpts from Torturing Democracy, a film from producer Sherry Jones, that takes a close look at various forms of torture and cruel punishment meted out by the U.S. military and by the CIA.
We saw depictions of prisoners being shackled to the ceiling or to the floor, being blasted by non-stop high decibel music, being deprived of sleep for days, being held in complete darkness for months at a time, being stuffed into small containers and/or cages. And all of this inhumane treatment was over and above being subject to the trial by water, where water is poured into one's mouth and nose, causing the fear and sensation of drowning.
When I was watching the program, it was hard to reconcile that these methods of torture were American methods of interrogating prisoners, many of whom were ordinary sheepherders and farmers, picked up in Afghanistan and sold to the Americans. Yet it was Bush himself who signed off on these cruel and harsh methods, and it was Dick Cheney who followed up and made sure that the military and the CIA were enforcing them.
Friday, May 29, 2009
Republican comments about Judge Sonia Sotomayor are amazing and without basis, as when Newt Gingrich, Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh call Sotomayor a "racist."
But equally disturbing and unexpected were the comments of former federal district judge and now University of Utah law professor Paul Cassell who said on The NewsHour that Sotomayor lacks the intellectual capacity or ability to make a mark on Supreme Court jurisprudence.
Judge Cassell taught criminal procedure when I attended law school at the U. back in the year 2000, and he always was very careful to avoid his own personal political views in class.
So when he said without any basis that Sotomayor was in effect an intellectual lightweight, it was shocking. Especially because Sonia Sotamayor attended Princeton for her undergraduate degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude. Then she went on to Yale Law School. If a person is the top of her class at Princeton, she certainly has shown that she is an intellectual heavyweight.
Cassell's negative opinion offered without any evidence shows that he too as a white male would rather engage in casting political aspersions than in accepting another's appointment to the highest court, especially when that other happens to be a female Latina from Puerto Rico. I would have wished that Cassell would have magnanimously wished Sotomayor the best and, furthermore, I would have like Cassell to say what a great Justice she will make on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Thursday, May 28, 2009
It's about time that the U.S. government tells Israel in no uncertain terms that it must stop expanding its settlements onto Palestinian land or land that was seized in the 1967 War.
As Hillary Clinton put it, no outposts, no natural expansions, no new settlements, period.
Mark Landler and Isabel Kershner report in today's The New York Times:
"The Obama administration reiterated emphatically on Wednesday that it viewed a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank as a critical step toward a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians.
"Speaking of President Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said, “He wants to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not ‘natural growth’ exceptions.” Talking to reporters after a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, she said: “That is our position. That is what we have communicated very clearly.”
"Mrs. Clinton’s remarks, the administration’s strongest to date on the matter, came as an Israeli official said Wednesday that the Israeli government wanted to reach an understanding with the Obama administration that would allow some new construction in West Bank settlements."
I commend both Clinton and Pres. Barack Obama for not bowing down and rolling over to Israel and Netanyahu in the matter of settlements. We know that the Netanyahu government really has no intention of pursuing a two-state solution, especially if the U.S. goes along with its relentless and illegal expansion of settlements.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The sentence today handed out to two founders of a Moslem charity that sent money to Hamas for humanitarian purposes was excessive and cruel. The federal court in Texas sentenced the two founders to 65 years in prison, in effect, a life sentence, because there is no such thing as parole for good behavior with federal sentences.
The BBC reports:
"Two founder members of what was once the biggest Muslim charity in the US have each been jailed for 65 years.
"Shukri Abu Baker, 50, and Ghassan Elashi, 55, were convicted of channelling funds to the Palestinian militant group, Hamas.
"Three other members of the Holy Land Foundation were jailed for between 15 and 20 years by a Dallas court.
"The charity was found guilty last year of sending $12m (£7.4m) to fund social programmes controlled by Hamas."
Larry Kudlow, "great American patriot," is interviewing the torturer Dick Cheney on CNBC this afternoon. It amazes me that many Republicans like Kudlow by and large support Cheney, his use of torture, his contempt for the Constitution and basic human rights.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Hurray for Pres. Barack Obama's nomination for U.S. Supreme Court of Sonia Sotomayor. Sotomayor is a Court of Appeals judge on the Second Circuit. She is Puerto Rican and speaks fluent Spanish.
Michael Shear, Debbi Wilgoren and Robert Barnes report for the WashPo web page:
"If confirmed, Sotomayor, 54, would be the first Hispanic Supreme Court justice and only the third woman ever to sit on the panel. She grew up in a Bronx housing project, went on to Princeton University and Yale Law School, and has stirred controversy by saying that judges' legal findings are informed by their own life experiences as well as their legal research."
How come equal protection under the law means nothing to the Calif. Supreme Court? So, voters can vote to deny equal protection and that vote trumps the Calif. Constitution guaranteeing every citizen equal treatment? I thought that was the purpose of the courts - to protect minority rights. However, I see that in Calif., we have a tyranny of the majority, to heck with the minority.
Ashley Surdin reports the developments on the WashPo web page today:
"Justice Carlos R. Moreno filed a dissenting opinion in the case, concluding that Proposition 8 is invalid because it is not a lawful amendment of the constitution, in effect altering the equal protection clause to deny same-sex couples equal treatment.
""Requiring discrimination against a minority group on the basis of a suspect classification strikes at the core of the promise of equality that underlies our California Constitution," Moreno wrote. The ruling, he argued, "not only allows same-sex couples to be stripped of the right to marry that this court recognized . . . it places at risk the state constitutional rights of all disfavored minorities.""
Sunday, May 24, 2009
The must-read in today's NY Times Week in Review is an analysis of Obama's non-existent strategy towards Iran by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett. For all his talk, Obama has done nothing to engage Iran or show a change in Bush's bellicose attitude towards Iranians.
Really, the Leveretts have written a depressing essay on Obama's non-starter policy towards Iran. This is not a feel-good analysis. But it happens to be the most important piece in today's The New York Times.
The Leveretts are pessimistic for many reasons. One of them is Obama's appointment of Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State notwithstanding her demeaning comments that she would "totally obliterate" Iran in the event of an attack upon Israel. Imagine if you were Iranian and you heard this. Clinton was saying that she would order the bombing of the whole nation. What does that say about Clinton's awareness of the killing and annihilation of Iranian children, women, ordinary citizens?
Then there is Dennis Ross whom Obama has appointed to be the point man in charge of crafting strategy towards Iran. This is the very Dennis Ross who last year indicated that diplomatic talks with Iran were doomed to failure, but that they were necessary in order to argue that the U.S. had first resorted to diplomacy before it began bombing.
But there are many other reasons for the Leveretts' pessimism. Write the Leveretts:
"Unfortunately, Mr. Obama is backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic, Nixon-to-China-type rapprochement with Tehran. Administration officials have professed disappointment that Iranian leaders have not responded more warmly to Mr. Obama’s rhetoric. Many say that the detention of the Iranian-American journalist Roxana Saberi (who was released this month) and Ayatollah Khamenei’s claim last week that America is “fomenting terrorism” inside Iran show that trying to engage Tehran is a fool’s errand.
"But this ignores the real reason Iranian leaders have not responded to the new president more enthusiastically: the Obama administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program, begun in President George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government — regardless of who wins the presidential elections on June 12 — will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile."
The suspicion of the Iranians is understandable and rational. The U.S. apparently is trying to destabilize the Iranian government by arming Iranian radicals and funding their attacks against Iranian police and institutions.
The Leveretts write how Obama should deal with Iran:
"Why has President Obama put himself in a position from which he cannot deliver on his own professed interest in improving relations with the Islamic Republic? Some diplomatic veterans who have spoken with him have told us that the president said that he did not realize, when he came to office, how “hard” the Iran problem would be. But what is hard about the Iran problem is not periodic inflammatory statements from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or episodes like Ms. Saberi’s detention. What is really hard is that getting America’s Iran policy “right” would require a president to take positions that some allies and domestic constituencies won’t like.
"To fix our Iran policy, the president would have to commit not to use force to change the borders or the form of government of the Islamic Republic. He would also have to accept that Iran will continue enriching uranium, and that the only realistic potential resolution to the nuclear issue would leave Iran in effect like Japan — a nation with an increasingly sophisticated nuclear fuel-cycle program that is carefully safeguarded to manage proliferation risks. Additionally, the president would have to accept that Iran’s relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah will continue, and be willing to work with Tehran to integrate these groups into lasting settlements of the Middle East’s core political conflicts."
Obama gathered many votes for himself because of his statements that he would not hesitate to begin a dialogue with Iran and its leaders. He said that the U.S. would show respect for Iran as a great country with a cultural heritage going back thousands of years. Instead, to date, Obama has done very little and has shown hardly any respect. Witness the appointments of Clinton and Ross.
If Obama keeps on this path, there is only one outcome, and that is either a U.S. or Israeli attack on Iran. We cannot allow this to happen.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
Dick Cheney in his speech the other day (May 21, 2009) at the American Enterprise Institute came out with many distortions, obfuscations and misrepresentations. Here's one:
"Critics of our policies are given to lecturing on the theme of being consistent with American values. But no moral value held dear by the American people obliges public servants ever to sacrifice innocent lives to spare a captured terrorist from unpleasant things. And when an entire population is targeted by a terror network, nothing is more consistent with American values than to stop them."
First of all, Cheney identifies "American values" as "moral values." Now I support "moral values," but we critics of the Bush/Cheney torture procedures object on the basis, not merely of moral values, but primarily because of legal and constitutional values. The constitution provides that everyone be free with basic human liberties and that no one should be subject to procedures that deny due process. It is these constitutional values that condemn Cheney and his "enhanced interrogation methods" under the law. Maybe Cheney is right to say moral values do not prevent CIA thugs from waterboarding or otherwise torturing terrorist suspects, but certainly constitutional values do.
The fact is, these constitutional values based on the individual rights of all are most important when the country is under attack or when it thinks it is the target of terrorists. If not, imagine the chaos that would result if "terrorists" were seen everywhere? That's what happened in the 500 year life of the Inquisition. Pious folk saw the work of the devil everywhere. Every town had its witches, its heretics, its ungodly. And most of these unfortunates were subject to the same practices as Dick Cheney defends - trial by water, trial by fire, trial on the rack, and other cruel and reprehensible tests.
Furthermore, if waterboarding such people were legal in the case of suspected terrorists, why not ratchet up to the hot branding iron or the rack? Especially if the suspect or witness refuses to talk or to admit what we suspect. There is no end to the regime of torture. Once a little is accepted, no manner of cruelty will go unused.
Friday, May 22, 2009
Dick Cheney in his speech yesterday claimed that his "enhanced interrogations" were "legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do." This statement is false in each of its parts. Thanks to Jonathan S. Landay and Warren P. Strobel of McClatchy for their article on Cheney's misstatements.
Each one of Cheney's characterizations of his methods - throwing people against the wall, waterboarding them, stuffing them in small boxes, and otherwise subjecting them to cruel and inhuman treatment - is wrong and false.
First. These techniques were not "legal," notwithstanding legal blessing opinions from Cheney's lawyers who tried to give a veneer of legality to practices clearly illegal and against human rights and dignity. No one can ever justify waterboarding as "legal." It was torture back 600 years ago when churchmen did it to suspected heretics and witches, and it is the same today.
Cheney says his methods were "essential." To what? No professional interrogator relies on torture to elicit information. Why? Because the person being tortured will tell anything his interrogator wants. To prove this point, let's subject Dick Cheney or even Liz Cheney to 60 seconds of waterboarding. Tell them we know they were complicit with Osama bin Laden. We want them to tell all they know. I am sure they will confess everything and then some.
Cheney says his methods were "justified." In other words, waterboarding was the appropriate response to these victims. Remember the Inquisition's leaders believed their waterboarding of people suspected in consort with the devil was also "justified." Looking back over the centuries, nothing ever could "justify" torture.
Cheney says waterboarding was "successful." There has been no evidence to date that Cheney's dark methods produced any information that was not known or discovered beforehand. And officials from the FBI and National Intelligence Agency have refused to say that waterboarding or slamming prisoners into walls produced anything of value.
No, Dick Cheney, your methods of torture were not "the right thing to do." They were wrong, they were illegal, they were torture.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
Dick Cheney in his speech today claims that "releasing the interrogation memos was flatly contrary to national security interest . . . " Does Cheney mean information in Bybee's opinion of August 1, 2002? Such as, "The waterboard . . . inflicts no pain or actual harm whatsoever [and] . . . does not inflict 'severe pain or suffering.'" And Cheney thinks this gives terrorists "a lengthy insert for their training manual." What bull!
Here's another Cheney doozie: "Across the world, governments that have helped us capture terrorists will feel that sensitive joint operations will be compromised." I suppose Cheney is referring to countries like Poland and Romania that hosted the "black sites" where Cheney's henchmen worked their dark science? Governments like these should worry that the World Court will take action against them for assisting Cheney and the Bush regime in the pursuit of torture.
Cheney again: "And at the CIA, operatives are left to wonder if they can depend on the White House or Congress to back them up when the going gets tough? Why should any agency employee take on a difficult assignment when, even though they act lawfully and in good faith, years down the road the press and Congress will treat everything they do with suspicion, outright hostility, and second-guessing?"
Cheney claims that CIA "operatives" "act lawfully." Cheney of course means that administration lawyers like Jay Bybee, John Yoo and Cheney's own David Addington came up with bogus "legal memoranda" bestowing an imprimatur on the most outrageous, cruel and medieval interrogation methods. The question, however, should be whether anyone in the CIA could possibly think that the legal blessings survive the laugh test. We all know that Cheney put continuous pressure on the CIA to demonstrate a non-existent link between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda. Given that pressure, anyone in the CIA who thought that waterboarding was permitted, or that stuffing a prisoner in a small box for hours on end was allowed, or that sleep deprivation for up to seven days was not cruel and inhuman - anyone who thought that such practices were legal needs to undergo reevaluation of his common sense.
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
Michael Gerson writes an op-ed today in The Washington Post:
"But this object of praise -- intelligence-gathering -- is again the object of liberal assault. "To put the matter at its simplest," writes Gabriel Schoenfeld, "American elites have become increasingly discomfited over the last decades by the very existence of a clandestine intelligence service in a democratic society."
"But our democratic society still depends on intelligence officers -- just as surely as it depends on our men and women in uniform.""
The very modus operandi of the CIA is antithetical to a free society. After the actions of the CIA in operating prisons at hidden sites and inflicting all sorts of barbaric and medieval methods of torture, it becomes clear that the U.S. can very well do without a CIA. No wonder many liberal and progressive Americans want nothing to do with an intelligence agency that operates a la Dick Cheney on the dark side.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
What is the purpose of Netanyahu and Lieberman demanding that the Palestinians acknowledge Israel as the "Jewish state?" Juan Cole points out that Israel is truly a multicultural state. So the demand is merely a pretextual obstacle to any sincere deal with the Palestinians.
Walter Pincus writes in today's The Washington Post of the worries of the CIA that bright light shining on its interrogation methods, aka, torture, will hamper the CIA's effectiveness. I say, disband the CIA. Do away with the CIA's methods of waterboarding and sleep deprivation. Make the U.S. government part of the community of nations, rather than the bully adversary of all.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Pres. Barack Obama met with Israel's hawkish premier Benjamin Netanyahu today at the White House. Scott Wilson reports on washingtonpost.com about the meeting. Writes Wilson:
""We want to pursue this on two fronts simultaneously -- the front of peace and the front of preventing Iran from getting nuclear capability," Netanyahu said.
"Although Iran's leaders say they are working to create nuclear power for civilian use, Netanyahu and others believe the program is designed to produce nuclear weapons, which Israel's government views as an existential threat to the Jewish state. Israel, which receives nearly $3 billion in annual military aid from the United States, has its own undeclared nuclear arsenal."
I was happy to see Obama repudiate Netanyahu's requirement that the Iranian nuclear development be resolved before Israel makes a deal with the Palestinians. Obama said it was just the other way around. Israel must first develop peace with the Palestinians. What a crock of crap from Bibi protesting his desire for peace. Netanyahu would love to bomb Iran.
This morning on NPR's Morning Edition, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports on the U.S. bombing raid of a small Afghani village that left 140 people dead, many of them children.
Writes Sarhaddi Nelson:
"Abdul Ghafar Watandar, the provincial police chief, said foreign militants and Afghan Taliban are flowing into districts surrounding Farah city from their hideouts across the southern border with Pakistan. Their commanders — including a cleric who was the governor of neighboring Nimrooz province when the Taliban ruled Afghanistan — recently formed a "shadow" government in Farah.
"Watandar said these new Taliban officials are handing out money and weapons to the impoverished and illiterate majority with the aim of further destabilizing the province.
"Unlike previous Taliban cells, this new army of militants seems eager to take on not only the local police, but also the far better trained and equipped Afghan and NATO troops. And Watandar said there aren't enough of those in Farah province, making air support a crucial part of major fights.
""If the American airstrikes hadn't happened that day, there might have been a lot more deaths," Watandar said. "The Taliban had secured themselves good positions on the rooftops and streets of the village, and they wouldn't have left.""
But this argument that the U.S. airstrikes probably saved many more deaths is just pure speculation and self-serving. Whoever ordered the airstrike needs to be recalled. Killing over 140 civilians is unacceptable. Killing even one civilian or one child is also unacceptable.
Is this what the war means in Afghanistan? U.S. war planes dropping bombs on civilians in the American quest to eliminate the Taliban? If the answer is yes, then I don't want any part of that dirty war.
Bring all American soldiers out of Afghanistan. There has to be a better way of dealing with fundamental Islamists. Killing civilians is not the answer.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
I heard Pres. Barack Obama speaking to the Notre Dame commencement today, thanks to C-SPAN. Obama's speech was riveting as usual. Among other things, he mentioned former ND president Ted Hesburgh's commitment to abolishing the death penalty and his campaign to abolish nuclear weapons.
But what I don't understand is how Obama can dish out the inspiring words on one hand, but on the other, still continue the target assassinations by drone missiles of Taliban insurgents in Pakistan.
Today The New York Times runs an op-ed by David Kilcullen and Andrew Mc Donald Exum on the counter-productive results arising from those missile strikes.
Write Exum and Kilcullen:
"The appeal of drone attacks for policy makers is clear. For one thing, their effects are measurable. Military commanders and intelligence officials point out that drone attacks have disrupted terrorist networks in Pakistan, killing key leaders and hampering operations. Drone attacks create a sense of insecurity among militants and constrain their interactions with suspected informers. And, because they kill remotely, drone strikes avoid American casualties."
But the drone attacks do more harm to U.S. interests than they benefit, according to Kilcullen and Exum.
First, the drone war has created a siege mentality among Pakistani civilians. This is similar to what happened in Somalia in 2005 and 2006, when similar strikes were employed against the forces of the Union of Islamic Courts. While the strikes did kill individual militants who were the targets, public anger over the American show of force solidified the power of extremists. The Islamists’ popularity rose and the group became more extreme, leading eventually to a messy Ethiopian military intervention, the rise of a new regional insurgency and an increase in offshore piracy.
"While violent extremists may be unpopular, for a frightened population they seem less ominous than a faceless enemy that wages war from afar and often kills more civilians than militants.
"Press reports suggest that over the last three years drone strikes have killed about 14 terrorist leaders. But, according to Pakistani sources, they have also killed some 700 civilians. This is 50 civilians for every militant killed, a hit rate of 2 percent — hardly “precision.” American officials vehemently dispute these figures, and it is likely that more militants and fewer civilians have been killed than is reported by the press in Pakistan. Nevertheless, every one of these dead noncombatants represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement that has grown exponentially even as drone strikes have increased."
In other words, use of bombs or missiles fired from manned or unmanned aircraft creates a sense of outrage and a desire for revenge against the United States and against all Americans. How Obama can approve the continuation of these raids when he believes that every human being deserves respect and civility is beyond comprehension.
Furthermore Kilcullen and Exum give two other reasons why the missile strikes should stop:
"Second, public outrage at the strikes is hardly limited to the region in which they take place — areas of northwestern Pakistan where ethnic Pashtuns predominate. Rather, the strikes are now exciting visceral opposition across a broad spectrum of Pakistani opinion in Punjab and Sindh, the nation’s two most populous provinces. Covered extensively by the news media, drone attacks are popularly believed to have caused even more civilian casualties than is actually the case. The persistence of these attacks on Pakistani territory offends people’s deepest sensibilities, alienates them from their government, and contributes to Pakistan’s instability.
"Third, the use of drones displays every characteristic of a tactic — or, more accurately, a piece of technology — substituting for a strategy. These attacks are now being carried out without a concerted information campaign directed at the Pakistani public or a real effort to understand the tribal dynamics of the local population, efforts that might make such attacks more effective."
I call upon President Obama and the United States government to ban these airborne missile strikes on Pakistani villages. If I were a Pakistani, I would detest any entity, person or government that inflicted this horror from the skies upon my family, my relatives, my village and my country.
Saturday, May 16, 2009
I just read a post by Brian Tamanaha on Balkinization in which he theorizes about the scenario where members of the Taliban capture U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and subject them to waterboarding. The Bush administration especially Dick Cheney claim that waterboarding is not torture, so there is no violation of any Geneva Convention provisions. Furthermore, Tamanaha "quotes" the Taliban as saying that eminent legal scholars (one thinks of former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, John Yoo, David Addington, Jay Scott Bybee and Steven Bradbury) have opined that waterboarding is not torture, therefore the Taliban are not committing war crimes.
Friday, May 15, 2009
On certain decisions, Barack Obama has been a disappointing continuation of George W. Bush:
1. Obama resurrects the hated military commissions for prisoners at Guantanamo. See William Glaberson's article today on the web page of The New York Times.
2. Obama continues Bush's policies of trying to keep information out of the public's hands by claiming "state secrets."
3. Obama continues the dreadful war in Afghanistan. Just a few days ago, U.S. war planes bombed an Afghan village killing over 150 civilians, many of whom were just children.
4. Obama continues to threaten Britain and the British courts with non-cooperation in the future if a British court releases torture memos about what was done to former Guantanamo inmate Binyam Mohamed. See John Burns' report in today's The New York Times.
5. Obama refuses to release photos of American mistreatment of captives in Iraq and Afghanistan, saying it would threaten "national security."
6. Obama refuses to initiate an investigation of the Bush/Cheney policy of using waterboarding and other forms of torture of suspected terrorists.
Michael Gerson, former speechwriter for W, writes in today's The Washington Post about the lack of civility he claims to see in soon-to-be senator Al Franken and in Wanda Sykes, comedian during the White House Correspondents Dinner.
Franken can defend himself, but as to Sykes, Gerson ought to back off, give Wanda Sykes a break.
Sykes took aim at Limbaugh for hoping that Obama fails. So Sykes naturally said, she hopes Limbaugh fails.
When Sykes says, "let's hope his kidneys fail," she points out how ludicrous and mean-spirited Linmbaugh's statement about Obama is. By "failing," Sykes asks, does he mean that he wants the economy tank, or that Social Security retirement income end, or that Obama's negotiations with Iran come to naught?
So Gerson lighten up, Wanda is right on in showing how mean-spirited Limbaugh's wish is. "Let his kidneys fail" is not a death wish, only a satiric jab back at a Republican ignoramus.
Charles Krauthammer, writing in today's The Washington Post, seems to think that the ethics of torture depend on the situation at hand. In other words, torture is not an absolute evil. Sometimes it is good, sometimes bad, it all depends. Therefore what Bush and Cheney and the rest of their gang did to KSM (183 times on the waterboard) or Zubaydah (over 80) was not intrinsically evil. Rather the situation at that time called for torturing these guys because there could have been a "ticking time bomb."
I reject this situationist ethic. Torture is always wrong and always evil because it tries to achieve common good by sacrificing the rights of the individual. Everyone has the right to be free from Cheney's "harsh interrogation methods." Even the suspected terrorist.
By the way, let's subject Krauthammer to the "test of water." In the days of the Inquisition, sometimes churchmen suspected Widow Jones of being in consort with the devil. They subjected her to the water board, and lo and behold, she confessed that she was indeed a witch. This process must have occurred thousands of times all over medieval Europe. (So much for Sen. Graham's silly assertion that waterboarding has worked for the last 500 years, so it must be good.)
But now let's give Krauthammer a chance on the board. Hey Charlie, we suspect you were the 20th hijacker. So tell us all you know or else. Here's the first cup of water. We won't stop until you admit your complicity and conspiracy.
How long before Krauthammer cries mama and confesses? I bet within 10 seconds.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
I happened to catch CNBC's Dennis Kneale last night railing against the supposed tax increases of the Democrats and Barack Obama. Kneale claimed that Obama was destroying profit motives on Wall Street by raising taxes on those guys making more than $250K. After all, Kneale said, greed is really good. And Obama wants to change that! And as if that were not awful enough, Kneale said that Obama was trying to raise taxes on utilities!
If Kneale wants to defend greed, what does he have to say about the practices of Bernie Madoff or Sir Allen Stanford, about whom CNBC this very evening is running one of its "specials?" I suppose Kneale will try to defend Madoff for wasting over 50 billion of his clients' assets in the interest of buying chateaus in France or mansions in Florida. Perhaps Kneale will even come to Stanford's defense by saying that he was motivated by "greed," greed being "good," so Stanford's alleged stealing of billions from depositors in his banks was merely an innocent pursuit of "greed."
And as to taxes, what does Kneale say about Obama's plan for universal health care? Sure, Kneale himself has health care provided by CNBC, but how about the millions of families living day-to-day with fears of someone getting sick and needing emergency medical care? This is what government is for, and what taxes are for - to take care of citizens who are faced with life's catastrophes and who don't have the means to buy their own medical insurance. So which would Kneale prefer? - low taxes or universal health insurance for all?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
The photos of abuse and torture of prisoners in Iraq and Afghanistan are no doubt hard to look at and say a lot about the cruel character of Americans in Iraq. However, that is no reason to suppress them, as Barack Obama now seems to want to do.
Better to release all the dirty linen to fresh air, admit profound mistakes, and tell the world that the United States is on a different course.
Surely these photos will in due course come out. No one can hide the truth, as momentous as these photos are.
By not releasing the photos, Obama is trying to have the U.S. government cover up war crimes. This will not succeed.
The government of Sri Lanka needs to stop the shelling of Tamil civilians caught on a tiny section of northeast Sri Lanka. This is genocide and ethnic cleansing by the majority Sinhalese against the dark-skinned Tamils. Hundreds of civilians, mostly children, are being maimed, wounded and killed everyday by the government's fanatical desire to destroy all the Tamils.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Dan Froomkin in his blog in today's washingtonpost.com points me to the dangerous and silly utterances of Dick Cheney when appearing on CBS Face the Nation yesterday. Apparently Cheney is still pushing the line that his "harsh interrogation methods" saved thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of lives. And that most Americans would support such "methods" if they knew how effective they were.
First of all, Froomkin points out that there is no credible evidence that torture or waterboarding produced any actionable intelligence that saved lives. Zubayda was waterboarded some 80 times and Khalid Sheik Mohammed over 150. If waterboarding were so effective as Cheney implies, how come it had to be done on multiple occasions to these two prisoners.
But more importantly, even if torture and waterboarding did produce evidence that the government used, would it ever be morally justified? Can we sacrifice the life of an individual for the good of the nation? Do the rights of the majority trump the rights of the individual? Morally, there is no way to justify waterboarding or Cheney's other harsh interrogation methods.
Furthermore, from a legal perspective, waterboarding is a supreme offense against the U.S. Constitution. The rights of an individual are supreme in the Constitution. Consider the Bill of Rights. Everyone has the right to life, liberty and freedom from being tortured by the state. If the individual did not possess these basic and fundamental rights in the U.S., then the U.S. would not be the land of the free or the paragon of democracy.
Historically, states and regimes have always resorted to torture and especially to waterboarding to make the accused tell "the truth." Consider the practices of the Inquisition where the Church turned "heretics" over to the king and the state for tests by water and/or by fire. Imagine if the Church suspected you were in consorts with Satan. Would you confess if you were subject to the trial by water? Would you admit that you were in fellowship with the devil? Suppose it were a test by fire, such as with hot irons? How long would you last without confessing "everything"?
Cheney claims that his interrogation techniques saved thousands of lives. That still is not justification for using them on suspects. If Cheney persists in his argument for this constitutionally abhorrent and immoral practice, I suggest that he himself undergo both water and fire and see how long he can endure without admitting he was the 20th hijacker.
To prevent civilian deaths and injuries in Afghanistan, I want to see the U.S. military ground all war planes permanently. Dropping bombs from F-16s will kill innocent civilians, no matter what precision guidance system the military says it is using.
Airplanes should be restricted to transportation and other peaceful purposes. They should not be used to fire at people on the ground or to drop high explosives on rural agrarian Afghani villages.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Why must CNBC populate its hosts with people like Michelle Cabruso-Cabrera, Larry Kudlow and Dennis Neal? These guys are rabid Republicans who make no pretense in their disdain for Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats in Congress, who criticize every single initiative of Pres. Barack Obama, who rail against increasing taxes for the 5% who earn over $250K.
One of the worst ideologues is a guest commentator from the WSJ editorial board, Steve Moore. This guy never lets a chance go by without taking a whack at Obama or Democratic values.
I watch just a few minutes of CNBC a day, I can't take the Republic whining and spin. No wonder that they lost the last election both as to the presidency and congress. People like Moore have no plans other than that reducing taxes will work that miracle cure to whatever troubles the economy.
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
John Bolton is aghast at the prospect of a Spanish judge prosecuting higher-ups such as Cheney, Addington, Rumsfeld and Rice. In an op-ed today in The Washington Post, Bolton warns Obama not to let the Bush crowd be indicted by Judge Garzon. Perhaps Bolton is afraid for himself - that he might also be included and put on the list of suspected torturers and war criminals.
Perhaps Bolton forgets we live in a world where no nation, such as the U.S. under Bush, the torturer-in-chief, can get away with war crimes without being held accountable in world courts. So much for Bolton's American exceptionalism.
The sooner these Bush war criminals are brought into the dock, the better. Otherwise we will have this same sorry policy of "harsh interrogation methods" being resurrected the next time some Republican comes into office.
Taimoor Shah and Carlotta Gall report in today's The New York Times that U.S. bombing has killed up to 100 villagers in western Afghanistan, many of them women and children. Apparently Afghan forces attacked a suspected Taliban house and then called in U.S. war planes. The result is all too predictable.
Write Shah and Gall:
"Dozens of civilians, including women and children, have been killed during bombing raids by United States forces in western Afghanistan as Afghan troops battled Taliban fighters in heavy fighting, the Red Cross said Wednesday, confirming earlier accounts by Afghan officials.
"Enraged villagers brought between 20 and 25 bodies from their district to the capital of Farah Province to show them to officials, the officials said Tuesday. Villagers’ accounts put the death toll at 70 to 100, they said."
I have been long arguing for a complete cessation of U.S. air attacks. There is no way that such attacks are not going to inflict unacceptable civilian casualties. Perhaps the U.S. government still permits these attacks, misunderstanding who the "enemy" is. Members of the Taliban are just ordinary Afghanis, undereducated, simple farmers living with their families in agrarian villages. The Taliban thus represent a true insurgency against U.S. occupying and invading military. If the U.S. and Obama are going to "defeat" the Taliban, it cannot be by force of guns or war planes dropping bombs.
Consider the following from the Shah and Gall report:
"Villagers told Afghan officials that they had put children, women, and elderly men in several housing compounds away from the fighting to keep them safe. But the villagers said fighter aircraft later attacked those compounds in the village of Gerani, killing a majority of those inside, The A.P. reported.
"Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, the former top official in the district of Bala Baluk, said he had seen dozens of bodies when he visited the village of Gerani.
"“These houses that were full of children and women and elders were bombed by planes. It is very difficult to say how many were killed because nobody can count the number, it is too early,” Mr. Qadderdan, who no longer holds a government position, told The A.P. by telephone. “People are digging through rubble with shovels and hands.”"
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
I understand Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to AIPAC last night via TV hookup and said that the Palestinians must accept Israel as "the Jewish State."
This is an outrageous and unreasonable demand. No one should be forced to recognize a state as ethnic or religious in character.
What Netanyahu really means is that Israel is off limits to any Palestinians, that only Jews should be allowed to live in Israel, and that Netanyahu wants all Palestinians to leave Israel.
Netanyahu's demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as the Jewish state is really the beginning of an Israeli campaign of ethnic cleansing. First seize Palestinian ancestral lands, then build Jewish settlements, then put up at 20 foot wall, then demolish Palestinian homes and claim they were illegally put up.
Was it necessary for Defense Secretary Robert Gates to inject his own opinions on the state of the incipient talks with Iran? Today in Egypt Gates promised the Egyptians that the U.S. would keep its "friends" informed as to negotiations with Iran.
By the way, why should the U.S. consider the dictatorial government of Egypt to be friendly as opposed to considering Iran an "enemy"? The Egyptian government routinely cracks down on dissenters, on people who criticize the government, on newspapers that oppose Mubarak. Furthermore, Egypt denies rights to women. And in Gates' view, Egypt is a "friend"?
We know why Egypt and other Arab countries in the Middle East oppose a detente between the U.S. and Iran. Iran is Persian in ethnic origin, but Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan are all Arabs. Furthermore, the Arab countries by and large are Sunnis, Iran however is Shiite. So for both ethnic and religious reasons, Egypt and the others consider Iran a "threat."
But the U.S. and its government has no embedded biases. It happens that Iranians are better educated than most Arabs and are generally more sophisticated in the arts. The U.S. should not allow its foreign policy towards Iran be shaped by Iran's ancient antagonists, the Sunni Arab nations. And Robert Gates should keep his own counsel regarding Iran. He is not the president or the U.S. secretary of state.
The BBC reports that the United Nations examination of Israel's actions during its three week attack on Palestinians in Gaza shows that Israel and its IDF used disproportionate force against a civilian population.
The BBC gives the U.N.'s major findings:
1. Israeli army responsible in six cases in which UN property was damaged and UN staff and other civilians hurt or killed
2. No military activity was carried out from within UN premises in any of the incidents
3. Israeli military's actions "involved varying degrees of negligence or recklessness"
4. Israeli military took "inadequate" precautions to protect UN premises and civilians inside.
Monday, May 4, 2009
The answer Condoleeza Rice gave to a Stanford University student when asked if waterboarding is torture was a perfect example of trying to deflect blame and guilt on to some higher-up (Bush). In effect Rice said that the president told her waterboarding was perfectly legal and not torture. So her conscience was clear. She went ahead and fully endorsed waterboarding which from then on she deemed legal and proper. She merely conveyed legitimate presidential policy.
We can all see through this answer. It was not my fault. The president said it was legal, and all my doubts were thus erased. Besides I never gave the orders, only served as a messenger of the president's policies.
Today Alec MacGillis writes in The Washington Post about another Rice obfuscation, this time involving a fourth grader asking a similar question about the U.S. policy on torture. Writes MacGillis:
"Then Misha Lerner, a student from Bethesda, asked: What did Rice think about the things President Obama's administration was saying about the methods the Bush administration had used to get information from detainees?
"Rice took the question in stride. saying that she was reluctant to criticize Obama, then getting to the heart of the matter.
""Let me just say that President Bush was very clear that he wanted to do everything he could to protect the country. After September 11, we wanted to protect the country," she said. "But he was also very clear that we would do nothing, nothing, that was against the law or against our obligations internationally. So the president was only willing to authorize policies that were legal in order to protect the country."
"She added: "I hope you understand that it was a very difficult time. We were all so terrified of another attack on the country. September 11 was the worst day of my life in government, watching 3,000 Americans die. . . . Even under those most difficult circumstances, the president was not prepared to do something illegal, and I hope people understand that we were trying to protect the country.""
When we get around to calling all of the Bush flunkies to account, Condoleeza Rice needs to be one of the first to stand trial.
Friday, May 1, 2009
When you think that Republicans and conservatives have sunk as low as possible in matters of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, along comes Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer and endorses torture in two situations, the ticking time bomb and the high value prisoner.
In arguing for torture, Krauthammer misunderstands the nature of American democracy. The U.S. Constitution incorporates basic human rights of the individual. The Constitution does not endorse rights for the majority. Rather it accords a bill of rights for each person. Each individual in the U.S. and more broadly in the world has a right to be free from torture, from being killed, wounded, threatened, beat up. A government or a state must not use its superior power to do any of these things. This is what individual constitutional rights mean - freedom from the overarching infringement by the state.
Mr. Krauthammer, would you justify torture during the 400 years of Inquisition in Europe? Suppose you were a churchman and believed that a certain person was involved in witchcraft or Satan worship. Suppose you honestly believed that witchcraft gravely harmed little children's chance for eternal salvation. Would you permit the wrack? How about the test by water? Or perhaps the hot irons?
Furthermore, if you allow a government or state to use torture in the ticking time bomb scenario, what happens if you perform your dark science on the wrong guy? Would your torture be justified? Of course the answer is NO!
And it would be just as wrong if you tortured the right guy. Torture is never acceptable, never okay. Mc Cain says bizarrely in my opinion that it is not about them, rather it is about us. I disagree. It is all about the person you say it is okay to torture. It is about his or her human dignity, his personhood, his individual humanity. Torture deeply offends human rights, and I reject Krauthammer's arguments that it should be allowed in certain cases.