30 April 2005

A few bad apples, eh?

Pfc. Lynndie England, the dominatrix of Abu Ghraib, will plead guilty to seven of the nine charges against her. [Read story.]

Yes, what Lynndie did was very wrong, and she should be held accountable and punished accordingly. However, I find it hard to believe that she and the other fall guy, Pvt. Charles Graner Jr., came up with the idea. Similar abuse has been reported as taking place at Guantanamo, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. It's systematic. And I really don't think Lynndie was behind the Guantanamo torture incidents.

Amnesty International and other human rights groups have been calling for independent investigations into these abuses. The Bush administration, however, seems to feel that it's adequate to just prosecute a few low-level "bad apples". They are putting a band-aid on a big ugly wound that will spread unless it can be eradicated at the source.

To send an electronic message about this to George Bush from the Amnesty International USA site, click here.

28 April 2005

Happy anniversary, Abu Ghraib

Today marks the anniversary of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal. You wouldn't know it from the media, though, because everyone's attention is focused on the Michael Jackson trial.

A statement issued today by Amnesty International points out that only the lowest ranking soldiers have been held accountable, and that the conditions for torture remain.

To learn more, and to take action online to stop torture, click here.

27 April 2005

America: Land of the free? – Not if you're a Muslim

A recent Cornell University survey found that almost half of all Americans believe that the U.S. government should restrict the civil liberties of Muslim Americans. This bigoted, racist attitude is quite simply appalling. It essentially favors racial profiling; yet a recent report by Amnesty International presents strong evidence indicating that racial profiling does not work.

Amnesty's report was based on six national public hearings and more than a year of intensive research. The report provides overwhelming evidence indicating that racial profiling is not only ineffective but actually impedes the process of finding the real criminals, encourages hate, and undermines national unity. Just as racial profiling has failed in the "war on drugs," it is likewise doomed to fail in the "war on terror."

Proponents of racial profiling might argue that the 9/11 hijackers were all Muslims, and so Muslims are more likely to initiate further terror attacks against Americans and should be scrutinized accordingly. Some call this "hunting where the ducks are." Using that logic, however, why did we not crack down on white, European-American men after Timothy McVeigh blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995?

Racial profiling gives terrorists a formula for greater success. It tips off criminal networks about who needs to be recruited in order to be more effective. This is illustrated by the U.S. government's experience in World War II when, despite the massive internments of Japanese Americans and visitors, none of the people convicted of spying for Japan were of Japanese or Asian ancestry. Moreover, the arrests of John Walker Lindh (a white, middle-class male), Jose Padilla (an Hispanic gang member), and Richard Reid (a British citizen of West Indian ancestry) suggest that "al Qaeda" has already been successful in recruiting a diverse group of sympathizers who by their nature could not be identified through racial profiling.

Similarly, over a period of months in 2003, a white male college student from Maryland smuggled box cutters, bleach, matches, and an item of the same consistency as plastic explosives onto six airplanes. He was able to pass through airport security because he did not "fit the profile."

Multiple studies have shown that when police focus on factors such as race, they tend to pay less attention to actual criminal behavior. This is a dangerous trend that can inhibit effective law enforcement and ultimately endanger the lives of all persons who depend on law enforcement for protection.

According to the U.S. Constitution and international laws and treaties, every person has the fundamental right to equal protection under the law regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. This includes Muslim Americans.

Curt Goering, Senior Deputy Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, summed it up well: "Racial profiling is to the 21st century what Jim Crow laws were to the last, turning entire groups of people into second-class citizens and denying them the rights to which we all are due."

Targeting people for investigation based on arbitrary factors such as race is clearly ineffective and profoundly unjust. We will be much better protected if law enforcement and security personnel focus on what people are doing, and not on what they look like or whether they worship in a church or in a mosque.

26 April 2005

Protect Social Security!

The Senate Finance Committee will begin hearings today on Social Security privatization. Accordingly, today has been declared a national day of action to stop Social Security from privatization.

To learn more, and to take action online to urge Congress to oppose Social Security privatization, click here.

25 April 2005

Johnny come lately

Last week, Senator John Kerry slammed the Republicans for their theocratic agenda.

On 21 April, the Boston Herald quoted Kerry as follows:

"I am sick and tired of a bunch of people trying to tell me that God wants a bunch of conservative judges on the court and that's why we have to change the rules of the United States Senate... I am sick and tired of (them saying) they somehow have a better understanding of Christianity, of the Judeo-Christian ethic, of values. We're talking about values? You show me where in the New Testament Jesus ever talked about the value of having taxes and taking money from poor people to give to the rich people in this country."


But why did Kerry not show this kind of backbone six months ago?

24 April 2005

Condi Rice: If you don't like the facts, edit them

The British newspaper The Guardian reports that Condoleezza Rice ordered alterations to a report containing terrorism statistics.

The report showed big increases in worldwide terrorism from 2003 to 2004 (on Bush's watch). According to The Guardian, however, Condi "ordered the report to be withdrawn and a new one issued minus the statistics."

Congressman Henry Waxman summed it up well: "There appears to be a pattern in the administration's approach to terrorism data: favourable facts are revealed while unfavourable facts are suppressed."

Rice, as usual, denies everything.

[Read story.]

23 April 2005

The Beth Stroud case: What would Jesus do?

On December 2, 2004, Rev. Beth Stroud, a Philadelphia area minister, was defrocked by the United Methodist Church on the grounds that she is a practicing lesbian. Rev. Stroud has since decided to appeal the defrocking, and I applaud her bravery.

After all, isn't Christianity supposed to be about Jesus' message of tolerance, acceptance, loving thy neighbor and forgiving one's sins?

Some so-called Christians have defended Stroud's removal by quoting passages from the Bible that condemn homosexuality. Following that logic, however, we should still be keeping slaves, as endorsed in Leviticus 25:44, and executing anyone who works on the Sabbath, as dictated in Exodus 35:2.

As times change, our social and cultural institutions evolve as well. These include our established religious rules and practices. Prior to changes that took place in the 1960s and thereafter, many of our churches were racially segregated, rules regarding divorce and remarriage within many denominations were strict and impractical, and the Catholic Church and some other Christian sects required women to cover their heads in church.

Today, women serve as pastors at many churches, worshippers can attend services dressed in casual attire, and most clergy will not think twice about officiating at a biracial wedding ceremony. Only the most narrow-minded of conservatives would deny that these changes have made the world a nicer place and made church life more inviting.

Consider, too, what it means to be a Christian. At least in theory, people identify themselves as Christians because they subscribe to the teachings of Jesus Christ.

This is the same Jesus who taught us to love our neighbors (not only the white, male, heterosexual, flag-waving, Christian ones), and that we should not judge others lest we be judged.

This is the same Jesus who made an example of himself by dining with sinners, befriending a prostitute, and identifying with "the least of these."

Who, therefore, can accept a policy of bigotry, intolerance, and double standards, and still call himself a Christian?

A church certainly has every right to set its own internal standards and define the rules that will govern its members. However, this is the 21st century, and a church cannot remain strong in today's society, nor capture the imagination of the next generation, if it clings to repressive, outmoded customs, especially when those practices fly in the face of the true meaning of Christianity.

The fact that the decision to defrock Stroud resulted from a very close vote (7-6) suggests that the United Methodist Church may be ready to take a step forward towards greater tolerance, and to make it official.

At a press conference following the decision to remove Stroud from the ministry, Rev. Fred Day of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown shared a remark allegedly made to him by presiding Judge Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel: "The day will come when the church will apologize to Beth for this decision."

I look forward to the day when we hear that apology. The United Methodist Church, and society at large, will be better for it.

In the meantime, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.

22 April 2005

Earth Day actions

Happy Earth Day.

On this day, corporate greed is trashing our natural resources around the world. Those who take a stand to protect the earth come under fire themselves.

Help stop these injustices through the Amnesty International USA site: Just Earth!

21 April 2005

The sociopathic Bush administration

When U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was questioned by an American soldier regarding the shortage of armor to protect our troops in Iraq, his insensitive response seemed to suggest that armor is for sissies, because even armored humvees can explode. The lack of compassion and lack of empathy exemplified by his response reinforced my belief that the Bush administration consistently displays clear signs of collective sociopathic behavior.

Let's take a look at some of the characteristics of sociopathic behavior, as defined by the American Psychiatric Association, and see how they fit:

1. Callousness, lack of empathy, irresponsibility, and reckless disregard for the safety of others: In addition to Rumsfeld's most recent display of callousness and reckless disregard, President Bush routinely exhibits these symptoms. Childhood friends have described how the young George W. Bush would attach firecrackers to frogs and blow them up. Decades later, as Governor of Texas, Bush mocked and ridiculed convicted murderer Karla Fae Tucker's desperate plea for her life. Today, President Bush sends our young people to Iraq to fight an out-of-control war based on lies, ships American workers' jobs overseas, runs up the budget deficit, and sets out to put Social Security into the hands (and pockets) of Wall Street brokers, with apparently no consideration for how this reckless behavior will affect average Americans. He and those closest to him remain safe in their money-padded cocoons, far removed from the reality that their actions create.

2. Glibness and superficial charm: George W. Bush won votes with his casual, down-home style. He won the support of the heartland's cupcake moms and NASCAR dads by coming across as a regular guy. At the height of the 2004 campaign season, when asked which candidate they would rather have a beer with, 43 percent responded that they would rather have a beer with President Bush, compared with 25.1 percent for John Kerry. But Bush's frozen smirk betrays a glibness that tells us that his underlying agenda does not include buying a round at the local saloon for the common folks.

3. Deceitfulness: George H. W. Bush deceived the nation when he said, "Read my lips: no new taxes." But that lie did not cost thousands of innocent lives. George W. sent our young men and women into Iraq to fight a war based on false allegations: Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, ties to al-Qaeda, and a grave and gathering threat to America. Vice President Cheney still clings to some of these stories, and National Security Adviser Condoleeza Rice herself tapdanced around the truth in her testimony before the 9/11 Commission. This administration does not let facts get in the way of their agenda.

4. Grandiose sense of self: Having won reelection with 51 percent of the vote (hardly a landslide), George W. Bush described his victory as a "mandate." He claimed to have earned "political capital" during the campaign, which he now intends to spend. The other 49 percent of the voting public will just have to accept it. After all, as Bush told an Amish group in July of 2004, "God speaks through me."

5. Aggressiveness and failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors: The Bush administration displays these tendencies on a grand and global scale. Perhaps nothing illustrates this better than the war in Iraq, launched in defiance of international law and the U.N. Charter and replete with war crimes, including the use of indiscriminate weapons against civilian targets and the blatant and calculated skirting of the Geneva Conventions.

6. Impulsivity and failure to plan ahead: The war in Iraq was not a response to a direct attack. Contrary to the all-too-common myth that Iraq was involved in 9/11, Saddam Hussein was contained and posed no immediate threat to the U.S. mainland. Nevertheless, the Bush administration chose to divert troops from their search in Afghanistan for the real threat - Osama bin Laden - and launch a poorly planned war in Iraq with inadequate supplies and no real exit strategy. And who pays the price? American soldiers and innocent Iraqi civilians do. I'm sure we'll never see Jenna or Barbara Bush reporting for combat duty.

7. Lack of remorse or guilt, and failure to accept responsibility for own actions: Despite all these atrocities, George W. Bush still refuses to admit to any mistakes. Administration officials continue to assure the American people that everything is going just fine in Iraq and at home. The scariest part of it is that Bush seems to actually believe the spin. And perhaps that's why so many voters believe it too, despite all the in-your-face evidence to the contrary.

Cult experts have observed that a number of mind-manipulating cult leaders tend to exhibit many of the characteristics of sociopathic behavior as they charm and seduce their followers into sometimes dangerous situations. Is the U.S. turning into a cult of mindless, trusting subservience to the right-wing agenda?

America needs to wake up before they pass out the Kool-Aid.

20 April 2005

A good case for gun control

From the Associated Press:
Ted Nugent to Fellow NRAers: Get Hardcore

Gitmo detainee released

A Kuwaiti who was arrested by U.S. forces in Afghanistan and detained at Guantanamo Bay has been released on bail. [Read story.]

Might there be hope for all of the other detainees who are trapped in legal limbo and denied their right to due process?

[Read background info on this issue.]

Bush vs. Iraq: How the war on terror became a war on Iraqi human rights

George W. Bush's reelection victory must not be misinterpreted as popular approval of his administration's policies that have led to gross human rights violations in pursuing the "war on terror." Now more than ever, citizens of the US and citizens of the world must challenge these policies and work hard to repair the damage done and prevent the trend from continuing.

No group has suffered more from Bush's "war on terror" than the people of Iraq. Despite calls by Amnesty International that coalition forces refrain from the use of indiscriminate attacks that may put civilians at disproportionate risk, countless civilians have been killed or injured during the US-led war on Iraq - a war that clearly violated the provisions of the United Nations Charter and which was based on mistaken assumptions that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and/or provided support to al Qaeda.

Some Iraqis have been victims of cluster bombs, others have been killed in disputed circumstances. Unexploded bomblets from cluster bombs pose an ongoing threat to civilians - particularly children, who sometimes mistake the brightly colored bomblets for toys. Article 51 (4) Protocol I of the Geneva Conventions prohibits the use of indiscriminate weapons, i.e., weapons that cannot distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and soldiers and military objects.

Indiscriminate weapons include nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, cluster bombs, land mines, and weapons using depleted uranium. No landmine, for instance, can distinguish between the boot of a soldier and the footfall of a child. However, the ongoing violence in Iraq continues to put civilians at risk. Do President Bush and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld realize that this "collateral damage" leaves behind families, careers, hopes, and dreams?

Iraqi prisoners captured by coalition forces have faced their own nightmares. Thousands have been arrested, detained without charge or trial, and, in some cases, tortured. Amnesty International and other organizations had reported on allegations of torture or other mistreatment by Coalition forces at Guantanamo and elsewhere since as far back as 2002, and had continually raised concerns with senior White House and Defense Department officials regarding illegal interrogation practices. However, the problem was seemingly ignored until the photos from Abu Ghraib hit our television screens last year. To date, some low-level prison employees have faced charges, but much more needs to be done to address this issue.

Amnesty International has renewed its call for Washington to launch a comprehensive, independent investigation of the use of torture by US forces in the "war on terror." A recent Amnesty report stressed that, in the absence of such an investigation and of the clear and unequivocal rejection of torture and ill-treatment by top US officials, "the conditions remain for further abuses to occur." Despite the fact that many top Bush administration officials publicly denounced the abuse once it was made public, many questions remain unanswered, responsible individuals sit beyond the scope of investigation, policies that facilitate torture remain in place, and prisoners continue to be held in secret detention.

For those Iraqis who have been fortunate enough to avoid death, injury, or detention, life is still far from easy. Coalition forces have failed to fully live up to their responsibilities under international humanitarian law as occupying powers, including their duty to restore and maintain public order and safety, and to provide food, medical care, and relief assistance. Widespread looting of public and private buildings and a sharp rise in criminal activities have been seen across the country.

Many people have faced grave dangers to their health due to power cuts, shortages of clean water, and lack of medical services. Insecurity remains a major concern for the Iraqi population - a problem heightened by the lack of appropriate policing and the wide availability of arms. Iraqi women and girls in particular have faced increased threats to their security, as many have faced violent attacks, including abduction, rape, and murder, as law and order have broken down. Many women have become too afraid to leave their homes, and girls have been kept away from school. Women who are victims of violence in the street or home have virtually no hope of obtaining justice.

The world must not stand aside and allow the Bush administration to ignore its obligations under international law. We must call for greater protection of Iraqi civilians. We must call for an independent and public investigation into the reports of prisoner abuse, and for all those responsible to be held accountable. And we must demand an end to the Bush administration's ongoing disregard for human rights.

The "war on terror" can only be won through international harmony and full respect for the human rights of all.

19 April 2005

Human Rights Watch press release re: Marla Ruzicka

Human Rights Watch issued the following press release yesterday regarding the death of American activist Marla Ruzicka in Iraq over the weekend.


Civilian War Victims Advocate Marla Ruzicka Mourned

(New York, April 18, 2005) -- Human Rights Watch mourns the death of Marla Ruzicka, a tireless human rights activist working to provide compensation for civilian victims of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. The 28-year-old Ruzicka, founder of the non-governmental Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict (CIVIC), was killed by a suicide bomber while traveling on the Baghdad Airport road on Saturday.

Ruzicka's colleague, Faiz Ali Salim, 43, also died in the explosion. Five others were injured in the attack, which seemed aimed at a security convoy driving ahead of Ruzicka's car. Human Rights Watch extended its condolence to the families of Ruzicka and Salim.

Ruzicka had worked extensively in Iraq and in Afghanistan to document the exact number of civilians killed or injured by U.S. forces, and helped victims receive compensation from the U.S. government.

During her last trip to Iraq, Ruzicka managed to obtain information from the U.S. military about the number of civilians killed during hostilities after the end of major combat operations. The information she received related only to a brief period in the Baghdad area, but was important in establishing that the U.S. did in fact record civilian injuries. She was trying to get the U.S. government to publicly release these statistics about all areas of Iraq.

"Everyone who met Marla was struck by her incredible effervescence and commitment," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "She was courageous and relentless in pursuit of accurate information about civilians caught up in war and her desire to provide some compensation to relieve their suffering. Her personal warmth and dedication made her a formidable advocate for her cause."

Ruzicka and her colleagues at CIVIC (nearly all local volunteers) worked to identify victims individually, gathering detailed information about the circumstances of their injury, their personal lives, and the impact of the war on them. This information was widely viewed as some of the most accurate data about the condition of civilians and helped put a human face on their suffering. Its reliability made it possible for many civilian victims to receive compensation.

Ruzicka began her work on behalf of civilian victims in Afghanistan in December 2001. As a result of her efforts in precisely identifying injured civilians, the U.S. Senate appropriated 2.5 million dollars to assist Afghans injured by U.S. action, a sum that has now grown to 7.5 million.

With the beginning of the war in Iraq, she expanded her own campaign there, and successfully lobbied the U.S. government to set aside 10 million dollars to compensate Iraqi victims.

Ruzicka was famous for her generosity in helping newly arrived journalists and aid workers unfamiliar with Iraq and Afghanistan. Her close association with Afghan and Iraqi aid workers and her tremendous respect for them established a standard for other foreigners working in those countries to follow. While she was well-known for eschewing personal comfort in pursuit of her work, she was even better known for organizing social gatherings that brought together local activists, journalists, aid workers, and government and military officials.

Ruzicka was scheduled to leave Iraq within a week. Ruzicka, who had decreased her time in Iraq due to security concerns, had traveled to Nepal in December 2004 to investigate the civil war raging there and to assess the possibility of expanding her work there.

"Marla's passion for her cause was obvious and infectious, but it was the accuracy of her data and the veracity of her information that made it possible for many others to rely on it," Roth said. "Human Rights Watch staff who worked closely with her in the conflict zones in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in the halls of Washington were all impressed by her. She was an inspiration to us all."

In an essay she wrote just a few days before her death, Ruzicka explained the significance of her work providing detailed information about the deaths of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan: "A number is important not only to quantify the cost of the war, but to me each number is also a story of someone whose hopes, dreams and potential will never be realized, and who left behind a family."

To view this document on the Human Rights Watch web site, please go to: http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/04/18/iraq10504.htm.

More good news re: death penalty

Last week, the New York State Assembly voted against reinstating the death penalty in that state.
[Read press release from Equal Justice USA.]

Texas senate approves life without parole option

From TalkLeft.com:

The Texas Senate [on April 14] approved a law (S.B. 60) that would require capital juries to be advised that if they did not return a death sentence, the defendant would be required to serve life with no parole. Life with parole would no longer be an option.

This is good news because it is expected that fewer jurors would vote for death if they know LWOP was the only other option and the killer would never be released. Just last week the bill looked like it was on life-support, this is quite a victory.

[Go to original (with links to additional info).]

Abolition of juvenile death penalty is a good start

On March 1, 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution forbids the execution of killers who were under 18 when they committed their crimes, ending a practice used in 19 states. This is a good start. Next, we need to abolish the death penalty completely, for people of all ages.

The United States is the only Western democracy that still claims for itself the right to execute its citizens. Each year since 1976, three more nations have added their names to the list of countries that have abolished the death penalty. This worldwide trend towards abolition of the death penalty reflects the growing awareness that there are alternative punishments that are effective and which do not involve state-sponsored killing.

Amnesty International describes the death penalty as "the ultimate, irreversible denial of human rights." By retaining the death penalty, the United States finds itself increasingly out of step with the rest of the world, aligned on this issue only with such backward nations as Afghanistan, Botswana, Cameroon, Chad, Cuba, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, and Mongolia. Furthermore, as a moral litmus test, it is interesting to note that most major religious denominations in the United States have statements opposing the death penalty.

Logically, it makes little sense for execution to be used to condemn killing. Such an act by the state is the mirror image of the criminal's willingness to use physical violence against a victim. It is the premeditated and cold-blooded killing of a human being by the state in the name of "justice." When someone is convicted of rape, we do not turn that person over to an official State Rapist to be treated in kind as punishment. Therefore, it is difficult to understand why some people find it appropriate to kill in order to show that killing is wrong. It offers society not further protection but further brutalization.

From a more practical perspective, studies have shown that the death penalty is applied in a discriminatory, arbitrary, and uneven manner, and is used disproportionately against racial minorities and the poor. For example, a recent study of death sentences in Philadelphia found that African-American defendants were almost four times more likely to receive the death penalty than were people of other ethnic origins who committed similar crimes. Where is the justice in that?

Some proponents of the death penalty mistakenly believe that it serves as a deterrent. However, it is incorrect to assume that people who commit such serious crimes as murder do so after rationally calculating the consequences. Often murders are committed in moments when emotion overcomes reason, or under the influence of drugs, alcohol or mental illness. Moreover, those who do commit premeditated serious crimes may decide to proceed despite the risks in the belief that they will not be caught. The key to deterrence in such cases is to increase the likelihood of detection, arrest and conviction. The death penalty is a harsh punishment, but it is not harsh on crime.

A striking example of the growing worldwide public support against the death penalty is the illumination of the Colosseum in Rome whenever a death sentence is suspended or commuted anywhere in the world. It is also illuminated whenever a country establishes a moratorium on executions or abolishes the death penalty. Perhaps someday the Colosseum with light up to celebrate the abolition of the death penalty in the United States, thereby symbolizing American society's newly enlightened approach to criminal justice. In the meantime, we must work to promote justice, not revenge, one case at a time.

Murder is always a despicable act and a terrible tragedy. But killing the murderer will not bring the victim back.

Perhaps Mahatma Ghandi said it best: "An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind."

18 April 2005

More American soldiers dead than we realized

The U.S. military has failed to include in their body counts the U.S. soldiers who have died in German hospitals or en route to German hospitals from Iraq. [Read story.]

Bush vs. the environment

A recent article in the Boston Globe cited a new report that underscores the need for immediate action to curb global warming and other environmental problems. The Bush administration remains in denial, so as not to inconvenience big business. [Read story.]

Global warming: Bush deals the world a death sentence

On February 16, 2005, the international Kyoto Protocol to curb global warming went into effect with no support from the Bush administration. This should be an embarrassment to all Americans.

Environmental attorney and activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has described George W. Bush as the worst environmental president in U.S. history. During Bush's first term in office, his administration initiated more than 200 rollbacks of environmental laws. These moves serve to benefit big corporations, which are no longer inconvenienced by having to comply with strict pollution control standards. This kind of environmental irresponsibility is contributing to increased global warming which, if allowed to continue unchecked, could pose a serious threat to human life around the world.

Despite the ongoing assertions of some diehard naysayers, hard data are now confirming that climate change is dramatic, real and driven by fossil fuel burning. Weather patterns are increasingly unstable, deep oceans are warming, glaciers are melting, drought and famine are proliferating, sea levels are rising and the timing of the seasons themselves is altered.

Increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have resulted in a one-degree Fahrenheit rise in temperature over the last century. That may not seem like much of a warming effect, but the process is speeding up in a big way, and could soon careen out of control if measures are not taken to reduce the emissions of greenhouse gases. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that the average global temperature will rise from three to 10 degrees Fahrenheit later in this century. Other studies suggest an even greater warming effect much sooner. The consequences could be cataclysmic.

Already global climate change is affecting the lives and livelihoods of some of the world's most vulnerable people, threatening millennia-old cultures and literally stealing the ground beneath people's feet. The people of the Inuit nation near the Arctic Circle are seeing deformed fish, depleted caribou herds, dying forests, starving seals and emaciated polar bears. Recently, the Inuit began battling with northward-migrating mosquitoes and other infections disease-carrying insects, which they had never before encountered. As the sea ice melts, rising water levels are washing away entire coastal villages. Half a world away, islands in the South Pacific are being submerged by rising sea levels caused by global warming. Leo Falcam, former president of the Federated States of Micronesia, described climate change as "a form of slow death."

Even farther inland, the consequences are bleak, as global warming will have a considerable effect on food production worldwide. The IPCC has predicted that a half-degree temperature increase would cause a drop of 20 to 40 percent in rice yields in Southeast Asia, and would cut India's wheat yield by up to 20 percent. Looking forward, it gets even worse and hits closer to home. The UN's environmental Program projects that later this century global warming will reduce several of the world's key food crops, such as corn grown in the Midwestern U.S., by some 30 percent. Adding to this threat to food security is the fact that world food consumption has, for the first time in recorded history, outpaced food production for four consecutive years, according to the Earth Policy Institute. In other words, folks, already there is not enough food to go around.

Flooding and erosion of islands and coasts presents a serious hardship in affected areas of the world, but the airborne diseases and malnutrition caused by global warming are matters of life and death. Summing up the situation, the British medical journal "The Lancet" called indifference to climate change "a form of bio-political terrorism."

The U.S. - with about five percent of the world's population - remains the world's chief polluter, generating 25 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. Humanity must not be made to suffer the consequences of corporate cronyism. The Bush administration, and our state officials as well, must make this issue a priority and take immediate, proactive measures to control pollution and fight global warming. We owe that much to our future generations and to the world.

17 April 2005

U.S. being sued all over the place

A Guantanamo Bay detainee is telling tales of his torture, and is suing for custody of any videotapes of his mistreatment. [Read story.] The prisoner says that guards stomped on his head so hard as to cause a stroke that left his face partially paralyzed.

Meanwhile, a group of citizens from The Hague have filed a lawsuit to allow for the arrest of George W. Bush when he visits The Netherlands in May. [Read story.]

Somehow, Bush and his team always manage to avoid being held accountable for their actions. Is it possible that one of these measures (or another) will eventually lead to justice?

Alberto Gonzales: A new fox to guard the henhouse

While civil libertarians throughout the U.S. shed no tears over the resignation of Attorney General John Ashcroft, many are wondering if his replacement, former White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales, might ultimately take matters from bad to worse.

Ashcroft's PATRIOT Act and detentions of countless noncitizens for indefinite lengths of time without charge and without legal recourse sparked a public outcry that led to extensive lobbying efforts in favor of reforms to safeguard human rights. Some of those efforts have been successful; others not. But, in the media, those concerns have been overshadowed by the reports of yet another kind of human rights abuse by the Bush administration - the torture of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere.

The images of naked prisoners stacked in human pyramids or trembling in front of snarling dogs are forever etched in the memories of all who saw the shocking photos. To many, the image of the hooded prisoner on a box with wires extending from his appendages has become a more fitting symbol of American "values" than the Statue of Liberty.

And, as most citizens of the world have learned by now, that stage was set by Gonzales, who, in his famous "torture memo", described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint" and advised the Bush administration of ways to skirt international law while reducing the risk of criminal liability. As a result, not only have countless detainees endured unthinkable suffering and humiliation, but our national reputation has suffered, too, in ways that may take decades to repair.

And who is paying the price? Low-level soldiers like Lynndie England and Charles Graner, not Gonzales, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, or any other high-level officials who are ultimately responsible for U.S. policy. Indeed, instead of holding Gonzales accountable for the atrocities he endorsed and enabled, President Bush rewarded him by placing him at the head of the U.S. Department of Justice. The irony would be almost poetic if the ramifications weren't so alarming.

Even Amnesty International, which maintains a policy of taking no position on the appointment of individual governmental officials, recently issued a statement calling for close and careful examination of Judge Gonzales's views on human rights and humanitarian law, "with particular reference to the Administration's misguided approach to these in the course of its declared 'war on terror.'"

The world is watching. Attorney General Gonzales must implement and maintain a policy of true justice based on positive action and full respect for human rights and the rule of law, not torture and oppression.

The future of this nation, the world, and our fundamental freedoms depend on it.

15 April 2005

Is the Catholic Church stuck in the past?

With the passing of Pope John Paul II, there is much speculation about what the new pope will bring to the table. Will he promote social progress within the Catholic Church and thereby better reflect the views and values of today's average Catholic? Or will he instead continue to propagate the Church's current conservative stances on things like contraception, homosexuality, and the role of women in the Church?

I was just starting out at a small-town Catholic primary school in the mid-1960s, when the Second Vatican Council (also called Vatican II) brought the Catholic Church into the 20th century. The Council's most notable changes for me at the time were that the use of vernacular language was now permitted in the Mass and that the laity became more involved in the Church's ministry. At around the same time, the nuns who taught in my school were given new, more modern habits to wear, which exposed their ankles and their hairlines - much more progressive than the burqua-like garb that they had to wear previously.

All of this was very exciting and appealing to us young folks. But, unfortunately, that is where the progress stopped.

In the 40 years since Vatican II, society has evolved, and most Catholics I know have changed with the times. The Church, however, has not. A result is the large number of "cafeteria Catholics", who pick and choose which doctrines they will follow and which they will ignore. A cafeteria Catholic, for example, might faithfully attend Mass every Sunday, but also use birth control or regularly engage in premarital sex. A quick trip to the confessional wipes the slate clean so that they can still receive the sacraments. Pope John Paul II himself stated that this sort of conduct is not compatible with being a "good Catholic".

So what is a Catholic to do? Succumb to a repressive and outdated code of conduct or else risk being exposed as a "bad Catholic"? Consider how the Church would fare if all of these "bad Catholics" took their faith and their money elsewhere. If this were to happen, the Church's bank account would take an enormous hit. So the Vatican looks the other way and pays no more than some minor lip service to cafeteria Catholics, just as it has tolerated (and covered up) so many transgressions by its own clergy. Are appearances really more important than integrity where money and power are concerned?

There is a healthier alternative, and that is progress. For its own good, and for its own survival, the Church needs to regain the momentum of the Vatican II days and move its doctrines out of the past and into the present. It needs to recognize that it is irresponsible to forbid the use of condoms in this age of HIV/AIDS. It needs to recognize that it is irresponsible to forbid the use of any contraceptives in an overpopulated world. It needs to recognize that homosexuality is a natural state found in some 10% of the human population (and several other species), and is not a misguided choice. And it needs to look inside itself and see what evils can result when human sexuality is repressed and controlled for arbitrary reasons.

With the election of the new pope, the Church has a rare opportunity to initiate a fresh approach towards evolving in a positive, progressive, and more enlightened direction. I hope that it will not be wasted.

14 April 2005

Abu Ghraib all over again

Wow. The ultra-conservative Washington Times ran an article yesterday resurrecting the issue of torture at Abu Ghraib, without too much spin. [Read story.]

Torture: It's not just for Abu Ghraib anymore

Prisoner abuse is routine in American prisons. They didn't just suddently invent the concept at Abu Ghraib. Over the past six months, I did an intensive study of prisoner abuse in Philadelphia area prisons, and I'll be publishing my findings in an upcoming column in the Philadelphia Daily News. I'll republish it here after the DN's 3-day exclusive rights expire.

In the meantime, a new video is available online exposing Abu Ghraib-like torture of prisoners in Texas. [Read about it and/or watch the video - if your stomach can handle it.]

Torture is a problem, not a solution

On January 15, 2005, the BBC quoted outgoing U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge as saying that the U.S. did not condone the use of torture to extract information from terrorists, but that under an "extreme set" of hypothetical circumstances, such as a nuclear threat, "it could happen." Heaven help us.

Ridge's nuclear threat scenario borrows from the age-old "ticking bomb" hypothesis, which attempts to justify torture in situations in which extracting information from one terrorist might save hundreds of people. However, not only can torture never be justified, but the ticking bomb scenario is unrealistic at best.

In an October 2001 survey, 45 percent of Americans who reported that they approved of torture were approving of the "torture of known terrorists if the terrorists know details about future terrorist attacks." So how do we know for sure who actually has the information that we seek? How do we know who will tell the truth under torture, who will say anything just to make the pain stop, or who will simply endure it as a religious discipline? And how can we possibly justify the risk of torturing innocent suspects, as we've seen happen at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere?

In this post-9/11 world, gaining information from prisoners is certainly of critical importance. But torture, aside from being unethical, is also unreliable and counterproductive. Many experts on interrogation believe that torture is actually one of the least effective ways to gain accurate information. And is there any more effective method of fostering resentment amongst real terrorists who may seek revenge on America for the mistreatment of their imprisoned brothers?

Furthermore, by using torture in the interrogation of terror suspects and thereby violating a universal human right, the U.S. risks alienating its international allies - allies whose support in the "war on terror" is now more critical than ever.

The use of torture violates countless international agreements that the U.S. has signed and ratified, including the Geneva Conventions, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention Against Torture. The pre-eminent human rights document, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, states that "no one shall be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." There are no exceptions. Torture is, in other words, one of those nonderogable rights that are prohibited absolutely under all circumstances. That is one reason why, under international law, all countries have jurisdiction to prosecute torturers, regardless of where the torture took place.

Those who advocate torture tend to use mental tricks to dehumanize their victims, presumably so they can then rest assured that those persons are not entitled to human rights. Some borrow a term from Dick Cheney and label them "barbarians" in order to justify their mistreatment. But is it any better to be labeled a "torturer?"

Barbarian. Torturer. Is this our future?

Dr. William F. Schulz, Executive Director of Amnesty International USA, summed it up well: "Torture never makes the world safer, only more hideous."

13 April 2005

Ignorance is bliss?

If it's not on TV, it's not happening, and the complacent American sheep can sit on their couches, all fat and happy.

Now the so-called "liberal" American media are apparently refusing to run a TV spot about land mines, produced by a U.N. agency. [Read story.]

(Note that the Bush administration has refused to sign the Mine Ban Treaty, which 150 other countries have signed.)

What the Dems need in a candidate

Despite recent rumors in the media, Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell is denying any aspirations to the 2008 presidential race. [Read story.]

This has got me thinking about what we need in a Democratic candidate in 2008. I think Rendell would be a stronger candidate than John Kerry was, because Rendell has a folksier, more charismatic personally, and comes across as a "regular guy".

Along with the likeability factor, we need a candidate who can develop a strong message and then stay on message. We need someone who won't roll over and let the Karl Rove spin machine destroy him. We need to build a strong platform based on our own "moral values" - like every American's right to a good education, health care, and a job that won't be shipped off to India.

And we need someone with international credibility, who can mend our relationships with our allies around the world.

Since Rendell appears to be ruling out a run, I wonder who else out there might fit the bill.

12 April 2005

Rumsfeld warns new Iraqi government

U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is in Iraq today, shaking things up amongst Iraq's newly elected leaders. According to an MSNBC report, Rumsfeld pressured Iraq's new government officials to get it together and to "avoid delays in developing a constitutional government and defeating the insurgency."

But didn't Rumsfeld and Bush say that those things are what we are there to facilitate?

And wouldn't it be kind of difficult for the Iraqi leaders to get it together on their own as long as the U.S. troops are bombing the heck out of their country every day?

Is the U.S. above the law?

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's discounting of the Geneva Conventions and the Bush administration's opposition to other international laws and treaties suggest that the U.S. government has embarked on a dangerous course of pursuing its own interests with impunity at the expense of international justice.

Gonzales's failure to unequivocally answer several questions asked at his January 6th confirmation hearing indicates that the Bush administration is still seeking to evade the absolute prohibition on torture, and that prisoners held by the U.S. remain at risk of further ill-treatment.

In his famous "torture memo," Gonzales described the Geneva Conventions as "quaint," and advised the Bush administration of ways to skirt international law while reducing the risk of criminal liability.

This is merely the latest example (that we know of) of the Bush administration's ongoing opposition to international justice treaties and conventions, including the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

In the case of the ICC, the U.S. is the only state that is actively opposed to it. 97 countries have now ratified or acceded to the Rome Statute of the ICC, which will seek to prosecute people accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, where their home state is unwilling or unable to try them.

Under the Bush administration, the U.S. has conducted a worldwide campaign to weaken the ICC and to obtain immunity for all U.S. nationals from its jurisdiction.

The aforementioned Optional Protocol to the UN Convention Against Torture, which the U.S. also opposes, will establish a system of international and national monitoring of detention facilities. The hiding by U.S. agents of detainees from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Iraq, and the denial of access to others held in detention without charge or trial at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere, suggest a government that does not look favorably on external scrutiny of its own actions.

Yet it was President Bush who said in June of 2003 that it is "notorious human rights abusers" who seek to "shield their abuses from the eyes of the world" by "denying access to international human rights monitors."

Both before and after his statement, detainees in U.S. custody were subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and Iraq, with international human rights monitors denied access.

For the protection of all the world's citizens, there should be no double standards in international justice and no immunity for anyone, under any circumstances, for offenses such as genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

As the world's sole superpower, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to set a positive example for international cooperation and accountability. To suggest that the U.S. should be exempt from ICC jurisdiction, or to claim that the Geneva Conventions don't apply in arbitrarily selected cases, risks the appearance of an arrogant presumption that the U.S. considers itself above the law.

Note: The column above originally ran back in January, but it seemed worth resurrecting in light of this week's confirmation hearings for John Bolton, Bush's nominee for UN Ambassador.

11 April 2005

Mind control and the American media

The U.S. mainstream media are frequently accused by the right of being too liberal. But consider the following.

For most of March, the U.S. population was fixated on the Terri Schiavo right-to-die case. Discussions and arguments about the Schiavo case took place daily around water coolers, bars, and dinner tables everywhere. It was likely the most talked about topic of the day.

Then Pope John Paul II died, and all attention quickly moved to the late pope, with almost 24/7 coverage of activities at the Vatican and interviews with mourners from around the world. Terri Schiavo was no longer of interest.

Meanwhile, the media has had very little to say about Iraq, where several more U.S. soldiers have been killed, the Abu Ghraib prison was attacked by insurgents, and a Belgian soldier died from "friendly fire" by U.S. troops.

While the Schiavo case and the papal passing were certainly interesting and poignant stories, did they really merit 23 hours of coverage per day on the cable news channels, while other events that more closely impact the lives of the average American citizen went unreported?

The Schiavo case had sex, illness, and death going for it. The papal death features so much pageantry. The entertainment value for these stories is far greater than that for, say, the proposed Bankruptcy Bill and the threats to Social Security. And, conveniently, they distract us from the ethics scandals plaguing House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, the lawsuit against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld over U.S. torture policies, the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq, and other news inconvenient to the right-wing agenda.

The media are in business to make money. Sensational stories like the Schiavo case and the death of the pope can easily be spun into headlines that sell papers. But the media have a moral responsibility to give us all the news of the day, even if the truth hurts.

The media must remember that their purpose is to inform the public, not to protect or placate the powers that be. They must regain the brave commitment to the truth that has been the hallmark of great journalism through the centuries. And they must be honest without fear of the consequences.

At the same time, the American people must open their eyes, open their minds, and recognize that there is more to life than entertainment. They must snap out of their complacency and their blissful ignorance of what's really going on in the world, and hold the media accountable.

A true democracy requires an informed electorate. With the 2006 mid-term elections just around the corner, there is no time to waste.

10 April 2005

What I learned from Terri Schiavo

The Terri Schiavo saga has come to an end, but it's still being talked about (and argued about) around water coolers, bars, and family dinner tables everywhere. I think it's time to stop arguing and reflect on the lessons learned.

This is what I learned from Terri:

I learned that I was wise to have drawn up a living will two years ago, but that I was unwise for not having done so much earlier. Terri was only in her twenties when tragedy struck.

I learned that to face the impending death of a child is probably the hardest thing for a parent to do. Despite the fact that Terri's condition could hardly be called "living", her parents refused to accept that she could not connect with them. I do not fault them for that. Reality is not always easy to take.

I learned that Michael Schiavo loved Terri very much, and that he just wanted to honor the wishes that she had expressed to him repeatedly. I would hope that any life partner of mine would do the same, even if my parents were unable to accept the fact that I would not want to live as a vegetable.

I learned that I would not want Tom DeLay or any other elected official to interfere with my medical treatment. My medical decisions are between me, my doctor, and my loved ones. Let Congress find something better to do with my hard-earned tax dollars.

I learned that George W. Bush, as governor of Texas, signed cost-saving legislation giving hospitals the power to disconnect feeding tubes, breathing devices, and other means of life support without the consent of the patient's family. But, since Terri wasn't living in Texas, he jumped on the "save Terri" bandwagon to score some additional points with the religious right.

I learned that some Republican officials who have complained in the past about "activist judges" wasted no time in pushing for a little judicial activism to save Terri.

I learned that a majority of the American public, both Democrats and Republicans, reported to pollsters that they approved of removing Terri's feeding tube, so this really wasn't a partisan issue at all.

I learned that the mainstream media played down the fact that so many Americans were in favor of letting Terri die, and focused instead on the vocal "pro-life" minority camped outside her hospice.

I learned that this "pro-life" minority were acting on emotion rather than facts or reason. They meant well, but they chose to stand behind the parents who would not face the reality of Terri's condition, and they refused to acknowledge Terri's stated wishes. They wanted to bring her water, never thinking that water would make her choke. And, quite ironically, they wanted to force-feed her, even though Terri's bulimia had contributed to the heart attack that caused her persistent vegetative state.

I learned that I would not want to be videotaped while in a vegetative state (or otherwise incapacitated) and have those videos broadcast to television sets around the world.

Finally, I learned that life is precious, and that any of us might find ourselves in Terri's shoes at any time, without warning. Therefore, we should make the most of every minute of every day, while we can.

So let's all get back to living, and let Terri Schiavo finally rest in peace.

Oops! I did it again!

Welcome to my new blog.

This is a new version of the blog that I maintained last year at LiveJournal.com.

Like the old journal, this blog will feature timely political information, along with my original essays and commentary, with an emphasis on human rights, civil liberties, and social justice.

Be sure to stop back regularly. I will be updating this blog several times per week.